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<light candle>

1: We light a candle for lives lost—for laughter cut short, voices that will never again be heard; for hugs unraveled by death. We light a candle for a broken future—made incomplete without loved ones lost.

2: Rev. Clementa Pickney

3: Cynthia Hurd

4: Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

2: Tywanza Sanders

1: Ethel Lance

3: Susie Jackson

4: Depayne Middleton Doctor

2: Rev. Daniel Simmons

3: Myra Thompson

1: May light perpetual shine upon them.

 

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2: We light a candle for American dreams deferred. For insufficient funds in the bank of justice…for our worst selves denying our greatest promise as a nation.

 

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3: We light a candle for Charleston,

4:McKinney

2: Baltimore

1: New York

3: and Ferguson—cities without innocence now known by the malignant refusal of the few to see the compounding value of all.

 

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4: We light a candle for Dallas. Racism has grit in Dallas. Racism has claimed lives here. Racism has claimed dignity here. The swollen flow of racism through this state threatens to overflow the banks of our well-divided districts.

 

<light candle>

1: We light a candle for Dylann Roof—a shooter who was not born to kill, but pulled a trigger thirty-nine times.

4: thirty-nine times!

1: We pray that this is not the end of his story.

 

<light candle>

2: We light a candle of solidarity. We do not stand alone. We share the same light with millions who came before and many millions who walk after us on the march to a promised land yet unseen, long discussed but that already extends long arms of life and hope into our present reality.

 

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3: We light a candle for the church.

1: The blood that now stains the wood panel floors of the church call out to God.

2: The blood that has far too often run in the streets now runs in our churches.

4: We can no longer hide behind our pulpits.

3: We light this candle to poke at privilege, speak hard truths, be less complacent as a church ablaze for the God of justice whose patience wears thin with those who ‘proclaim peace, peace when there is no peace.’

 

 

<light candle>

4: We light a candle for ‘Emanuel’

3: which means ‘God with us’

4: in prayer that God will, indeed, be with us in this time. God does not shy away from tragedy. God is not intimidated by bullets or bombs. God is not deterred by those who insist white privilege isn’t real. God is with us.

 

1: Most importantly, we light all of these candles for hope—as a sign of rebellion against the darkness that threatens to consume us. For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, will not, can not overcome it.

ImageLast night I had the honor of offering an opening prayer at La Cena, an All Saints Feast put together by Cafe Momentum and House of Plates. Here’s the prayer that I wrote. Please feel free to use it for churches or other celebrations (churches may want to substitute “today” for “tonight”)

 

 

Tonight we remember the saints

And give thanks for the way they shaped us. May we mold the world according to their witness.

Tonight we remember the saints

And give thanks for the way they loved us. May we reflect their light, long after their lives have slipped into darkness.

Tonight we remember the saints

And pray  we be remembered like them. For this fleeting flesh will not last, but the fossil remain of our work will surely linger and give shape to the coming age.

Tonight we remember the saints

And savor their memory as we do this meal. May we be nourished by this food, nourished by their memory so that we might serve the world in a way that brings light to darkness food to hunger courage to victim flesh to bone water to thirst life to death.

Tonight we remember the saints

and give thanks to God, the giver of death.

Tonight we remember the saints

and give thanks to God, the giver of life.

WARNING: to non-methodists and the Methodists who care little about polity and structure of the UMC, this blog post will be exceptionally boring. Go read something else or watch something funny on youtube. All Methodorks or Methodork wannabees, please read on…

In the wake of the Judicial Council decision to retain guaranteed appointments and overturn the ‘Mueller Amendment’ and related 2012 General Conference legislation, I’ve seen a flurry of comments on facebook. This is an effort to clarify some things and offer some perspective on the decision.

“How does the Judicial Council have the right to overturn something voted upon?”

