Thursday, December 29, 2005


I haven't had this blog for very long, and yet it's that time of year when we look back, review what's gone on in the past and make predictions or wishes for the future. There are a lot of these things going on in magazines, television news shows, etc. so I'll keep mine limited to things I've talked about here in the blog.

First we had the judicial council decisions - the event that stirred me enough to begin this blog in the first place. Looking back a couple of months, I admit that I'm not as passionate as I was when I first read the decisions and began writing here, BUT I'm still ticked off enough to wonder if/when something is going to happen from the judicial council or any major body of the United Methodist Church outside of the letter the Council of Bishops wrote immediately following the decisions. It's been months and there have been hundreds, even thousands of United Methodists writing letters, signing online and handwritten petitions, and in general having conversation about what should happen or what needs to happen. Have these conversations had any effect outside of the local church level?? I haven't heard anything especially encouraging, but I also know that the process is usually a slow one and we'll likely have to wait for General Conference 2008 to truly experience the fall out from this one...

Thanksgiving was an interesting experience for me ths year - I cooked a turkey and ate dinner with staff at a local hospital, most of whom I didn't really know. Yes, my partner was among them, so it wasn't like I had no business being there, but it was a very different picture from the Norman Rockwell image that several local grocery stores have been selling the past couple of months. I used to dispatch and take 911 calls for a metro area city (police, fire and EMS were all dispatched from the same room, also where all the 911 calls were answered by those same three dispatchers) so I know what it's like to "get stuck" working on a holiday when it seems like the rest of the world is having the huge dinner with all the family members. Some people remember the police officers or firefighters, but how many think of the dispatchers or the people cooking in the hospital cafeteria? While next year's Thanksgiving will not be at the hospital (she'll be working Christmas next year), I hope that I remember to thank and acknowledge some other people who will have to working that day.

Christmas has just passed, and I'll be honest - I'm still not done giving or receiving presents. As much as I dislike the consumerism of the holiday, I admittedly take part in it. I know some people felt I was a little harsh in my comments, and while that may be so, please don't think that I'm advocating giving up on it all together. I just hope to make people think about why we do things and perhaps become a little more mindful about the people around us. We shouldn't spend money we don't have to try to tell people things we should be telling them all year anyway. We shouldn't get sucked into buying a certain item just because it's "the" thing to give this year. It's entirely possible that we shouldn't be giving more "stuff" anyway - how many of us really need more stuff to display in our homes or store in the basement/attic? I love when people donate to organizations that I support in my honor for the holidays (some of my favorites include Habitat for Humanity, Heiffer International, CoopAmerica, and UMCOR). I did that for a few people on my list this year, and hope people will do it for me more in the future. It says that you know them enough to know which causes are important to them and love them enough to support it for them, yet it doesn't require space to store or contribute to landfills (if you just write it in a card, the paper can be recycled). I know, I know, it's not as much fun to open a bunch of cards as it is a box of clothes or candy, but come one - how many orange sweaters or pooping penguin candy dispensers does a girl need? (Love ya, honey!)

So now we're at New Year's Eve, getting ready to begin 2006. I have no idea what I'm going to do for "the big night," especially since someone has to work the next morning at 7 am (which suggests no champagne toast at midnight even IF we happen to be awake at the magic hour). Drinking alcohol and watching Dick Clark on tv have been what I experience in some form or another on most every New Year's of my life (I turned 30 years old this year - Dick Clark's been doing this longer than that!) but I don't think I'm going to miss it this year. Perhaps it's because I'm getting "older" (I use the term loosely since most of my seminary colleagues and relatives laugh at how young I am), but those things just don't seem to be a big deal anymore. I've been drunk and watched other people be drunk - neither is especially entertaining at this point. Dick Clark is coming back after being absent last year for a stroke, but I didn't miss him last year. I don't think I really watched tv last year until Conan O'Brien came on, and since New Year's Eve is Saturday, my only hope is Saturday Night Live which will either not be shown at all or will be a repeat. Oh well. Watching a movie and going to bed early will be such a special treat for me, it actually sounds like the best option for this year. However you choose to spend it, please be careful of other people and stay safe. May all your hopes and dreams (whether for yourself, your family & friends, your church, your country or the world) work toward becoming a reality this coming year....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Just wanted to thank everyone who has been reading and making comments - either on line or in person around campus. It's finals week - the stress is finally easing up and everyone is breathing a sigh of relief!! Now that papers are written and classes are done meeting (at least until January 9th for many of us), we can actually participate in the Christmas festivities. I've barely begun to write my Christmas cards (so if you've gotten one from me already, be thankful you were at the top of the list before the major end of semester stress put that to a halt) and still have several people to get gifts for.

