Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Voices Have Not Been Heard? - An Open Letter to the Council of Bishops of the UMC

Dear Council of Bishops,

I read your letter to the church this morning. In it you claim that your proposal is a way forward that commits to “having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.” I have to admit that every time I hear this statement I am puzzled. With respect, Dear Bishops, What voices have not been heard?

I ask this question because prior to General Conference I listened to the Connectional Table conversations which were taken over by the ironically named “Love Prevails” group. I followed almost every word of the livestream at General Conference and saw the demonstration by the LGBTQI supporters on the floor of General Conference – within the bar and therefore supported not only by the Marshalls who were supposed to protect the bar, but the bishops who allowed the demonstrators access. I watched the feed from the RMN coalition as they “ordained” Sue Laurie and as they presented various people who told their stories from an LBGTQI perspective. I have listened to the voices of the African delegates on the floor and in previous years I have listened to them in person (having been a recorder and transcriber at the two previous General Conferences). I also followed the videos and blogs put out by the Renew and Reform Coalition. All of these were loud and clear, so I ask again, What voices have not been heard?

We have at least four Annual Conferences in the United States that have vowed to break their vows of ordination and ignore the Discipline. We have 120 clergy and clergy candidates that have “come out” and have acknowledged that they lied to their own Boards of Ordained ministry. We have 2000 and counting clergy who have signed a letter of support for those who have and will in the future come out and/or break the covenant by performing same sex weddings. So I ask again, What voices have not been heard?

I have a Facebook friend who suggests that the chair of the commission should be a Ph.D. level ethicist and that it should contain “at least one scholar trained in the behavioral sciences who has done research on persons with a same gender orientation.” I have my own suggestion: that the commission contain at least one biblical scholar who has worked on developing a theology of sexuality based on the whole bible and not on either the “7 clobber passages” or a vague “God welcomes all” reading of scripture. If there is any voice I have not heard, it is this one.

I haven’t heard a lot of voices like mine, either. I have spent the last twenty-five years or so listening to the voices of those who are LGBTQI. Being scientifically trained, I have been keeping up with the scientific research into gender, reading not just the popular literature, but the scientific journals. As a biblical scholar, I have looked at both sides of the debate from a biblical point of view, reading and listening to scholars with a wide variety of hermeneutical and exegetical approaches. As a pastor, I have welcomed LGBTQI people into my congregations and made it clear to the congregations that all are welcome to come to the table. I have come to my conclusions after a great deal of study, listening, and prayer. I deeply resent being labeled “homophobic and evil” as I have been on numerous occasions, though I have tried to respond graciously. I also resent the attitude that I am just not as far along in my thinking as the “progressives.” I am usually represented in debates by those who are clearly far more conservative than I am and who do, in fact, lean toward a homophobic attitude. All of this to say, that if there are voices that are not being heard, they are voices like mine from people who have agonized over this issue for years and have come to some conclusions that the LGBTQI community doesn’t like. Honestly, I don’t like them either; I would rather be one who just goes along with the culture and lets people do what they like. But I can’t. All of that study, listening, and prayer has led me to the conclusion that I can’t.

So, Dear Bishops, though I really think that the voices which claim to have been silenced have spoken loud and clear and that this commission is an attempt to wait out those of us who are not “progressive,” I beg you to hear voices like mine. I beg you to place on your commission people who have listened with compassion, studied diligently, prayed fervently and yet still believe that 1) while love is from God, not all love must be expressed as sexual intimacy, 2) that one does not have to express oneself sexually to be a whole person, and 3) that sexual intimacy between two human beings is a gift from God to be shared only within a covenantal marriage between a man and a woman.

Along with many in the United Methodist Church, I will be praying for the work of this commission.