The Judicial branch has the responsibility to review the constitutionality of any legislation enacted by General Conference that they are asked to review. The Judicial Council holds the United Methodist Church accountable to its founding constitutional principles (found in the Book of Discipline). In this case, they felt that the proposed changes violated Article 3 & 4 (more on that later)

“Overturning the legislations is a move by ‘old pastors’ to preserve their jobs”

I just don’t think this is true at all. First of all, only five of the nine judicial council members are clergy and only two of them currently serve in the local church. Secondly, as I recall there were three consistent voices on the Higher Education Ministries subcommittee at General Conference who advocated for retaining guaranteed appointments. I didn’t check their IDs, but I think they were all around 40 or younger. The bulk of clergy who were supporting an end to guaranteed appointments were established clergy over the age of 50 (not a swipe at anyone, just the facts as best as I remember them).

 

Why were guaranteed appointments overturned

(my interpretation based on their ruling)

The Judicial Council did not mince words in their ruling. They said that the proposed changes were ‘repugnant to the constitution.’ To understand why, you have to read the 3rd and 4th restrictive rules of the UMC constitution.

Article III “The General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our government so as to do away with episcopacy or destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency.”

Article IV “The General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal; neither shall it do away with the privileges of our members of right to trial before the church, or by a committee, and of an appeal.”

Breaking that down in light of the proposed changes to guaranteed appointments:

1)   The Judicial Council feels that guaranteed appointments and itineracy are inextricably linked. The fact that pastors are still appointed by bishops under the proposed changes is not enough to maintain itineracy—probably because it becomes a one-way power street with the bishop able to appoint and the pastor having no recourse. My guess is that some would argue with the Judicial Council’s interpretation on this.

2)   Ordination is a covenant. All covenants have promises made by both parties. When I was ordained I made a lot of vows. I cannot suddenly choose to stop following some of those vows. To do so, breaks the covenant and I can have my ordination nullified. Likewise, the church made vows to me when I was ordained and elder, among them was the promise of a guaranteed appointment. For the church to take away that right (see article 4) is to break it’s part of the covenant.

3)   The Judicial Council likely saw one of the key flaws in the Mueller Amendment and its partner legislation. According to the new framework, a bishop could assign a pastor to a less than full-time appointment without having to provide cause and with very little accountability. This sweeping power could be seen as a betrayal of the covenantal relationship between bishop and pastor, annual conference and clergy. If a pastor was suspected of being ineffective or having done something improper, but the bishop did not want to pursue a formal trial, he or she could simply send that pastor to a quarter time appointment in the far reaches of the annual conference until the pastor leaves on his or her own accord, effectively denying the pastor the right to trial (article 4). Alternatively, a bishop might receive negative, but untrue information about a pastor from a District Superintendent or other source and consequently appoint the pastor to a less-than-fulltime appointment. Without a trial or hearing, the pastor could be effectively blacklisted by a bishop who does not take the time to hear directly from the pastor in question.

4)   I would guess that there may be labor law issues at play here as well. This is tricky because labor laws differ by state. I would imagine that in some places in the United States, removing guaranteed appointments could leave the UMC open to law suit. It could be argued that the contract between clergy and annual conference includes a guaranteed appointment. Removing a pastor according to Mueller amendment procedures might be a ‘breach of contract’ much in the same way that removing a tenured teacher without cause and without going through previously agreed upon methods would constitute a breach of contract between a school board and a teachers union.

 

“We are stuck and there is no way to change the system”

This is also not true. The United Methodist constitution can be (and has been) amended. This, however, is not the course of action taken by the legislation that came out of Higher Education Ministries at General Conference 2012.

Constitutional amendments require (my polity is a little rusty so I might be a little off on this) 3/4 vote by the General Conference and a ¾ majority of Annual Conferences affirming the constitutional change by vote at their next Annual Conference. That being said, the only Book of Discipline I can find in my house right now is the Spanish version.

