Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It isn't always black and white

As the events of the past week remind us, discrimination based upon race, ethnicity and religion remains present and alive in the United States and in our world. From the heartbreaking execution of Troy Davis to the continued occupation in the Middle East, the headlines are full of stories that threaten to overwhelm our hope and our faith in a grace-filled and loving God.

Such racism and discrimination is not always black and white – neither in its basis upon skin color nor in its media presence. Working with underprivileged German and immigrant children and youth at an after-school program hosted by a United Methodist Church in Berlin, Germany, I am daily reminded of the complexities and intricacies of racism and privilege that allow such systems and individual inequalities to perpetuate. The kids with whom I work are largely of Turkish, Arab, and Roma background and most have been born and raised here in the capital of Germany, but often know little about the city beyond the 1 square kilometer block where the Salem United Methodist Church is located. As a result of their ethnicity, citizenship, and religion, they are largely ‘othered’ by Berlin and German politicians and citizens. They are forced to attend poorly staffed and dilapidated schools, where it is expect from the beginning of 1st grade that these children will neither attend university nor achieve anything outstanding in their lives. However, this oppression is not only maintained by and reflected in the political and educational systems, but is already evident among the kids themselves. Fights will break out on the playground across the street from the church based on incidents that have occurred between the differing ethnic and racial groups; additionally, such violence will often be targeted at the children with little or no family support and those who are friendless at school and on the playground. These simple acts of violence among mere 10- and 12-year olds illustrate how easily the act of ‘othering’ based upon race or ethnicity or religion or social status can be reinitiated, ingrained, and become systematic within our society. When mere children already live within and contribute to this systemic racism, how can such a cycle be broken?

In August, I had the opportunity to visit the American Anthropological Association’s RACE exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute’s Natural History Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibit, “Are We So Different?”, focuses on debunking the sociological and anthropological construction of ‘race’ that has become predominately accepted in our society, when in reality we all share a common ancestry; the racial and ethnic differences evident among our populations today result from natural variations, migration and environmental adaptations. Bringing such a view of race to the Washington, DC public, its tourists and its school groups is an essential beginning in re-framing our understanding of race so that we might also then be able to work to dialogue about race, about racism, and about its intricate and perpetuating foothold in society, not only among our government officials, but also among our children, our colleagues, our friends, and ourselves.

While racism continues to dominate our society, the topic of race and racism is too often cast aside as invisible, just as the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man explains in its opening lines: “I am an invisible man…. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact.” We need more opportunities to make race ‘visible’ – to discuss race in the public realm and to dialogue about the consequences of racism in our own daily actions and perceptions, in the acts of children, in the decisions of government officials, and in the judgments of innocence and guilt in the courtroom. As United Methodists, the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church call us to additionally recognize that “racism includes both personal and institutional racism” and to “recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.” Rather than allowing our eyes to take a “peculiar disposition” to our own inadvertent racism and to systems that sustain racial discrimination, we are called to instead hold our gaze and stand steady to challenge individual acts of racial discrimination and perpetually oppressive systems based upon such discrimination; by gazing into the eyes of the ‘other,’ of the ‘invisible,’ we will find that we are not so different from the ‘other’. And with such recognition, we can then extend our hand to them, a welcoming hand of friendship, a steady hand of solidarity, and an open, Christ-like hand of love. Let us go and do just that.

Michelle Dromgold is a Mission Intern of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. She is currently serving at the Kindertreff Delbrücke at the Salem Gemeinde in Berlin, Germany. There, she works as a social worker with an emphasis on intercultural and interreligious dialogue amongst the children and youth at the after-school program and with local United Methodist Congregations.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On a historic day for Palestine, rethinking the UMC's role

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just submitted a request to the United Nations for recognition of Palestine as an independent member state. Though the United States has pledged to veto the bid, it promises to be a historic day in the struggle for Palestinian rights. Predictions of the consequences abound. Some commentators fear an outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza. Some are optimistic about the possibilities of increased UN representation for a Palestinian state through action by the General Assembly. Others fear that the UN bid, whether or not it’s successful, could actually become an obstacle to Palestinians’ national aspirations. What seems certain is that we are at a particularly volatile point in the history of Palestinians and Israelis. The tension held in this moment could erupt in any number of ways.