Blessings,


Rev. Dr. Martha Myre
Elder on Leave of Absence
North Texas Annual Conference

Monday, July 6, 2015

On the Baking of Cakes and the Claiming of Rights


There has been a lot of press lately about a bakery in Oregon that refused to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding and was subsequently fined over $100,000 for violating Oregon’s law. I have recently posted a video of a man who called a lot of gay bakeries to ask for a cake to be made for a traditional marriage event that said “Gay Marriage is Wrong.” This generated a lot of discussion and a lot of assumptions about what I do or don’t believe.  And far from being a trivial issue I think the question of what is appropriate for a Christian in business is very important.

I am writing this post mainly to and for conservative Christians and conservative/orthodox pastors who are considering their responses to this question. I was not actually sure where I stood on this for a while, so I have done what I usually do, which is study and pray. I have a biblical argument to make, so I don’t necessarily think non-Christians or even liberal/progressive Christians will be interested, but for those folks who share a common sense of the authority of the Bible, I want to share this view in the hopes that it will encourage them to think about this issue in a different way. I would welcome reasoned critique and discussion, particularly (but not exclusively) from my conservative/orthodox brothers and sisters.  I am certain some of you will disagree with me.

Let me say this as clearly as I know how: I do not support the bakers or any other vendors who deny service to those who are LGBT or those in other religions. I don’t think that serving someone is equivalent to supporting their belief system or even supporting their actions. And though it may be the legal right of someone to deny service, I don’t think Christians should claim that right. In fact, I think Christians should be far more concerned about their responsibilities to serve the world than about their rights in the world.

The bible does not say to reject commerce with other peoples except in some very narrow circumstances. It says not to worship the gods of other nations, but not to stop trading with them. In fact, through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the Israelites who were in exile:
 4 The LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims to all the exiles I have carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon:
 5 Build houses and settle down; cultivate gardens and eat what they produce.
 6 Get married and have children; then help your sons find wives and your daughters find husbands in order that they too may have children. Increase in number there so that you don't dwindle away.
 7 Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because your future depends on its welfare.
 (Jer 29:4-7 CEB)
“Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” does not mean, “worship the Babylonian gods,” but it must mean to work with the people of the city.

In Exodus we have commandments about the importance of treating well those among you who are strangers, aliens, immigrants, what-have-you, and the reason given is that you should remember that you were once a part of that group.  21 Don't mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt. (Exo 22:21 CEB)  The immigrants mentioned here are not necessarily worshipers of Yahweh, so upholding their legal rights has nothing to do with them and their beliefs. It has everything to do with the nature of God and of the covenant call to be a blessing to all families of the earth.

Another passage that I think bears on the situation is also in Exodus:
4 When you happen to come upon your enemy's ox or donkey that has wandered off, you should bring it back to them.
 5 When you see a donkey that belongs to someone who hates you and it's lying down under its load and you are inclined not to help set it free, you must help set it free. (Exo 23:4-5 CEB)
You are not required to agree with your enemy, but you are required to help him.

If we are going to take seriously the moral commands in the Old Testament, we need to take these moral commands seriously as well. I don’t want to do these things, but I don’t see God really giving me a choice if I am going to be faithful.

When we come to the New Testament, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount need to be carefully considered. I think the most relevant portion is this:
38 "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well.
 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.
 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two.
 42 Give to those who ask, and don't refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
 43 "You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you
 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.
 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same?
 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don't even the Gentiles do the same?
 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Mat 5:38-48 CEB)

If the commentators are correct, the “force you to go one mile” refers to the ability of Roman soldiers to commandeer people to carry their supplies for a mile. So Jesus is saying to do the second mile out of love. Carrying the supplies of the Roman soldiers did not imply that one was in agreement with the Roman government or with the wars of the Romans.  It did mean that you were to witness to them, not by standing on your rights – I only have to carry this one mile – but by showing love through service – I willingly bear this burden for a second mile because I want to display God’s love for you. Also remember that Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s servant and was able to recognize the man’s faith even though Jesus certainly challenged the authority of Rome.

Verses 46-48 are the kicker: if you only love those who love you, you are no better than anyone else. How will that show the nature of God to the world? Only by showing God’s love will you be able to shine your light. 

