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Friday, July 17, 2015

Thoughts on Abortion, Humanity, and the Damage of Distance

After being submerged in sermon planning and then traveling back home for a Visitation and Funeral- I'm finally catching up on the news that broke earlier this week about Planned Parenthood.

People ask me all the time about controversial issues and what the church thinks about everything from Energy Policy, Israel and Palestine, Human Sexuality, Gambling, and Abortion-- you name a controversial topic- people want to talk about it.
 And we should.
            We should not be afraid to talk about hard things.

Karl Barth said we should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

When I walked into the chapel at Birmingham- Southern College I read the United Methodist Social Principles and I thought, "WOW!  Here's a church that is not afraid to talk and live and act in a way that says- we care what happens in the world."

You can read more about the United Methodist Social Principles here.  We don't all agree on all of these principles-- what's important is that we allow our faith to respond and guide us to be in both conversation and action with the world.  We also understand that many of these issues are not easy to talk about and they are not always black and white.


 United Methodists have a history of speaking up and acting on issues of social justice.  We don't only talk- we do.  We care about the world and we refuse to idly sit by waiting to die.  Our theology is grounded in an understanding that God's grace has  poured love into our lives and so we respond to the love of God intentionally by living in loving relationship with Christ and others.  What we do - works of piety, works of mercy, works of justice-- flow from our response to God's grace and the stirring of the Holy Spirit.

Well, I am stirred up tonight.
 I should be sleeping- I was exhausted when I began reading and watching videos of the news that broke this week.

We're meant to be engaged with the world- not hide from it.
And when we get engaged with what's going on- we wake up.

So I'm awake right now... even though I should probably get some rest soon.

In 2001 I spent a month in Mozambique working on building the foundation of a school in Cambine with my college.  As the Chronicler for our trip I was able to visit two hospitals- one was funded only by the government and the other received both government funding and funding from The United Methodist Church.  The first hospital lacked separate wards for people with TB, HIV, for women and children.  Some people did not have beds- many were on the floor- the pharmacy was mostly empty.  There were many hard things to see.  There were two women dying from infection after having back alley abortions.  They had more children than they could count or even feed.  They were not allowed access to birth control.  Their husbands raped them repeatedly and thought of this as their right.  I ached for them and the tragedy of their lives.  Their children would soon be orphaned.
The hospital funded by the United Methodist Church in Chicuque    was drastically different with beautiful separate wards, a decorated children's section, equipment, and much more.  I was and am so proud to be part of a connectional church that makes places like this possible through apportionments and our united work together.

If you've seen Dirty Dancing- you've seen the terrible scene where Penny has had an illegal abortion and barely survives.

For many reasons- there are women who feel they have no other option.  I believe that we can do better. If we really care-- we need to help women early and help them know that there are more options.  I believe in our country there are safe ways women can obtain the services of a safe abortion, but my hope is that we can do all we can to make this rare.

Ed Stetzer points out in his article from Christianity Today:
"In 1992, President Clinton talked about making abortion "safe, legal, and rare."

I believe we need to work on truly making it rare.

What if the church loved so deeply--  more than words... kind of love-- love with actions and resources and hospitality?  What if every woman had people around her to love her and let her know, "I'm with You" to such a degree that she knew she would not be judged for her pregnancy or her choices?  That she would be loved no matter which option she chose concerning her pregnancy- and that she'd never be alone.

I believe proponents against abortion begin with good reasons, yet often speak too much about what not to do and lack follow-through and action on how to care for unwanted children. Yelling at women walking into a clinic does nothing to help this cause and lacks compassion for the woman (likely frightened and stressed) who likely does not want to be there.

I believe proponents who speak in favor of choice are not pro-abortion, but I believe the lack of action at working to make this choice be not just safe and legal- -but one that women choose rarely is a travesty.

Life is sacred. The life and well being of a mother and the life and well being of an unborn child. 


There is much that Planned Parenthood does that has nothing to do with abortion.  They help many families have access to family planning, they provide cancer screenings, they provide a great deal of education.

