Grace from Gary

grace ɡrās/noun
  1. 1.
    simple elegance or refinement of movement.

A Feminist Perspective on Resurrection

posted May 30, 2019, 1:24 PM by Cindy Tidball

"But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense."
-- Luke 24:11

As we close out the Easter Season, I want to provide some reflections on resurrection from a different perspective. The three links below lead to articles written from a feminist perspective. I invite you to read and consider these authors’ views.

The blog, I Am A Jesus Feminist Because of the Resurrection, is the story of a woman’s Easter Sunday experience as she listens to the sermon.
https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/i-am-jesus-feminist-because-resurrection
 
The article, Resurrection and natural law: a feminist perspective, deals with resurrection and gender.
https://voicesofsophia.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/resurrection-and-natural-law-a-feminist-perspective/
 
How Easter became a #MeToo moment focuses on Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection and how male leadership within Christianity “used its power to silence her voice.''
https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/30/world/easter-metoo-jesus/index.html

Side by Side, One Last Time

posted May 2, 2019, 1:55 PM by Cindy Tidball


The structure of the United Methodist Church may remind you of the way the government of the United States is divided into three branches. As the government of the United States has legislative, executive and judicial branches, so the United Methodist Church has a legislative body (General Conference), an executive body (Council of Bishops), and a judicial body (Judicial Council). One crucial role of the Judicial Council is to determine the constitutionality of legislation passed by General Conference. Following General Conference 2019, the petitions associated with the Traditional Plan which was approved were sent to the Judicial Council for review. At their meeting the last week of April, the Judicial Council ruled that some of the Traditional Plan petitions passed by the General Conference were constitutional and some were not.

Petitions found constitutional and taking effect January 1, 2020 included:
  • An expansion of the definition of a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include persons in same-sex marriages or civil unions.
  • Prohibition of bishops from consecrating bishops or commissioning or ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
  • Minimum penalties for being convicted at a church trial for officiating at a same-sex wedding: a one-year suspension without pay for the first conviction and loss of clergy credentials for a second conviction.
  • Prohibiting District Committees on Ordained Ministry and Boards of Ordained Ministry from recommending persons who do not meet all disciplinary requirements.
  • Making every effort to have a complainant agree to the terms of a just resolution of a complaint and specifying that a just resolution must contain a statement of harms and how they are addressed in the resolution.
  • Church trial verdicts can be appealed on the basis of egregious errors of church law.
Petitions found unconstitutional:
  • Petitions which would have moved the accountability of bishops away from their jurisdictional college or central conference.
  • Petitions which would have required specific certification for persons nominated for the Board of Ordained Ministry.
  • A petition which would have asked Boards of Ordained Ministry to examine candidates in part, through a search of social media, to determine if they meet qualifications for commissioning or ordination.
These rulings affect pastors and reinforce the United Methodist Church’s current stance on human sexuality. They deny LGBTQ persons their full humanity. They deny LGBTQ people God’s blessing in marriage within United Methodist sanctuaries by United Methodist clergy. They deny those LGBTQ people who experience a call to ministry a place within the United Methodist Church. Most of all they deny the full, grace-filled gospel of Jesus Christ.

While I am deeply disappointed, hurt and discouraged, other clergy and United Methodist congregations believe that the church in these decisions is being faithful to the long-standing witness of the Bible and church. Such oppositional responses starkly reveal the depth of the divisions within the United Methodist Church.

What might the future look like? The Judicial Council decision reinforces the traditional stance of the United Methodist Church. An organization called the Wesleyan Covenant Association and its allies have pledged to continue to work to strengthen the Traditional Plan as they prepare for the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis. They will seek to revise petitions from the Traditional Plan found unconstitutional to make them constitutional. At the same time, a number of more Centrist and Progressive persons and groups have pledged to resist the Traditional Plan in different ways and to work for change as they prepare for the 2020 General Conference. It would seem there are forces within the United Methodist Church destined to collide again, and soon, and in Minneapolis.

What has become clear to me, and to others, is that more space needs to be opened up within the United Methodist Church for persons who currently are not welcomed. We cannot simply keep moving into the future as we are now. It will only generate increasingly intense cycles of conflict and oppression; scapegoating LGBTQ persons, their families and friends in a power struggle for the soul of the United Methodist Church.

This is where we are, and the Judicial Council decision is part of this disgraceful longer story. The question before us is how we will live together in this uncertain and in-between time when it seems clear that the United Methodist Church will somehow realign within the United States, and possibly around the world.

