Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reflections from Charlie on his Upcoming Sabbatical

View Charlie's Message About His Sabbatical

Dear Friends,

In May 2014, I am embarking on the experience of a lifetime – a four month Sabbatical from May 4 to September 7. I have been at Metropolitan for seven years, and am tremendously excited to have this opportunity and grateful to Metropolitan for submitting a grant to support my Sabbatical through the Lilly Endowment 2013 Clergy Renewal Program Grant (see story on page 3 for an explanation of this Program). I wanted to let you all know something about my summer plans, and also talk about the exciting opportunities that the grant has made possible for you over the summer.

As many of you know, two of the disciplines that have fed my soul over the past 10-20 years have been playing a Japanese flute called the shakuhachi and practicing a martial art called aikido. Our Lilly grant is giving me the opportunity to richly explore both of those disciplines. My Sabbath will begin with a month in Japan, the core of which will be a two week trip with my shakuhachi teacher, grandmaster Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin and several fellow students. I will be in Tokyo a week before this trip, practicing with two other grandmasters, and will stay an additional week in Kyoto after Ronnie leaves, practicing with a third grandmaster. Throughout this month, I will also practice aikido at dojos around the country, including the birthplace of aikido – Hombu dojo in Tokyo.

There will be other shorter excursions throughout the summer. I will have two weeks in a shakuhachi meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery outside Vancouver led by shakuhachi maker and player Al Ramos. There will be a week of aikido camp at Catholic University, and a week of shakuhachi camp in Philidelphia, as well as traveling to NYC for some shakuhachi practice with my teacher. And, of course, there will be some wonderful family time throughout the summer, which will include a family vacation in Vancouver (following my retreat), and possibly London, and lots of time hiking and playing with Julia and Joshua! So I am very excited about this time and very grateful to you for providing it.

What is happening at Metropolitan while I am on my sabbatical? I am also very excited about the plans that we have prepared for the church, and funded by the same grant.  Highlights include:
Rev. Chris Holmes (son of former Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Memorial, Rev. Dr. William Holmes) will be leading a preaching series on Spirituality and the Arts from June 15 to July 6. On the Sundays of June 15, June 22, June 29, and July 6, Chris will explore with us the intersection of Spirituality and the Arts, Art and Architecture, the Art of Movement, and the Art of Pottery. On the Wednesday nights following these Sunday sermons, Chris has planned some wonderful, hands-on programs that will reflect the theme of spirituality and the arts. These are intended to be intergenerational and interactive, and will include the creation of a mural of creation on moveable panels. No artistic skills are required and all are welcome!

In the weeks following Chris’s time with us, we will have programs led by three international leaders in mindfulness, meditation, and contemplation. Sharon Salzberg will do a program at Metropolitan on the Foundations of Mindfulness (maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment) on Saturday July 12 and she will be in our pulpit on Sunday, July 13. Sharon is a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, has more than 40 years of experience in this field, and is internationally recognized as a powerful teacher. She has blessed us here at Metropolitan with her teaching several times.

Tara Brach will lead a workshop on Freeing the Heart on the afternoon of Saturday, August 9, from 1 to 5. Tara will lead us in an investigation of the ways we habitually cut ourselves off from feeling connected, compassionate, and at home with ourselves and others. Tara is an acclaimed meditation teacher, clinical psychologist, author, and leading western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. She has more than 35 years of experience and is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.

Dr. Jack Kornfield will lead a one day training in Buddhist Psychology for Westerners on August 16, from 9:30 to 5:00, at Metropolitan. This will be a day of teachings and mindful meditations on love, consciousness, healing, and the nature of the mind. The day-long training combines practical examples, teaching stories, and case studies. Jack has taught meditation internationally since 1974 as one of the first American teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. Jack is one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, as well as a founding teacher of the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California.

All of this is to emphasize: this is not intended to be a summer off for anyone! I am going to be exploring and growing, and urge you all to take full advantage of the opportunities that we are providing for your own growth and exploration.  I would like us all to join together in September as richer, more centered, and rejuvenated disciples!

I want to underscore my gratitude to Metropolitan for this extraordinary opportunity. I will miss being in ministry with you over the summer, but look forward to hearing your stories of learning, growing, and practicing a wonderful spectrum of spirituality practices. I also look forward to sharing stories of ways in which I have reflected and grown in my time away.  It is a privilege to be your pastor and I am excited about the many creative ways in which we will all be in a period of reflection and renewal. I am confident that these renewal experiences will be transformative for our church family and for me.

Rev. Dr. Charles Parker

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 (IRD), 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 family...as 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