Jesus was able to say these things and still call people to account for their sins, so showing love is clearly not equivalent to acceptance of sin. In fact, Jesus came to destroy the power of sin, so that we would not be ruled by sin and evil any longer.

Another passage that seems to have something to say is that of the “Good Samaritan.” The Pharisees knew that they were supposed to love God and love neighbor, but were not sure who their neighbor was. The parable did not tell them who their neighbor was, instead, the parable suggested how to be a good neighbor – which included caring for someone who was outside of your own religious and racial group.

I have expressed concerns that those who want to justify gay marriage are stretching the scriptures about “love” way too far. I think that what I have called the “Gay Agenda” is more interested in the rights of LGBT folks than in the rights of Christians. However, I am suggesting to my conservative and orthodox brothers and sisters that our own sin has been in narrowing the scriptures that I have referenced way too far.  Our sin has been in believing that our rights were more important than our witness. They are not.

I believe with all my heart that we should hold fast to the teaching that we are given; that we should not be blown about by every new doctrine that comes along. I don’t think the Holy Spirit contradicts scripture in a “new” teaching. But these are old scriptures, and old ideas, not new ones. We are called to be salt and light, which includes both telling the truth about what we believe is wrong and sinful, but also telling the truth about God’s redeeming love. I, for one, find that being salt and light and loving those who seem to be my enemies can be extremely uncomfortable at times. But these are not suggestions from Jesus, they are commandments.

So I would say – bake the cake. Bake the most beautiful cake you can. You don’t usually even know the circumstances of the two people getting married (even if it is man and woman) – you might not approve if you did – but it isn’t their beliefs that matter. It is your beliefs that matter. And most importantly, it is the nature of your God that matters. Witness to the nature of God by serving and loving not just the Christian community, but all the families of the earth.

Postscript 1: I'm not very good at this yet. All I can say is that I am better than I was 5-10 years ago and I hope that in 5-10 years I will have moved forward in my ability to love and serve. I am grateful to have a God of wrath who is trying to destroy the sin and evil in me, a God of grace who forgives my many failings and a God of love who has a lot of work to do to make me into God's image. I shudder to think what I would be like without God.


Postscript 2: In case you wonder, I do not believe that the requirement to serve extends to clergy. Our performance of a marriage ceremony is a clear demonstration of acceptance. This is why we have the ability to refuse to marry or to require counseling. I think that just as a priest would have refused to offer up an animal that was not suitable on the altar, we cannot offer up a marriage that we don’t believe God will bless – whether it is a same-sex marriage or one between a man and a woman that we don’t feel is healthy. Marriage may not be a sacrament in the UMC, but I believe it is sacramental in nature, a means of grace, and an act of worship, as well as a sign of God’s covenant with the people of Israel and Jesus’ covenant with the church. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

What it means to be poor and how to help


No, this post is not about sexuality issues. It’s about something I think is much more important – what it is like to be poor in America. It is also about me needing help – not for myself, but for a family that I have grown to know and love. I am not poor, at least not in the sense that I am talking about, but I have gotten to know a family that is. Let me tell you about them and what I have learned and why I need help.  There is a GoFundMe page available to make donations.

How we met
I got to know this family when I was the pastor in a small town. The mom had 5 kids and one on the way. They lived right behind the church in what looked to me like a house that was falling down. Initially she had asked for help getting the water connected; which the church was able to help with.  Over time I got to know this mom and her kids. She asked for help occasionally, but never until it was absolutely necessary and never more than really needed. During her pregnancy I took her to most of her doctor's appointments and was going to be at the birth, but the baby decided to come when I was on vacation! 

Even though the house looked like a shack to me, my friend made it into a home that was as clean and comfortable as possible for her children, painting the inside with paint leftover by the landlord, planting flowers outside, and always keeping it fresh and clean. I was amazed that she could do that with six kids!

