Wednesday, October 24, 2007
For several years now, the United Methodist Church has been faced with a membership that is rapidly shrinking and aging. Thus, for the past few years we have seen an increased emphasis on ministries for and with young adults and college students. However, this growing emphasis may face a difficult road in the months to come. The Judicial Council, which will be meeting later this month, currently has two cases before it (Dockets VI and XII), from the Carolina and Pacific Northwest Conferences respectively. In both of these cases the question revolves around funding in the Annual Conference as understood through paragraph 612.19* of the 2004 Discipline. Basically, the situation is this. On the floor of two separate Annual Conferences, the funding to two campus ministries was challenged based solely on the fact that these campus ministries called themselves Reconciling. For those of you who don’t know, this means that these campus ministries are committed to upholding the importance of inclusiveness of all persons, regardless of sexual identity or orientation. So, after being faced with these questions, both of the bishops from these Annual Conferences ruled that there was no problem funding these organizations. However, these decisions have been challenged, and now sit before the Judicial Council.
So, here is really what’s going on. After finding a similar proposal suggested by an advocacy group, two members, one from each of these Annual Conferences, felt it important to challenge the funding of these two campus ministries. While the Bishops of both Annual Conferences felt that the question was not applicable, the issue has been pushed and brought before the Judicial Council. So we sit and wait for the Judicial Council to decide whether or not it’s proper to cut funding to a campus ministry, solely because they stress the importance of inclusiveness. The decision that the Judicial Council makes could set a dangerous precedent by allowing the Annual Conferences to withhold funding from ANY organization that has ties to such a reconciling ideal. The problem we face then is the slippery slope of allowing a conference to withdraw funding from vital and life-saving ministries, based solely on the fact that they feel (with or without full knowledge) that a funded ministry is somehow breaking the laws set forth in the discipline.
However, we have the right and responsibility to take heart. The fact of the matter is, pure and simple, that no matter what the Judicial Council decides, the decision will ultimately work to strengthen the work of the RMN (Reconciling Ministries Network), MoSAIC (Methodist Students for an All Inclusive Church), On Fire, and the MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action). If the Council rules in favor of the Bishops, it is a clear sign that funding will not be jeopardized, at least by a whim of the Annual Conference, for those ministries who hope and work for the cause of inclusiveness. If the Judicial Council rules against the decisions made by each of the Bishops, it will serve as a reason to draw together people who are interested and concerned about ministry with young people and the issue of inclusiveness.
The Judicial Council meeting will occur on October 24th, with decisions to follow. Check back with UMOnFire.blogspot.com for updates and responses to their decisions
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Yesterday, the MFSA released a new tag line: Where Faith Inspires Action. I love it. That's exactly what we want to be. Now for the hard part: let's do it.
There have been several headlines in the past few weeks that tell me we need more faith-inspired-action. Confirmation of Justice Department memos supporting the use of water-boarding and electroshock on men's testicles is a good jumping off point. A Presidential veto of a bill to increase spending for children without health care would be another. Poverty is yet another. Folks, many of these things have become common place to us, not acceptable maybe, but inevitable or too big for us to address. But as Christians, we should be outraged.
So what do we do? Good question. We need to be creative about our witness. Let's face it, people expect us to protest in organized, legal ways. They expect us to put bumper stickers on our cars, stickers on our laptops, and clever phrases on our t-shirts. Those things are great, but we need to think about acting independent of what is expected of us, even when the outcome may be uncomfortable for us, our churches, or the communities in which we live. Because that's the point. Poverty isn't comfortable. Torture isn't comfortable. Sick children are not comfortable.
If you have some ideas for creative, risky, NONVIOLENT (sorry, but of all the things the gospel message inspires me to do, violence is not one of them!) possibilities, feel free to post them here. If you don't, let's chat, either on the blog here or by email at UMOnFire@gmail.com. Up to now, we've spoken primarily about faith on this blog. Good, it's where we should all start. Now, comes the action. Hang on, I think we're all in for a wild ride!
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
But what is perfection? I have long thought it was a state of being capable of doing all things, of behaving with perfect compassion, reason, and capability to achieve goodness and light in the world. I thought only God was perfect, and that our call to be perfect was a calling to achieve more than is humanly possible - by that empowering love of Jesus Christ, of course!
