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Excellent post on why the church needs to change its stance on human sexuality.

We Your People, Ours the Journey

When speaking of sin, we often separate into two categories: sins of commission (what we have done) and sins of omission (what we have left undone).

It’s about to get real frank up in here.

I asked to be placed on the Church and Society 2 legislative committee for the United Methodist Church General Conference this year. This committee deals with all petitions and resolutions that refer to a very limited portion of the Book of Discipline, mainly the section entitled “Human Sexuality.” Packed into this little section are some of the most controversial and difficult passages of our church polity: our stances on family, marriage, sex outside marriage, health care (yeah, I don’t know how that got in there), pornography, abortion, and homosexuality.

Yep, we’re the sex committee. And I asked to be placed here.

Why? Simply stated, I believe that these little sections contain the worst of…

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This is a turnaround week for me.  I’ve changed my ways, and I’m going  a different direction.

For the past month, I’ve either been sick with a cold or taking care of sick kids.  It hasn’t been fun, and it’s been a great excuse for not getting much done.  I haven’t posted much on my other blog, or anywhere else, and I haven’t done much housework either.

I’ve been lazy long enough.  This was going on even before the illnesses.  I’d come home, make dinner, half-heartedly clean up, and settle into my recliner with the laptop.  Sometimes I pretended to be working on my writing or blogging.  Sometimes I really did get some work done.  But mostly I played around.

This week, I’m getting things done.  After dinner, I fully clear the table, and fully clean up the kitchen.  If there’s anything else to do, I do that too (tonight I took out the garbage and recycling for pickup).  I don’t sit down until it’s done, even if the small of my back is starting to ache.

What’s the deal?  Am I suddenly a wonderful, energetic person?  Is it my own willpower; I’ve suddenly decided to be a worthwhile human being?  Will I forget about it within a few days, or after the first time it becomes really difficult to do all of this (it could happen; it’s certainly happened before)?

I don’t think it’s me.  I don’t think I’m capable of changing myself that way.  If I look rationally at all I have to do, and all I want to do, I become despondent, sink into my chair and forget everything in cyberspace.

I think this kind of turnaround is the work of God.  No, I don’t believe in magic.  I don’t think God says “hocus, pocus, there you go!  You’re a completely different person.”

I do think that the more we open ourselves to God, and allow God to flow through us, the more God can change us.

In this instance, God worked on me through a talk my husband and I went to Saturday night.  We attended a meeting with the Springwater intentional community and Mark Van Steenwyk, founder of Missio Dei and editor of The Jesus Manifesto.

In the meeting, we talked about intentional communities and new monasticism, and about spiritual practices of such communities, such as prayer, common meals, gardening,  and housework.

One practice mentioned was letting go of preferences.  This is especially important when people are living together in community (even in a traditional nuclear family). The man who brought this up said “this is my house, and I prefer not to have a lot of people in my house!”  But he’s willing to let go of that, at least once in a while, for the sake of community.

I’d prefer to go on lounging with my laptop.  It’s not a healthy preference for my family, though, so I need to let it go.  I’m not even using it right now.  I’m sitting at the desktop computer and letting my husband use the laptop.  That doesn’t mean I’ll never use it, and that I’ll never sit around and play on Twitter and Facebook.  It just means that I need to be more mindful of how I spend my time.

We also talked about the practice of hospitality.  Many intentional communities purposefully provide hospitality to those who need a meal, a place to sleep, or a more permanent home.  Mark admitted that “Hospitality sucks!”  It’s a difficult practice.  He told a story about the problems his community had in providing hospitality to a homeless man with drug and alcohol problems.

I haven’t brought any homeless people home yet, but then we don’t have many people over at all.  You see, for us to be able to provide hospitality on a moment’s notice, we have to keep up on the housework, and we haven’t been very good at that.  “We can’t have anyone over; the house is a mess,” makes a great excuse.

Yet it’s something we should be doing.  We should be inviting friends, family and neighbors over to share meals.  We should be able to have the girls’ friends over.  We should be ready for that stranger we’re meant to befriend, whoever they may be.

So getting the housework done each day is really an act of hospitality, not of drudgery.  I realized that right away, as we were talking.

Finally, as a result of this daily structure, I’m writing on a regular basis again!  After getting the cleanup done, I can sit down with the computer, either at the dining room table or at the desk, and write.  Writing is a practice, too, and I’m glad that I have it.

