Where is God’s Hand in Today’s Struggles?

This is part one of a series of reflections on Charlottesville via Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech “I See the Promised Land” (text and audio here). See the Intro here.

The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. (All right, Yes) And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening in our world. (Yeah) The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.” [applause]

How is God moving today? Is it not the case that the world is still “all messed up”? As Martin Luther King, Jr. surveyed his world in 1968 he identified some of the chaos of his time as God’s doing. What was deemed by the mainstream society (i.e. white society) as chaos or upheaval, Dr. King saw as a holy UNsettling: by which African-Americans were shaking off their resigned acceptance of second-class citizenry. What looked like chaos on TV, with sit-ins often devolving into fisticuffs, was really an unmasking of reality: people of color were still compelled to a lesser-than role in society. This unmasking was God’s work, not because it was a serene matter, but because it was a holy exhalation of decades of frustration and a holy inhalation of dignity and self-determination. The chaos mostly sprang from the ways white society resisted the expanding freedoms of black America. It wasn’t chaos-inducing to sit down for lunch. It was chaos-inducing for white America to not accept their black neighbors as equals.

Dr. King, like much of black America, had one eye on the international scene, thanks in no small part to black newspapers in major cities. They regularly covered freedom movements on the African continent and found thematic similarities in the black struggles for freedom in African nations and the US. They also found strategic information for how to utilize media and confront heavily armed and highly motivated oppressors. It is no mistake that MLK heard harmony between specific struggles in Memphis and struggles in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Accra. By this section of “I See the Promised Land,” King had already drawn parallels between ancient Egypt and 20th century US south. A sense of history was always a driving factor in the black freedom movements, both in the post-Civil War era and in the 1950s and 60s.

So where are we today? A new surge for freedom is rising. It seems to have multiple fronts. The pursuit of LGBT rights, environmental activism and immigrant rights have vied for the nation’s attention and have both made waves and suffered setbacks in their various pursuits. And we had a potent, revelatory intersection of race and environmental matters at Standing Rock last year, where mainstream powers met creative resistance along an old front: the strife between the federal government and the rights and dignity of indigenous people. Burning hotter than it has in a long time is the struggle for black freedom, embodied in the Black Lives Matter movement and inflamed around issues of police brutality and a resurgence of white nationalist groups. The killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Philandro Castille and Alton Sterling, as well as many other killings recognized in various localities (for example: this list from nearby Portland, OR) have exposed disparities in how municipalities police communities of color. The failure to even bring most of the killers to trial further reveals disparities in the justice system. Add to this singular and convoluted issue the resurgence of white nationalist groups following the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and emboldened by the fierce rhetoric of Donald Trump. The massacre of churchgoers in Charleston, SC and the brutal murder-by-car in Charlottesville, VA lays to rest any notion that white supremacy is a thing of the past.

If the world is still “all messed up,” where is the hand of God, today? Recently, in preaching on the Eagle Creek Fire, I remarked how Eagle Creek will ‘rebuild itself’: that the earth has built into it a reproductive power that can generate life out of chaos and destruction. I am writing this on 9/11. In place of a site of destruction and death, a tower has arisen as a symbol of resiliency and strength. I saw a great video yesterday of a LAFD fire truck with a trailer of boats heading to south Florida as Hurricane Irma was striking. I believe, ultimately in the creative and benevolent power of humanity.

cl1imouvaaaymhoAs in 1968, the evidence of the hand of God is not found in a pristine community devoid of strife. Today’s evidence of holy presence is found in the ability of people to proclaim goodness, beauty and freedom in spite of opposition from an emerging white power population. Godliness is found in the courage to say No to hate. This is coming in direct ways of marches and demonstrations. It is happening through art and music. It is happening on political and public policy levels. It is happening as people are gathering together to resist hate. It happens when white people become more enlightened to racism as a system that oppresses our black and brown neighbors and suppresses our own sense of freedom and peace and find the courage to dismantle these systems in their localities.

Cmygz37UkAAg8wmI fear that it is from a position of privilege that I can say “Yes, God’s outstretched arm is over her children.” I sense two present truths: that awareness is increasing. (I don’t have quantifiable proof of this, and such statements have often been false security blankets for white people.) It is also true that ignorance dominates white consciousness. We are ignorant of what people are talking about when people talk about racism. We are blind to the institutions that drive white privilege. We are irresponsibly defensive when these greater truths are stated.

