Of Hypocrites and Judges

Bill Maher makes a good case for the idea that Christians are judgmental hypocrites. I know it is a good case because so many people use it as the basis for their relationship to the church. It is the reason many people I know who used to go to church don’t anymore. The argument is plastered between the lines of Pew Research Polls, and even ordained Elders in the United Methodist Church find themselves on the ropes defending congregations whose attitudes towards the poor, the disreputable, and the criminal better line up with the attitudes of the Economy than they do with Paul (Romans 2).

On the one hand we Christians publicly denounce Muslims such as Malala Yousafzai and Eboo Patel as violent people who adhere to a violent religion, while on the other we are more supportive of torture as a tool of national security than non-religious people. We proclaim an ethic of life while supporting church policies that shame people into closets, prisons, and suicide because we can’t wrap our prudish minds around intimacies that are not our own.

Hypocrisy really is not too difficult to prove.

But what about the judgmental part?

Over the course of our history, The United Methodist Church has made headlines while wrangling whether we are guilty of heterosexism or guilty of failing to sanctify sexual sin. We have held trials, requested declaratory rulings from our Judicial Council, and processed a variety of complaints in attempts at what we call “just resolutions.” People in these processes are accompanied by counsel and, in the case of trials, there are even juries and rulings by precedent. While members of the church swing widely between those who want to see church law evenly applied and upheld and those who believe some laws are unjust and must be confronted with civil disobedience, the whole of the church seems to believe deeply in the rule of law.

Our whole method of accountability is built on judgment.

The Rev. Anna Blaedel here in Iowa is undergoing just such a process of official judgment. A few months ago, some people here in Iowa decided they had to “complain” about Reverend Blaedel, and our Bishop, Julius Trimble, decided that complaint had merit. I presume the complaint was made and received because there are a couple of sentences in our book of church law that say Anna Blaedel, an out, partnered, queer clergyperson, is incapable of bearing fruit, of shining Christ, of discipling others, or of being entrusted to care for the souls of those people the denomination appoints under their charge.

Which is all well in good, except that those statements are demonstrably false. Whether or not our book says they can, I have witnessed Anna Blaedel balming broken souls. Whether or not our book says they can, I have witnessed Anna Blaedel’s teaching inspire others to commit to a life in Christ. Whether or not our book says they can, I have experienced the passage of Grace through Anna Blaedel’s hands into my own flagging spirit and faith.

The Reverend Anna Blaedel is one of those rare, shining souls whose very presence breathes peace and wholeness. They live a life of faithful dedication and unwavering discipline. They exude Holy Spirit. I knew Anna by name before I ever met them. I knew they were brave, kind, compassionate, authentic, deliberate and special simply by the ripples they left in their wake; from their parents, from my husband, from the children at Collegiate United Methodist Church in Ames, from members of the Osage First United Methodist Church. Over and over and over again, Anna is described as a “beautiful” soul, and that soul ignites and rekindles faith, hope, love, joy, compassion, peacefulness, patience, generosity and kindness in others.

What is that if not fruit? What is that if not ministry? What is that if not a God-given Gift, and what does it mean that the United Methodist Church wants to cast that Giftedness out of its circles?

Bill Maher would say it means we are judgmental hypocrites.

But you know what? Finally, I don’t think it is that we are judgmental, even if we are hypocrites. I think it is that we fear Judgment. People who are filled with faith and the Holy Spirit shine on us, and in that shining, our own meannesses and cruelties become visible. What we thought was our loving is shown to be conditional contracts where we exchange power and control. What we thought was our generosity is shown to be mere grudging pity. What we thought was our hopefulness is a thin veneer of sentiment layered over fear.

It is their shining that exposes our nakedness and it is our own flawed relationship with Christ that has us cowering in fear. John said it,

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (NASB)

And later,

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (NIV)

In many ways, the whole of John’s Gospel spins the story of how desperate people are to escape that Light, to stay out of its beam. So desperate they took their hammers and nails and saws and baseball bats to tear it down and smash it to bits. What makes us think we are any different than those people in John’s Gospel? What makes us think we are immune to the fear? That we are ready and able and happy to stand in Christ’s Shining?