It's interesting, with my "inlaws" we don't exchange gifts. This was something we started last year with the intention that rather than buying gifts for Christmas, birthdays, anniversary, etc., we would give one gift at another time of year when it felt "right" rather than obligatory. The idea was also that instead of giving "smaller" gifts that we didn't really need, we would be able to justify spending a little more on the gift to get something that was going to be more useful and appreciated. Interestingly enough, that never happened. We never bought anything for them and never received anything from them. I don't know why it worked out that way - we talked about it a few times, but decided that the time wasn't right or that we couldn't really afford what we wanted to get them at that point in time. We've talked about it again this year and decided that we're still not going to do gifts for Christmas. We still send cards and talk on the phone so we know that we're thinking of each other and remember the special days in each other's lives, but no "things" to clutter our homes and our lives. On the one hand, I'm proud of our decision, but on the other hand I question the practices. Why didn't we give anything all year? Perhaps the point of Christmas is that we finally show the appreciation for the people in our lives - but do we need to give "things" to show our love and appreciation? I know that I personally love with food - I cook for people and want them to enjoy the food I prepare. But how would you feel if someone told you that for Christmas, they were inviting you to dinner? Would you think that was enough? I suspect that while many would want to say that it is, deep down there would be some disappointment that it wasn't a DVD, XBox or gift card to Starbucks. I know that I feel guilty for not getting gifts for Angela's parents while we're still getting gifts for her sister, but haven't really figured out where that comes from or what that means.

In the end, I'm just glad to be done with the semester. Despite anything that's been said anywhere in this blog, I really do love Christmas. It is and has always been a favorite time for me. December 23rd marks the 4th anniversary of my dad's death in a motorcycle accident. While it's still hard for me, nothing can change the fact that at Christmas time I feel more appreciative, peaceful and reflective than any other time of the year. I have reading to do for my January class (which is United Methodist history so there should be some interesting blog entries in the future...) but will take the time to enjoy the beauty of the season and hope you all will too. Love and Peace to all....

Monday, December 05, 2005

Merry Consumption

It's been a while since I posted, partly because I'm nearing the end of my semester and partly because it's that time of year when we all have way more things to do than time to get it all done. It's the Christmas season, and if you want to believe the retailers, it actually started more than a month ago, before Halloween! Every year many of us take the time to do all the appropriate activities - buying gifts for family & friends, Christmas parties (at work, school, church, clubs, etc.), decorating our homes inside and out, baking cookies, and sending Christmas cards - often to people with whom we've had no other contact throughout the year. Why do we do it all?! Some people honestly take this season to reflect on the people in their lives and want to do something to show appreciation and love, but I honestly wonder if that's the majority. I wonder if most of us don't just do these things every year because it's tradition - something we've always done and will continue to do without really thinking about why we are doing it. Do you know why you crawl out onto your roof to hang lights every year? Is it for some great purpose or is it to compete with the neighbor down the block? Or, gulp, is it to proclaim ourselves as Christians to the rest of the world, or even to show how much of the Christmas spirit we have?
People talk about having Christmas spirit, but what does that mean exactly? Does it mean feeling love for our fellow man or does it mean we buy things for peeople? Does it mean that we really care about the suffering other people may be going through or does it mean we do some charity and consider it checked of our list for the next year? What is the Christmas spirit? I recently saw the KC Repertory Theater production of A Christmas Carol - a Kansas City tradition from what I've been told, and I liked it. I didn't love it though, and everyone else was raving about it. Why did I only feel mediocre about it? I've been trying to figure it out and decided that it's not really about the theater company and the way they performed it - it was really an impressive production. Rather, I think it's a problem I have with the story in general. I know it's a classic, and I admit that I watch it every year, but I'm starting to question the legitimacy of Scrooge's conversion. I'm a little wary about even talking about it, because the story is highly regarded in our culture, but what was it that really motivated Scrooge to change his ways? Did he finally understand his own broken spirit and learn to heal or was he simply scared of dying alone? Did he learn how to love and be loved or just how to fit in with people so they would show up at his funeral?
Questioning this story and Scrooge's motivations also makes me questions other conversion experiences. Do people really believe in God and Jesus because they understand the love that is shared or is it because of fear of hell if they don't? I'm always leery of people who preach hell and damnation because I'm concerned that conversions that come out of those experiences are based on fear rather than of love and acceptance. They are still in a selfish mode of thinking, professing belief because it will mean a reward for themselves, rather than helping people here and now in this world simply for love of the other. I have to stop here and get on with the rest of my life, at least for the next two weeks of school, but I hope this has at least caused you to think about what you do, what you say you believe and why. I also hope that when you're buying Christmas gifts and doing all the other holiday things, you take time to appreciate your life and think about you need vs. what you want vs. other people's needs and wants. I also hope you all have a Merry Christmas - whether you buy into it or not.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thanksgiving - for what?