Here’s the thing: the Mueller amendment and its partner legislation passed on the consent calendar at GC 2012. That means that fewer than 10% of the body objected or realized what was being voted upon. Had the legislation to end guaranteed appointments been done along a constitutional route, it may have received its 3/4 super majority. It would have been close, but it might have gone through the round of Annual Conferences and we could be facing a completely different UMC in 2013.

1: What if the wisemen passed through Bethlehem on their way to Herod?

2: What if they went to a king to find a lamb?

1: What if they passed the shepherds along the way?

2: What if they looked up to a star when God was giggling below?

All: What if we were like them?

1: What if Epiphany is a divine do-over,

2: a holy mulligan,

1: for those who are regarded wise

2: and for those who miss Christ along the journey?

All: What if we find the Christ child today?

1)  They both like to sing and write songs

 

2)  Wigs

3)  Roughly the same height (John’s got an inch or two on Gaga)

4)  Stirred up lots of controversy

5)  Their mothers pushed them to be great

6)  They live on the ‘edge of glory’ (glorification)

What else am I missing?

 In ancient times, when someone was mourning or upset—when they were grieving or when they witnessed injustice, they would rip their clothes.  Sounds weird, but that’s what people did.  Why?  It was a way to warn everyone else that they were in mourning.  In some other ways, though, it was an act of exposing yourself to God—to let God do whatever God wants to do with you in this time of hardship.  We need to keep this in mind as we approach the text from Joel:

 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the lord, your God.                  Joel 2:12-13

 The mark we receive this day—the mark of the cross—is a mark of our mortality.  Every blackened forehead now proclaims, “I will die and so will you.”  And that breaks our heart.  And it is supposed to.  Ash Wednesday is supposed to make us mourn, to look around the room and see that everyone here has been marked for death.  It is supposed to make us mourn when we feel the weight of the ashes upon our head for hours.  It is supposed to break out hearts, because sometimes…our heart needs to be broken.  It is meant to remind us, that we do not have unlimited time.  There are some things that need to be taken care of now because we do not know what the future holds. Every one of us is on borrowed time.  We begin our preparations for Easter with a reminder that we, like Christ, will die.  And what are we called to do?  Rend your hearts—tear your hearts and not your clothing.

 When she was only seven months old, a surgeon stopped my daughters heart.  She was born with a congenital heart defect that needed to be repaired, but you cannot operate on a functioning heart.  And so for three-hours, fifty-two minutes, my daughters heart did not beat and it had to be cut open.  The surgeon had to rend my daughters heart so that it could be repaired and function as God had intended.

 This wisdom appears in the Hebrew—thousands of ears before open-heart surgery could have been imagined.  The Hebrew word for rend, to tear,  is Param.  It shares the same root as the word Shalam, which means “to be completed, to reciprocate, to make amends, finish, fulfill, make good” and “peace that is perfect”.  Just as the surgeons had to rend Sylvia’s heart to repair it, so too must we rend our own hearts so that the master surgeon might repair our heart and soul! 

 Throughout Lent, many of us are good at “rending our clothing”—doing the outward things…giving up candy or caffeine or maybe swearing for lent.  But how many of us are good at rending our heart?    How many of us look for surgery of the soul, knowing that it might be painful, that it might be bloody and messy, but also knowing that we find new life on the other side?

 In order to rend our hearts, they need to be exposed.  We have to expose our hearts to God and one another in order to be reconciled in this time of Lent.  To reconcile is to fix, make good, repair, bring Shalam into our relationships.  Fixing relationships, Shalam,  is the ultimate goal of Easter and therefore should be the ultimate goal of Lent.  We must seek reconciliation with our classmates, our parents or siblings, our teachers and our friends.   Now is the time also to fix our relationships with those we have never met, but to whom we owe something.   Most of all, we must seek reconciliation with God. 

 Do you want your heart to be new?  Do you want the hearts of others to be new?  Do you struggle with the fact that you will die?  Do you find yourself caught up in fights with other people—students, teachers, family—that are never really resolved?  Do you carry guilt about something you have done to someone else and never spoken with them about it?  Do you feel resentment towards someone because of something that she or he did to you?  These are my few suggestions this Lent:

Rending our hearts usually comes with scars.

 Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Give up something for Lent that will help someone else—if you give up eating candy or soda or snacks, give the money you would have spent on food to the poor

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Confront your classmate/teacher /family member/brother or sister in Christ about the way you have been hurt.  Take a risk and expose your heart.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Ask forgiveness for something you’ve done or said that hurt someone else.  Don’t let it pass assuming the other was not hurt that bad.  Expose your heart and guilt and you will be free.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Weep, truly weep for those who lie dead in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan—soldiers, citizens and insurgents.  Think about what their death really means and wait for the tears to fall before moving on to the next news story, the next chore, the next channel.  Those numbers are human lives for which we are all, in some way, responsible.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Weep also for the nameless and numberless many that die of hunger in a world that has more than enough food to eat.  When’s the last time your threw away food?  The numberless many are lives for which we are all responsible.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

And be moved from head to heart, shadow to substance, ritual to reality

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

As you give up something through Lent, take the time you would have spent eating or doing whatever it is that you’ve given up and spend it reading the scriptures.  Satisfy the hunger of your heart for the Word of God even as your stomach hungers.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

And speak up.  Stand up for someone who is being picked on—eat lunch with someone who is less cool than you are—stop gossip in its tracks and don’t count the cost for yourself

Rend your heart and not your clothing

Spend the time with God that you keep putting off to another day.  Attend church, show up at mass, Eucharist or special worship services, come to prayer, come to devotion, come to Jesus, running—walking—dancing—singing in whatever way you can. 

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Because God says that we cannot be healed, we cannot be whole, we cannot be what we are called to be unless we do so.  Until we let our hearts be broken by the things of God, we are still infants to the faith—I don’t care if you’re nine years old or ninety-five years old.  Until you’ve been broken for God, you cannot truly be new. 

Rend your heart and not your clothing.

Let us lay ourselves upon the operating table of the divine surgeon.  Following Jesus means following Him to the cross—a place of death and pain—so that we can find new life!

I’m not looking to pick a fight with Republicans or embarrass them.  I’m writing to beg for the lives of people I love.

Even after coming to terms with Democrats on tax bill issues, Senate Republicans continue to block a bill that would provide much needed healthcare for the thousands of first-responders who are dying and suffering economic distress because they rushed to the scene during and after 9/11.  They are suffering because they saw suffering.  They are broken because they tried to pick up the shattered pieces of the World Trade Center and in so doing put together the fractured pieces of the world community.

They helped the military, the FAA, the FBI and law enforcement of every kind.

They helped weeping family members to find closure so that they would not have to hold up pictures of their lost sons and daughters at the gates of ground zero.

They helped one another make it through the most disturbing sights and smells of their lives.

The helped a country and a world see the good that can come…the love that can be revealed in the face of evil.

And Senate Republicans are blocking the bill that would bring them healthcare.

I am not writing to embarrass or point out fault.  I am writing to plead for the minds and souls of firefighters from my congregation.  When the planes hit, firefighters and paramedics from my congregation didn’t hesitate.  They left everything, rushed into New York City and dug bodies out of rubble in the hope that they might find the living.  In the process they saw things far worse than we can imagine.  Do you know how the government knew that the stewardesses on the flights had their hands duct-taped?  It’s because a member of my congregation found a pair of severed hands, duct-taped together that had somehow survived the blazing inferno.  To this day, they suffer from PTSD.  To this day, they suffer from cancer.  To this day, they suffer from lung and heart failure.  On that day–and the many days that followed–they tended to the soul of a nation and offered us healing by their witness.

And Senate Republicans are blocking the bill that will offer counseling as well as medical assistance.

