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Learning Curve

August 3, 2020

I read some newspaper articles today containing quotes that caught my attention, about “the quietest Sunday Boston ever saw,” and that there was “less for citizens to do probably than on any Sunday since the old Puritan days.” Another article tells of the arrest of a Christian Scientist for violating a Los Angeles anti-flu law, quoting him saying his arrest was an “unconstitutional… unwarranted exercise of the police power.”

In Birmingham, a Methodist pastor wrote, “intelligent Christians” should trust science rather than seeking to “tempt God for a miracle in the preservation of our health… Christians do not discount their faith in the omnipotence of their God by keeping their bodies and homes and streets clean and non-germ producing.”

I also read that San Francisco churches joined together to declare it was “dangerous to the health of the community to allow saloons to be open…while churches are not allowed to be open.” In an incident in Baltimore, 10 Apostolic Christians were arrested for attempting to worship in defiance of the board of health and when they were taken to the police station, “they began talking in unknown tongue and it was sometime before the turnkey and matron were able to learn their names.”

Opinions and protests aside, I found ministry happening in an article reporting that in Worcester, Massachusetts, “Women from three local churches were taking care of epidemic orphans, giving them not only food and clothing, but also supplying them with plenty of healthful recreation and a little systematized instruction too.” Not to be outdone by their protestant brothers and sisters, “A Catholic women’s club brought clothing and food to influenza patients, including 28 jars of applesauce, 28 quarts of lamb stew, and 35 squares of Johnny cake.”

Now, if some of those words sound a bit strange, it is only because those articles were written over 100 years ago, taken from newspapers across the country as they reported about the Christian response to the influenza that was raging at the time.

We may feel like we are in uncharted waters, but it is good to remember that this country has experienced pandemic before. And in 1918, just like today, Christians disagreed about the correct response to church closures, people decried the violation of their civil liberties, and while pastors and laity were arrested for standing their ground, others were ministering to the widows and orphans. Literally.

The pandemic of 1918 claimed somewhere between 20 to 50 million lives worldwide, with about 675,000 of those lives lost in the USA. Our current pandemic, to date, has taken 691,000 lives worldwide, with 158,000 of those lives lost in the USA. It is easy to see why people look at these numbers and begin to relax. This isn’t nearly as bad. We don’t really have to worry.

Except that the pandemic of 1918 circulated the globe in four different waves for a period of two years. Two years! Do you remember back in April this year, when we expected to return to “business as usual” by May? And then in May when we began to seriously shift our thinking to “the Summer of COVID?” And now, in August, we are repeating some of those 1918 quotes, written over 100 years ago, and demonstrating that our learning curve as a society is extremely long, if it exists at all.

My friends, with all love and respect, this is a worldwide pandemic. Until we as individuals agree to forfeit our personal liberty for the good of community health, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes made over 100 years ago, when people were careless and got sick, and children became overnight orphans.

I am not into fear-based living; I continue to live a God-given, hope-filled life. But if we do not take the simple precautions we have at our disposal — gathering outdoors instead of indoors, practicing frequent hand-washing, wearing masks and observing social distancing, and curtailing any physical contact outside our immediate family — we run the risk of a two-year pandemic that requires at least a decade for financial recovery.

Let’s do what we need to do to keep our community safe. It is truly an act of love!!   

 

 

Always Remember — BLM

July 27, 2020

I have not forgotten about Ahmaud Arbery. Though it has been five months since his murder, I have not forgotten about it. But it seems others have. In fact, a friend recently mentioned to me that it was a shame people were still violently protesting something that is over. The arrests have been made. Wasn’t that what the protesters wanted in the first place? So, why are they still protesting?

Because it isn’t over. The trials are on hold until the COVID crisis is over, and since the defendants all pled not guilty to all charges against them, the trial promises to be a long, drawn out and ugly affair. And more to the point, the racism that caused Ahmaud Arbery’s death is not “over,” evidenced by the fact that Arbery was labeled as “suspicious” simply because twice he had looked around in a private construction site. I didn’t know Ahmaud Arbery. I don’t know what kind of a man he was. I don’t know what his interests were. And I don’t know why he walked into that construction site and looked around.

