So I’m trying to not eat for energy or pick up my favorite coffee drink at The Coffee Shack. I have done pretty well at The Coffee Shack – only one in a month and that was after the New York trip before I went to a wedding rehearsal so not bad. Anyway, so I’m terrible at this don’t eat for energy thing and I remembered that in the Wesley kitchen we found some melted chocolate from the New York trip. I know it’s a pretty low standard if you’re looking at melted chocolate from a road trip. Anyway, again (I’m digressing a lot here), I got a Coke Zero that someone left here and I found a melted bag of Reese cups (jackpot!) and I’m walking back to my office, when lo and behold I’m walking by the front door and I think I see out of the corner of my eye, a figure at the door.
At first I keep walking down the hall and then I think, wait a sec, I think that really may be someone at the door. Sure enough it’s a guy. He’s pointing at our picture that sits on the table in the entryway that says, “I stand at the door and knock” and then he says through the glass – “See, I stand at the door and knock.” I open the door and of course he’s asking for assistance and if we’re a church. (I must say that I love our Winthrop Wesley sign and the symbol of the cross and flame that is now big on our wall outside, but no one ever stopped by and asked for assistance before we had that new sign. I guess they didn’t think we were a church with the words “The Wesley Foundation” on the outside, probably thinking we were a bank or insurance company or philanthropy or something.)
I explained about our college ministry and walked him around the corner pointing out HOPE, Inc. an agency down the street that many of our churches support, I point out the churches in the area, I give him directions to some, tell him about Dorothy Day, etc. All this time saying that I personally can’t help him, but holding my Coke Zero and bag of Reeses cups in my hand. As I walk back into the building and I look at the picture and I see what it says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” Hello, conviction as I walk in the door.
By the time I caught up with the guy after grabbing the cash from my wallet to help him with his bus ticket, he’s at the Presbytery building on the corner. He looks at me and says, “See, I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can asking these churches to help me.”
It’s tough. I know that HOPE only helps people every certain amount of days/weeks and they had helped this guy when he was in the hospital last week. I know that certain folks that he had talked to only give utility bill help or food or they give all their money to HOPE to distribute. I know that none of us want to be taken advantage of or to enable. Heck, enable is pretty much a curse word these days.
I know I am one fiesty woman, but also alone in the building so I didn’t want to invite the guy in and I somehow didn’t think handing him spagetti sauce and uncooked pasta from our pasta lunches would actually help anything. I could have driven him somewhere and I thought about it, but the whole woman alone thing – sometimes I’m okay with that, and sometimes not so much. So yes, I ended up doing something that I actually don’t usually do and I sometimes even say we shouldn’t do – I just gave the guy some money.
It’s such a hard issue – to give or not to give, enabling or accountability, erring on the side of grace or of caution. What would you do? Do you go with your gut? Do you listen to the Spirit as you discern?
How is our church inviting people in as they stand at the door and knock? Do we just give them some money or do we actually invite them in and build relationship with them? What does the world see about a church that says we want to clothe the naked and give homes to the homeless and yet we have nothing to offer? What does the world see in a church that just gives hands out and not hands up or real relationship?
The United Methodist campus ministries went on our annual trip to New York this past week. It always a rich time with students getting to make new friends and see and learn so much from the city. It is also a blessing to be able to stay at Metropolitan Community UMC in Harlem. Their hospitality has always been a huge gift to us and a shining example of the United Methodist connection.
This year the United Methodist Seminar Program led by Jay Godfrey and Jennifer McCallum outdid themselves, scheduling 3 parts of our group in 3 different areas of the city for 3 days to learn about the communities, culture, and social action taking place. We were divided into groups going to the Bronx, Lower East Side and Harlem and had one day of service at a meals on wheels sort of thing where we actually walked to apartments and delivered meals to the elderly, one day of learning about cultures in our particular communities, and one day of seminar focusing on some of the issues in our communities and what organizations in those communities are doing to combat them.
I had spent some time doing seminars in Harlem and the Lower East Side so I was particularly interested in the Bronx. What a huge area and diverse group of people the Bronx includes. In all of the stops at museums, art collectives, a Yankees game, community action groups – each area of the Bronx was really different. They were all so proud to be “Bronxites” that their enthusiasm for their borough was infectious. We all felt like Bronxites to an extent at the end of our time. Did you know that the Bronx has more green space than any other burrough in New York? Me either.
What we heard from a lot of people and I would think the other groups would say this to, was people saying that they grew up dreaming of moving somewhere else and starting a new life, but that through whatever experience, education, epiphany moment, they decided to stay in their community and try to bring about change and keep fighting for chances and opportunities for the children growing up behind them. Many of the speakers we talked to were born and bred in these communities and the passion, devotion and pride that they felt for these places was evident in everything they said whether the good or even the challenging issues that they are still battling.