For decades, the United Methodist Church has stated its opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. Our denomination has repeatedly called for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict, one which respects the civil and human rights of all people. The church has been clear that the continued repression of the Palestinian people and the expropriation of their land makes this impossible.

Today, those of us who seek justice and peace in Palestine/Israel must recommit ourselves to, in the words of the Kairos Palestine Document, “speak a word of truth and take a position of truth.” Truth, we know, will be a victim of the political and diplomatic battles that are to come. As the abuses of Israel’s military occupation continue – as they certainly will – we must not only speak out against them, we must refuse to be complicit.

Since 1968, the United Methodist Church has spoken words of truth about the Israeli occupation. But we have yet to take a position of truth. Despite our statements, our denomination’s financial resources are invested in companies that profit from the occupation and the expansion of settlements. We hold stock in Caterpillar, which produces armored bulldozers that an Israeli general called “the key weapon” in the occupation of Palestinian land. Using these bulldozers, the Israeli military has demolished over 24,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. The church also invests in Motorola Solutions, which provides surveillance systems to Israeli settlements and communications equipment to the military in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard, another company in the church’s portfolio, produces biometric scanning equipment used in checkpoints on occupied land. It also supplies Ariel, one of the largest West Bank settlements, with municipal data storage systems.

These investments represent a troubling contradiction between our words and our actions. Though we may sincerely hope for the occupation to end, we are implicated in its continuation as long as we help finance it.

The United Methodist Church has little if any influence over how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved. We are not in a position to weigh in on the logistics of a political settlement. But we can and do influence the situation on the ground, and by extension, the factors that determine what kind of settlement is possible. Right now, our money helps to make the occupation possible. Removing our money will make the occupation less possible.

Over the next weeks and months, events in the Middle East may unfold rapidly and dramatically. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or helpless, we must focus on our own involvement in the occupation and change it.


Emily McNeill is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Project Manager of United Methodist Kairos Response. For more information about the movement to align United Methodist investments with resolutions on Israel/Palestine, visit

We must carry on...

Editor's Note: This is the third post we have had highlighting the tragedy of Troy Davis' death (see They're Going to Kill My Friend and No justice? No peace). We want to highlight student activism around the important issue of abolishing the death penalty and point to ways we can continue to honor Troy Davis' memory by ensuring that we end this state violence.

by Lee Curtis

I write to you today with a heavy heart. Last night the State of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail despite many doubts as to Davis’ guilt. The case has rightly garnered outrage from local and international communities and has shown to many that the criteria needed for the State of Georgia to execute someone are much less substantial than we initially thought.

The Candler Community has been active in working to stop Davis' execution since it was first scheduled in June of 2007, and has continued working towards clemency even as the case bounced from State to Federal court. Candler Social Concerns Network, our primary campus organization dedicated to advocacy and activism, has shared wisdom and strategy from year to year, with alumni taking a strong lead in ensuring that current Candler students have the information and tools needed to continue the legacy of activism that is held dear by our students, faculty, and staff.

Needless to say, I am quite proud of our network of concerned activists. We have marched, prayed, chanted, and petitioned, but I am not writing to you to brag about the good work of the Candler Community. This is about your work. This is about our work.

