Saturday, June 1, 2019

Animal Conference

When Harper was little, she called the annual gathering of clergy and laity of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference “animal conference”. We did correct her, though gently and with humor,  because it was adorable and funny.

Just this week, Harper informed me that she knew it was called “Annual Conference” now. She could pronounce it correctly. If we jokingly tried to get her to say “animal conference” again, she’d roll her eyes and remind us of how old she is now and how she’s learning and growing every day.

This week we’ll be traveling to Peoria to participate in the 2019 Annual Conference. There’s much work to be done, much to be celebrated, many friendships to renew, and deep conversations to have. Our conference is large and covers a lot of ground, so sometimes Annual Conference is the only chance we get to see certain pastor friends and their families. We look forward to it every year, kids and adults alike, even though it can be an emotionally and physically demanding time.

I’ve been reflecting on church a lot this week, as I’m running for a lay spot in our conference’s delegation to the 2020 General Conference in Minnesota. This is a big responsibility, as the delegation will be voting quite literally on the future of the United Methodist Church. After the special 2019 General Conference in St. Louis was called to decide on the UMC’s policies on human sexuality, many have wondered if they can stay in a church that actively excludes beloved children of God. Some have left, unable to stay part of an exclusive and harmful system. Some are staying to try and repair, restitch, or revision the big tent that has long been the UMC—people who are challenged by full inclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers working alongside those that are not because our contexts may be different but we still love Jesus and work for the transformation of the world.

The Christian church in the US (and elsewhere) has been in decline for decades. Fewer and fewer people are opting to raise their families in church. There are many reasons for this: Sundays are no longer sacred, and many folks have to work or attend kids’ sporting events that day; churches may not offer the programs families are looking for; in rural areas, churches can be few and far between; churches can be insulated and unwelcoming to newcomers; people not raised in a church themselves are less likely to raise their own kids in church; church can be seen as hypocritical and antiquated in modern society, failing to feed the hungry and minister to the stranger while holding fast to white supremacy and patriarchy; or simply because people don’t see the point of church anymore.

The United Methodist Church is facing hard decisions. These decisions are not limited to what to do about human sexuality, but those are the ones getting the most attention. To me, it comes down to what our vision for the future will be: will we work toward a just and sustainable Church, where we prioritize care for the earth and each other? Or will we continue to maintain the status quo, which is doing harm to people everywhere?

Much like Harper learned to correctly say “Annual Conference” after patient guidance from those who love her, are we making space for the young members of the church to lead us in a different way? Young people raised in the church, like Todd and I, have been nurtured and challenged in our faith and are feeling a need to lead differently than in the past. Will we trust these emerging leaders? Or will we retreat to how things have always been done hoping our comfort will save us? What would Jesus do in the face of broken systems of oppression that are doing harm to his children?

Church has a terrible history. Church has a deep tradition. Church can have a beautiful future that recognizes these realities but tries to keep moving forward with love and justice as our guide. That’s what I’m praying for this week. I invite you to join me.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

An invitation to a deeper conversation

Through my grassroots interfaith environmental advocacy, I’ve gotten to know lots of men and women in rural Illinois, which is very different from where I grew up in suburban Detroit.

I was raised Catholic, went through 12 years of Catholic education including an all-girls high school. And then I went to a United Methodist affiliated college and met a boy brought up in the United Methodist church. 

We started going to church together, and I started looking at the gospel in a different way. I saw women able to preach and lead congregations for the first time. I learned more about social justice in our first years of marriage than I’d learned in all my years of catechism.

This didn’t create tension in my family, but it did generate some deep discussions about how our faith informs our ideas and our politics on the environment, health care, reproductive rights, economics, and human sexuality, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t always agree with my parents. Sometime I don’t entirely agree with my husband. But we’ve been able to develop some ground rules over the years:

  • You can always find common ground
  • Assume one another's best intentions
  • Look for nuance—not everything is black and white
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Ignoring it won’t make it go away   
  • I’m a beloved child of God and so are you
I’ve learned that not everyone goes through this kind of transformation. Not everyone learns how to engage in difficult or political conversations with grace. And some of us opt to stay out of it entirely in the interest of avoiding conflict. This rarely works and only reinforces that we simply don’t know how to TALK with each other about important issues.

All of this was on full display during the 2016 presidential election process and continues to color our country’s political discourse. And in February 2019, my heart broke as I watched my beloved church begin down a path of pain and exclusion.

When the hosts of a podcast I listen to wrote a book this winter, I Think You’re Wrong But I’m Listening: A Guide toGrace-Filled Political Conversations, I read it in nearly one sitting. I had been craving a new way to engage my friends and neighbors in difficult conversations, and this was it.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“We do not demonstrate love toward our neighbors by demonizing them over how they feel about tax policy or reproductive rights. We do not turn the other cheek when we treat politics as an insular sphere in which fighting fire with fire is the only way. We do not live as the hands and feet of a loving creator when we opt out of the processes that dictate roads and bridges, school curriculum and water treatment, war and peace. Neither stridence or apathy is a virtue.”

