Monday, May 6, 2013
Three and a half years ago, Rudi Kauffman changed my life.
It was the first day of spring semester classes. I had just transferred to Bluffton, and looking back, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. That January afternoon, as I sat in the classroom waiting for the professor to arrive, a very young, VERY energetic man walked through the door and started cracking jokes at the front of the room.
“Great,” I thought to myself. “This guy is pretending to be the professor!” Within seconds, my mind was blown when he introduced himself and was actually Rudi Kauffman. What Rudi said to us at the beginning of that class taught me almost everything I needed to know about Bluffton, and much of what I hope we will carry with us as we graduate and go out from this place.
He started out by saying something that is so common here at Bluffton that most of us take it for granted: “Just call me Rudi.” After transferring from a school where I didn’t even know the first names of most of my professors, it took me a whole semester to adjust to this strange new place, where my professors were simply Rudi, Trevor, Lynda, Alex, Gerald…and the list goes on. You see, when Rudi invited me to know him as Rudi, nothing more and nothing less, he invited me to know him as a person, not just a professor. In that moment, I learned that at Bluffton, faculty members are simply people living alongside us in community. They are incredibly gifted, accomplished scholars, but they are also human beings who care more about relating to us than they do about status and fancy titles.
The second thing that Rudi said is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. He said, “I am not a professor. I am a teacher. To call myself a professor would be to claim that I have some knowledge to profess to you. But we all have knowledge, so I am a teacher and so are you. This semester we will teach one another.”
Now, by this point, I was sure that I had wandered into a parallel universe. As someone who has taken classes at three other universities, let me assure you, this is not typical of professors. To my surprise and delight, though, Rudi’s words came true with each class I took at Bluffton and with every passing year. Bluffton professors are not only people who live in community with us; they actually expect to learn with and from their students. Class of 2013, in these last four years, we have been given the extraordinary gift of learning not only with one another, but with these gifted scholars who have been to us, and will continue to be, teachers, mentors, and friends.
You see, Bluffton is a unique and beautiful place because we do community together—students, faculty, staff, guests, and even strangers. We are a community of respect and warm welcome. But with that being said, like any family, we have our disagreements and we have our challenges. Contrary to what I thought during my first semester here, Bluffton is not a utopia. Yet I believe that the challenging experiences we have faced, both individually and as a community, are the greatest gifts to us as we move forward. We have learned together, many of us have lived together, and we have seen each other at our worst and our best. But as the Scripture for this morning urges us to do, we have loved one another deeply, and the love in this community is what remains. It is love that we have for one another and for this place as we gather this morning to reflect upon our time as Bluffton students. It is love that we carry with us as we move into the next chapter of our journeys. It is love that we are called to be in the new communities we will call home.
As we stand at this moment, looking back upon our time at Bluffton and looking forward to all that lies ahead, this morning’s Scripture also issues a fitting challenge for each and every one of us: “use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pet 4.10).
As I look out this morning and see each of your faces, I see an abundance of gifts to be used in the world. Class of 2013, we are a diverse community. We are athletes and we are scholars. We are from just down the road and from across the globe. We are residential students and those who have never set foot in a residence hall. We are people of all ages who have come together for this season to learn and grow, and today, we are sent out into the world to put our learning into action. Just as all of our gifts have brought a rich diversity to the Bluffton community, the Scripture tells us that as we use our unique gifts to serve others, we become the embodiment of God’s grace in the world.
Now, if you are like me, this task of going out to serve the world is a daunting one. Community, love, diversity, and grace seem possible here at Bluffton, at least on our good days. But the thought of leaving this place and actually living up to these values is incredibly intimidating. And if we are being honest, for many of us, the sheer thought of leaving this place is overwhelming.
On this final day of our Bluffton journey, I believe the lessons that I learned from Rudi on my very first day in this community contain wisdom and guidance for all of us today and in all of our tomorrows.
First, just be Rudi. Now, I am not encouraging anyone to actually be Rudi; I think we all know that would be a little dangerous. But I am encouraging all of you to be yourself, nothing more, and nothing less. Do awesome things, get PhDs and score jobs with impressive titles, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Be real in your community. Dare to treat every person you meet as your equal. Just be Rudi, and let everyone else be who they are, too.