We must become more firmly rooted in our belief that all people are beloved children of God and that there is nothing anyone can ever do to change that fact. We are a people called to love as we have been loved, to forgive as we have been forgiven. It is a hard work, but it is the work we have been called to. I wholeheartedly believe that this commission does not allow us to put any other human being to death, regardless of the violence of the crime, or heinousness of the act. Love never gives up on life. Of all the things the Apostle Paul tells us Love is, it is first and foremost patient. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount we hear that if we call our sister or brother a fool we share the sin of the murderer. When we lose our loving patience the power of death rears its ugly head and Love is pushed to the edges allowing us to, even for the briefest of moments, deny the status of beloved children of God to our sisters and brothers.

This is exactly what happens whenever a death warrant is signed. It follows then that we need to stop signing death warrants.

I encourage you all to speak out against the death penalty on a national and state level. Make it known that the sentence of death is incompatible with the sentence of Love that God has spoken to the world in Christ. As the Church we are to bear that sentence, that thought, that logos as good news.

We can do that by taking a strong stand against the death penalty.

I encourage you to get involved in your church and in your community. International organizations like Amnesty International are fantastic sources of news and information but they are no substitute for local, grass roots organizations. We must allow the legacy of Troy Anthony Davis to be one of hope and life, even though we may now feel caught in midst of despair and death.

It is our faith, indeed our Creed, that the last word is life.

*The photo comes from this article


Lee Curtis is a 2nd year MDIV student at the Candler School of Theology and is a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. His involvement with the movement against the death penalty began in 2006 after spending time with the Open Door Community in Atlanta, an intentional community modeled on the Catholic Worker Movement. He currently serves as a seminarian at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Ga.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No justice? No peace.

A sermon on Luke 13:10-17
by Sarah Hedgis

There are some stories in the Bible where I find myself connecting with a character—really seeing myself in that person, in how she thinks or what he feels. In today’s story of the healing of a crippled woman on the sabbath, I feel an unexpected and, more importantly, a dreaded connection with the indignant synagogue leader.

If we transport this story to our own context, as a seminarian I could very well be the synagogue leader. In fact, I encounter this story in a very different way than I did before starting seminary. Now I must admit that Jesus is not exactly the ideal person to invite to your synagogue or church. The stories of Jesus disrupting services all around town linger in my mind more than they did before. I even experience the opening verse differently: “Now we was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath” (13:10). It sounds like a pretty good opening sentence. As readers, we feel like we have arrived just in time for the action. Except when I hear this line now, I think, “We’re almost done! Nothing has gone wrong yet! Maybe we’re in the clear.”

Then the next verse, “And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” What was once a line of suspense is now one of panic. I steal a look over at Jesus and I see his eyes locked on someone in the crowd. “Oh no.”

Before I know what’s happening, the long-time crippled woman (I mean, how did he even see her in the crowd?!) is standing straight and praising God. Then I hear the echoes of a reprimand linger in the air, the reprimanding reminder that “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day”—I try not to gasp when I realize the voice ringing in the air is my own, the finger pointed at the woman and Jesus is attached to my hand, my me.

In some ways, the perspectives of the healed woman and the synagogue leader are completely different. When we hear the story, one is good and one is bad. One is open to God’s healing and the other is not. One is honored and the other is shamed.

Yet, I go back to the moment when these two characters meet, when they’re lives really intersect. I cannot get over what it must have been like when the woman realized she was standing upright—realized that she was no longer looking at the feet but into the face of Jesus.

Our story in Luke is nestled in-between parables describing the Kingdom of heaven growing or rising up, and the woman’s healing has this same movement. She was once hunched and bent and bound but is now healed, freed, and straightened. Seeing the world in a way—from a perspective—she had long given up on, the woman takes her first glimpse at the kingdom of God...and it is anger.

The NRSV uses the word indignant to describe the synagogue leader’s reaction, a word that just feels mean, and is defined as expressing displeasure at something considered unjust, offensive, or insulting. After 18 years, the woman is finally seen, but she is seen as offensive. After 18 years, the woman can finally see, but her first sight is the synagogue leader and Jesus engaged in an argument.

Is this really the kingdom of God?

