Thursday, May 31, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Joseph Lowery, Yvette Flunder

Wednesday at the Festival wrapped up with Joseph Lowery, of Civil Rights Movement fame, and Yvette Flunder. I’ve heard Lowery at workshops and events before. He’s an intriguing person. I had to listen from the lobby because my laptop was out of battery, so my notes are more sparse. Joe said, “No matter what you call me, I know who I am.” He said that if his generation was about “We Shall Overcome,” that administration of this generation seems to be, “We Shall Overturn.” Lowery will be 86 this year, and he’s spent many many years working for justice.

***

I’d not heard of Yvette Flunder before. She preached about Sarah and Hagar, asking if we have to think God can only bless one or the other. She said we have a ‘both/and’ God and not an ‘either/or’ God. She talked about how much we always want to know “what side” people are on, like around issues of sexuality. “Choose your side. Choose your folks. Pick your folks and agree with them. Choose which you are.” She has a background/upbringing in fundamental theology, and she said that “fundamentalism explains why x and y can both happen at the same time.” Of fundamental theology, “We sought to find one answer to all things theological.”

“Can God bless the offspring of both Sarah and Hagar?” she asked. “When God blesses them [someone and/or both Sarah/Hagar], do we get the ‘Jonah depression?’” (Remember, Jonah was upset about God’s mercy and grace toward the people of Nineveh. He wanted a little wrath.)

Talking about the creation story of the Garden of Eden, she said, “Much of religion is stuck at the wrong tree. We shouldn’t be at the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We should be at the tree of life. The folks who tend the tree are the gatekeepers for whoever comes to the tree for what is right/wrong. The real test is: what tree really brings life? Search for that – eat from that – liturgy/hermeneutic/etc. – that brings life.”

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” she asked, “if we didn’t make an idol of the books but honored the God that is named in the books.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis also preached at the Festival of Homiletics on the day focused on 'Prophetic Preaching.' I am of course familiar with Jim Wallis, but haven't really read much from him other than his blog posts. I own God's Politics, but it is on the shelf with the 100 other books I've purchased but not yet read.

I enjoyed Wallis - I think he certainly has a clear sense of the converging political/spiritual climate we're in.

Wallis said, "People don’t know what we mean by our words about religion." He talked about people constantly coming to him and saying, "I didn’t know you could be a Christian and care about (fill in the blank social issue)." He said that people hunger for spirituality and social justice – and people are looking for the connection between the two. He said that people of faith need to clarify what we are against and what we are for. "When someone steals your faith, you have to take it back. Prophetic preaching can’t just be in mode of dissent and disagreement and complaint, a clear no. But it also has to have a strong and clear yes. What are you for?"

Wallis reminded us, "Left and right are not religious categories" – they don’t fit us or describe us well or do us justice.

"The best social movements have spiritual foundations. We won’t get to social justice without a revival of faith/spirit. Spiritual activity can’t be called revival until it changes something about the society."

"Every generation has opportunity to alter two things, according to Wallis: What is acceptable and what is possible. Can we also alter what is faith? The moral contradiction we’ve lived with is no longer acceptable to us – until that feeling happens, injustice and misery will continue. Will we tolerate 3 billion people living on less than $2 a day? That the life expectancy gap between rich and poor places is 40 years? That death is a social disease? That 30,000 children die a day from utterly preventable poverty and disease? We have the resources to end (fill in the blank issue), but we lack the moral and political will."

Wallis concluded telling us that we have a choice between hope and cynicism. "Hope is not a feeling but a decision. Cynicism can be a buffer," he said. A tend towards cynicism sometimes myself, and not hope, so I'm trying to take those words to heart!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: James Forbes

Wednesday morning following Fred Craddock, Rev. James Forbes from The Riverside Church in Manhattan preached. Rev. Forbes is retiring on June 1st, and has been at Riverside since 1989, serving as the fifth senior pastor there (the church was built in 1927.)

Forbes, like Craddock, was preaching on the day focused on "Prophetic Preaching." Forbes talked about the phrase 'Priesthood of all believers' and challenged us to think also about a 'prophet-hood of all believers.'

