Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jesus Seminar vs the IRD

If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. -- I Corinthians 15:14

Some of our Metropolitan members noticed last week that our church got some press by being castigated by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative watchdog group, that focuses a lot of its energy opposing gay rights and marriage equality. Interestingly, the focus of their ire last week was not on our marriage equality stance, but rather on our hosting of the Jesus Seminar in our church (the Jesus Seminar is a collection of academics who continue the tradition of the "quest for the historical Jesus").

The criticism of the IRD (which you can find at IRD Newsletter and IRD report) centers on some of the statements that the Jesus Seminar academics made calling into question the historicity of the resurrection and other fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy. For those of you who are familiar with the Jesus Seminar, this is fairly standard fare: they have spent the past three decades debunking Biblical literalism (in some helpful ways) and questioning some fairly central tenets of the faith in the process (in, from my point of view, some less helpful ways).

Ironically, from a straight theological standpoint, I share some of the concerns that the IRD voiced in their articles: it has often felt to me as though the Jesus Seminar academics have been more interested in knocking down straw men than engaging in substantive theological dialogue. And, as many of our regular Sunday attendees know, I am a fairly orthodox thinker in believing that the resurrection of Jesus stands as the centerpiece of our faith.

However, where I part ways dramatically with the IRD is at their outrage that the Jesus Seminar should be hosted in the church, and in their fear-mongering that Christianity is somehow weakened by hearing unorthodox viewpoints. While I may not agree with the Jesus Seminar, they raise a host of important issues for us to address as the church, and ask questions that people of faith need to answer. After all, we learn the most from those who disagree with us, because they force us to articulate exactly what we believe. It was my encounter with the Jesus Seminar that led me to find voices like Luke Timothy Johnson and N.T. Wright and sharpen my own understanding of what is at the core of our faith.

If our faith is going to survive in the 21st century, we can never be afraid to engage with different ideas. A healthy, robust faith is one that relishes dissent and discussion. I am grateful that we have dialogue partners like the Jesus Seminar as we deepen our understanding of who Jesus is for each of us and for the world.

Charlie Parker

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, April 11, 2014

The United Methodist Church Checks-in on Itself

The issue of Marriage Equality, like other social justice movements-or Jesus on a donkey on the way to Jerusalem-has it's sideways, up and down movements. Frank Shaeffer, defrocked for performing his son's marriage, is busier than ever and is providing a voice that he could not have done otherwise. At the same time as all of his activity, the state of Mississippi legalized discrimination based on religious beliefs. Furthermore, about every week the RMN sends out a message that one more church has declared itself reconciling.

The Christian Century published "A Time to Split?" An article about where we as a denomination stand at this point in time. It is a very even-handed analysis of options and questions about moving forward. We are pleased that our legal beagles team produced a document that was blessed by Tom Frank (scholar quoted in article) and will be used by the RMN organization and distributed through the network. 

One should note that the schism discussion has been ongoing for at least 5 years and probably more. I remember reading the discussion in The New Zion's Herald at least that long ago, proposed by the spiritual leader of the Good News caucus, a very conservative group of United Methodists. Please remember: We are in no danger of imminent split. The financial and organizational ramifications are very complex. I personally believe that the losses outweigh the gains, from an organizational standpoint.

At any rate, pour a cup of coffee or tea and have your self a good read.

Kerm Towler

Monday, April 07, 2014

From passion to darkness to joy…

From passion to darkness to joy…
Experience Holy Week at The Metropolitan Church
12 Different Worship Styles, Opportunities in 3 Locations.
The week begins with Passion/Palm Sunday and ends with the “three days” (also called the Triduum, from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Easter Day) which mark Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection. These days feature not only the drama of the triumphal entry, trial, last supper, and crucifixion but also poignant prayers and prophetic teachings of our Lord. John’s gospel devotes eight of its twenty-one chapters to this week alone! Worship throughout Holy Week invites the congregation to think of themselves as participants in a dramatic reenactment of scriptural events. Thus, on Palm Sunday our children process while shouting “Hosanna!” and waving palms. Or, in the reading of the passion narrative, the choir or congregation may be invited to speak the words, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” These participatory acts help the congregation sense the significance of the narratives for what they teach us about Jesus’ ministry, about God’s being and character, and about the nature and scope of redemption in Christ (adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, Calvin Institute).

Maundy Thursday at Metropolitan with Foot Washing and Holy Communion: When we worship on Maundy Thursday, we remember the last evening that Christ spent with his disciples in the upper room. Three major events make up this evening: he washed the disciple’s feet, he instituted the Lord’s Supper, and he gave them the “new” commandment to love one another. “Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum novum” referring to the new commandment in John 13:34. There will be a dramatic enactment of a foot washing during the scripture reading and the congregation will be invited to participate in the side chapels, if they wish. We also share Holy Communion as part of this worship. We end worship in silence as the cross is dragged to the altar and Jesus kneels in the garden.