It is in this moment that both the woman and the synagogue leader connect—in her vulnerable visibility and his enflamed indignation—in this moment, both wish that Jesus had not come into their synagogue. And we, as the readers, feel the tension! It only intensifies as Jesus responds with a teaching that solicits cheers from many in the crowd and causes shame for the others who are named his opponents.

And the story ends here—in division and conflict. Jesus keeps moving to Jerusalem, and we remember that he is moving us towards and preparing us for the kingdom through the cross. We look back to make sure Jesus did not take a wrong turn, read from the wrong cue card, or forget to resolve the problem that lingers over us in Luke 13:17. But when we look back, we see just one chapter before-our-story these words: "Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" (Luke 12:51). And again we wonder, "Is this really good news?"

Last Friday I went to Woodruff Park with several other Candler students to walk with and for Troy Davis, a name I think we have all become familiar with over the last few days. I squeezed into the crowd and started toward Ebenezer Baptist church. While we were walking, many of us sang and chanted together. After a short silence, I heard someone start a chant that I recognized. "No justice?" he cried— "No peace!" we responded. The first time I heard this chant was when I was working with Interfaith Worker Justice last summer. We were marching with Hyatt hotel workers who were on strike, and I heard that same exchange: “No justice?” “No peace!” It made my skin crawl. This is too threatening, I thought. The language is too strong. It’s probably offensive to the management!

When I heard it last Friday, it did not sound like a threat or an offense or even an angry outcry. It sounded, well, true. There cannot be real peace without justice. There can be silence without justice, forced silence or accepted silence. There can be politeness without justice and smiles without justice. There can be perfectly good worship services without justice. There can also be unnoticed burdens and unexamined routine without justice. But there can’t really be peace without justice.

"No justice? No peace!" It is a truth that also sounds a lot like Jesus' teaching about watering oxen and donkeys on the sabbath. They both have meanings that are easy to recognize but hard to hear, hard to look up and see, and hard to accept. Yet, it is the only teaching Jesus offers. Regardless of our ease or difficulty, the kingdom of God will not settle or be compromised, even when we all wish that it might.

The kingdom of God rejects compromised teachings upheld by paraphrased commandments that point to routine instead of reason. “There is no peace without justice,” Jesus says to the synagogue leader who cannot understand why Jesus could not wait one more day to heal the woman.

The kingdom of God rejects compromised peace that settles for pleasing the majority or the most powerful when there are those left unseen and uncared for. “There is no peace without justice,” Jesus says to the woman who is starting to doubt whether her healing was worth all of the trouble it is bringing to those around her.

The kingdom of God rejects compromised justice that settles for peace-through-revenge and offers this false promise of comfort to those who suffer. “There is no peace without justice,” Jesus says to those who would match a devastating death with an additional devastating death.

I attend a Faith and Justice small group at my church. Yesterday, our leader sent out an email about Troy Davis. He wrote, "It is ironic that this controversial execution has been scheduled to occur during the Wednesday evening "church hour" in a state that prides itself on its Baptist/Methodist religious heritage. So as Troy takes his final steps, and then is put to death Wednesday evening in Jackson, Christians in many places, including here in Decatur, will be gathered to go about our usual and sundry activities of food, fellowship, prayer, and study. I doubt that many people of faith in our state would rise to cheer for an execution. But for the most part, we will simply 'sing louder,' allowing ourselves to ignore what we would prefer not to have to know. In that isolation, we may fail to be a witness for God's promise of redemption and command of love."

When I started preparing for this sermon on Monday morning, I imagined that we would be celebrating another glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth—another story about how God refuses to compromise over the lives of God’s children. But last night Troy Davis was killed, and once again we fail to be God’s witnesses; we ignore what we would rather not know; we compromise, we settle.

But the kingdom of God does not. And this is the good news.