Realignment is not new for the communities of people who follow Jesus, it started early on. “The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord.” (Acts 15:39-40)

We have to figure out the future, thoughtfully, prayerfully, and gracefully open to God’s Life-Giving Spirit. While we do that, we also know we cannot neglect the pain and anguish in the world which God loves. The ministry to which we are called, transforming the world by the power of God’s love, continues. Hungry people need food, those mired in poverty need to be heard, addicted people need freedom, frayed relationships need mending, broken lives need healing, injustices need to be righted.

We are living in a challenging and difficult time as the United Methodist Church. Two moments from Genesis tug at my soul. “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, old and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him.” (Genesis 25:8-9a)  “Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” (Genesis 35:29)  It is not the images of death which speak to me, rather the image of two brothers, often-estranged and always in conflict, standing together in shared memory and shared grief. In this moment we are together with a deeply shared history. Soon the United Methodist Church will become something new. Might we work to bless each other even as we work out this new thing that needs to happen?

The Creative Spirit of Spring

posted Apr 12, 2019, 1:50 PM by Cindy Tidball

Spring is a time of dawning light, new life, new birth, and new hope - a time of warmth, exuberance, dancing, and blossoming. It is a time to embrace our own spiritual creativity that connects us to the universal Creative Spirit of Life we have named God.

I often like to talk about God not as the “creator of heaven and earth” but as the Creative Spirit that spins and dances throughout the universe bringing about life and, at the same time, spins and dances within me and you and us bringing about our lives.

We are the latest in a trajectory of increasing complexity in our 13.7 billion-year-old Universe Story. In a bare bones account, you can trace increasing levels of complexity of “pre-atomic, atomic, molecular, unicellular, multi-cellular, vertebrate, primate, and human” — perhaps extending to even higher emergent levels of complexity that have not yet been fully identified or perceived.

Whether you believe that the universe has a purpose, it is astounding that we exist, that we’re here and that it’s spring! Over the course of billions of years, it’s breathtaking to consider the emerging stages of complexity of pre-atomic particles into atoms, molecules, and prokaryotic, then eukaryotic cells — to vertebrates, primates, and then into we modern humans. There is “not nothing” and not even just “something”; there is the outstandingly amazing something of ourselves, our society, and the world around us.

As E.E. Cummings wrote,
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
 
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
 
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
 
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 
“Have you ever not been surprised by spring?” At least for me spring is always more miraculous and astounding than I expect and remember in the intricate details and abundance of life. Partly it is because I’m so grateful for the end of winter. But it’s much more than that. In recent week I have been able to watch winter let go of its hold and see spring emerge (even though winter has made a brief re-appearance). In spring there is wonder, amazement, awe, and gratitude that is integral to a spirituality of life. 

Modern Christian spiritual leader Matthew Fox says it this way, “We now have an inkling of the unbelievable fertility of the universe, of the constant birthing of atoms and molecules, eggs and spermatozoa, of cells and living organisms in water and on land.1

And in March of 2015 astronomers estimated that “there may be more Earth-like planets than grains of sand on all our beaches.2

My favorite line from the film Contact is this, “I’ll tell you one thing about the universe. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So, if it’s just us . . . seems like an awful waste of space.”

Another modern Christian spiritual leader, Thomas Berry, has said that, “Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.3” Gardening connects you to the passing of time, the seasons, and the source of your food.

Our impulse to embrace spring comes from our deepest spiritual desire, to embrace and be embraced by the Creative Spirit of Life.
 
1 Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 181.
2 https://www.cnet.com/news/the-milky-way-is-flush-with-habitable-planets-study-says/
3 Quoted by Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, 191.

Being Stomped On

posted Mar 20, 2019, 8:08 AM by Cindy Tidball

A lot of Methodists are feeling stomped on since the end of General Conference in late February. The outcome of the world-wide Methodist gathering was disgraceful and dishonorable. It is the beginning of a well-orchestrated conservative takeover of the United Methodist Church.

Yet, getting stomped on is the beginning of making new wine. I do not think my conservative colleagues have realized the energy that has been released to create a new wine and a new wineskin in the United States for those of us that do not fit into the old wineskin anymore.

As Jesus says, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:22) I guess our new wine has burst the seams of the United Methodist wineskin.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 was the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Church as we know it. United Methodist leaders are coming together throughout the United States to discuss how to make a new wineskin to hold a new wine. The conversations are beginning.

A group of forty United Methodist clergy from around the Metro Area met on Wednesday March 6, 2019 to begin the process of reaching out to connect with other United Methodist leaders within Minnesota and around the United States. I am part of this group of United Methodist leaders working to create something new.  Something loving and inclusive, embracing Jesus’ call: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

Because of who we are, who we have been for many years, those who have been participating at Peace Community of Faith have received a foretaste of what that new wine may look like and the aroma it will take on.