Good Friday: This Friday is called “good” because Jesus’ death provides redemption for the world. We gather at the cross to remember his sorrow and give thanks. Historically, Good Friday worship drew on three themes: recalling the events of Jesus’ suffering and death; opening up the meaning of these events and increasing our understanding of the grace of God, the atonement for sin, and the redemption made available; and, deepening our devotion and love for Christ who paid the ultimate price for us and our salvation.

Seven Last Words at Metropolitan: Between the hours of noon - 3pm, the hours of darkness while Christ was on the cross, we offer a service, remembering Jesus’ seven last words. Each 25 minute segment includes prayer, scripture, hymns, music, silence and a meditation offered by a diverse collection of preachers from different faith traditions from the Washington Metropolitan area. You are welcome to come and go or remain for the afternoon, as your time permits.

Good Friday evening at Wesley: We also celebrate Good Friday with a service of Tenebrae in which increasing darkness in the worship space with the extinguishing of candles, reminds us of the deepening shadows of suffering that Jesus experienced. It is a somber service, including an invitation to hammer a nail into the cross, as we suffer with Jesus during his final hours.

Easter Vigil: An ancient tradition of the church, the Paschal Vigil or the First Service of Easter, is traditionally held in the last hours of Saturday night, creating a sense of waiting and longing, through the long, dark night. We have the opportunity this year to join with our Orthodox brothers and sisters at St. Sophia Cathedral to wait through the last hours of Holy Saturday and share the first Alleluia’s of Easter. It will be an experience—surrounded by gorgeous iconography, music and incense—culminating in the Easter light being passed out to the entire congregation.

Easter Sunday: All the hopes of Christians are realized in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, making Easter the most celebrative day of the church year. The Easter morning service is a time of joy, celebration, and renewal. In contrast to the somber starkness of Holy Week, on Easter the worship space is bright and celebratory, including the liturgical colors of white and gold. Music and songs reflect the full joy of the victorious Christian faith because of Christ’s resurrection. Since the good news of Easter can hardly be contained in a single day’s celebration, Easter is the first of fifty days of Eastertide, the “Great Fifty Days” that lead to Pentecost. This season is designed for extended celebration, for exploring the ramifications of Easter for the redemption of all creation, and for joyful Christian living.
- Patrisha House

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reflections on the Tom Ogletree Resolution

The news of Tom Ogletree's resolution presents an interesting turn of events. Instead of a conviction or acquittal, they voted in favor of talking to each other in earnest, and presumably listening in earnest as well.

The development of this particular trial is in distinct contrast to that of Frank Schaefer's trial in Pennsylvania. The bishop in that case chose a very conservative retired bishop who last served in South Carolina. The judge foreclosed on all of Schaefer's defenses and chose a prosecutor from the Good News movement, an ultra-conservative organization whose purpose it is to drive theologically conservative activities in the UMC, across the denomination. You don't have to be Perry Mason to know that Schaefer stood no chance. And yet there is a butterfly in the cocoon.
  • It seems like every week, some UMC community somewhere has declared itself reconciling. 
  • The fact that Bishop Carcano in California invited him to her conference speaks volumes on a number of levels. 
  • The bishop in the Ogletree case publicly stated that trials on this issue should end. 
  • In his recent address to American University students Schaefer stated that as a result of the media frenzy, he is constantly on the road preaching in churches, Sunday to Sunday, booked through the end of this year. 
  • The impeccable and thorough work of our legal beagles on the marriage Equality Task Force will be used by the Reconciling Ministries Network and shared with other congregations.
The road to victory is rarely without multiple slips and slides along the way. The Ogletree decision, although hugely significant, does not mean represents overwhelming victory of the movement. We have neither won the race nor claimed the prize. I was reminded in a recent posting in the Still Speaking Devotional that Paul planted the church in Corinth and the fiery Apollos continued the work. God used them both to grow the movement. Each of us serves a purpose in helping birth the community of the beloved. Keep up the letter writing, marching and talking. Rainbow stoles are also available for a very small fee. 

We may or may notate victory in our respective lifetimes, but Jimmy Creech, Beth Stroud, Frank Schaefer, Tom Ogletree, and the rest of us will have a hand in bringing it to reality.

                                                                                                                - Kerm Towler
Learn about our Reconciling Ministries team and join the fight for equality.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rev. Dr. Tom Olgletree Resolution: Bishop Vows no Trials!
Stop the Trials Letter Writing - Sundays After Each Service
The clergy trial of the Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree was avoided by successful negotiation in a just resolution process, which resulted in an agreement to drop charges against Ogletree, and initiation of dialogue in the New York Conference on issues of human sexuality. Resident Bishop Martin McLee called for cessation of trials for clergy who officiate at same gender marriage ceremonies. Further discussion of the resolution or the complaint will be included in the Great Hall Session at 10:10am on Sunday, March 16.

