Friday, April 20, 2012

My Church Needs to Get a Little "Pissed Off"*

Next week The United Methodist Church's General Conference will meet in Tampa, Florida.  This is a pivotal time for our denomination.  We are gathering as a global church to determine a number of issues, including a restructuring plan, guaranteed appointments for clergy who are Elders in our church, issues around homosexuality, financing of our shared ministry, the structure of our general agencies, and how we will move as a denomination into the 21st century.

There has been a lot of lead-up to this global gathering.  Organizing bodies have planned worship, arranged for space, processed petitions, and coordinated meeting schedules.  Bishops have prayed and discussed upcoming legislation.  Groups have petitioned the body about numerous issues important to them.  Annual Conferences and individuals have weighed in on the pluses and minuses of the different proposals.  Advocacy groups have met, discussed and planned strategy to deal with their concerns about the proposals.  Facebook groups have debated the issues on every conceivable level. Blogs and articles have been written, disseminated and discussed.  And this does not even begin to cover all of the preparation for this gathering.

But despite all of this - we will more than likely continue to disagree on a number of the core issues coming before our governing body.  We are a church that have members around the globe and who would be found up and down the political and social issue spectrum.  We are younger and older persons as members.  We come from developing nations and developed nations.  We come from mega churches, rural churches, , suburban churches, village churches, tiny house communities, new church starts, declining churches, growing churches, multi-cultural churches, staff-led and single pastor led congregations, and much more.  Our churches are led by Elders, Deacons, Local Pastors, Lay Leaders, and other leaders both trained and volunteer. We are as diverse as a global group can be.

But we are also similar.  We share a Wesleyan heritage of social justice ministry.  We have a common theological framework of grace - prevenient, justifying, and sustaining.  We rely on the scriptures as our core guide - but we also interpret them with our tradition, experience, and reason.  However, despite these similarities we do not always agree.  The very way to we look at scripture leads us to differing meanings in the texts we read.

With the diversity in our members and our faith understandings, it is no wonder that we have failed on several occasions to even agree that we disagree on key issues facing the church.  But at this General Conference we are at a crossroads.  We come together at a time of great cultural and political turmoil all across the globe.  We come together at a time when we need holy conferencing more than ever before.  We come together needing to find common ground.  We come together at a time when we have to re-vision what our structure needs to look like to be more nimble and efficient in the future.

But this ground will be hard to find -- if we do not listen with open minds, love with open hearts, and fling the doors of our churches open to all.

If I had all of the answers I would offer them here.  Unfortunately these major decisions will take a lot more than one person offering their opinion.  It will take many persons on the floor of the General Conference offering opinions and listening one to the other.  It will take concessions on both ends of the spectrum.  It will require compromise.

Once a seminary professor of mine asked the class she was teaching what we thought of compromise in the church.  One student answered rather flippantly, "It is an agreement that pisses off both groups."  The prof laughed.  The class laughed.  Then the prof smiled slyly.  Then she agreed with the statement, saying, "That’s so often what it takes."

So I ask my fellow United Methodists ... are you ready to be a little bit “pissed off?”* Because I think in order for us to move forward we are going to all have to find room for flexibility about some long held beliefs and opinions.  To move forward we likely will need to embrace other options for faithful discipleship that are not in concert with our own.  To move forward we just might have to agree to disagree - which at this point would be a step forward.

So I pray.  I advocate.  I pray.  I talk to others.  I pray.  I write about my own opinions.  I pray. And I wait for my church to speak - hopefully after allowing themselves (and by extension all of us) to grow and stretch together.

And I pray that if we do get a bit “pissed off” at each other - may it be a good thing as we have listened well, loved mightily, worked through our differences, and found common ground.  God has already told us what is expected of us.

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8 NIV)

Lord, make it so.

*While some will not like the use of this language - it is vital to my story and appropriate to the feelings I have at this time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Far Away Me: Caring for Parents at a Distance

I am a Tweener – I was born in 1962 so I am not a true Baby Boomer (according to some lists) and I am on the edge of the Baby Buster (Generation X) years.  I have some lifestyle similarities with both groups but definitely claim the Gen X (more Buster than Boomerang) label more than the Boomers.

However, one thing I have in common with the Boomer generation is the fact that as Americans age, this generation is spending almost as many years caring for parents as they are raising children.  This is not a new phenomenon in our country and raises many issues for both parents and their adult children - this group is often called The Sandwich Generation.

More and more Boomers and Busters - and those in between, like me – are caring for aging parents.  And many of us are doing that from a distance.  Estimates say that as many as 7 million Americans are caring for parents from a distance.  That is a lot of caregiving going on by proxy or by phone/internet/Skype/friends/etc. or by occasional visits.  This does not mean our parents are incapable of caring for themselves – it is quite the contrary in my case.  My parents are very young 75+ year olds.  And they are pretty healthy.