And second, be a teacher and be a learner. Never forget that every person you will meet has gifts and knowledge to share with you and with the world. Be ready to receive these gifts, be eager to learn what they have to teach you, and be grateful every step of the way. These practices are the foundation of true community.
So, go, class of 2013, and be your most authentic self.
Go, class of 2013, knowing that all are one and all are equal.
Go, class of 2013, eager to learn with and from all who cross your path.
And above all, go into the world and be love. Amen.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A brief poetic reflection on my final C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest at Bluffton:
restlessness of the prophets;
bold words pregnant
with the world as it should be.
my mouth gives voice
to your heart within,
but the message is heavy
and remains a part of me.
articulating these words
only multiplies the responsibility.
so with my life, you call me:
I was honored to place second this year, and will post the full text of my speech in the coming days!
Thursday, January 31, 2013
this snow covered path
along the gently flowing creek
I know well.
counting the footprints,
those who have gone before me.
with each step
I make my own mark,
a nameless legacy.
and I wonder
those who come after
will count these footprints
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Monday, August 20, 2012
This Sunday I had the privilege of leading worship and preaching at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Toledo, OH. I had a wonderful time worshiping with the people of St.Paul’s, and I wanted to share the text of my sermon for anyone who is interested in reading it.
Proverbs 9.1-6 NRSV
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
John 6.51-58 NRSV
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
In these two texts, we learn a lot about bread. First, in Proverbs, Wisdom issues an invitation for all people to come and eat of her bread, the bread of wisdom. Then, in the Gospel of John, we hear the proclamation of a new voice—the voice of Christ—saying, “I am the bread you’ve been talking about. I am the bread of life, the bread that came down from heaven.” So, to be sure, these passages are about bread. But they are about a lot more than bread as well— they are about invitation, about wisdom, about the history of God’s people, about sustenance, about a way of life. We hear about bread that is not just food, but Christ’s flesh, and as if that is not enough to make us wonder, Jesus tells us that we must eat his flesh if we want to abide in him and receive the gift of life.
Of course, a couple thousand years removed from this conversation, it is easy for us to see that Jesus is talking here about the Lord’s Supper—about his death on the cross and the meal that we share in community to remember this sacrifice and celebrate the grace of God at work in our lives. It is also easy for us, two thousand years later, to forget that Jesus is talking about much more here than communion as we know it. The text from Proverbs reminds us that bread is an essential part of the biblical story from beginning to end, not simply in the gospels at the Last Supper. In the same way, this is not just a sermon about communion, although I hope it will shape how you think about communion the next time you celebrate it. But even more than that, I hope it will help you recognize moments of communion as you celebrate everyday life.
So, these two texts come together to form a vision of breaking bread, a vision of all people being invited to COME to the table, to EAT their fill, and to LIVE in the way of truth and grace. This vision is placed in the larger context of Scripture—from the Old to the New Testament, from Proverbs to the Gospel of John, from the ancient people of God to the church today, from manna in the wilderness to open communion in our United Methodist churches. Bread is not only a source of physical sustenance, but our source of spiritual identity—and it is central to our faith precisely because it satisfies both physical and spiritual hunger. As people of faith, as spiritually hungry people, as physically hungry people, and just as people—this radical invitation to come, eat, and live is for you and me.
In our first text, Proverbs 9, we encounter the first radical invitation in our Scriptures for this morning: COME. Here we find the voice of Wisdom, shouting from the rooftops of the city— “come, feast on bread and wine, you who are simple and without sense!" In the book of Proverbs, there are two influential women with persuasive voices—Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly. Here, Woman Wisdom is speaking, and much to our surprise her invitation is addressed not to those on the path of wisdom and truth, not to those who fear the LORD, but to those who are simple. To those without sense. To those who are immature enough that they could stand to lay some of that immaturity aside. Now, I am sure you’ve never met anyone who fits that description, have you? And certainly not…in church? But if we were being honest, we would recognize that Woman Wisdom’s invitation is an invitation to you and to me. The simple ones. The ones who occasionally— of course, only occasionally— lack sense. This is a radical invitation, an invitation of abundant grace, to COME and partake in the feast, to eat the bread and drink the wine.
