This Week in Ministry

Sunday 6/24

  • Left PNWAC18 early to make it back for the dedication of Project Transformation interns. Missed a moving floor address by Rachel Byers (38:00). Thanking God for the powers of the internet to see what I missed.

Monday 6/25

  • Welcomed a new season of Project Transformation to Orchards UMC. We had increasing attendance all week. The interns performed well. I’m glad to open this sanctuary to so many different people.

Tuesday 6/26

  • M & the kids went for a visit to grandparents in Ashland, OR. Got my new running program in gear. Tried to get a new writing program in ear, too. I don’t sleep well while they’re away.

Wednesday 6/27

  • Long work days with evenings this week.

Thursday 6/28

  • Had 47 kids at Project Transformation on Thursday. They come from all walks of life, unified mostly by economic status. They represent ​15 local schools, 4+ racial groups (not sure how to count multiracial kids), multiple languages and family make-ups. At least one of the families does not have stable housing. We’ve been working really hard to find a Russian translator to help befriend a sibling group who doesn’t speak any English. NEVERTHELESS, the young boy was still getting into mischief with some peers, despite the language barrier! I love that. I was asked where these kids came from. After some research, I realized the vast majority came from within 2 miles of our church. These are our literal neighbors. And we’re no longer that white church in a diverse neighborhood. A threshold has been crossed. A remembered that I shared a goal with the DS 2 years ago that our congregation begin to look more like our neighborhood, having not a single clue as to how to do that. And here we are…God’s hand is upon us. I don’t see how we can go back.

Friday 6/29

  • Spent my day off alone. Even the World Cup was off Friday. So I did a lot of housecleaning preparing for my family’s return the following day. Then I drove into Portland to attend a conference held at my old congregation’s building. It was very surreal. Even driving up Belmont, I know exactly where to go, but it felt…distant. Entering the building I saw a former parishioner, a wonderful lady who was looking for her path when I crossed as her pastor 3 years ago. I did a lot of listening to the consternation in her life as she discerned God’s call. I remember being very impressed with her sincerity and her efforts to simplify and pray more. Back then she entertained an idea of actually living in a church, ancient nun-style. I was intrigued by her desire and wished I could’ve offered that space to her. That was a really good re-connection. Sitting in the sanctuary, gospel music bleeding my ears, I felt out of place. I felt MANY different feelings. I recalled that 3 years earlier, I was leading that congregation to its own death. I was faithful in navigating their struggles and desires and opportunities. I was secretly readying myself in case someone were to speak disparagingly of ol’ Sunnyside​. I was leading that congregation in a season of my own grief, having lost a child before her birth and finding myself barreling toward unemployment. I gave my all to Sunnyside and employed my best pastoral judgments. I wasn’t mistake-free, but I was faithful. Of that I’m sure. I finally had to recognize the sheer blessedness of being where I am. I get to live out my calling still. I am in a run-of-the-mill congregation that happens to be spiritually curious and missionaly situated. How awesome is that!

Saturday 6/30

  • Saturday I watched some World Cup then went to a local march protesting the government’s decision  ​to separate immigrant children from their families. I don’t like chanting, but I do like walking. And I began to strategize how this silly little introvert can participate in the resistance. Turns out, with a little effort and creativity there are many moving parts to the ongoing struggles in our country. These parts are pressure points that need to be addressed. And it’s time to start caring. Caring little for marches, I can care QUITE big through other means.
  • I got home in time to finish preparing the house for my wife and kids’ return. It was so nice to see them.

DON’T SOUR

At Order of Elders, we were invited to share a word or phrase that epitomizes our calling. I couldn’t think of a scripture. But I eventually fell to a piece of advice given to me by the right person at the right time.

I was accepted to seminary when I came across an opportunity to apply for a program with the World Council of Churches. I asked a co-worker at the General Board of Global Ministries to write me a recommendation. He obliged and invited me in to hear what he wrote. It was embarrassing in its glowing prose.

I asked if he had any reservations.

“Don’t sour.”

Basically, he said I had seen plenty and might have been predisposed to cynicism. He was clear that sarcasm and cynicism were ungodly. He was right.

I saw cynicism being played like a sport in seminary. No one believed in the church. Everyone wanted to change it, save it, redefine it and blow it up to start over again. “If you’re not pissed off at the world, then you’re just not paying attention.”