So, it’s a muddled reality. I know that God works in times of upheaval and change. This is history. And I know that God’s ultimate will for my black neighbors is the same as for me: to love each other abundantly and to find the abundant life God has for us.

As in 1968, perhaps it is the convenient desire for a neat and tidy God that prevents me from the confidence to say “Look, God’s hand is certainly upon the black and brown bodies crying out for justice!” I think MLK would have the confidence and the historical sensibility to say God is working to further the freedom causes of black and brown Americans…and is calling white people to a greater sense of their own history and their complicity in the injustices black and brown Americans are facing.

Now Loading: Year Three at Orchards

On September 1st, I began my 3rd year in ministry with you here at Orchards. It has been an honor to have been with you for 2 good years. I just want to briefly mention my love for you and this congregation.

You may not realize it, but 2.5 years ago I was looking for work outside of the church. I am glad that circumstances have changed that allowed me to come here. And I am forever grateful for the myriad of people who advocated for my arrival here. It has truly been a reprieve on my life in ministry. And I still feel a great burden to make this reprieve count.

I am proud of what have done together so far: Village Support Network, WHO, Project Transformation, camping ministries, Covington breakfasts, LifeGroups, etc. And as the Church Council meets soon to set a course for the following year I have both confidence and enthusiasm for the work ahead. I have begun describing you to my colleagues and friends as a “small but mighty” congregation. I think there is a power within you from God that has yet to meet its limit. Here’s to finding that limit together.

To God be the glory. AMEN.

The Promised Land After Charlottesville

After Charlottesville, what changes? The change is what matters. The posturing doesn’t matter. The marching only matters as a means to an end. After Charlottesville, as in after Charleston, Ferguson and Baltimore, what matters is the change in society to where black Americans can say “Yes! We are truly free!” Perhaps we forget this larger transcendent goal in the immediate skirmishes over policing and monuments. It is ultimately about the mistreatment of black Americans: historical, ongoing and systemic. It is about black Americans being able to walk, drive, learn, marry, create and work without skin-based harassment and belittlement.

America has rarely afforded her black residents full access to her promises. Slavery, segregation and mass incarceration have weighed the black American down, obstructing her access to these promises. Disparities in policing, housing, schooling and economic services add to the weight. It is a testament to the mighty spirit of the black American that any of them can overcome such daunting obstacles. That entire families and communities have risen from such depths is miraculous. Why America would NOT want to unleash the full potential of her black residents is an utter mystery. The only conceivable answer is fear…and even that is a baseless convolution of white shame.

As events in Charlottesville unfolded, I was leading my congregation through a summer series on Moses. We were looking at ourselves, our congregation and our community through the Moses story utilizing an ancient Jewish method called midrash. I was already boning up Martin Luther King’s final speech “I See the Promised Land” (aka “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”) in an effort to unlock Moses’ own death scene in Deuteronomy 34. Dr. King gave this speech in support of sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis in 1968. The next day he would be murdered on the balcony of the Loraine Hotel. “I See the Promised Land” is a profound, mighty speech (text and audio here). It is powerful, wise, poignant and prophetic. For 45 minutes he recites history, outlines strategy for helping the sanitation workers, calls for non-violent, compassionate and spiritual action and defies threats against his life with boldness and spiritual tenacity. He sees the bigger picture (the human rights revolution) in the smaller skirmish (Memphis was being unfair to its sanitation workers) and vice versa. After Charlottesville, I can’t help but notice the relevance of this speech today. I hear unlearned lessons, forgotten strategies and unfinished business.

I’ve long struggled with the junction of the bigger picture and the smaller skirmishes. I have struggled with the gravitational pull of white privilege and the tyranny of the latest upheaval. Occurrences of racial strife–from the killing of Trayvon Martin to the brutality that killed Freddie Gray to the uprising of white power hate groups–rightly demand our attention and are great opportunities to clarify positions and analyse prongs in the larger issue. But I fear that left unattended or under-analyzed, these skirmishes suck our attention from the larger issue and its ongoing causes. If your marching against the Patriot Prayer group, you’re not marching against police brutality. At the root is a subtle belief in white America in the inherent inferiority of our brown and black brothers and sisters; an apathy within white America to take on changes that will promote the freedom of black Americans; an ignorance (willful or otherwise) of the social structure that lifts whites on the backs of brown, black and immigrant Americans. Beneath all of these major matters is a basic lack of love, understanding and responsibility on the part of white Americans to the plights and rights of our non-white residents.

