Holy Week Is About the Politics of Jesus

Palm-sunday-clip-art-free-clipart-imagesMake no mistake about it: Every act of Jesus during what we call Holy Week was political!

Failure to admit that is to reduce Jesus to a meager promoter of an other-worldly personal piety with little relevance to the real world.

The week began with a carefully planned protest march into Jerusalem,  the center of political, economic, and religious power.

It is as though Jesus is throwing down the gauntlet in Washington, D.C., Wall Street, and the Vatican (or the location of our denominational headquarters).

Politics is about power, its definition and use, who wields it and toward what ends. Politics has to do with who has access to resources, what serves the common good, and how change is effected.

Jesus challenges all prevailing images of power of his time and ours. The images of Holy Week, therefore, call us to evaluate our own politics. The challenge crosses partisan political and religious loyalties, just as it did in Jesus’ time–Herodians, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes.

The contrasting images are dramatically presented in Jesus’ march into Jerusalem. He is riding on a humble beast of burden, not a prancing war stallion. No tanks or missiles and parading armed soldiers!

His entourage consists of the poor, women and children, the outcastes, the working people waving palm branches, not the prominent and prestigious flaunting their privilege.

We would do well to put aside our defensiveness, partisanship, and privilege and honestly evaluate our politics, our understanding of power and the common good, in the light of Jesus’ actions during this fateful week.

I’ll offer my own observations and confessions and invite you to do the same.

 

 

A Wesleyan Ethic of Speech

This is a thoughtful, much needed word from Wesleyan scholar/historian and friend, Ted Campbell, who teaches at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. God grant me the grace, patience, wisdom, and discipline to practice “A Wesleyan Ethic of Speech.”

heartcoreMethodist

GCFA at Historic St George's UMC – Version 2

I grew up in a southern US culture that used euphemistic expressions like “God bless your little heart” to mean… Well, I can’t say what that really meant while discussing a Wesleyan ethic of speech. But I promise you that what it meant wasn’t always nice.

There’s a lot in the Bible, a lot in the words of Jesus, and a lot in Wesleyan and Methodist culture about what comes out of our mouths. The world would be a better place if we could pay more attention to the words we generate with our mouths and our keypads. But not just the world outside of our churches: in a time of Methodist rancor and division, this historic culture of carefully guarded speech (and writing) is as needed as ever.

Jesus recognized a world awash in verbal vomit. In fact, that’s just about exactly how he described it:

“… it…

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What I Wish I Had Known about Sex

“What is something you wish you had known about pastoral care and sex/sexuality/gender identity when you were in seminary or before ministry began?

That was a question the panel moderator raised at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Wednesday, March 27. I continue to ponder my response.

I attended seminary 1962 to 1965.  I don’t recall a single discussion about sexual identity and orientation during those three years. The “sexual revolution” had not reached our campus.

The hot button issues were racial integration, poverty, and the Vietnam war. Those were on the cutting edge of Biblical/theological/ethical inquiry and at the top of the justice agenda.

We grappled with what the Bible says about race, slavery, economics, and war; but the passages referring to “homosexuality” received no exegetical analysis.

Matters of sexual identity, orientation, and expression were physically, emotionally, and morally settled and unambiguous.

There were only two prevailing truths about sexual identity: (1) There are males and females! (2) You don’t “do it” until you’re married! It’s that simple!

Any deviation from that binary description was considered “abnormal.” The American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as a “disorder,” not removing it from the list until 1973.

During my thirty-two years as a local church pastor, people who didn’t fit into that dualistic, simplistic mold of sexuality largely remained hidden; or we operated by the principle of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

So I answered the moderator’s question this way: “I wish I had known the complexities involved in sexual identity and orientation. Since I didn’t, I have been complicit in hurting people who don’t fit into the binary description.”

I failed as a pastor to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers to openly accept their full identity as beloved children of God, made in the divine image. And, I failed to challenge the prejudices and injustices directed toward them under the guise of being faithful to the Bible.

Scientific understanding and biblical interpretation regarding sexuality have greatly advanced over the last half century. We are learning that the binary understanding of sexuality is as antiquated as the notion of a flat earth.

And, using the Bible to justify discrimination against LGBTQIA people is as flawed as using Scripture to exclude women or divorced people from church leadership.

I have much to yet to learn about the complexities of sexual identity and orientation! I’m still having trouble fully comprehending the realities behind the letters L G B T Q I A.

Thankfully, people who live the complexities of sexual identity are opening my eyes and helping me receive their marvelous gifts.

I am convinced that God is working in, among, and through LGBTQIA colleagues to bring to reality God’s dream of a redeemed and reconciled humanity.