Even now I see blanket statements about the awfulness of ‘the world,’ as if ancient Roman dichotomies are still en vogue. I see good everywhere I look. I see evil everywhere I look. They live as neighbors, even housemates. They both live within me. To only see evil is to look at the world with only one eye. It doesn’t stand up to more intelligent inspection. As the world is, so too is the church, rendering trendy cynicism a bit stupid.

Entering my 13th year of parish ministry, I can say I love the church. Despite the fact I work daily to make it better, I don’t really want it to change. I mean, I want it to be more inclusive, more courageous, more fruitful. Ultimately, I want it to be more of what it ultimately really is. I love the process of church and I don’t see that changing very much, technology be damned. I love being in small rooms with people trying to figure out how to live out this ancient teaching in a modern world. I love walking with people and watching them grow in courage, compassion and service. I love being with people as they negotiate those seasonal changes every life endures. I love being with a group of people trying to understand Jesus and live like him. I love the blessed community of church.

I know 2019 will be rough for the denomination. But I also suspect that church will simply continue to be church, beautifully imperfect, still striving to be more godly. In our twig on the family tree, we are welcoming ~50 kids to read, play, grow and be loved for the summer. We are crossing boundaries of race, economics and nationality. And we have decided that being is the key to doing. We adopted “Love God, Love People, Serve Both,” as our mission. And we aren’t worrying about making disciples. We are strategizing, even this weekend about what it means to love effectively. It’s what Jesus did. And we’re still just trying to be like him. And I can’t find a good reason to sour yet.

Bible Leads: Genesis 3:1-13

TEXT

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’

COOL LINKS
  1. How to DeSeed a Pomegranate
  2. Jewish Interpretations of Eve
  3. Sin
  4. What I Learned from 2000 Obituaries (TED Talk)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS
  1. What good are you glad you know?
  2. Would you rather have a world with death or a world without children?
  3. In what ways was the serpent right?
  4. What does it mean to know BOTH good and evil?

IMAGE

pomegranate-989551_1920

KEY WORDS

Good, evil, wisdom, serpents, eyes opened, like God, delight to the eyes, Where are you?, afraid, naked, What is this you have done?, I ate, life, death

SOUNDTRACK

Spotify Playlist featuring The Mountain Goats, Prince, The Neighbourhood, Sufjan Stevens, Iron Maiden and more.

HAIKU

It tastes good,
evil, powerful,
scary, sweet.

Immeasurable Loss

Turn in Your Pre-Conference Journal to page…

Is there a statistic anywhere of LGBTQ+ clergy who have fled the UMC for other denominations or other fields of service? I suspect not. I further suspect that there is no accounting for the LGBTQ+ laity we have lost to other denominations as a result of the ongoing consternation over including LGBTQ+ people in the denomination.

I ask this because of a notable phrase by Rev. Rob Renfroe on the Good News Magazine website. In responding to the Council of Bishops’ recommendation to General Conference 2019, Renfroe says: “We believe the Traditionalist Plan holds the most hope for a fruitful future for The United Methodist Church.” In thinking about the term fruitful, I became more aware of a gaping hole in the debate.

We know, to a certain extent, how fruitful I am as a clergyperson. You can check the statistical reports, journals and even interview parishioners past and present as to my effectiveness as a minister. Likewise, I can attest to the fruitfulness of many lay people in the church. Three lay people at my congregation fed 30 middle schoolers just this past week.

Not accounted for are the contributions from LGBTQ+ United Methodists who never got a chance to serve or whose service was hampered by marginalization or discrimination. It doesn’t even get to go down as a deficit in our column. The best we can do is surmise from LGBTQ+ United Methodists who stayed in the church. Or we can observe LGBTQ+ Christians who joined other denominations. But just as the accounting on the statistical reports is flimsy, we really don’t know what we’ve missed out on.

A personal angle

I know of one such person. She began as a missionary in our denomination. It was through her service to the church that her orientation came to light. She fell in love, which is no small thing! In order for her to serve God through the church, she had to leave United Methodism. Now she’s legally married and is legally marrying others. And I rejoice in her ministry and her family. But I mourn that there is a divide between her and me…and I’m on the wrong side.

In my old conference, there is a traditional memorial service at Annual Conference grieving and remembering clergy and clergy spouses who have passed away in the past year. It is a beautiful simple ceremony. I first became aware of the loss of a LGBTQ+ clergy colleague when I realized that she and I will not stand for each other at the Annual Conference Memorial service back home. Through the beauty of social media, I have seen her stand up for justice, rejoice with her congregation and bring beautiful children into this scary world. How many more like her have we missed out on?