With this understanding, I have been diving more deeply into Dr. King’s “I See the Promised Land” speech to gain reflection points, study angles and action notes. I have 10 jumping off points from the speech which I will reflect on in the coming weeks.

  1. Where is God’s hand in today’s struggles?
  2. How are non-white Americans “forced to live” today?
  3. Do we really have to march still?
  4. What sacrifices are required by white people of conscience to further the freedom of black Americans?
  5. How can I master non-violence?
  6. How do we move stubborn white Americans to see the plight and dignity of black and brown neighbors?
  7. What is the role of clergy today?
  8. What economic pressure points need to be brought to bear today to further the freedom of black Americans? And what does it mean for the white person of conscience?
  9. In what ways is compassion the linchpin to true peace?
  10. How does one overcome threats and fear?

I cannot seem to get away from these teachings. I hope these reflections further the conversations that lead to true peace.

On Trans

I had a trans woman in a previous congregation. Before transitioning, she had served in the military, reaching a high rank. She lost everything in the transition: job, military benefits, spouse, and was more-or-less homeless when I knew her. What she did gain by transitioning was a sense of freedom to be who she wanted to be.

You don’t lose your sense of hearing when you transition. Nor your sight. Nor your feelings. You hear what people say. You see the looks of confusion and disdain. You feel the rejection and the condemnation. There are both subtle and direct rejections.

When I think about trans people, I go back to a forum on trans hosted at Sunnyside and sponsored by Oregon-Idaho Reconciling United Methodists. That forum allowed me to hear directly from several trans persons about their experiences. I can’t say that I understood it all.

That seems to be the biggest barrier between the trans world and the mainstream world: confusion that feels threatening. It is common to fear that which we don’t understand. It is common to try to suppress that which we fear. It is also historically true that getting informed is the peaceful way to negotiate things we fear or don’t understand. Learning from the people: hearing their stories, allowing their experiences to change our minds is the pathway to peace.

There are experiences particular to trans people and the trans community that I will never have. On one hand that creates space between me and my trans co-humanoids. On the other hand, I don’t have to have had a heart attack to care for the people with heart disease. I can navigate the deeper, more basic feelings: I may not have been lonely the way many trans people have been lonely. But I’ve been lonely in my own way and am self-aware enough to know that lonely sucks.

In the way that we cross boundaries all the time-befriending people of another color, welcoming non-English speakers-we can get to the boundary and extend the hand of fellowship. That’s what Jesus wants. Of this I am sure.

So, we’re here because the president made a pronouncement out of ignorance and fear. The people of the Way of Jesus know better. We know that fear kills: too often the people objectified by the fear. It also kills the souls of those perpetuating the myths and fears. If only the president would sit down and listen to trans people: truly listen without prejudice. He would learn of the struggle and the freedom. I am sorry that he will not go to the boundary and extend the hand of fellowship. The people of God have no such qualms and a moral mandate to go to that boundary to protect and welcome our trans friends.

Adventures of O

Note: I’ve been telling bedtime stories to my son (age 4). Here’s one of them.

Once upon a time there was a young boy named Ollie. And Ollie loved to read. He loved books of all kinds: books about animals, books about spaceships, books about cooking, books about flowers and books about the ocean.

One day, Ollie wandered into his dad’s office. And he was amazed to find a really big bookcase full of hundreds of books. Ollie decided that he was going to read ALL of Dad’s books (even Dad hasn’t read all of Dad’s books)! He began at the bottom shelf and started reading. He found books about Jesus, books about West Virginia, books about gardening, books about haiku and several books for Dummies.

It took Ollie months to make it across the bottom row of books. It took him several years to get through the 4 other rows of books. As he read, he grew taller and taller. He would finish one row of books and grow just enough to reach the next row.

When Ollie turned 12, he had reached the top row on the bookcase. He knew he was almost finished. As he reached for the first book on the top row, he noticed a yellow book on top of the bookcase. He couldn’t reach it, but he could read the title: The Adventures of Ollie. He had never known there was a book all about him. He began reading the other books as fast as he could. When he finished the last book on the top shelf, he stretched and stretched until he could reach the yellow book on the top. His dad watched him from his desk.