It was good for the students and me to see these people standing up for what they believe in using real, practical, and change-bringing principles to their every day, bringing voice to the voiceless.
The divide I feel when I’m talking about us going to a living wage rally or fighting on behalf of the poor versus some of the questioning looks I get from people back home, has a lot to do with people’s questions about justice and righteousness. We say we don’t believe all of the malarky about people who suffer having done something wrong or may not have lived right and have caused their suffering. We say that we need to support our mentally ill, veterans, the widows, the orphans, those that can’t help themselves. But then again, when it comes to our wallets and our own comfort, it seems easier to say and assume that if people were just working hard enough, if people just did what it takes to succeed, they would somehow pull themselves up out of these places of poverty.
We just witnessed a royal wedding where a commoner who descended from coal miners and criminals married a prince. As much as I like the fairytale and as hard as her family worked and as many names they have been called for “social climbing,” I think it paints a somewhat unfair picture of what the cycle of poverty really looks like. To say that it is hard to break that cycle is such a rough and belittling use of an adjective that it feels wrong to say. To stand up in the face of corruption, in the face of not just people but entire systems that abuse you, to demand the same rights that others enjoy when you’ve never gotten a fair shake – that is scary, it’s terrifying, it’s intimidating.
I am constantly amazed at the voices that do stand up though. I was glad to hear of a student from the Bronx talk about students in the Bronx organizing a walk out of thousands of students when the government was going to take away their right to a student metrocard to get to and from school. I was inspired listening to Intikana from Rebel Diaz Arts Collective talking about how they’re using art and music and film and all sorts of creative outlets to give people in the Bronx a way to express themselves in non-violent and constructive ways. It’s great to see young people working to bring about a new day. It’s good for all of us to see that we can make a difference, whether through our churches doing a soup kitchen, clothing closet, food pantry, or other social action. In the midst of the sometimes uphill climb and little defeats in the battle, it’s good to know that none of us are alone in this battle and that we have folks journeying with us all over the world.
From a faith perspective, we are clearly called to the poor, to the wounded, to those that need to feel that love and wholeness and new life. This isn’t just the obvious poor among us, but it’s also the single mom trying to make ends meet, it’s also our cranky next door neighbor who’s as lonely as heck, it’s also our friends, our family, the people we see at the office or grocery store or school.
One of this past week’s lectionary texts was 1 Peter 2:19-25 and it talked about suffering and following in Christ’s footsteps. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t ask God for suffering. If you suffer, you suffer, but Christ suffers with you, I get that. But I’m not asking for it like the lovely Mr. Wesley in his new year’s service. There’s two things I like in particular about this text – one that Christ suffered for us and so God knows what suffering feels like – for real without a doubt not even his fault suffering. There’s a song in the new Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon that’s called “Man Up.” I am NOT endorsing or saying you should go out and watch Book of Mormon or get the soundtrack. The story is about two Mormon missionaries in Africa and needless to say, one of them is seeing that he has a challenge before him and he’s like, hey – Jesus had to man up, so I need to too. I’m not saying that we all have to man or woman up, but the song is right in that Christ did suffer and die and he’s been there. He knows what it’s like to feel alone, tired, hungry, beaten, ridiculed, and tortured.
The other thing is that he did the suffering for us, that “by his wounds you have been healed” and he is our Shepherd leading us home. To me, this calls us in two different directions – one to realize that we realize that this LOVE and sacrifice was for us. The other is to realize that we have to share this LOVE and sacrifice with the world. We can’t say, that’s not my problem, it’s a problem over “there” with “those” people in “that” place. Nope, it’s something that we all must wrestle with as we share the light and love of Christ. This cycle of poverty only ends as we all jump into the fight, pool our resources, and leave our pride, self-protection, and rationalizations at the door.
We learned a ton in New York. It was a great trip. The thing I like about these trips is that it’s not just something we leave in New York, in this far away place, but these are things we learn and do and bring home to make a difference where we are, not just in a nice, greeting card kind of way, but for real.
How do we break the cycle of poverty in our communities? How do we break the cycle of unbelief and fear and doubt? How do we break the cycle of people believing that Jesus would just look at them with contempt and say that they deserved it because of what they did? What are our churches saying about the cycle of poverty and suffering? Anything? What message are we telling? What inner soundtrack are our lives rocking along too?
A nice, tame song by JJ Heller, “What Love Really Means.”