I regret that it has taken me so long to welcome, affirm, and support their gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ugliest Word

Ugly

During an interview in the 1950s, the famed journalist Edward R. Morrow asked Carl Sandburg, “What’s the ugliest word in the English language?”

I know a lot of ugly words! Many are considered profanity and aren’t spoken in polite company. Admittedly, those crude words have become more acceptable in public discourse and popular entertainment. I won’t mention them here. You know them, I’m sure.

But the Pulizer prize winning poet didn’t select a profane word. This master of the use of words chose this as the ugliest word: EXCLUSIVE! 

Well, I’m not so sure about that! Many find the word and its implication quite attractive. After all, we seem to prefer

  • to live in exclusive neighborhoods,
  • drive exclusive cars, eat at exclusive restaurants,
  • vacation at exclusive resorts,
  • attend exclusive universities,
  • occupy exclusive leadership positions,
  • shop at exclusive stores,
  • be inducted into exclusive organizations,
  • be part of an exclusive religion,
  • worship an exclusive God,
  • belong to an exclusive church.

I suspect that the ugliness or beauty of the word depends on whether we are among the included or the excluded. The included have power, privilege, prominence, prestige. They determine who is in and who is out.

But if you’ve ever been among those who are excluded, you know how ugly the word is! Being excluded stings, embarrasses, devalues, demeans, rejects, isolates, marginalizes, coerces, bullies. It hurts to be excluded!

Jesus must have considered exclusive to be an ugly word and an evil practice. At least, he redefined who’s in and who’s out. He turned the tables on the excluded and the included.

The excluded became the included: the nobodies, the poor, the disreputable, the powerless, the sick, the imprisoned, the vulnerable!

Those who considered themselves the exclusive found themselves on the outside– religious legalists, political power brokers, the rich, the morally pure, the piously judgmental.

In God’s upside-down kindom, no one is excluded from the reach of divine compassion and presence. Those we exclude from our circles of compassion, justice, and hospitality are the very ones at the center of God’s circle of hospitality.

If exclusive is the ugliest, I wonder what the poet would consider the most beautiful word in the English language?

I don’t know about you, but a word that comes to my mind is WELCOME! When combined with ALL, the beauty is magnified: ALL WELCOME! WELCOME ALL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on Its Way!

PrintThis week I sent the final draft of manuscript, Ministry with the Forgotten: Dementia through a Spiritual Lens, to Abingdon for the their review and editing. The book is the outgrowth of the journey Linda and I have been on for more than ten years.

Dementia is seen in our society almost exclusively through a medical lens where the focus is on symptoms, lost capacities, and grief. Such a narrow lens contributes to the current fear, stigmatizing, and marginalizing of people with dementia.

The book seeks to broaden the lens by locating dementia within God’s Story of creation, liberation, restoration, incarnation, and salvation. We are all more than our limitations, capacities, and losses. We are beloved children of God, created in the divine image, redeemed by God’s grace, and incorporated into a new community.

I am honored that the Foreword is written by Warren Kinghorn,  a psychiatrist and theologian, who teaches in both the Medical School and Divinity School at Duke. His short Foreword is worth more than the book itself!

The book should be available by August. The royalties from its sale will go to support ministries with people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and those who care for them.

Excluded, Included

Of all that I have read in response to the actions of the recent General Conference, this one moves me most deeply. It is written by a young college student who was baptized, confirmed, and formed in a local United Methodist Church. The denomination has a future only if it listens to such voices as this one.

Excessive Ramblings

I should be studying. But I’ve been thinking so much this
week that I can’t think. I just saw a quote from Reverend Eston Williams: “At
the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for
who I excluded.”

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

For those of you not wrapped up in church news—specifically,
United Methodist Church news—the church’s legislative body, the General
Conference, voted this week to strengthen our Book of Discipline’s language excluding
non-celibate LGBTQ individuals from the clergy and punishing clergy who violate
these rules or perform same-sex marriages. The decision faces judicial review,
but the decision was made nonetheless.

“Open Hearts, Open Doors,” we say. Perhaps not for all.

I am hurt. I am confused. And, in the words of Reverend
Williams, I really would “rather be excluded for who I include than included
for who I excluded.” If we take some…

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God Bats Last!

I am deeply grieved, frustrated, and embarrassed by the actions of the United Methodist General Conference.

We not only did harm to our LGBTQAI+ beloved sisters and brothers; we publicly bore false witness to the Christian gospel and severely undermined the church’s witness in this broken world.

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!

May our lament energize us for living our baptismal vows and “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sins.”

