Friday, May 23, 2008

Class of 2008

Today, I gave the baccalaureate address for the Niles McKinley High School class of 2008. Boy do I feel old! When I was graduating high school, these kids were still in pre-school! O.K., I am not that old, but thinking about that fact makes you pause for a moment.

As I spoke this afternoon, I wondered, 'What are we accomplishing here?' Another milestone on their way to the cap and gown, another step on the way to bigger and better things. What could I possibly say that could inspire these kids? Not much. But I hope that this service was an opportunity for them to hear that their community loves and honors them, and that we're all behind them in their achievements. I hope they saw a young(er) pastor, and thought, 'Hmm, maybe I could do that some day--though not in as geeky a way, for sure.'

The phrase that I began my sermon with was the quotation by Abe Lincoln that was carved into the Summit county sandstone in my high school auditorium-- "I will study and get ready, and perhaps some day my chance will come." Prophetic words from a young Lincoln, unsure of what to do with his education, and not sure how he could ever make a difference in this world as a gangly lawyer from Illinois. Now, another gangly lawyer from Illinois (by way of Hawaii and Indonesia) is poised to make just as much history, thanks in no small part to Mr. Lincoln's leadership.

I think I'm going to go outside now and get my bike ready for the riding season. Our church is taking a bike ride (gulp--22 miles round trip!) at the end of June, and I am pretty sure I am not in any shape to attempt that without any buildup.

See you on the road,


Friday, May 02, 2008

It's Over! (For me, anyway)

Well, my 2008 General Conference experience has officially come to an end. The delegates are still in session, but our shift as marshals and pages has ended, so we are all back at our hotel rooms, relaxing and packing for the journey home. I'm tired, but it has been a good two weeks, and I have learned a lot. This will be a short blog post, because, frankly, I need to get away from General Conference for a while before I can fully digest all the information and experiences that I have racked up while here. Watch this space for future reflections. For now, I'm going to bed.

Pray for safe travels for all of us returning home in the next 24 hours.


At the Crossroads

Today, I found new hope for The United Methodist Church in the form of Bishop Hee-Soo Jung. Bishop Jung, the preacher at this morning's worship, spoke of the need for our denomination to recognize that we are at a crossroads--what he called "the intersection between holiness and hospitality." Holiness describes our connection to God, a deep relationship that gives us strength. Hospitality describes our connection to others--a wide embrace of all people, created in God's image. Bishop Jung also spoke of the need to "re-member" the Body of Christ--meaning that we need to be able to see a way to put ourselves back together. Too much focus on either holiness or hospitality creates a false idolatry--one that we all too often fall prey to in the Church. Bishop Jung closed by reminding us that, ultimately, it is not we who save ourselves through having the right opinion about Jesus, but Jesus who saves us by his love--stretched out on the cross.

This sermon gave me courage. It gave me hope (there's that word again!). It gave me a reason to believe that The United Methodist Church does have a future, despite our differences, and despite the idolatries that sometimes get in our way.

It's really late, and I'm going to bed. Only one more day of General Conference left, and miles more to go. . .

Traveling on to perfection,


P.S.-- I finally got to connect up with Aunt Sara's pastor, Rev. Jim Winkler. He said that he thinks very highly of her and Carl Henry, and believes that Carl would "eat this up" if he were at General Conference.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Word For Those Who Are Discouraged. . .

Tonight was not a good night for justice in The United Methodist Church. Once again, our denomination's top legislative body voted to keep the exclusionary language that defines homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching," and to deny even the possibility of ordination to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. It hurts. I know, I felt it too, and I cried along with the delegates and visitors as hundreds sang "Jesus Loves Me" in a tribute to those left behind by our denomination. But I also have hope.

I have hope because of a few simple words spoken by Bishop Judy Craig in the summer of 2007. She said, (I am paraphrasing) "General Conference is one thousand delegates in one big room for ten days. But it is not the Church. The church is out there, in your communities, where people meet God every day, and all are welcome." That's why I have hope, because I know that the people I serve back in Niles are loving, caring, committed Christians, who would welcome anyone who came to their doors, and would love any person who truly wanted to be a part of their community. I also know that there are many more people out there like that, in communities all across the globe. Our United Methodist Church is bigger than the one thousand people in that arena, many of whom were elected either through name recognition or their position on this very issue.

Ultimately, my faith in God and in Jesus Christ is not dependent on the words and actions of General Conference. My faith is based on the love of God, which I have experienced through the sacrificial love modeled by Jesus, and lived out by the people around me--gay and straight, conservative and liberal, Methodist or not.

Now, for my friends Mary K., Bob, Jane, and Tim, here's the story I told you all at breakfast this morning. For everyone else, it may be useful for you, too.

What I Learned from the Labyrinth:

Once, when I was walking and praying the labyrinth at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, I encountered a man who was walking the opposite direction. That is to say that as I was walking in toward the center of the labyrinth, he was walking from the center out. But, for a short time, we were on paths that were directly next to each other, and we were walking in the same direction. Even though we had different goals, we were both on the same journey. It is this way for us in life also.

I hope it helps. I know that I joke and get a little silly at times, but I really do care about these issues, and about all the wonderful people I have come to meet because of this General Conference. No matter what decisions are made here in Fort Worth, I will have discovered a new part of my Christian family tree, and that is worth the price of admission.

God Bless, and Pray for the Delegates and Staff,