Saturday, June 27, 2015

What's a Pastor to Do? A Plea Regarding SCOTUS and homosexuality

Yesterday my Facebook news feed exploded with celebrations and laments regarding the latest SCOTUS decision regarding homosexuality.  I have a rather diverse friend base, so my Facebook friends run the gamut of possible reactions.  Since I am a United Methodist pastor, I have quite a few clergy friends also.  Over and over, many of them are asking one question: how do I talk about this decision on Sunday, and how do I deal with it when people are reacting on the other end of the spectrum than I am?

My plea to you, both clergy and laity, is to remember this week that most people in your church, whether they agree with you or not, are faithful Christians attempting to interpret Scripture and follow what God has called them to do to the best of their abilities.  To my Progressive/liberal friends, that means that your Conservative/evangelical parishioners and colleagues are NOT usually opposing gay marriage because they think gay sex is icky or because they are hateful.  They are honestly interpreting Scripture in the best way they know how with the hermeneutic that they believe is best.  To my Conservative/evangelical friends, that means that your Progressive/liberal parishioners and colleagues are NOT usually supporting gay marriage in order to destroy Scripture or marriage.  They also are honestly interpreting Scripture in the best way they know how with a very different hermeneutic than you.  They don’t hate Scripture any more than you hate LGBT people. 

Now there are exceptions to what I just said, you know this as well as I do, but the fact is, if you approach those who disagree with you with the aforementioned understanding, maybe, just maybe, you will actually be able to minister in love to and with them.  In the words of one of my seminary professors, the great failing of many academic and thinking people is that they believe anybody who is well-educated and thinking will obviously come to the same conclusion they did.  Let’s be realistic here, they won’t!  But here’s the thing, you may disagree with them—there are certainly people I believe are dead wrong on this issue—however nastiness, name-calling, and posting on Facebook about how they aren’t Christian is neither helpful, loving, nor necessarily true.  This may be a vital issue for you, either because you see it as a justice issue or you see it as an issue of the authority of Scripture and sin, but spewing hateful and divisive language is not going to help you convince others of your position.  All it does is convince them that they are even more right because the other side can't act in a loving way.

So, how do we minister to and with those with whom we disagree while keeping our integrity?  I would urge a few things based on our General Rules (Three Simple Rules). 

First, do no harm.  Stop the name-calling and accusations.  Stop the hateful speech regarding those who disagree with you.

Second, do good.  Acknowledge the fears of those who disagree with you.  You may think they are unjustified, but here’s the thing, we live in a sinful world where people will do anything to hurt others.  Look at the Westboro Baptist Church.  Look at the Freedom From Religion organization.  Somebody out there is willing to cause pain to get their way. 

Also, speak what you believe in the appropriate and loving context.  I am not telling you to hide what you believe.  I am urging you to engage in loving, respectful dialogue.  Loving respectful dialogue does NOT involve belittling, name calling, or accusations.

Finally, stay in love with God.  In the midst of all this, continue to pray.  Pray for your friends and your enemies.  Continue to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Continue to invite all to Holy Communion.  Continue to baptize.  Continue to spend time with sinners.  In all words you speak, Facebook posts and blogs you write, sermons you preach, Bible studies you teach, ask the following question: how does this give glory to God?


So, let’s move forward and go make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah: Why This Pastor Liked the Movie


            Yesterday we took the youth group to see Noah.  Yes, we took the youth to see a movie that none of us had seen before, but we did discuss it afterwards!  I have to say, on the scale of accuracy to the original—lowest accuracy being Cheaper by the Dozen and highest accuracy within reason being Hunger Games: Catching FireNoah was somewhere along the lines of Jim Carrey’s rendition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Clearly there are not a lot of details in the biblical narrative, so there had to be some major embellishments.  They also did some things that were just plain wrong.  When all is said and done, though, I enjoyed it and thought there was a lot of good to say about it. 

Disclaimer: I do not plan to tell you what was and was not biblical.  Plenty of blogs are doing that right now.  As one of my old English teachers said, "only write if you have something new to say."  So, while all of my views and thoughts may not be new, here they are, for what they are worth.

SPOILERS:  THE REST OF THIS BLOG DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM NOAH 

Genesis 6:9 Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.

            Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things about the movie (besides all the dead bodies and screaming people) was the portrayal of Noah.  Raised on cartoons and Children’s Story Bibles, we like to think of Noah as a perfect and sinless man who never doubted.  That, however, is not realistic!  In the Bible, Noah was never portrayed as perfect.  He was portrayed as blameless compared to all those who lived lives of wickedness.  He walked with God.  He was righteous.  One who is righteous is one who is right with God.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t sinful.  All humans since Adam and Eve are sinful.
            In our culture, even as Christians, we don’t like to talk about sin.  We don’t like to talk about what we do or fail to do that is contrary to God’s will.   In Noah, however, they did not shy away from talk about sin.  In fact, they actively engaged the question of human nature.  Are humans inherently good?  Inherently bad?  In the movie, Noah realizes that all humans, even his family, are sinful, part of the fallen human race.  He realizes that even his family and he himself deserve death.  In the end, though, he comes to an understanding of God’s grace. 

Genesis 6:13-14 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people…so make yourself an ark of cypress wood…”  Genesis 6:22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

            God’s calling isn’t always easy to follow or even to understand.  Most of us understand this.  How many of us have wondered if it is God who is speaking to us?  How many of us have asked why it doesn’t seem like God talks enough?  How many of us have wondered why God seems silent in some circumstances?
            In the movie, Noah struggles with these questions.  He struggles to understand what God’s calling means.  He isn’t sure how to handle the connection between God’s calling and human free will.  He discovers that when he focuses more on his own humanity than on God, he misunderstands God’s call.  While there is no indication in the biblical account of Noah having this kind of doubt and struggle, who is to say that he didn’t?  Who among us has never wondered why God called us and how God expects us to carry it out?  Noah clearly isn’t perfect, even in the Bible, as is evidenced by his one man college party (drunkenness and nakedness) after the flood.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

One of my favorite themes in the movie was the discussion of creation.  I was asked during the discussion with the youth group why they always referred to God as “Creator.”  Honestly, it never phased me.  This close to creation, why wouldn’t they think of God primarily as Creator?  That is one of the biggest roles God has played in the first part of Genesis.  It also highlighted the connection between Creation and the flood.  (An interlude: Even if you don’t see the movie, find a way to watch how they depicted creation.  I loved it!).  Throughout the movie, they kept referring back to creation, Noah sits and tells the story to his family on the ark, and they discussed many times that the flood was intended to wipe the earth clean for a new creation.

Genesis 9:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

            One thing that actually did upset me was the end of the movie.  After the flood, Noah did his drunken naked binge, he repents and realizes his mistake, and THEN the rainbow comes.  I understand that for movie purposes, it is better to end on a dramatic and happy ending.  I had to think about it for a while to figure out why it bothered me.  I finally realized that this order of events bothers me because it suggests that the rainbow came because of Noah’s repentance, not as an unconditional promise from God that the earth would never be destroyed by a flood again (as the Bible tells).

---

            All in all, I thought it was a good movie.  I would recommend it (as long as you can handle some very disturbing images and screams).  Remember, it is Hollywood, it is entertainment, and it was not made by a theologian or biblical scholar.  Do not assume that everything is biblical, but you would be surprised how many little biblical nuances there actually were!  Find somebody to discuss it with, and don’t expect to like everything.  It is not always be the most complimentary picture of God or of Noah, but also remember that it wasn’t written by a theologian.  It was made by an atheist who is exploring through the movie some of the ways the Bible and those who believe it understand God and calling.

So, what did you think?  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thoughts on a tragedy...


As you may know, I am a young United Methodist student pastor.  Writing a sermon after the tragedy in Connecticut was very difficult.  It was made more difficult by the fact that it was right before the third Sunday of Advent when we are supposed to be lighting the third candle for joy.  Somehow we had to have joy after a horrible tragedy.  I am writing this blog post knowing that 9/10 of pastors out there have already written a post about this and probably more eloquently than I can.  At the same time, I hear enough bad theology mixed with the good, that perhaps we need to all be writing.  So, this blog post is based upon the sermon I preached last Sunday about two Scripture passages all about joy, Isaiah 12:2-6 and Philippians 4:4-7.