What I do know is that I have done that myself. I have walked into construction sites (note the multiple here) and looked at what was being done by the builder. Why? Because it interests me. My husband and I have both gone into construction sites after hours to admire floor plans and try to imagine how the buyer will live in the space being built. We make note of materials and techniques, and we question the layout of the rooms, and shake our heads and wonder why anyone would build a master bath without a private loo. And let us not forget the white couple who also went into the construction site that Arbery visited, on whom the police were not called, and who were not labeled as suspicious.

We are curious and our society allows us to be curious, because we are white.

In all the times my beloved and I have wandered through a construction zone, I have never once feared being detained, or arrested, or shot. I have gone jogging and walking down city streets and never once feared being detained, or arrested, or shot. I have talked back to people that I felt did not or should not have authority over me and have never once feared being detained, or arrested, or shot.

We have driven through our neighborhood looking at paint colors and combinations, stopping to examine which color would go best with our bricks when we repaint our house. And when a neighbor notices us stopped in front of their house, I roll down the window and smile and say, “Don’t worry, we’re just checking out paint color combinations,” and so begins a pleasant conversation with someone we don’t know.

Would the situation be the same if we were not white? From stories told by my friends to whom society assigns a different color than the one assigned to me, the answer is no. The police would be called. Or the neighbor would ignore them or disappear inside (to call the police?) and not return. Not always, but often enough that it is an expected reaction, one my friends experience and I do not.

Can we not see it? Do we still deny the difference with which we treat one another? Do we still want to pretend that there is not a need for the Black Lives Matter movement? Can we support equality — true equality — without feeling threatened or crying out that we ourselves are being marginalized?

I didn’t know Ahmaud Arbery. I don’t know what kind of a man he was. I don’t know what his interests were. I don’t know why he walked into a construction site and looked around. And now I never will. This is the tragedy of our days — stories untold, voices unheard, humanity lost amidst the ever-growing and systemically supported racist violence running rampant in America.

It isn’t over. It won’t be over for a long time. It can’t be over until all people in this country will look at one another and simply see a human being, equally valuable, equally deserving of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and in my book, equally beloved by God. May we live to see it. May we live to make it so.

 

Aloha

July 21, 2020

Aloha is more than a Hawaiian greeting. It is an attitude, a way of life. It is mutual regard and affection, and unconditional caring for others. It is what calls a surfer carrying his board home after a day in the surf to walk out into the street and stop the ever-flowing traffic so a group of tourists can get across busy King Kamehameha Highway. It is what calls hotel staff to bring chicken soup to an ailing guest. It is what inspired the Hawaiian slogan, “No hurry, no honk.” It is why surfers will say, “Plenty more waves, brah. Go for it,” as they generously give the ride to you.

Those are all Aloha moments experienced in Hawaii. Today, I had an Aloha moment right here in the Queen City of the Plains.

You see, there was a surfer named Eddie Aikau who was famous for surfing the big waves on the North Shore of Oahu. He was also a lifeguard there and saved over 500 souls, often going into big waves for the rescue — waves no one else would dare approach. Eddie would go where others feared to go. So, when his 1978 canoe voyage between islands went awry, with the canoe developing a leak and then capsizing, it was natural that Eddie would volunteer to paddle out for help. The Coast Guard found and rescued the rest of crew, but Eddie Aikau was never seen again.

They organized a memorial surf tournament in Eddie’s name in 1985, at Sunset Beach. Legend has it that the promoters came close to canceling the contest because the waves were so big that year it was extremely dangerous to go out. But someone said, “Eddie would go,” and they held the tournament that year and annually for another 30 years, and the bumperstickers declaring “Eddie Would Go” became part of the landscape in and around the North Shore.

I have one of those bumper stickers, although it is on my computer rather than my car. It reminds me to be brave. It reminds me to be generous. It reminds me of the Aloha Spirit that speaks to my soul. Haven’t seen another one of those bumper stickers on the mainland until today. Imagine my surprise when I saw one on the car in front of us. I got so excited I can only imagine what I must have looked like to the driver of the car. There I was pointing at her bumper and exclaiming to my beloved, “Eddie would go! Eddie would go! Look at that bumper sticker!! Eddie would go!” Without thinking, I raised my hand and waved the Shaka (a hand gesture that means Aloha) and I was overjoyed to see the driver return the Shaka to me (for amusing info on the Shaka, check out https://www.hawaiimagazine.com).