This invitation to COME continues in John 6, with Jesus proclaiming not only that we are invited to come eat the bread, but that he is the bread that came down from heaven. While Woman Wisdom invited the simple to eat of her bread, Jesus takes it a step further—he says that he is the living bread and that he “will give [it] for the life of the world.” The WHOLE world. The simple, the wise, the believing, the unbelieving. You, me, and everyone else. We are ALL welcome at the table of God’s grace, we are ALL invited to eat the bread of life. Come.
After inviting us to COME to the table, both Woman Wisdom and Jesus invite us to EAT the bread. It is hard for me to think of anyone who has taken this invitation more seriously than my Grandma. I will always remember one day, a few years ago, when we took her out to lunch at a restaurant that served rolls which were particularly appealing to her. Grandma has always been conscious of healthy eating, so naturally, when the rolls were served before our meal, she commented that she wasn’t very hungry and that we certainly didn’t need all this food. As the next few minutes passed, she ate one roll…and two, and three, and four, and five…and finally SIX rolls. Now, I am not sure if it was Woman Wisdom or Jesus or just that honey butter calling her to eat the bread, but she sure enjoyed every minute of it, and we couldn’t help but laugh as we watched this unexpected feast take place before our eyes!
We, too, are called to EAT the bread of wisdom and the bread of life. Throughout the Scriptures, the act of eating is an act of digesting truth, internalizing identity, and embodying love. Proverbs is one of the wisdom books in the Bible, and in these books, eating is a metaphor used for gaining wisdom—it is said that wisdom is sweet as honey. So it is not surprising that Woman Wisdom invites us to a feast, to EAT bread and wine. This act of eating is what transforms us from simple to wise ones. The prophets, too, are often called to eat scrolls, to digest words, to literally take in the truth. And then here in John 6, we hear Jesus speaking—the Word, the truth, made flesh—proclaiming that his flesh is the bread of life that we must EAT in order to truly live.
As we think about the act of eating bread, we must always remember that for Jesus, this invitation to EAT the bread of life—spiritual bread—is inseparable from the act of feeding the hungry. This dialogue about Jesus being the spiritual bread of life follows the feeding of the five thousand at the beginning of John 6. Only after the hungry are fed does Jesus begin teaching about spiritual hunger. Only after the fishes and loaves have been blessed, broken, and abundantly shared does Jesus invite us to EAT the bread that is his being—the food that enables us not only to survive, but to truly live. This challenges us to ask questions about our practices as the body of Christ—how can we serve communion to people whose basic needs are not met? How can we share the bread of life with one another and neglect to share our other resources, both personally and collectively? This invitation to eat is inseparable from God’s command to share generously. We must always remember that to eat the bread of life is to be transformed by God for the purpose of transforming the world.
This brings us to the final facet of this radical invitation—after we COME to the table, after we EAT the bread of life, we are called to LIVE faithfully in truth, grace, and love. In the Proverbs text, the result of our coming and eating is to “walk in the way of insight.” Then, in John, Jesus promises that if we eat his body and drink his blood, we will abide in him, he will abide in us, and we will receive the gift of eternal life. What is certain is this: to COME and EAT the bread that is offered to us by God is to LIVE differently—to walk in love as ones who have been freely loved, to offer grace to all as ones who have received the free gift of God, to walk in truth as ones who have feasted on wisdom.
As an intern at the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida this May, I had the privilege of having a transformational come, eat, live experience with thousands of leaders in our denomination from all over the world. After an incredibly difficult, divisive day of debates on human sexuality, our evening worship service happened to be a love feast. As we entered the worship space, we were perplexed to see trays of hot cross buns near every section of seating. The worship leader explained that love feasts were common in the early Methodist movement, so she had decided to include one in our worship together as the global United Methodist Church. She went on to explain that she had planned this love feast over a year before General Conference, having no idea which legislation and debate would fall on this day. Ironically enough, the schedule for conference business had shifted just a day before, and somehow—surely by the grace of God—the love feast fell at the end of the most controversial day of our two weeks together.
