Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Un-tied Methodist Church

Last week was the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, and it was a saddening and discouraging conference in many ways. Although Annual Conference is supposed to be about "holy conferencing" or the open, respectful, prayerful dialogue that happens by the power of the Spirit, there was a lot of politics, distrust, fear, and division.

One of the most disappointing things to me was that a petition to remove the language from our Book of Discipline that says "we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings" was defeated. I believe that this language needs to be removed because I do not believe that homosexuality, in and of itself is "incompatible" with Christianity. There are all kinds of sexual immorality (try adultery, promiscuous sexual behavior outside of marriage, child abuse), and there are also plenty of sexually ethical and moral gay people in loving, healthy, committed, monogamous relationships. There are scriptures that refer to homosexual sex as "an abomination" to God, but there are also scriptures that say that women should be silent in church, that condones slavery, that we should not eat shellfish because it is an "abomination," but somehow we have found ways to exegete and interpret these verses. It's only the scriptures that refer to homosexuality that we continue to read literally.

But perhaps even more disheartening to me than the failure of our conference to pass this petition, was the total lack of conversation around the issue. Both sides continue to talk past each other--not responding to the other's concerns, not really hearing what the other has to say.

There were also a lot of politics--and I guess I should have expected that, since it's the year before our General Conference and we were electing delegates to represent us there, and this is Washington, after all. But it wasn't politics in the good sense, it was nasty, distrustful, are-you-with-us-or-against-us kind of stuff. Yuck.

There were good things about Conference--it wasn't all bad. There was a really challenging and inspiring Bible study presented by the pastor and some members of the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh who challenged us to rethink the mission and purpose of the church. And the music was AWESOME. Mark A. Miller and his band "Subject to Change" gave us the most uplifting, fun music we have had in years.

In fact, the last song we sang at conference, during the ordination service was one that went something like this: I need you, you need me, we are a part of God's body. Stand with me, agree with me, you are a part of me, I need you to survive.

And I burst into tears at that point, wondering how we could sing this after all that had happened and the ugliness and division that was so rampant in the church right now. My friend Ginger put her arm around me and said, "We keep singing it until we can live it."

Yes, we will. We must. Just keep singing.

Originally uploaded by peglegmeggg

Monday, May 14, 2007

Humility Embodied

Last week I spent four days at a conference in Indianapolis, IN, for young (or, rather, novice) clergy. Indianapolis is home of Eli Lilly, the makers of Prozac and other pharmaceuticals, whose endowment funds many good causes, including numerous Transition into Ministry programs like the one that I was part of the past two years. It was exciting to be around 80 other young pastors who were in their first 1-5 years of ministry and who are as passionate, committed, and energized as I am (on my good days).

But the best part of the conference was to hear from Pastor Heidi Neumark, a Lutheran Pastor in New York City who has written one of the best books on the pastoral life that I have ever read.

For nineteen years, Neumark pastored the Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration in the South Bronx, an economically depressed, drug and crime ridden part of the city. And yet, her book, and her ministry is so full of hope! After reading this book, I thought, this woman is amazing. And she is, but the picture I had of her in my mind was totally different from who she is in real life.

I don't know why, but I expected someone who embodied boldness--someone who would be strongly spoken, visibly passionate, charismatic. But Heidi (although clearly strong and passionate, and charismatic in her own way) was not at all as I expected her. Instead, the word I would use to describe her would be humble. She was soft spoken, clearly very introverted, and embodied humility, from they way she dressed, to the self-depricating way that she described her ministry. It was such a helpful reminder to me that there is not one personality that reflects successful pastoral ministry (we don't all have to be Rick Warren--thank you Jesus.) and what a beautiful and powerful fruit of the Spirit humility is. It's not a quality you see much of--not even among pastors--and it was interesting to note how uncomfortable Heidi's deep humility made some people. But it's a gift I wish I had more of.

By the way, I strongly encourage you to read her book, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey Through the South Bronx (and if you buy it through this Amazon link, Woodside church gets a little commission...:)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Soul Tending

When I need to feed my soul, the best place for me to do that is the beach. The sound of the surf, the smell of salt air, sand between my relaxes, restores, refeshes me. (See picture at left of Nora and me on the beach at Assateague last summer).
Marcus, on the other hand, is a mountain man.

For him, relaxing is packing up the tent, the backpacks and the dog and heading for the hills to hike and sleep beneath the stars. (This other picture is actually from our trip to Colorado in January, but you get the point.)
The past two weekends we have been blessed to get to do both of these things that we love. Last weekend we made a quick trip to a friend's beach house in Fenwick Island, MD. (It's so great to have generous friends...and even better to have generous friends with beach houses!) It was so good to get away just for a couple of days, and I came back feeling like a new person.
And this morning we went to hike on Sugarloaf Mountain. It was so fun seeing Nora climb all over the rocks (so far we are not sure if she prefers the beach or the mountains...she is terrified of the waves, but also of caterpillars), and we got to take in some beautiful views, have a picnic lunch and even happened upon a little festival at the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard where we got ice cream and Marcus enjoyed the free wine tasting.
I just share this because I feel so lucky to have had these two brief, but fun and relaxing little excursions with my family the past two weekends. It has fed our souls!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Could you eat on $21 per week?

Tonight at church we had a presentation by Erin Luchenbill on Bread for the World's campaign to reform the Farm Bill. Here are some of the things we learned:

  • 35 million people in the US are at risk of hunger, including 12 million children;
  • The Farm Bill, which was originally created during the depression to support 25% of Americans who were farmers, today assists less than 1% of the population;
  • 2/3 of farmers do not receive any assistance through the Farm Bill; the ones who do are mostly corporate farms;

There is tremendous poverty in rural America because of unemployment and lack of economic opportunity. Many people who used to farm are being bought out by large corporate farms, and now there are millions of people in rural America who depend on food stamps to feed themselves and their families. The average food stamp benefit is $1 per person, per meal--$21 per week. How many of us could survive on $21 each week?

And in addition, because of farm subsidies which create a glut of crops such as cotton and corn, which are then sold cheaply on the world market, our current farm assistance policies are hurting farmers in developing countries.

Bread for the World is encouraging people to write a letter to their member of Congress urging them to pass broad reforms to the existing Farm Bill. I would strongly encourage you to learn more and take action by visiting the Bread for the World website. This is a justice issue for us as Christians and it is possible for us to eliminate hunger if we are willing to use our voice for change.

food stamp brochure
Originally uploaded by africankelli.