Philippians 4:4 said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say I again: Rejoice!” (NIV) How can we ever have joy in the midst of such a tragedy?  How can we trust and not be afraid? How do we have joy when all we want to do is cry?  These were children!  Yet, somehow, we are called to have joy even when there is evil in the world, to rejoice because the Lord is near, to rejoice because Jesus is coming soon.  Christmas is near!
So, what is joy?  How can we have it this week or after any tragedy that shakes our world?  One option is what has come to be known as the Pollyanna kind of joy. In that sweet story, a little orphan girl goes to live with her childless and unmarried aunt who has no idea how to treat a child.  Pollyanna, when faced with adversity big or small, only focuses on the good.  There is no room for tears.
Is that joy?  It is certainly what many Christians seem to think joy is.  Pollyanna’s theory is that you ignore the bad and find the good.  There is no room for grief or crying and it is only right to smile and be “glad.”  This theory falls apart quickly in light of shootings like the one on Friday.  I don’t think that the “glad game” is joy.
I also don’t think joy is an emotion at all.  When we talk about an emotion, we talk about being happy or glad.  No person can be happy all the time.  This is an emotional high.  Happiness is temporary, fleeting.  Happiness is a good thing, but it is no joy. 
True joy, though, is born of knowing that Jesus Christ has come, has died for us, has risen from the dead and will come again.  That joy is here no matter what happens, if we have faith.  That joy is here in the horrors and evils of life.  We can have this joy as we cry for those who were brutally killed.  We can have this joy as we deal with our own losses in life.
Paul in Philippians is writing from a jail cell, Isaiah is writing a hymn to be used when the Israelites are restored.  In the midst of some very bad things, these authors are calling for joy.  And what can be worse than horrible tragedies like the one on Friday?  Where is the joy for the families of those who died?  For the parents and families of the 28 people who died in Newtown on Friday.  Where is the joy for those families?  Where is the joy for those of us sitting here anywhere else in the United States knowing that this can happen in our country?  Knowing that in China 22 children were stabbed with a knife on the same day?
Joy is not the opposite of pain.  Joy is not the opposite of grieving or horror or evil in this world.  Joy is the only thing that gets us through that pain and that horror.  Joy in the knowledge that Jesus Christ came at Christmas, died at Good Friday, rose at Easter, and will come again one day. 
Joy is not denying or ignoring evil, like the Pollyanna glad game.  Joy is not forsaking all feeling at all.  Joy, instead, is what as we weep allows us to heal.  Joy, that assurance that God is with us and that Christ is alive, is what allows us to move forward after these great tragedies.  Joy is the hope in Christ, the peace that can only come from Christ.  I saw a picture on Facebook the other day.  It had Jesus hugging a child.  Jesus is down at the child’s level with the child’s head on his shoulder as Jesus’ eyes are closed.  That comfort, I believe, is joy.
Never say that events like these are God’s plan.  God does NOT plan evil, God does NOT cause evil to happen.  A good God cannot cause evil, and there is nothing else to call these events but evil.  What God does do is call us to have joy in the understanding that God is our salvation.  We can trust and not be afraid.  We can call on God’s name.  We can rejoice in the Lord always, because we know that God is good all the time and that God is with us, was with those who died, is with those families, and is with all the survivors.
            This may not be a lot of comfort to those families or that community right now, but if those of us who are watching and praying can have this joy, we can be here for them as a witness until they are ready.  We can stand next to them telling them that God DOES love them, no matter what they may hear from certain religious groups.  So, perhaps, it is our job now to be that witness.

Amen.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Day 10 Follow

For some time on Friday, I feared that this blog would be uneventful and boring. The morning began with the announcement that we would be discussing budget in the morning, followed by as many petitions as possible in the afternoon. The schedule even said that we would not be meeting in the evening unless necessary. The end of the day was to be the closing worship. We all expected to be sticking around late into the evening, but knew that we must be out of the Convention Center by midnight.

In the morning, the main discussion was surrounding the budget. For the first time, our budget has actually gone down from previous quadrennium. It some time before enough people were satisfied, but it eventually was passed. Some of the other legislation that passed was one requiring petitions to come from some group, not crazy individuals. This is because nearly a hundred petitions were from just two people, and it is a waste of time and money. The idea is that if you cannot at least get a charge conference to support the petition, then it probably does not need to be sent. Also in the morning, the elimination of guaranteed appointments was referred to the Judicial Council to evaluate its constitutionality.

I was rather tired on Friday, and I assumed that I would be put in during the evening to vote, since nobody would want to stay around for a few boring leftover petitions. To alleviate some of this exhaustion, several times during the morning and afternoon, I went for short walks. This was a very bad idea, since I missed two significant things.

In the morning, the young delegates claimed a point of personal privilege. In this, they (and I say “they” because I chose not to be a part of its drafting) speak about the good that the church has done but turn quickly toward the way that the church has wronged young people. To see the short video, go to http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=788940844630 As I said, I happened to chose exactly the wrong moment to run to the bank machine and get cash. I was gone for less than ten minutes and missed it. When I asked around me about how it went, the reaction was unfortunately not complimentary. I was told that people’s eyes glazed over, because it was just one more time that the older generation is being browbeaten regarding how bad and oppressive it is to young voices. In reality, during this General Conference, young people have spoken several times about how oppressed it is, and it is starting to backfire with some people. It worries me that this is the case, since it is a legitimate concern to want to be heard, but it is too easy to go too far.