We have until the end of 2023 to discern our place in this new creation of God and if we want to be part of such a new creation at all. It has been just a few weeks since General Conference and the first steps in making new wine are very fluid.

Please watch and listen for ways to faithfully and graciously join in conversations for the future of God’s ministry of love and justice at Peace Community of Faith.

Will the Sky Fall?

posted Feb 6, 2019, 8:26 AM by Cindy Tidball

Have you heard that there is a special international gathering coming up later this month at which Methodist Church delegates will specifically discuss and maybe vote on language and policies concerning issues of sexuality? I’ve mentioned the meeting recently; it will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from February 23-26. However, here are a few thoughts that are not being talked about or covered by the United Methodist News Service.

Methodist1 decision-making is going global. For nearly 1900 years, decision-making within Christianity has been dominated by white male Europeans. In our time it’s going global. Since its inception in 1968, the global Methodist Church has been dominated by the United Methodist Church in the United States. But at the 2019 special General Conference, the most significant block of votes will come from the delegates of the African continent.
 
Sexuality is only the tip of the iceberg. Language and policies on sexuality, as it appears in the current bi-laws and policies, comprise the most significant issue in the Methodist Church in the United States and globally. Little will get done as a Church until we resolve this issue, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath issues of sexuality lie significant differences regarding how we as Methodists interpret the Bible. This may not be clear until you find yourself in a discussion about human sexuality with someone only to discover that they approach the Bible from a significantly different perspective than you do.
 
Even deeper differences exist around understandings of such concepts as sin, salvation, Christ, and God.
 
Whatever happened to a way forward? In 2016 at the last Methodist General Conference, delegates asked the Council of Bishops to take the lead in resolving the gridlock around issues of sexuality in the Methodist Church. The Bishops asked thirty-two people from around the world to serve on a commission to discern a way forward for the global United Methodist Church. Appropriately enough, this group was called the “Commission on a Way Forward.”
 
The commission met for approximately a year and a half. In their meeting and praying together they could not reach a majority agreement, let alone a conscientious one, so they presented two possible plans for a way forward to the Council of Bishops.
 
But--wait for it--while delegates from the commission were presenting their findings to the Council of Bishops, it was discovered that two plans were not enough. A small group of bishops and a few members of the commission decided to propose a third plan for moving forward. However, by a majority vote which has not been made public, the Council of Bishops decided to recommend and present only the One Church Plan2.
 
Eventually the Judicial Council of the Methodist Church (think Supreme Court) over-ruled the Council of Bishop’s decision to recommend and present only the One Church Plan, and it also ruled that legislative petitions relevant to the topic of sexuality can be considered for the agenda of the special General Conference in February 2019. All of the “Big Three” plans were alive again, with a few other plans being added to the mix. As a result, 78 petitions are “in harmony” with the stated call of the upcoming special General Conference of the Methodist Church and will be considered; 48 petitions are in the Commission on a Way Forward’s report and 30 other petitions are from other individuals and groups within the Methodist Church.
 
How much influence does the Council of Bishops have? There are at least forty-six bishops currently serving on the Council of Bishops, but like the Methodist Church in the United States and worldwide, the Council of Bishops is also divided on one way forward. If a plan passes at the special General Conference, it will pass because of the influence the Bishops are able to wield. It is still up in the air as to how much and what type of influence the Bishops will be able to bring to bear to get something done. We’ll find out in a couple of weeks.
 
What’s the worst-case scenario? What began with a sense of clarity has become very muddied. If no decision on a way forward is reached, it will leave the United Methodist Church in the United States with no plan to move forward, therefore pushing the conflict and a possible decision to a regular General Conference to be held in Minneapolis in 2020. Most Methodists who have met with delegates encouraged them to decide on a plan to move forward at the special General Conference.
 
Will the sky fall? Don’t be afraid. Amazingly the sun will rise on Wednesday, February 27, and members of the Celebration Chorale and Praise Singers will be able to get together in the Fellowship Hall at Peace and sing. We will worship on Sunday morning March 3. Whatever happens at the special General Conference, people will still gather to worship around the world, to nurture one another’s faith, to feed the hungry, to heal a broken world, to house the homeless, and do the things the people of God are called to do.
 
