We’re Sorry, Galileo!

As I mentioned in my last blog, I believe it is important to examine as faithfully as possible what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality. This subject continues to be the elephant in the room of the United Methodist Church. Many who oppose the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors do so based on their understanding of Scripture. I believe that those of us who are working for a more inclusive community of faith must not be afraid to take a hard look at the Scriptures that have been used to classify homosexuality as sin.

Occasionally, I need to be reminded that we don’t have any original biblical manuscripts. We have copies of copies and translations of translations. I would go so far as to say that discerning the exact meanings of these ancient texts is impossible. However, the wisdom we glean from them is so deep that it transcends time and culture. In other words, we may never obtain the exact meaning of every passage, but with some work, we can draw very near to the heart of the message.

Before I plunge into the biblical teachings on sexuality, I want to acknowledge that battles over interpretation of Scripture are not new. In 1633 Galileo was brought before the Inquisition and sentenced to prison for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun. Every Christian leader at the time believed and taught the earth was the center of the universe. I was surprised to learn that they based this belief on their interpretation of Scripture. Psalm 93:1(NIV) states “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” They also cited Ecclesiastes 1:5 (NIV) “The sun rises and sets, and hurries back to where it rises.”

Galileo, as a faithful church member, knew that his findings would be controversial, so, he wrote a letter to a church official in 1613. He explained that he did not believe his findings contradicted Scripture, because the Bible was not written to explain astronomy, but to convey spiritual concepts. The letter was given to the Roman Inquisition. Galileo was warned in 1616 to refrain from teaching this heretical theory. He continued to argue his case, but to no avail. From 1633 until his death in 1642, Galileo was under house arrest. Three hundred years later, he received an official apology from John Paul II.

None of us argue today whether the earth is round or flat. None of deny that the earth rotates around the sun.  Like Galileo, I believe that the Scriptures referring to the earth and sun are not meant to explain astronomy.  I suspect that the church officials who convicted Galileo were sincere, faithful men.  They read the Bible the same way it had been taught for generations. It seemed obvious to everyone that the sun circled around the earth.  How else could you interpret “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved”? If we throw out this piece of Scripture, what else do we not believe?

I chose the Galileo incident because it is an easy example of a time when the church got it wrong. It’s an easy example, because, thanks to our modern technology, we can easily prove that the earth does, indeed, rotate around the sun. I would like to think that I would have said to Galileo, “Show me what you are seeing. Help me understand your point of view.” But, I doubt that the younger version of me would have been so understanding. When I read examples like this, I always wonder, “Where are my blind spots? What am I missing?” The Bible has great power to heal when it is used with love; it has great power to harm when used as a weapon.

Next week: Sodom and Gamorrah

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A Hot Topic

I have been Methodist before we were “United” Methodists (1968). I grew up in a suburban neighborhood where the houses had the same basic floorplans (with alternating interior color schemes.)  With few exceptions, the dads worked; the moms were housewives and everybody was heterosexual.  Of course, that wasn’t true, but that was the perception. My upbringing was unusual in many ways.  My mother had a cousin who was wildly successful as a hairdresser and owner of a prominent beauty salon. He did not hide his attraction for both men and women. Not many people in the early ‘60’s were allowed to do this without severe repercussions. My family was super conservative in every way, but my cousin was deeply loved (possibly because he had more money than any of us). I knew my family felt that anything other than heterosexuality went against the Bible, but somehow it didn’t apply to family.

Years later, when I received my call to ministry, I still believed that the Bible denounced any form of same sex relations, but I also understood that in biblical times, there was no understanding of sexual orientation.  They didn’t even have a word for homosexuality. Just as I never made a conscious decision to become heterosexual, I could not imagine anyone choosing to be gay.  I wondered, if there is a genetic component, how could God be opposed to something one is born with?  Before my ordination, I expressed to my District Superintendent that I did not agree with the United Methodists’ opposition to homosexuality. He explained that it was based on the Bible. I had no idea that this issue would later have a huge impact on my life and on the life of the United Methodist Church.