So as General Conference 2019 approaches, I will be watching with great consternation. She has moved on, buoyed by a loss from her past and free to serve God with all that she is. I hope all of us in United Methodism can enjoy the same freedom to serve.

This Week in Ministry

Sunday 5/20

  • Had an okay worship: preached on Pentecost with a German + audience participation rendering of the scripture. Lots of people away.
  • Welcomed Jennifer Beeks (Family Community Resource Center Director at Orchards Elementary School) to speak at our potluck. Shared about her work and the kids that will be coming to us through Project Transformation. I am amazed at the work FCRCs do and I am deeply concerned about how much we as a society expect out of our public schools.

Monday 5/21

  • Visited with a local benefactor about the possibility of bringing a laundry ministry to the church.
  • Visited with folks from Council for the Homeless about reviving the Village Support Network-a great and creative program from a now-defunct agency.
  • Both of these meetings involved working connections and dreaming up new ways for people to collaborate. It’s one of my favorite things about ministry and I feel a particular knack at it.

Tuesday 5/22

  • Took the kids with me to “Covington Breakfast” a bi-weekly breakfast we host for a local YoungLife chapter. Watched 3 members feed 30 kids while they got a good support and challenge from a teacher-mentor. Took some names so we can pray for them over the summer break.
  • Took the rest of the day off as a “mental-health day”.

Wednesday 5/23

  • Late start day at kids’ school meant a late, quick but productive office morning. Worked on getting things ready for the summer with Project Transformation. Best part was discovering that we had raised all the money for our buy-in to host the program.
  • Had a lazy but good time with my lunch buddy at Orchards Elementary.
  • Really miffed that I missed the Evergreen Faith-Based Coffee.

Thursday 5/24

  • Did a lot of worship prep for the coming weeks. Genesis is no slouch y’all.
  • Spent the afternoon with the Council for the Homeless as they prepare an update to their Homeless Action Plan. Have a promising follow-up to get out Tuesday connecting a new contact to work being done through Faith Partners for Housing group.
  • Had a late-for-us training session for Project Transformation. Tough having to take kids when it’s their bedtime but they really did great. It’s crunch time for us with volunteers and registrations.

Friday 5/25

  • Had a great day off with my little buddy. Can’t believe how big he’s getting. And I love him to pieces. Road bikes all morning and spent time at the library. He’s so charming and funny and smart.
  • Had a great rest of the day off after picking up our second grader. She’s so intriguing. Seems to absorb all things around her. She’s a ponderer with a sneaky silly side and keen fashion sense.

Saturday 5/26

  • Long day with the kids. Washed the van, enjoyed more park time and cleaned the house. Went to the airport early to watch planes land and wait for Mommy.
  • Wife came home from a long week at Festival of Homiletics. Everyone is happy!

Council of St. Louis?

or What the Council of Jerusalem can tell us about General Conference 2019.


Introduction

After Easter, I’ve been exploring Acts with my congregation. The concept was ‘let’s see what people did with the news that Jesus rose from the dead’. The second understanding was that Pentecost gave the Holy Spirit-the fiery courage to take the gospel to all the world, but the resurrection of Jesus was the content of the Gospel. “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses,” Peter testifies on Pentecost (Acts 2:32).

God’s Invitation to the Apostles from the Gentiles

It’s interesting how Acts tells the story of the Gentile’s inclusion in the church. The notion that God is with Apostles is quickly turned on it head. It’s as if the Holy Spirit burst out of the Upper Room and the Apostles just couldn’t keep up.

God appears to Cornelius in a dream first before God says anything to Peter. And Peter has to be thrown into an hallucination before he would dare enter Cornelius’ territory. It is ultimately Cornelius who invites Peter. Peter testifies with aplomb. A second Pentecost breaks out and Cornelius’ household are all baptized. It’s as if this was for Peter’s awakening as much as Cornelius’.

Ananias was approached by God to relieve Saul of his blindness. Saul/Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles. A vision of Ananias was given to Saul/Paul before their meeting. The testimony is that God is clearly acting on behalf of the Gentiles that God wants to receive the gospel.