He talked about writing a paper in school about the NAACP and Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that declared "separated but equal" unconstitutional. He talked about predicting in his paper that decision on May 17th, handing in his paper the day the decision was reached in Supreme Court, and thinking, (and joking about his young ego) for the first time, that he could be a prophet. But, he asked, whether one is a prophet or not is answered more in this question: what were preachers preaching about Sunday after Brown v. Board of Education?

Forbes spoke about having the courage, being the mouthpiece for the God of love. Courage to hang the plumb line. Saying with Esther, “if I perish, I perish.”

Then he looked at the New York Times for this May 17th, more than 50 years later. In the issue, there was a full page ad on war in Iraq – signed by Tony Campolo, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and many others, calling for repentance and an end to the war. “I don’t have to preach in response to that," Forbes said, "Do you?”

He admitted he likes to 'warm up' in preaching, because sometimes he's scared to get to the point.

Talking about 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 6, Forbes asked, "Where did you get your audacity from to preach on Sunday? Where do those words come from? What is God mad about today? Are you aware of God wanting you to do/say something about it? You may be the one the Lord’s gonna use – surprise!" He talked about a prophet (Elijah/Elisha) where the people knew where (physically) the prophet was. "Where are you?" he asked. "Where do you stand? If they wanted to attack you they couldn’t, because they don’t know where you are, where you stand. What is God expecting you to do? The way the apprentice learns how is by strengthening visual acuity. Strengthen your eyes. You can’t have the vision of God without the vitality of the Spirit. You’ve got to see it happening, see it as a reality (children eating, borders being humane, etc)."

Another excellent sermon. Some of my colleagues after worship mentioned having a hard time following his train of thought - I was right with him, those my notes on his sermon do suggest a bit of round about-ness! Still, I felt challenged by his words, challenged about having courage to say what needs to be said, preach what needs to be proclaimed. "If I perish, I perish." We just studied Esther in my evening worship at St. Paul's. Perhaps Esther is a good model for me - she had courage in the end to do what needed to be done, but it did take a lot of prodding and persuading! She looked at some easier options first. In the end, she had to be courageous. Maybe I can get there a little sooner...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections - Fred Craddock

Wednesday morning at the Festival began with Fred Craddock (a rock star in the preaching world). Wednesday's events were all at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, and the facility is fabulous. Great acoustics, great sound system, lots of space, just very comfortable. I really liked being there.

Craddock was fabulous, of course. He preached on John 21:24-25, “The Gospel as Hyperbole.” He preached on this short text from John, which reads: "But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."

Craddock talked about the language of ‘sacred excess,' and how hyperbolic the language of faith is, and the language of the gospels. Did Jesus really do so many things that they couldn't actually be written down do to lack of space? That's hyperbole. Exaggeration.

He gave several examples from the scriptures and even from our hymnody: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" - a thousand tongues? With faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move a mountain. Could we? Forgive seventy times seven? The parable where a servant is indebted to a king for the equivalent of 150,000 years in salary - that's hyperbole, he says. In the psalms, we find trees with clapping hands, earth trembling at God’s footsteps, earth convulsing. In Jesus' teaching, he talks about straining a gnat and swallowing a camel, or it being easier to put a camel through a needle's eye than for a rich person to enter heaven. Paul talks about "the peace that passes understanding" and has tightly reasoned arguments for chapters but they get away from him, and he bursts into song in his letters - hyperbole. Exaggeration.

Craddock said that there have always been critics of hyperbole – Aristotle said that hyperbole is for young people who don’t know any better who use exaggerated talk – one uses more calculated when older. Hyperbole is for unlettered and uncultured.

Craddock talked about the "reduction language" used by preachers – ‘promotional’ preaching. No surplus of meaning. Giving the impression “they walked all the way around God and took pictures.” Sermons just are not big enough, Craddock said, quoting someone (?) who said: “I’d rather be a pagan . . . just to have some size to faith.”