During the final Communion service at lunch time of General Conference, I was reminded again of how wonderful the word Alleluia can be. We come speaking different languages from different cultures, but every person there can sing the word Alleluia. For that matter, we come with different musical abilities and abilities to sing. Yesterday’s Communion service was written by an ex-convict for prison ministry. Since illiteracy is high in prisons, having a bulletin is not a helpful way to have a participatory service. One way they help this is by having a person who can read do the reading of the congregation’s responses, which the congregation then repeats. Anther practice we learned was a way of singing Alleluia. The pianist played a few soft chords as background and we were all to sing the word Alleluia with our own tune, at our own pace, and in our own way. Eventually, the leader would lead us into the song Halle Halle Halle-lu-ujah. We started Halle Halle slowly and gently from the tuneless worship of our Alluias and it gradually moved to the point were we were clapping, singly loudly and quickly, enjoying the time of worship of our God. It was a powerful moment and a practice for worship that I hope to remember and use someday.

In the afternoon, I took another walk that had unfortunate timing. I answered the phone when my mom called, and around perhaps 4:35 or 4:40, I looked up to see that people were leaving the room. I assumed that for some reason they decided to end early, so I headed back inside to see what caused this early dinner break. Then, I was told. Plan UMC, which was the compromise for the restructuring, had been declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council. Delegates were milling around in shock. A ten minute recess had been called to allow delegates to function after the shock of the news. This meant that all the work done based on the assumption that Plan UMC, rather than the 2008 structure, would be in place, was just gone. That is the budget, several petitions, and elections. There would now have to be new elections, a decision about possible future restructuring, and budget considerations. The agencies and boards still needed to reduce in size, so dead petitions were revitalized. By 4:50, nobody was ready to come back to work, so the dinner recess was called.

Not everybody in the room was devastated, though most were. Many spoke about how this was a waste of two weeks and 8 million dollars. Others reminded them that other work did get done, and perhaps this will lay the foundation for restructuring in 2016. Many spoke about the huge amount of work that would have to be done in the evening before midnight. It was a daunting thought. Some took a more optimistic approach, though they were still very disappointed. One pastor said, “Jesus is still Lord and the churches will still open on Sunday.” Others tweeted that they would still be serving Communion this Sunday. In some ways, these acted as a reality check for people. A final group, those against aspects of the restructuring, celebrated. Some were dancing when the announcement was made. Another came to the microphone during the evening session and asked if people did not feel the Holy Spirit arriving in the room when the announcement was made.

The restructuring was declared unconstitutional and unsalvageable by the Judicial Council. It delegated some of the authority of the General Conference to a small group. What upset people the most about this ruling was that the parts declared unconstitutional were from the Call to Action proposals. Many wondered how it ever got this far. In the end, though, all the necessary work for the denomination to function over the next 4 years was completed. It might not be ideal, but it will work. In the end, no church is closing its doors tomorrow because of this decision. Over all, Jesus is Lord and we will survive or not as a denomination…but we will worship our risen savior either way.

We ended the day with a short worship service, a sermon by Bishop Wenner, and a walk back to the hotel at 11 PM. By midnight I was asleep, at 2:45 I was up again, and by 3:30 I was checked in to the airport. I returned to Columbus by 9 and was back asleep by 10. Yay nap! I will write at least one more blog post reflecting on some of the things that did not make it into the blog because of space. Just stick with me for one more day!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Day 9 Feed

This blog tonight is a hard one for me to write, because this was a very long day that in many ways revolved around a very sensitive issue, human sexuality, specifically homosexuality. Though it only officially spent a couple hours on the floor of the conference, the topic has pervaded the entire atmosphere of the day.

This morning did not start with a discussion of homosexuality. In fact, it began with a fairly widely supported petition sent from the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly in Berlin almost two years ago. I was there! This petition, which I believe I spoke about in a previous blog, is a non-disciplinary petition that urges committees, boards, and agencies to consider the schedules of young people when setting meetings. For instance, setting ameeting in the middle of a weekday is not conducive to participation by young people. The petition was amended by the young people of this conference to make the language stronger. It did pass, though there was some concern by international delegates that the school schedules in their countries are not the same as the ones here. It was important to them that preferential treatment not be given to young people in the US.

The next proposal was the beginning of the homosexuality/human sexuality debate. The discussion began at shortly before 9 AM surrounding a petition sent by the young people in Berlin. A substitution to this petition was proposed by some of the pastors of the largest UM churches in the US. Both petitions, in different lanuguage, basically stated two things. 1) We acknowledge that we disagree on the difficult issue of homosexuality. 2) We agree to disagree because at this time we cannot come to an agreement. This would mean that we can follow either path without repurcussions. The body chose to work on the original proposal, not the substitution.