The gospel gets to the Gentiles by accident again after the stoning of Stephen. As a precaution, the fleeing Apostles only taught in the synagogues. It was in Antioch that Hellenists heard the Gospel. By crossing a language barrier, the gospel inevitably crosses an ethnicity barrier as well. The swelling of the church in Antioch prompts Barnabas to go get Paul. The two of them minister in Antioch for about a year. God readies the Gentile people before Barnabas and Paul minister to them.

This issue of gentile inclusion leads up to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) where leadership from the entire Christian planet gathers for a special general conference on inclusion of Gentiles in the church. By this time, God has on numerous occasions directly intervened to clear the way for Gentiles to be included. It would require a massive revision of Hebrew law.

Don’t Look Now, but the Quadrilateral gets Upended in Jerusalem

Not everyone was of one mind regarding Gentile inclusion in the church. A group of Pharisees insisted that Gentile Christians be circumcised. To us, that sounds complete preposterous. But the Pharisees had scripture on their side.

Circumcision as the emblem of the Covenant

Remember, circumcision was the sign that the Hebrews were serious about following God. Abram was 99 years old when the sign of circumcision was given. And it was ordered as a serious custom from early on. It was a law before there even was a law. Circumcision was the threshold into the family of God.

Did you know that foreigners were allowed to observe Passover in ancient Israel, but only if they were circumcised? “If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the Lord, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land” (Exodus 12:48). You can’t have the promised land without the pain.

Circumcision was also a saving grace. Did you know that en route back to Egypt, Moses wrestled with God the same way Jacob did (Exodus 4)? But in a twist, God not only overwhelms Moses, but is on the brink of killing him. Moses’ wife Zipporah sees what’s going on and performs an emergency circumcision on their son. Touching the freshly butchered foreskin to Moses “feet”* (feet in the OT is often a euphemism for genitals) God’s wrath is satisfied. Moses then goes on to free the slaves from Pharaoh. Apparently God really cares about circumcision.

The biblical record (at least as Peter and Paul understood) was very clear on circumcision: it was required. The default setting in Jewish theology was that circumcision marked one as part of the family of God. It was the foremost symbol of Israel’s relationship with God. Circumcision and the covenant went hand-in-hand. Before Passover, before the Torah, there was circumcision. It identified. It saved. It purified. It marked you as God’s favored one.

On the anti-circumcision side, the only answer Peter has was what he observed. From Acts 15:

The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.’

Paul and Barnbas testified to what they observed in Antioch. James added a prophetic interpretation. In all, the Council of Jerusalem concluded that circumcision was not required. A letter was sent the churches throughout the world to explain the conclusion and to encourage Christians to steer clear of sexual immorality. I wonder how an intercultural church would have interpreted “sexual immorality”. Certainly Jews and Gentiles differed greatly on this.

This is no small matter. Through experience and a touch of reason, a major biblical and traditional emblem was discarded. Paul later details in Romans how the Law was really great at convicting one of sin, but otherwise terrible at actually saving anybody (Romans 7:7-12).

A Revolutionary Angle

Since Advent, when I gave myself a crash-course in the Maccabean revolt, I’ve had an altered view of the Pharisees. The Maccabeans ousted the Seleucids who were formidable world conquerers in the centuries before Christ. The Maccabeans were able to set up their own miniature dynasty (Wikipedia actually has an excellent summary here) until the Romans came along. Part of the Maccabean success was attributed to their penchant for their legal purity. They studied the OT prophets and concluded that their demise was due in part to God’s unwillingness to protect them. They rededicated themselves to their food laws and only begrudgingly chose to fight on the sabbath. They were able to defeat a grotesque and terrorizing army through their dedication to the covenant (the Law) that God had with them.

The Pharisees are the heirs of the Maccabean way, even as the Hassmonean dynasty splintered into factions. Their dedication to the law was not just for greed or power, they had good historical reason to believe that this was the way to oust the Romans and have their land back. It worked in the days of Exile, it worked in the days of the Maccabeans, this is clearly the way God will save us. For Jesus and then Peter and Paul (a Pharisee even!) to say that the Law was no longer necessary not only thwarted God’s word, it risked the continued occupation of the Romans in the holy land. The stance made at the Council of Jerusalem had far-reaching radical consequences.

What does this Mean for Saint Louis?

I say ALL of this to get us to General Conference 2019 in St. Louis.