As worship began, the leader issued the very invitation that we’ve been talking about this morning—“COME.” I remember it clearly…as the love feast began, she admitted, “There is no plan and no order to this…we are going to sing a song together and if you feel led, move to the trays of hot cross buns and we will bless them together.” We sang the most beautiful and fitting song, “Come to the Table of Grace,” proclaiming together these words that we ALL needed so desperately to speak and to hear after a long day of hurtful division: “this is God’s table, it’s not yours or mine…come to the table of grace.” As we sang, people began moving to the trays of hot cross buns, and when it came time for the blessing, the most sacred stillness came over the room. Each tray was lifted up to God by two or three people who happened to find themselves presiding over the table of grace—young people in rainbow stoles, men in business suits, delegates from around the world, progressives, conservatives…unlikely dance partners moving together to the rhythm of God’s abundant grace.
As I looked around the room, I watched with my own two tear-filled eyes as the Holy Spirit broke down the walls we had all worked so hard to build. And in that moment, I learned the most powerful lesson of my time spent at General Conference: the grace of God is meant to be received TOGETHER. And together that evening, we received the grace that each side had so valiantly fought to keep to itself. Together we received the grace that we all needed after the words and actions of that long, painful day. Together we received the grace that was not ours to give or take. Together, we came to the table of grace. And as we shared that sweet bread, we prayed even sweeter blessings over one another and our church. And for the first time all day, it felt like OUR church. Not my church, and not your church, but OUR church. We were transformed by the act of coming, eating, and living together as one body, if only for a moment.
That, my friends, is the radical invitation. Come to the table. Bless, break, and share the bread of life in the midst of brokenness. And live your life as an invitation for all people to join in the feast. May it be so. Amen.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
The following is the text of my speech from the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest at Bluffton University. The contest took place on March 28th, and my speech earned first place.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...[God] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor...to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4.18-19 NRSV). Luke 4 depicts the inauguration of Christ’s ministry; Jesus boldly unrolls the Isaiah scroll and at once proclaims the gospel, exposes the bankrupt system of the world, and liberates all people. In this text and throughout Scripture, word is inseparable from action. The Word has become flesh, and the words proclaimed by this embodied Word do the concrete work of unbinding captives, restoring sight to the blind, and liberating the oppressed (Luke 4.18). At the center of the Christian faith stands this claim, that the proclamation of a true word is a catalyst for the concrete transformation of the world— thus, proclamation is an act of peacebuilding. And this task of proclaiming peace has been entrusted to you and me, who have been commanded by Christ to "go into all the world and proclaim the good news" (Mark 16.15). As a biblical studies major and peace and conflict studies minor, my academic interests and my call as a Christian peacebuilder stand at this intersection between Scripture and shalom, proclamation and peacebuilding. Tonight I would like to invite you to consider with me this radical claim that the act of proclaiming peace is truly a locus of peacebuilding.
First, I will establish the connection between word and action, proclamation and peacebuilding. Second, I will expose the contrasting proclamations of the world and the gospel, which constantly compete for our allegiance. And third, I hope you will join me in celebrating places in our global community where words of peace truly have created a world of peace. For as we proclaim the gospel of Christ, our true words make manifest the true world of God's peaceable kingdom.
First, let us examine the relationship between word and action, recognizing that to speak peace is to build peace. According to Paulo Freire, a word is the interplay between "reflection and action," and these two elements must be held in tension. He argues that "to speak a true word is to transform the world.” Thus, for Freire, proclamation presupposes praxis; to proclaim peace is to practice peace and vice versa.
Walter Brueggemann also addresses the intimate connection between word and action, emphasizing the relationship in Scripture between the spoken word and the created world. In his book The Prophetic Imagination, he argues that "all social reality...spring[s] fresh from the word.” For this reason, the content of our proclamation becomes the context in which we live. And according to Brueggemann, it is the prophetic peacebuilder’s responsibility to legitimate a radical alternative to the proclamation of the empire, in turn bringing forth a new world.
Peacebuilding scholar Lisa Schirch asserts that transforming worldviews is the key to changing the world for peace, since the way we understand the world directly impacts the way we act and react in situations of conflict. Therefore, this task of proclaiming Christ’s gospel of peace as a legitimate and radical alternative is essential; for if we are to transform conflict, we first must transform minds for peace.
We see this intimate connection between word and action, proclamation and peacebuilding, in Christ's own words in Luke 4. Jesus proclaims release to the captives (Luke 4.18) and speaks healing, just as God created the universe by the nonviolent power of the word. As Christian peacebuilders, we are commanded to do the same-- to go into the world and proclaim the gospel, at once transforming the world for peace.
