Prayer of Lament and Longing

gsblog2God of Love and Peace, who created us to live in harmony rooted in mutual respect, compassion, and justice: We have lost our way and now wander in the toxic wasteland of cruel hatred, shameful disrespect for the dignity of others, and the normalization of verbal and physical violence.  In such a time, our prayers seem powerless and we cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Hear our laments and turn them into actions on behalf of compassion, justice, and peace.

  • We lament the coarseness of our public discourse, while we long for civility
  • We lament the disrespect for those who differ from us, while we yearn for mutual respect amid our differences
  • We lament the tribal nature of our politics, while we long for commitment to the common good
  • We lament the inequity in our economics,  while we want all to have access to your table of abundance
  • We lament the arrogance of always having to be right, while we desire the humility to live with ambiguity and mystery
  • We lament the hatred and cruelty within our life together, while we hunger to love and to be loved

Move through the dark recesses of my own heart, O God, and purge me of all hatred, arrogance, prejudice, and ill-will. Create in me a clean heart and put a right spirit within me, that I may be an instrument of your Love and Peace. Amen.

Gleanings from Responses to “Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church”

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Much to my astonishment, more than 60,000 people have read the blog entitled, “Why I Changed My Mind about Homosexuality and the Church.” (here)

The shear numbers speak volumes about the feelings associated with the topic. People want to discuss the issue in a common desire to discern a faithful way forward.

This is a teaching moment and many people are listening and eager to share. The church must be a compassionate participant in the conversation.

Another surprise: Less than 2% of the 60,000 expressed explicit disagreement with my position of full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the church. That says to me that people are more open and accepting than we often assume.

With few exceptions, those disagreeing have been respectful and civil in their opposition. Less than a dozen were mean-spirited, which suggests that we can have a civil conversation while disagreeing!

The most poignant revelation in the responses is the extensive pain and deep hurt people are carrying. The stories of rejection, cruelty, ostracism, and struggle are heart-wrenching.  Some contacted me personally to share wounds they are afraid to expose publicly.

While there are those who say that the language currently in The Book of Discipline (here) is compassionate, thousands of people are hearing and experiencing rejection, hatred and exclusion.  Regrettably and sadly, the language is being used as justification for bullying, demeaning, and ostracizing God’s beloved and faithful people.

Tragically, the hurtful message is coming from the institution that exists to bear witness to God’s boundless love and radical hospitality!

I’m even more convinced that the current official language violates two of three United Methodist General Rules:  “Do no harm” and “Do all the good you can.”  Our pronouncements are inflicting terrible suffering on individuals and families; and we are denying the church of the witness and leadership of many gifted persons whom God has called into ministry.

We must get inside the pain within ourselves and those most affected by our pronouncements and policies; otherwise, we will continue to inflict wounds rather than contribute to reconciliation and healing.

An additional gleaning from the responses:  Considerable confusion exists as to the meaning of “authority of Scripture” and the role of the Bible in Christian formation and living.

I grew up in fundamentalism. Taking the Bible seriously is indelibly etched into my heart and soul. I challenge anyone who concludes that I fail to take the Bible seriously or reject its authority. It’s because I take Scripture seriously and authoritatively that I can’t take it literally.

Getting into the world and transformative authority of the Bible is arduous work, requiring that we

  • struggle with its original contexts and languages,
  • locate ourselves in the stories and let them read and transform us,
  • wrestle with its deepest questions and probing ambiguities,
  • listen attentively for God’s divine Word within the human words,
  • read each specific passage in the context of the whole narrative of God’s revelation from Creation to God’s supreme revelation in Jesus Christ,
  • strive mightily to embody and live its core message of love for God and neighbor.

It is through that struggle along with the engagement of our tradition, reason, and experience that I have come to believe that the exclusionary language in the Book of Discipline should be removed. Removing the language, in my opinion, is an act of faithfulness to Scripture.

I accept that others who take the Bible with equal seriousness differ from my perspective and conclusion. I claim no infallibility or superiority in understanding. We all read Scripture within our own personal and cultural context and experience, which limits our understanding.

Scripture, therefore,  is to be read and interpreted in community. We need one another to challenge, question, and expand our finite perceptions, but always with respect, humility, and mutual longing to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

The responses to the blog post also confirm my conviction that legislation will not resolve the issues or silence the conversations.  Legislation results from a coercive exercise of political power by a small minority representation of the whole, operating within a strict time frame and emotionally charged environment.

Regrettably, open conversations are only beginning in many local congregations. From my experience, local churches are much better able to deal with the issue of human sexuality than is a legislative body.