But recently, I have begun to doubt that I really understood what we mean by perfection. You see, I have never met a perfect person, and I known many people who have given their entire lives for Christ, or for Good. No one is super-man (or woman) - so perhaps this isn't what God meant (although I think poor John Wesley was enough of a perfectionist to actually mean superhuman abilities).
SO what is perfected in love? I think it means a journey. The kind of journey where a community of tomato-farmers look around and say "we deserve a living wage for our work" and where middle-class Americans stop eating at Taco Bell to stand in solidarity with the farmers. The kind of journey where people in community can be honest about their faults and failings, because no one expects them to be a cleanly packaged, always healthy movie star. In fact, I think that like the Pilgrims who once inspired Canterbury tales, we should recognize the faithfulness of being on the road.
And as pilgrims we are supported in special ways; by our fellow pilgrims who journey with us for the entire road. By those who might join us for a few days, or months, but eventually depart for other lands. And rather than focusing on Canterbury, or the place we are headed, we can rest in the knowledge that God who is in all things, is already with us! God who loves us infinitely has not deserted us, but give us the sun to light our path, trees to rest under, streams of cool water, and those tiny wildflowers which grow along the road.
Join us on this journey - for we are already living in the love of God! and there is joy to be found as we stand in solidarity seeking liberation and hope for ALL people. There are plenty of wildflowers for all!
Friday, September 28, 2007
Before moving to NY this “J” type personality according to Myers-Briggs, was prepared for inclement weather…I had a regular umbrella for days I knew it would rain and a mini (much cuter) umbrella to keep with me at all times on the slim chance the Gods got misty-eyed without notifying weather.com. But then it started raining one morning and I got soaked walking the ten blocks between my room, subway stop and work…. with my large umbrella. I tried everything, holding it high in the air, using it like a shield against wind/rain…. none of them worked, I always arrived damp and with frizzy hair. Then one day walking (in the rain) with my friend I discovered the reason…here’s our conversation:
“I hate the rain! I always end up soaked!” ~ me
“Well, why are you using such a small umbrella?” ~ my friend
“What are you talking about? This is my big umbrella” ~me
“No, that’s a mini-umbrella, mine is full size” ~my DRY friend
Naturally proving I’m right with all the sass a soaked diva could muster I whipped out my back-up mini-umbrella proving to my friend that…
the umbrellas were the same size.
As the water level on my pants rose so did my emotional and spiritual awareness. Not only my pants but also my spirit had been soaked, relying on a two sizes too small umbrella or support network. As Eric mentioned in an earlier post, it’s hard to move into a new community. Taking on a new job, school and/or family role can stir up storms of fear, self-consciousness and loneliness in us and without a support network of open and adequate umbrellas we might start to believe that these storms define who we are.
Now, I’d love to tell you I came to this conclusion within my faith community but in reality it was on the street in Harlem and through (of all things) Rihanna’s “Umbrella” song. I know, the womanist in me is outraged at the ways we objectify or stand/sing back when others objectify us, and who among us really believes the song is about umbrellas (especially after the music video)…but suspend all that for me if you can (we progressives do this with the Bible all the time, look past the literal meaning and all that others have told us it’s about) and imagine what our faith community would look like if we all supported each other providing shelter from the storms in our lives. How would our care for one another affect our global climate? How would/will we define ourselves as individuals and a community if not by our storms?
To do this I think we need to do a couple things…and I’m sure you can come up with others. We need to be aware of the storms in our community members lives and have the self-awareness to know when we can hold an umbrella for two people (or more) and when it’s time for someone else to step in and offer them shelter. And we need to find the humility within to ask for help when our umbrella alone seems inadequate. Personally I’ve learned from the stormy period of my life (and I’m sure there will be others to come) and invested in a full-size (equally cute might I add) umbrella that mirrors the support network I’m welcoming into my life…many of whom are OnFire people who I’ve experienced allowing me the option to “stand under their umbrella…ellla…ella…” I hope you find the same in our community.
“You’re a part of my entity”
Sunday, September 9, 2007
And I've learned a few other important things. Double espressos at 10:30 at night don't actually make for a better paper, just a long long night of circular thoughts. Deadlines matter, but funerals and surgical emergencies ARE more important. People need encouragement. Tea really does make most problems a little bit more bearable, especially if it is made by a good friend and accompanied by a shoulder to cry on. Friends are the stuff that gets us through the day. Chocolate is good medicine. Six hours of sleep at night is imperative, anything less inevitably results in sickness.