Ollie got the yellow book down and opened it. He couldn’t believe his eyes. And he started to get mad: the pages were blank. Every page was empty. No words. No pictures. Nothing.

“I have a gift for you,” Dad said. Ollie opened the package: it was a box of pens.

“The next best book is the one you write yourself.”

Project Transformation, Day 1

I remember my first week as a camp counselor. I had just finished two years in a very intense children’s home. I had done summer camp before. I had a college degree under my belt. I was accomplished and capable. Then the kids came. I was paired with an experience co-counselor, who grew up going to Camp Glenkirk. But at the halfway mark of the first week…we were struggling. We couldn’t get through to the kids. They were officially running the asylum. My brother was the Assistant Camp Director and he pulled me aside. We chatted about the struggles. I vented. He listened and then established a standard to obtain. Finally, he sent me back to the campsite with his confidence. By week’s end, we had figured out how to love and lead the kids effectively. That summer working form brother was particularly awesome.

Sitting here as day 1 of Project Transformation comes to a close, I am remembering that it is hard to lead a bevy of kids. But today, this group did it. The interns were focused and making friends quickly. Volunteers were plenty and making good connections with the kids. And the kids were…amazing. They are funny and smart and determined and brave. I wonder who exactly will be most transformed by this endeavor?

Today I learned a lot about Power Rangers, because D. read to us from a Power Rangers book. I learned that A. is a good problem solver as she helped the team get across the log. I learned that feeding kids is rewarding and cleaning up after them is challenging. I learned that R. will be joining us tomorrow and that is a big relief to her mom. I can’t wait to meet her.


Pulse and the Church

Being the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting which claimed 29 lives, I am thinking of the environment in which that tragedy occurred. It would be easy for me to say, ‘I wasn’t a part of that’. I live nowhere near Orlando. I am not gay. I hate dancing. The communities and people involved are quite removed from me. It doesn’t pertain to me. I have enough issues of my own over here.

Technically, all of that is true. Morally, that is quite far from the truth. The shooter is alleged to have targeted the club because it was a social center for the LGBTQ community of Orlando. The shooter is said to have been pledged to ISIS. Pull back a bit and the Pulse shooting happened in a context of multiple incidences targeting the LGBTQ community. Just last month, two men in Indonesia were publicly flogged for being gay. I had two thoughts in quick succession: 1) how medieval to deal with an issue in that way and 2) the ideology of my church is the same as the flogger’s. The United Methodist Church doesn’t condone flogging, but it does condemn homosexuality and treat LGBT people as less-than their straight peers. Actually, the second realization has stuck with me. Even as we remember Pulse, the ideology of the shooter is perpetuated by my own church.

This same church has taught me everything I know about loving my LGBTQ neighbors as myself. The church really is an enigma.

The church tries to be two heroic things at once. We try to be a community of people trying to be as much like Jesus as possible. Forgetting for a moment all the miracles and supernatural stuff, just following the teachings of Jesus is a tall task. Ever tried loving your enemy? We also claim to be a healing ground for broken people. People are broken by greed, strife, warfare, anger, grief…nearly all aspects of life. Our book even includes poetry beautifully describing how God loves the broken-hearted. Whole books are dedicated to various processes for dealing with wrongdoing and suffering. Our heroes are murderers, adulterers, war mongers, rapists, mobsters and thieves.

The process for the church dealing with heroic thing #2 (healing broken people) is to invite people in “as-is”. Ever bought a used car as-is? It’s a pain in the ass! In the church, we say “come as you are”. Well…people can be pretty effed-up. We invite them to pay their issues at the feet of Jesus. That’s not easy: we fake it, we fool ourselves, we miss our own blind spots. And so it is instead of everyone leaving their bigotry at the feet of Jesus, sometimes they arise to positions of power. Once he becomes Bishop, it becomes really tough to curb the damage. And so it is that the church, while genuinely striving to become more like Jesus, has a sorry track record in dealing with our own baggage. We have certainly been as much a part of the problem as the solution.