I am completely disgusted at the video of Deborah Nucatola which you can see in numerous places, but I believe first released via The Washington Post.  

I am sure she does not represent all of Planned Parenthood and I appreciate the shared disgust of her lack of compassion and economical way she spoke about real people and real lives given shared by Cecile Richard's official video response from Planned Parenthood.

I'm not only disgusted.  I'm outraged that someone whose sole purpose in that moment should be the care and well being of a troubled woman- would be focused not on her well being- but on how to best harvest the organs of her fetus. I'm enraged that it appears her day was focused on how many of what specimens she needed rather than the women she was there to care and serve

 Her use of technical language has clearly distanced her and she has forgotten her own humanity.  She's made things so clinical, that she has forgotten compassion.

I am angry.

In the midst of this I seek grace to know where God can lead us now.
In the midst of this I confess my own distancing of the world so I don't have to feel all the feelings you feel when you love authentically.

I think we do this with our language all the time - it may not be clinical language- but it comes in all different ways and it makes us forget who we are and how we are meant to live all the while distancing and masking our true selves.

We call people who are a stranger in a foreign land- "illegals" and we forget their humanity.
We divide people into camps of GLBTQ Allies or homophobes and we forget their humanity.
We slap labels - progressive, liberal, conservative, tradistionalist.... and we forget our humanity.
We call Black Men -thugs-- and forget their humanity.

Rather than deal with language, vulnerability, privilege, and power-- we simply allow ourselves to separate out until we forget that we are meant to love one another.  We get farther and farther away. Distance does damage.

Early church Father-  Dorotheus said, "The closer we are to God, the closer we are to one another.  And the closer we are to one another, the Closer we are to God."  We're losing a lot when we forget to see one another as sisters and brothers made in the image of a loving God who wants us to love-- to love at all times, but especially in our brokenness.

I'm angry Deborah Nucatola became so very distanced from the reality of humanity and became so immersed into a black and white reality of clinical cruelty.  I pray that she may recover her humanity to speak to and about others as real people.

I'm also angry that I'm part of a culture that contributed to her distancing herself.  She slipped away.  No one starts off this way-- but they can fall--- further and further into compassionate oblivion.  No one noticed her lack of compassion-- no one held her accountable to caring.  We have to do better.

So what do we do?

I believe we need to wake up.

I believe accountability and justice must occur.

We need to pay more attention, care deeper, come closer.

We've got to do better at keeping our connection to God and one another not only in tact but strong and growing so we don't forget our humanity or that of others.  That starts in community with the vulnerable hard work of asking, "How is it with your soul?"

Those in the medical field should have check-in's with counselors and therapist to make sure that they are still seeing patients as people and not consumers.
Police are already required to undergo psychological testing and compassion/empathy training.
There are checks and balances developed so that soldiers aren't put back in the field when they aren't ready.
Clergy in the UMC undergo a thorough ordination process so that toxic people aren't ordained and do damage.

Even with these kind of checks balances in these professions and others- people still act out, do wrong, and lack compassion.

But we're failing when we're not working hard as a community of faith- to care for one another in ways that counteract desires to draw away and become distant.

We need to deal with each other- not grow distant.

We need to love enough that everyone remembers how to love.





Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prayer for a Mammogram






 Lord, be with me as I walk into the room.  Clothe me in your comfort as I take off my clothes and put on the dinky hospital gown with the snaps that confuse me.  Put your words in the mouths of the nurses, technicians, and doctors who see me.  When I walk in the room with the giant machine let me lift my eyes up to you and not this machine of torture used for good.  As parts of me that you created are smooshed into ways you did not create them to be, release the anxiety from me and vanquish the fear.  I’m not so worried, Lord about the pain of being smooshed… I fear all that comes later.  Breathe this fear out of me. When it’s all over and the dinky robe goes in the laundry bin, continue to clothe me in courage, grace, and the undeniable truth that you are with me.  Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Prayer of a Pastor in Advent