But more interesting than these relatively easy lessons are the more difficult ones. And recently, it seems that God has been interested in teaching me some of the rather complicated lessons.
First: Life is messy, and that is not a bad thing. It is complicated to live in community, to care about people and to attempt to both respect their boundaries and participate in their lives. The messiness is not a problem, necessarily, but it does preclude easy answers or treating people as objects or stereotypes, for when we truly attempt to connect with one another, we have to expect we will disagree on things that matter, people will act in unexpected ways, and will make you both laugh and cry at the most unexpected moments.
Second: God is actually more mysterious than we can even begin to imagine. Just when I think I have a vague clue about how God is relating in my life, or where I am headed, God reminds me that any image of God is inherently heresy- for God is greater than our language, our imagination, even our sight. And yet, God is also so very present in the little kids in church who smile and giggle. God is abundant in the cool breezes of cool days at the end of summer.
Third: tensions, chaos and uncertainty are the stuff of life. Don't just bear them, but learn to enjoy them if possible. For example - Jesus walked on water, but then invited Peter to do the same (or you could argue Peter asked him to invite him... but that's another discussion)... and Peter DID - stepped out of the boat, unsure if he would actually succeed or not. And it was only as he kept his eyes upon Jesus that he stayed up. When he looked away, he fell down. Now I'm not going to say anything stupid here about just focus upon Jesus and everything will work out, but I would say that in the midst of the storm and the water, Peter did not need a water tight boat or a bridge, but he did need faith.
And this summer, I've spent a good bit of the time feeling like Peter, sinking into the water, surrounded by storm, Called out into the chaos and then apparently abandoned by Jesus. But the thing is, I neither drowned nor ended up back in the boat. I'm still out on the water, and the storm is still sending down lightening and thunder. but I'm not dead yet! and I'm no longer sinking. And do you know what the difference is? the only difference is that I am not alone. The Spirit is sustaining us out in the midst of the water and storm - and guiding me to see the goal, the hope and the focus upon Jesus. But it is not easy.
That is the last lesson: There are no worthwhile easy answers. Generally, the easy answers don't actually solve anything. And a single step solution just avoids part of the true complexity of a problem. But that things are complex or difficult does not mean that we should not participate in the solution. And that is why I can work at a homeless shelter, knowing that thousands of people will never find us. Thousands will freeze next winter because we are not big enough; and that is NOT OK. but we do our small part. And you do yours, and the Holy Spirit is doing her big important part, and in the end, one tiny solution at a time, the Kin-dom of God is coming. One reconciled relationship at a time, we are becoming the body of Christ.
So, it is going to be messy, mysterious, uncertain and complex, but we walk in the Holy Spirit, and we walk together.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
OnFire is a very interesting faith community. We are all United Methodist and believe strongly in social justice and young adult ministries. One of the things I love most about OnFire is our diversity. When I think of this group, I imagine what it would be like for Jesus to be surrounded by His disciples in the Upper Room. Diversity yet inclusiveness. Often in the United Methodist Church we claim we are diverse and have open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Well, "it ain't so!" But, when I think about the mission and ministries of OnFire, I know that this is not the church of tomorrow, but the living presence of God today. For that I am thankful and blessed to be a part of this organization.
Little to their knowledge, I pray for each and every one of the members daily and they are in my thoughts. I think of how it feels adjusting to life as a new seminarian and I think of my brothers and sisters who have been in it for awhile. I am excited about our new opportunities to grow together in this Christian journey and transform not just the Methodist Church by our witness, but the world. This is a safe, reaffirming community that I truly love being a part of.
But then, I think about the brokenness of the world.
Today, I got that text message that said a friend had died. Drug overdose.
We grew up in the church together. He had great potential. He was funny, outgoing and extremely talented. The eldest of four. I know he grew up in a Christian household and loved God with his heart. I am not wondering why he did what he did but wondering why we as the church failed to see his need. I wonder how many others are out there.
Today, I thought about a few songs and someone reminded me of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Yes, Lord, indeed it is. But for who?