That amidst the division, conflict, fear, and shame that we bind ourselves in through our rejection of the kingdom of God, a rejection that affects us all, from the praising woman to the ashamed leader . . . amidst all this, there is still—there is always—one uncompromised promise: "No justice? No peace."

Closing Prayer: God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. You know our compromises. Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us and others, and guide us in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, our uncompromising Savior and Lord.


Sarah Hedgis is a 3rd-year Master of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology. She is originally from Rome, Georgia but now calls Atlanta home. At Candler, Sarah works for the Office of Worship and serves on Candler Coordinating Council. Sarah loves Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and exploring how the stories of our traditions and the stories of our lives interact.

They're Going to Kill my Friend

by Rev. Karl Kroger
(Written for the Pierre, SD Newspaper ( for September 23, 2011)

As I write this, a man I deeply care about is about to be executed. Unless a miracle occurs, when you read this, Troy Davis will be dead. Despite overwhelming evidence that casts doubt on his conviction, the powers that be in the state of Georgia are not concerned. Though Troy Davis and I have never met, I consider Troy Davis my friend. What do you do when someone is about to kill your friend?

Three years ago, while helping with a colleague’s youth retreat, I felt the call of God to help save a man’s life. In between the boat rides and the campfires, I could not stop thinking about the very real possibility that Georgia might execute someone who was innocent.

It seemed as if very few people even cared that the criminal justice system might have gotten it wrong. It seemed as if a flawed conviction only mattered, if it personally affected you. For most of the people and most of the churches in Georgia, permanently punishing the wrong man was not important.

But it was important to me. How as a society could such an ugly distortion of justice be tolerated? Furthermore, what if it was you or me, who was wrongly accused of a crime, and no one cared? Wouldn’t we want people to wake up and demand that all the facts be taken into account?

Praying for God to lead and guide me, trusting in the Holy Spirit to convict my heart, and compelled by Jesus’ command to love my neighbor, I surrendered myself to God to be used for the Kingdom. And so began my intense battle to save Troy Davis’ life.

Soon I began calling upon people to pray, to fight, and to offer advice. Within days, I recruited a few seminary friends to join me in the fight. We then rallied our seminary and our entire university, joining in with the people all across Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and around the world.

Momentum began to build and we started working with other organizations already fighting for Troy, including the NAACP, Amnesty International, and Georgian’s for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The state was committed to killing Troy Davis, but we were determined to do everything we could to stop them.

And because of our actions, the intervention of the courts, and miracles, we did; three execution dates were put on hold. The instantaneous shouts of joy and songs of praise on those days were glorious! Millions of people worked to save Troy Davis’ life. We marched and we protested, we held vigils and we prayed, and we wrote letters and hung banners on the freeway.

All of the details of the case, the trials and appeals, the four execution dates are too lengthy to expound upon here. You should know however, that Troy Davis was found guilty of killing a cop, Officer Mark MacPhail. His death was wrong and is extremely tragic.

This week I watched as MacPhail’s daughter Madison, just a toddler at the time of her father’s death, spoke about the pain of growing up without a dad. She said there was something not right about living beyond your father’s final age. He died when he was only 27 years old.

As a Christian, I take seriously Jesus’ commands to love God and love my neighbor. Love, peace, kindness, and goodness are fruit of the Spirit and they are values of the Kingdom. They are part of the ways of God and they stand in contrast to murdering and executing people. Christians don’t all agree on that unfortunately, but surely we can agree that executing someone who is innocent or who has a strong case of innocence is stupid, unjust, and evil.

I grieve for Troy Davis, for his mother Virginia who died last year. What privilege to have known, embraced, and prayed with a woman of such grace and love. I grieve too for Officer MacPhail’s death, and for the pain his family still bears. May God bring healing and comfort to them.

Tonight my friend is scheduled to die. My heart breaks, but my hope is in Jesus Christ. And I know Troy’s is as well.