In our local congregations,  the issues are personal, not abstractions; and with appropriate encouragement and assistance, congregations can deal with volatile issues with civility, compassion, and humility. I’ve witnessed it, as recently as last Sunday!

Many of the responses to my reflections have come from members of the LGBTQ+ community. They clearly exhibit the fruits of the Spirit–“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” (Galatians 5:22). The whole church needs their presence, leadership, and witness!

Finally, I have been confronted again with my own need for repentance for my blindness, silence, and complicity in the church’s discrimination against LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. I voted for the exclusionary language in 1984 and 1988 and I have been publicly silent too long.

My prayer is that God will forgive and empower me to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and that the church will fully embody the reconciliation and hospitality entrusted to it by the Triune God.

 

 

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A Plea for Honesty

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The normalization of dishonesty and deception threatens our common life. Lying has become an accepted political strategy and an applause line at public events. Whether done by Democrats or Republicans, it is just plain wrong!

Dishonesty destroys trust, rips apart the social fabric, and infects society with the deadly diseases of cynicism, corruption,  fear, and animosity.  Like an open infectious wound, lying contaminates the environment and threatens the health of others.

Honesty is an indispensable quality of character, and character does matter! Albert Einstein stated it succinctly: “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Jesus said it long before Einstein: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Luke 16:10 NRSV).

We have a right to demand that our leaders tell the truth! Lying for political gain is dangerously corrosive to more than politics. It threatens the survival of civil society and diminishes our basic humanity.

Restoring truthfulness and integrity to our life together begins within our own hearts and relationships.

My prayer today is that God will deliver me from my own temptation to put personal gain above honesty and free me from complicity with the normalization of dishonesty.

 

 

“The Opposite of Poverty Isn’t Wealth”

During a presentation Tuesday evening in support of Wesley House Community Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, I spoke on the topic “From Poverty to Privilege: A Personal Pilgrimage.”

Drawing on my own experiences growing up in Appalachian poverty and now being among the privileged, I shared some of the perils and lessons of both poverty and privilege.

Among the points I made is the temptation of those with economic resources to live in bubbles of privilege, isolated from those without resources. We privileged ones have compassion perhaps and want to help; so we adopt the poor as “projects,” objects of charitable mission.

Having been “a project,” or object of charity, I know how demeaning that can feel. Nobody wants to be treated as a project, an object! We all want to be a person! The poor need friends, not project managers!

Mumve Dandala is the former presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. He says, “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth; it’s dignity!” He adds that often our mission efforts, though well intentioned, rob the recipients of their dignity.

Bryan Stevenson writes,“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.”

The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth; it’s dignity nurtured in solidarity, friendship, and justice.

 

 

 

 

Prayer of Justice

I am part of a weekly study/discussion group. We close each session with the following prayer, the author of which is anonymous:
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Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:

  • a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
  • a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
  • a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
  • a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.

Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

“She’s Been Loved to Life”

Clasping hands 2Linda entered Bethany, the memory care facility, in May 2015. It was a painful decision for us.  The subsequent eighteen months were the most excruciating I have experienced as she declined cognitively and physically.

By April 2016, she had lost 20 pounds and was becoming increasingly frail. After extensive medical evaluation, Linda was approved for hospice care.

She remained in Bethany for another six months. Confusion, fear, disorientation increased. She was gradually forgetting how to eat and walk. Her weight loss continued.

She was unable to perform minimal personal care, which made her ineligible for “assisted living.” She had to either be transferred to skilled nursing or taken home with full-time care.

I wanted her home! I asked the nurse practitioner for a prognosis of time remaining. Understandably, she was reluctant to project a time. But she said, “Perhaps six months to a year.”

It is now October 2018, thirty months since Linda was admitted to hospice care.  Although she can no longer walk and is confined to the bed and dependent for her personal care, she is more peaceful and less fearful.

“I would never have thought that she would still be with us!”  The nurse practitioner said with amazement during a recent visit.

As I stroked Linda’s hair and caressed her forehead, a pleasant smile and twinkle in the eyes appeared.

The usually stoic nurse said with evident emotion, “She’s been loved to life!”

Tearfully I responded. “We are determined to provide three things for her–physical and emotional safety, appropriate comfort, and the assurance that she is loved just as she is.”

“It’s obvious that she has all three. I just wish everybody could have what Linda has,” remarked the experienced and compassionate nurse.

I feel enormously blessed that Linda and I are both surrounded by love, and it is love that gives us life.