But as they age, there are more and more health issues that they are facing now and will be facing in the future.  Several surgeries and illnesses over the past few years for both of them have been tough on all of us.  And my sisters and myself all live at a minimum of 5+ hours and at a maximum of almost 3,000 miles away.  What this means is that they are going through some health situations without their children physically present.  They handle it well.  However, their children struggle with it at times.

I am constantly amazed at how painful it is to not be in the room with them while they are waiting for a surgery to end or for the results of tests to be delivered.  The last few months my dad has been having health issues and talking to them by phone has been so helpful.  But there have also been times when I just break down and cry because I am not there holding his hand or hugging my mom.  My sisters feel the same way, but we cannot get there for every situation.  And that is the rub.  Because in all likelihood it will get worse – not better.

Because I know this state of care will progress.  The National Institute on Aging says “Caregiving, no matter where the caregiver lives, is often long-lasting and ever-expanding. For the long-distance caregiver, what may start out as an occasional social phone call to share family news can eventually turn into regular phone calls about managing household bills, getting medical information, and arranging for grocery deliveries. What begins as a monthly trip to check on Mom or Dad may become a larger project to move him or her to a new home or nursing facility closer to where you live.”[1]   I know I am a ways off from this, but I want to be ready.  I want my sisters to be ready.  And I want my parents to have all of the independence they need for as long as possible and only to help as needed. 

But I have a lot of friends, colleagues, family, and acquaintances who are dealing with long-distance caregiving right now.  I can name ten persons dealing with this situation just sitting here as I type.  And some of them are just exhausted - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Some advice for them from the National Institute on Aging:

“Although you may not feel as physically exhausted and drained as the primary, hands-on caregiver, you may still be worried and anxious. And you might feel guilty about almost everything—about not being closer, not doing enough, not having enough time with your parent, and perhaps even feeling jealous of those who do. Many long-distance caregivers also find that worry about being able to afford to take time off from work, being away from family, or the cost of travel increases these frustrations. Remember that you are doing the best you can given the circumstances and that you can only do what you can do. It may help to know that these are feelings shared by many other long-distance caregivers—you are not alone in this.”[2]

My parents are amazing.  I love them and want to be there for them as they need me.  And I want to support my sisters, friends, and other family members as they care for their own parents.  Caring for others from a distance is an act of faith – faith in your relationships, faith in your family, faith in your connections, faith in your God to see you all through the journey.

Caring from afar is an amazing gift as well – because it means I have my parents to keep caring for.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Creating a World According to Micah 6:8

When I was growing up – I learned a passage from Micah from my grandfather.  The passage has been important to me ever since then.  This passage is the core of my faith. I recite it often.   I used it as the basis of my final Credo Paper for my Master of Divinity degree at Saint Paul School of Theology.  I have preached on it a number of times and it never ceases to bring me great joy and reminds me of who God calls us to be.

The passage says this, 
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV)

There is no small reason why this passage is vital to my faith – it is about justice, love and faithfulness.  Justice is part of me.  I breathe justice.  I work for it.  I pray for it.  I march for it.  I write my political leaders calling for it.  I teach it to my son.  I preach it in my sermons.  I teach it in my classes.  I try to live a just life in all I do.

But justice is sometimes hard to define in our society.  Some want justice only as they see it.  Some want justice for only a select group.  Some see a rush to justice without cause or evidence.  Others see justice denied by inaction.  There are multiple issues related to justice.  And it is hard to make folks see eye to eye on the issues.

But justice is justice for me – it is pretty clear.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said once, “Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”  I believe that.  We have to advocate for justice for all.  Regardless of who they are – their race, attire, gender, faith tradition, sexual orientation, age, size, creed, denomination, physical disabilities, or other element of their being.

I want to be clear – we may disagree on how justice is expressed – but justice must come.  For me it means justice for Trayvon Martin, for Shaima Alawadi, for thousands of named and unnamed persons killed every year by guns, for gays and lesbians struggling with inequality, and for persons kept in poverty by a system that makes it almost impossible to rise out of its depths.  It means advocating for an end of systemic racism, for an end to bullying for any reason, for an end of sexist practices in the church and workplace, and for so many more situations.

It is unjust that I can wear a hoodie anywhere and no one sees me as suspicious.  But it is even more unjust that a person of color is seen that way regardless of what they are wearing.

It is unjust that so many are denied rights afforded others because of their gender or orientation.  It is unjust that people are beaten or killed because of their faith.  It is unjust that many are treated differently because of their physical disabilities or abilities.

So we may disagree on how and when justice is present.  But let’s all agree to this -- to work toward a more just world … a world where no one is mistreated or hurt because they are different from us.

That is justice.