Editor's Note: Despite the cry of thousands across the world for justice on behalf of Troy, the Supreme Court denied requests for a stay of execution. The state of Georgia executed Troy Anthony Davis, pronouncing him dead at 11:08pm on Thursday, September 21. May Troy's Spirit rest in the hands of God, and may God have mercy on us all...

Rev. Karl Kroger's extensive work on behalf of Troy Davis began as a Candler School of Theology student in 2008. This advocacy inspired thousands to get involved with Troy's case and eventually led to Karl being awarded with Emory University's prestigious Humanitarian Award in 2009. Karl now resides in Pierre, South Dakota, where he is the pastor of Southeast Pierre United Methodist Church.

This article has been cross-posted with the MFSA blog, which can be found at

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gleaning Truth

The following message was delivered during the Aug. 10 worship in the Simpson Memorial Chapel at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Sara Bayles, 21, from Springdale, Ark., was an intern this summer working with Women’s Concerns, which is part of the Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project at the General Board of Church & Society. This month, Bayles became the pastor for two congregations: Cleveland and Overcup (Morrilton) United Methodist churches in Arkansas. She based her sermon on the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene.”

Sara Bayles
When I bring up the name Mary Magdalene, what thoughts come to mind? Was she an early disciple? Was she a reformed prostitute? Or did she have an intimate relationship with Jesus? Could The DaVinci Code really be correct in assuming that she bore Jesus’ child?
Who is this woman? So much mystery surrounds her life, her character and her role in early Christian history. How can a religious tradition place so much emphasis on a resurrected Savior while discrediting the character of the woman who first witnessed that resurrected Savior?
Feminist New Testament scholarship emphasizes re-examining Mary Magdalene. Often the disconnection between the academic work of feminist theologians and practical application within sanctuaries leaves Mary Magdalene and the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” where it has been for too much time: collecting dust on the shelf.

Gospel of Mary Magdalene

A brief background to acclimate you to this unfamiliar text. There are three fragmented pieces of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Two of these fragments are written in Greek, one found in 1938 and the other in 1983. The other fragmented manuscript was written in Coptic.
Greek is believed to be the original vernacular of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, composed in either modern day Syria or Egypt between the late first and early second centuries.
Why was it left out of our canonized New Testament?
So, if this text was composed around the same time as our other biblical books, why was it left out of our canonized New Testament?
The process of canonization meant the powers that be around the third century came together to compile these texts into what we now know as our Holy Bible. The New Testament includes 27 books, but many other books were not included.

Competition for inclusion

Many different sects of early Christianity had early letters and gospels. When canonization came about, these groups had to compete against each other to have their ideas and books prevail.
The texts not included in the Bible had to be destroyed. Often those possessing non canonical texts risked their lives to keep these now-forbidden writings. Some of these writings were buried in the hot, sandy desert.
One of the Greek translations of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, as well as the Coptic translation, was found buried in sand, which served as a means of protecting the texts. Because the Gospel of Mary Magdalene among others had been outlawed, so to speak, the portrayal of Mary Magdalene was on the decline just at the gospel bearing her name was disappearing.
Decrees from Ambrose, the Bishop of Rome, in the later 4th century, as well as the letters of Pope Innocent the Third and Pope Gregory the Ninth in the 13th century slandered the character of Mary Magdalene. Doing so throughout the centuries transformed her into what is commonly thought today that she was a reformed prostitute.

True identity

I want to utilize the Gospel of Mary Magdalene to examine her true identity as a follower of Christ and to glean from her faithful work what we can incorporate into our lives.
I want … to glean from her faithful work what we can incorporate into our lives.
The opening six pages, often referred to as Chapters 1 through 3 are missing. The text we have begins at Chapter 4. This opens with a discussion between Jesus and his early followers about the eternality of the world.
When asked, “Will all matter be destroyed or not?” Jesus, identified in this translation as the Savior, responds “all nature, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one and another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone.”
Jesus ends by saying, for those who have ears to hear, let them hear. Sound familiar? Those words are also found in Mark 4:23.
What does this say about the interconnectedness of humanity? If all exists within one another why are we so often to dismiss the other?