I don’t know what is going to happen. But I feel as though there is a contest not unlike the Council of Jerusalem. The black-and-white readers have the book on their side (kinda). I personally believe that what the Bible says about homosexuality is ultimately apples and oranges since the Bible doesn’t recognize that homosexuals can actually mutually love each other. The scripture conflates homosexuality with other matters like violence or wanton lust…or worse. And what we now know about genetics is not accounted for in scripture. Nevertheless, those who see the Bible as unquestionably right do have a few lines of prohibition on their side. (Though it seems portions of the early church had found fault with that thinking.)

But is the Holy Spirit done? This seems to be the rebuttal. The harm assumed by including LGBTQ+ people in the church is not born out by the evidence. The good is hard to account for since all LGBTQ+ contributions to the church are couched in their being marginalized. What if Jorge Lockward was not marginalized? We simply do not know all that we’ve lost as a denomination. When I observe LGBT+ clergy in other denominations being just, loving, compassionate–all the things Jesus was–I do two things: I celebrate the ministry and I mourn my church for being so stubborn. When I observe LGBT+ married couples being joyful, mutually sacrificial in their love, raising kind-hearted children–putting to rest the stereotypes against them–I have two thoughts: I celebrate their family and I mourn my church for not having the eyes to see what’s going on. It is not Christian to be so nose-down in the Bible that you can’t recognize the Holy Spirit at work in the world around you.

I don’t know what will happen in St. Louis. The ramifications are huge. But so too are the hurdles for change in either direction! How can members of a family that are fused in their positions find peace?

The Council of Jerusalem sticks out to me as a similar battle. The potential for a flood of losers seems high. Then again, Peter, Paul and the like were then able to go to their constituents and say “Yes, we recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing here. Let us break bread in peace.” Perhaps that day is coming when we in the UMC can share the bread of with our LGBTQ+ neighbors without prejudice or shame.

Schools are for Learning

The best part of my work week was spending 40 minutes with a principal in my church’s school district. Her school has no church partners and I was there to see if we could be a potential partner for them. She’s been principal for 11 years and is a solid leader.

She told me a ton about her school. They have adopted 1-to-1 technology where every student gets a laptop, chromebook or iPad. She told me about older teachers embracing the training needed to use the new technology in the room. She spoke at length about self-care for teachers as well as the ethos that teachers ought themselves be continual learners. She does a great deal of caring for teachers so they can care for their students. The school is also embracing project-based learning where outside experts come it to teach their expertise in a multi-disciplinary setting. Somehow that included Dutch Brothers coming into mix drinks. They are teaching meditation to students so students can not only learn information, but they can know themselves well (Socrates sheds a happy-tear).

I was in awe of the many hats one person wears. And I am continually floored with the immense responsibility we as a society are placing on schools. The whole Maslow thing makes sense. But the logistical task it presents is overwhelming.

Our time was full but ended abruptly: “Riley’s outside!” Riley looked to be about 6 years old. She was outside without a coat waving a flag used by the crossing guard. The Principal joined 2 other staffers who were trying to corral this cheerfully unruly child. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, they had her somewhat constrained to a corner of the building away from traffic. They were all using great amounts of patience in deescalating the matter.

The Principal also spoke at length about learning to understand the challenges facing children and their parents. Her school is relatively low in the free and reduced lunch, but she thinks there are whole neighborhoods where the parents just don’t return the form. She sees them hungry and feeds them. I asked her about ‘Breakfast-after-the-Bell‘ legislation that recently passed in Washington state. She was very matter-of-fact that she’d been doing that for years. She spoke about teachers frustrated with out-of-control, even violent kids. She would point out to such teachers kids who were like that but had improved dramatically. She and her staff work tirelessly to understand the challenges and provide solutions so that kids can get back to learning. They successfully navigate numerous obstacles and kids with challenging lives actually learn and thrive at this school. This school’s leaders have immense belief in people: both themselves as educators and the kids as learners.

The default setting for gifted educators like this principal is patience, understanding and optimism. Expecting them to be ready at a split second to shoot an intruder armed with semi-automatic weaponry and body armor is to not understand the gifts of educators. It is to demand they put down their best instincts and most gifted attributes to solve a problem the rest of society is not willing to even talk about. By the time this society-wide problem reaches that teacher’s door, so many fail-safes have either been removed or failed altogether. It is gross negligence to expect such a grisly task, especially when no other fail-safes are even considered, when even trying to learn about a problem isn’t allowed or embraced. Placing the solution in the hands of teachers is to a) not understand teachers and b) to not understand the problem.

Strangely and beautifully made