A wide spot in my imagination.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Open Letter to My Methodist Friends

On Friday, April 28, a United Methodist church court announced that a married lesbian bishop is not a suitable church leader. That same court also ruled that two
Methodist regions had to ask questions to screen out potential LGBT clergy persons.

On Sunday, April 30, at the church I serve, our closing hymn was, “In the Midst of New Dimensions.” That hymn was written in 1985 by a United Methodist minister who was then doing AIDS work, at a time when AIDS was a pandemic, especially among the gay community.  The hymn was written for a diversity conference. It is poetic and rousing.

Our Music Director picked the hymn several days earlier, not knowing what a Methodist court might say. And I doubt many people in our non-Methodist church paid much attention to the Methodist ruling. But as we sang that hymn, and as I thought about the hymn's history, I also looked out over our congregation as they sang. I saw lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and at least one transgender person. I was (and am) grateful for the gifts they bring to our church and to the world.

Many of my Methodist friends are worried: Will their denomination splinter? Will people leave the church? Is there room to stay and work for justice? Maybe open-minded Episcopalians will welcome like-minded Methodists into their fold?

I don't know what the United Methodist Church will do. As a non-Methodist it's probably not my place to offer opinions. I can say that the United Church of Christ has been striving for full justice and inclusion for LGBTQ persons since the early 1970s. Our denominational tapestry is vibrant and inclusive. I am grateful for that. My life and my work as a pastor is enriched by being part of our open and affirming church family. I believe that full inclusion of all God’s children is vital work for our church, our nation, and the world.

Here's what I can say to my Methodist friends…

“In the Midst of New Dimensions" is your hymn. Sing it! Sing loudly! Sing off-key if needed. Sing it with hope for justice. Sing it in protest. Sing it while holding hands with as many people as you can. If someone wants to tell you how LGBT are unfit for anything, stick you finger in your ears and start to sing. Sing all five verses. Repeat them if needed.

Here are the words: 

In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways. Who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways?
[Refrain] God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar, We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and ever more.
Through the flood of starving people, warring factions and despair, Who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?
As we stand a world divided by our own self seeking schemes, Grant that we, your global village might envision wider dreams.
We are man and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young, Each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.
Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain, May your blazing phoenix spirit, resurrect the church again. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When the Noise of an Election is Stilled

With apologies (actually, with gratitude) to Howard Thurman and to the framers of the Constitution, here is a bit of post-Election Day verse:

When the speeches of the campaign are over,
When TV ads return to hawking Viagra and dog food,
When the winners begin measuring the drapes for their new offices,
When the losers cry a bit and begin plotting for next time,
When the election signs blow off into the trees of vacant lots,
The work of democracy begins:
To form a more perfect union,
To establish justice,
To insure domestic tranquility,
To provide for the common defense,
To promote the general welfare,
To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

In case you don't recognize the inspirations for this poem, the first six lines are inspired by Howard Thurman's poem, "When the Song of the Angels is Stilled," which printed below.   The last six lines are lifted directly from the Preamble to the United States Constitution.


"When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled"
by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,When the star in the sky is gone,When the kings and the princes are home,When the shepherds are back with their flocks,The work of Christmas begins:To find the lost,To heal the broken,To feed the hungry,To release the prisoner,To rebuild the nations,To bring peace among people,To make music in the heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Press Releases from World Vision (It's Humor, People)

It seems the World Vision press office is working over time.  Here's what they've sent out this week:

March 24 (5:56 pm):  World Vision President Richard Stearns announced that his organization, one of America's largest Christian charities, will allow gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be hired as well as gay Christians who follow their policy of abstinence outside of marriage.  World Vision is known for its global child sponsorship program and says the new gay-is-okay policy is "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity."

March 26 (5:05 p.m.):  World Vision released a statement confirming it has reversed its decision to allow the hiring of employees in same-sex marriages: “The board acknowledged it made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. … We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.”

March 26 (5:35 pm):  World Vision announces that if a person sponsors a child through its program and then learns that the child is stubborn and rebellious, the sponsor may encourage that child’s parents to stone the child.  "After all," an anonymous source said.  "It's in the Bible. Deuteronomy 21.  Look it up.  That's our authority."

March 26 (5:42 pm):  World Vision announces that the company-wide shrimp boil set for Saturday has been cancelled.  "Uh, yeah, that's in the Bible, too, right," Stearns is supposed to have asked a press aid.

March 26 (6:01 pm):  World Vision President Richard Stearns announced the firing of the press aid mentioned in the previous update.  "She had on gold jewelry and fine clothes.  The Bible prohibits that," he said. "And not in some obscure Old Testament book that we all ignore.  It's one of the New Testament books we ignore."

March 26 (6:02 p.m.)  World Vision announces that if a person sponsors a rebellious child and the child is stoned, the sponsor  will receive a full refund. 

March 26 (6:04 pm):  World Vision Board Chairman James Bere announces that all male employees must immediately stop shaving.  "We can't decide whether to brand this as a 'Movember Year-Round' campaign to really connect with hipster evangelicals or to stick with our 'It's in the Bible' theme to appeal to the old school Billy Graham type of evangelical.  This is a real quandary for us."