As young adults trailblazing I am afraid that we will forget our brothers and sisters NOT in the church, the ones who have become discontent, upset and have left. The ones who yearn to be a part of a community like OnFire but are intimidated and scared. Our neighbors who want to know Jesus but feel too convicted by their spirit.
Personally, I am ministered to through songs. I am usually intimidated by large groups and become a recluse. But now, I just sing, "there's a sweet, sweet spirit in this place." Sometimes I become acclimated to the situation, others times, I enjoy spending time in devotion with God. But what do we do for others who are not that far on their spiritual journey? How do we welcome them and value them in our faith community?
Another song that has kept me going is, "I've Decided To Make Jesus My Choice." There's a part…. "the road is tough, and the going gets rough and the hills are hard to climb. I started out a long time ago – there is no doubt in my mind, I've decided to make Jesus my Choice." Amen.
But with that choice is responsibility. "To whom much is given, much is required." We have all been bountifully blessed. My Myspace headline is "Blessed and Highly Favored." Indeed, we are blessed and highly favored - along with this comes the greatest responsibility and privilege to minister to our brothers and sisters and let them know about God's grace and mercy. "Love God-love neighbor…." Right?!
I challenge all of yall out there who are reading to take seriously your role in your communities. "Be still" and listen for God's word. Step outside your comfort zone so someone else can be healed.
When talking with a friend about our friend's death, she said – "you never know what's going on with someone." And that's true – so why don't we ask?
To Eric and Brian – we are all with you. We are on this walk in faith together. "Let not your heart be troubled, and neither let it be afraid." You have some "ride or die" people to uplift you and uphold you. And indeed, whatever time, wherever, whatever – we are all here and committed to the spiritual growth of all. We are committed to building up the kingdom of God for all people.
But most of all, we are convicted by the word, called by our passions and in love with the truth and light that our Lord and Savior brings.
~ one luv,
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Now, I get that most people deal with this at one point or another. How many folks go off to school, or the military, or just move out at eighteen, and never look back? Honestly, I don't know, but I recognize that's the story we tell ourselves. It's hard for me to even admit that I'm homesick because of the stories I tell myself about being an adult, or a man, or whatever else shames me into hiding the fact that I'm scared of being away from my mommy.
But I am. It's hard, and pretending as though it's easy doesn't make it easy. So now I'm rewriting my story about what makes me a whole person. I think it'll have something to do with admitting that things are hard, and then doing them anyway. I'll run that one past my editor and get back to you when I know for sure but the point is, I need to be able to acknowledge my struggle and still be okay.
As I start seminary, I realize that I'm doing similar rewrites with my faith. I'm walking the same path that many people have walked before me, searching for God, through Jesus, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Except, as I go, I sometimes encounter questions that my faith stories don't seem to address. And so, instead of assuming that my questions and subsequent lack of answers somehow make me less faithful, I am rewriting my stories. I want to recognize my struggles with faith and the world around me, recognize that the spaces where I encounter God are not always where my heroes of faith have encountered God, and most importantly, come to grips with the fact that I may never have easy answers to the difficult questions I'm encountering. And then, I want to believe that by living in those struggles and neither quitting, nor settling for the path of least resistance, I am made more, not less, faithful.
But I can't do it alone. And that's why I am thankful for good friends and good community. There are many people like us who struggle everyday, and choose that struggle openly. If you'd like to walk with us, we here at OnFire always have room for another companion. Welcome!
Friday, August 24, 2007
It sucked. I came home frustrated and feeling alone. Maybe you’ve been there – and hey, if you happen to be in Nashville, TN right now and feel that way let me know. I’ve always got time for coffee.
I don’t know if you ever read the introduction to books. I don’t. Unless I really have no intention of reading the book then I might. If you gave me the choice I’d rather you skip this post and dive right in to the rest of the story. The point of this site is to empower young adults to share our stories and to find community where we can all struggle with Jesus and justice together.
I don’t know how you arrived here. I showed up frustrated sometime after dinner. Maybe you came alone after a worship service. Maybe you came with friends who want to make our world a little greener, safer or kinder. However, welcome to OnFire and to a network of people who seek to be social and advance justice. I can’t really say more than that. Share your story and your thoughts without fear – we don’t really like potato salad.
Peace, Eric K.