There were several highlights to both sides of the debate that I will share with you. Most are paraphrases or summaries.
-This is silly because we disagree on almost everything, so why should this issue be treated differently.
-We have already passed a petition acknowledging we do not agree entirely on everything, and it is placed at the beginning of the social principles.
-There is too much pain caused by these words/statements/stances.
-It is important to speak the truth about all sin, not just this one, and our congregations understand this. They respect us when we speak truth about their sin.
-This is causing people to leave our church, because it is hateful language.
-Speaking truth, even in this, will call people to join the church, because they respect that. People do join the conservative churches.
-Many compare it to the act of reconcilliation and to our new full communion with traditionally African American denominations that left over racism.
-God would not create people in this way, and no more would God make a person to live with animals than he would create a person as homosexual...after this speech, the bishop reminded people to have a calm voice, not speak with inflamatory language, and not to call names...during the speech, somebody started to blow a whistle. The whistle was blown later also.
-Love and condoning actions of sin are not the same thing.
-We are all sinners, so why should this be treated differently?

As you can see, there were many passionate pleas on both sides. Some were appropriate and some were not. Many people sited statistics of growing churches, both conservative and liberal. Many people quoted the Bible.

From the beginning of the day, several people surrounded the bar of the conference and held out their hands, praying for the delegates. A man on the floor asked if our rules allow people to vote from any place in the bar. The bishop and secretary responded in the affirmative, and the man invited others to join him in standing by the curtains that are the bar of the conference, in order to stand with the demonstrators. As he said this, because he was out of order, the bishop spoke over him to cut him off. Some did move to those positions carrying their voting pads. A delegate asked if they could be asked to return to their seats, and the bishop ruled that they can vote from anywhere within the bar. Over time, many from the audience joined those praying at the curtain that represents the bar of the conference.

The petition, as many of you have heard, was defeated. As the recess was called immediately following the defeat, people flooded into the bar of the conference. The sang songs and gathered in the center. The celebrated Communion together. As the recess wound down, some even walked around and offered Communion to those who chose not to join them in the middle.

When the recess ended, the demonstrators chose to remain within the bar of the conference. Bishop Mike, the Indiana bishop, was presiding bishop at this time. He asked the "visitors" to leave the bar of the conference so we can conduct business. They chose to remain and they chose to sing over his speaking. He then explained that he would like to begin by using a song that his mother loved as the prayer. He asked that everybody respect the memory of his mother and listen quietly. As he read, "Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this place," the demonstrators chose to continue singing. He asked them again to leave or return to their seats (depending on if they are delegates or visitors). They chose to remain and continue singing. A speaker from Church and Society (if I remember correctly) asked everybody to take a white piece of paper. She asked us to wave them if we are loved by God, then if we are under 25, then if we are not white, then if we are not in a congregation that is primarily our race, then if we have children or grandchildren in their teens, then she explained that she has family or friends who are GBLT. While she spoke, the protesters continued to sing, though they did become somewhat quieter so she could be heard. After she finished, Bishop Mike asked again for them to leave or return to their seats. He explained that if they do not comply, then he will be forced to call the lunch recess and ask that only delegates be allowed back in after lunch. After perhaps 5-8 chances, Bishop Mike asked them one more time to leave or sit, and he ruled that we were in recess. He also ruled that only delegates will be allowed in the room after lunch. In the end, the protest cost about an hour and a half of discussion time that was to be devoted to homosexuality.

During lunch, the news eventually spread that the bishops decided that they would allow visitors in the room after lunch. Apparently, the protesters were told that they can either leave so business can continue or they can be arrested. Twitter stated that they chose to be arrested. Then, the bishops spent much time talking with them, trying to convince them to not let it go that far. I do not know what was said to them or what they said. I do know that when we returned from lunch a few things happened. 1) They were still in the center of the conference bar when I arrived. 2) The bishops made a statement acknowledging the hurting and pain. Prayer was said, and scripture was read. 3) They then filed out of the bar of the conference peacefully, quietly, and apparently willingly.

Even though, because of the scheduled calendar items we did not discuss homosexuality again in the legislative sessions, it still was a part of the entire day's proceedings. During the lunch break, as usual, I went to the Communion service. During a time of silent prayer, a person spokeabout how painful it is when the Communion service does not acknowledge what has just happened. She said that it was not acknowledged in the Communion service over the last few General Conferences either. In the evening, during the end of day worship, the bishop clearly spoke about the pain in her sermon. She said that something is wrong when certain people are not welcome to our table. Before the service begain, the worship leader explained that we are having a love feast because we need to come together in love, even though many have trouble seeing good or love right now in light of the denomination's decision.