Craddock concluded by daring us to imagine what would happen if we actually believed all the hyperbole and exaggeration in the gospel. What if we took it all seriously? He was very facetious in his presentation here, and had us all laughing, at the same time we were soul-searching. "Go sell what you have and give to the poor." Some young foolish preacher took that seriously, Craddock said, and led his congregation to bring all their stuff to the church to sell, and they raised $2 million dollars. Didn't he know it was hyperbole? Dietrich Bonhoeffer read "Take up the cross," and he gave up his life. Didn't he know it was exaggerated speech? Craddock talked about William Sloane Coffin preaching on “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Craddock teased, "If you start saying whoever, whoever will show up!

Craddock's closing words: "Refuse to lose the hyperbole."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Festival of Homiletics Reflections: The Music, Tuesday Night

As I mentioned, I arrived a bit late and frazzled to the Festival of Homiletics because of the arrival of my nephew Sam on Monday. (Not that I'm complaining - and here's another fabulous picture of him, by the way.) I missed both Barbara Brown Taylor and Walter Brueggemann, among others, which was too bad - I've heard Barbara Brown Taylor - back in 2001 at a gathering of ministry fellows through The Fund for Theological Education (where I also heard Fred Craddock). I've only read Brueggemann. Oh well.

The first thing I was in time to hear? A concert given by four singer/songwriters. I hadn't heard of any of them, and that's because they are primarily successful as songwriters - those who crafted the tunes that we know and love for other artists. We heard Marcus Hummon, Allen Shamblin, Kyle Matthews, and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Hummon, for example, wrote "God Bless the Broken Road," also "Ready to Run" for the Dixie Chicks, and Shamblin wrote one of my favorite songs ever, Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me."

What a perfect first event to attend. The music was so excellent, moving, relaxing, mellowing, reflective. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed hearing about the writing process, the courage it took for them to move to Nashville to pursue their dreams, what it is like to have others sings your songs and be famous for them. I enjoyed the way they seemed to respect each other, and how they worked together and improvised with each other. They shared how they saw their faith expressed in their music - sermons in words. Hummon is married to a clergywoman, and I especially like this song of his, "Stand Up (Song for Jesus)":

You’re battered and blue
He drinks and you pray
You cringe in the corner
But you're still in his way
You oughtta run like hell
But you always stay...
Stand up Stand up
You're out on the street
And you're only fifteen
You oughtta be dancin'
Bright homecoming queen
But you sleep in the alley
And you cry in your dreams...
Stand up Stand up
You learn to speak English
So you can explain
That you need the job
For the money to pay
To bring a hungry family
'Cross the border someday
To this town and these streets
That your ancestors paved, Oh...
Stand up Stand up
Now, I know a poor man
from an occupied nation
He was trained as a carpenter
But he lost all his patience for it
He believed that the truth
Was the chosen vocation
Still they hung him like a criminal
Despite the adoration
Of the invisible masses
Who forgetting their station
Believed in a God
Who loves all creation...
Stand up Stand up...

I had a great week in Nashville - I have many more sets of reflections to come. But I also just enjoyed being in Nashville. I've been to Nashville for meetings before, but this was the first time I actually got to just be in Nashville and walk around and see things. I really got a better sense for the community of artists and musicians struggling and/or succeeding in the industry. I like the city. Still couldn't ever see myself living in the South, but maybe if I did, it would be in Nashville.

Lots more to come...

OK - and one (two!) more picture(s) of Sam (with me, self-portrait, courtesy my cell phone).


Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'm an Aunt!

I'm an aunt! My brother, jockeystreet, is a father. My nephew, Samuel Allen Thompson, was born at 5:24pm on Monday, May 21st. He weighs 8lbs, 14oz. And, of course, he is perfect and gorgeous. Monday was a long day, and he gave his mom a hard time, but everybody is in good shape and safe and sound. We're already a very close family, and this has been an awesome event for all of us. My mother, a new grandmother, is just ecstatic, and looks at pictures of Sam constantly (if she can't actually be with Sam.)

I'm currently in Nashville at the Festival of Homiletics, having a fantastic time, which I will blog about eventually. I've seen Jay and Gavin, and hopefully I will eventually get my act together to find some RevGals - I came in a day late because of Sam's birth, and have been playing catch up since, but everything here has been wonderfully worth it too.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Alas!

