#UMC

I'mBlack. I'mChristian. I'mMethodist.

Black History Month and Last Lines

I have learned to get the general ideas of books by reading parts of it. It comes with reading too much for too many papers. But one trick I learned was reading the first and last lines of chapters before I read the whole book.

This is Black History Month, and I’m reading the book, “I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist.” It is edited by Dr. Rudy Rasmus, and the ten chapters are written by different Black Methodist preachers, teachers, and a dean. If you just look at the last lines of the chapters, you’ll get an idea of this book. They go like this:

“We’re Black. We’re Christians. We’re Methodists. And for the record, we’re also friends.” Rudy Rasmus, Senior Pastor. St Johns UMC, Houston, Texas

“I’m free because I’m not afraid of the consequences of naming my grief. I’m Black. I’m young. I’m woman. I’m grieved. I’m free. Are you? Tori C. Butler, Lead Pastor, Good Hope Union UMC, Silver Spring, Maryland

“The call reflects a love that has survived dehumanization, exploitation, and violence to our bodies. The challenge can only be met through divine intervention and human repentance.” Rodney L. Graves, Senior Pastor, McCabe Roberts UMC, Beaumont, Texas

“The people called Methodist still offer a relevant understanding of the gospel to share with a racially torn nation. Salvation is for all. Racism is sin. God loves everyone.”  Lillian C. Smith, Senior Pastor, Cheverly UMC, Hyattsville, Maryland

“God is always calling us to challenge ourselves and the structures that serve us more than others.” Erin Beasley, Associate Pastor, Germantown UMC, Germantown, Tennessee

“In my ministry of resistance, I yearn to embody this vision. There are many hard days, but they will not be so forever.” Justin Coleman, Senior Pastor, University UMC, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

“I’ve learned that it takes courage to speak. I’m Black, I’m Christian, I’m Methodist, and I choose to use my voice.” Teaching Pastor, St. Luke’s UMC, Indianapolis, Indiana

“As it is, I’m content to be among a people and their allies who, as the ultimate act of resistance, are determined, come what may, to maintain that inexplicable Spirit-given joie de vivre, irregardless. Pamela R. Lightsey, Dean of the Faculty and VP of Student Affairs, Meadville Lombard Theological School

“No Methodist ministry or lives matter until Black lives matter.”  F. Willis Johnson, Lead Pastor, Living Tree Church, Columbus, Ohio

“The results do make it clear: for such identification to have significance to the mission the system needs to change.” Vance P. Ross, Senior Pastor, Central UMC, Atlanta, Georgia

I hope these last lines give you a curiosity and a desire to study. My church is starting a new group to learn about racism, anti-racism, and how to love God’s people. And as we learn together, we are determined to love better, to be forgiven, and to be made new. It is past time for us to attend to the racism in our world. And so, we go on this journey together.

Last lines matter. And sometimes it takes digging deep to get to the last line that we want for our lives. 

Don’t Dream It’s Over

There’s a song, Don’t Dream It’s Over, by Crowded House. The lyrics speak to me today while attending a conference in Leawood, Kansas on the future of the United Methodist Church. The words that strike a chord in my heart are:

    Hey now, hey now, Don’t dream it’s over 

    Hey now, hey now, When the world comes in

    They come, they come, To build a wall between us

    We know they won’t win.

The United Methodist Church is running to the precipice of a split over who we include, who we love, and how we legislate inclusion/exclusion. We are focusing on our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (+) siblings in Christ. And yet as I attend this conference on the future of the UMC, I am wondering who is not given voice in these matters of exclusion.

  • Will we center the voices of the LGBTQIA+ persons, or merely have              cisgender persons talk about their own experiences of transformation?
  • Will we expand inclusion of power to those who live on the edges of our church: the economically stressed, and people of color, to name a few?
  • Will we release the power of voice to those who live on the edges of our church in order to BE the church? Or must we clutch at the microphone of ME, instead of passing the mic to the voices that need to be heard in this moment?

Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner reminded me recently that real power is shared. If we really understand the power of living a life of Christ, we know that Voice is meant to be given away, to be shared, to be spread to the edges of society. And yet, the centered-powerful feast on loaves of our attention, while turning to us only for crumbs of our own understanding. As a Latina who grew up on the borderlands of Arizona and Mejico, I am wondering if all the power resides in one group: the insiders.

I don’t want to dream that our UMC is over. I’ve been one of those crying in the desert for unity. I also understand the need for inclusion. Period. I can’t imagine a church without the edge-dweller voices being heard and valued. And so, I dream it’s not over. The Church is differently beautiful in the full spectrum of all color, gender, and sexual expressions of God’s creation.

