13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might bless them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more and no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
Luke 5:5 (The Message)
On Monday Governor Lincoln Chafee did a very brave thing. He issued an executive order declaring that the state will recognize same sex marriages performed in other states, just as the state recognizes heterosexual marriages performed in other states. This means that those couples will have the same rights as their heterosexual neighbors with regard to health insurance and many other benefits.
We rarely see such courage in our political leaders. We claim that we value it, but my guess is that Chafee will get little credit for his courage.
Part of it is his own fault.
Just by chance, I watched the signing on Capitol TV. Martha Holt Castle spoke eloquently about the difficulties that she and her wife faced in getting both of their names on their son’s birth certificate, and she told the story of another woman who had faced many obstacles in dealing with the legal ramifications of her partner’s death. Both of these problems will be corrected by the executive order.
Then she introduced Governor Chafee. He thanked her for her remarks, smiled his goofy smile, and sat down to sign the Executive Order. As is the custom, he used several pens for his signature, and then he passed them out to leaders in the cause of Marriage Equality. He hugged everyone and then he stepped up to the microphone.
He grinned. He said something like, “this is long overdue. I don’t see how anyone could look at this room and not be in favor of marriage equality.” And then I think he gave a thumbs up. And that was it.
It was the perfect opportunity for a stirring speech about the need for political courage in times like this, about making hard decisions, about the historic battles for civil rights. He could have said those things without bragging, while making it clear that he was willing to do what others were afraid to do.
But he just grinned and waved.
I have met Lincoln Chafee just twice. Each time he was at our church for the funeral of the parent of a childhood friend. Each time he gave a short remembrance. One of the things I have noticed at funerals is that often when people share remembrances; it is more about them than it is about the person who died. Chafee did none of that. He is the most self-effacing politician I have ever encountered.
Lincoln Chafee suffers in comparison to his father. John Chafee was a great man. He had integrity and intelligence and a willingness to stand on principle even when it put him at odds with popular opinion or the leaders of his party. And he was an imposing figure with craggy good looks and a presence that commanded attention. Lincoln Chafee, on the other hand, looks like one of the characters from “The Big Bang Theory.” He speaks awkwardly and he moves awkwardly. And he has that goofy grin.
In a statement reacting to the Executive Order, Christopher C. Plante, regional coordinator for the National Organization for Marriage, immediately declared his opposition. “To issue an executive order recognizing same-sex marriage flies in the face of the clearly expressed actions of the legislature and the people,” said Plante. I think Plante is wrong about the people, but he is right about the legislature.
Lincoln Chafee is one of the world’s worst politicians. He is not an eloquent speaker. But he is not afraid of taking an unpopular stance. He made national news when he wanted to be inclusive by calling the tree in the State House a “Holiday Tree.” He wanted to be inclusive, and he was not bothered by the abuse and ridicule heaped on him. As a Senator, he was the only Republican to vote against authorizing the war in Iraq. And he will stand up for equality. I think his father would be proud.
Monday, May 14, 2012
One of the best things about Mondays for me is the gathering of moms and toddlers for “All God’s Children’s Story Time.” As I write this, they are done with the stories and the songs and are enjoying a beautiful spring day on the playground. Running feet and happy voices, what could be better?
But there is also a counterpoint.
On Mother’s Day I am always aware that the celebration of mothers and motherhood is not a universally positive experience. Not everyone lives in a Norman Rockwell painting. Looking out at our congregation yesterday, I saw one young mom whose husband died just a year ago, and another recently diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy, and one with multiple sclerosis. And then there are those who want to be moms and are coping with infertility. Others have recently lost their mothers, and still others have lost a child. And that is just a small sampling.