Man Up from the Book of Mormon – (don’t forget this is a satirical musical written by the creators of South Park and Avenue Q so listen at your own risk…this is your disclaimer, seriously.)
If someone was going to write a satirical musical about our faith? our denomination? our churches? what would it say???
One of my favorite places to worship and reflect is Tillman Chapel in the Church Center Building across the street from the United Nations. I like so many things about it from the stained glass, to the religious symbols, and the beautiful words inscribed from the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:42, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” It’s appropriate across the street from the United Nations and it’s appropriate as we take students on UM seminars to learn about people other themselves from places other than their homes facing circumstances that they may never face. It’s also appropriate for us as we go about the tug and pull of the life of Christ in light of recent events.
While I was in ethics class in seminary, my brother Josh was living with us at the time and offered me great food for thought as we went back and forth over issue after issue. We’re both pretty stubborn and because I love and respect him, I could hear things that challenged me and that I didn’t entirely agree with, that I would chew on for awhile. Josh fits in well with the belief that The United Methodist Church is a peace church. He does and we need people like him. Even as he walked in a few minutes ago and I’m telling him about so many people posting on this, he has no hesitation in saying not just that we shouldn’t rejoice, but that we shouldn’t kill. Violence does not solve violence. I’m the one when watching the horror movie or drama on tv or when someone I love is hurt violently or tragically, that jumps to the let’s take action – go get ’em! – shoot the person already, etc. When watching it in the movies of course you want the person being stalked by the killer to get away and the killer to be brought to justice, and we cry for justice just as much in “real life” as well. It’s such a fine line between justice and wanting people to answer for what they have done and for the pain they have caused, and letting yourself be swept away by the hate that knows no bounds and just seems to be spraying everywhere.
I was a senior in college when 9-11 happened. I got engaged the night before the attack and it was a beautiful September morning as I left for class. In my first class of the day, English with Dr. Jones, we talked a little bit about someone having heard on the radio that a plane had accidentally flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We continued on with class thinking that it was just an accident. By the time I went to my 9:30 class, History with Dr. Silverman, he had turned on the television in the classroom and as we watched, we saw the towers fall. I remember girls in my class holding up my hand to look at my engagement ring as we watched all of this from the classroom. That class was then cancelled and I made my way over to The Wesley Foundation where my then fiancee Mike and my campus minister Jerry were sitting in the living room watching everything on the television. I remember our silence and our disbelief, our fear and our sadness, our uncertainty and our anger. I remember having class that afternoon in Plowden Auditorium and our education professors led by Dr. Dockery and Dr. Vawter saying that we were not going to let terrorists disturb our day to day lives. We were not going to give them the satisfaction and we were going to have class anyway. I remember talking to the junior high youth group that I led and trying to answer their questions in youth and Sunday school about what had happened and where was God in the midst.
Over the years, as the anniversaries have come up, I’ve talked more and more to students and heard their stories from that day. Many of them were between 8 and13 or so. Hearing their perspectives and how this event has shaped their lives has been illuminating and fascinating to see how such a big event has shaped so much. I try to think back to what I would have remembered at that age and I think about the Oliver North trials or for me, pivotal was the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was the first bit of big news I actually remember. When I think about our 9 year olds today and how they perceived the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I wonder what their stories will be. Was their family elated, throwing a spur of the moment party, as many of our students on campuses were doing? Did their family solemnly watch the news, thankful that it was over and that justice had been done? What did they think about the reactions of the press, of facebook, of their classmates or teachers? What did their friends say?
Over the past days watching facebook light up the first night with so much passion and excitement about someone’s death and then over the last few days with scripture and sayings in response to that fervor, it’s been a study to watch the polarity. I admit my own feelings are pretty mixed. As Mike and I were watching the Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night (yay Lil John won $40,000 more of the United Methodist Children’s Home in GA) we saw the interruption bulletin and we thought it was about Kadafi. When they then said that it was about bin Laden we were floored. We, the United States, finally got him. All of the families who lost loved ones in 9-11 finally get at least that much closure. Yep, I was happy that that part of the story was over. I watched families talk about their loss of loved ones and the pain that they still feel on the morning news. I saw all of the commentators and military personnel talk about this as a shot in the arm for our military. I’m not speaking at all against any of that. We do need to support our military – the actual people – the ones that are suffering and fighting for us – whether we agree with the military action or not. We do need to support these families and all of those affected by 9-11. We as pastors do need to journey with our congregations and the mix of emotions they feel. We do need to be mindful and intentional and praying for wisdom and discernment as we offer words in the days and weeks ahead.