Alas, my computer has died. The hard drive was making terrible noises this week, always a bad sign, and it seems nothing can be done to save it. Having previously had an issue with my laptop, I've been better about backing up files, but I still lost about the last 15 files I had worked on, and about 25 emails or so that I had downloaded but not yet responded to. Ugh!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Global Church?

Methobloggers who keep up with United Methodist New Service (UMNS) articles probably at least glanced at this article: "Plan would pave way for U.S. regional conference." The article highlights a proposal discussed at the Council of Bishops meeting last month which would allow the United States to become a regional conference like the other non-US conferences in the United Methodist Church. (The proposal also would change "central conferences," the current language, to "regional conferences," which is both more specific and has less historically negative connotations in the denomination.)

Some excerpts from the article -

"'We believe God needs a church that is more fully ready for worldwide mission and ministry,' [Bishop Ann] Sherer said. The proposed changes would equip the church 'to do the mission in ministry to which God calls us,' she said.

. . . Legislation being forwarded to the 2008 General Conference requests the task force and the Connectional Table to jointly continue their study of the church's worldwide nature and report to the 2012 legislative assembly on the church's characteristics and how the United States could become a regional conference while retaining its current jurisdictional composition.

Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central and Southern Europe Area said the proposal to make the United States a regional conference 'gives possibility to separate U.S. business from the church worldwide' at General Conference. 'Part of the church outside the U.S. is 30 percent, and it is just not possible to continue General Conference as we have.'

The report, which urges Christians to be 'a counter culture,' says that the U.S. influence in churchwide governance, as evident in the Book of Resolutions, is damaging to the church both inside and outside the United States. 'It disempowers central conferences from being fully actualized within the body and allows the church in the United States to escape responsibility from dealing with its internal issues.'

The proposal does not change the number, purpose and function of jurisdictional conferences; the way bishops are elected or assigned; the purpose or mission of any churchwide agency; the size or power of General Conference; the way the Social Principles are decided upon or amended; or the apportionment formulas and allocations, [Bishop Scott] Jones said."

If you attended General Conference in 2000, you might remember the Connectional Process Team report (CPT), which made, in part, a similar proposal to make the US a regional conference. The report was basically stripped of any legislative power at GC 2000, and then passed through just with the vague recommendations about the future direction of the church. I remember feeling at the time that the CPT report was asking too much too dramatic change, and I was not in favor of it. But seven years later, I read this article and think that the US becoming a regional conference is exactly what we need to do.

The article mentions the Book of Resolutions and the US-centric nature of the resolutions. This is something that we've struggled with both in the Book of Resolutions Task Force and at General Board of Church and Society meetings. At GBCS meetings, we talk about the US-centric nature of the resolutions, and in the past few years in particular, we've tried to be more careful about how we write resolutions. If a resolution is really meant to be for United Methodists across the globe, we take out US-specific language. But of course, all resolutions can't be stripped of US language, since some of them deal with things specific to this country, just as some deal with issues specific to other countries. The issue is the balance - country specific resolutions are OK, but the vast majority are US-specific.

What to do? Water down resolutions and take specificity out of them? Images of my college Greek professor Dr. Lateiner spring to mind - he actually had a stamper with big red lettering - BE SPECIFIC!

Couple these issues with the growing church outside of the US, and with issues being raised about General Conference membership and how new countries bring their churches into the UMC fold, and I think you've got some strong motivation for making these changes. What's more, isn't it simply fair? Ethical? How can we be a global church if one country is clearly in control? This is a power issue. Are we in the US willing to share power? If not, why not? What do you think? What are the ups and downs and rights and wrongs of the US becoming a regional conference?

*Image: Bishop Patrick Streiff, of the Central and Southern Europe Area, asks a question about the Global Nature of the Church report. The report proposes four changes to the United Methodist constitution that would pave the way for the church in the United States to be a regional body, on par with the Central Conferences outside the United States. The report was discussed during the Council of Bishops meeting April 29-May 4 in Springmaid Beach, S.C. A UMNS photo by Linda Green. Photo # 070476. Accompanies UMNS story #242. 5/10/07.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Was Jesus a Pastor?

