The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “with…” #GC2019
Last night there was a meeting in the Upper New York Annual Conference. The bishop spoke, hearts broke, and certain people started talking about others. Opinions like mine were thrown to the side as people began speaking about how inevitable it was that the church would split. I was offering people my peace to people who stayed after to pray when I came across someone mocking people who believed the things I believed. I offered them peace.
I would love to say my poem isn’t inspired by Proverbs 25:21-22, but the reality is that we all have to choose how we live out our lives of faith. I try to be a person of integrity who prays with people, but sometimes you need to choose how to respond to people. I would rather respond with grace than with anger.
Offer them peace.“Offer them peace” Rondelet by The Distracted Pastor, 2019
When they do not know what they do
Offer them peace.
When all they offer is a kris
Which they offer to put in you
For trying to keep your heart true:
Offer them peace.
So, if it isn’t clear, yet I am posting about something I am grateful on a regular basis through the month of June. I ordinarily don’t post on Saturdays, but as I am already at Annual Conference. I might as well take the time to try and be a blessing by pointing out where I have seen God over the past few days.
- A bold speech by a young man named JJ Warren about his struggles with the church. He was bold and powerful in his words. He spoke from the heart and I was glad he was my brother in Christ. I look forward to the day when his cry for justice comes to fruition.
- A bold correction from a seminarian who would not allow one viewpoint to stand as the only view which could be considered the “traditional” interpretation. She took her tuition money and put it into good use!
- A powerful moment where I talked with someone on the other side of an issue. We refused to allow our differences to make us anything less than brothers in Christ.
- Watching a young man named Ian use his voice with power and skill.
- Connecting with a very intelligent man named Kevin. Sara is a blessed woman.
- Watching people receive permission to make speeches that were neither for nor against on the floor of conference in a challenging moment. It was good to see people have a place to speak where there is often only stifling opposition.
- Celebrating the life of my best friend in ministry on Thursday night. Celebrating the continuation of life with 9 other folks over Indian on Friday night.
- I had someone who I used to pastor and now work with as a colleague ask if I’d be their spiritual director.
- Celebrating the commissioning of a good friend this afternoon. I know it hasn’t happened yet, but I am still incredibly excited already.
- Going to the Cokesbury table and walking away without buying anything. To be fair, there wasn’t a ton available on spiritual practices and that’s what I am really interested in at the moment. Mostly just curriculum, Bibles, and kitsch.
- Realizing that I’ll have a new child in my arms at the next Annual Conference. That is pretty awesome.
- The moment I realized that the best response to someone scowling at me for wearing the rainbow stole I bought for my wife was to smile with my warmest smile. I gave them the one I reserve for my kids, my wife, puppies, and babies.
- The stories at the worship service led by Young People. “Jesus doesn’t call us to be comfortable!” “I feel valuable:..” “We can set the example for the rest of the church.”
- The mom of a kid who is crawling around near me. I told her that we were expecting a kid after such a long time as just parents of kids who talk, walk, read, and so forth. She told me she had kids the same age as mine and that life will be fun and that it will be okay.
In the mid 2000’s I was reentering the United Methodist Church. I wanted to be a delegate to the Western New York Annual Conference. I was told by my pastor that we already had a delegate and I did not know about Equalization Members. I still went as a guest (out of pocket) and sat with our Associate Pastor who had to be present, but was a member of another Annual Conference. We laughed about our mutual feeling of uselessness. I was still at the table. We talked about human sexuality. I prayed a lot because I had neither voice nor vote. I prayed and felt helpless in light of a people who each sought God’s will in their own way.
In 2017, I was an elder. I really wanted the vote to go my way. I was bent over in prayer while everyone else was praying. I prayed and felt helpless in light of a people who each sought God’s will in their own way, including me.The vote didn’t go my way. I sighed, looked up, and smiled at the guy in front of me. He was on the opposite side. We had nothing in common but for the fact that we were both bowing down in prayer while everyone else stood and sung.
We talked about my kids. We talked about their squabbling. We talked about their love for each other when anyone else said or did anything to hurt their sister. We talked about how families fight like nobody else, but they are still family. We walked away as friends. No, we walked away as family. I told him the names of my children and he smiled. He will be praying for them. He will be praying for me. I will be praying for him.
Today is today. Tomorrow the sun will rise. Fear not. We are still family.