O Lord my God
I am so very tired.
Everywhere I look there is work for me to do.
When I rest I wake refreshed for a moment and then feel guilt.
There is so much to do.
I want time. 
And I know you have given it to me.
Forgive me.
I cannot do all the things.
And even worse I cannot do the things I know I should do.
There seems to be no energy in me.
I long for you and the sustenance I know you give.
I pour myself out with hope to serve you.
I wait longingly for rest.
I know hope and I know joy are coming.
Forgive me and help me forgive me.
I pray others will forgive me when I cannot live up to all I should be.
I pray you will wipe away the shoulds from my life.
Forgive my failures. 
Free me to serve without fear.
Release me from the bondage of all I do not know, my fear of unknown, my worry, my desire to fix all I cannot fix.
Let me rest in you.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
I am waiting for you to come and 
shine in me with radiant energy so that I may serve you.
Use me and let my life be, my call be, let me be,  used according to your will.

Amen.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thoughts on Hospitality



I’ve learned that hospitality is risky.

  I have to risk vulnerability, rejection, judgment, dismissal.  

  Hospitality means that I desire connection with another.  I desire that we will connect, that we will love one another as sisters and brothers in Christ.  

Hospitality is full of hope and anticipation for what God may do in our relationships.  

The hope that I may open myself willingly to others and that they would receive me and reciprocate.  The hope that in reaching out my heart will grow in connecting with others.  

Anticipation is not the same as expectation.  Anticipate does not know what will happen but welcomes the newness and unknowing with joy.  Expectation defines what I want to happen.  Expectation is not necessarily bad, in fact I think it’s really good to have clear expectations for many things.  

Yet, I’m not sure expectation has any role in hospitality. 
  I’ve been thinking that expectations in hospitality and in offering myself to others, in offering space to others, in opening myself to the world—just seem to be unhelpful.  Either I limit what God will do or become disappointed and hurt by others.  If I am truly offering hospitality—wouldn’t it mean that I do not have an expectation of them?  Wouldn’t it mean that I put it out there and let it go?  I can still hold to anticipation, but perhaps I should stop expecting others to react, respond, reciprocate in various ways.  It seems like true hospitality must be without expectation because it has to allow space for the Spirit to bring comfort, change, peace,… whatever is needed.  How can someone feel truly welcomed if they feel they are expected to be a certain way?

Perhaps the only expectation for hospitality is the expectation of authenticity.  Yet even that can be hard for people. 
  Do expectations force people to be certain ways?  As in, “I have to be authentic because she wants me to be?” 
I always go back to the tattered notebook paper which had Nouwen’s definition of hospitality written in black marker that hung in my office as a missionary:  “Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer space where change can take place.”
Even this expects something—a change.

Reminds me of chemistry- which I was horrible at but had a teacher who tireless worked  with me and worked so hard but just struggled so…. But chemistry always has a reaction.  Things come together and you expect a reaction to occur.

If the hospitality I offer—is open, selfless, just an offering of myself  and what I have--  can I want a reaction? 
  Sometimes we want healing, we want reconciliation, we want a growing deeper, we want a movement forward...
Most always wanting connection – certainly grounded in my extroversion. (yes there are times I want to just sit in bed and do nothing and be with no one, or walk in the woods with just me and my dogs... but I feel as though I have a yearning, an urgency to be connected -- not for the sake of being connected but connected with the purpose of sharing Christ.) 

I value connection with others.  I value connecting with them as people, as children of God—we may have nothing in common—but somewhere, somehow we are connected…  and that must mean something.  

Perhaps that is the one thing we have in common and from there—couldn't something grow deeper? 

Certainly we will not be connected to everyone in the same way – the same depth—but something of hospitality and connecting with others must be this purpose, this power- in seeing and saying, “I see you. And in seeing you I acknowledge that you and I have been created and we have the possibility of unity."
(wasn't there something like this in that movie where people were blue?)

 The possibility of unity is not something for us to work at or make happen- but for us to listen deeply enough to hear God speak, to be still enough to feel the Spirit move, to in some way realize that we have both been redeemed and made new by the same Christ who lived for me and you and died for me and for you and rose for me and for you.