Was Jesus a pastor? (Pastoral identity is on my mind these days.) Yes? No?

How? How not?

If not, what was Jesus' primary function/modus operandi? (Besides, say, Messiah...) Teacher? Rabble-rouser?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Hardest Thing in Ministry

There are many things that are hard about being a pastor. Meetings, funerals, conflicts, whatever. But I think I know the hardest, at least what has been the hardest for me so far: telling your congregation, who you love, that you've received a new appointment.

On September 1st, I will become the pastor of Franklin Lakes United Methodist Church in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, a cross-conference appointment (as opposed to a change of membership). My appointment was announced today both here at St. Paul's and in Franklin Lakes, and announcing this change was one of the harder things I've had to do in ministry (life!) so far. St. Paul's has been such a warm congregation in these last four years, and the people have been so extremely supportive during my probationary period, and so ready to share in celebration with me when I was ordained. I couldn't imagine loving a congregation like I loved the congregation I grew up in, but the people at St. Paul's became my people and my congregation.

I'm excited about my move to Franklin Lakes. Bishop Devadhar comes from my annual conference, and I was honored that he thought of me for an appointment - but also surprised! I wasn't expecting to move this year - most appointments have already been announced, and I was pretty sure that I would be here another year. Yesterday I met with folks from Franklin Lakes, and I'm excited about their sense of vision, and their willingness to try new things to be disciples and make disciples. And Franklin Lakes is about thirty minutes from Drew. I eventually hope to pursue a doctoral degree, so I'm excited about being close to Drew when that time comes. And I think that this appointment is a gift from God put right into my lap. As my mother would say: how much sense would it make to say, "No thanks, God, I don't want this gift?"

Emotionally drained, and full of hope and expectation.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Review: Liz Lerman Dance Project - Ferocious Beauty: Genome

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the chance on a free evening during my GBCS meeting to attend a dance performance. I love dance. And every time I'm in DC, I try to see the Washington Ballet, but they are always between shows. This time around, the situation was the same, but I did discover that it was "Dance is the Answer" week in DC, which meant that there were several options related to dance.

I went to see a production from the Liz Lerman Dance Project called Ferocious Beauty: Genome. I thought it was pretty cool, and certainly one of the most unique dance productions I've been to. I have been having a hard time summarizing the performance, so here's an excerpt from the company website:

"Genetic research raises prospects that previous generations may scarcely have imagined: of prolonging life and maintaining youth indefinitely, of replicating an individual, of choosing the bodies and brains of our children, and of creating new species to feed and serve us. How we heal, age, procreate, and eat may all be altered in the next years by scientific research happening right now.

In Ferocious Beauty: Genome Liz Lerman Dance Exchange explores the current historic moment of revelation and questioning in genetic research. Under the artistic direction of choreographer Liz Lerman the subject is represented through a plurality of viewpoints, mirroring a dialogue among multiple voices -- artistic, scientific, and scholarly -- in all their varied perspectives."

The production was quite unique - the dancers were of different ages - some older than the typical company with all 20/30-something dancers - there were two dancers (out of 8?) who were gray-haired, and they impressively kept up with their younger company members. There was also one dancer, a local woman named Suzanne Richard (according to this Washington Post review), who has a genetic bone condition, and she used a combination of wheelchair and crutches to dance.

The production was also unique because it included a lot of spoken word - the dancers would occasionally narrate segments/vignettes. For example, when Richard first took the stage, the dance was narrated by a dancer talking about how there used to be so many types of apples, but that they have disappeared, in exchange for the perfect but less tasty Red Delicious.

Especially cool, I thought, was the incorporation of interviews with scientists into the pieces, with a large screen at the back of the stage showing different geneticists, biologists, etc., responding to questions - what is DNA? What does DNA look like? What are genes? And in one especially great segment, the scientists tried to describe what all this would look like in a dance, as the dancers on stage literally played out the words from the interviews. This was not too much of a stretch, when you consider that genetic language actually includes phrases like "hormone drift" and "genetic shuffle."