When I moved back to my home in another county to be with my husband (I had been living in the parsonage) I continued my relationship with this family. I became the representative payee for the mom and got to know all of the kids. 

My husband died unexpectedly in March 2014 (I found him one Sunday afternoon in the living room) and I was left with a large 4 bedroom house, far too big for me to take care of.  My son and I used insurance money to pay cash for a smaller house closer in to the city.  

I decided to ask my friend and her family if they wanted to move into my house.  I wanted them to be able to live in a place that was safe and had good schools for the kids. I also hoped that eventually my friend and her guy would be able to find jobs (once the kids were old enough). I told her I would not charge any more than they were paying for the shack ($300). I also charged another $300 a month for utilities.

The family moved last August and the kids have done extremely well at school. My friend is an excellent mother and even with the 6 kids keeps the house cleaner than I ever did. The problem is that my expenses for the house exceed what they can pay. She only gets about $1450 per month. $600 for rent and utilities is way cheaper than anything else she could get, but is still difficult to pay. And my expenses on the house with mortgage and utilities run about $2000 a month (somewhat more in the winter months).  I have been willing to take the financial hit because it just doesn't seem fair to me that I should have comparatively so much and this beautiful family has so little.  I used to preach about the Kingdom of God and how we needed to share with our brothers and sisters and I am trying to do that.

When you are poor
I never really understood what it meant to be poor until I became friends with this family. My friend grew up in a poor family and lived in the “projects.” She graduated from high school, but they didn’t really bother to see if she learned anything. She was certainly never encouraged to go to college. She is the youngest of a large family, but her mom died when she was 16. Everyone basically told her she was worthless. She had a mentor or two for a while, but got pregnant young and started having babies. One you start down that road, there is really no reason to stop. 

When you are poor, and live on disability, there doesn’t seem to be anyway out of poverty, so you don’t look further ahead than the next SSI check.  If you work, the amount that you receive goes down, so working doesn’t seem to be a good idea.  With no real job skills, and a very low minimum wage, working is actually a bad idea because it is not possible to work enough to feed and house your family. So you stick with the government checks and you try to do a little here and there to get some extra.

When you are poor and have a representative payee who receives your money for you, you aren’t allowed to have a bank account, and obviously, no credit or debit cards.  Hence no credit. You can’t buy things online, so you can’t get cheap deals. You have to pay things like utilities in cash.

When you are poor, however, you don’t have transportation. So how do you get to the offices where you pay in cash? Money orders, cashier’s checks, all of those things cost money, so if you have to use one of those methods, there is always an extra cost.

When you are poor, and don’t have transportation, of course, that makes the job thing harder as well.

When you are poor and on Medicaid you find out that a lot of doctors and hospitals don’t take Medicaid, or they don’t take your version of it.  Did you know that there are different kinds of Medicaid? I didn’t.  Let me share an experience: three of my friend’s children needed glasses. Because she had moved counties, she had to go through the process of getting the Medicaid straightened out.  She called to see what kind of Medicaid was accepted by the Optometrist at the local Wal-Mart and changed her children to that company. When she finally got all the cards we took the kids to get their eyes checked and then discovered that the optical shop in that Wal-Mart did take some kinds of Medicaid, but not the one she had. Took the one she used to have, but not the same one as the Optometrist. We asked them if they could tell us if any of the Wal-Marts took her insurance and they sent us to another location. It took us three tries to find a Wal-Mart Optical store where we could get the glasses. All of this, which should have taken an hour and a half, took about 5 hours and multiple trips. If she had had to pay someone to provide transportation, the cost of that would have skyrocketed as well. If she had had a job, she probably would have missed at least half a day of work.

When my friend was pregnant with her last child, I think she probably got way more prenatal care than she had with her other pregnancies because she had someone (me) who committed to taking her to her appointments. The appointments were 20 miles away in a different town and we had to take the two youngest kids with us. Sometimes she had to go to a doctor 30 miles away for some kind of specialty appointment. These don’t sound like long distances for those of us who have cars and drive all the time. They might as well be China if you don’t have transportation.