I'm sitting here in the seminary library and everyone is finishing up their classes before going home for Thanksgiving. We have no classes next week so that everyone (faculty and students alike) have time to take care of personal business and travel to be with family. That's really nice, but it has me questioning the whole idea of Thanksgiving in the first place. For those of you who don't the history of this American holiday, the "first thanksgiving" occurred in 1621 between the Puritan pilgrims and the Native Americans of the area, although they weren't eating turkey and pumpkin pie. That particular event was not repeated, but then around the time of the American Revolution a yearly day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. Then some states began adopting Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November and each president since then has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, and this was approved by Congress in 1941. For more information, I recommend the History Channels page at

Setting aside the notion of "separation of church and state" and looking at all of this history around the holiday, I find it particularly interesting that it was seen as primarily a religious holiday, and yet I don't think we often take that seriously today. I don't know any churches that have services on Thanksgiving Day, although I will admit that many families pray before dinner on Thanksgiving that may never pray before any other meals during the year. Still, I wonder if people really think about how much they have to be thankful for. How do most people celebrate this holiday? By eating. We don't just cook some traditional food - we make a LARGE meal and generally eat ourselves to sleep! In a world where there are so many people who don't have homes (tsunami, hurricane and earthquake victims come to mind as well as refugees from various area of violence), never mind food to cook and eat in that home, do we really appreciate how much we have? We live in the richest country in the world, and yet there are people in our own country, state and city who are homeless. There are people in all of our communities who can't afford to feed their families. Don't kid yourself - most of these people are NOT lazy, clueless people who don't have jobs or know what they need to do. Many of them are working, but work in jobs that don't pay enough for them to pay the essential bills, like rent/mortgage, electricity, and some mode of transportation to get to and from that job. If you don't believe me, I recommend the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich which gives an indepth look at our country's working poor. People who work in many "blue collar" jobs are barely making ends meet - and I'm not talking about New Orleans. It's everywhere.

So, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, this national holiday to thank God, what are we really thankful for? Are we just thankful that our country has enough money that we can be in a war in several countries at once? Are we thankful that we can afford to not see the homeless people because the police make them leave public areas? Are we thankful that we can have a huge meal that will lead to leftovers for two weeks, but never really think about those that aren't even getting a turkey sandwich? I encourage everyone to REALLY think about what they are thankful for and what it is that God is asking of those who believe in Jesus the Christ. Does God want us to just say "thank you" like a kindergarten child is taught to do, or are we called to do more than that? I think most Christians know that we are called to do more, yet that won't stop us from sitting in front of our dining tables next Thursday, eating until we're so full we have to unbutton our pants, and then we fall asleep in front of some football game on TV.

I personally am tired of being a hypocrite. I'm not going to have the big traditional dinner. If I cook a turkey, it will be to share with a lot of people I am not related to and I will make a point of being thankful that I was able to simply go to the grocery store and buy that turkey when so many others don't have that opportunity. I won't just make myself feel better by throwing a couple of cans into a food drive. I choose to educate myself about the underlying causes of poverty and hunger and work to change some of those things. If you want to educate yourself as well, check out and particularly pay attention to the ONE campaign. It's easy to understand and they are not asking for your money - just your time and a little effort to read your email. Until next time...

Monday, November 14, 2005

What the flip?!?

Sometimes I really don't know what to do with this world and this church of mine - that would be the United Methodist Church, although it's clearly a misnomer. I'm beginning to wonder if being "united" is really possible when people are always focused on themselves as individuals rather than as members of larger communities. Don't worry, I'm not getting all sappy or anything, but just trying to ask honest questions. When people are all taught to be individuals, and all have their own opinions and ideas, it can be very hard to work together on anything. You would think that in the church, there would at least be the commonality of faith, but that too seems to be something that is experienced individually. The way I express my faith is very different than the ways 20 other people may express theirs - yet we all profess to be Christians and believe in the same God!!