1 In the U.S. we are the United Methodist Church; internationally we are known as the Methodist Church.
 
2 If you would like to read about the three major plans click the link below:
https://www.minnesotaumc.org/newsdetail/a-way-forward-the-three-plans-and-resources-for-churches-11499165

Joy to the World

posted Dec 5, 2018, 9:21 AM by Penny Skildum

Christmas in the Bible

The Christmas accounts found in our sacred stories are not necessarily historically accurate.  To dwell in the need for proof is to miss the beauty and meaning of the season:  tales of life and birth, danger and wonder…and great joy.
Matthew’s Christmas story is a political thriller. In the Gospel of Matthew, we find an infant, born in a house, infused with sacred spirit. We know this part of the story, but we often leave the story there and forget the rest. The rest of the story tells how political leaders react to the birth. Some seek to find him to give him homage. Some seek to find him to kill him. The threat of death is so real that the family must flee their native country to migrate to Egypt. As they flee, there is such an effort to destroy this God-infused baby that there is a massacre of infants in the town where the child was born, Bethlehem. The danger remained so great the family could not return to their hometown. They moved to a little out-of-the-way village called Nazareth.

The Gospel of Luke tells a different story. It is a holiday musical with all kinds of show-stopping songs of joy.  The songs celebrate two mothers’ discovery that they are pregnant. The songs celebrate the birth of their two children, John the Baptist and Jesus. God’s grand finale in this world-changing musical is sung by an angelic choir to shepherds. It is about the music of peace and good will which infuse the world with the birth of this child. Sometimes you are so filled with joy and hope you have to burst out in song. Joy to the World!
These are indeed strange Christmas stories. What does it say about how we, as a people who place our faith in God through Jesus Christ, should react to people around the world fleeing violence? What should we think when they show up at the borders of our nation? Should we support meeting them with military action and tear gas? Shall we meet them as people with human dignity and human need? Do I hear the echoes of “Joy to the World” coming from the voices at our border. Will I, will you, will we join this migrant choir, filled with political intrigue, singing “Joy to the World?”

To join this hopeful choir is how we bring peace and good will to the world. That is what our Christmas stories say.
For my part, I am supporting the Border Ministries Network of Missions & Ministries and the Migrant Ministry Partnership between CAL-PAC UMC and the Methodist Church of Mexico.  https://bit.ly/2PgtPd9  

I invite you to find a way this Christmas season to help support those in need; in your community, in your life, in your heart. Together, we can share God’s love in the world. Sing Joy!

 

The Long and Winding Way Forward

posted Nov 5, 2018, 9:00 AM by Penny Skildum

The Book of Discipline contains the laws, policies, procedures and doctrine of the United Methodist Church (UMC).
In 1972 a delegate at the second General Conference, the worldwide governing and law-making body of the United Methodist Church, proposed an amendment to the Social Principles section on Sexuality in the Book of Discipline.  The section begins, “Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are person of sacred worth…” the amendment added to the end of the section, “… although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” A movement began that day to remove the “incompatibility clause” from the Book of Discipline.
There have been several additions to the Book of Discipline within the last ten years that have made it illegal for clergy and congregations to officiate and host same sex weddings. Yet, in Minnesota and around the United States, there are clergy and congregations that do this.
Possibly even more significant, and also in violation of the Book of Discipline, within the last two years two of the five Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church, large geographical areas within the United States, have openly and publicly ordained pastors that are married to a person of the same sex. Portions of the United Methodist Church in the United States are intentionally violating the Book of Discipline and therefore challenging the international structure of the United Methodist Church.
In 2016 this movement brought the legislative agenda of the General Conference to a halt. Once again, a delegate proposed a motion from the floor asking the United Methodist Council of Bishops, the Executive Branch of the United Methodist Church, to provide a way forward. The Bishops proposed establishing a “Commission On the Way Forward” to the 2016 General Conference that passed 428-405. If you would like to know more about the Commission, you can click on the link below:
http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/commission-on-a-way-forward-5-things-you-need-to-know
May 14-16, 2018 the Commission met with the Council of Bishops to present their final report to the Bishops proposing three possible plans to reorganize the United Methodist Church moving forward; the One Church Plan, the Traditional Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan. You can see a summary of the three plans by clicking on the link below:
https://www.minnesotaumc.org/newsdetail/a-way-forward-the-three-plans-and-resources-for-churches-11499165
The Bishops voted to recommend the One Church Plan. As the article above says, the One Church Plan “is based on the belief that we can be a church with a large enough tent for people to disagree about homosexuality and yet remain together as The United Methodist Church. It allows us to affirm that our unity and mission are more important than our disagreements.”  Part of the plan allows for local churches and pastors to discern their own position on ministry with LGBTQ individuals and communities.
The Bishops hoped to present the One Church Plan as the only legislation at a Special General Conference to be held in St. Louis, February 23-26, 2019. However, the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of the United Methodist Church, ruled that all three plans must be presented as legislation.
Yet there has been a new twist in the road forward for the United Methodist Church. At its October 26-28, 2018 hearings the Judicial Council ruled on what part of the different plans are constitutional. In a unanimous vote the court found most of the One Church Plan constitutional and much of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional. The court did not rule on the Connectional Conference Plan because it includes eight proposed constitutional changes and falls outside its jurisdiction.
With only a few months before the special General Conference supports of all the plans must now decide how they will deal with the portions of their plans that have been found unconstitutional. If you would like to know more about the Judicial Council ruling, you can click on the link below:
https://www.umnews.org/en/news/court-one-church-plan-largely-constitutional
One of the important dynamics in this long and winding way forward is the international connection of the United Methodist Church. General Conference is the only international, democratic, governing body in existence the world. The way forward for the United Methodist Church will be decided by a group of individual representatives elected through an international, democratic process. This in itself is an important witness of Christ’s good news to a broken world.
We will find out in February 2019 if the General Conference will allow the United Methodist Church in the United States to faithfully address the questions of 1) who is compatible according to Christian teaching, 2) which marriages pastors can legally officiate and congregations can legally host and 3) who can be affirmed for ordained ministry. 
Bruce Ough is the Bishop of the Minnesota Annual Conference.  It is his hope that the General Conference will renew our mission to love God and neighbor, to reach new people, and to transform the world. He is a strong supporter of the One Church Plan which allows for more flexibility on each of the continents around the world. “Is it possible,” Bishop Ough has said, to “reach generations that currently consider the church’s view of human sexuality to be narrow at best, bigoted at worst” in the United States.
It is clearly time for a change in the structure of the worldwide United Methodist Church that allows us to do best what we can do together and allow the church in the United States to reach new people for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.