Next, if we are serious about speaking words of peace, we must understand the contrasting proclamations of the world and the gospel. For many of us, the proclamation of the world invades our mind before our feet hit the floor each morning. Our alarms go off, we grab our smart phones, and with one touch the headlines echo in our ears. Death and destruction, violence and fear, power and politics. We call this proclamation news, but do we call it gospel? As I wrestled with this question, I created a Wordle, or a visual representation, of five of last week's top news stories on CNN. Word size is determined by frequency, so this literally paints a picture of the world's proclamation.
What does this tell us about the world in which we live? Let's examine the largest words, the words that appeared most frequently in last week's headlines: “Zimmerman, House & Senate, shooting, police, PTSD, [and] soldiers.” Here we have the name of a man who killed an unarmed African-American teenager, surrounded by a cloud of power, fear, and violence. This is the proclamation of the world, a hegemonic rhetoric of death and power, filled with facts but void of truth.
In contrast, this is a Wordle of Isaiah 61.1-3 and Luke 4.16-19 (TNIV), two texts that are central to the prophetic call to proclamation. This image represents the radical alternative of a truly biblical worldview. Here we see the words "proclaim, LORD, Spirit, instead, good news, annointed, freedom, [and] favor." Friends, this is a radical subversion of the world’s rhetoric of death. At the center of this proclamation stands the name of the Creator and the invitation to proclaim the gospel as the "instead"—the alternative— to oppression, death, and violence. As Christian peacebuilders, we might be surrounded by the empire’s rhetoric of death, but we are nourished by and called to proclaim this life-giving rhetoric called gospel. Tonight, we are faced with this challenge: which word will we proclaim? Which world will we create?
With this in mind, I would like to turn now to one example in our global community where words of peace truly have built a world of peace. In the midst of the rhetoric of violence and nationalism surrounding the U.S. war in Iraq, just this month here at Bluffton the proclamation of our Iraqi international students truly did build a new world of peace; as they vulnerably and courageously shared their experiences of the war on a student panel, the power of their words broke down barriers and built the understanding necessary to pursue the common goal of shalom. Let me be clear that as a citizen of the United States, their stories were not easy to hear, and I left with a new sense of responsibility for the ways in which my nation's actions have devastated the lives of my friends at Bluffton and around the world.
But despair did not have the last word that evening. At one particularly powerful moment, a student from the United States asked the panel what their dreams were for the future of Iraq. In unison, the Iraqi students replied, "Peace." A bold word of hope confronting the seemingly hopeless world of violence. In that moment, proclamation and peacebuilding were one and the same. This is the task of proclamation according to Walter Brueggemann— to expose the status quo and propose a radical alternative, to dismantle the imperial rhetoric of death and legitimize the new rhetoric of God’s kingdom— words of life, words of peace, words of hope.
In closing, may we always remember that to speak a word of peace is to build a world of peace. Recognizing the undeniable connection between word and action, may we embrace Christ's call to proclamation as a call to peacebuilding. Striving to subvert the hegemonic rhetoric of empire, may we always choose to proclaim the radical alternative of Christ's peace. And celebrating the places where proclamation truly has created a world of peace, may we always have hope.
Go in peace, knowing that the world has been transformed by the true words spoken in this place. Go in peace, trusting that Christ's word of life holds greater power than the world of death. Go in peace, to proclaim a world of peace. Amen and thank you.
Barrett, Ted and Deirdre Walsh. “Standoff in Congress threatens highway construction funding.” No pages. Cited 22 March 2012. Online: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/21/politics/congress-transportation-bill/index.html?npt=NP1
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001.
CNN Wire Staff. “Sanford, Florida, police chief steps aside ‘temporarily’ in fallout from teen’s death.” No pages. Cited 22 March 2012. Online: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/22/justice/florida-teen-shooting/index.html?hpt=us_c1 .
Djau, Umaro. “Renegade soldiers declare power seizure in Mali.” No pages. Cited 22 March 2012. Online:http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/22/world/africa/mali-suspected-coup/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
Feinberg, Jonathan. “Wordle.” No pages. Cited 22 March 2012. Online: http://www.wordle.net/
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2010.
Schirch, Lisa. Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian, 2005.