You may be wondering where all of this is springing from. On October 29th the United Methodist Church Judicial Council made several ruling on a cariety of court cases, but a few of those really stood out. In one case, an ordained woman was "defrocked" after publicly declaring that she is a lesbian. A bummer, yes, but a completely expected ruling since the same thing has occurred several times before now. What's that definition for insanity you hear? something about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results...

Anyway, the other two ruling dealt with the same particular incident where a pastor in Virginia refused to allow a man into membership of the church because he was gay, practicing (although I think he's probably done practicing and could be considered an expert at this point), and refused to repent. Upon his decision to not let this man into the church, he was talked to by his Distrcit Superintendent and the Bishop of the conference and told that there was nothing that said he could keep this man out of the church and he had to let him in. He refused, was put on a leave of absence for insubordination and the whole conference (his fellow pastors) voted to reprimand him in that way. The first case the judicial council ruled on was whether the Bishop acted appropriately and he should/cound have been suspended - and they reinstated him and granted him retroactive pay and benefits for the time he hadn't been working. Not exactly expected, but there were legal technicalities involved and I don't know what to make of alot of the "legalese" of the Book of Discipline in places. The second case is the one that has really caused an uproar (and rightly so I would say)! The council ruled that this pastor did not have to let the gay man in as a member. They said that the pastor acts as the administrator of the local church and that means that she/he has the responsibility of determining if a person is ready for membership. The Book of Discipline doesn't say that every person shall or will be admitted for membership, but uses the word may and this makes it inherently permissive for the pastor to refuse someone.

Again, I'm not a lawyer but a lot of this stuff seems to boil down to semantics. Whether the book says shall or may, a person being denied membership based on his sexuality is just downright WRONG! I have never seen anyone get refused for membership outright - I've heard of people being asked to have some talked with pastor before they make the vows of membership, or being asked to take classes so they'll understand what membership in the church means - but never flat out denial. This decision has been out for a couple of weeks now and there has been an amazing response from people in the church around the country - some lay people, some clergy, some seminary professors - and the conversation is what so amazes me. The issue of homosexuality is a polarizing one in this country and in the UMC, yet this decision goes beyond the "issue" and touches at the core of what it means to be church, communion, the Body of Christ. Jesus never turned anyone away. John Wesley didn't ask people to repent of all of their sins before they could become members - he asked for their committment to regualrly attending and working on their spiritual lives so that everyone would be actively growing towards perfection. If we were already perfect, would we need church?!?

Of course, this does come back to the basic question of beliefs about homosexuality - did God create me gay or was it my choice? Is it a sin? If it is a sin, is it any greater than lying or adultery or any of the millions of other things that people do? I personally believe that it doesn't matter if homosexuality is a choice or not - but that will be another rant for another time. As far as the church is concerned, even if we go with the assumption that homosexuality is a sin, I don't know how it can become a sin that is somehow so big that it eliminates someone from the grace of God and the ability to become a member of the church. I don't know what the gay man in the middle of this situation has done since the pastor refused him. He may still be singing in the church choir and attending their events, or he may have gotten so upset that he walked out. Either way, I hope he knows that it was only the opinion of that one pastor and that he is more than welcome at a number of other United Methodist churches - regardless of his sexual orientation. If you're looking for such a place, I recommend checking out the Reconciling Ministries Network - the organization that is working toward LGBT people's full inclusion in the life of the UMC (ordination and marriage are also battles being fought). They have a list of churches around the country who have chosen to call themselves Reconciling congregations - meaning they are open to all people, even GLBT's. I personally attend Trinity United Methodist in Kansas City, MO which you can check out at - we just celebrated 11 years as a Reconciling Congregation.

As far as the judicial council and what to do now, I don't know. I just keep asking them "What the flip were you thinking when you made that decision?" - at least I'm asking them in my head. I have sent a letter to them, as well as a copy of it to the Council of Bishops. For their part, the Council of Bishops made a statement, a pastoral letter to the whole church explaining that the church has always been open and homosexuality is not a barrier to membership. While it seems to refute the judicial council decision, it doesn't call for a review of that decision or even really criticize it. There are some movements in the church that are happy about the decision, but others are upset for a variety of reasons and there is a lot of talk. I can't even keep up with all of the statements that are being written and posted online or mailed out! I'm glad to see that people are talking - that something has moved them enough to talk and even take some action. Now we just have to see where it goes...