But even as my most patriotic go get em’ self, I pause at all of the fervor surrounding this. As Mike and I sat on the bed and watched this unfold, he looked at me and said, if you ever wanted to know what a lynch mob looks like, look at facebook. There’s something about band wagons that make me pause whether it be jubilation expressed or scripture expressed or even the sayings of MLK that end up not being entirely true. Some say we shouldn’t post anything at all to facebook because it’s not a real place of dialogue, you don’t know what people really mean, or can’t hear the emotion in their voice, etc. But I feel like it is a place for us to engage and can be meaningful and insightful if we let it be. It’s definitely interesting to see the wide diversity of some of our thoughts and opinions especially within the Christian faith.
Several of my students posted scripture yesterday and sayings and I was glad that they were in the mix. The lovely Ashlee Warren posted the quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” They were participating in the discussion. They weren’t just sitting back, but were speaking up. I was sitting back. I didn’t even want to check facebook to see what was being bantered about. But then I began to see that there were other people struggling to figure out how to feel or how to articulate a Christ who turns the other cheek and shows us the way of the cross. This is a Christ who challenges us in Matthew 5 verse 43 (also echoed in Luke 6), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s hard to argue with that. It’s hard to reconcile that to some of our feelings. You can’t make that statement easy. As much as I’m relieved that bin Laden is gone and that his reign of terror is over, I know that there are more stepping up to the plate. I hope that his death will affect this “war” on terror in profound ways in turning terrorists away from their intentions and that they are discouraged and are brought to new life and peace in real, just and deep ways. I also hope it helps us in thinking about “what makes for peace” as Jesus cries in Luke.
What makes for peace? Does demonizing someone (a country, faith, race, person, gender, sexuality, region, political party, education, or skill) make for peace? Does killing innocent people as was done in 9-11 make for peace? Does making blanket statements and assumptions about people without actually trying to engage in real dialogue and not just bullying people into buying in, make for peace? Does hanging out with like minded people that always agree with us and being comfortable in our recliners with either our beer or our hot tea or our fair-trade coffee, make for peace? Does throwing out scripture or quotes or opinions without being ready to stand up for them, apologize for them, or at least engage with others on them, make for peace? If we continue down this road, it’s hard to know what we do that makes for peace in this world, where are we culpable and where we accept responsibility.
And yet, I find Christians wrestling with these things and struggling to find integrity in the midst of this event, as something that gives me hope. I have been proud of my fellow United Methodist and other clergy as they have posted on both sides of this issue, as they have challenged each other and their parishioners, as they have stood up as sometimes a still small voice articulating and being a voice in the midst. To me, us being in dialogue and engaging in the world showing that as Christians we sometimes disagree, we sometimes struggle with how to respond, we sometimes are counter cultural and other times struggle with a voice – this, this engagement has been breathtaking to see. It has gotten our blood flowing and our brains firing and our hearts hopefully turned to what it means to have peace and justice and hope and grief and remembering and rejoicing and what it will be in a time and a place where war will be no more.
I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13 and the love described there. I hope that in the days and weeks ahead that we as clergy offer not fuel for hate, but fuel for love. I don’t mean a love in a sunshine, flowers and rainbows, pansy type of love. I mean a full, robust, no holes barred, Jesus is all in and extending grace to each of us, kind of love. I hope that the scriptures that challenge us or our own feelings that make us a little uncomfortable will spur us on for more study and for more discovery and journey. My prayer is that we will continue to search and act and live the ways that make for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our country, and in our world.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
A huge thanks to Bob Paulson for sharing this video with me. Bob and some of his colleagues at Triad Ladder of Hope are going to be sharing in a cultural event at Winthrop University in Dina’s Place, the campus theater, on Apirl 18th at 7 pm. We’re going to be hearing from Bob about human trafficking in our area and what we can do and we’ll also be watching the documentary, “Very Young Girls.”
While on our human trafficking seminar in New York City we watched some of this documentary and it was one of the most haunting and disturbing things I’ve seen. I don’t know how you could watch it and not feel something. Human trafficking happens all over the world, but it also happens right here in the United States. This isn’t some far away problem, but something that we can educate, advocate, and work to stop right here and around the world.
Sometimes, like you see in the video above, it just takes a phone call. A phone call could save a girl or a boys life. Call 1.888.373.7888, the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline, if you think you have encountered a victim of trafficking.
Some questions to ask:
* What type of work do you do?
* Are you being paid?
* Can you leave your job if you want to?
* Can you come and go as you please?
* Have you or your family been threatened?
* What are your working and living conditions like?
* Where do you sleep and eat?
* Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?
* Are there locks on your doors/windows so you cannot get out?
* Has your identification or documentation been taken from you?