When Pastors Become Partisan

posted Sep 28, 2018, 4:40 PM by Penny Skildum   [ updated Sep 28, 2018, 7:17 PM ]

“Daniel determined that he would not defile himself by eating the king’s food or drinking his wine.”
Daniel 1:8 (The Message Bible)
There’s a history of religious leaders attempting to ingratiate themselves with the powerful; some clergy are always willing to sacrifice the morals and ethics of their faith in exchange for proximity to the crown. Encountering mild resistance from some German Protestant pastors, Hitler elevated a prominent pastor, Ludwig Müller, to the role of Reich bishop in his new German Church and the majority of the churches stepped into line behind the Nazis. I suppose we should not be surprised that some religious leaders succumb to the flattery of the powerful who never care much for love of God nor love of neighbor.
I read about an elegant dinner at the White House on August 27 in which Trump thanked his steadfast clergy supporters. He should have. One attendant at that sumptuous affair was the Reverend Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. It is not simply that Graham has faithfully supported Trump; Graham’s uncritical support is unsurprising and justified considering his political commitments. What is reprehensible is that Graham gives specious support for Trump as a leader of the Christian faith.
Religious leaders in the United States, no matter what administration occupies the White House, should not seek to ingratiate themselves to those in power. Doing so compromises their integrity and negates their ability to discern the will of God.
The Hebrew sacred tradition has numerous stories involving religious leaders ingratiating themselves to powerful people, always counter to God’s will. Check out Daniel chapter 1 in the Hebrew scriptures. The three main characters of the story Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah resolved not to ingrate themselves “with the royal food and wine” when invited to the Babylonian Emperor’s  royal table. These three new that the price was too high a compromise even for extravagant, royal fare.
In an interview with The New Yorker  (click here to read:  https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/rev-franklin-graham-offers-an-evangelists-view-of-donald-trump) on September 4, Franklin Graham,
demonstrated there is no harmful behavior, policy or presidential order that the Trump administration has committed; no sexual misconduct (“that was years ago”), malfeasance, marital infidelity or bold deceit that cannot be excused by the exonerating words of a skillful religious leader.
 
When asked about Trump’s profanity and his derisive comments about African-Americans and immigrants, Graham explained, “He’s a New Yorker” with “a bit of an edge” who is sometimes “blunt.” When the interviewer said that Trump’s comments seem “mean,” Franklin said that people in the media were mean, but not Trump.
 
