Wednesday, June 29, 2016

41 dead, 239 injured! My heart goes out to the families of the victim’s of the horrible attack in Istanbul. While the details and those responsible are still emerging, the terror that these kinds of acts inflict ripples throughout the world, continually keeping the world on the edge of fear, division, and pain. While those in the wake of the blast in Istanbul were struck by debris flying from the bombers, the world’s emotions are set on edge from the shockwaves from the blast. Again today, it looks like terror is winning. The temptation is to give in to our fear and anger, and strike back in violent ways and yet, our faith, which is informed by the ways of Jesus revealed in the Gospels, calls for another response. I am not saying we should not feel angry or fearful, but how we respond to those emotions is a reflection of the authenticity of our embrace of the teachings of Jesus. For example, the Gospel lesson that I am working on for Sunday’s sermon is the first commissioning of the 70 disciples to go out into the world to spread the news of the reign of god breaking into the world. Jesus’ commissioning included both warning and instruction: “I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no provisions, not even sandals.” While it is a strange commissioning, it underscores the risk and vulnerability that is inherent within our faith tradition.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thinking Out Loud About the UMC General Conference...

Thinking out loud about the UMC General Conference… The decision at the UMC General Conference to defer the conversation on human sexuality to a Special Commission to be appointed by the Council of Bishops has been embraced in a multitude of ways. There are those who are grateful for the decision for the Council of Bishops to lead the way forward in discerning the UMC position on human sexuality generally and the question of LGBTQ clergy and members. And there are those who are deeply disappointed. And there is a wide range in the middle. Here are some of my thoughts. There were many who were hopeful that the decisions of this General Conference would give direction to those who continue to wait for some definitive decision. There are thousands of LGBTQ individuals, both clergy and lay church members, whose lives are completely restricted under the weight of the current policy and who yearned for some decision out of this General Conference. Many were waiting for an answer from the church, so they could have some finality on the church’s position and thus they could make informed decisions about their next steps: stay or leave. For many this waiting is filled with anxiety, shame, secrecy with their congregations by remaining in the closet and having to suffer in silence, to name only a few of the issues. One can sense from this laundry list of hurt, the personal and emotional injury that continues as they hang in limbo, until a decision is made. There are now those 100+ clergy that came out to the General Conference as LGBTQ. Their future is in the balance until a decision is made and they are now vulnerable to being defrocked and wounded even more by their exposure. I am sure this list includes clergy who were not “out” before this letter was public, and because of their courage are at greater risk in their congregations and conferences. While the statement from the Council of Bishops states that they will work at “ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm” there are no words that guarantee complaints, trials and harm will not continue to arise at this point. There is a concern that I have around the over-arching goal of the Council of Bishops, which is to allow “for a variety of expressions to co-exist in one church…to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another.” Of course unity is a goal, but not at the expense of truth and justice. No matter how much we wish that unity could be our ultimate goal, there are times when the need for justice outranks the call for unity. For example, the UMC declared in 1968 that women would be ordained in the UMC. That decision was the just decision and thus the UMC lived more truthfully into the call to be a Christ-like community. Thus, to be a UMC congregation, you must be a congregation that allows women to be clergy. There are many denominations that still do not allow women to be ordained, but they cannot be United Methodist congregations. We do not live in “unity” at the expense of that justice decision. It should be the same with LGBTQ people. Justice and liberation for LGBTQ people and their allies should outrank our need for “unity.” If unity continues to oppress, dis-affirm and damage those marginalized by the church’s policy, our Christ-likeness is a fraud. A further concern is that the vote was very close by the assembly to even invite the Council of Bishops into this conversation and to defer to their leadership. There is no guarantee that once the Special Commission of Council of Bishops makes a recommendation, it will be approved by some future General Conference. So while the Special Commission does its work, other factions will be doing theirs, garnering power, votes and alliances. These actions are very destructive and wounding to body politic. Finally, what voices will be allowed to engage the process of the Council of Bishop’s Special Commission. Will the Special Commission appointed by the Council of Bishops be diverse, including a full representation of the LGBTQ community? Will recommendation of the Commission be open to hearing the stories, hurt, pain, and dreams of the marginal? Any conversation that does not engage the marginalized voices seriously is very problematic and smacks of patronization of those impacted most deeply. And unless the ground rules ensure that the conversation is safe for all to participate, and that those pastors and members who speak honestly about their sexuality will not face negative repercussions then the Commission’s work will be severely compromised. I have more concerns, but these are the first that emerge. A somber thought, while this conversation continues, the Church, including all churches and denominations, becomes more and more a folly to the world, preventing many even considering being a part of it. And with that, the liberating, human-enhancing message the church could offer on its best day looses its capacity to transform our world toward wholeness. John

