Archive for July, 2014

I had a very good discussion with an Ohio pastor friend this morning. We chatted about some key life and ministry experiences, about our families, our children. In so doing, we reinforced our relationship. And we talked about the argument in our denomination around sexuality. We don’t agree about questions of gay (GLBTQ, affectional orientation) membership or marriage or leadership. He stays with the MCUSA 1995 confession. I walk outside several of the definitions in that confession. But we can definitely work with each other. I would even say we can work with each other better than with some folks who would happen to agree with us.

It is even difficult for me to say “agree” and “disagree” in this context, because these words may imply static positions from which we relate. And with someone like this friend, what I experience is a solidity of personhood and relational capacity, rather than the more raw solidity of a simple position.

He talked about a wonderful preaching series he did, which included the question of sexuality – something that was very challenging for his congregation. This series invited folks into conversation, and these meetings were good. They engendered some lovely surprises, including thoughtful perspectives from history and even apologies and forgiveness offered. Powerful!

I talked about how I was deeply committed to being in community with gay folks, to the point that this is like a “civil rights” movement for me. But that deep commitment doesn’t mean for me that I am right and others are wrong. It means I’m working whole-heartedly to see something new be born on earth. But I’m also deeply committed to remaining available for learning and relationship from wherever it may come. This includes learning from, and relationship with, those who differ from me.

I think what’s at stake here (and I’ve written about this before) is Ed Friedman’s distinction between “certainty” and “clarity”. Certainty is characterized by having a rigid position, the need to convert others to my position, and the inability to be present with difference. This means when I’m in disagreement with others I need to either win-over and convert them, or I need to banish them from my circles, or I need to avoid them. Rigidity tends to be fragile. A good argument can break everything.

Clarity is characterized by deep commitment. But that commitment is held with a sense of openness to new light and more information and receiving counsel and care from others. In clarity, I remain flexible and resilient, with a pliable strength, even in argument and difficult conversations. This allows me, as Parker Palmer puts it, to be present with “all of myself”. In so doing, I carry far more wholesome and powerful resources into conversations and meetings.

I think this is true about my Ohio friend and his ministry, and I pray that it is more and more the way I am in my person and work.

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I’ve been on retreat with Parker Palmer for several days in Wisconsin. One thing he said about “truth”: “Truth is a matter of the life long work of attempting to navigate the layers and turns and new moves in our lives. You have to get into the conversation. You can’t rest in the conclusions because things keep changing.” (not a direct quote, but my memory of what he said this morning)

I think I understand the desire for fixed truth, whether in the form of Biblical reading or church practice. We long for something solid in our lives.

Nevertheless, things do keep changing. And that which is fixed often eventuates in harm to someone. This is because the fixed truth is somehow incomplete, and being incomplete, it fails to account for everyone properly. So people are harmed. This evokes the need to pay attention to change, the need to “get into the conversation.”

This idea of getting into the conversation can be a clue for us. Perhaps it is in sound and true and authentic conversation that truth lies. That is, truth lies most clearly in well-tended relationships rather than in propositions, by-laws, or guidelines. All of those may have limited value, but they are not the thing we are going for. What we want is not a timeless set of words, but an authentic community of love.

In the Christian tradition, this is Christ-like love, that has that particular deep commitment to relationships both divine and human. Jesus shows a deep passion and delight for living in the flow of such great relationships. How often is Jesus’ great love expressed in wholehearted devotion to his “father in heaven” and to his friends.

That’s what we want, I think. That’s what will serve us well as a denomination, and make us a blessing to each other and in God’s good earth.

One final quote from Palmer: “It’s better to be in right relationship than to be right.”

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Hi friends,

Just a few quick notes in response to our MCUSA board’s wording of action for the coming days as we walk up to the Kansas City national convention next year.

Some have expressed anger and frustration. I am also unhappy with the decision to not recognize Theda’s credentials. But I think the day will come, and will come sooner than we may expect! Let us work for that day with whole hearts and strong, compassionate strategy for connection, conversation, and conversion as the Holy Spirit grants it to us and to all.
1) I am old, and have been fighting this for a long time, and so I don’t feel an immediate flush of anger. I must admit, confessionally, even, that I don’t feel anger but more of an annoyance. A kind of “Here we go again” is sort of what I’m feeling. But I think anger is a very appropriate response. The action is demeaning to the gifts of a gifted pastor and, as far as I can tell, demeaning to our process of discernment. Our process in our congregation and conference surely had flaws but was also a carefully crafted and spiritual discernment time characterized by listening rather than rigid pontificating. I would like to hear more of this tone in the denomination.
2) I’m not even sure that the denomination can recognize or not recognize credentials. I need to look into this further. Our executive board can say that they don’t support anyone recognizing Theda’s credentials, but my impression was that it was the conference, not the denomination, that has authority around credentials.
3) I think the clue and invitation in the board action in the phrase which goes something like “unless the delegates change the policy about same-sex marriage.” My thought is, let’s do that! Let’s work on that! With good hearts, full of love and passion for justice, let us enter the halls of change singing and praying.
4) I would love to chat with any interested others about what we might craft as a response. I’m very interested in offering something paradoxical, that expresses our joy in the Holy Spirit and in our community and our deep sense that this is a river of change among us, a river of justice, that will not be turned by actions of boards or denominations. And that what we live in and have to offer others, including those with whom we disagree, is love, love, love. This creates a gentleness among us that is “like a river glorious” (song lyric), non-violently but powerfully flowing. I really like the Unitarian hymn (at least I found it in my copy of the Unitarian hymnal), that says “We are a gentle angry people.” I think this is a Holly Near song:
We are a gentle, angry people
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a justice-seeking people
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are young and old together
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a land of many colors
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are gay and straight together
and we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a gentle, loving people
and we are singing, singing for our lives

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