Monthly Archives: June 2017

My Broken Heart Serves Me Well

Two weeks ago I wrote about feeling afraid. I was genuinely afraid that I had helped set two people up for utter failure.

To fill you in: last week the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to commission two openly gay clergy.  Commissioning grants them the title “Reverend” and begins a time for formation where they will walk with other newly commissioned clergy as they experience the joys and disappointments of ordained ministry and church leadership.

The votes were without incident and no one spoke against their entry into the clergy of the UMC.  I sat amongst the assembled clergy of our conference and cried.  I cried again when we celebrated our service of  commissioning and ordination, because I believe that this is a concrete step towards justice and inclusion that has been a long time coming.

The joy was overwhelming!  Our Jurisdiction elected an openly gay Bishop last July, and now my conference (smaller than a Jurisdiction) has commissioned two openly gay clergy.

JUSTICE AT LAST!!!

It took me several hours to stop grinning like an idiot.

And then I got home after five days of holy conferencing and I started thinking…and worrying.

I worry that not one concern was raised. Not one clergyperson spoke against their commissioning…and there are plenty of conservative clergy in our conference who are not thrilled with allowing LGBTQIA persons into the clergy.

So why wasn’t there discussion?

You’d think I’d be thrilled, but I’m not. Discussion would have been difficult and maybe even emotionally painful, but at least everyone’s opinion could have been heard.

I fear that we’ve silenced the conservatives in our conference, and that isn’t a good thing. It isn’t a good thing at all.

For years and years, my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters have sat in silence, closeted, unable to be their true selves for fear of the rejection they might receive and the losses they might have had to endure.  They could be clergy, but only if they effectively passed for heterosexuals.  Until recently, the authentic voices of Methodist LGBTQIA persons were silenced by the Book of Discipline that stated that being a LGBTQIA person was against Christian teaching and therefore disqualified you for ordained ministry.**  The tide has slowly turned and more and more Methodists now support the full ordination of LGBTQIA persons, but that can never undo the years of silence and forced invisibility they endured. What the Church has done over the years to non-heterosexual persons who felt called into ministry breaks my heart.

My broken heart serves me well.  I am unwilling to participate in that kind of silencing and forced invisibility a second time…not even when I disagree with the voices of those who I’m silencing. Not even when I believe I stand on the side of justice. I cannot participate in silencing my conservative siblings and consider myself righteous, because all I have done is swap one kind of oppression and discrimination for another.

If discrimination is wrong, then discrimination is WRONG even when the discrimination silences your opponent or even your enemy.

I am not advocating for a return to hate-speech about gays and lesbians. There is no need for hate speech on either side of any debate, nor is there any need for condemnation or negative labeling.

The bottom line is that in the middle of all my joy and celebration, I am watching to make sure that we don’t simply turn the tables on the conservatives, rendering them silent and invisible.

If you are reading this and you are one of my conservative siblings in the UMC, know that I am thinking of you and praying for you. Don’t be silent. Your voice is crucial to maintaining balance in our denomination. Moreover, I keep hoping that one day both sides will find themselves gravitating closer and closer to the middle of our theological seesaw…until we can simply hold hands and declare ourselves unified.

Then no one will have to be silent and invisible, and wouldn’t that look just like the Kingdom?

** The United Methodist Book of Discipline hasn’t changed in this regard; our conference has decided that questions regarding sexuality are not relevant to readiness for, or effectiveness in, ministry and therefore will not be discussed as a part of considerations for commissioning or ordination. Any information about sexuality that is revealed in the course of the interviews and theological examinations will not be held against the candidate.  We don’t engage in ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ but instead in a policy of ‘Why is that important?’ and ‘Don’t be skanky (promiscuous) if you’re going to be a minister!’

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Today I Am Afraid

*** For those of you in the DSW Conference, no I do not know anything that you don’t. I am just experiencing some anxiety mixed with hope in light of the vote we are about to have this coming Thursday. If I have concerned you because of my personal fear, I am truly sorry.  It’s just a prayer that reflects my own anxious nature.  Blessings and peace…and perhaps prayers that we will all be less anxious. ***

Abba, Father…

I did what I thought was right.  I read their theological exams and I expected from them what I expect from any candidate for ministry: honesty and theological robustness. I expected them to write their exams like they were writing papers for seminary, in conversation with the Scriptures and with the theologians that they studied.  I interviewed them Lord, and I tried hard not to give them breaks that I wouldn’t have given to other candidates.  I did my best to be thorough, firm, and fair…and then I voted my conscience and I approved them.

I approved two LGBTQIA candidates for commissioning and admission to the clergy of the United Methodist Church.

I was proud that day and certain that my colleagues would join me in celebrating their entry into full time ministry. I was certain that our entire conference would celebrate our stand for justice and equality in ministry.

Today I am not so certain. In fact, today I am afraid.

I am filled with fear that my conservative colleagues will unite and stand against these two people. I fear that they will block their entry into full time ministry. I fear they will vote against them, but not because they aren’t fully prepared, and not because they aren’t theologically articulate, but solely because they are LGBTQIA.

That’s not the right reason, Lord.  You have given us ample evidence that You call the weak and foolish to show your strength and wisdom. Goodness knows you called ME and there isn’t much that is weaker or more foolish than I am.

My stomach hurts and I want to cry.

I want to believe that I serve a church that is just and wise. I want to believe that I serve in a conference that will stand for justice even when it means that we will be hated by other conferences within the larger Methodist church. I want to believe that you are leading the Desert Southwest, and eventually the entire Methodist Church, into new spaces of equality and tolerance that our church has never known before.