Graham is glad that Trump met with North Korea's Kim Jong-un and pleased that he made friends with Putin. “Pray for the president and Putin” because “the media” and the Democrats want conflict with Russia. When some of Putin’s crimes were mentioned, Graham said that the Russian people “love him” and that our hands aren’t clean either. Asked about the Russian attempts to disrupt American elections, Graham said he doesn’t know anything about that, but he does know that America has interfered in many, many countries’ elections so there’s “enough wrong to go around on both sides.”
Graham draws a line when it comes to separating children from their parents. Why? “Government run facilities have pedophiles working in them.” However, Graham says that the worst aspect of the whole immigrant family controversy is that Trump’s opponents “try to use children to make him look bad.”
It is good to support all efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula and pray for the Russian people and their surrounding neighbors. But no religious leader should address any president, or other person of power for that matter, without condemning the misuse of power and acts of injustice! Religious leaders are not called to partisanship stands whether conservative or liberal, democratic or republican; we are called to speak God’s compassion and justice on behalf of the powerless to the powerful.
When the interviewer quoted religious leader Ed Stetzer’s, he is Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, that some religious leaders have gained political advantage with this president but in the process have “lost our morality,” Graham responded with a dismissive laugh, “Some people think too much.”
Stetzer is right; the religious leaders that have ingratiate themselves to President Trump, and before him President Obama, have provoked a faith crisis among religious organizations within the United States; whether we know it or not. When asked how she reconciles her conservative Christian beliefs with Trump’s lies and infidelities, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I’m not going to my office expecting it to be my church.” Fair enough. But do religious leaders in the United States, like Huckabee Sanders and Franklin Graham, really want to make so great a separation between their faith and their ethics, their lives as Christians and their role as public figures? For Christians, is Jesus Christ’s call for compassion and justice really so irrelevant to politics, statecraft and nationhood?
It’s my conviction that the religious leaders who have sacrificed so much in order to gain a seat at the king’s banquet will soon discover that they have done grave damage to the Christian Church in the United States, to say nothing of the harm they have done to the profession of their clergy colleagues. When the time comes for religious leaders to stand up and say, “No!” Those who sit at the Kings table will have lost the ability even to know that there was something worth saying, “No” to.
As religious leaders engage in partisan politics we lose commitment and fidelity to discern the will of God’s compassion and justice and proclaim it to those in power. During World War I, when his congregation fell willingly into the hands of German nationalism and the war effort, one of the most significant religious leaders of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, repeatedly told them that this worst of times politically could be, in God’s hands, the best of times for a people of faith, “an extraordinary time of God,” a time to recover the grand, though risky, adventure of faithfulness.
I know of a pastor who, after the administration’s policy to separate immigrant children from their accompanying adult(s), simply stood up during the Sunday worship and read Leviticus 19:33, “If a resident alien lives with you in your land, you are not to mistreat him or her. ...” He read the passage without comment or application except for ending with, “This is the word of the Lord.” Then he sat down.
Two families (“and major givers too”) left his church saying we are “tired of these political sermons.”
This pastor is not likely to be invited to dinner at the White House. These type of pastors are my models for ministry, living reminders that commitment and loyalty to God takes precedence over acting obsequious in order to gain advantage with powerful people.
What a wonderful and tough time to place our faith in God through Jesus Christ.
 

Deep Work

posted Sep 5, 2018, 5:59 PM by Penny Skildum

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:4

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. YouTube. Pinterest. Wikipedia. Snapchat.

Together, they explode — weapons of mass distraction.

You know how it works. You are cooking something on the stove or doing homework in the livingroom when you hear a ping from your smartphone. You say, “Okay, while that’s cooking, I’ll go see what that notification is about. Oh no, he’s totally wrong! I have to reply to this post … Ha, that cat picture is silly … What a cool video! And that other video in the thumbnail looks interesting, too … That high school guy is totally wrong again! … This Wikipedia article has a lot of cool information.”

Meanwhile, in the kitchen: it’s like a smoke bomb went off in the livingroom: it’s like what home work!

Research is showing that we really should try to avoid distractions. When we become lost in social media or email, we lose our ability to focus.

Enter Cal Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown University and author of a book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Newport believes we should minimize the problems created by constant interruptions and insists “it’s more urgent than people realize.”

Here’s the problem: When we let emails or Facebook messages guide our workday, we’re weakening our ability to do the most challenging kind of work — what Newport calls “deep work.” This is the work that requires sustained attention, such as writing a report, solving an engineering problem, working with our colleagues, or doing significant research.

The solution to distractions, according to Newport, is to do what we can to set aside long portions of many days to focus on deeper thinking. This means no social media, limited email, strict limits on appointments, and more facetime with coworkers. The result is a life that is richer and more human than a life of robotically responding to emails and clicking on websites, which is what many of us end up doing all day.