There were a lot of strong feelings, harsh words, and feelings of hurt in the Conference center today, with people on both sides of the issue. We are divided as individuals in the United Methodist Church on this issue, and some of our bishops clearly end up on one side or the other. Today, the denomination has chosen to affirm the current stance. It is unlikely in my opinion, though I suppose it is possible, that this will come up again tomorrow. If it does, I expect we will again see protests. I know that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning to pay us a visit.

While this is perhaps a depressing note, I am going to end here, because adding more would seem inappropriate. I do want to affirm however, as was affirmed earlier today in worship, that God is good all the time!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day 8 Encounter

My morning began, as usual, with listening to speakers to seminary students. This morning, our speakers were a bishop speaking about the world wide nature of the church and a woman from Methodist Federeation for Social Action (MFSA). We have heard over the last few weeks from Good News, MFSA, Reconciling Ministries, several bishops, restructuring, global nature of the church, and the running of General Conference. When the bishop spoke, he explained a few points that I never before understood. He explained the concept of the Global Book of Discipline. In this proposal, we would have one Book of Discipline in most of it, but some can be changed to fit the context of each Central Conference. For some time, I have feared this, because I worried that it would be too easy to argue what parts are contextual. The proposal, however, states that the only part that may be changed is Part V of the Discipline. This section deals with the Administration of the church. The earlier four sections include our Constitution, Doctrines and theology, and the Social Principles. At this announcement, I had a question (since I did not know this part of our polity). I asked him, "What happens if a Central Conference adopts something in Part V that is in conflict with something in Part I-IV?" He explained that at that point it would be referred to the Judicial Council who would rule whether or not the petition can be accepted. I suppose this is something I would have learned in UM Polity class next January?

After we were done hearing from speakers, I headed up to the plenary, and I discovered one of the main duties of a reserve delegate...one who runs errands! I was asked to head down the street to the supermarket to buy a wedding card and reeses cups for a member of our delegation. This delegate is getting married 6 days after she gets home from General Conference! In this case, I had no problem acting as errand runner! I was gone for perhaps half an hour, and I returned in plenty of time to hear the more controversial debate.

The main petition discussed this morning was regarding the restructuring of the UMC. The plan that was set forth is not any of the original petitions. It was intended to be a compromise and is simply referred to as Plan UMC or The Plan. Plan UMC was printed in yesterday's DCA (Daily Christian Advocate). It is important to note the background of this plan. Last week, in legislative committee, no plan for restructuring was passed to the full General Conference. On Monday, permission was given for a small group of people to work on a compromise of the plans and for it to be printed in the DCA. To read the full plan (all 70 some pages of it), go to planumc.org. Otherwise, google it to find a summary.

During the debate, we understandably had people on all sides. Those who were against the petition explained that it was not given with enough time to fully understand the petition, especially since the only way to get it in any language except English was in Google Translate. They also explained that it was developed behind closed doors by a few people,,, and this made them uncomfortable. GCORR and GCSRW, the general commissions that deal with issues of race and women, respectively, were unhappy with the plan because it combined the two. There was even a motion made to change that. Central Conference delegates also feared the lower numbers of representation, and they made a motion to change that. This motion was passed, and the numbers were increased to accomodate their motion. In the end, right before lunch, Plan UMC was approved as the plan for restructuring in our denomination. Boy am I glad I have not yet taken Polity! It passed by 59%, and one person rose after lunch to ask that it go before the Judicial Council to be sure that nothing in the Plan requires a constitutional amendment. If it does, it would actually require a 2/3 vote. Polity at work right in front of my eyes!

During lunch, I was informed that I would be able to sit for one of our delegates, in order to give me the opportunity to experience voting. It was particularly interesting because this afternoon, we were scheduled to discuss divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola because they supply Israel with items that Israel proceeds to use in a way that many disapprove of. So, excited, I went to sit behind the bar to vote for the very first time. In fact, my first vote was about whether or not we should send Plan UMC to the Judicial Council. After a few fairly routine votes, we moved to Israel and Palestine. First, we voted on a petition that revised the Book of Resolutions regarding the situation between the two countries. This did pass.