Hospitality opens the door to connection and yet connection does not mean “I like you” or “I agree with you.”  
But somewhere it must mean I value you.  I value who you are, I value that you were made for a purpose.  I value that you have gifts.  Inherently, hospitality must honor another person.  
Honor who they are as different from me and honor who we are together as connected with me. 
  Honor seems to be a way of loving the child of God that is in you—The Christ in me sees the Christ in you—and as children of the kingdom/kin-dom connected through the blood of Christ – we are family and we love one another. 

How do we live this hospitality?  Seeking connection, forsaking expectation, hoping with anticipation, open for God’s presence to dwell with us so that we are freed from fear, so that we can truly be our authentic self, with the hope that connection will be birthed?

For so much of who I am, I believe this to be my deepest longing.  Not to run and retreat from others even when the world has been hurtful… but to experience the truth of what I know must be possible because of Christ.

Christ came for all the world and died for all the world. 
  The World is my Parish. 
At Pentecost the reality of unity was experienced— All Speaking different languages, and yet the Spirit made them One. 

Hospitality- Connection—Honor- - Unity 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Call, A Confession, and A Covenant seeking Unity


These are my thoughts and hopes for the church--

In a world where divisiveness is rampant, there is little to model unity and we believe the church is being called to reveal to the world a way to move forward in the midst of difference.  

While resolutions are being put forward to change the wording in the Book of Discipline, and statements are being made suggesting schism,  we desire to create plans and possibilities for moving forward even without complete resolution and agreement.  Yet still moving forward in the messiness of theology- in the messiness of what it means to be church.   And are we yet alive?  We believe we are and can continue to be.  

How can we inspire and share with others that even in all of this, it is still worth it to be this messy, imperfect, Body of Christ, that may muddle through and loving one another especially when it is hard to do so?  How can we reveal that we do not give up- that church is not just an idea, but a reality of people who come together to love not because it is easy, but because the Holy Spirit makes it possible and our lives are richer for it.   How can we reveal the kingdom of God when we are so focused on our own animosity and disagreements?

We do not argue over how we understand the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the mystery of the sacraments, the truth of the resurrection- why should we debate this? These were Wesley's essentials, if we cannot think alike we can love alike and "if your heart is with my heart, take my hand." 

We confess that we have failed to listen to one another and we have allowed our egos to rule, rather than our hearts.  Too often, we seek to be right, rather than to learn.  We seek to claim who is on God’s side rather than to love.  We repent of our earthly desire to win debates, and ask God to help us love one another even when we do not agree.  We commit to pray for God to work through us to create a third way where we may be one in unity in the midst of our differences.

We covenant together  to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind and to love our neighbor as we love our selves, not because we agree with our neighbor, but  because we were Created by love to love,  Jesus calls us to love, and the Holy Spirit empowers and equips us to love.  

We covenant to focus our time and energy on the mission Jesus Christ has given us to make disciples and to transform the world.  



Friday, October 11, 2013

Stop Complaining Start Engaging



It's my day off and I should be paying bills and cleaning my house, but as I was wasting time on Facebook I got myself a little worked up.  

One of my greatest pet peeves -- is the complaining I hear so very often in the church.  I get it. Seriously- I do.  And I know I'm Pollyanna and all that, but I understand the need to let off steam.  Yet what really bothers me is that we-- mainly clergy- complain about the same things -- all the time.  Have we prayed about it as much as we've complained? Have we offered to productively and effectively engage in helpful ways as much as we have complained?  Have we considered the hard work and intentionality of those who are working behind the scenes who we are often taking for granted?  

I guess this is striking a chord for me today- because of the shutdown and I have heard so many people say things like "The shut down really isn't affecting anyone" or "those folks in Washington don't really do anything."  For me- - those folk aren't bureaucrats who do nothing-- they are my friends and former parishioners who serve, protect, and care deeply about their country and her citizenry. Its easy to complain when you don' t know the people personally.  But they are people who work hard and care passionately.  

So-- perhaps my ability to let one more clergy ranting on FB go is kind of soaked up by the last 10 days of the shutdown.