In the sacred story that is shared in the book of Job in the Hebrew Bible God challenges an upright person named Job to do the “deep work” of answering the question of who he is in relation to God.

This is not a question that can be answered by a quick Google search, because it involves deep thinking about what it means to be a human creatively connected to God as the connectional Spirit of Life. The One who is at the foundation of all things. The challenge that God gives Job is also a challenge to us — one that pushes us to unplug ourselves long enough to ask and answer some deep questions.

For starters, “Who is God?”

Google god and a few of what you will find is: “God has been conceived as either personal or impersonal. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, while in deism, God is the creator, but not the sustainer, of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. ... In agnosticism, the existence of God is deemed unknown or unknowable.” You can find the six personality traits of God, watch a four-video series about God at radical.net, and find a list of books on God from an atheist perspective.

None of these answers are wrong, but such answers can be distracting; too much information, a whole lot of breadth but not much depth.

In the book of Job, God keeps things much simpler when speaking to Job. God asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (v. 4). In other words, “Where were you — Job — when — God — laid the foundation of the earth?” Both the “you” and the “I” are important.

Protestant reformer John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reform of the sixteenth century, unveils one of the guiding principles of his thinking — his view of duplex cognitio Domini — or in English, the twofold knowledge of God. Calvin argues that our knowledge of God consists of two parts: knowing God as Creator and knowing God as Redeemer. Anchored to this is our knowledge of ourselves. Knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are connected and interrelated, according to Calvin, and we cannot have one without the other. Calvin begins by saying that “without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.” This is the essence of Deep Work.

That’s why God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). Knowledge of Self and knowledge of God are both important. “Who determined its measurements?” God asks. “Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38:5-7).

Of course, Job does not know. But what Job does come to understand is that he is part of the creative process and filled with the sacred creative energy of God. It is more important to be fully human than to think I am somehow godlike.

We need to hear this, because our high-tech world regards some people as godlike. Peter Thiel, one of Silicon Valley’s leaders, recently said to The Times Literary Supplement (November 14, 2017), “Humans are distinguished from other species by our ability to work miracles. We call these miracles technology.” But hold on — technology may be helpful, but it is not miraculous. Instead, it can involve polluting factories, narrow corporate interests and the marketing of personal information in a way that can hurt us as well as help us.

God is the source of a sustaining life-giving creative power. Humans can be creative and develop marvelous technology, but we cannot work miracles. We were not present when God laid the foundation of the earth or even comprehend the foundations of the universe, so we cannot do life giving and life sustaining work apart from the source or foundation of Life. God is the Source of all that is, including us.

Fortunately, the Spirit of Life has spun the world in which we live so that it is wonderfully interconnected, a world in which God as the Spirit of Life provides for all creatures.

When we go deep for answers, we discover that our Creator is the beginning of all wisdom and understanding. Calvin knew this, saying that “the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.”

Knowledge of God as the foundation of all creative energy and power. Knowledge of ourselves as social beings, connected to God and each other. When we put the two together, we are doing the deep work that God wants us to do.

Planning A Way Forward

posted Aug 4, 2018, 4:03 PM by Penny Skildum

February 23-26, 2019 will be the most significant days for the United Methodist Denomination since it was formed on April 23, 1968. During a special meeting of the world wide Methodist General Conference delegates, think United Nations, will decide how to move forward by voting on legislation which focus on human sexuality.
 
An international Commission on the Way Forward, which was appointed by the Council of Bishops in 2016, has spent the past two years working to address the denomination’s differences on topic the topic of human sexuality. The group includes Minnesotan Dave Nuckols, a member of Minnetonka United Methodist Church, who will be guest speaker at Peace on Sunday, November 6, 2018 during worship. He will also be part of small group conversations before and after worship.

The commission recently forwarded two detailed plans to the Council of Bishops for their consideration: the One-Church Plan and the Connectional Conferences Plan. A third plan, the Traditionalist Plan, has also been discussed and will be presented as part of the of the commission’s work.
These three plans, in general, reflect three different groups within the United Methodist Church within the United States. The One-Church Plan reflects a centrist group which emphasizes unity, the Traditionalist Plan reflects a conservative group which emphasizes enforcing the denominations current policies. The Connectional Conference reflects a progressive group which emphasizes equality and inclusion.

The Council of Bishops is recommending the One-Church Plan for passage at the Special General Conference.
 