Though she has to spend an enormous amount of time doing it, my friend makes sure that all her kids have all their shots, checkups, etc. Take the time you think you would normally have to spend on healthcare for six children and triple that and you might understand how long it takes.

When you are poor, you have three options for housing: subsidized housing (including Section 8), low rent houses and apartments that are often not in good shape, and homeless shelters. Subsidized housing is hard to get into. There is often a waiting list and if you have ever had any problems anywhere with the folks who run the subsidized housing and are kicked out of the system, it is very hard to get back in. Section 8 housing has a waiting list a mile long, so that is an unlikely prospect. My friend chose a house in a small town to accommodate her family. The place was cheap, but it had almost no air conditioning and very little heat (so we bought them heaters in the winter). Windows were cracked; there was no insulation to speak of and the electric bills were ridiculously high because of the inefficiency of the house. My friend kept it spotlessly clean – or at least as clean as you can keep a house that is not in good shape to begin with – but it still looked like it was going to fall down around them.

Then there is education. When you are poor, people don’t always take your kids seriously. At their previous school, my friend’s children were not being taught. I suspect this is because the teachers really didn’t expect anything out of them. One of the boys is developmentally delayed and at the age of 5 was only saying a few words. They said he had behavioral problems. At the new school in my old neighborhood, the delayed child has acquired a much broader vocabulary and turns out he isn’t a behavior problem – he was just frustrated at not being able to communicate. Now his sweet personality is coming out and he is a sunny and loving child. One of the kids was diagnosed with dyslexia – he is also the one who is a very creative artist. All of the kids have caught up in reading. And none of them missed even a day of school! My friend made sure that they were there and on time every day, homework in hand.

Of course, when you are poor it is hard to participate in extracurricular activities, because they all cost extra money, but at least the kids are now in a situation where the teachers are good and they are learning well.

By the way, did I mention that this family is black? They are and with everything else they have had to deal with racially motivated hatred and bullying in my neighborhood –which just burns me up.

Fixing the problems
I would love to be able to fix the issues that America has with poverty. We need healthcare, daycare, better educational opportunities, jobs programs, housing, higher minimum wage, etc., etc.
However, I can’t fix all those issues. At best I can vote to elect people who will put into place the programs we need. Will that mean higher taxes for me? Probably so. That’s ok.

Though I am not able to fix society, I would at least like to improve the lives of a few. I mean, if everybody did that, maybe we wouldn’t need to fix society. I also am a Christian and my understanding of how to live out the Christian faith is based in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. I believe that the Kingdom life can only be lived fully if we live it in service to others. I believe the things we have are only “blessings from God” if we share them and bless others. So, I shared my house as long as I could. I said above that I was charging a total of $600 a month because that is what the family was paying elsewhere. What this means is that I have been losing money. I’m sure this sounds stupid to a lot of people, but I have been deeply blessed by seeing how this family has thrived.

Now, however, my financial situation is such that I need to sell the house and the family will need to move. I am trying to rent a smaller house in the neighborhood for them. I expect I will have to put up most of the year's rent in order to get them approved. I am doing a GoFundMe campaign to see if I can get some help.  I know that there are shelters and places they could go, but if they were my children/grandchildren I would do everything I could to help, and they have become part of my family of the heart. [Update: I didn't make them move; instead I decided to try to make it work. I have a part-time job, but the other job I was hoping for didn't come through. I am also trying to finish some classes. I have received a little from the GoFundMe, but not enough, so I am back in a quandary. On the upside, the dad has a job.]

Financial help is needed, but other kinds of help are needed as well. I know there are programs that will train groups to work with families in poverty, but I am really bad at recruiting for that kind of thing. This family needs help with transportation, childcare, job training, employment, and just negotiating the system. If they are ever going to have a better life they need to get off of government subsidies and support themselves, but that is an overwhelming task. My friend needs to learn to drive and then she needs a car. And then she needs childcare. And then she needs a job. And then . . .