Sen. Kyl criticized Sen Reid’s proposal to work through the Christmas holiday, saying it was disrespectful to Christianity.  As a ordained United Methodist minister, I haven’t figured it all out, but I feel confident in saying this:

Jesus will be okay with it if you work on Christmas Eve to make sure these heroes get medicine.  This is the Jesus who got in trouble for healing on the sabbath!  You have the power to heal.  Don’t hide behind Jesus because you don’t want to use it! By the way, firefighters still work on Christmas.  Paramedics still work on Christmas.  The police still work on Christmas.  Are they disrespecting their faith or living it out?

So here’s my request:  send a note to a Senate Republican and tell them how you feel.  Ask for an answer.  As soon as I post this, I’ll be writing my letters to the two Senate Republicans from Texas.  I hope that you’ll join me.

And please pray this year for those who gave us hope.

To contact Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson:  http://hutchison.senate.gov/contact.cfm

To contact Senator John Cornyn: http://cornyn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=ContactForm

Sometimes I just don’t understand.

In what is supposed to be one of the holiest places on earth, there is so incredibly much injustice, violence and death.

I have been to Palestine and Israel.  I’ve talked to Israeli settlers who sit in well-watered communities with green grass and swimming pools while Palestinians live beneath them with so little water that they are lucky to have drinking water through the week, let alone a shower.  I’ve met with Palestinian refugees–one man in particular sticks in my mind:  his deepest prayer was to have good dreams again, like he did when he was a boy, before he was forced off his land.  I met a Palestinian woman who cried because one of the members of our team said she wanted to purcahse souveniers from Palestinians. 

I’m also good friends with a Rabbi who studied in Israel.  The pizza parlor beneath her apartment blew up one day and human remains were stuck in the tree outside her window.  Before then, she ate there almost every day.  Few things decay our sense of security more than violence in the places we take for granted. 

I have been upset over the painful relationship between Israel and Palestine that seems to me to be nothing short of an apartheid government.  I have been ashamed of my country’s blank check that we give to Israel to do whatever it wants with the billions of dollars that we send them. 

Never have I been more appalled or more ashamed than I am now.

I never dreamed  the depth of indifference to human life that has been exhibited over the past weeks.  It grieves my soul when three hours is the most the government can muster to allow in food and fuel to people who are literally starving to death…when the world’s cries of human rights violations and injustice fall upon the deaf ears of the Israeli prime minister and American president…when the already frail credibility of the United states crumbles with each Palestinian building…when praise to God is silenced in Mosques by American missles fired from Israeli jets…when relief workers are killed, trying to bring food and medicine to a hospital.

The holiness of the Holy Lands erodes before us.

Hamas should not fire rockets.  Israel should not have closed the borders to sever Gaza’s lifeline to the rest of the world.  Hamas should not have instigated suicide bombings or rocket fire.  Israel should not have taken away water supplies.  Hamas should not have…   The list of “should nots” dominates the history of Israel and Palestine since Israel’s modern inception. 

When will the Holy Lands lead the world by demonstrating the way that the world should be instead of just the way it shouldn’t be?

When will the Holy Lands show the world, once again, what it means to be holy?

There are pockets of hope.  Christian Peacemakers Team, Women in Black, Elias Chacour, Foreign and Domestic Doctors–Palestinians, Israelis and worlwide citizens are out there offering hope.  I pray for the day when their story of should prevails over what shouldn’t be.

My wife and I went Christmas shopping yesterday at NorthPark mall which is in one of the most stupidly rich places in the world.  It was crazy crowded to the point that people were driving oon the curbs and onto the green areas around the mall.  My hunch:  the mall was so crowded because this is the one time a year all the Park Cities people with Hummers actually have the chance to take advantage of their car’s height by driving up the curb.

After picking up a couple presents (does it count as “re-gifting” if you buy a present for someone else with a gift card that you received or is it just “thrifty”), we went to see Frost / Nixon.  (Overall, good movie that made us think even though it drags at times).