Shaughnessy, Larry. “Army reviewing PTSD evaluation program.” No pages. Cited 22 March 2012. Online: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/21/us/army-ptsd-evaluation-program/index.html?hpt=us_c2
Verello, Dan. “Occupiers clash with police in New York; 6 arrested.” No pages. Cited 22 March 2012. Online: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/21/justice/new-york-occupyarrests/index.html?hpt=us_c2
Friday, June 1, 2012
I just ran across the text of my chapel talk from the Women’s Studies chapel at Bluffton University back in March and thought I would share it with anyone who might be interested!
Today as we explore the theme of wholeness, I would like start with a conversation about what it means for us to experience seasons of darkness and doubt on the journey of faith. As I read verse 12 of Psalm 139, listen for the echoes of your own voice, questions, and doubts in these words of Scripture:
Even the darkness is not dark to you;
The night is as bright as the day,
For darkness is as light to you.
As I was reading Psalm 139 and thinking about our theme today of wholeness, I was immediately drawn to the phrase, “darkness is as light to you.” My first thought was, “No, God, today’s theme is WHOLENESS, not DARKNESS!” So I read the passage again. And again.
And I ended up back where I began:
Darkness is as light to you.
Since I couldn’t escape it, I decided I might as well embrace it. So, darkness.
Have you ever been there?
I have been. This year has been, in a sense, a dark one for me. Those of you who know me know that I love to ask questions. As a religion major, I have been equipped to ask big questions…you know, the dangerous ones. Is God real? Does truth exist? Can I trust God? Is it really possible to live faithfully? At times, I have found myself in places where doubt overshadowed faith and darkness seemed to drown out the light.
But our Scripture today tells us that DARKNESS is as LIGHT to God.
What does this mean when we find ourselves in times of doubt and darkness?
First, it means that experiences of darkness are TO BE EXPECTED on the journey of faith. The psalmist here isn’t afraid to ask questions of God, and she affirms that darkness is part of the journey. In fact, darkness is an opportunity to have faith and trust that God is indeed our guide and God sees only light.
Second, it’s important to note that the psalmist says that darkness is as light TO GOD, not to you and me. When we experience a time of doubt and darkness, it is NOT our job to see, find, or somehow create the light. Our faith should never be fake—real doubt is far better than false joy, because thankfully the light of God does not depend on us. For this reason, when darkness comes—and the psalmist tells us that it will come—we can trust that God sees the light even when we can’t, and that is enough.
Third, it seems significant that this verse paves the way for the most popular portion of Psalm 139. It serves as the prelude for the resounding praise of God as our Creator, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” You see, the psalmist’s questions and doubts and struggles…the psalmist’s experience of darkness…is but one step on her journey, the journey that each of us are traveling—towards wholeness and restoration. Towards healing through God’s radical grace. And friends, the final destination of this journey is not darkness, but the praise of the God who created both light and darkness.
In my own journey this year, this has been the case. God has led me, like the psalmist, from darkness to light and from doubt to praise. I have asked the hard questions, engaged the times of darkness, and trusted in the God who guides me and sees light when I see only darkness. In spite of my feelings and my doubts, I have continued to pray, attend chapel, go to church, and study Scripture. It is all too easy to put these things aside, but I believe that our willingness to actively seek God in the midst of all of our questions and doubts is key to allowing God to lead us from seasons of darkness into seasons of abundant praise.
Another important aspect of my own journey towards wholeness has been community. We talk a lot about community here at Bluffton, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence; as it turns out, these people sitting next to you are a gift of God on this journey toward wholeness. In seasons of darkness and seasons of light, I have found listening ears, warm hugs, lots of laughter, and genuine support from my friends and professors in the Bluffton community. In some of my darkest moments, these people—many of you here worshipping with me today—have spoken the words of God into my life when I could not hear God’s voice for myself. That is true community— trusting one another and God enough to be real, to be vulnerable, and to let the light of God shine through others when we can’t see it for ourselves.