So I am asking for help. They don’t like to ask for help and I hate having to admit that I can’t do all that needs to be done for them, but I want those beautiful children to grow up and have a better life. I want them to be able to go to the zoo. I want them to be able to take music and art and dance lessons if they want. I want them to be able to play sports and be in Boy Scouts. I don’t know how much of this is possible, but I know it will only be possible if we form a community around them and each take a part of the task.

Is it worth it? Obviously I think so.  I hope others will, too, and be willing to help. If not, I will simply continue to do what I can and pray that God will direct their steps and guard their ways. 
Note: The family lives in Denton County along the 380 corridor. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Question of Hobby Lobby and the First Amendment

A lot of discussion was generated on Facebook after I posted a story about Hobby Lobby (http://madworldnews.com/read-else-hobby-lobby-forces-employees/). Hobby Lobby evidently pays a beginning wage that is 93% higher than the federally mandated minimum wage. They also pay a higher wage to part time employees.  They are, of course, embroiled in a debate over whether or not they have to provide certain kinds of birth control (that they consider abortifacients) as a part of their health insurance coverage. 

I want to make clear up front that I don’t actually agree with Hobby Lobby’s stance on the birth control methods (at least as far as I am able to determine). But that isn’t the issue.  For me the issue is whether or not a company has first amendment rights. One argument is that they should abide by the laws that the majority has decided on. However, the point of the Bill of Rights was to protect the rights of the minority.[1]  I have also been asked why the owners can’t just privately practice their religion by not using IUD’s or morning after pills. I want to address that question and then provide a scenario to think about.

For many Christians keeping religion private is not a viable option. We believe that Jesus is Lord of the whole world, not just of the church. Now before you go accusing me of wanting a theocracy, let me assure my readers that I want no such thing. A theocracy didn’t work in ancient Israel and it wouldn’t work now.  And Jesus was pretty clear that he wasn’t interested in creating earthly power structures. In my opinion, a theocracy put in place by even the most well-meaning Christians would eventually, if not rapidly, degenerate into a pretty horrible parody of the Kingdom of God. However, we are called to live our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So we are faced with something of a dilemma. If we are trying to live under the rule of Christ, then we have to place everything in our lives under that rule – personal and public lives, home and work.

As far as I can tell, Hobby Lobby has a higher minimum wage than necessary because they have placed the world of work under the Lordship of Christ. Have they done this perfectly? No. But they are trying. And the health insurance is a part of that.  Both the desire to pay better wages and the unwillingness to pay for what they see as abortifacients grow out of the same religious conviction. And, I would argue, they have the right to make that decision.  No one is being forced to work for Hobby Lobby. No one is forced to buy from them. They don’t provide a necessary public service (except for those craft-a-holics out there – you know who you are!). 

So here’s a scenario: the owners of Hobby Lobby lose the case and decide that they cannot contribute to what they see as violating their religious beliefs. So they sell their stores to a non-Christian company (we will call them the “Law Abiding Company” or LAC) that doesn’t try to align company policy with the Kingdom of God. LAC puts the appropriate insurance into place for all at the company who qualify. However, since they are not required to keep the salaries the same, or the hours, they decide (as a cost saving measure) to lower all beginning and part time salaries to minimum wage. Further, they know that it is far cheaper to more part time employees than full time because they would no longer have to provide health care. They could just let their employees, many of whom are now working fewer hours for less pay, buy their own insurance under Obamacare.  Thus, though LAC theoretically provides the “right” kind of health insurance to full time employees who can now get any kind of birth control they want, far fewer of their employees are on that health insurance.

LAC also decides to open on Sundays, since they have no religious reason not to, and they require their employees to make themselves available on that day if needed. Everyone has a rotating schedule, so probably no one has to work Sundays all the time, but if that is your schedule, that is when you show up.  And, of course, prices do not go down because the company owners are interested only in profit, so they are going to take that profit for themselves.

