Not at this river, part the second

11215137_822638864521359_1671392158716795324_nThis is a continuation on my reflections of the stories (in blog form) that came out of the Gather at the River event publicized by Reconciling Ministries. It continues my thoughts on the first story found here.

The first part of the blog may be found here.

I want my pastor to be free to decide which couples he marries by considering his heart, rather than by considering the Book of Discipline.

I don’t want this, and in truth, neither should any of us. Before continuing, in the spirit of the original blog, let me cherry pick a verse from Jeremiah 17:9. Now that I have done it, I do not want one man to discern the will of God. We, pastors included, are all fallible. This is part of why the UMC system of government, clunky and flawed as it is, actually is amazing. It does not rely on one man hearing the Spirit, but allows for, even believes, that the Spirit will move in mighty way so as to guide clergy and laity in the proper direction in large matters. While doing this, it allows for the discretion of clergy in smaller matters. It is a unique and wonderful blend of personal choice and responsibility combined with corporate guidance and accountability. It breaks down when those who said they would follow the system we have do not. Our system relies heavily on the personal responsibility of pastors to uphold the vow they took and to act in good conscience within that vow. The problem is not that pastors can not do as they believe the Spirit is leading them, it is that they have decided that the Spirit is leading them correctly and that the majority of the church does not hear the Spirit, or even worse, following a false Spirit. We don’t cast lots for the Spirit to guide us, but rather use a large and clunky democratic process for the Spirit to guide us. I am not suggesting that if you sincerely believe that the Spirit is guiding you that you ignore it if the church says otherwise, I am suggesting that, because we recognize this could be the case, that you engage and use the process to bring about the will of the Spirit.

“I want to proclaim with my love, that intolerance and hatred are incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Another nifty soundbite to be parroted, but upon examination is fairly useless. I can not begin to express how tired I am of being told that if I believe something to be a sinful action that I hate a person. I don’t hate people who tell lies. I don’t hate the homeless couple that we brought in for several days last month that stole some things of value in their desperation. It’s crap that sounds great as a soundbite, but is little more than a thinly veiled attempt of heaping on good old “catholic guilt” to force a person to change. It is little more than the same type of bullying that is often complained about. Really, stop it. I am quite tolerant of homosexuality thank you. Tolerant defined is “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” I am not calling for the eradication of opinions, in fact I have consistently said that we should be exploring what is and is not acceptable to God. I am not calling for the elimination of homosexuals. Now the definition of intolerance (from the same source) is funny because I am intolerant also. “Unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own”. I do not accept views on what is true that are different than my own as truth as a general rule. When challenged I do examine differences, etc. so as to discern what is indeed true, but no, I do not accept contrary views as truth out of hand. For that matter neither did Jesus. (Yes, am keenly aware that He has a really BIG advantage in the truth department.) I think we say these things, like parrots repeating what we have heard, often without understanding what they actually mean.

At Gather at the River, I reaffirmed my baptismal covenant, recommitting myself to ‘accept the freedom and power God gives’ me ‘to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.’

Our United Methodist LGBTQ siblings feel oppressed by our church and are harmed by discriminatory language, policy, words, attitudes, and actions.” What is evil, unjust or oppressive about the church proclaiming what sin is? (I feel the need to mention again that the BoD, taken as a whole, both confirms the sacred worth of all, and does indeed call the practice of homosexuality a sin) That is a part of the responsibility of the church. Is there room and necessity for the church to examine and reexamine what we believe sin to be? Of course, and we should. What is evil, unjust or oppressive about offering the sacraments to all who claim Christ, offering church membership, and having a higher standard for pastors? What is evil, unjust or oppressive about calling for equal protections under law for everyone as the UMC does? Again, words that sound good as a soundbite or a parroting of someone heard, but they offer little in real and practical instruction.

“I found a comfortable spot in the center of the last row of the balcony at the Travis Park UMC, so I could take in the diversity of God’s kindom* that surely seemed like a foretaste of God’s kingdom, which I am reminded is within reach, or right on our doorstep (Luke 10:8-9 MSG).

*”kindom” denotes a world in which we are related, as kin in God, working to build relationships of love, peace, and justice with all of creation (credited to Jan Richardson, Sacred Journeys).”

First, let be fully transparent in saying that I tend to discount anyone who is basing a theological stand on The Message “translation”. Second, let me say that I have no idea what the attempt is here. “Kindom” is some made up word that seems to be in the same vein as “authentic self”. It seems little more than cotton candy theology that tastes good going in, but turns to rot unless you brush it off.

Since God’s kingdom is mentioned, I will make a few brief comments on that. First and foremost God’s kingdom makes clear that there is indeed a king. It is my opinion that we talk about the Kingdom of God then live like we are in the time of the Judges, and it does not work that way. The kingdom now certainly has a great deal to do with how we treat people, but also has a great deal to do with what it is that we believe. The kingdom in it’s fulfillment when Christ returns has everything to do with our proper reconciliation with God. That is of course a process begun at belief and continued on throughout our lives through the disciplines handed down from scripture through the church. We can not be so focused on the kingdom of God in it’s present earthly form that we are neglecting the work of the kingdom to come, nor can we be so focused on the kingdom to come that we neglect the kingdom of God in it’s current state here on earth.

This story and the river it came from seems to follow the pattern of rivers..shallow and able to be blown about easily. While we all start there and indeed should gather at the river, it is only so that we can follow it to the ocean which remains largely unmovable. We gather at the river so that while our faith is shallow and easily moved, we may hold on to each other on our journey toward the ocean. A simple storm moves a river, while it takes the most powerful of winds or even the shifting of the earth itself to affect the ocean. Even after those mighty winds and earth shaking events, the ocean returns to it’s not easily influenced state. I won’t gather at this river, based upon this story, as it was the destination. It is an ending point. I will gather at a river with anyone seeking the ocean however. That should be the true destination anyway.

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