This has me thinking about Walter Rauschenbusch
Rauschenbusch is remembered as the greatest prophet of the Social Gospel awakening of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His theological analysis of the social situation and his application of biblical principles to social issues provide a continuing legacy for Christians who want to understand the practical meaning of the Gospel. But during his lifetime, Rauschenbusch was known and loved for his prayers. He lost his hearing at an early age when he caught the flu while serving a church in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, and the isolation this imposed made him a keen observer of the people around him. He was often moved to tears by the simple scenes of love and caring and pain that took place silently around him. In remembrance of Mother’s Day, his prayer for the family is especially appropriate:
O God, we who are bound together in the tender ties of love, pray thee for a day of unclouded love. May no passing irritation rob us of our joy in one another. Forgive us if we have been swift to see the human failings, and slow to feel the preciousness of those who are still the dearest comfort in our life. May there be no sharp words that wound and scar, and no rift that may grow into estrangement. Suffer us not to grieve those whom thou hast sent to us as the sweet ministers of love. May our eyes not be so holden by selfishness that we know thine angels only when they spread their wings to return to thee. Amen.
Monday, May 7, 2012
"I'm currently an active pastor and I'm also an atheist," MacBain says in the article. "I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday's right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that's totally false."
I understand doubt. And I am comfortable with doubt. Tennyson was right, but he didn’t go far enough when he declared, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” In his great book on ‘The Dynamics of Faith,” Paul Tillich argues that authentic faith is best understood as “ultimate concern,” and that doubt is an essential part of faith. Like Tillich, I believe there is more faith in honest doubt than in all the creeds.
But there was little theological depth in the NPR article
We learn that she was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist family, that her dad was a pastor, and that she felt the call of God when she was 6. She had questions about the role of women, and about conflicts in the Bible, and Hagerty reports that “she sometimes felt she was serving a taskmaster of a God, whose standards she never quite met.”
When she became a United Methodist pastor, she asked more questions. She hoped for answers that would strengthen her faith. "In reality," she says, "as I worked through them, I found that religion had so many holes in it, that I just progressed through stages where I couldn't believe it."
Hagerty reports that the questions haunted her: Is Jesus the only way to God? Would a loving God torment people for eternity? Is there any evidence of God at all?
I wonder why she thought she had to believe that Jesus was the only way to God, or that God would torment people for eternity. On the other hand, the last question matters. It would be very hard to be a pastor if you could not see “any evidence of God.”
Friday, May 4, 2012
Of course that is overly dramatic, and I have not ever been in any situation even remotely like the Exile, but still for many United Methodists, watching our General Conference unravel so much that we hold dear and then once again declare that our gay and lesbian (and bi-sexual, and transgender) sisters and brothers are not really welcome, has felt like Exile.
It feels like wilderness and desert. But as Walter Brueggemann observed, it was in the Exile that the Hebrew prophets did their best work. In was in the Exile that hope was born. The Exile gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism, which in the fullness of time gave birth to Christianity.
It is not by accident that the Advent scripture readings bring us back to the Exile. Christianity begins in Exile.
Within the United Methodist Church in East Greenwich, and within thousands of other United Methodist Churches, nothing will change. We will continue to proclaim the grace of God. We will celebrate the wideness in God’s mercy. We will do our best to embody the living presence of Christ in the world. And we will include everyone, even the people who want to exclude us.
But General Conference 2012 has made our job harder. Because some people will read about what happened and think that General Conference speaks for us. In some cases they will ask me what it means and where we stand, and I will do my best to explain it all. In other cases they will just drive by and shake their heads.
Like Israel in Exile, we are called to action, to build up and raise up and repair, and to proclaim “good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of justice of our God.”
In other words, our task today is the same as it was two weeks ago. We are called to be faithful. And we know that God will continue to sustain us. In the words of the Psalmist, “the steadfast love of the LORD endures forever, and God’s faithfulness is to all generations.” Even in what feels like Exile.
“For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Yesterday the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted with Paul, but it was closer than you might think.
In the morning session they were revising the Preamble to our United Methodist Social Principles. The Rev. We Hyung Chang, pastor of the Belmont UMC in Belmont, Massachusetts, one of the clergy delegates from New England, proposed that they add this sentence, “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that neither belief nor practice can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
This might seem like basic Wesleyan theology. In fact, it might seem like basic Christianity. But among some of the delegates there was a fear that this would somehow soften their declaration that homosexuals and non-Christians really are (by their own choice, of course) separated from the love of God.
The Rev. Lisa Dianne Schubert, a clergy delegate from Indiana proposed that the word “nothing” be substituted for “neither belief nor practice. As she explained, “I want to say like in Romans 8, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
But that didn’t stop the debate.