What else can we do? One popular alternative is to eschew church altogether. When then do bigots give up their bigotry? We are already seeing the encampment of extreme ideologies, where people retreat to like-minded people and even increase in their extremism via the echo chamber of their group. Where do different-minded people get together and work out differences? The only place I see this is at church. Retreating to our twitter feeds is a recipe for disaster. Church doesn’t necessarily do this well. But we are also better positioned than most to offer this remedy.

I grieve my church. I love my church. It gives me great opportunity to learn and it gives me immense frustration. I’ve learned everything good and redemptive about humanity, including the LGBTQ community through the church. And the gravest atrocities seem way to close to remain comfortable. I understand why people need to leave church. I’ve seen amazing people have to leave to protect their dignity and their families. But to give over this historic and powerful entity to the powers of bigotry seems foolish and counter-productive. The remaining best choice is to stay engaged and work for a church that has a place for the bigot and an exit strategy for his bigotry. The grace of God, relentlessly pursued and revealed remains the best strategy to help heal the world from this particular brokenness.

Bottom Line on Project Transformation: Reading with Kids is Fun

moonMy first favorite children’s book is Goodnight Moon, the classic tale by Margaret Wise Brown. Our kids have always loved watching the room change as the bunny is getting ready for sleep. One time when we were flying and Anna was little we were reading the book on the plane. The kind gentleman next to us commented about how much he loved that book. I noticed he succinctly put down his Wall Street Journal while we read the book (forward, backward then forward again is how baby Anna like to read books).


My next favorite children’s book is Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes. It is about a newborn kitten chasing a bowl of milk. Poor kitty! I love this imagination. I love the sense of discover in the kitten. I love the kitten’s daring and ambition. And I love the idea that Henkes gets to draw kitten’s for a living.

There is a great bookstore in Charleston, West Virginia called Taylor Books. While in Charleston for the day, I stopped in to get the kids a new book. I was delighted to discover All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon. It was a Caldecott Honor Book and is gorgeously illustrated. The book is joyful and real and eternally hopeful.


Reading, as they say, is fundamental. But not just for success in the marketplace as adults. It is fundamental for a joyful life. Through reading you discover the world. You hear others’ stories. You gain a sense of your own story and you learn a medium for expressing yourself. Also, it is a great way to bond with another. Now that we have a reader and a half among our kids, I am seeing their minds open up to the world around them. On one hand, they might become more exposed to the troubles of the world. On the other hand their strong nimble minds and their indomitable spirits make them forces for the future good of the world. Many days I worry about little things concerning my kids. But with reading, I know I am preparing them to live free and well.

What is your favorite children’s book? Who read to you? What story has stuck with you? What story makes you put down the newspaper?

As much as I love reading with my kids. I am looking forward to Project Transformation and the joy of reading with kids. I wonder what books they will want to read.

Project Transformation…a pathway to the church

In a few weeks, 50-60 kids will descend upon our humble church facility for Project Transformation. And I am so excited for them to meet you. I am excited for the kids to be nurtured and loved all summer long. I am excited for the college interns who will run Project Transformation to grow in their service and dedication to the “least of these” (who happen to have a ton to offer, by the way). I am excited for the church to be abuzz with activity that is meaningful and fruitful. The more I think about Project Transformation, the more I think how this is what I’ve always wanted to do in church. I am nervous, too, no doubt. But excitement and anticipatory joy is what I most feel.

Union Ridge Safe School RouteMy local school district in Ridgefield sent out an email last week about “safe routes” for kids walking to Union Ridge Elementary. It was useful to us since we are a walking-to-school family. The email was a map of our little town with orange arrows denoting the safest way to walk to school as well as the placement of crossing guards. It’s the kind of thing small towns do well: taking care of little ones. (Our house is just off the upper left corner of the map.)

Churches are good at taking care of little ones, too. We do so by teaching and exuding love. We care for children by equipping them with wisdom to navigate this tough world. We take care of kids by being trustworthy, thoughtful and helpful and for providing for their needs. One of the basic needs kids have is the need to understand the world. Project Transformation provides many methods for helping kids understand their needs. Help with reading is the method that is measurable. Other methods include teaching soft skills like kindness, cooperation, appropriate expression, etc. These are less measurable just just as vital. It inspires to be part of a program that will tangibly care for the kids around us.

map screen PT
Blue lines represent our connections to residential areas. Green lines represents our connections to local schools.