I’m grateful that God has nudged me into this turnaround.  I know it won’t always be as easy as it has these past two days.  I know I’ll probably make the wrong choice at some point, and I know that sooner or later I will run into some circumstance that prevents me from following this routine.  But I know that God is the God of Do-Overs as well.  We always get another chance to make a better choice, and to turn things around once again.

I didn’t know until this morning, when I read an essay by Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek, that the Bible used in President Obama’s inauguration had additional significance.  Yes, it was the Bible used in President Lincoln’s inauguration.  But who was the other party involved in that inauguration ceremony (and did he get the words of the oath right)?

Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over Lincoln’s swearing in.  As far as I know, he got the oath right.  But one thing he didn’t get right was the Dred Scott decision.  Taney wrote the opinion on that historic decision, which said that Scott, a slave from Missouri, could not automatically become a free man by traveling to a free state.  In his opinion, Taney said that such African-Americans

had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
(Taney, Roger Brooke, C.J., “Opinion of the Court,” Scott v. Sandford)

Things have changed more than a bit since then. One might say that it’s justice, poetic or otherwise, to have an African-American man take the presidential oath of office on a Bible previously used by Justice Taney.

On my other blog, I asked and partially answered, “What is Justice?

Justice is related to the word justify.  If you work with type, or if you use word processing a lot, you might have heard the terms left-justified and right-justified before (or simply justified).  In this case, justified means the type lines up evenly on one or both sides of the text.  The text you’re reading here is left-justified; it all lines up on the left side.

So, justice can also refer to making things line up evenly, or making them line up correctly, the way they are supposed to be.  That’s the way I like to see it.

Justice does not just mean making people pay for what they’ve done, and it definitely does not mean taking revenge.

It’s about making things right.  So how do we do that?

Justice is also God’s business.  God is interested in making things right between us and God, and between all of us here on Earth.  And as I said above, this can’t involve revenge.  According to Jesus, it has to include forgiveness; continual forgiveness.  For instance, Matthew 18:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
(Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

It’s also essential to be reconciled with our brethren in order to be right with God:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5: 23-24, NIV)

Does President Obama’s inauguration Bible, perhaps, signal the beginning of an era of reconciliation and justice?

I’m no longer Catholic, so maybe I have no right to speak – but I do find Pope Benedict’s record and recent actions troubling. His latest? He’s reinstated four bishops who were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II because their consecrations were unauthorized and performed by another controversial bishop (now deceased).

For the most part, I had a great deal of respect for Pope John Paul II, so that raises a red flag for me right there. But in addition, one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, has made clear statements as recently as November 2008 saying that he doesn’t believe that 6 million Jews were actually deliberately killed in the Holocaust.

You can read an article about it in the New York Times.

Our upstairs bathroom doesn’t have a shelf, vanity, or any kind of flat surface near the sink.  In fact, due to less than brilliant planning by the landlord, the entire wall from the bottom of the mirror to the floor is tile, so we can’t even attach a shelf to it.

So I have to use the downstairs bathroom to put in and take out my contact lenses.  And because my eyes are too bad for me to take a shower without glasses or contacts, this means that in the morning I gather up all of my clothes and take them downstairs with me, where I put in my contact lenses, take a shower and then get dressed in a tiny bathroom instead of in my bedroom.

The task is so daunting that often I just sit on my bed and stare at the floor instead.  Or, I decide to forget about showering and just get dressed and go downstairs.  It isn’t a good morning routine.  I’ve been letting this paralyze me so that I’m not doing things that I should be doing, or so that I end up rushed, harried, and constantly late.

There are a number of possible solutions:

  • Find a way to install a shelf in the upstairs bathroom.
  • Do a better job of picking out my clothes in the evening, so that all I have to do is grab and go.
  • Shower in the evenings instead of in the mornings.
  • Get Lasik surgery and forget the contact lenses
  • Tell myself to just suck it up and do it because it’s not that big a deal.

And I’ll be implementing one or more of those in the weeks to come.

But I’m wondering whether this is happening in other parts of my life as well.  Am I letting little things stop me from doing what I should be doing?

For instance, in my spiritual life.  We’ve basically left the institutional church at this point, and we’re not attending a church service on a regular basis.  We’re working out what it means to live our faith in the world.  But I do need to establish some routine of spiritual discipline for myself, to keep myself grounded in God.  I haven’t been doing that.  It’s too hard.  Mornings are awful, days are full, and by evening I’m often so tired I just crash into the recliner and stay there.

