justice

Wisdom From "Senior" - A Man Living Under a Bridge for 2 Years

I met "Senior" when I was passing out cheeseburgers during Lent in San Antonio. My friend, Sam and I, fasted during lent then took the money we would have spent and bought as many McDonald's cheeseburgers we could each Friday in Lent. After a few weeks of doing this we got to know a couple of the people who lived downtown San Antonio. One of those men went by the nickname, "Senior" because he had lived there the longest. Apparently, it is a less a name and more a rotating title so that when the one "Senior" died or moved on there was a new "Senior". 

I cannot recall the birth name of this current incarnation of Senior but I do recall his out of control mustache. It was roughly a collection of fifteen thin hairs all caked together and more or less pushed to one side of his top lip. He joked and called it his "comb over". It was the oddest facial hair I have ever seen. 

Senior shared a lot of stories that I don't recall and frankly only understood about 1/4 of what he said. Truthfully, it was not so much how he spoke that was the main problem but of my anxiety to "move on" to the get the burgers to the next person. I regret that I was not present to where I needed to be. A lesson that I still am trying to learn.

One thing that Senior told Sam and I that impressed upon us both was that there is a difference in being homeless and being houseless. Senior said that he had been houseless for about fifteen years, but never homeless. He knew some people who were homeless, but most of his friends were only houseless. 

It is one perspective of one man that may not be affirmed by anyone else, but it seems to me there is a bit of wisdom in Senior's words. 

While I have not passed out cheeseburgers recently, it remains clear to me that people need houses. On the flip side, there are a good number of people who have a house but are homeless. May we have the courage to address both these conditions and the humility to not see them as one in the same.

Voter ID Laws and the Wesleyan Covenant Association

A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Court of Appeals 5th Circuit stuck down a 2011 voter ID law in Texas. The 5th circuit court is known to be a conservative court in case you may be thinking this is judicial activism. The Court agreed with the plaintiff that these laws disproportionally impacts minorities. It came close, but did not say discrimination was intentional on the part of the lawmakers, but it did send that part of the case back to the lower district court and said that Texas had to modify their laws to ensure greater access to IDs for people to vote. 

The 4th circuit of appeals also struck down major parts of a 2013 North Carolina law that had voter ID requirements, limited early voting and made it harder for new voters to register. Courts in Kansas and Wisconsin also struck down various voter ID laws. To my knowledge even if the courts struck down parts of these laws, the courts did not say that these laws were intentionally discriminatory. That is to say, the lawmakers may be within some version of the law but because the disproportion of affect on people of color and perhaps even unintended consequences of these laws, current versions of the laws need to change to be in compliance with the constitution. 

I say all this to point out that the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) may be within some version of the Book of Discipline. I don't know if such an association is illegal or not. I don't know what happens when this association meets to talk. I know that the association is quick to point out it is not creating a framework for a new denomination or a breakaway group from the UMC.

I am not saying it is the intention of the WCA to create a new denomination. It is argued by some in the association that it is within the Discipline to create such a association. And that may be true. What is frustrating to me is that while there is no "smoking gun" of a stated intentional desire to form a new denomination via this association, and that regardless of what is stated by the groups press releases, this action is just as divisive as stating non-compliance with the Discipline because of the way it affects the denomination as a whole. 

The creation of an association of UMC congregations and leaders that are bound together by a covenant that is separate from the covenant all UMC churches have with one another splits loyalties. Is a church in the WCA going to honor the covenant of the UMC or the WCA as primary? 

While there is not a stated intention of the WCA to break any laws, the creation of such a association disproportionally impacts the rest of the denomination in adverse ways. So it is appropriate for the Bishops to state that the election of a Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop, declarations of non-compliance, and the creation of the WCA equally "opened deep wounds and fissures within The United Methodist Church and fanned fears of schism." 

Neither the voter ID laws or the WCA state language to be divisive, but they still are. I do not buy the argument that voter fraud is out of control and we need additional voter ID laws. I also do not buy the argument that the UMC connection is so out of control that we need additional covenants. Rather, just like voter ID laws restrict voter participation, the WCA may restrict UMC participation.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100008723963...

St. Anthony Speaking to the UMC LGBT Conversation?

A hunter in the desert saw Antony enjoying himself with the brothers, and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So he did. The old man then said, “Shoot another,” and the hunter said, “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with God’s work. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words, the hunter regretted he had said anything, and he went away greatly edified by the old man. The brothers went home stronger. ---The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Paraclete Essentials) 

Different type of bow breaking.

This saying of Father Anthony may not come to mind when considering the current state of the United Methodist Church, but I believe it speaks deeply. 

It is not appropriate to assign different characters to different sides of the UMC, that is far too limiting. Rather, what I want to submit is how some of us in the Church want change that stretches the Church in one way or another. This work to stretch the Church is good but if we stretch too much we will break. This is my concern. Not that we are not stretching as a denomination but that we are stretching with such intensity that we are stretched beyond measure and we are breaking.

Echoing Anthony, I submit that sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet the needs of others in the Church out of compassion and concern for their needs. If we refuse to do so we will surely see the great bow of the UMC break. 

Part of the beauty of this saying is the repentance of the hunter. He was sorry that he was in a place of non-compassion prior to hearing the Abba. The other beautiful part is Abba Anthony. He has a clear sense of what Christian community (church) ought to look like, but out of compassion for the brothers, he let go of his sense of justice and purity in order to make the brothers stronger.

Can we admit that we have been like the hunter and said things out of non-compassion?

Can we see the great witness of Anthony was so free in Christ that he let go of his own ego of what the church should be for the sake to build up others?

Reciting Creeds: Act of Humility and Justice

Creeds are interesting in that they serve several functions in the Christian tradition. For many they are seen as a litmus test for who is Christian and who is not. I would submit that this is a misuse of the creeds of our tradition and to distill their role as just a test we all sign off on cheapens the richness of the creeds. 

So what else are creeds? 

I would submit that reciting the creed in corporate worship is more an act of humility and justice rather than a way to decide who is in and who is out. The creeds stated in worship, for the most part, are older than the people speaking them today. And this highlights why recited creeds are an act of humility and justice. Because these words are not "our" words means that we must stop talking and speak the words of others. When we speak these words we are humbled with the reality that others might have something to teach us. 

Even more than that, when we give voice to the voiceless we participate in a act of justice. While the creeds are often written by those in power in their time, those people are no longer in power. Said another way, when we give voice to the powerless we recall all those who are powerless and voiceless. 

So when you say a creed, perhaps you do not believe all (or any) of the lines, that is okay. Say them anyway. Say them as a practice of humility and as an act of justice. Then go out into the world and continue works of humility so that justice may be made real for all. 

And perhaps, that is the greater goal of our creeds.