Finally, I was so impressed with the Ridgefield school walking map, I created a map of my own. We have been working closely with Family Resource officers at Orchards and Silver Star Elementary Schools and the Transitions coach at Covington Middle School. As registration for kids opens in the coming weeks, we are focusing our attention on some housing units where many of the kids we will serve live. And I made a simple map, showing how, through Project Transformation, we will be connected to these residential areas. As I drew the lines I began thinking about the church as a hub for the community. It’s really an old-fashioned concept but oh so needed in our neighborhood. I began thinking about how these kids right now have no idea what we are about to offer them. I began thinking about how they will know us at the end of the summer. I began thanking God for Orchards and for putting us in the right place at the right time. I am so excited for you to meet these kids. But I am equally excited for these kids to meet you.

The best way for these kids to meet you is to volunteer to read with them. It really is a rewarding way to spend your summer mornings. To volunteer to read, please CLICK HERE to go to the registration page. From there you’ll be able to plan out the mornings you can read with the kids.

As I shared yesterday in church, I feel like the church is like a bag of popcorn just turning innocently in the microwave oven. But as the Project Transformation nears, it gets a little warmer, very soon the kids will be here and the church will burst with energy. Praise be to the living God, who does not give up on people, for the privilege of watching these little ones burst with promise and joy.

On Bishop Oliveto

Everything I’ve ever learned about loving my LGBTQ neighbors as myself, I learned through the United Methodist CHurch. Everything I’ve learned about fully including, welcoming and valuing LGBTQ people in the church and society at large, I learned through the UMC.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS Bishop Karen Oliveto (left) leans over to speak with her wife, Robin Ridenour (behind Oliveto) prior to a meeting of the United Methodist Judicial Council in Newark, N.J. The denomination’s top court ruled on April 28 that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law. At right is Bishop Elaine Stanovsky.

This weekend, while the church was spinning from the Judicial Council’s decision regarding Bishop Karen Oliveto, I was with the United Methodist Women training to teach Mission U this summer. There was a wild convergence of my life in the church. This convergence of representatives from my life in the church intersected with this current matter of Bishop Oliveto’s consecration to provide an internal history lesson.

I saw people from my old conference, West Virginia there. That conference raised me and is a primary lens for my understanding of life, God, home, church and morality. I remember debating in UMYF whether it was okay for a gay person to be a parent. I argued yes, while still believing homosexuality was a sin (that assumption was never challenged).

I saw an old friend from my days at the GBGM who was a US-2 and is now with the Women’s Division. She reminded me of my own US-2 experience and the richness of knowledge that era gave me regarding gay and lesbian people. I had never encountered gay people in the church, much less leaders and activists. As a US-2 I encountered an openly gay clergyman who ministered to our class during mid-term and end-term conferences. He was gentle and heartbroken over what he saw among LGBTQ students on the campus where he ministered. He shared his wisdom and Holy Communion with us. I also had to confront internal biases I didn’t even know I had. I used the term ‘gay’ in a derogatory way one time and got seriously chastised by a classmate. I had to come to grips with the fact that I conflated homosexuality and pedophilia, which I now know is a horrendous charge. I came to realize that no one ever taught me that association. I have since concluded that I picked it up at college where Christian students often harbored strident views on purity. I witnessed the struggle for acceptance among LGBT youth where I served as a US-2. Another classmate debunked my immature understanding of genetics and sexuality. My classmates were an amazing bunch on many levels. On this matter, I am deeply humbled that they received and accepted me as their friend while I struggled to understand. I’m now 20 years older and I don’t see that happen very often.

I saw another friend at Mission U training who went with me when I lived in the UK for a year through the Time for God program. While there, I encountered for the first time a transgender woman in church. The congregation’s gentleness with her was natural and easy and a great lesson in acceptance for me. The pastor at the time was a very caustic personality in a very demanding church that had both extraordinarily gracious people and extraordinarily petty critics. Regarding the transgendered woman, the pastor displayed immense understanding and patience, even compassion. He was aware of how this woman was likely treated in many aspects of society and yet was at church regularly in search of God. I clashed often with that pastor. But his lesson on compassion to trans persons has stuck with me. My Time for God friend later joined that US-2 program while I headed to the GBGM. The GBGM was full of committed, gracious, non-straight Christian people operating this amazingly fruitful wing of the church. It was also during my time at the GBGM that I witnessed someone “come out” for the first time. I saw how painful and courageous such a confession could be. I also saw how the church itself-this thing I loved so much-was the sole source of this young person’s pain. Ironically, the church had grown me so much that I was able to see the dissonance of these two truths about the church: it could raise amazing servants of God AND it was perfectly willing to cast aside those servants based on an outdated, immature and ultimately false view of humanity and sexuality.