The whole production was funny and serious, educational and whimsical, and a thought-provoking mix. And I do love dance - the way dancers can use the human body in artistic expression is always amazing to me. Would that I could dance in my 20s as some of these dancers are in their 50s and 60s. Anyway, the company seems like they consistently do unique things - they have dance classes geared for those over 50, for at-risk teens, and for "artists-as-activists", so next time you are in the DC area, you might want to check them out.

Friday, May 04, 2007

General Board of Church and Society Spring Meeting - Reflections, Part 2

More thoughts/reflections from my Spring General Board of Church and Society Meeting:

One of the highlights of my time at GBCS meetings is time spent in my work area, Environmental and Economic Justice. Environmental justice has been a love of my since childhood (even though I am usually a better studier of such issues than practitioner), and economic justice has really become a passion in the last few years. This meeting, we got to hear some excellent speakers talk with us about worker justice. Methodism has had an emphasis on worker rights for a long time - Methodists were leaders in the workers' rights movement in the early 1900s. This is reflected in the 1908 Social Creed of the Methodist Episcopal Church:
The Methodist Episcopal Church stands:
For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life.
For a release for [from] employment one day in seven.
For a living wage in every industry.
For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.


Personally, I am really proud of having that as our Social Creed 99 years ago - we were already advocating for a living wage! That is impressive.

Anyway, we heard a panel of speakers give us a lot of information about the workers' rights movement today. Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, started us out by highlighting biblical texts that theologically ground worker justice efforts, such as the creation story of Genesis (a day of rest) and the Exodus narrative (people rebelling, in part, against intolerable working conditions). Kim highlighted seven areas of crisis related to worker justice:

1) Not enough jobs – for young people, for those who have been imprisoned, for those without higher education, etc.

2) Lack of living wage – ½ of all new jobs being created are ‘poverty zone’ jobs – below, at, or just above poverty level. Almost 47% of workers are in jobs that require a high school diploma or less. Currently greatest income disparity in the nation since 1929.

3) Benefits – the ability to get health care is tied to jobs. A declining number of workers have any pension at all. Lack of paid family leave, vacation, sick leave. 46% of low-wage working parents have no paid leave time.

4) Rights of workers to organize in the workplace – 1 out of 10 workers who tries to organize a union gets fired. Fear by workers that those on strike will be permanently replaced (US is only industrialized nation that does this.)

5) Immigration – no “rational” path to citizenship available. Undocumented workers – their poor working conditions also drive down wages for other workers.

6) Wage ‘thievery’ – major industries that cheat workers of their wages – not paying minimum wage, overtime, etc.

7) Crisis of leadership in the Department of Labor. Complaint-driven approach to enforcement instead of a targeted-investigation approach.

Kim also talked about the positive happenings in the worker justice movement in response to each of these different areas: increase in minimum wage (ideally 50% of what the average wage is) and passing of living wage ordinances, increased focus/movement on health care, legislation introduced in multiple places supporting better paid sick leave benefits, simply supporting with presence those who are trying to organize/unionize, congregations providing sanctuary for immigrants, centers that help workers recover wages. Kim was an excellent speaker - very clear, specific, and interesting.

Virginia Nesmith from the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) also spoke to us. She talked about farm workers and how labor laws protecting other workers don’t cover farm workers in the same way. She described how contracts for workers free workers from fear, enable them to raise matters of concern about the workplace, while at the same time keeping absenteeism and sickness rates down. Virginia emphasized the importance of local faith communities making connections with workers – hospitality, relationships, support, outreach – in areas where there will be increasing number of farm workers, especially farm workers from outside the US. She told us that the boycotts and other actions we take as a board have a direct impact on the well-being of farm workers, and that when labor issues arise we must respond quickly. Also, Alexandria Jones, an intern in the North Carolina office of the NFWM played a game with us to educate us about farm workers, where we learned, for example, that you can legally be employed at a farm worker at age 12(!!)

As I also mentioned in my last post, I got the chance to worship at Foundry UMC. A particular treat in the worship service was that the music was entirely led by guest artists - a jazz quartet - Stanley Thurston and ensemble. They were terrific, and added so much to the worship. Everyone was swaying in their seats! What a unique experience.