Let's Thank Bishop McLee:  We urge members of the Metropolitan communities to express appreciation for Bishop McLee's leadership. Talking points will be available at the Letter Writing Table on Sunday morning. You may also sign a letter at the conclusion of the Great Hall Session. Send to Bishop Martin McLee, New York Conference, United Methodist Church, 20 Soundview Avenue, White Plains, New York,10606.  Contact: Ellen Bachman

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Survey: Millennials have left their religion because of anti-gay policies

This morning, a Huffingtonpost article featured a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute that stated, "nearly one-third of Millennials who left the faith they grow up with told Public Religion Research Institute that it was 'negative teachings' or 'negative treatment' related to gays and lesbians that played an significant role in them leaving organized religion...Specifically, 17 percent of Millennials, or adults between 18 and 33-years-old, said negativity around LGBT issues in religion was 'somewhat important' to their departure, while 14 percent said it was a 'very important' factor...A majority of Americans, 58 percent, also said that religious groups are 'alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.' Among Millennials, that percentage jumped to 70." 
While the survey doesn't surprise me, it certainly is encouraging. Growing up gay in the church was always a bit of a challenge. While I attended church with my a closeted teen...I knew I wasn't truly a part of the community. Just as I would begin to feel comfortable and accepted as part of the group, someone would pass around an anti-gay petition that would yet again remind me that I was an outsider. I wouldn't be truly welcomed if I revealed my true self. This is why, as many of my friends did, I wandered away from the church. Why subject yourself to a group that doesn't truly have a place for you? There is certainly enough anti-gay sentiment in everyday life, why willingly accept it on Sundays as well?
Thankfully, I didn't give up and times they are a changing. Just as my gay friends have left antigay churches, it's encouraging to see that our straight counterparts are doing the same. Only when people stand up and refuse to be a part of a discriminatory congregation will real change take place. Of course, it will take time for those in power to reverse their anti-gay policies, but my hope is that as more and more people demand a loving church and congregation...rather than one that spouts hatred for any minority...things will begin to change. 
I'm proud to work for and be a part of Metropolitan Memorial. While the United Methodist Church as a denomination has a ways to go, it's encouraging to see my congregation on the front lines fighting for what's right and helping those who have been alienated by the "church" to find a new home.

- Jeffrey L. Clouser

Friday, February 14, 2014

Prayers of Healing

Last Tuesday, the Stop the Trials banner at St Luke’s Campus was burned. The news surprised and shocked our worshiping communities, and especially our Crossroads community, who worships Sunday evenings at the St Luke’s Mission Center. I wondered during the week how our community would respond, and what I could say that would offer any peace, any hope in the face of such a hateful act. Our scripture passage on Sunday was Luke 5:17-26 – the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. We don’t know from the passage how long the man has been paralyzed, and how long he has been lying on a mat in this state. Jesus was teaching in a house to a packed crowd, so packed that when the man’s friends tried to carry him on his mat to Jesus, they couldn’t get anywhere near him. So they carried their friend up on the roof, pulled away tiles to make a hole, and lowered their friend down to Jesus. And the Son of Man healed their friend.

It’s a remarkable account. The faith the friends demonstrate is remarkable – both in their belief in Jesus as the One who heals and in their determination to get their friend to him. They literally stop at nothing to do so. The man’s healing is remarkable – he stands up before the crowd, picks up his mat, and walks home, while giving thanks to God. And Jesus’ unconditional love is remarkable – being paralyzed, the crowd would have judged the man to be a sinner, yet Jesus requires no confession from the man in order to heal him. God’s love is available to all, no questions asked.

So as we gathered Sunday at Crossroads to worship, we asked ourselves how we find ourselves in this story today. Maybe the “paralyzed man” represents our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, paralyzed by the discrimination and intolerance they experience in society, and their straight allies need to carry them to Jesus so the pain and hate this breeds can be healed. Maybe the straight allies are the “paralyzed man,” paralyzed by the privilege they benefit from either consciously or unconsciously in society, and are in need of their LGBTQ brothers and sisters to bring them to Jesus for healing of any complacency or complicity in intolerance.

Or, just maybe, it is the UMC who is the “paralyzed man,” paralyzed by its view that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, paralyzed by contradictory instructions to its pastors about to whom they can and cannot fully pastor, and paralyzed by expensive, lengthy trials of those pastors who officiate at a same-gender wedding. If that’s the case, then we who are the UMC’s friends need to carry it on its mat to Jesus, which will require going to great heights to do so. Our love of our friend and our faith in a God with the power and authority to heal compels us to do so, and are how we will find the compassion, strength, and wisdom to do so.

On Sunday, we laid a Book of Discipline and a rainbow stole on a mat at the altar, to symbolize the healing the United Methodist Church is in need of. We also prayed over the burned banner, and in the hole in the banner that was burned out, we placed written prayers. The hole was filled in by prayer, making the banner “whole” again, and all the prayers were for reconciliation not division, light not darkness, love not hate. Amen to that. 
 Rev. Dottie Yunger