March 26 (6:17 PM):  A disgruntled former World Vision press aid released the following internal emails between Board Chairman Bere and President Stearns:  

From: Viz Prez  
To: Bored Chair
Bro, you giving up your new car?

From: Bored Chair
To:  Viz Pres
Dude, wtf...What the Ferrari I mean? lol    You know I drive ford.  What, the ford? 

From: Viz Prez
To: Bored Chair
yeah, it's in the Bible. Sell all you have give to the poor.  And JESUS said that one. way bigger then shell fish.  

March 26 (9:03 p.m.):  World Vision senior staff emerged from their late-night Bible study with the following announcement:  "It has come to our attention that some Bible scholars propose that couples Ruth & Naomi and David & Jonathan enjoyed same-sex romantics liaisons.  Those same scholars have pointed out that, while the idea of legal same-sex marriage would have been foreign to the writers of the Bible, press releases and child sponsorship programs would have been foreign to the writers of the Bible also."

March 26 (9:27 p.m.):  One anonymous WV staffer announced that he had been deep in prayer when the others exited to make the Jonathan-and-David-were-lovers statement.   "After they all left," he said, "I heard God speak.  At least it sounded like God. Maybe it was Della Reese.  Anyway, God told me that I should have multiple wives like King David.  After all, that's hot, er, uh, I mean, that's in the Bible." 

March 26 (9:30 p.m.):  The World Vision press office requests that all TV trucks and other media vehicles be moved from the street in the front of the office. That's where the dump truck of stones will be parking later tonight, the press release said.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why I (Maybe) Broke the Law Last Night

Last night, under cover of darkness, I broke the law.  Well, I don't really know if it was illegal or not.  But it's fun to think it might be.*

Along with other members of Westmoreland Church, we set dozens of pairs of shoes on Westmoreland Circle.

Westmoreland Circle is one of the prominent traffic circles in Northwest DC. The church I serve sits across from the circle.  Thousands of people each day make their way around the circle as they bustle to work, to school, to shop, etc.

The shoes we set up are a reminder of people.  Specifically, the shoes are a reminder of the average of 289 people who are shot each day in this country.  289!  Each day!  Shot! Staggering.  Troubling. Sad.

This weekend is National Anti-Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend.  The shoe display on the circle is our way of taking part in that weekend.  The shoes remind us that 289 people may start the day walking to work, hopping on a bus, grabbing a bite to eat.  And they are shot.  The shoes are a reminder that these injuries, accidents and -- tragically -- deaths - are not statistics.  These are people, whose lives are forever changed, lessened, or lost.

Westmoreland Circle is a beautiful, leafy plot of land that feels more like a New England town green or a Southern courthouse square than it does a traffic roundabout in a big city.  Northwest DC and nearby Bethesda are safe, comfortable, well-healed areas of our nation's capital.

Drivers just started seeing the shoes a few hours ago as they began their morning commute.  I've already received a couple of emails from passersby applauding the display.  No doubt we will get some complaints before the weekend is over.

People may find raggedy old shoes on the curb of a pretty circle to be surprising or unseemly.  (Or as I said, even illegal).  They're right. 

It is surprising and unseemly to see empty shoes sitting on the side of the road.  It is far more shocking and disturbing that an average of 289 people are shot each day in this country.  The images of Columbine and Newtown and the Navy Yard are far more upsetting than a display of shoes.  

I was glad to break the law.  Or at least show down the traffic a bit.  I hope these shoes on the circle remind us of the tragic deaths due to gun violence.  I hope the empty shoes remind us of the people who no longer wear them.  I hope the shoes on the circle spur us to actions that make our communities and our nation safer.

*Maybe putting these shoes on the circle violated some anti-littering laws.  But if you're worried -- fear not! we're taking the display down on Sunday evening.  And we're donating any suitable shoes to a clothing center.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Stop Gun Violence. Now.

I grew up in a family of hunters and farmers in Texas.  I understand guns.  I even appreciate guns.  The venison we ate in my childhood home was healthier than store-bought meat.  The memories I have of sitting around the campfire at the end of a day of hunting are irreplaceable.  I learned gun safety and the value of life.  To kill a creature is a serious matter. My father taught me to shoot with precision because life is important and not to be taken lightly. 

Beyond hunting, a gun can be an important farm tool to protect baby chicks from snakes, to keep coyotes from  foraging on newborn calves, even to end Old Bossie's life rather than to see her suffer her way to cow heaven.

I get guns.  

Today, another school shooting took place.  It seems that a student in Littleton, Colorado, used a gun to injure two other students then kill himself.

Friends, we have a gun problem.  

Yes, I know all about the Second Amendment.  And I don't give a damn what Wayne LaPierre says.  (By the way, he makes $970,000 a year.  And the NRA rakes in $220 Million a year.  I don't think they're in the business for Constitutional rights. I think they're in it for money.) 