All woven together

Last month during her sermon based on Luke 10 (“Do this and you will live,” Faith in Action, July 26), Kelsie Overton asked, “Where is the community of heaven that the scriptures speak of?” Kelsie reflected on the actions of the priest, Levite and Samaritan towards the man on the side of the road, beaten by thieves, left without clothes, and in need.
The priest and Levite were resistant to venture on the same side of the road as this man, who was their neighbor. Yet it was the Samaritan who reached out to help a fellow human in need. In doing so the Samaritan recognized the common bond of humanity.
From the first few lines of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Jesus teaches that all is woven together by our common bond as people.
Through the rest of Chapter 4, Jesus is teaching this early group of followers. By the beginning of Chapter 5, it is apparent that Jesus has departed and the early community is mourning.
Mary continues to share teachings of Christ with the group. These can be found in Chapters 5 and 8.
Chapters 6 and 7 are missing in all three surviving texts, which would have been pages 11 through 14 of the original manuscripts.

Conflict develops

By the beginning of Chapter 9, Mary has finished relaying the teachings to the group. Conflict begins to brew. Andrew is the first to voice his doubt that Mary is recanting the teaching of the scripture. Then Peter also expresses concern. Mary is brought to tears and Levi speaks on her behalf saying to Peter:
You have always been hot tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said. And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.
Why this Gospel was outlawed by the early church fathers is apparent: The potential indication of a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. For this time and space, though, let us look beyond that debate and focus on the dynamic within this early Christian community.

Lost value of others

It was certainly close knit, as we learned in the opening text while they were together listening to Jesus’ teachings. I can imagine the small group, sitting closely listening to Jesus’ teachings about the interconnectedness of each other, how each person is so interwoven into his or her neighbor.
After Jesus departs, though, it seems the community members have lost the value for the other. Uncertainty surrounds the amount of time that has passed since the opening scene of Chapter 4 with Jesus’ teaching about “all nature, all formations, all creatures existing in and with another” until the closing scene in which the early community of followers has started pointing fingers, doubting their neighbors, and splitting into factions.
What does our church look like today? Do we look like the community at the beginning of this Gospel: coming together, people of all backgrounds, genders and origins to meet at the table to learn from Jesus? Or do we look like the community that doubts one another, points fingers and alienates our neighbor?
If we exist in and with one another, what do we gain from excluding our brothers and sisters around the table?

Teachings discounted

Mary Magdalene sought to include all forms and all people in the early communities. In doing so, her reputation was slandered and her teachings discounted.
None of the four gospels in our New Testament speaks ill of her. Rather they tell of her commitment to following Christ, and how he had cast out seven demons from her. None describes her as a reformed prostitute.
Evidence from first and second century Christianity shows her cultivating Christ-following, Christ-loving, God-seeking communities. She is identified as a fruitful leader in her roles and relationships inside the church communities.
Even facing discredit, blame, doubt and finger pointing, Mary Magdalene continues to live out her calling and her role within the early community, to follow as Jesus commanded and “preach the gospel. She does not lay down any other rule or law beyond what the Savior said: “And when they heard this, they began to go forth and proclaim and to preach.”
Amidst the hardships and strife, Mary Magdalene continued to teach the love of Christ to others.
Let us close with a prayer:
Creator God, grant us the ability to learn from the story of Mary Magdalene that we too may seek to acknowledge and appreciate the common bond of humanity we all share. May we have her perseverance in seeking peaceful, Christ loving communities. Amen.

**the above published sermon comes from and reproduced with permission by Sara Bayles.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Restoring Justice in the "Post 9/11" World

As many Americans did this past Sunday, I reflected on the events that happened 10 years ago in New York, Washington, the fields of Pennsylvania and really, the whole world. As planes exploded, the minds of billions were reeling, trying to make sense of it.