Second, we voted on the petition regarding divestment. The original petition called for divestment and named the companies. In committee, it was amended to remove that language, to call for peace in Israel and Palestine, and to call for additional standards for any company in which we invest. A minority report was proposed which presented the original language. In a case like this, we first vote on which petition from which we will work. By a large margin, the conference decided to spend time on the majority report without the language of divestment. The first motion, then, was to amend the petition to include language of divestment. It failed. The second motion added language condemning Israel for its actions with aettlements along the wall. It failed. In the end, the petition passed as amended by the committee. Some of the highlights of the debate included 1) a woman compared Israel to Nazi Germany, 2) a man explained that modern Israel and Judaism are not synonymous, 3) people testified to the pain they have seen that is inflicted by Israel, 4) people spoke of pleas by Palestinian Christians and some Jewish groups for divestment, 5) others highlighted Jewish groups against divestment, 6) some explained that the situation is far too complicated to assign total blame, 7) some explained that punishing Cat for how Israel uses its bulldozers to punishing a car dealer for a teen getting in a car, 8) one pointed out that it is a bad idea to mandate investments and not just let the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits do their job, 9) yet another explained that this was hypocritical and young people leave the church because it is hypocritical, and many more pleas on both sides were given.

It is interesting to sit on the floor, because you can see things that are not visible from the stands. For instance, most people, from all countries, spend most of their time on their phones, texting, on twitter, or on facebook. The delegates tend to make comments back and forth between each other just as we do in the stands, and many are sarcastic. You are less likely to get called on if you sit in the back of the room. It is impossible to tell from where each person is speaking unless you happen to know where that microphone is. Finally, voting electronically is a bit anticlimactic after seeing the many issues people had on the first day. For the most part, we simply needed to push 1 for yes and 2 for no. There were times of confusion when it was not a yes/no question, though. A benefit to sitting on the floor is that my District Superintendent bought snacks for the entire table and shared them around. I love my DS!

At the end of the plenary, just at the beginning of the prayer that was to preceed the announcement of a recess and after the announcement that divestment had not passed, there was a loud protest. Probably at least a hundred people marched into the bar of the conference, down the center aisle, singing and chanting. For some time, I could not understand what they were saying. As they made all this noise, the bishop continued to pray, he just got louder. He included the protesters in his prayer, praying over them because there are people who are hurting. As he called the recess, I and most others, went ahead and left, since it was dinner time, so I do not know how the protest ended. At first I was confused. I was not positive what the protest was actually about. They were mostly wearing rainbow items, but the timing was immediately after divestment was voted down. I assumed that many of them could stand for both issues. In the end, we concluded that they were protesting in favor of homosexuality, since they were apparently yelling that movement's slogans. Many (from the very liberal to the conservative) were upset because they interrupted a prayer. Others pointed out later on the floor that this was a violation of the rules of the Annual Conference. The presiding bishop that evening ruled that the earlier bishop had already called the recess. Many chose to stand and join the protesters. Many others simply made no stand to support or reject. Tomorrow we will be discussing homosexuality for most of the day, and we can undoubtedly expect more protests and demonstrations as the delegates discuss, debate, and pray. Tomorrow will be a very emotional day for many.

This evening, the worship service was a memorial service for all the bishops who died in the last quadrennium. It was an absolutely beautiful service. During the sermon, the bishop preaching gave an illustration that I hope never to forget. She explained that death is like a ship going off into the horizon. As it goes out of sight, the observers say, "there it goes." At the same time there are others waatching from the other direction saying, "here it comes!" As they do in many services like this, each person who passed away was named. As they were named, people stood to honor them if this bishop touched their lives. Bishop Sheldon Deuker was named tonight, and ene though I never knew him, I stood. I stood because he came from Indiana, but more, I stood because he spent time at Grace. I stood knowing that there were people at my home church, Grace UMC, who would have stood for him and did not get a chance tonight. I chose to stand on behalf of my church, in his memory knowing he would have affected the identity of the church that shaped me. In a way, I guess he did touch my life.

God bless and good night.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Day 7 Encourage

What a day. The first thing to happen this morning was the voting on the consent calendar. When they vote on consent calendar, the first thing that happens is that certain pieces are announced that were pulled the previous day. Two pieces of legislation that were supposed to be pulled could not be pulled because of an invalid signature on each. The delegates voted to pass the consent calendars. At that moment I realized something that made me very unhappy. Guaranteed appointments had been voted away with no discussion or acknowledgment. The business of the day continued like any other day. Meanwhile, social media exploded with discussion of this new development in clergy jobs. After a couple of hours, a man rose to ask a question. "Did we pass the end of guaranteed appointments in the consent calendar? I know it was my own fault for not realizing this sooner." The presiding bishop answered in the affirmative, and suddenly people all over the room started to mutter to one another. The delegate then moved that they reconsider this petition, because he believed it deserved discussion. Several people then rose to speak to this motion. The first to speak for it explained that, even though she would NEVER be on twitter or facebook during legislative sessions, she was aware that people are appalled it was passed with no discussion. All those who spoke against the motion, actually spoke against guaranteed appointments. In the end, the motion to reconsider was voted down by 30 some percent yes to 60 some percent no.