When clergy get together -we have to let out stem-- that is good and important- our time together should be renewing, life giving, and give us energy for the call we share.  I especially feel this way when I gather with clergy women friends, covenant and prayer groups- there is laughter and joy and it is spiritually uplifting.  

Yet there are several times when I gather with clergy and I hear complaining- lots of complaining- that leads no where usually about -- the ordination process or boards, agencies, and apportionments.... 

And this where I am am just done. 

Stop complaining and get engaged.  

We are Methodist- like it or not- and well-- I pretty much love it most of the time.

 I love our ecclesiology and our connection and I love that there is an ordination process that cares deeply about the clergy person and the churches where they get sent.  I love that we are not alone.  There is no parachute.  You are not left alone unless you choose to be.  Your church cannot fire you.  The Church invests in you deeply.  If things aren't going well there are resources to help.  The ordination process reveals this care and concern and commitment.  Residency Events and workshops, and papers, and process are not hoops to jump through they are opportunities to grow as a clergyperson so you can do all that God has called you to do.  The Church- the Conference- the Connection does not have to care this much-- but they do.  They are paying for you to do all of this.  (yeah you pay for a lot too-- but that reveals your commitment.... trust me I've paid for a good bit of psychological tests... yes I'm still paying student loans... yes we've got to work on that part)..... 

 Yet in the midst of it all-- this is a vocation where God chooses and calls you and choose back.... enjoy and get all you can out of these opportunities.  When we're wounded- (too often by our churches) we need each other and we have a Church Connection that is here to love us and help us through it. 

Do we lose good people because of our system and polity- Yes.  Is it perfect?  No.  

Does the "system" wound people-- yes it can be wounding... it can be hard.  Is that the intention?  No.  
 
Is healing and moving through to a stronger place possible?  Always.
Does our system and polity and ordination process need valued, caring, theologically astute, passionate people to engage and be part of making this better?  Absolutely.  

Is it moving and changing fast enough? Not always.  Because trying to work together with this many people is really really hard work.  But I think it's worth it.

Today I was on FB and saw discussions and complaints about how "boards and agencies are irrelevant" and they "just suck up apportionment dollars."  
Instead of thinking about how boards and agencies suck away apportionments- how about utilizing them more fully in our contexts? 

As a former GBGM missionary and as someone who has traveled to Mozambique, stayed at Cambine to help build the school there (through a service-learning trip with the Methodist college I attended)  visited the Methodist Hospital in Chicuque and experienced seeing the comparison of the other hospital (government hospital had nothing--no separate quarters for HIV/ or TB no separate wards for women and children- no beds, no meds-- compared to UMC hospital where they had supplies, beds, separate wards and even lovely kid- friendly decorations). 

 If we are not seeing the relevance of these boards and agencies - if people don't see the value of apportionments and connectionalism -- perhaps its because our leadership isn't helping make that connection for them-- and we are missing a vital part of our ecclesiology

Take a group to NY, DC and do a seminar--educate our congregations about the missions that are possible- the lives that are changed-- the difference we make - all because of apportionments. 

 I was able to serve as a US-2 Missionary because of apportionments - where 500 homeless folks were served meals, connected with resources, and empowered.  Churches throughout the area were engaged and brought into mission through this work as they were empowered and equipped to bring lunches, and come into relationship with those who are homeless to know more than a face- a name- a person- a sister/brother in Christ.  Because of apportionments we come together as the Body of Christ to do awesome work of the kingdom.  

There are US-2's, Mission Interns, Mission trips, seminars, agencies who serve the poor, colleges and universities,  all in your own area - who exist and do the work of the kingdom all because your own church exists-- that you likely don't know about and aren't teaching your churches about.  The local church is the most significant place where disciple making occurs-- and these board of agencies are the most significant ways we are sending disciples into the world in engaging, powerful, ways that change lives. 

 Is your church not engaging the community to become more diverse-- perhaps the Commission on Race and Religion has resources for you?