If you talk to somebody outside the USA, they will remind you that the attack was not just an attack against Americans, but an attack on the West, and two of its major capitals: the financial one and the political one. And certainly, the attacks were scary to most people of the world; those who were in the west as well as all over the world but especially those in the Muslim countries in Southwest Asia (commonly "the middle east"). As a matter of fact, Osama bin Laden later claimed he desired a large military response from the West so as to awake the Muslims all over the world to the evil of Western Culture.

As Christians, what are we to make of this strange, saddening, unimaginable series of events that took place? We had a christian president promising retaliation and retribution against those responsible and we had bumper stickers reading "God Bless America" appearing on the nation's first blog: bumpers. Does God desire retaliation and does this mean Justice? If we want God to bless America who now has lost over 10,000 now because of 9/11 and post 9/11 war, what about the over 100,000 lives lost in Iraq alone?

One thing that is clear is that retribution is not Justice. Justice is the transformation of evil into good. This was Jesus' highest calling. Showing us a path towards Justice in his ministry but most importantly on the Cross. We now are made right with God and able to transform the world by showing what true Justice is: forgiveness, reconciliation, and the healing power of Grace. And Grace doesn't fall on white, straight, protestant, american males, that Grace is prevenient as John Wesley said. God's blessings rain down on humanity, especially when we cry out to the LORD (Exodus 2:23-25).

So now as we try to envision a world at peace, we must remember that this can only be accomplished through the loving power of our God. We must fight the words, deeds, and lies of the Oppressor, the authority that seeks only its personal gain. And we must seek the healing power of God if we ever hope to see a world made right. Amen


Paul Richards is a certified candidate from the Texas Conference and a Senior Religious Studies Major at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. An intern at First UMC Conway in the College Ministry and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player, he enjoys sports and reading in his free time. He is excited about doing Pastoral Ministry in the future and working towards economic and social Justice in the United States and all over the world.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

a new kind of "us"

by Eric Burton-Krieger

So what's next for a movement? Well, I don't have a black and white answer and I'm not interested in peddling a false sense of certainty. What I do know is that I've been blessed to share in so many stories over the course of Sing A New Song that as I drove back to Tennessee, I could not help but wear a smile on my face.

The smile came from the people I met, the new relationships that had been forged and my sense of hope—that God is indeed at work changing our church and our world into a place that slowly—sometimes very slowly, gives off the glow of God's reign. This doesn't make for easy work. As a pastor told me once, when we are frustrated and feel like the church does not stand up against injustice, these are the moments when we must be reminded that God is so great as to be able to use "us" despite "us".

Thankfully, there lots of young adults who are making space at the table for a new kind of "us" and in responding to God’s call are bringing with them a whole lot of creative and passionate change-agents for God to work through! We want to see those parts of the church that embody our instuitionalism change. To have them welcome all sexual identities and expression at the table, challenge unjust laws, and find creative solutions to real problems—mostly, we want a church that worries more about the Gospel than its own survival.

OnFire is committed to this kind of work and to finding new ways for the stories that give us hope to find tangible connections to the deep needs we witness all around us. We envision this work in local communities where people come together and out of their faith, touch hearts and transform lives (their own and others) after the witness of Christ. This is the new kind of "us" for which we and we think God, labors.

The invitation is for you to join the conversation not only with your mind through social media but with your body as well. We're starting local OnFire groups around the country and hope these are places for our stories to be part of God’s work and witness. Who knows, if we're faithful, maybe even Christ might crack a smile.


Eric Burton-Krieger, is a co-facilitator for OnFire in addition to being a spouse, divinity student, candidate for ordination and staff member at a United Methodist congregation. He loves the church and has been working to help it change for longer than he would care to admit. If you happen to be in Nashville, he'd love to meet up and buy you a cup of coffee!