I don’t think it is in judgment that we are casting out our Anna Blaedels. I do not think we are even doing it because we actually deem them unworthy. I think we are casting them out because we deem ourselves unworthy. We do not hate them because we see some kind of darkness in their living. We hate them because we cast shadows in their light.

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Dear Church

Church, if we just decided to be The Church, there is so much WORLD to which we could be attending*

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we don’t want to.

Instead, we want members. We want people to come to our church events. We want people to like our linoleum and our pastors. We want to entertain, sustain, enliven, and energize public crowds, but we are not as good at that as are the stadiums, restaurants, dance clubs, and farmer’s markets. Instead what we want is a secure compound with a secret tunnel into Heaven for the day the zombie hordes finally breach the wall. Except, we aren’t very good at administering that, either.

You know what we are good at, though?

Theology.

Hugs and empathy in a world which celebrates toughness and stoicism.

Preparing and sharing food in ways which make everyone feel like a friend.

Talking about the dead, and holding hands with the dying. The worst experience in the world is a death devoid of meaning and a funeral among people without a faith.

Being friends with murderers. Don’t believe me? Read about United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, and Jürgen Moltmann .

Feeding strangers-even the dirty, crazy, lazy, unworthy ones.

Communion.

Entrusting the management of our organization to the hands of just about anybody who comes through our doors.

Honoring sheep.

And what resources do we have to help us offer these gifts to our neighborhoods and communities?

Houses and churches-empty or underused spaces which we can employ free of charge; and they are in every town in Iowa. Some of them were even built where there is not a town.

If we could wrap our heads around it, we have a shared bank account with tens, hundreds, thousands, and through the Connection, millions of other people. (This in a culture which rewards people that hoard, hide, and password protect every possible resource they can get their hands on.)

Families that are not related by blood-we have cousins, grandparents, children, parents, and siblings to spare.

Oodles of people with time, flexible schedules, and unique life experiences who can bridge the space between faith communities and their local School Boards, Chambers of Commerce, Housing Authorities, Hospital Administrations, Parent-Teachers’ Associations, Insurance Companies, Retail Stores and Sports Booster Clubs.

Hands on opportunities for people to gain experience in:

Fine Arts, Business Administration, Volunteer Management, Computer Literacy, Grant Writing, Journalism, Audio/Visual Technology, Public Speaking, Financial Management, Web Design, Systems and Information Technology, Spreadsheets, Wood Working, Plumbing, Electrical, Auto Mechanics, Nursing, Meeting Management and Facilitation, History, Humanities, Social Studies, Biology, Food Science, Event Planning, Hospitality, International Relations, Cultural Exchange . . . 

A story that always ends with a Beginning.

The world has issues. The world has problems. The world has patriotism, politics, and Oscar nominations to worry about.

You know what we have? We have the memory of God. And that memory, that reminder of who and whose we are, it has the power to do nothing less than transform the world. What would you rather spend your time attending to?

An Open Letter to the Design Task Force

To: The members of the Conference Design Task Force
From: Rev. Scott Grotewold, Collegiate UMC & Wesley Foundation, Ames
Re: The Information Sharing and Gathering (“Town Hall”) Meetings

Dear Friends:

It was with great interest that I attended a couple of the Town Hall meetings scheduled by Conference Treasurer Terry Montgomery and including a presentation by the Conference Design Task Force. One of these meetings was held at Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation in Ames (where I serve) on the evening of December 16. About seventy people from the congregation were in attendance, attesting to their understanding of the meeting’s importance with
regards to possible proposals impacting the future of our Conference. . . . (Read More)

What Gift Can I Bring?

There is a United Methodist Spiritual Gifts Assessment online at www.umc.org. If you are interested in taking it, you can click here—> SGA

I took that assessment, and I was intrigued by many of the options. In particular were the options for section 8 which is about how I respond “when faced with human need.”I couldn’t actually find an option that fit. I had to choose something which was “most like” me, rather than one which really expressed what action I am motivated to take when faced with human need.

When faced with human need, I am motivated by my baptismal covenant to “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.” This motivation is what lands me in the part of our faith tradition which supports women’s equal status and pay, a living wage for workers, and a stance for equal access for all God’s people to clean water, shelter, nourishing food, an education and healthcare.