The book outlines many of the above rules I’ve employed over the years, and added a few more:

  • Take off your team jersey: ever get between a Cubs fan and a Cards fan? We need to learn to prioritize our relationship with the person we’re disagreeing with rather than our team. That also means prioritizing deep understanding of a topic of disagreement rather than winning, which brings us to #2:
  •  Get curious: does that thing you read on the internet seem completely unbelievable? Does it make you angry? Well…maybe it’s designed to. Do some research. Ask questions. If you’ve been watching the news lately, I think we’ve learned that social media has been used to manipulate our emotions and quite possibly our votes. Know that the truth might challenge your beliefs, which brings us to #3:
  •  Exit the echo chamber: Balance your news outlets and consider the source. If it’s not being shown on several major news outlets, that should give you pause. Time to get curious again and do some research. Take the opportunity to discuss the drama du jour with someone who might think differently than you. And again, make it your goal to deeply understand the topic, not score points for your side.
As people of faith, we’re called to be leaders in doing this well, or at least to try.

That's why I'm running to be a lay delegate to General Conference 2020. That's why I participate in the IGRC Unity group.  And that's why I want to be in conversation with you, dear reader, especially if you're a voting member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

We have much to decide in 2020. The special General Conference rulings on human sexuality are only a small part of the things I'm passionate about: I am deeply concerned about our disregard for and abuse of creation, our reconciliation with our Native American sisters and brothers, and the status and role of women. I believe God will work with us in our decision making and will use our pain and our joy for good.

What is your hope for the United Methodist Church? Where is the pain? The joy? How are you being called to ministry? Who isn't being heard? 

I'd love to have these conversations in person or on the phone. I want to listen. I want to understand. Email me at if you want to talk.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My #oneword for 2019

It's my favorite time of year (where my Enneagram 1's at?). Time to get organized! Finish projects! Lose weight! Tidy up (looking at you, Marie Kondo)! But also time to chart a course for 2019 by choosing one word to guide me.

I've done this for the past few years, and I've found it very helpful in setting the tone for the year. For example, last year's word BOLD was a theme in many of the things I accomplished. I continued my work at Faith in Place and transitioned to full time. 2019 will likely bring some bold new changes as I discern becoming an outreach director for our proposed southern Illinois office. 

I spoke and preached. I marched. I organized. I lead. I advocated. I raised almost $600 for Dressember. I traveled. I devoured books, blogs, and podcasts. I learned a lot about myself through the Enneagram. But I started noticing something I needed to do more of: listen.

Since moving to southern Illinois this summer, I've learned that our new community has different needs from the last one. I like to fix things, or at the very least connect people with resources, but sometimes it's best to just listen. So through face-to-face conversations and social media, I've started doing just that. But I see patterns and behaviors that challenge me and my faith: being stuck in black and white thinking or partisan politics. 

I've worked very hard to try and embrace both/and thinking, especially with challenging topics like health care, immigration, gun control, human sexuality, and climate justice (just to name a few). It's possible to hold complicated feelings about these issues that challenge our faith and our politics. I received an advanced copy of I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations and it has absolutely lit a fire in my soul. With every page I turn, I find myself nodding (or yelling) in agreement. And in one of those late-night reading jags, my word became clear: NUANCE. 

Nuance (noun) nu·​ance | \ˈnü-ˌän(t)s
sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value). 

I should say that this word is extremely hard for me. I'm an Enneagram 1. We're not so good at grey area. We are, "Conscientious with strong personal convictions...have an intense sense of right and wrong, personal religious and moral values." But the good news is, we also "...wish to be rational, reasonable, self-disciplined, mature, moderate in all things." So this year, I'm going to try strengthening those parts of me that want things to always be certain or or settled. As a person of faith, I need to learn to embrace (or at least try to remain open to) mystery, uncertainty, and grey area. I'm also hoping to work on finding shared values with those I disagree with and prioritizing relationship over rightness.
While we were visiting family in Michigan at the holidays, we attended worship at our old church in Warren, MI. I scribbled some notes in the margins of the bulletin to think about later, and as I was cleaning out my purse when we returned home on New Year's Day, rereading these notes told me I was on the right track with my word.

Pastor Melissa Claxton said that the new year is, "not about getting back to normal, but about starting something new." She's so right. I want NUANCE to be the new normal in my life. I hope I can make my work and personal relationships stronger by listening more. But most of all, I want my hard work to help me be a new creation, not just a thinner or tidier version of my old self.

What's your one word for 2019?