My questions are these: Is society better off? Are the people who work for Hobby Lobby better off? Who actually benefits from the decision not to allow Hobby Lobby to abide by their religious principles?

And a broader question is this: Does our society have to be so rigid that there is no room at all for differences of opinion? This is not an isolated incident and the implications are far greater than simply what happens to Hobby Lobby.  Perhaps there really isn’t room for diversity in our society, but I hope we think long and hard about what we are aiming for if that is the case.



[1] There are cases in which I think that First Amendment rights should be overridden, such as when a person’s life or public health is at stake, but this is not the case here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I think Doctrine Matters: A Reflection on the Trinity

There has been a lot of FB discussion recently about “orthodoxy,” “orthopraxy,” “Inquisitions,” biblical authority” and the like.  In one discussion, a participant made the following comment: “As to orthodoxy, no one has yet to explain how that is relevant or even defined in such a way as to be relevant.” On another post I saw this comment: “I have never quite understood how the Holy Trinity works, and I suspect that you don’t either.”  And there seems to be a general feeling that what we believe has little bearing on how we act. 

At some point I hope to write more completely about how and why I think our doctrines matter; but for now I will offer this brief summary of some of those doctrines upon which I stake my life. Please note that this is a very personal understanding of how the doctrines and creeds of the church inform my life.  I am sharing this because I wish that our discussion could be about these issues instead of about homosexuality. I think it would be more fruitful.

I don’t think I could get out of bed every day and go about my life if I did not believe in the Trinity. That may seem like a hyperbolic statement, but it really isn’t. One of my favorite prayers is “St.Patrick’s Breastplate” which begins, “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, By Invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.” I wake into a world where I count on the Father to seek us, love us, judge us, and remake us. I couldn’t live in a world where I thought that God was not “Almighty” and where I didn’t understand the world as created to be God’s home, the place where God meets us and is in relationship with us.  What gets me through interactions with some people is the knowledge that everyone is created in the image of God, no matter how diminished I think that image might be. What keeps me striving towards what Wesley called perfection (and might be understood as completion) is the knowledge that I too am created to be in God’s image and God is constantly trying to mold and shape me into that image.

Any sense of justice I have grows out of the belief that everyone is created in the image of God and that God loves creation.  It is why I am ecologically aware.  It is why I oppose abortion, war, and the death penalty.  I try to approach all people with respect, even if I don’t like them, because, whether I like it or not, they bear the image of God, however dim.

I rely daily, hourly, on the knowledge that the Son came into this world as God incarnate.  That is what grounds my hope and my ability to look forward. Somehow, God loves this creation, God wants to live here with us. I don’t always understand why God would want that, but evidently God does. Incarnation, for me, fits perfectly with the idea of God as Creator. Creation was intended for Incarnation. Jesus was not Plan B. God has always intended to walk with us; but the way and time in which God chose to become incarnate was a function of God’s deep desire and plan to put the world right.  Jesus was the most fully human person who has ever lived not in spite of being divine, but because he was fully divine. He bore the image of God the Father perfectly, as God intended. And in the resurrection we have the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise that one day heaven and earth will once again be one. We will need resurrected bodies to live in this completed world.

I live my life believing that Jesus is Lord. Jesus isn’t just my Lord, but Lord of the earth, Lord of the universe.  This has implications for how I view politics, economics, science, psychology, philosophy, astronomy, you name it.  Someone asked me recently if the discovery of life on other planets would shake my faith.  How could it? If there are other worlds, civilizations, out there, then they too are created by God and whatever persons inhabit them are created in God’s image. I love science and I think everyone who believes in God as Creator and Lord should love science. God is the one who established the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry.  Nothing that we learn in science can harm faith as long as we are seeking truth, because God is the author of truth.  (I do however have a quarrel with those scientists who venture into philosophy/theology with statements about whether or not God exists.)