But I’m so afraid that I’m wrong in what I believe. I’m afraid that I’m about to watch these two poor souls be crushed when they are turned away and labeled unclean and unfit for ministry only because of the way they love.

All I can do, Father, is to put the whole thing into your hands and beg you to have your way with our conference. Let your Spirit move as the clergy votes over these two who have submitted themselves to your will and put themselves into your hands.  Protect them from any harm should my colleagues choose to reject them.  Never let these two children doubt for one moment that You have chosen them and nothing else matters.

You alone can stop the prejudice and fear that runs in the hearts of those who would reject the children you call just because of who and how they love.  Grant me the grace to forgive them for their fear, because you know that I am also consumed with fear. Grant me the grace to remember that they are only trying to do what is best for the church, just as I am trying to do what is best for the church.

Grant us…grace. Lots and lots of grace…because we are going to need it in abundance.

Father God, today I am afraid. But I am trusting that you are bigger than this entire issue, and that it matters even more to you than it does to me.

Thanks for listening. I needed to get this off my chest.  I might need you again later, because this fear doesn’t seem to go away and it keeps threatening to leak out of my eyes and run down my face.

Amen.

The Attack of the Lying Suits!

I think I am finally beginning to understand.

You see, last week I preached for a friend so that he could take some time off. I’ve preached for him before and so his congregation is familiar with me.  Familiarity helps when you’re doing pulpit supply, and it makes the congregation feel better too, so there I was for Memorial Day weekend.

I got there early so that I could get settled and say hello to the folks as they came through the door. One parishioner, I’ll call him Dave, got there only a few moments after I did so that he could hand out the bulletins and greet folks at the door.

I talked with Dave about how he’d been since I’d last seen him and about the weather, which was hot and dry even up in the mountains. I knew there was a brush fire nearby and had seen the smoke as I drove into town. I’d also heard about the fire on the news and so I knew that locals were very concerned about what was being released into the air by the fire. The long and short of it was that this area of forest hadn’t burned in decades, not since the government had used Agent Orange to reduce the chaparral and increase water flow for the Salt River Project.**

Now that the area that had been deforested was burning, the locals were alarmed at the dioxins that might be released into the air by the fire. I asked Dave if he had heard anything from the fire service or the local government and he immediately started shaking his head. “Oh yeah, we heard from them all right. They told us we have nothing to worry about. They’re lying to us and we know it…lying right to our faces.”

I can’t blame Dave for feeling the way he does, even though I can’t be sure that the fire service or the government is actually lying. And the truth is that we won’t find out for a long time, and if we do find out, it will be because the local citizens start getting sick in record numbers…and the lies will have cost them their health and maybe even their lives.

We’ve all seen it happen: something goes terribly wrong, and the government or the giant corporation sends some official representative to assure the public that everything is going to be just fine.  They come to us dressed in finely tailored suits, armed with smiles and slick lies.

It’s the attack of the lying suits.

Erin Brockovich.  Michael Clayton. Silkwood. All The President’s Men. Syrianna…every last one of these movies tells the true story of corporate or governmental lies and coverups that cost the American people dearly.  We know the story of the lying suit so well, that stories about striking back at the lying suits have become a part of what we call entertainment.

And this…THIS is how we got Donald Trump as President.

I have been trying for months to find a way to understand Trump voters.  I have listened to them try to explain why they like Trump and it hasn’t helped at all…until Dave.

Huge numbers of Americans, many of them working poor, are sick to death of the lying suits. They have come to believe that any person who comes with a suit and a smile cannot be trusted.  They have been lied to and cheated. They’ve lost their homes to the financial crisis and the greed of multinational banks.  They’ve have had their property devalued and their health destroyed by corporate dumping and the subsequent pollution of the soil and ground water. They have been told that fracking doesn’t harm the environment even after they told the lying suits that they could turn their kitchen faucets into blowtorches simply by turning them on and then lighting a match next to the faucet.  They have been told that the city’s water infrastructure was fine even though the levels of lead in the water were off the charts.

It’s not as if lives were at stake. Okay, lives were at stake, but they weren’t important lives because no one whose life was at stake was wearing a well-tailored suit and a smile.

And then along came a rich man in a well-tailored suit, with a slick smile…

And he talked in the exact same way as the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits like to talk. And he railed against the government, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits rail against the government.  He said unkind, politically incorrect things, just like the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits wish they could say to the lying suits.  He publicly ridiculed the lying suits and he refused to play nice with them no matter how hard the lying suits tried to get him to do what was expected of him if he was going to play politics.

He did everything that the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits want to do but can’t do because they don’t have the money or the power or the prestige to get anyone to listen or pay attention to them.

This is why we have Donald Trump as President.

And you can’t really blame the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits, can you? Because those of us who didn’t vote for Donald Trump deal with those same lying suits every day.

We work for them. They are usually our boss’s boss. And we don’t like the lying suits very much either.  They tend to screw us out of our pension, or deny us the benefits they promised us if we would only work for them for 20+ years, or lay us off along with 4,000 of our coworkers, all while taking their million dollar bonus for keeping the company profitable.

I think I finally beginning to understand.

I don’t like the man who the-people-who-are-sick-of the-lying-suits elected, but I am beginning to understand why they thought he would be a better choice than Hillary, who (let’s be honest) sometimes looks an awful lot like all the other lying suits.

I may not agree with their choice, but if I can understand why they made their choice, maybe I can find compassion for how they feel, and if I can find compassion for how they feel, maybe we can finally start a dialogue about how best to unite and move forward.

I think I am finally beginning to understand, and it’s the first ray of hope I’ve had in a while.

**  Read more about the use of Agent Orange in Arizona HERE