Two words are circling through my mind this morning. I am thinking about connectedness and gratitude. I was (and still am) sitting in a Denny’s with a hot cup of coffee thinking about Annual Conference when my server came up to my table. She’s been the ideal server. She substituted a cup of yogurt for my fruit because I am allergic to melon, has made certain that my cup of coffee is full, and has not called me “Hon” once (pet-peeve of mine—I am my wife’s hon and her’s alone).
I was thinking about the people I saw yesterday and smiled at this nice server. She walked away but stopped. I looked up and I saw her rubbing the back of her neck with the look of someone who has worked too many hours in a row. I wondered how long she’d been standing in those black shoes and hoped they were comfortable. She was standing with that slight tilt related to back pain that my physical therapist has scolded me about in the past. I was moved to pray for this nice person.
She reminded me about the reading I was doing for the Academy for Spiritual Formation yesterday. I was reading through “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame.” It is a good book by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au. I was telling Polly at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School table that the spiritual density of this book caused me twice as many headaches as the books her faculty had assigned me to read in seminary. The density that led to distraction yesterday was the following quote about the story of the Bent-Over Woman in Luke 13:10-13: (pg. 103)
“This woman symbolizes all of us, both men and women, when we feel unable to stand tall and face life head-on. Some of us are crippled by shame, the dreadful feeling that we are defective and unworthy of love. Some are handicapped by emotional wounds from childhood. And some are diminished by the oppression of prejudice and discrimination, and unjustly denied equal access to educational and work opportunities. The burdens of life can at time be so heavy that it is not difficult to identify with this bent-over woman.
Jesus’ awareness of this crippled woman’s hardship and his care for her is a story of consolation. Made whole by Jesus, she becomes a symbol of hope, reminding us that the risen Jesus responds to our suffering in the same compassionate way.”
I can see where the authors are coming from when they think about this story. If you don’t remember the original story, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when a woman who had been struggling with what the scriptures called a “crippling spirit” for 18 years came into view. He was busy teaching in that synagogue but compassion overrode his busyness. Jesus was pulled by his compassion into action. He spoke, he healed, and she was finally free.
I am reminded of the fact that not everyone is bent over, but we’re all in the same boat when it comes to needing to know a compassionate and loving Jesus. The authors state this clearly when they say that we are all in need of a consoling and compassionate Christ.
I was reminded of this strongly by yesterday’s Annual Conference session. I was reminded of this in my life while sitting alone at lunch missing my own family who stayed home to be in school this year and the best friend who never let me sit alone in all of our years together at Annual Conference. I was reminded of this as I sat with my friend’s widow and our mutual friend Harold at the Memorial Dinner. I was reminded of this when the Bishop unexpectedly sat down at our table for dinner but was so busy running in and out with Conference business that I asked a District Superintendent if he knew any way that we could guilt him into sitting still and eating dinner as an act of self-care. I was reminded of this when I saw old friends from across the connection who were excited to reconnect with me as a part of their past and as a part of their future. I was reminded of this when I talked with someone who was a new minister last year and was wondering about the challenges of the ordination process ahead of him. There are so many places where I saw people in need of this compassionate love of Jesus. I see the reasons that this story of a consoling Jesus gives hope because we are a people continually in need of hope.
I am reminded of this compassion as Annual Conference begins today. I am reminded how everyone we stand across from on any issue or debate is still a sister or brother in God. I am reminded of the connectedness that we all share in our need to know a compassionate God and to share that compassion with both each other and with all of our neighbors. We are all interconnected in our love and in our need to be a people following the compassionate Christ. This is good news and I am grateful to be connected with my sisters and brothers as we begin another day together.
Worship begins in an hour, my coffee cup is empty, and I have a good tip to leave for my server. See you all in session!
Today’s post is dedicated to my sisters and brothers at Annual Conference and to one awesome server who is currently waiting on 60 Amish folks from a tour bus. God bless her…
Brief reflections on the Bishop’s opening sermon…
First, I agree that the why of ministry should not change often. What we do in the church must always be in flux. How we do ministry must always be in flux. The why should be stable, but I sincerly doubt it will never change. The first century Christians altered the world because a prophet came claiming to be Son of God. The why of ministry changed in that time. The words of the Great Mystery tells us that “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” The why is guaranteed to change and if we say this is the only why God will ever supply then we may miss out on the truth and movement of the Spirit. If Jesus’ mission was the end of the story, the Gentiles would still be on the outside. The Spirit may still move!
Second, James would probably have issues with focusing only on prayer. What good is it to say “Go, be warm, and eat!” when that person laxks a place to go, no warm coat, and no food? James invited the early church to always hold prayer and blessing in a partnership with action.