Because I think Jesus is Lord, I think the “gospel” is the good news about the establishment of the Kingdom. I sometimes shudder when I say the Lord’s Prayer because of that line: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In praying that prayer I am making the claim that I am willing to place myself in the service of God to be used for the work of the kingdom.  And sometimes that scares me. I fall woefully short of living a kingdom life that reflects the will of God, but I am trying.

In some ways the Holy Spirit means the most on a daily basis, because that is how I experience the Trinity. The presence of the Father and Son are very real to me in the Spirit. Metaphorically speaking, I think that if God stopped breathing the world would die. I say that because I think God is as close as breath. I don’t believe in a God who set up the universe and then went off and took a nap.  I believe that God continues to be intimately involved in this world. Make no mistake; I do not believe that Creator and creation are one and the same. But I believe that creation depends on the continuing care of the Creator.

For me the Trinity is the root of my understanding that relationship is fundamental to being in the image of God. Do I perfectly understand what that relationship is within the Holy Trinity? Well, no. But I do think God has revealed enough to us to make a belief in the Trinity coherent. In fact, I think the idea of a “unitarian” God is awful. To me, such a God would be a lonely, terrible, unapproachable God. I think I would be a very different person if I believed in a unitarian God – fearful and solitary, and much more rigid than I am.

One more thing my belief in the Trinity does for me – it helps me cope with suffering. I have actually suffered very little in my life; I can say that even though I have just lost my husband, whom I dearly loved. Many people have suffered so much more. But that doesn’t tell me that God is absent. It tells me that we misunderstand what it means to be God.  However much any of us suffer, God is the one who suffers the most. God took all of our suffering upon Godself on the cross and the Father raised the Son from the dead to show us in the most obvious and dramatic way possible that even though suffering seems to be a part of the work of creation, God is working toward a time when peace and joy will reign and life will have overcome death.

Contemplating the intimacy and mystery of the Trinity leads me to the belief that God cares for every peasant slaughtered in war, every child that has died of malnutrition, every unnamed and unknown (to us) person in the history of the world. God knows each of them by name and has a place for them in the Kingdom. They may choose not to take that place, but you will not convince me that God has not prepared a place.  God’s will is for the blind to see, the lame to jump for joy and the imprisoned to go free. As the Holy Trinity is a mysterious and joyous relationship of sacrifice and obedience, of the outpouring of love and abundance, so our lives with each other are meant to be.

I understand that many of you will not see how I drew some of these conclusions from a belief in the Trinity. All I can tell you is that is how it has worked for me. The more I contemplate the Trinity, the more deeply connected to the reality of life I become.

I hope this will spur others to share how the Trinity and other doctrines of the faith ground their lives, hopefully with more coherence and clarity than I have managed here.  I will continue trying to clarify and will share more as I am able.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Most. Narcissistic. Song. Ever.

Otherwise known as Mirrors by Justin Timberlake.  First time I listened—casually—I thought, Oh, that’s a good song. Good beat, lots of possibilities for harmonizing. The music video had this charming older couple mirroring the young ones.


Then I listened to the words. OMG, as the kids would say. “It’s like you’re my mirror, my mirror staring back at me. I couldn’t get any bigger, with anyone else beside me.” Am I the only one who thinks that is slightly—uh—pornographic?   And really girls, can I just say, if any boy ever says to you, “You’re my mirror staring back at me” that means (pay attention, here), “I don’t see YOU, I see ME!!!” and, my dears, you should run, not walk, run the other way.

Listening to this song makes me wonder where Carly (You’re so Vain) Simon is when you need her.  Now there’s a woman who understood men.  I mean, I think I understand why kids these days are having relationship problems if this is what they are listening to.  Whatever happened to the good wholesome stuff I used to listen to - the Eagles, Lying Eyes, Rolling Stones, Satisfaction,  Doors, People are Strange. 

Huh.

Never mind.


(Well they aren’t narcissistic!)