While with the UMW this weekend, we also sang a hymn by Mark Miller, professor of Sacred Music at Drew Theological School. Mark was commissioning the organ in Seminary Hall when I visited as a prospective student. We studied a lot of liberation theologies at Drew. Mark shared with one class his story of being a gay United Methodist. He shared about the overwhelming graciousness of his dad when he came out. He shared about being at General Conference as an openly gay United Methodist There were other LGBT faculty members at Drew who were each amazing scholars in their fields. Drew was where my ideas and beliefs about sexuality were finally deconstructed. Debating scripture, tradition, experience and reason with some of the best theological minds has proven to be fruitful training. It was while at Drew that Judicial Council decision 1032 came down. That decision stated that a pastor could deny membership to a person based solely on their sexual orientation. I recall an emergency meeting of UM students and the electricity in the air over 1032. I immediately recalled the story of Bishop Elijah Jones, who was a clergyman when the Methodist Episcopal church split over slavery. Jones was pastoring a black north church in New Orleans. When his DS came to visit, the DS who was white had to lodge with a white ME South clergyman in town. Jones’ decision to stay in the church has stayed with me. Why should I give ‘my church’ up to the forces of exclusion?

Furthermore, we sang another song that was arranged by Jorge Lockward. I had worked with Jorge at the GBGM. Jorge was the musician and worship leader for Annual Conference in WV after I had returned as a clergyperson. Jorge was well received and immensely effective. He was slated to lead another event when his sexual orientation was discovered. A controversy arose and many calls were made to rescind his invitation or boycott the event. I remember defending his ministry at a clergy picnic. We attended the event. Every time Jorge arose to lead a hymn, a section of people would leave. There was room in the church for adulterers, but not a homosexual. Also as a clergyperson in WV, I encountered numerous parents of gay and lesbian children and saw the agony they experienced from the church through their children. I heard the vitriol toward LGBTQ people at Annual Conference. It was after I had decided to move west that I finally was open about wanting LGBTQ people to be fully included in church and society.

Then, I met people from Oregon, where I served as pastor for 1 year. That church, Sunnyside-Centenary United Methodist Church in Portland, OR was the only reconciling church I’ve served. They were quite small at the time but were quite active in RUMs: Reconciling United Methodists of Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. RUMNs held their annual meeting at Sunnyside on “What is trans?” a seminar educating people of issues relating to transgendered people. I was impressed with how in flux the matter is. Nevertheless, trans people have their own difficulties and their own need for grace. And yet, the church is a primary source of exclusion. I saw at Sunnyside an immense dedication to living faithfully and living out the Micah 5:8 charge to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.

Finally, I was part of a contingency from my current conference, the Pacific Northwest. I serve a long-standing congregation who dedicates itself to serving the poor. This issue of sexuality in the church seems likely to demand a stance from us soon. Part of our contingency is the former pastor of Orchards, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson. I see her current work in ecumenical circles and see the beauty of the church at its best: understanding, intelligent, truthful, just and peaceful. I see our conference trying earnestly to do justly by our LGBTQ neighbors. I see us on the wrong end of church history, perhaps having to endure a period not unlike what Elijah Jones endured: cut off, ostracized and belittled based on the color of one’s sexuality. I’m not resigned to this fate, but I am prepared for it.

In the end, I can see why Bishop Oliveto was elected. She has been an amazingly fruitful minister of the gospel for a long time. She has been openly gay for a long time. It’s notable that no one has questioned the quality of her ministry. No one questions if she loves her partner. All of those deep down spiritual matters are beyond reproach. All that’s left are matters of ‘legality’, wrapped in church-lawyer language.

At some point, perhaps in the not so distant future, it seems likely that all United Methodists will have to choose where they stand on these matters. Each jurisdiction will ask each conference which will ask each congregation which will ask each member and clergyperson to state their place in the debate. It seems like the time for honest reckoning is approaching. When that time comes, this personal history of the church’s lessons on what is right and wrong for LGBTQ people will carry my own position.