Bishop Bruce R. Ough offers this wisdom to United Methodist churches and leaders as they await the Special Session of the General Conference:
· Do not make decisions before they are made.
· Lead out of a convicted humility.
· Be a non-anxious presence.
· Be relational in your leadership.
· Affirm all the voices and values.
· Speak to the anxiety and fear.
· Strengthen congregational resiliency (build UMC identity, build biblical and interpretive fluency, increase missional commitment, and practice respectful conversation.)
Peace will be using the book Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church as a resource during a short-term study in October on Sunday mornings at 8:30 am and Tuesday evenings at 7 pm.

Christa Meland, Director of Communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, has developed a detailed and objective look at all three plans as presented at the 2018 Annual Conference by Rev. Judy Zabel and Nuckols, both members of the Minnesota delegation to the Special General Conference in February 2018. 

One-Church Plan (recommended by Council of Bishops)
This plan would allow for contextualization in different parts of the world (adapting some non-essential practices to different mission fields to maximize the Methodist witness and success in each place). It is based on the belief that we can be a denomination with a large enough tent for people to disagree about homosexuality and yet remain together as The United Methodist Church. It allows us to affirm that our unity and mission are more important than our disagreements. 

Some of the key components of this plan:

It will neither affirm nor condemn LGBTQ persons. It would remove the controversial statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” that has been experienced as hurtful by gay persons and as alienating by younger generations.

It relies on pastoral discretion. Clergy would decide which weddings to officiate or not officiate. Clergy—through their normal Board of Ordained Ministry process—would discern who is fit and fruitful for clergy service in their annual conference. This plan would remove the current prohibitions without creating new obligations or affirmation. This plan should put an end to clergy trials that are damaging to individuals and to our public witness.

It respects local church wishes. As for weddings, no local church would be forced to vote. However, the church property would not be used in same-sex weddings unless the local church updates its local church policy to specifically allow it. And as for clergy assignment, bishops would take local wishes into account concerning who is or is not a good fit for their appointment. So, practically speaking, there would be gay weddings and gay ordination in some parts of the United Methodist world, but it would not be forced on local churches.

It protects clergy rights to individual conscience. The Book of Discipline would protect clergy who do not want to officiate same-sex weddings. Likewise, all would be allowed to follow their conscience in matter of ordination.

Pros of this plan:
· Allows for contextualization in different parts of the U.S. (this already exists in Africa, Asia, and Europe).
· More coherent theology for unity because it no longer assumes that human sexuality is the defining theological issue for The UMC.
· No more clergy trials.

Cons of this plan:
· Does not completely satisfy the progressives because it does not bar some kinds of discrimination against married homosexuals in some parts of the UMC. 
· Does not completely satisfy the traditionalists because allowing same-sex marriage in any form violates their interpretation of scripture.
Connectional Conferences Model (considered but not recommended by Council of Bishops)
The Connectional Conferences Model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services, and one Council of Bishops, while creating different branches that would have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization, and justice. 
 
In the U.S., the five geographically distinct jurisdictional conferences would be replaced by three overlapping conferences: one traditional conference, one progressive conference, and one centrist or “uniting” conference. Each annual conference would choose to be a member of one of the three connectional conferences based on their affinity to the conference’s theological stance on homosexuality.  Any local church that disagrees with the annual conference decision could vote to join a different branch conference.
 
Pros of this plan:
· Makes a place for all three viewpoints within the UMC and yet creates enough separation that there is clarity for each position.
· Conferences and local churches could make a clear choice on human sexuality and yet enjoy some of the missional advantages of remaining a global church.  

Cons of this plan:
· Creates a complex structure that is more congregational than connectional.
· It would take years of administrative work to put this in place—there would be many constitutional amendments that would be difficult to ratify in annual conferences around the world.
· Churches may split as they try to determine which branch they will join.
· Some traditionalists would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being affirmed in some parts of the UMC.
· Some progressives would still be upset that LGBTQ people are being discriminated against in the UMC.
Traditionalist Model (not recommended by Council of Bishops)
The Traditionalist Model would affirm the current Book of Discipline statement that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Boards of Ordained Ministry would still be prohibited from recommending LGBTQ candidates for ordination. Officiating same-sex marriages would still be a chargeable offense and being a self-avowed and practicing gay clergy would continue to be a chargeable offense. 

The Traditionalist Model would demand increased accountability to the Book of Discipline—not only for individual pastors but also for churches, bishops, and even annual conferences, all of which could face punishment.

Pros of this plan:
· Essentially preserves the status quo, which some want.
· Requires no changes to our structure.

Cons of this plan:
· It’s a plan for keeping the status quo; fighting will continue and it will compromise our mission with costly trials.
· Plan is not a plan for unity; it tells the progressives to leave.
· We would likely lose most of our millennials and the next generations.

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