We are blessed with two daughters who love their mother with the unselfish love they received from her; and their families, including our grandchildren, share that love.

We have the help of caregivers to whom caring for Linda is a sacred vocation.

A couple from church bring a meal each Thursday, simply because they care.

A neighbor couple drop in almost every day to lend support.

I, too, wish everyone could have what we experience! Is that not what God desires for the human family–safety from unnecessary danger, comfort amid loss, and unconditional love and care?

We all need to be “loved to life!” Isn’t that why the church exists?

 

Prayer for Deliverance from Perils of Privilege

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O Jesus, you did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Rather you emptied yourself in humble, self-giving love to and for the world.

How desperately we need your presence among us in these troubled and anxious times! Our nation and church are locked in tribal, partisan  battles for dominance and power, each side claiming “truth” and “right” and determined to prevail at all cost.

Burst our bubbles of privilege which blind us to the hurts of others and cause us to exploit you in our own pursuit of power and privilege.  Deliver us from the perils of our privileges

  • wealth that cuts us off from the poor
  • positions of power that blind us to the suffering of the powerless
  • education which discounts the wisdom of the uneducated
  • prestige which presumes entitlement
  • health that leads to insensitivity toward the frail
  • religious convictions that leave no room for mystery

Create in us, O God, the mind that was in Christ Jesus–

  • a sympathetic mind that feels the pain of the violated and wounded
  • a humble mind, emptied of arrogance and boasting
  • a generous mind, filled with love and goodwill toward all
  • a courageous mind, willing to challenge injustice and cruelty in high and low places
  • a searching mind, embracing mystery and wonder and awe
  • a hopeful mind, trusting in the triumph of justice, compassion, goodness.

In the name and spirit of the One who is the Mind of God in human flesh, Jesus the Christ. Amen

Principalities and Powers of Sin and Death on Display

The principalities and powers of sin and death were clearly on ugly display before the world in yesterday’s Senate hearing. Will the exposure lead to repentance?

  • turning away from protecting the privileges of the privileged and toward solidarity with the vulnerable and violated;
  • away from the love of power and toward the power of love;
  • away from bombastic bullying and toward compassionate conversation;
  • away from tribal partisanship and toward justice for the common good.

It may be difficult to believe in the moment, but God has already won the decisive victory! Compassion, justice, and peace will win!

Let us live now in the light of God’s victory already won by engaging “the powers” at the ballot box, in our congregations and neighborhoods,  and in solidarity with and advocacy on behalf of the violated and vulnerable.

 

 

How We See Others Matters

Stanley Hauerwas, (here) my friend and colleague at Duke, writes this about Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a community of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (here):

“. . . where I see an enemy to be defeated, he [Vanier] sees a wound that needs to be healed. That’s a big difference.”

Indeed, it is a big difference!

What if we were to consider ourselves and others as bearers of common wounds that need healing, rather than as adversaries to be defeated or competitors to be outdone?

What if we were to see the hurt beneath others’ anger, rather than as aggressors meriting our retaliation?

What if we were to view every person as a potential means of grace to us, rather than as an object of our correction or  charity or evangelization?

What if we were to approach those with whom we disagree as mutual explorers of the ineffable mystery we call GOD, rather than as misguided dupes in need of our superior insight?

What if we were to consider every person as a beloved child of God with infinite worth and dignity, rather than as an object of our desire or a means to our ends?

What if we were to see “the other” through the eyes of Christ, rather than through the lenses of partisan politics, racial prejudices,  and national borders?

The lens through which we view others really matters!

Who I Fear Most

We hear a lot about the role of fear amid current cultural, political, and religious wars. Pundits theorize that we tend to vote our fears, hoping someone will defend us against all threats and make us safe and secure.

“Fear of the other” dominates–those of different race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, political ideology, religion, nationality. . . .!

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I have an uneasy feeling that the person I fear the most is not “the other!”

The person I fear the most is myself! 

Maybe what I am most afraid of in the other is projection of my own woundedness, my own inadequacies, my own insecurities, my own prejudices,  my own  sinfulness.

Stanley Hauerwas put it pointedly:

“The fear that dominates our lives is not in the first instance the fear of an enemy, unless it is acknowledged that each of us is the enemy, but rather the fear that is the source of violence is the fear that makes us unwilling to acknowledge the wounded character of our lives.”

Overcoming my fear of the other requires that I honestly, humbly, and courageously confront my own woundedness. Projecting fear onto others only compounds its destructiveness.

God, grant me the courage to face the fear of myself in the light of Your Grace; and  may Your Love heal my wounds and cast out my fear! Amen.