This is my prayer for our community today and every day as we think about what it means for us to journey together toward wholeness—that we would be a community that takes the words of Psalm 139 seriously and acknowledges that darkness is a beautiful and essential part of wholeness. A community that doesn’t buy into the lie that our faithfulness is measured by our ability to see the light. A community that is built on mutual honesty, trust, and encouragement in times of darkness and times of light. A community that celebrates the fact that the journey of wholeness is not to be traveled alone.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Today I was reminded that the work of justice in the church and the world is indeed a struggle. After four days of extraordinary hope, today was a disappointing one for a two particular reasons. First, I had the experience of witnessing the Faith & Order subcommittee vote to approve stronger language restricting ordination to individuals whose sexuality is expressed only within the boundaries of “marriage between one man and one woman.” Of course, this language would restrict non-celibate LGBTQ individuals from seeking ordination; however, it would also restrict all candidates for ministry—gay, straight, and everything in between—who are (and possibly even who have been) sexually active outside the context of marriage. I wholeheartedly believe that we must hold our clergy to high standards of integrity, but the addition of this particular language would be an unfortunate—not to mention unenforceable—addition to our Book of Discipline. As this comes before the plenary, it will be one fascinating piece of legislation to watch!
Next, tonight the General Administration committee (in which I have been serving as a legislative coordinator for the Common Witness Coalition) completed its four days of work on the denominational restructuring proposals by sending exactly no restructuring legislation to the plenary floor. Today was a long day in subcommittee—8am until 9:30pm, to be exact—and the GA committee worked an extra (and extremely chaotic) half hour with the permission of the General Secretary of the General Conference. The rules of General Conference state that any legislation which has not been voted on by 9:30pm on the last day of committee is considered unfinished, but in this situation (just restructuring the entire church, you know…no big deal), the committee was given permission to take one final vote. However, at the end of the night—after watching legislative and political mass chaos erupt—all three restructuring proposals were voted down by the committee. Two things about this situation were especially disappointing to me—first, young adult and Central Conference delegates had worked all day in subcommittee on amendments to Plan B, and this work was dismissed by the committee as a whole. These delegates— both young and global voices—represent the vitality to which the Call to Action is supposedly calling us. But at the end of the day, the voices of vitality and diversity did not have the final (or any) say in the restructuring of our great church—the voices of power did. Finally, this experience called into question the value of parliamentary procedure in the life of the church, something for which I am typically a strong advocate. While I have always appreciated parliamentary procedure as a structure that provides both equality and efficiency, in General Administration tonight that was not the case; instead, it functioned as a structure through which those in power stalled the process, silenced the body, and stayed in power.
After this long day, General Conference rolls on. I am humbled by this opportunity to better understand this church I love—this beautiful and broken people of God. But most of all, I am humbled by this opportunity to enter into the struggle for justice and for the inclusion of all voices—not only the voices of the powerful—in The United Methodist Church.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Last night was a powerful night of solidarity for the Common Witness Coalition. First, during plenary session, Mark Miller--one of the most gifted worship leaders in The United Methodist Church-- took a point of privilege on the floor of the plenary to express the brokenness and hurt he has felt as an openly gay man taking part in some of the conversations around human sexuality at General Conference. Before he was ruled out of order, he invited LGBTQA individuals to stand with him in plenary hall, and coalition members and others stood in solidarity with Mark within and beyond the bar.
After plenary and closing worship, the Common Witness Coalition held a silent demonstration at the doors of plenary hall. Hundreds of us, wearing rainbow stoles, joined hands and formed a silent—silenced—tunnel at both exits. Delegates and bishops, church members and visitors walked by us as they left the hall for the evening; some ignored us, but many also spoke words of blessing and words of prayer. A few people hugged and prayed over each of us, and many joined hands and stood with us. Once everyone had left the hall, we broke our silence with a song— “we are all your sons and daughters, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”
As we joined in the Tabernacle for worship and conversation following the demonstration, around my table we discussed what it really means to be in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Many of us were keenly aware that the silence of the demonstration eliminated any distinction between LGBTQ individuals and allies. Each of us who stood in the line truly stood in solidarity-- a radical posture of being with-- indistinguishable from the LGBTQ community. With this vulnerable posture of solidarity comes risk, especially for those of us seeking ordination in this church, and I was keenly aware of that as every bishop of The United Methodist Church walked past us. But I also had hope as some bishops joined us, standing in solidarity and entering into the silence. To be sure, there is risk involved in action, but the greatest risk is inaction and complicity to injustice and exclusion in the body of Christ.