And so, today I remember that I live by a newly-built wall on the border of Mexico. And that wall separated my hometown into two. I know the pain of all that means. And so, I call for us to be a church that tears down walls of exclusion, walls of “mine-not-yours,” walls of “you-don’t-matter.” I call for us to be a Church that radically loves. 

If we legislate exclusion, “they” win.

But when we remember whose voices are not being heard; when we give them center space; when we love all God’s people, THEN we know they won’t win. Because then, Love wins all.

Dreaming a New Church, What does She look like?

The baby in this picture was found in a NYC Catholic church manger in 2015 (story here). Baby was found alive and well, and ready for a new home. Sometimes babies are born out of great difficulties. But no matter what, when they are ready, they launch into the world.

Since coming home from General Conference 2019, I’ve had my head and heart in a pondering space. That’s where I go when dreams are laboring within. That’s where I go when I don’t understand. That’s where I go for refresh, renewal, and reforming. You could say I’ve been doing some dreaming.

The dreaming and wondering I’ve been up to is around the question, “What does She look like?” “She” is the new baby church that seems to be breathing around us. She whispers to us in the Michigan Statement(here), and the German Statement (here). She has courage and she is waiting for no one, not even for General Conference 2020. She is already here.

But what does this new baby church look like? I can imagine her acting like Jesus in our world; sounding like Wesley in his depth of grace; and structured similar to the original movement. To act like Jesus is to care for those who are passed over. Jesus today would center the church on the edges: the LGBTQAI-edge; the ethnic-edge; the indigenous-edge; the female-edge; the poverty-edge; the immigrant/refugee-edge; and the earth care-edge. And when these edges become the center, Jesus would go out to the edge again, and draw in the new edge-dwellers.

I can imagine the new church having the voice of grace stirred up by Wesley. That grace that will not let us go, that is detailed in all its forms, that centers us in love and screens out our bent towards judgment. I can hear her words bringing hope to a world that needs to know God really is all about Love.

I can see the new young structural bones that are flexible and strong. They provide for quick movement and decisions; for unique shapes in each context; for people who meet together, sharing life in Christ with each other. They open doors to the lonely, the gifted, the young, the questioning, and anyone who wants see this new baby stay near during their dark night of the soul. She will be so nimble and mobile that her parents won’t be able to (micro)manage her.

She will locate herself in strange places: in buildings, in parks, in cafes and bars, in tail-gating parties and parent nights out. She will be brimming over with children and the elderly who love them. She will be led by all colors of the rainbow, and all varieties of skin tone. She will be unlike what we have known; and all that is mystery and wonder. She will be led by leaders who have spiritual integrity and wisdom; informed by laity with a heart for the unnoticed; and served by clergy who love deep enough to risk forward.

Baby Church has not been named yet. But she is alive. She waits for no one. And this very day, She is being fed by God’s spirit and nurtured by the Edge-Dwellers among us. Soon we will know more of who she is and how she operates and what she has to say to our world. For now, we know that out of great difficulty, a baby was born. And soon, we will know what She looks like.

On Observing GC2019: Which Scripture?

Today was opening day of General Conference 2019 (#GC2019). Yesterday, at the pre-conference, the room was bathed in prayer, song, worship, and connection. It was a good start to prepare our hearts to be open to hear God’s word.

But today we moved on to the agenda items. Our conference delegates made it known that the priority for this gathering is in this order:
1. Pensions
2. Traditional Plan
3. Disaffiliation
4. Disaffiliation
5. One Church Plan
On the exterior, when you look at this list, you can expect that we are concerned about our retirements, our traditional understanding of theology, our safety if we choose to remove ourselves from the body, and finally, we might look at the plan put forth by A Way Forward (and endorsed by our bishops). Of course, that is IF we have time, and IF we aren’t delayed on the floor by inconsequentials.

As I came back to the hotel room, I wondered about our differing understandings of scripture, and which ones we were choosing to make central to our faith.

Truthfully, the one that I kept seeing is Jesus throwing over tables in anger and saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.” (CEB: Matthew 21:13)

But as I took in that image of Jesus flippin’ tables, I wondered about the thing that divides us: how we read our holy scriptures. For those who say they read the Book literally (as if that is a holier stance), I remind us of these texts:

“You must keep my rules. Do not crossbreed your livestock, do not plant your            field with two kinds of seed, and do not wear clothes made from two kinds of material.” (Lev. 19:19)  Check your outfit. Is it made of mixed fibers? Do you have polyester in your closet? If you wear it, or bought it, you are breaking the literal commands of the Scripture.