Dean Snyder preached on Romans 8:26-30, particularly the 28th verse - "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." He preached a sermon titled, "Hope . . . Even for the Past - Redeeming our Pasts," part of a series on hope. Dean talked about people who see silver linings everywhere. The Bible, he said, is more realistic - talks about the things that are "truly tragic" - but the Bible also always reminds us that the truly tragic is not ultimate - no evil is so dark that God cannot turn it into a situation of hope. Dean played around with the sentence structure of verse 28, paraphrasing "God works/cooperates together in all things with those called . . . for good." I like that. Dean shared part of a poem by David Ray, "Thanks, Robert Frost": "Do you have a hope for the future? Someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end. Yes, and even for the past, he replied, that it will turn out to have been all right[.]" Dean talked about trying to make good out of our sins and the sins of others. He talked about feeling guilty about fewer things the older he gets, because he is no longer guilty for things he should never have felt guilty about in the first place, or he is appreciate of guilt that made him feel humble, or more tolerant of others. But, he said, the guilt he still feels is guilt about things he has failed to do. Actually, you can read the whole sermon right here. Good stuff.

Well, I have just one more set of reflections - a review of the dance performance I got to see on my evening off. But that's for tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

General Board of Church and Society Spring Meeting - Reflections, Part 1

I'm back from DC. As usual, I had a great time at my General Board of Church and Society meeting. I always enjoy my trips - I usually get to spend time with my college roommate, who lives in Annapolis, and her husband (who lived across the hall from us at OWU), I get to enjoy DC and walk around the city, and enjoy the weather (the leaves are out in DC - not quite there yet in Central New York!), I try to take in a show/performance if I have time free, and I just thoroughly enjoy being involved in the work of GBCS and the social justice advocacy that GBCS engages in.

Worship is always a highlight of these meetings. I enjoy getting to know other board members better, and hearing them preach and watching them lead worship always tells me something more about who they are. Margie Briggs, a lay woman from from the Missouri Annual Conference, preached at our opening worship, and she was just excellent. Preaching on James 2:5-26, she talked about her grandmother's theology, which she called "Mousetrap Theology" - if it affects one of God's children, it affects all of God's children. She talked about learning as a child that "God expects something from me," and the importance of teaching that to our children, to everyone. She also told a story of reading through her grandmother's Bible, and seeing near many challenging passages four letters - JTMH. Everywhere there was a challenging command from Jesus - to love neighbors, to follow, to take up the cross, to remove the plank from the eye, to give up possessions - she would see the letters JTMH. Finally, Margie found the original place her grandmother wrote the phrase in full: "Jesus, Teach Me How." Indeed!

Jim Winkler gave his General Secretary's report - he talked about the focus of his time as General Secretary, which he laid out when he first started, and which is laid out in the Book of Discipline: 1) Connecting GBCS to local churches/communities 2) Joining together justice and mercy 3) Implementing the Social Principles (I have yet to get the full text of his address, so these comments are from my scribbled notes. I'll link to the full address later on. Jim talked about what we treasure in a series of compelling if/then statements - "If we treasure only our own security, then ____" The verse from Matthew about our heart being wherever what we treasure is is one of my favorites. He asked himself/us, "Do we really seek to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?" And he highlighted the four areas of focus (PDF document) that boards/agencies will together seek to emphasize in the UMC: Leadership development, congregational development, ministry with the poor, and global health.

Dr. Mickey Morgan, a district superintendent in the North Alabama Conference, preached on Saturday morning (confession: I missed worship on Friday morning. I'm a delinquent. And a night-owl.) He asked us, "Do we trust Jesus to be right about everything?" He challenged us, saying that we say that we do, but that our actions suggest otherwise. "Our silence is a way we participate in the hatred we see," he said.

Sunday morning I had the pleasure to worship again at Foundry UMC, and to again confirm that Dean Snyder is alive and well. I really enjoyed this service, but I will write more about that in my next post, when I have my bulletin and notes handy... I'll also tell you more about our legislative committees and the work part of our meeting ;)