Over the course of my 20+ years in pastoral ministry, I have had many members secretly confide to me that they were gay or lesbian.  Many members had children and grandchildren whose sexual orientation was kept secret. This was especially painful during the AIDS epidemic when I conducted funerals for gay men whose families refused to acknowledge their sons’ partners. I have spent hours with teens who were terrified to reveal their identities to their families. I’ve had gay and lesbian members ask me if they will still be able to hold leadership positions in the church if their secret is revealed. Some asked me if they were going to hell. One committed suicide. I’ve seen the damage from the fear of rejection. I am deeply troubled that parts of the Christian community continue to judge and condemn.

For a number of years, I decided I would ignore the Bible on the subject of homosexuality, just as I disagree with the parts where Paul tells the women they have to cover their heads and not speak.  When people would ask about the subject, I would point to some of the verses that we no longer pay attention to, like not being able to remarry after divorce. I have come to understand, however, that the subject deserves more thoughtful answers. If we honor the Bible, as I do, as sacred text, then we need to look at all of the verses that address this subject and interpret them as faithfully as possible.  In the next blog, I will address some of these verses. Let me know if you have a specific question you would like me to address.

Who knew that hope would come on the back of a prisoner?

In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.  – Psalm 18:6

In her book Against the Wind, Dorothee Soelle writes that we can learn much from the resistance of people who have been oppressed. For example, there was a group of political prisoners in Los Almas prison in Santiago, Chile who lived under both the threat of torture and the oppression of silence. Their families did not even know where they were or if they were still alive. They were joined by a Presbyterian pastor who had been arrested for distributing groceries sent to him by an American friend. There, in a crowded area, he conducted daily Bible study and worship for 150 prisoners. When the pastor was released, the inmates wrote their names with burned-out matches on his back. Dorothee writes, “It was November and warm outside; he was worried about perspiring. He was not searched before leaving and went straight to the Peace Committee. Most of the names of those men, who were thought to have disappeared, were still legible.”

The story reminds me of the power of a worshipping community.  All of those hours of Bible study and worship had woven them together, so that when the opportunity presented itself, they knew what to do and how to do it. Study and worship can reveal the miracle of hope. God hears our cries and delivers us in ways we would never expect. Who knew that hope would come on the back of a prisoner?

I Almost Didn’t Do it!

 

I almost didn’t go. I almost didn’t attend an amazing event in Kansas City, MO on January 21st at Washington Square Park. I knew that there was a lot of excitement about a women’s march in Washington D.C. Several of my clergy sisters were going. It was my husband, Scott, who informed me that there was an event in K.C. My first response was, “I can’t because I’m a pastor.” Like many United Methodist churches in this part of the world, I have parishioners who do not share the same political views. This year, more than any time I can remember, many people did not say who they supported for president.  I never say anything from the pulpit supporting any one party or candidate.  So, my first reaction was that I absolutely could not attend an event that many might view as “anti-Trump”. I happen to be married to a remarkable man who has always been comfortable in his political skin.  He sent me an article written by a United Methodist pastor titled “Is it Okay for United Methodists to Go on a March?” A positive argument was presented, quoting our Social Principles: “The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust.”

 

United Methodists (especially the women), were leaders in the abolition, suffrage, and temperance movements.  United Methodists take very seriously the words of Jesus “to help the least of these.” I looked at the list of speakers and saw that many of them would address issues near and dear to my heart. Therefore, I allowed myself to attend what turned out to be an amazing event.  I was not very well prepared. I hadn’t bothered to make a sign.  I wore the only thing I had that was pink – a Green Bay Packer hoodie.  Scott and I and a dear friend left early to get a good parking place. We took the trolley and stopped first at Cosentino’s because I needed bread for Communion the next morning.

 

As we boarded the next trolley car, it was clear that everyone on board was attending the rally. The mood was upbeat. Unlike me, many people were quite creative in their signs and outfits. Some were funny. Some moved me deeply. People attended for all sorts of reasons.  Some, clearly, to protest Trump. Others were there as sign of solidarity for the vulnerable.  I was particularly moved by Rabbi Doug Alpert who announced that if Muslims are asked to register, he would be known as Muslim Rabbi Alpert. The crowd loved it.  I should mention that those planning the event were expecting 500 people. 10,000 showed up! 