May our resistance be in the form of radical agape/love expressed in justice, compassion, and hospitality.

I’m holding onto the conviction that God has already won the decisive victory in Jesus Christ.

God always bats last! I pray that the church to which I’ve given my adult life will be on base in the final inning!

The Place to Begin: Repentance



General Conference  begins today with a season of worship and prayer. I can’t be present in St. Louis, but I am joining the delegates, bishops, and guests in this time of prayer. I begin my prayer with confession and repentance.

Here are some of the sins which I lift before God in repentance:

  • An over reliance on legislation to resolve theological, ethical, and ecclesial issues
  • Substituting uniformity of belief for the oneness already wrought in Jesus Christ
  • Prioritizing institutional preservation above faithfulness to God’s present and coming reign of compassion, justice, and hospitality
  • Trusting in the exercise of political power over the practice of agape/love
  • Confusing certainty of being right with humbly following Jesus
  •  Failure to love others as Christ loves us

I pray that throughout the General Conference session and beyond, we will “bring forth fruit worthy of repentance” and be the body of Christ in this broken, polarized, and suffering world.

I Won’t be Attending General Conference But . . . .

UM-General-Conference1920x485-1024x259I’m going to miss an important event in Methodist history–the called session of the General Conference in St. Louis, February 23-27.

A lot is at stake as delegates wrestle with ways to deal with the important matters of homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture. The decisions made will chart the denomination’s future for decades.

Missing the conference makes me sad! I feel some guilt for my absence.  Although as a retired bishop I have no official duties,  I do feel responsible to be present in support of colleagues and delegates.

I know from previous General Conferences that significant things happen apart from the formal sessions. Old friendships are renewed and new ones formed. The vast diversity of the denomination is on full display.

Great music! Outstanding preaching! Challenging speeches! Profound worship!

I’ll miss all of that!

I must forego the experience. But, I’ll be pursuing my current primary vocational calling, care-partner for my wife of 57 years.

What I will be doing seems small and insignificant when compared to the history-making decisions. Nothing I will be doing will get publicity or make the history books.

I’ll be doing little things–holding Linda’s hand, combing her hair, feeding her, brushing her teeth, assuring her she isn’t alone, just sitting quietly as she sleeps.

There are important connections between what I’ll be doing and what’s happening in St. Louis.

We both will be doing sacred work!  Both will involve strong emotions, including grief and disappointment. God will be present with us!

Both have to do with what it means to love! Who to love! How to love! What it means to love faithfully, as Christ loves us!

Love isn’t an abstraction for me. She’s lying in the bed nearby, with her hand in mine. Love, in the final analysis, is an embodied practice rather than a pontifical pronouncement.

I hope love isn’t an abstraction in St. Louis. May it be embodied in

  • ears that listen attentively,
  • tongues that speak tenderly and truthfully,
  • hands that clasp and serve joyfully,
  • arms that embrace hospitably,
  • hearts that beat compassionately,
  • minds that exhibit the mind that was in Christ Jesus,
  • actions that manifest the breadth of God’s love and justice.

I won’t be trying to convince Linda that she is wrong, or less than, or inadequate, or sinful, or outside the norm.

Instead, I will be trying to empathetically enter her world, see the world as she is seeing it, assure her that she is valued amid her confusion, and loved unconditionally by God and by me.

I genuinely pray that what happens in St. Louis will be akin to what will be happening in our home, and in the countless homes across our world as people seek to love one another as Christ loves us, regardless of

  • race,
  • ethnicity,
  • political affiliations,
  • theological perspectives,
  • sexual orientation, or
  • physical and intellectual capacities.

I won’t be physically present in St. Louis, but I’ll be watching and praying. . . . and continuing to love!

 

 

 

Mastering the Energies of Love

Humanity has made great advances  in harnessing the energy of the wind, the sun, the atom, and the currents. Those energies are used for good and ill!

There is one energy we have not yet mastered. Until we do, all our so-called advances will be but improved means to unimproved ends.

Paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, stated it profoundly:

What paralyzes life is lack of faith and lack of courage. The difficulty lies not in solving problems but in expressing them correctly; and we can now see that it is biologically undeniable that unless we harness passion to the service of spirit there can be no progress. Sooner or later, then, and in spite of all our incredulity, the world will take this step— because the greater truth always prevails and the greater good emerges in the end. The day will come when, after mastering the ether, the winds, the tides, gravity, we shall master the energies of love, for God. And then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have made fire his servant.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, On Love & Happiness

The real challenge is to be mastered by Love! That’s what Christians call “discipleship”!