What are my options?  I’m not totally sure yet.  Perhaps:

  • Find some very short devotional or set of prayers for morning – something with which I don’t have to think too much, because I do not think well early in the morning.
  • Establish a family devotional time in the evening.
  • Start of program of reading spiritual books and writing about them (since I can obviously manage writing)
  • Work on being mindful of God and of what I’m doing throughout the day.

And again, I can probably use more than one of those in the weeks to come.

Because there is always laundry to do, I spent part of my Saturday folding laundry and listening to a Christian radio station. During a commercial break, the station announced that they are having a contest, and the prize is a Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) shopping spree, complete with limo ride, lunch and $500 gift card.

I dropped one of my husband’s shirts on the floor in surprise. Yes, this is the type of contest radio stations normally offer, but I was taken aback at hearing it from a Christian station. I immediately asked myself, “where would Jesus be on Black Friday?”

The first thing that comes to mind, I’m afraid, is the Temple scene, where Jesus drives out the moneychangers and tells everyone off. I think you can make a pretty strong case for shopping malls and big box stores, and yea, even the Wal-Marts, being the temples of the United States of America. So I’m thinking he’d be there, but not to shop.

You may have heard that some people celebrate Buy Nothing Day instead of Black Friday. I’ve gone back and forth on this. It’s hard to resist the deals (especially, in the Pacific Northwest, the Fred Meyer half-price sock sale). And we don’t have a lot of money, so huge deals can be helpful to our budget. So, in some years I’ve gone with Buy Nothing, and in others I’ve shopped. Last year I even wrote an article about Black Friday deals, in order to earn a little extra money.

This year, I could easily justify scrambling for the best deals. Our budget is as limited as ever, if not more so. But I’m not going to do it. This year, above all years, we need to change our ways. We’ve seen the economy going down the toilet. Many people will tell you that the cure for this is for people to spend more money. Spending more money will make the economy better!

Maybe temporarily. But, as we’ve seen this year, an economy based on consumerism and greed is not sustainable. We can’t keep doing this.

If you believe we need to change, join me in ditching Black Friday. But don’t stop there! If we boycott Black Friday and then shop just as much as usual later on, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Think about alternatives that help other people, or that support the local economy.

  • Alternative gift giving, or giving to charity instead of giving a physical gift. Check out living gifts from the Heifer Project, Mercy Kits from Mercy Corps, or the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) gift catalog.
  • Used items: books, games, kitchen items, clothing, and more.
  • Handcrafted items from a local bazaar or from Etsy (http://etsy.com)
  • Make your own handcrafted gifts, and spend time together as a family while doing it.
  • Gifts of time or experience rather than things: Babysitting, yard work, a trip to the zoo, dance lessons, etc.
  • Give your time to help others instead of giving each other gifts: volunteer to serve a holiday dinner for the homeless, help with a food drive, or pick up trash on the beaches.

After all, Jesus didn’t just stop at throwing the merchants out of the temple. According to Matthew 12:14 (The Message), after this “Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.” And children ran and shouted through the temple for joy.

Earlier in the year, I committed to reading through the Gospel of Mark and blogging about it.  I did end up reading all of Mark with a small group.  We met in the park and called it “Mark in the Park.”  Corny, I know.  It was a terrific experience, though — so terrific that I really didn’t need to blog about Mark!  We got all our thoughts and questions out in the group instead.

This group was affiliated with our local church (of which I am a member), but I find that doing things within the church is becoming less and less important to me.  When my husband and I first joined a United Methodist Church, we jumped almost immediately into church leadership projects, because that’s how we are.  This was great for a while.  It’s fun and rewarding to be creative in designing and leading programs and worship services, and we especially enjoyed being involved in the new church band.

But after a while, it becomes a chore.  And you realize that maybe it’s not bearing as much fruit as you thought it was.  The local church itself may benefit, but are we really doing any good for anyone else?  We spend time planning things that will bring people IN to the church, but we don’t spend enough time doing things OUT in the world.

So we’ve recently backed out of the church leadership game.  I actually stopped attending services for a few weeks, too; I think I needed the break.  We’re maintaining our connection with the local church, especially with small groups, but it is no longer the focus of our spiritual life.

We want to be the church in the world.  We’re still figuring out what that means.  Lately I’ve been looking for ways to be involved in the community without dragging the local church into it.  For instance, I’m organizing a monthly Kidical Mass bike ride in our area.  I invited some people from the church, but it was definitely not a Church Event.  I was also not proselytizing.  Just trying to do something good for the people who live here. I’m also making an effort to talk to more people in the neighborhood.