In Hawaii, with the encouragement of Maui elder Pilahi Paki, Aloha Spirit became the law of the land in 1986, and is reflected in this acronym:

Akahai, meaning kindness, to be expressed with tenderness;
Lōkahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
ʻOluʻolu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
Haʻahaʻa, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.”

I love Colorado and have considered it my home sweet home for 28 years. The sunset over the mountains is one of my favorite moments of the day. So, please don’t think I hold Aloha Spirit above Colorful Colorado. But I have to say, it made my day when a kindred spirit said Aloha to me without ever uttering a word.

Silence Implies Consent

June 3, 2020

I said it in a Zoom meeting today. Silence implies consent. If we stay silent about things that are wrong, we tacitly approve of them. Every prejudiced remark, every racist joke, every act of violence that we let go by without comment implies our acceptance of them.

Friends, find your voice! Speak up! I know there are more of you out there grieved by our fractured, unjust and unfair system than are encouraged by it. I know there are more of you out there who want to live out this nation’s ideal of equality than prefer to keep benefitting from it at the expense of others. You may feel helpless. You may feel afraid. You may not be used to upsetting the status quo. But friends, what are you waiting for? The longer you remain silent, the harder it becomes to find the words and speak up.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about white silence many times. He famously said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” And, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” And, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Let us be silent no longer, to honor the memory of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and all the way back to Latasha Harlins and beyond — all killed out of prejudicial violence and hate.

Let’s stop the silence. Let’s stop the hate.

 

Three O’Clock

May 25, 2020

My mother told me that at 3pm on Memorial Day, bugle players are supposed to go out in their neighborhoods and play taps. It is a moment of silence to be observed throughout the nation, in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

So, at 3:00 today, my beloved and I went out onto the front porch to see if anyone in our neighborhood was planning taps. They were not. So, I grabbed my Native American Flute, stood next to our flag, and began playing.

And the bunnies went CRAZY! Across the street, where evidently there is a warren under the front porch, bunnies came dashing out onto the lawn, scrambling madly, zooming one way and then another, bumping into each other and sometimes running in circles, then finally darting around the far corner of the porch. Four or five of them, charging as if their lives depended on it. Maybe they did.

This was my first public performance playing my Native American flute. Judging from the reaction of the “neighbors,” it will probably be my last. At least one good thing came from today’s experience: we know what to do if we ever need to discourage bunnies from moving in under OUR porch.

Blessings to you this Memorial Day, and God bless all families who are grieving. May it offer you some comfort to know a grateful nation appreciates your sacrifice.

Normal

April 16, 2020

I object to the phrase “new normal.” Actually, I object to the word “normal” all by itself.

Please don’t think I am pointing fingers here. When referring to the effects of this pandemic on our lives, I have used those words myself. But no more. Because “normal” implies that there is one status, one state, one way of being that is acceptable, which is impossible in this diverse world of ours. “Normal” implies that anything other than the acceptable status or state or way of being is unacceptable and needs to be changed. Or shunned. Or destroyed.

“Normal” has gotten us into all kinds of trouble in the past, especially when paired with words like “behavior” or “body size” or “lifestyle” or “thought process.” Who gets to define what is normal? When we use that word, we are usually defining it through our own lens, which usually doesn’t begin to include other points of view or realities.

What will this “new normal” be, and how can it be “normal” for every person in this country or even this city? How can it even be “new” for every person?  I have been comfortable, and that has been my “normal,” but maybe now I will have to do without, which might be “new” for me, but is the same old “normal” for other people. And I might find myself sick and unable to get health care, which will be “new” for me, but again, the same old “normal” for others.

When we say “new normal,” it reflects an unawareness of — or disregard for? — the many different living situations we encounter within this country that include rich and homeless, fed and hungry, healthy and chronically ill, privileged and marginalized, working and unemployed, and all points in-between. When we say “new normal,” we fail to recognize that there never has been a “normal” in this country, only a nation filled with disparate lives, some struggling just to survive, some feeling unseen, others who would rather not see, and those who fight for a just world.