I was not happy with this development, both because it meant no discussion and because it ended guaranteed appointments. Based on my posts on twitter and the conversations I had around me, here were a few of the things said, on both sides, after the results. "Nobody else has guaranteed jobs." "Other jobs do require you to be able to move at a moments notice." "It is way too hard to deal with clergy ineffectiveness because there is often not hard and fast evidence." "The amendments made in committee put more checks on the system, so it is not too easy to just not appoint somebody." "It should not stifle our prophetic voice, because Jesus never promised us security in exchange for preaching prophetically." "It is an issue of trust." "Do we trust in the people or in the calling God has given us?" "We are worried about losing our jobs, but it is not like we are being jailed or killed for what we say."

Many of those were said to me in conversation, because I was obviously very unhappy. It was interesting though, because I had strangers ask me what I thought about this as soon as they found out I was in seminary. I also had strangers (who turned out to be District Superintendents), tell me that anybody with such a passion will have no problem. Another told me that this will help young clergy, because they can exit older ineffective pastors to give young new clergy a chance. One person walked up to me after the vote and said (half joking and half serious), "Are you still going to submit your commissioning paperwork?" I nodded. "Good, because I am also going to stick with it." After these many conversations, I am much calmer about the whole situation. Above all, I do trust the calling God has placed on my life. I also do trust our current leadership. For the most part, I trust our system. I guess we just have to see how it plays out.

In the midst of all this drama, a more lighthearted story took place. In the afternoon, I arrived at the legislative session to see one of our reserve delegates sitting with a huge cardboard box. It was almost cube shaped and was perhaps 18-20 inches in each direction. The reserve delegate says to me, "it is one of our delegate's birthday and this is a cake for him. Would you watch it because I have to go sit in for somebody to vote?" So here I am, sitting with a big cardboard box wondering why on earth there was a cake this big for just our delegation. As a few of us from Indiana who are not able to vote often sat and looked at this box, eventually our curiosity got the best of us. We opened the box to find...a small chocolate cake. It was the size of a normal round cake tin, not double layered, and it was sitting on a porcelin plate uncovered! The cake was beautiful with its decorations, but the size in that big box was a little anticlimactic. The porcelin plate was sitting slanted on a stack of plastic forks. As one of our reserve delegates said, only a man would put a cake like this in a cardboard box uncovered. It was sweating!

Eventually, the time came for the afternoon break. We carried it to a table just outside the bar of the conference brought over the delegation, and sang to him at the top of our lungs. Strangers started to join in and people from other parts of the room even clapped for him when we were done! Well, I assume they clapped for his birthday, since our singing was not particularly phenomenal. I was asked to cut and serve the cake. As I am getting to the end of our delegation, I notice that people from the Texas conference were hovering like flies over the cake. They were hoping for a piece :) Once every Indiana person had a piece, I was given permission to get rid of it in any way possible, so our scavenger friends from Texas were rewarded for hovering. The last piece was given to a random woman walking by. It is nice to make her smile, even though I was not the one to buy the cake. It is amazing how popular you become when you cut cake...

This afternoon, we were treated by a visit from an amazing lady. They explain that she was born in 1906, was married to a bishop, and has been at every single General Conference since a year in the 1930s. She was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the stage. As they focus the cameras on her, the General Conference gives her a standing ovation. Now, the General COnference seems to give a standing ovation for everything, but usually it takes a bit of time for everybody to stand. For her, everybody stood instantly. And then, this 106 year old woman stood to wave and greet us! She is 106 years old but does not look a day over 80! When she spoke to us and thanked us, she explained she was only having trouble because she had shingles. She didn't even sound a day over 80! As I posted about this on facebook, my Grandma asked if she might be Miss Louise. I had not idea since she was announced by her full name. Then Grandma mentioned her first and last name. This woman is a member of the church where my Grandparents are members and where my mother grew up! Isn't it amazing the connections that are made and the joy in the long life of a woman who still loves the Lord!

Several more petitions that passed today were significant. 1) The Congo received one more bishop. 2) Funds were given for Central Conference scholarships. 3) The preamble of the Social Principles were changed with some added language that acknowledges differences in opinion but and affirmation of Christ;'s love. And perhaps my favorite, 4) we are now in full communion with the pan-Methodist denominations. We are bridging some of the gaps created by racism in our church.

This evening, I am sorry to say, I cannot report on the final worship service or the presentation of visiting ecumenical leaders. Since I am missing two weeks of classes to be here, I had to take some time to actually do some homework reading! Oh the joys of being a student. Coming up this week though, restructuring, divestment, and homosexuality.

Good night!!