It is this motivation which leads me to support the efforts of our church in Iowa to host events such as The United Methodist Advocacy Day on Tuesday, February 17th.

To participation in events like United in Christ Across our Differences:

 “Celebrating differences of race and gender in the Iowa Annual Conference and examining the way systemic oppression of women & minorities lives with us and how we can unlearn old ways of thinking, speaking & acting. To embrace new ways of being together as Brothers & Sisters in Christ”

Or to promoting opportunities to think creatively about how we live in creation such as Creation Celebration and Garden to Garden.

And when conversations, commissions and advocacy fail, it is the motivation that underscores my belief in civil disobedience-in the responsibility of the people to resist unjust laws and to refuse to participate in them as far as they are able.

When faced with human need, I am not so much a starfish saver or the EMT at the bottom of the cliff. Instead, I tend to wonder what led that starfish to get stranded, or who it was at the top of the cliff that pushed my sister over.

I am not sure what that Spiritual gift is, and I am still puzzling at its absence from the assessment because it is not absent from scripture. It is not absent from the life and teachings of Jesus. It is not even absent from the acts of the apostles in building the early Christian movement. What’s more, it is an integral part of the Methodist movement-in our histories and traditions across the Methodist spectrum.

 

 

 

 

A little bit about my journey.

I remember the day I first started to question things. I was in KMart with my mom and I didn’t really know how to approach the subject. I knew how I felt, I knew what society and most religions thought, and I was pretty sure I knew what she thought… but how could I just say it? How could I just break the silence? I think we both knew, but we had never really talked about it. So I figured the best thing to do was put it out in the open. I took a deep breath and spoke the words that had been weighing on my heart: “Mom, What does the Methodist Church say about homosexuality?

My mother didn’t know the answer. She, and I, like many other heterosexual church goers hadn’t ever had a reason to ask. And sadly, my church had never felt the need to tell. Honestly, I hadn’t ever even considered sexuality to be the concern of religion until I started hearing terrible things in the news. It was one of those things where I assumed everyone else thought the same way I did. I assumed a religion who talks about loving one another would not put limitations on that love.

Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I started asking around and discovered that the Methodist Church was not accepting of homosexuality. As I learned this about my church I also learned something about myself; I was enraged! I realized that I had to do something about this. I realized that I had to “come out” as an ally.

I am Courtney and I believe in equal rights for everyone no matter their sexual

orientation or gender identity.

I started having conversations with friends, family, and coworkers. I may have over compensated in the beginning with an “If you don’t love gay people then I hate you!” I was in my teens after all. I started to grow in patience and realized that there was more to advocating for inclusion than arguing.

A big step to me realizing this was the first time I attended the Iowa Annual Conference as a page. I entered HyVee hall as a high school senior not having a clue what to expect. Once again my mind was blown when I heard hate, bigotry, and hurtful arguments from people who claimed to follow Jesus. That first legislative session i had to take a break from passing notes. I escaped to the nearest restroom and took a moment to myself to consider what I was doing in a relationship with a church who held such hatred. Thankfully I was rescued from this despair by a pair of older women delegates who started up some small talk with me. Their words were simple, something along the lines of “We need more young people like you!” but they were enough. I think this is the moment I realized why I had been encouraged to be a page; to see the truth.

I am  Courtney and I believe that the United Methodist Church

needs to change.

I have continued to attend Annual Conference; I have been a voting member of the body three times and I have had to take several more mental breaks during legislative sessions. I have learned to use my frustrations as teaching moments for those who will listen. Everyone I know was probably sick of hearing about Annual Conference last year, but this is how change happens; people must first identify the problem. So I made sure everyone knew the problem I was seeing. I have debated sexuality amongst friends, strangers, and coworkers. I have told anyone who will listen about the strife that the Methodist church is struggling with. I have experienced such joy when hearing of states approving same-sex marriage, and then been torn down by backlash. To me, being an advocate for inclusion within the church is not just saying that I am accepting, but living every day as an example of acceptance. Even more, I think that being accepting myself is not enough! I am called to seek out change and foster acceptance in others. We are all called to do this. We are all empowered to do this. Are YOU doing this?