There is no “new normal.” There is only our reaction to the different states in which we find ourselves before, during, and after this epic event happening in our collective lives. We can share with others, or we can hoard what we have and keep it for ourselves. We can help one another, or we can let everyone fend for themselves. We can determine that we want a more equitable world when this is over, or we can work to widen the divide between people. These are our choices, which have nothing to do with “normal” behavior and everything to do with love.

Love — so widely celebrated, so often preached, favorite subject of cinema and song. Love is, truly, all we need. With love we have peace. With love we have justice. With love we have an equal sharing of all the earth affords. With love we have hope for the future. Love must be our motivation as we go about our jobs. Love must be at the core of all our decision making from this moment on. Love must be the focus of all we say and do in the months and years to come.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:7-8a, 13

Friends, let us forget about the “new normal” and simply talk about love. Can I get an amen on that?

Default

April 5, 2020

As my beloved and I sit in our casual clothes, eating breakfast, drinking coffee and sipping tea, and discussing our plans for the day, we can’t help remarking on how good this feels to just… rest. This isn’t a unique experience for us. We do this at least once a week, occasionally twice a week. But, as the song goes, never on a Sunday.

Rest and relaxation are marvelous, especially when you can relax into worship. We sat in the comfort of our family room and were renewed by the glorious music provided online by faithful musicians, who selected the pieces with love and care. We watched the recording of the sermon and tried not to be too critical about the times we jumbled our words a bit during the communion litany. We laughed. My beloved read out loud the poem I wrote during another time of rest and relaxation on my normal Friday sabbath. We prayed.

This Sunday of rest, relaxation and renewal got me wondering if this is our default position to which we have now reset, or if our all-too-busy days had become our default position which we are now adjusting to a different setting. If it is the former, how do we keep this default from changing back to what it was, and if the latter, how do we prevent resetting to a default that was not always life-giving?

The answer comes in one word: Intention. That is the word I will sit with today. We need to have the intention to continue to relax into worship, to rest in God, to revel in the music and be renewed, and most importantly, to sit awhile with the inspiration it brings.

May your sabbath be one of intentional rest and relaxation with God. Can I get an amen on that?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Worship

March 16, 2020

It was definitely different yesterday. The very few folks who came to church helped record and present different portions of the worship “service.” We were done in 35 minutes. Then a wonderful thing happened: we sat and talked. With “Social Distancing” space between us, we managed to visit, laugh, and share how COVID-19 is affecting our lives. We talked about technology and our first computers, and how far things have come since those early days when “high tech” wasn’t even in the lexicon. We teased one another. We smiled at one another.

I’m going to miss that for awhile.

But we know this is temporary. My beloved and I have a life motto: Be willing to endure short-term inconvenience for long-term gain. While this is more than an inconvenience, and while “short-term” is a relative phrase, the application here is that we will get through this. Missing our social and spiritual gatherings is the least of the sacrifices we will probably have to make in the weeks and months to come. Sacrifices of touch, where we no longer hug or shake hands. Sacrifices of independence, where we don’t go where we want to go or do what we want to do, all in the interest of public health. Sacrifices of goods, where supplies are low and we find ourselves rationing eggs and milk and yes, toilet paper.

Let us sacrifice with good grace. Let us encourage one another without blame or shame. Let us keep this viral infection from spiking and overwhelming our health care system. Let us persevere to love our neighbor in these new ways and may the harvest we reap from our good efforts be a healthy community.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

 

The Road

June 18, 2019

Sometimes, the road preaches to me. Traveling home from Annual Conference was one of those times.

My dear friend and clergy colleague Kristi and I were driving merrily along, discussing the Conference and our hopes for our Church, when we saw an accident that had just occurred. The dust had not yet settled around the overturned trailer and the truck attached. People were getting out of the truck and another car, smashed and askew in its lane. We hadn’t seen the accident happen, but it could not have been more than a few minutes before we arrived on the scene. There was just enough room to get around the crash and, since others had already stopped to help, we chose to keep going.

Not long after that, we entered a cone zone where our two lanes narrowed to one and we were side by side with oncoming traffic. I watched in horror as a truck in the oncoming lane drifted out of his lane, taking out several cones separating northbound and southbound traffic. He headed straight for us, with debris flying out into the lane in front of us. Suddenly, the truck driver corrected his trajectory and moved back into his lane, but the base of a cone, kicked up by his tire, flew toward the windshield of our car, toward Kristi, who was driving. Somehow, the base of the cone flew over the car instead of into it. Other debris was raining down from the sky right in front of us and we drove through it all, miraculously, without any of it touching us! Nothing hit the car. The car didn’t hit any of the debris in the road. We were safe and, since there was no place to pull over in the cone zone, we kept going.

