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Spiritual tinkering: good or bad?

We’ve been having a stimulating conversation at the campus ministry summer institute at Candler School of Theology about the nature of young adult spirituality. Part of the presentation described many millennial young adults as “spiritual tinkerers,” a phrase which had a slightly pejorative edge to it and rubbed some people in the room the wrong way. The implicit critique in this phrase is that you need to make up your mind whether you’re “in” or “out” instead of just dabbling. Are you going to submit to another person or institution’s authority completely or are you appropriating pieces of a thought-system for your own personal agenda? I know that I myself am definitely a spiritual tinkerer. I tinker in all sorts of things: fasting, taking Roman Catholic communion illegally, praying in other languages, using physical objects as prayer tools, walking labyrinths. And yet I don’t think I’m just being a navel-gazing, perpetually adolescent dilettante when I engage in these practices rather than just adopting a single tradition that I embrace completely. So I wanted to ponder what kind of tinkering is healthy and should be encouraged and what aspects of it do we need to call people away from when we’re discipling them.

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When you troll me, you get unfriended

One of the things that grieves me about the social media era is the way that we cordon ourselves off into ideological echo chambers where we don’t have to interact with anyone from the other side. I think this is a real tragedy and I’m very passionate about not living that way. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I’m a progressive who needs conservatives around as conversation partners. That being said, I’m done with trolls. If you troll me, you’re going to get unfriended, which is what happened recently when someone who took exception to my last post about carrying the rainbow flag at the Virginia conference expressed himself in a trollish way.

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The two women who got me to carry the rainbow flag

Despite the fact that I’ve been pretty vocal on my blog about LGBT issues, I haven’t been fully “out” as an ally in my face-to-face interactions with my congregation and other clergy, though it’s probably been very silly to think I can somehow separate the two worlds. Today represented somewhat of a milestone in that regard. Two years ago, when the rainbow people held communion outside of the annual conference, I had a very brief and nervous conversation with one of them whom I knew but didn’t stick around. This year, I decided to go to the annual rainbow people communion service. I left the conference a little early to get there, and immediately a woman volunteered me to take a giant rainbow fish flag back into the convention center and hold it up prominently as everybody was exiting so those who wanted to come would know where to go. I’m sorry to admit that I was a little nervous terrified about the facial expressions I would encounter in my fellow clergy who hadn’t yet identified me as one of “those” people. I’ve still got a lot further to walk in my journey. But one thing that was really cool about the communion service was that two women were there with whom I had a very significant conversation three and a half years ago that began my journey of un-closeting myself as an LGBT supporter. So I got a photo with them.

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#VAUMC14: We voted for real conversation about sexuality; that means the onus is on us to have it!

Yesterday, my colleague Tom Berlin put forward a motion to postpone the resolution that had been put forward to change the United Methodist Discipline‘s language on homosexuality so that we could have a year of dialogue as a conference about sexuality as proposed by our bishop. I imagine that there were some people in the room who felt quite betrayed by this motion (which I not only supported but encouraged Tom beforehand to propose). A woman stood up to say that justice delayed is justice denied. That perspective makes sense to me. When Tom’s motion passed and there was a loud applause, it made me wince. Because I thought how many LGBT people in the room hear that applause as a negation of them. I wasn’t sure how many people were applauding what they thought was a decision not to talk about that ugly, divisive topic for another year, which is the opposite of what Tom and I are hoping will happen. So the onus is now on those of us who have been concerned about the real possibility of schism to make sure that these conversations really do happen and are well-attended.

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#VAUMC14: Connection — institution vs reality

Part of our annual conference program each year involves a teaching study led by a seminary professor. This year we have Dr. Elmer Colyer of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa. Colyer gave a provocative presentation this morning on what the Methodist buzzword “connection” should mean for us. He said that the real underlying problem the United Methodist church faces in all of our conflicts is not a lack of discipline, but a lack of connection, because discipline is only effective within the organic context of authentic connection. I absolutely agree. Continue Reading

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The Virginia Conference talks about sexuality

Like many annual conferences of the United Methodist Church, the Virginia Conference is considering a resolution to change the language in the Book of Discipline about homosexuality. In an effort to have a better conversation than convention hall speeches, about 300 of us gathered last night to listen to representatives from each side give speeches and then split up into groups of 8 to share our convictions and stories with each other. Our conversation gave me a lot of hope in a time when we need more hope as United Methodists, so I wanted to share my observations from it.

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What does a safe and fruitful church conversation about sexuality look like?

The Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church will be meeting next weekend in Hampton, Virginia. Among our business is a resolution to recommend omitting the Book of Discipline language around homosexuality. I’ve been dreading the series of angry speeches that will take place in an environment in which it’s impossible for authentic prayerful dialogue to occur. My colleague Tom Berlin has proposed that in lieu of the annual predictable polarizing legislative battle, we try to have some real conversations in our congregations about sexuality with a fair representation of all perspectives. Though I have been open about my desire for the Book of Discipline to change, what I most want is for United Methodists to actually listen to God together and follow the Holy Spirit’s lead instead of organizing into factions and lobbing accusations back and forth. So I wanted to start a conversation about how to have a safe and fruitful conversation, hoping that my loving gracious readers will provide the correction and refinement that my ignorance and privilege require. Continue Reading

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Pentecost: God’s rebellion (#sermon #podcast)

This past Sunday, I preached about the way that Pentecost represents God’s rebellion against his people’s expectations, which I also blogged about earlier in the week. The miraculous sign of speaking in tongues in Acts 2 ends up becoming the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work among the Gentiles in Acts 10 which ultimately allows for Gentiles to be incorporated into the body of Christ without first becoming Jews in Acts 15. There are three things we see about God’s rebellion against the religious insiders in the Acts 2 text about Pentecost: 1) It is easily ridiculed. 2) It comes from the bottom, not the top. 3) It has the goal of reconciling all people. Audio for the sermon below. Please sign up for the podcast!

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The gospel of the freedom to be wrong

God wants us to be family. That is how I understand the purpose of Jesus’ cross and resurrection and the Holy Spirit’s mission to make us holy. I don’t believe that God is allergic to sin. I don’t believe that God has a “glory” he is obligated to worry about which is somehow at odds with his desire to bring every human being as deeply into his arms as we will allow. God’s glory is his family. I don’t believe that we need to be saved from God’s perfectionism or God’s wrath. What we need to be saved from is our sin, and most specifically our tendency to justify sin, which imprisons us and warps our ability to perceive reality correctly. It is this self-justification which makes us hate God and experience his intimate love as the wrathful torture of hell. The great gift that forms the foundation of Christian life is the freedom to be wrong, which we gain through accepting the mercy of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Without that freedom, no matter what prayer we’ve prayed or how perfectly our actions conform to the teachings of scripture, we remain unsaved. Continue Reading

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Pentecost: when God rebels against her handlers

Yes, I said her. But on Pentecost you can do that. Jesus calls the one who sent him Father. Obviously, Jesus was a dude himself. But the Holy Spirit is at most gender-neutral and at best gender-bending, because the Holy Spirit makes both men and women prophesy, as Peter controversially declares on Pentecost. So God the Spirit can be “he” or “she,” even if you object to putting a “she” on God the Father or God the Son. This genderqueer Spirit has messed with God’s people throughout history in a continual rebellion against all the men (and rare women) who have tried since the time of Constantine to make God into the justifying puppet of their empires. Because God is invisible, it’s very easy to do that. It’s very easy to project a God who’s mad as hell about everybody else’s sin and happens to consider whatever lifestyle comes naturally to you to be the epitome of holiness. Pentecost is God’s rebellion against people who do that. Continue Reading