 

One of the reasons I attended was to support the rights of those with disabilities.  When my youngest daughter was a few days old, I noticed that she did not turn her head when there was a loud noise.  I took her to numerous doctors, but they all told me I was an over-anxious mom. Finally, Children’s Mercy Hospital told us that she had a significant hearing loss. A few years later, she was legally deaf.  One time, I had to pick her up at the principal’s office. Some kids had made fun of her by moving their lips without saying anything. She started a fight and she was the only one who was reprimanded. That evening, I help her strategize how to deal with bullies.  Another time, I told a teacher that my daughter could not pass an oral spelling test. The teacher said, “I am not going to change how I teach for one child.” She failed spelling.

 

I am so grateful for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. My daughter later received assistance from sign language interpreters and note takers.  She now helps others at Children’s Mercy as a registered nurse. Trump’s pick for Education Secretary troubled me deeply when she failed to assure the hearing committee that all schools would abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  DeVos did not know the difference between proficiency and growth, a topic that all educators understand.  She would not even agree that guns do not belong in school.  Many of us who have campaigned for the rights of others in the past have come to realize that we can never take those gains for granted.  There are always those who want decisions left to the local level, which means, more often than not, that those with disabilities are told that there is a lack of resources.  I never want to go back to the days when a teacher can say, “I won’t change how I teach for one child.” I have been trying to call my Senator, but can’t get through. Maybe that means others are concerned, also.

The rally was uplifting and inspiring as we realized just how many people care about the rights of others.  It was not about undoing the election.  It was a message to the world that everyone matters.  I was touched by the number of men who had come to support the women in their lives. One of my favorite moments was at the end when we were in line for the trolley. A security officer was dancing and praising us for being there for our moms and our daughters.  I don’t know if there will be more of these events, but I join other clergy who have pledged to defend and protect the vulnerable in the name of Jesus.

The Great Debate

In 1550 there was a great debate in the court of Spain between Bartolome de Las Casas and Juan Sepulveda. Christopher Columbus had returned from what was called the New World.  Upon hearing reports of massacres and slavery, King Charles called for a hearing to set policies for the treatment of natives in the New World.

Las Casas was a simple monk who spent most of his time in the what we call the Dominican Republic, Central America, and Mexico.  He witnessed the murder of many thousands of natives.  Las Casas believed that the natives were beautiful humans who deserved respect and dignity.  He felt that the Spaniards should share the Gospel of Christ, but not force it upon them.  Las Casa believed that, given time, they would respond to the message of the Gospel.

Sepulveda had spent his career as a theologian and philosopher in Spain.  He was close friends with the explorers who were hoping to get rich off the New World. He had never been to the New World, but he did not think that the natives deserved respect.  He believed in something he called the order of command and obedience.  He argued that God created smart people to serve as leaders, while the less intelligent people had been created to obey the leaders.  He felt that it was pointless to explain the Christian gospel to the natives.  He believed that they should be taken as slaves and that if they tried to rebel, they deserved God’s punishment for going against the order.

These two men had very different views of how to treat the natives. Both of them based their beliefs on the Bible.  Las Casas believed that Jesus identified with those the world called outsiders. He believed that servants of Jesus should show mercy to the natives.  Sepulveda, believed that the Spaniards ability to conquer other people was a God-given gift.

We, know, of course, which side won.  For the next several centuries, Europeans conquered other lands.  To those like Sepulveda, the Bible made it quite clear where Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  Sepulveda keyed in on the word “authority” and the phrase “make disciples”.  To him, the Scripture gave Spain the authority to force their ways upon others.  In the years that followed, not just the Spanish, but other Europeans took on the duty of conquering the world for Jesus.    Pedro de Alvarado, one of Cortes’s lieutenants, conquered the Maya peoples in what is now Guatemala. In the years that followed, the descendants and followers of the original Spanish conquistadors acquired more and more of the land. The indigenous people became indentured servants for the coffee harvest.