It had been raining on and off, but we had not been hit with any of the big storms that had been predicted, although we could see the ominous clouds all around us. I didn’t mind the rain, but hoped we would be spared the hail that had also been predicted. Driving along, we noticed what looked like blankets of snow beside the highway. But no, it was hail, melted on the pavement but still in abundance on the grass by the roadside. We drove by two miles of hail that we had been fortunate enough to miss. And still, we kept going.

Getting closer to Colorado, a man driving beside us and talking on his cell phone began drifting into our lane. Kristi did some more amazing defensive driving and we avoided a collision. The man in the car didn’t even seem to notice that he had almost sideswiped us. I don’t mind telling you, by now I was using language John Wesley would not have condoned. We kept on going and finally made it to our respective homes, safe and sound.

Our journey made me reflect on the journey our Mountain Sky Conference is beginning. We recognize that we cannot live under the new anti-gay laws that have been voted in by our denomination. We recognize that this is no longer the Methodist Church in which many of us were nurtured in our youth. This is no longer a Church to which we can belong. We must blaze a trail to something new.

We are beginning a journey that may be fraught with danger and disaster, and yet we must keep going. There will be accidents, distractions, and storms. Still, we must keep going. We must build a Church where all truly means all, where young people don’t need to come out of the closet because they were never forced into the closet. We must build a church where people who identify within the LGBTQ community no longer need protection for their ministry, but are empowered to preach the good news that God loves everyone, with no exceptions.

The welcome statement for my local church reads: “All are welcome whatever your age, gender, race, marital status, sexual orientation, address, physical ability, native land or language, economic reality or job status.” When we crafted that statement, someone asked how far would we take this?  If someone complained that we did not have height or weight on our welcome statement, would we add it? My answer was, “You bet.”

Because, my friends, THAT is the Gospel, the good news, that God loves us all. Period. The list of who that includes can be as long as it needs to be. All means all.

We are beginning a journey that is uncertain and uncomfortable. We don’t know what will happen. We are not even sure where we are going. Like the Israelites wandering the desert, we may look back and wish we had stayed where we were. But we must keep going until we get where God is leading us. God IS leading us. We are not alone on this road. Praise God! And in the end, God will lead us home. I believe this with all my heart and I pray that you may open your heart and find the truth of God’s love on this road.

God loves even you and I  
who try but sometimes fail
to see
God made us free
to choose which road
which destiny.
If we but seek
with an open mind
our own true heart
will surely find
that life
with all its cares
and all its woes
is but a road
         God walks with us.
"Is But A Road" by David Yantis

 

 

The Prayer of Confession

February 23, 2019

As the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) begins in prayer, I, too, have been praying.

In fact, I have been praying for over 40 years. Praying that the Church I love, the Church that has loved and supported me, would widen that circle of love to include my gay and lesbian friends. Praying that the word “inclusive” would not become one of the dirty words, right up there with “politically correct” and “liberal.” Praying that all the people I love at my local church would not only continue to love me, but would also love all the people who are not at my local church, and would —gasp!— invite them in.

In other words, praying that everyone think like me. Hmmm…

In 2016, the UMC General Conference almost unravelled over the subject of homosexuality and whether or not the church should ordain brothers and sisters who identify within the LGBTQ sexuality spectrum, and whether or not clergy could perform same-sex weddings. At an impasse, the General Conference voted to hold a Special General Conference in 2019, specifically to address these subjects.

This year, as the Special General Conference drew ever nearer, my prayer changed significantly. I have been praying the Prayer of Confession that we use in our formal communion litany. Rather than praying for a specific outcome at the General Conference, I have been focusing on my relationship with God and what I perceive is my own role in systemic abuse. This, now, is part of my prayer:

“Merciful God, I confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of those in need. Forgive us, I pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.”

Whatever the outcome of this Special General Conference, I know God walks with us as we continue striving to walk in love. Please join me in prayer during this time of decision, 2/23-2/26. And may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and always. Amen!