Saturday, June 27, 2015

All or nothing

There's this scene in The IncrediblesPixar's 2004 hit (and one of my top 10 favorite movies) where the evil villain Syndrome reveals his evil plot to the superhero family trying to stop him:

When everyone's super, no one will be.

And I get it. Our kids are growing up in a world where every t-ball team wins, every participant on the soccer team gets a trophy. And we wonder if it makes our kids "soft" not to feel the occasional sting of defeat or disappointment. 

It's as if letting everyone be happy makes some of us feel sad.

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality this week, I was personally glad. But I knew some of my friends, family, and church members would feel differently. And that's OK. Unsurprisingly, social media was abuzz with both support and condemnation for the SCOTUS decision. Some comments were so awful that Rachel Held Evans issued this public service announcement:

And in the comments of this post, I read the following anecdote:

Are we afraid we'll be less special, less loved by God, if everyone is? I'm pretty sure God has enough love to go around. And when I die and stand in judgment, I'm perfectly secure knowing I chose loving all over loving only those like me. And even if I'm wrong, I'd live my life the same way again.

Some of you may argue that loving everyone doesn't mean accepting their sins or extending them the same rights as everyone else. And history has shown we're pretty stingy with our inclusion: it took a bloody civil war to stop us from owning other people, which was justified because we held that black people were an inferior race. We took the land from and destroyed the way of life of our native brothers and sisters because we considered them savages. Women were not granted the right to vote until 1920. We still haven't agreed as a country, founded by immigrants, what to do about immigration.  

But our exclusion and grace gate-keeping limits our ability to experience and share God's love. 

Still not comfortable with marriage equality? 

Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued a statement responding to the decision by the United States Supreme Court. He writes: "This Supreme Court decision calls attention to the difference between the laws of the United States, and the policy of our church,” Brown wrote. “The law does not require anyone to violate their conscience of what God has called them to do, or their theological understanding. But, if we seek to be an inclusive church that serves all of our parishioners, and all of our neighbors, we will have to consider how we treat all people equally.”

In simple terms that means that this decision cannot force any religious institution or clergy member to perform a same-sex marriage if it is against their beliefs. Rather, the right of marriage is extended to all, but it will be up to the couple to find a church or other location to perform the ceremony.  

Your rights are not being violated because they've been extended to everyone. The institution of marriage, which is on shaky ground at best in the U.S., will not be destroyed by allowing same-sex couples to marry. 

Unless all of us are equal, none of us will be. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Lighting a candle AND cursing the darkness

I am still stunned by what happened in Charleston. As I typically do when these things happen--and they happen far too often in this country--I go to people I trust to help process my feelings. 

One of my favorite people, Sarah Bessey, posted this to her Facebook page:

And I thought YES. THIS IS HOW I FEEL.

As I scrolled through the comments to her post, I noticed that people were commenting on the power of the word "and". The word "and" helps link the dichotomy of human emotion. 

You can be brave AND scared.
You can feel excited AND cautious.
You can be standing in a crowd AND still feel lonely.
You can like Coke AND Pepsi.

Humans are mysterious like that.

Then I read this from Glennon Melton of Momastery:

And I thought, yes! This is me! I want to help AND I am afraid of saying or doing something very unhelpful.

And then I read Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan's post: 

And I knew that I could help in a small way AND learn something in the process. 

This is a small little blog. Sometimes my posts get 300 views, sometimes 50. But I don't want to squander what little influence I have. 

If you're willing to talk, I'm willing to listen.

We can grieve AND be angry. 
We can wrestle with our race issues AND still be respectful.
We can desire equality AND be unsure of what that really means. 
We can acknowledge white privilege AND not understand it. 
We can learn about gun control issues AND still honor our constitutional rights.
We can ask hard questions AND not be offended when we get honest answers.
We can love Jesus AND not know how to follow Jesus.

But we cannot be outraged AND do nothing. 

Light a candle AND curse the darkness. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Brightening the Chain

This week my family attended the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church at the Peoria Civic Center. It's part business meeting, part worship, part reunion for the clergy and laity of the IGRC. For pastors, this is their church. They support and encourage each other and have a chance to listen and absorb sermons and speakers instead of preparing them. 

The theme of Annual Conference this year was Healing the Circle: Godly Sorrow Brings Repentance. We listened to the hard truths of what was done to American Indians, often in the name of God, historically and in present-day. And as is often the case when discussing painful things, I found myself squirming in my seat as the speakers told of unimaginable things done to native peoples in the name of westward expansion and progress. 

Rev. Fred Neeake Shaw, a retired UMC pastor from Ohio and co-chair of the North Central Jurisdictional Committee on Native American Ministries, spoke first. He called our attention to circles: all things are equal when you stand in a circle. The most important things in life are circles: hugs, families, stars, the Earth. Repentance is a circle, too--between us and God. True repentance means we go in a different direction out of love and caring for those we've hurt. 

Rev. Shaw introduced the metaphor of "brightening the chain". Native Americans recognized that European chains were stronger than ropes, but that they needed to be repaired and polished periodically. So, too, is our relationship with God and one another. He reminded us that those sitting in the pews of our churches today are the link between the saints that have gone before and the ones to come. Rev. Shaw implored us to not be the link of the chain that breaks.