This cannot continue happening while people sit by and go about our day to day. Help spread the word. Make the call if you see signs (evidence of being controlled, evidence of inability to move or leave job, bruises or other signs of physical abuse, fear or depression, not speaking on own behalf, no identification or documentation with them).
This is a justice issue. This is a faith issue. This is something that the church needs to step up and take a stand on and actively pursue the things we say we believe like freeing the captives and walking alongside the poor, helpless, and trapped among us.
Am I the only one who is a little miffed at Jon Stewart’s portrayal of Methodists in last week’s coverage of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding? I know I was on vacation and out of the loop and I didn’t care nor watch any of the Clinton wedding coverage. I also know that United Methodist Communications folks probably have bigger fish to fry, but there’s a whole lot of people that watch Jon Stewart and although he’s a little whatever at times, he does usually speak some semblance of the truth. For the 18-35 year olds among us, many of us would choose to watch him, Colbert, or George Lopez than the news.
If you don’t want to go to the site and see it for yourself here’s the gist – Jon Stewart says, “Being a Methodist is easy. It’s like the The University of Phoenix of religions: you just send them 50 bucks and click “I agree” and you are saved.” Again, I know this is Jon Stewart and taken with a grain of salt. Hello, I’m from the state of South Carolina. We’ve been giving him great material for years. But I still think this comment is bothersome.
Being a Methodist is easy.
I’m a campus minister and every summer and during preview days during the school year we as a collective group of campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) host a table with the other student activity groups and we sign up students for more information about the various ministries. It’s always hilarious to me how many students we get from particular denominations that actually emphasize this connection, how many students are looking nicely around and smiling and then they see our sign that says Campus Ministries and they don’t make eye contact, how many times we never see the student if the parent is the one who signed them up, and those that have already heard about our ministries from their home churches even before they got there. Now that is a study in and of itself. Inevitably when I leave these exchanges, I think boy, this grace thing that we United Methodists talk about all the time – that’s a tricky thing. I don’t know if it’s helping us or hurting us in the arena of discipleship.
Don’t get me wrong – I love grace. Heck my daughter Evy is Evy Grace. Without grace humanity would be up the creek with no paddle and not even a boat or creek to begin with. I LOVE the Wesleyan understanding of grace. Prevenient grace – God draws us to God’s self even before we know it; Justifying grace – We realize that God’s grace is not only abundant but sufficient for us – even on our most sinful and lost day; Sanctifying grace – God doesn’t leave us where we are in sin but walks with us on this journey of faith drawing us forth to living more and more like Christ. I get it. I love it. Seriously.
But dude, I think half of our people think because they have this grace thing down pat, than they’re all good to go and they forget that sanctifying part where we’re supposed to be growing more and more in the ways of Jesus. You’ve heard of cheap grace. I’ve never really liked that phrase because I don’t think grace is cheap – it came at a cost and one we didn’t have to pay. I may not like the phrase but I think we see the sentiment all around us and contrary to what Mr. Stewart may believe, living out a life of faith is not easy.
Maybe if we really believed the theology we say we do, the things that the Wesleys’ lifted up in their teaching, their music, their lives – maybe then it wouldn’t look so easy or watered down. I also argue that there are plenty of United Methodists and I know other Christians all over the world that are living out the Gospel with all of its radical, counter-cultural, transformational, and tenacious glory all over the place in all the ways they can, by all the means they can, as ever as long they can.
You don’t press the easy button and then suddenly become a Methodist. Now that would make a funny new UMC commercial – true. But it’s a balance. Grace comes to us freely and without merit. That in some ways is really easy. You just call on the name of Jesus and viola – it is that easy. A free gift – not earned, not based on gold stars we’re collecting on a sticker board in the sky. How many people do we see in the gospel accounts as they encounter Jesus and suddenly their eyes are opened and they realize he is Lord? That part – the ah hah – when we get it – is as easy as accepting it and knowing it. But the living it and breathing it and trusting it and stepping out in faith – that’s a process. That’s a lifetime. That’s a step by step, day by day.
So yes, Jon Stewart I think you are hilarious. Yes, you are right that there was way too much news coverage of the Clinton wedding. But yes you bothered me in your comments about our denomination. Then again, maybe we should be bothered. Maybe we should think about what we stand for. Maybe we should think about how we’re living out our faith and how we’re living out such a radical Gospel. Seriously, maybe that should be our new ad campaign. Ready or not? Easy or not? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a United Methodist? What do we actually stand for? Not just what we stand against a la Anne Rice’s rant, but what do we clear as a bell, beyond a shadow of a doubt, stand for?