I was struck, while watching the movie, by the importance of an apology.  All, it seems, that Frost and his team needed was an apology–an admission of guilt and some sense of remorse.  The success of the interviews and DAvid Frost all hinged on a simple admission of guilt.  At the end, that’s all that came.  (spoiler alert).  Frost didn’t berate Nixon–either on camera or in personal conversation later.  

I found myself wondering, why.  Why is that enough?  Why is that so needed?  Did the American people need to see that Nixon hurt?  Maybe, but I think there’s something deeper.

In order to heal, the wounds sometimes have to be exposed and acknowledged.  America and the world needed to hear from Nixon an acknowledgment of what he had done.  Until he did that, the nation couldn’t really heal.  Although Nixon never recovered from the shame of his actions, Clinton has bounced back from the shame and scandal of his presidencybecause eventually he was honest about it all.  South Africa is doing far better as a nation than so many other African governments that have overthrown their regimes because SOuth Africa formed a Truth and Reconciliation committee that got those who hurt others to admit their wrongs.

Public confession help heal the wounds of society.  President Bush is moving back into Park Cities area of Dallas and will likely attend one of its United Methodist Churches.  Maybe, just maybe, someone in one of our churches can nurture and love him to a place of public confession.

This baby Jesus doesn't look very comfortable, but at least he LIGHTS UP!

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but there’s apparently a bit of a crime spree across the US involving baby Jesi (for the purposes of my blog, I prefer to use “Jesi” as the plural form of “Jesus” because “Jesuses” is just too akward).  People actually go around, stealing these little plastic cherubs who herald the birth of a savior!  Do a search for “baby jesus theft” and you’ll get tons of articles about it (my favorite title is Nativity Captivity: Baby Jesus thefts a prank or an affront in the San Diego Union-Tribune).  This wave has been so severe that some precints have installed GPS tracking devices in the baby Jesi!!!  There are companies who now offer churches a free GPS-tracker for their baby Jesus (http://www.prweb.com/releases/lightning/gps/prweb1701254.htm).  A couple things come to my mind…

REFLECTION # 1)  At first I didn’t like these baby-stealers.  After all, they were absconding with my savior.  After a while, though, I started to see that they could be quite noble.  Let me try to take this somewhere:

Every year, most churches begin advent so well.  They hold back on Christmas songs and sing things like O Come, O Come Emmanual and Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and even Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates.  But then pastors go Christmas shopping and hear Christmas songs in the stores.  The pastor will preach another advent sermon but she or he is quickly running out of advent carols that everyone knows and / or likes.  Then the pastor gets so excited about Christmas coming that (s)he barfs Christmas all over the congregation in a massive pagent of Christmas songs and scriptures.  (S)He’ll probably even tell the congregation “Merry Christmas”  They just can’t help themselves.  And congregations love them for it, because our American, consumer, instant-gratification driven congregations have never been challenged to wait, expect, fast and pray their way to Christmas.  They’ve never waited all the way through advent and so they don’t know how climactic, exciting and amazing that Christmas can truly be!  

Celebrating Christmas in the middle of advent is like eating Spaghetti-Os right out of the can.  Sure, you can do it and it won’t make you sick but they taste SO MUCH BETTER heated up.

This angel may be cute, but she may want to steal your Jesus too!

I wonder…just a little bit…if all these Jesus-thieves aren’t God’s angels.  I wonder if God looks at us and says, ‘seriously?  You couldn’t wait just two more weeks?’  And so, God, like a father taking a cold can of Spaggetti-Os from his child’s hands,  sends angelic vigilanties to snatch the baby Jesus from the hands of over-eager congregations who just don’t know how to work their spiritual microwave. 

To all the baby Jesus thefts out there, I say, BRAVO!  Way to make the church better!  But please, if you could return Jesus on Christmas to the church, we’d appreciate it.  We know that we don’t deserve Jesus, but if you could kindly return him on Christmas, it could be a nice miracle for us.

REFLECTION # 2)  I’ve faced many moments in my life when it was hard to find Jesus.  I never thought of using a GPS.

iREVeRANT Tweets (@ireverant)

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