 We are the people of the United Methodist Church and we need to believe in equal rights for everyone no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are the people of the United Methodist Church and we need to change.

B & A

Among the many assets the United Methodist Church has are a number of what we like to call Boards and Agencies. Yet, often, the conversation is not one about how the Boards and Agencies are assets, but how they are unnecessary baggage.

Image

I think one of the ways we can turn that perception is to stop thinking that our Boards and Agencies are objects, and start acknowledging that they are actually groups of people.  They are laypersons and clergy.  They are, for the most part, volunteers, and they are fellow United Methodists. They are nominated to serve out of every district in the state, and they come with a variety of gifts and passions. They step up and give from their own unique faith journeys, and they act out of their own expressions of the deep love they have for God, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, the church, humanity, and the world.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of those groups of people: the Iowa Board of Church and Society. This group of people has been asked by you and me, members of the Iowa Annual Conference, to hold us accountable to the resolutions we pass at Annual Conference.They are also responsible to help educate, support and develop United Methodist ministries and disciples through the lens of the United Methodist Social Principles.

Their names are Brian Carter, Cherie Miner, Jim Posz, Taylor Gould, Mark Young, Paul Linn, Sarah Rohret, and Jane Edwards. They are a small, but dedicated group of folks and bring diverse skills to their work. Here are a few of the skills they bring:

  • freelance writer
  • school board member
  • church trustee
  • clinical psychologist
  • seminary degrees
  • Mobile United Methodist Missionaries director
  • artist
  • former Peace Corps volunteer
  • international education services program coordination, Iowa State University
  • years of cumulative parish ministry experience in Iowa
  • years of peace advocacy
  • University student heading into seminary
  • social media marketing
  • minor graphic arts design
  • teaching
  • facilitating
  • ability to build agendas
  • team coordination
  • blogging
  • local political organizing
  • news journalism
  • preaching
  • certification as a lay minister
  • grant writing

I think I am going to stop there, not because I have run out of skills, but because I have not scratched the surface; and aside from the people resources,the Board also stewards money which is given out in grants and scholarships to fund, support, educate and develop ministries rooted in the Social Principles, or targeted toward meeting the goals our Conference sets via its resolutions.

This group is one of several groups of volunteers who do their best to grow our connection-to provide support, companionship, direction and aid when it comes to pursuing the ministries and spiritual goals which we have set for ourselves.

As you start looking at the ministries of social transformation which are calling you out of your pews, I hope you will keep in mind this rich resource, this dedicated team of people who are no farther away than an email or phone call; and if you have gifts, skills and passions which align with theirs, I hope you would consider offering yourself to work with them at the local, district or conference level.

When Giants Pass

This year has seen the death of giants. Earlier this year, Rev. Bob Williams passed away. Just this last week, South Africa lost Nelson Mandela, and the Iowa Annual Conference lost Bob Crandall.

Nelson_Mandela

I did not know any of these men well, but I have met people they touched. I have been in rooms made uncomfortable by the questions they raised. I have met people they inspired and encouraged. I have started to hear stories of the ways in which their witness to social justice changed the lives of the people and the nations around them.  And now, they are gone.

When people die, it is our custom to spend time remembering them. We read narratives of their lives. We share memories of our time with them. We describe their corporate and their personal meaning to the community. We claim them as part of our family and name them so future generations won’t forget them.

Talking about the radical nature of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann describes them as powerful tools for remembering. Over the coming weeks, I invite you to remember those giants of Biblical justice we have lost, whether that be a public figure like Nelson Mandela or a close and intimate friend like Bob Crandall or Bob Williams. I invite you to search the Psalms for their story, and then I invite you to send me those remembrances. You can email or mail me a story and a Psalm. You can put together a quick video remembrance or even a simple audio recording. If you are an artist, I encourage you to send me poetry, dance, drama, or music which somehow connect you to that member of the family of Christ.

Because we don’t want to fall into nostalgia. We don’t want to retreat into the convenience of amnesia. Instead, we want to keep alive the examples of hope, faith and love that they provided for us and share those stories to raise up our next generation of giants.