OR, “If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life with one eye then to be cast into a burning hell with two eyes.” (Matthew 18:9) How many of us have really taken this scripture literally? We allow our gaze to fall on things that separate us from God, yet we do not remove our eyeballs as a sign of holiness.

So, how then do we read our Scriptures? Do we pick and choose which ones fit our (Incomplete) understanding of who God is? And if so, what do we do with these scriptures:

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt to you.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 1John 4:7-8

My question, as an Observer of General Conference 2019, is: Which Scripture verse will you lay your heart, and our future, upon?

When I went to seminary at Claremont School of Theology, my professor, Dr. James Sanders, taught us that the Word of God (including the word of the scriptures) is active, living and breathing even today. That means our scriptures are not old and dead. Instead, they are alive and God uses them to breathe life into the Church, and into our souls, even today. He learned this when he translated the Psalm Scroll and edited the newly-found Dead Sea Scrolls. While working, he found God meeting him in the words that were so alive they transformed his current life. The Spirit of God continued to work in the words and in the understanding of the world today. In other words, Dr. Sanders taught us: each word is alive and new for a current day.

Dr. Sanders was transformed by translating scripture. And, he cautioned us against reading words without the guide of the Holy Spirit.

So, what will you choose to hear today? Rules about clothing and eye removal? Condemnation? Or, will God’s Spirit whisper a new understanding of what it means to follow the way of Love?

Tomorrow we go back into the convention center at St. Louis to vote on who is acceptable in God’s eyes. Our choice will determine the future of the Church. Will we choose condemnation and exclusion of God’s beloved? Or, will we choose to follow God’s example of loving all? Delegates, be very sure that you are voting in a manner that follows the God who loves and creates us all, even if you don’t understand what God is up to. Delegates, be sure you stand on the side of Love. Because, really, we don’t want to see Jesus flipping tables ever again.

An Observer of the process and events of General Conference 2019.#UMC

She sang to me in Spanish…

13707606_1203614609673259_1642299643884555984_n (1)I just went through an amazing process as an episcopal candidate for the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. As a steady “2nd” in the voting process, I was able to talk to many people…delegates, those who were connected to caucus groups and those who were not, as well as those who were hanging on the sidelines. I heard more than I’ll be able to process in the coming months. For now, I’m soaking in all that I learned, all that was whispered, and all that was said both as pain and hope.
I went knowing that I could trust God’s Spirit to guide me. So I knew exactly the moment when I needed to step out and give my concession to the will of the Body and the move of the Spirit: to elect Bishop Karen Oliveto as our most qualified candidate. I had a moment to share with the greater Church a piece of my heart, and I am forever grateful for that moment. I am sure it was why I was there.
But after that speech, came something so beautiful: the hugs! People lined up to hug and love on and congratulate for a work well done. I’ll never forget those hugs. They felt like a dump-truck of love being poured out on my soul. I teared up for days just remembering…
In the middle of the Line of Hugs was an elder Latina woman who came up to me and began singing in Spanish. She wanted me to sing with her…she demanded it, really. So together we sang: “He decidido sequir a Christo…no vuelvo atras, no vuelvo atras…” (I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back…). It’s a song from my childhood, and we sang two verses…stopping the line to sing lustily, heartily, and with full voice as Wesley has instructed us. Two Latinas singing…a Latina mother figure bringing along another Latina into the moment of deep connection and deep joy for what God was doing in our midst.
She sang to me! She sang with me! We sang in our mother tongue. My soul is so very full. Gracias, Amiga Mia. Dios con nosotros…it is enough. It is vey well with my soul.

Happy Birthday, Me…I Wish For…

IMG_1539Happy Birthday, Me!  Today I’ve lived 59 years.  While it is a personal day of celebration, it is also a national day of mourning.  Too many deaths.  Too much hatred. Too much pain. But, well, I still have some wishes… Here are a few of them:

  1. I wish for young Black and Brown children to never have to be told how to “act” so they can live when stopped by the police. I wish for violence everywhere to cease.
  2. I wish for Police Officer’s main job to be Peace Officers…seeking avenues for peace, safety, and stability.  I wish for their safety too.
  3. I wish for immigrants near and refugees world-wide to find communities that will surround them in love.
  4. I wish for LGBTQ persons to be equally valued because they live and breathe.
  5. I wish for politician who stir up hatred to step down. And the same for media.
  6. I wish for the Church to flood the world with acts of kindness, generosity, and love that mirrors Christ’s love for us, and that changes us now.
  7. I wish for peace on earth, justice for all, and mercy unending.

Happy Birthday to me! May it be so. Amen.