Word of the Week

A couple weeks ago with Kevin out of the country for work and no particular geographic place I needed to be I packed up from DC and headed south toward North Carolina.

While I was in seminary I worked to keep my student debt at $0 as a student associate pastor at a rural United Methodist Church.

For two academic years, New Sharon United Methodist Church was my home.

It was a win-win for both the church and me, I believe. They got extra pastoral help. I got valuable experience as a pastor in an affirming environment. I taught them that all folks with Baptist roots aren't crazy. They taught me the joys of entering deeply into their lives. We loved each other. And I made some life-long friends as a result of being a part of this community.

So, it feel natural to call some New Sharon church members who have abided in my life since then-- and ask them if I could stay with them when I came to town. Tim and Debbie Smith were great to say "Yes!"

In being in North Carolina, the land of many trees, I remembered who I was. And I got a lot of writing done surrounded by good company and food.

Not only through the gracious hospitality of my hosts, but through numerous lunch and dinner conversations and even a visit back to choir practice at my old church.

I heard things like, "We still think of you all the time . . . We are so glad our paths crossed when they did. . . . I wish you lived closer."

I even got to reconnect with an older church member, Bobbie Hunt who told me that she has a bookmark I gave her after my visit to Africa in 2005-- and that she prays for me daily. Every time she sees the bookmark, she said that she prays for me! I was amazed and tears came to my eyes as I heard this. Not only did I have no idea I'd made any impression on her life, but to know of her daily prayers for me was amazing (especially considering so much of Kevin's work with FTC is now in Africa!).

North Carolina was good for my soul.

I remembered I came from somewhere-- including there.

I remembered that I have more people who love me than I realize from my current experience in a new place.

I remembered the joy that comes from the calling of being a particular group of people's pastor.

I remembered that I have a home to go back to anytime I forget.

Durham, Hillsborough and New Sharon United Methodist friends, I love you. Thanks for reminding me again how much you love me too.

The past couple weeks have been a great time of cultural conflict across our country, in particular in relation to the issue of homosexuality, the church, and marriage.

Friends in the United Methodist Church have struggled with this issues at General Conference with all kinds of scenes being created in session meetings. The state of North Carolina has wrestled with this over his vote about Amendment One. And, all of us in one way or another have responded to President Obama's declaration that the believes marriage should be between not just a man and a woman. Some have been happy with our President and others have not.

If your social media sites are anything like the ones that I am connected to, we've been bombarded with pro and con statements about these events. In response, hateful comments have been hurled. Madness. It has been madness!

Personally, when I expressed joy alongside my gay and lesbian friends about the President's endorsement of their marriages on my Facebook page this week, I even got a "I know you weren't raised like this" comment about my views by a family member. Not very nice.

I see so many of my pastoral colleagues being afraid to say anything at all out of fear of what their congregations might do to them. Jobs or appointments might be at sake depending on what you say.

In all of this, it is so easy for the debate to become personal real fast. Feelings can be hurt real quick. Most of us have strong opinions one way or another and it is hard to comprehend how someone on the other "side" could see things as they do.

Lord, have mercy on us all!

Is our church in all branches going to explode soon? Is this the state of cultural and religious affairs we've come to in this country? It seems so.

Doing some sermon prep this week, I found this commentary the John 15 lectionary reading for this Sunday by  Dr. David Lose out of Luther Seminary. I couldn't help but think about all the debate this week as I read it. When we are faced with a theological divide on a topic like homosexuality, for example, what do with do? Lose has this to say:

So when faced with a challenge, dilemma, problem, or divisive moral issue, 1) search the Scriptures, looking not just for commandments but for how you honestly think Jesus would have responded, 2) trust your own experience and ask how you would want to be treated in similar circumstances, and 3) talk it over in your community, especially involving the folks the question-at-hand most directly affects.

I really appreciated this level-headed approach because I have to think so many of our strong opinions on those who are gay have more to do with tradition, culture from which we come than it does "what the Bible says." Yes, there are those passages of scriptures that say, homosexual relations are wrong, but then there are also lots of passages that say that women should cover their heads in church and not wear jewelry (and I don't know a lot of people who follow the Bible this literally). And, often we are quick to say, "Being gay is a sin" without actually knowing such a person and/or if we do, never asking a gay person how our interpretations of scripture make them feel, how they have been hurt by the church or by their families, etc. We are quick to elevate being gay (if we think being gay is a sin) to the level in which it is greater than ALL other sins. I just don't think such is really fair.

I know my heart breaks for my friends, colleagues and family members who are a part of the gay and lesbian community who love Jesus every bit as much as I do and are living in monogamous, committed relationships or are single and celibate and so many parts of our society continue to be so cruel to them.

I know my heart breaks for my friends and neighbors in other churches who have made Christianity into something that fits into a one-size fits all box and have no room in their souls for the Spirit to come and bring new understandings.

I know my heart breaks for our churches that are growing more divided by the day as more and more schisms keep occurring and occurring again. (How many times can the Christian church split? It seems we are on a course to find out!)

Because such conversation (as we've experienced its intensity this week) is not going away, what will we do when divide comes to us?

For me, I couldn't be silent. But, now that I have said my part, I must move on and keep finding ways to love. What about you?

Will you find a way to love the "other side?" Will you use words of hate? Will you defriend everyone you know on Facebook who doesn't believe as you do? How will you live in community?

We've got to figure out a better way to live together, all of us. This is what I know.