Since the Newtown shooting a year ago, there has been a school shooting once every two weeks.  We have a gun problem.  They're too easy to get, too easy to use wrongly, and in the hands of the wrong people.

I think that every person in this country who wants to own a gun should have to undergo a background check and be required to take a lengthy and thorough gun safety course.  Even if they're buying the gun from a friend, at a gun show or online.  If we require potential barbers to be trained, take lengthy courses and have licenses we should ask the same of potential gun owners.

Will this kind of regulation stop criminals of owning guns?  Not all of them.  Maybe some.  But the shooters at Newtown and in Colorado and Virginia Tech weren't street thugs.  That's a different issue.

Drug-related gang violence, mental heath care, and a culture of violence are problems too. Huge, systemic problems.  Addressing those is a must. But that will take time.  

At the same time, background checks, education, waiting periods and licenses for gun owners make very good sense.  Now.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vandals at the Church House!

Yesterday, vandals attacked the church where I work.  Brazenly!  Boldly!  In broad daylight! 

Sometime between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm, an unknown person (or persons), defaced personal property!  

Without shame!  Without fear!  These wanton trouble-makers placed sticky notes on car windows in the church parking lot.  

Those illegally-stuck sticky notes had phrases written on them such as, "Smile, you're amazing," and "You are beautiful," and "Your eyes shine brighter then the sun."  

Shocking!  Such cheer and good news!  Right here in Bethesda!  Just steps from our nation's 'dysfunctional' capital!   And we all know Washington is about being right, not about being kind.  Clearly these interlopers know not whom they compliment.  

And in the weeks leading up to Christmas!   Who can imagine such bold joy-spreading?  Clearly, these vandals have no sense of the season.   Christmas is about knocking people down in a Wal-Mart, isn't it?  Not random jocularity!

What's more, these sticky notes aren't even truthful!  "Brighter than the sun"?Really. Such scientific falsities being spread with inaccurate abandon!

And let's not mention the waste!  Imagine what productive uses these sticky notes could be put to if they weren't squandered on such happiness and glee.

So, be warned, blithe vandals, we're watching you!

And, if the world is lucky, others might follow your example!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joy to the World, a State Department Spy and Homelessness

People call church offices all the time seeking help.  Sometimes they tell the truth.  Sometimes they concoct elaborate stories.  They always have a need, even if it's not the need they describe.  As a social worker friend of mine says, No one goes begging unless they've got some kind of trouble.

Today we got one of those calls in the church office where I work.  A woman says she needs $85.00 or she will be evicted.  She's talking fast and full of extraneous details.  She has a diabetic four year old and a job that starts next week.  She just needs some help or they'll be on the streets.  "Do you have a lease," I ask.  The reply is long, but the answer is no.  Can she come by and get the money?

"How about if I talk to your landlady," I ask.  "Okay," she says, and gives me a name, a phone number, and the address of her leased home.  But she can't quite spell the landlady's name, which sounds made-up.

"I'll call the landlady and call you back," I say.  "No, you can't call me," she says.  "I'm using a borrowed phone."

I call the landlady.  Voicemail.  And the name on the recording is not the elaborate, made-up sounding name. I think about ignoring the whole matter. But for some reason, I wait a few minutes and call again. The "landlady" answers.  And yes, the quotation marks are real in my head.

The landlady corroborates the story in excruciating detail.  The address offered readily, the diabetic child. But the amount owed is different. Uh-oh.

Then the woman adds some more details.  She works in a top secret role for the State Department, she says, that's why she has this French-sounding name.  And if I ever call her again, she may not be able to answer because of reasons she's not at liberty to discuss.

I explain that I don't want anyone to be homeless and that our church might be able to send her a check if she can wait until later in the week.  That would work, she says. A miracle, I think.  Eviction avoided, all because of some promise from an unknown pastor.  Am I good or what?

She gives me an address for mailing the check.  Street and number, followed by a suite number.  She repeats the suite number several times.  "Got it," I say. We hang up, and I crank up the Google.

Here's what I learn. The made-up sounding name of the landlady doesn't pop up at all.  I guess her State Department work is very top-secret.  I googled the address of the home where the tenant lives.  The tax records say it belongs to someone else, not to Ms. Top Secret Funny Name.  I googled the address to which I am supposed to mail the check.  It's a budget motel across town.  The repeated suite number is just a room number in a shady joint.

I sigh, then chuckle.

The whole story makes me laugh, or maybe I want to cry.  The made-up name, the State Department cover (only in Washington!), the repeated "suite" number, the aching need that would cause someone to call a church and create such an elaborate tale.

I don't really want to mail a check, but I probably will.  This woman has a need, a big need.  And for whatever reason, she couldn't quite tell me about it truthfully.

Jesus, in a couple of places that folks remembered to write down, said, "Give to anyone who asks of you." Life would be easier, I suppose, if I had never heard those words.

But I imagine these two women opening a letter later this week with a check for $85.00.  They'll probably think they hoodwinked some do-gooder preacher.  I hope they laugh.  The world needs more joy.