Friday, September 18, 2015


Over of late, after reading some of Dr. Brueggemann’s writings, I have been exploring mentally the idea of exceptionalism; a state of being in which you have an attitude that you are exceptional to others and thus have a special pass on rules/accountability that apply to the masses. This idea of exceptionalism is a great divider. It sets up demarcated boundaries between people, nations, political parties, religions, races, sexes - it is a destructive force that promotes policies that reek of injustice, violence and oppression. An exceptionalism mentality strikes a profound blow against the other to whom one thinks you have some exceptionality. For example our political conversations in today’s world around immigration, where the promise of a wall to keep others out of our “beautiful country” smacks of exceptionalism. The idea that as Americans we have the "god given right" to boss or bully other nations around to our way of thinking economically and politically and by so doing disrespect their capacity to be contributing members of a global family is but a product of this country’s exceptionalism. And perhaps even more to the point, (and I know that I am walking a very tight line here) for American politicians to take the moral high ground by saying that other nations who would be “less responsible” with nuclear capabilities smacks of exceptionalism, reinforcing the idea that our moral capacity is higher than yours. Actually, I think the more morally high ground would be that all nations with weapons of mass destruction would convert their arsenals into instruments that promote life. The Bible is full of stories of God’s expanding, evolving embrace of humanity, even as Israel was billed as a nation that was of special interests to Yahweh. But that special interest can slip easily into exceptionalism, which can then easily slip into exclusionary election by God and that idea easily slips into “we are justified in doing whatever we please.” The Bible as a whole pushes against exceptionalism because it understands the harm that can be inflicted on others by those thinking they are the “exceptional ones." The Bible pushes ultimately toward God’s care and embrace of the whole of the world – the concept is know as shalom. Religions, when they think of themselves exceptional because of God’s special endorsement – at the expense of the well being of neighbors, then God is greatly diminished and the neighbor’s human worth is greatly compromised. As we listen to the political rhetoric of today – I invite you to ponder the harm and division promoted by the idea of exceptionalism.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reflections on Ferguson and beyond

The events around Ferguson should cause us to pause and ponder deeply the cultures within our nation that work to wound others. As those not in the courtroom, we do not know all of the information that the Grand Jury pondered, and thus ‘why’ around their decision remains illusive. But there are things we do know. We live in a violent, racist society that takes a deadly toll on all of us. The decision in Ferguson stirs us on many levels and the decision’s tentacles reach far beyond the decision they reached. For those who deeply and personally feel the grief of Michael Brown’s death and his absence in their life, for them those deep wounds are reopened in a painful way. For those who see Michael Brown’s death as a larger social crisis that lives within every city and town in our nation, a death perpetuated by our ongoing racist culture, their anger is refueled, and justly so. With no indictment I imagine, their hopes for a reprieve go unfulfilled once again, and that the reality is, that within our nation there is a disproportionate number of deaths among young African American men, and thus, justice continues to seem denied. This decision reinforces the pain of the many, who are wounded each day by this reality, and their cries of lamentations rise, fueled by anger at a social system that is undeniably stacked toward the privileged. Another tentacle that adds to the tragic circumstances is the inability of our culture to seriously address our capacity to consume and manufacture weapons. We are an armed society and just as sadly, we are a fearful society. At every turn we are instructed to fear the other. Fear is particularly pronounced among the privileged, for they are fearful of the changing world in which they live, and thus, try to enact policies of protectionism. Fear armed with weapons is a deadly combination. It is my deepest prayer that the events, disappointment, anger, and grief can push us toward a plan of reconciliation, addressing the deep challenges of our national life.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tuesday's ponderings

I heard a troubling program on NPR this morning about Alaskans and their attitude toward global warming. Since they are on the front edge of the receiving end of global warming they cannot ignore its immediate impact with the permafrost melting and ice getting thinner. But the program’s conclusion was that Alaskans are more focused on how they can cope with the day- to-day reality of global warming rather than addressing the causes. The image that comes to mind for me in that strategy is when someone is bailing water out of a sinking boat, but does not fix the hole in the bottom of the boat. On Tuesday, while I understand these are non-binding referendum, the voters of Illinois demonstrated that they wanted legislators to address some root causes of poverty, and some of the ongoing root causes of our social fraying. Votes overwhelmingly said yes to: raising the minimum wage, women’s health and birth control, funding mental health services, universal background checks, passing laws that protect voters’ rights. Of course the challenge of these votes is their legislative implementation. But, with these votes legislators were urged to move forward on bills to address these issues. These votes are encouraging and help direct the focus away from our just coping, toward addressing root causes of disenfranchisement for so many people in our state.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

While away on vacation I have been deeply troubled by the events around Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, MO. I have thought of the Three Crosses’ community often and have been holding you in my heart as we watch what has unfolded on the news. There have been many, often dueling narratives put forth around this tragic event. Underlying all of the news stores is the excessive violence in our culture and the acceptable premise that it is justifiable to use weapons against other human beings, even unarmed young men. The use of guns escalates the cycle of violence. There are models in the world where police offices do not carry guns. This country should take note and look at those models. Another worrisome aspect is the headline which said: “Peace and quiet return to the streets of Ferguson.” Peace within a theological setting has always upheld justice. Peace is never seen as a lack of conflict, but rather a state of being where all people experience the justice of God in all aspects of life. True peace is far from Ferguson. This week’s events underscore the real work that our country must do to confront racism and its deep impact upon our culture. The words written on the signs carried by many of the demonstrators ring true: “No Justice, No Peace.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflection on the War in Israel/Gaza While I would not call myself a world traveler by any standard, I have traveled to a few war torn areas of the world including, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. While in those areas, I saw evidence of the violence; experienced the terror of death squads; and heard stories of how the violence of war ripped through families and how poverty was deeply linked to the violence of the conflicts. While in Gaza, I visited a family of 14 living in a two-room house, with a dirt floor and little to no furniture. The father talked about his inability often to access his worksite because it was in the West Bank, outside of Gaza’s city limits, and many days he could not cross the border. I heard of the lack of medical care for the children and I physically saw the garbage that littered the streets because public services were almost non-existent in Gaza. It was a humanitarian nightmare that still wakes me at night. Then, as well as now, the magnitude of the nightmare leaves little room for one side of the conflict to blame the other to justify the horror that children are enduring. The conflict that is happening right now in Gaza is again reawakening my memory of my visit some 22 years ago and is re-traumatizing me. While I know the reasons behind the offensive in Gaza has a long, complicated, violent and political history, it is my deepest yearnings that the violence will stop; that no more civilians or military personnel will be lost; that a way to peace might emerge.