Seeking to empower women- to educate and connect women in your community with women in the world-- perhaps work through UMW and COSROW

Wonder why our faith calls us to engage in the world around us? Wondering what our faith says about ---- anything?  Read and learn the Social Principles- Do a bible study on them- take a group to GBCS-- learn and grow.  Do you have people in your church criticizing the "liberal" GBCS-- listen thoughtfully and and engage them compassionately.  Find where they are passionate and help them live into that passion to serve Christ.

Equip your Worship Team with GBOD resources, attend the School for Congregational Development, engage your Evangelism/ Welcome team with resources.

Visit New York and take a a tour of the UN and attend a seminar, visit the chapel there that is across from the UN building.   Read and prayer the UMW Prayer Calendar and send notes and prayer for missionaries.  Invite a missionary to speak at your church-- local, national, international.  Take your Youth Group to visit and help a mission.  Teach your youth about the US-2 and Mission Intern program.

Hit by a natural disaster- or helping people who are/ were-- connect and engage and participate through UMCOR. 

Name anything that is happening of any significance in the world and the Methodist church is there.
The World is our parish.

Do we have a perfect system?  No-- but it is not irrelevant- and it is powerful.  As United Methodist we have a particular way of understanding grace, doing church, and living mission in the world.  It doesn't mean that its the best way-- or the only way- but for many of us it is where we have been called and where we feel led to passionately serve Christ and His Kingdom.

I am certainly not advocating some "if you don't like it - leave" way of thinking.  I'm just tired of complaining that goes no where productive. We all need to vent- and we all need to share our ideas to make things better.  But rather than constantly criticizing and complaining, perhaps we should try engaging, asking questions, learning about what we do and why and we can be part of it and part of making it better.

Yeah- I'm Pollyanna-- and I still think there's  a lot to be glad about - and if not-- we should try to find a way to help- work together- and get glad.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Night PK



Around 8 Tonight my daughter Gracie broke down crying because, “Mommy!   I just want to serve and I’m too little to do anything! Everyone at church says, “No you’re too young.  I don’t want to be a kid anymore- you don’t get to do anything!”  We began talking about how tomorrow we start planning our revamp of Children’s Church.  We will have a rotation of volunteers and a rotation of children taking turns leading different things (just like at school- line leader, etc.)-- she excitedly began planning-- "Yes Mommy- one week someone can read scripture, another person can give a short sermon, someone can be an usher,  another person be the musician….AND  we’ll have our own bulletins!”   We already have the coloring children’s bulletins in service- but we’re going to be making a basic bulletin with pictures to go with each section (Prayer, offering, Song, etc.) and laminate them for weekly use.  She went on, “And we’ll have our own computer with a screen….. but Mommy!  We don’t have candles!”  Me- “We’ll make a little chapel area with an altar and candles and everything.”  “Awesome!!!” she said.  She was then so excited she decided she would “prepare” by practicing in her room.  She turned her dresser into her own “altar” and put a picture of Jesus (the laughing Jesus picture) and sat her “Jesus books” all up around the dresser. 

Watching her was overwhelming and powerful.  And I could see myself—overcome with passion and frustrated that I can’t always do all my heart yearns to. 

9- She’s been restless…unable to go to sleep because she wants to play music – (she got a recorder at the church yard sale) and wanted to play it in church tomorrow – “Mommy, I just want to play it to praise God.”
No I told her—you can play something in church when you’ve practiced.

9:30 She walked into my room- picked up the hymnal and said—“I’ll just read these hymns then! And it will be like a lullaby to go to bed.” 

That didn't work--She started reading the Psalter and shouted! "Mommy - I know this!  We read this in church!  We could use this when we plan our Children's Worship!" 

I'm sitting here- desperately needing to finish my sermon.  

Begging her- "Please Gracie- you really need to go to bed now. Your eyes are getting purple underneath. I know you want to be at your best tomorrow and you can only do that if you are well rested.  (I'm talking to myself there too!)

(Her Daddy is with the other daughter getting her down.) 

Lord, Thank you for my beautiful, wise, grace-filled, deep daughters.  Thank you for their passion, joy, and precocious sense of wonder.   Give me energy and strength and motivation to bring the word you've placed on my heart and head and which I am seeking to still get down on paper this evening.  May you be glorified in all I do, Amen.