Today, I read the Fall 2008 issue of Leadership Journal, and I’d like to close by sharing some quotes from it that really struck me.

“…to be missional means to be sent into the world; we do not expect people to come to us.” –Alan Hirsch

“Is it just about trying to grow your own local assembly? As opposed to going out and loving people and not getting any credit for it” — Pastor Dave Gibbons, in an article by Helen Lee.

We used to invite them to attend church; now we invite them to be the church.  I used to ask, ‘What can we do to get more people to attend our church?”  Now I ask, ‘How can I best equip and empower the people to go be the church in the marketplace where God has called them to serve?” –Walt Kallestad

From a cartoon of a church sign: “Midtown Fellowship:  Join us! (and gain, easily, 75-100 friends on Facebook)”

Let’s be the face of Christ in the world, everywhere we go, and in everything we do.

In Mark 6, Jesus visits his hometown. He goes to the synagogue and teaches, and everyone is flabbergasted. They can’t believe that he has all this wisdom, and they’ve heard that he even heals. Who does he think he is? He’s just supposed to be one of them!

I can just hear them saying, “Elitist freak! Why doesn’t he get a real job, like his brothers?”

Sigh. Sometimes, we just can’t stand anyone being a little smarter, or a little richer, or maybe just a little different. I’m guilty, too. I do tend to resent people with more money. Why should they have more? And why do they spend it the way they do?

Jesus tried to heal people in his hometown, but he wasn’t able to help many, because of their attitudes. Likewise, if I have a resentful attitude toward some people, I can’t be healed. I can’t be made whole and healthy, because I’m holding on to that resentment. I can’t have whole and healthy relationships with those people, either.

But if I’m willing to listen, both to Jesus and to those whom I might resent, maybe there’s a chance for me.

“Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19b, NIV)

Jesus has just finished a healing.  He’s driven an unclean spirit from a man, and into a lake with herd of swine.  Everyone has begged Jesus to leave the neighborhood, as his powers are too frightening (and perhaps a bit disruptive to the economy).  The man who was healed, however, wants to go with Jesus.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?  Leave everything and follow Jesus?  But in this case, Jesus says no.  He has a different task in mind.  He sends the man home, with orders to tell about what happened.

I want to know more about Jesus, too.  Often, I’d be happy to spend my time reading and studying and getting to know Him, instead of being out in the world.  I’d like to just stick close to Him.

He’s got other work for me, though.  He’s got children for me to teach — mine and others.  He’s got people to be fed.  He’s got people out there who need a connection, a relationship with another person.  And through all of those things, I can tell people about Jesus, about what He has done for me, and what He can do for the world.

I opened a new bottle of dry erase board cleaner today. It was sealed with a plastic collar around the lid — for my protection. Protection from what? Children? But that only works until you open it — once you open it, it’s fair game, unless you keep it locked up and/or out of reach. Are terrorists trying to infiltrate bottles of dry erase cleaner, perhaps? I might catch smallpox or something.

I get why our food and medicines are sealed. Some idiot back in the 1970’s thought it would be fun to inject cyanide into capsule of Tylenol, and a bunch of people died. Manufacturers started sealing medicine bottles shortly thereafter. Protective seals on food products came a little later. Yes, poison in products we ingest would be very bad, and it makes at least some sense to protect against that. I’m definitely not planning to ingest my dry erase board cleaner, though.

One thing Jesus repeats often in the gospels is “do not fear,” along with “do not worry.” In Mark 4, he tells his disciples they shouldn’t be worried about a storm:

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

–Mark 4:39-40, NIV

He really gets into this later on, when he talks about not worrying about what you will eat or what you will wear — but this is a beginning. Do not fear. Fear not. If you’re living the kingdom life (which is what Jesus is trying to give us) you don’t need to be afraid.

We have a lot of fear in our society, and it goes beyond protective seals on the products we buy. We’re encouraged to fear our so-called enemies, and especially terrorists. We have to let the government wiretap phones and hold prisoners without just cause because we’re afraid of terrorism.

We’re encouraged to fear recession, and to spend more money in order to prop up the economy.

In some cases, people have been taught to fear God — and not in the “I revere and respect your awesomeness” way, but in a scary way — and that’s wrong too.

In the kingdom of God, we do not need to fear. We let go of our fears, and live the abundant life.