Rev. Dr. Thin White Wolf Fassett, emeritus General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, spoke the following day. He reminded us of our interconnectedness to each other and to the natural world. He stated that "history is theology", but that we don't often talk about those connections.

Rev. Fassett discussed repentance not as something we talk about, but something we do. It's not sexy or fun, but it's critical to healing and reuniting the circle. 

This year, the IGRC had some difficult legislation to tackle. Perhaps the most heartbreaking decision made was to sell three camps owned by the conference and put the profits toward updating and promoting the two remaining camps. Many clergy and laity owe their spiritual lives to such camps. To sacrifice one camp to save another is an enormously emotional decision, but it's also a real-life example of "brightening the chain". 

At church camp we train our children to see our interconnectedness to each other and to nature, but our camping ministry is suffering. In order to save it, broken links have been removed. The remaining links will be polished and put in place, hopefully for many years to come. 

The vote was not easy or fun, and when the legislation passed there was no celebration. A season of repentance will need to occur to heal the circle between us, God, our camping ministry leaders, and our campers. Only then can we move forward. 

The United Methodist church is in a season of uncertainty and division, but I know I don't want to be the chain that broke. My link in the chain of God's family holds together generations of believers. Though I may be rusty or barely holding on, I will continue to keep linking arms. That doesn't mean there won't be hard decisions or mistakes or repentance, but I won't stop trying to hold the circle together. 

In what areas of your life do you need to "brighten the chain"? Where do you need to heal the circle?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lost & found: Our mission trip to Cass Community Social Services

I did not grow up in Detroit.

When people in downstate Illinois ask me where I'm from it's just easier to say, "I'm from Detroit", than,"I'm from the affluent white suburbs northwest of Detroit." People from outside Michigan don't understand Detroit. Maybe people from Michigan don't even understand Detroit.

Growing up in Oakland County, I had lots of opportunities to visit the city, mostly to see the Tigers or Red Wings play, or to have dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club, or to see a performance at the Fisher Theater. Unlike people in my parents' generation, I don't remember what the downtown was like in its heyday. I only remember driving quickly through boarded-up neighborhoods with the windows shut tight and the car doors locked. 

We traveled through Detroit as a means to get where we were going, not as people who were once from there. Most metro-Detroiters have a connection to the once-great city. Many of my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents lived or worked there at some point. They worked the assembly lines at Ford or the steel mill or at Detroit Stove Company. They were tellers at Manufacturers Bank. They attended Wayne State University. They helped run Cornerstone Schools.  

But even as a young girl, I remember looking out and up from the backseat window at what was and wondering how it got that way. How a place, and a people, could become so lost. I knew even then that I would have to write about it someday. As a child I wrote rudimentary acrostic poems to a city I couldn't understand but couldn't quit. I am still homesick for this city even when I'm here.

This week the mission team from Neoga Grace UMC worked at Cass Community Social Services 
in Detroit. I must confess that I only joined them for one afternoon, as Harper isn't old enough to work the mission field quite yet. I stayed in the suburbs with my parents and daughters, sending my oldest two for a 24 hour turn at CCSS with the mission team. 

The members of the mission team shared moving stories from their trip at worship this morning, and I cried. They were all deeply touched by the city and people there. They saw that we are more alike than different, even in our different circumstances. They saw that we all want the same things: dignity, safety, work, and purpose. They saw the face of Jesus.

Though I didn't have a week's worth of experiences, like getting interviewed for the local ABC affiliate, the afternoon I spent at Cass was meaningful. Our group was tasked with planting potatoes in a plowed up field that covered the better part of a block. Homes used to stand on this block, reminders of their presence left in the debris left just below the topsoil: bits of porcelain from sinks or bathtubs, heavy chunks of concrete, soles of shoes, broken glass, and several completely intact marbles. 

You're looking at the empty field that was once part of a neighborhood. At the top of this picture runs the Lodge freeway, which we could hear as we dug our holes and dropped in our potatoes. 

This is what CCSS does: taking people and places that were lost and claiming them as found. 

CCSS has invested in the people and property in Detroit. They take things like illegally dumped tires  and turn them into green industries like mud mats and flip flops, employing formerly homeless or developmentally disabled individuals. They take blighted property and turn it into gardens to feed their workers and the homeless. They put on a pageant for developmentally disabled adults, because those folks and their families rarely have opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments like at a wedding or college graduation.

I won't tell you that my afternoon planting potatoes was life-changing. But it did move my heart for Detroit and her people. It was a good reminder to search for the hows and whys of the lost before trying to serve them, because you can't help fix something until you understand why it's broken. 

If you're looking for a meaningful mission opportunity, please consider Cass Community Social Services. And if you're looking for something to read, pick up This Far By Faith: Twenty Years at Cass Community by Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director at CCSS. Faith is funny and fierce about Cass and the city. Her book is a collection of stories from her years at Cass, little vignettes about what life is like for the discarded members of society. 

What have you lost or found lately?