Thursday, June 16, 2011

And they'll Know we are Christians...

I struggle with angry people in the church.

There are different types of anger, of course. I affirm anger that is productive. Anger that leads to addressing systems of injustice. Anger against injustice that can be ….

People who are angry and ready and willing to fight about resolutions or policies of our Church. People who are angry when they intentionally exclude people from God’s church. People who react with anger as they seek to be “inclusive” - even when that inclusivity comes at the cost of excluding those who disagree with them…

For the first time (that I can remember), I was uncomfortable taking communion today. I was torn as I realized how uncomfortable I was. Torn because I was uncomfortable with the situation, but then also uncomfortable that I was so uncomfortable. What kind of witness was I making in my own inability (refusal?) to walk away? What would have been the better, healthier decision?

You see… today, I decided to take part in a communion service with a group of folks who were intentionally welcoming “ALL” people to the table. In theory (and usually in practice!) this is something I stand with and for. I believe our church needs to continue working in this direction of radical hospitality, welcoming “only” those whom Jesus welcomed in his ministry: everyone. That’s it. No categories. No “except,” no, “but what if…” - just everyone. Yes, those lack of exceptions even include and move beyond one’s sexuality. Really, truly, with all of my being (even when its hard) and at the core of my being, I believe: Jesus’ intentionality in uses phrases such as “the least of these” means that he loves and welcomes ALL of US. There is no “them.”

So… Have you ever had the experience of reading something and understanding it one way, then later having someone else read it to be something entirely different? Today, that is how this service felt. The liturgy was beautifully written. The songs were well chosen. And yet somehow, today, something in me (call it the Spirit!?) moved. I was uncomfortable not with the words, but with how they were spoken. I was uncomfortable with the words (that we didn’t sing due to music being played behind us), “they will know we are Christian by our love…”

I was uncomfortable as I asked myself…
    Would those around us know we’re Christian? We didn’t exactly invite everyone. That is: you were not invited if you did not agree with our “inclusive” stand.
    … and so I ask: is that love?

A huge part of my call to ministry is a commitment to dialogue. How is this conducive to that?

...To be clear: this is not to reflect poorly on the individuals holding the service. It was a nice service. But today, it stirred something within me that made me angry. And that kind of anger has no place at the table. My prayer is for my own healing. For my own journey toward perfection. For my own desire to love better. As I sit here at an Annual Conference with over 2500 other United Methodists, I can’t help but to wonder how many people among us have been excluded… and how can we journey together to be the truly welcoming and “radically hospitable” church we claim to be?

I am grateful for the journey… and that I am not the one who is expected to have all of these answers. I am grateful for the God of love and Grace who carries us, forgives us, and loves us: even when we are not living up to the call on our own lives to do the same.

Monday, June 13, 2011


I can't stop thinking about a little girl I met at church yesterday morning.

About 9 years old, she was well spoken, respectful, and a bundle of positive energy. She was mildly bashful when first introduced to me, but when I was trying to leave 10 minutes later, I was not allowed to walk past her without engaging in conversation.

Not just any conversation, though. She was referred to me by (Pastor!) Jeff, who I imagine was as surprised as I was when she asked him, in the midst of all the flooding and chaos going on in the McCook Lake/Dakota Dunes area:
"Why does God let bad things like the flood happen? Is God angry?"

What a profound question, my darling. If only we knew what went through God's "mind."

Perhaps the reason I find myself still thinking about this conversation a day later has to do with the intense and thought-provoking conversation that followed. I found myself challenged by the honesty and genuine questions of a (9year old?) little girl. She wondered aloud, "will we be wiped out like all the people except Noah?" as she also made astute observations like, "when I am sad it is like it should be crying outside. and when I am unhappy a storm... when I am angry a Tornado (etc)." Is that how God works, too?

I began with the most well-known story of a flood: she was well acquainted with Noah and reminded me (in her words) that there, too was a story of God seeking vengeance on God's creation for all their wrong-doings. I asked her if she knew what happened at the end of the story and was promptly told, "the ark was left on dry land, but even they were stranded on top of a mountain!"

Searching for the message of hope offered to us, I asked, "Do you remember the rainbow at the end of the story? Do you know what that means?"

"That God was angry and we should be careful."

I wasn't sure what was worse: that we teach our children the difficult pieces of stories to instill fear in them, or that it seemed there was no sign of hope in a story that really ends with an ultimate reward offered to us: a covenant with God. How great that we have a God who offers us hope and love and makes promises to us that are not dependent on anything we do?! God covenants with us purely because God cares!

We talked about the rainbow and its promise and she was entirely unfamiliar and so she continued, asking equally thought-provoking questions. Eventually, I found I could leave her with only this:

God loves us and when we are sad, God is also sad. It is not always that God wants bad things to happen, but sometimes they do. It is then that we should remember how much God loves us, how God even sent Jesus to show us that, and because of Jesus, we know that God really does understand how we feel. So when we are sad, God is sad too. When we are hurting, God is hurting. When our homes flood, God is cries with us through our struggle and is sorry that we have suffered and lost so much. God does not want bad things to happen, but God does want to help us find hope and to offer us strength as we find ways to pick up our lives and begin anew.

That, my friends, is why we have the rainbow. and today… my rainbow and reminder of hope came in the form of a little girl...