As I reflect on the great debate of 1550, I am struck by the power of the lure of money.  The love of money led to abuse that affected generations of indigenous families.  It is especially sad that the prospect of wealth led people to twist the Scriptures to support their viewpoint.  The conquest of the New World is an example of how the church can and often, does, take the wrong side of history.  I am happy to say that the influence of Las Casas has not been totally lost.   We, at the Weston United Methodist Church, know of once place where the body of Christ is making a difference— the area of San Lucas, Toliman in Guatemala.  Fr. Greg Schaffer, who came to San Lucas Mission in 1962, had the wisdom to ask the people what their needs were. The answer he heard was that the people desired to have land of their own. Under his leadership, land ownership was dramatically altered as the church purchased land from the Spanish descendants. In recent years, under the leadership of Rogers Strickland, the Weston United Methodist Church has sent mission teams to San Lucas to construct schools, community centers, and churches. They have also helped provide simple houses and safer, more efficient wood stoves for families. It is ironic, that what I hear most often from the people returning from these mission trips is that they received so much more than they gave. They report to me that what they received was an understanding of wealth, not as material goods, but hope. The missioners return with a renewed appreciation for the bonds of family and community. They describe joy in forming relationships with these strong, caring, generous people. I think Las Casas would be proud of us.

Note: the next trip is Dec. 27th. Contact me if you are interested!

 

 

 

 

 

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Who Is My Neighbor?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

In this story from Luke, a religious leader expresses concern for his personal salvation. He wants to know what he has to do to gain eternal life. Luke lets us know that this isn’t an honest question, but that he is testing Jesus. Jesus tells a story and then answers the question “Who is my neighbor?”with a question.  Jesus doesn’t answer the question of who qualifies as a neighbor, but says that the more important question is “Who acted as the neighbor?” The neighbor is not defined by distance, but by need.

I have preached many sermons speculating why the priest and the Levite crossed to the other side of the street. Maybe they thought someone else would care for the injured man, maybe they were busy, maybe they were concerned about the purity laws. I think Jesus doesn’t tell us because the reason doesn’t matter. The more important question is “Why did the Samaritan stop to help?” Jesus tells us that the Samaritan “was moved with pity.” The Samaritan was able to empathize with the pain of the injured man.

I am not sure what answer the religious leader was expecting to hear – perhaps a definition of sin that could be twisted and torn apart. Certainly, he was expecting Jesus to make some attempt at defining boundaries that would not be hard to challenge. A caring heart, however, cannot be confined to a zip code. We called to care for any who have been harmed. Each person we meet has been harmed in some way. We have been harmed by others who treated us as if we were interchangeable parts. We have been harmed by corporations who pollute our world with unmitigated greed. I believe that to love our neighbor means more than caring for the wounded. I believe that loving our neighbor means that each of us is called to remember our baptismal vow to reject all that is evil, repent of sin, “and accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” We are called, not just to care for the wounded neighbor, but to resist whatever wounded them. It is quite a challenge to consider all who are being oppressed and to dismantle the structures that support oppression. Following Jesus is not easy or comfortable. It is a lifelong challenge of noticing who has been harmed and how and why.  Continue reading

Let’s Color!

natureOne of the hot topics among women these days is coloring books.  There has been an explosion of coloring books designed for adults available online and in bookstores. It is a great joy for me because I have been coloring for most of my life.  As a child I loved a color book that featured kids from the Mickey Mouse Club (a tv show that first aired in 1955). I also remember a Barbie coloring book that allowed me to color my journey with her to exotic places like New York and Paris.  Like everyone else, at some point I got the message that I was “too old” to color, so my coloring was restricted to those times when I could join younger children.  Then, one day as an adult, I noticed a coloring book with stained glass designs.  It was intended for children, but I bought it for myself.  I learned to look for coloring books at museum gift shops and places that catered to tourists.  Whenever I traveled by plane, I took one of my books and box of crayons.  I got some very strange looks, but no one said anything.  Since they were strangers, I didn’t care if they knew about my secret hobby.  One day I was leading a lock-in for the youth group.  I couldn’t imagine how I would stay up all night unless I had something fun to do, so, of course, I brought my book and crayons and markers.  It wasn’t long before the whole youth group joined me and they were talking about much they missed coloring.  Then I took my crayons to the nursing homes and senior centers and discovered that they, also, missed being able to color.

I imagine that some of the people caught up in the current color trend will soon tire of it, but I am glad that people no longer feel embarrassed about an activity that reduces stress.  I am not entirely sure why it helps me, but I do think that children know a path to joy that we sometimes forget in our adulthood.  Jesus talked about receiving the kingdom like a little child.  There’s a part of me that wonders if coloring connects me to the childlike openness to creativity.  The Bible begins by telling us that God is the creator of everything.  I believe that when we create something, we are in touch with that part of the Divine.  So, I say, “Let’s color” and guys, that mean you, also!