Advent 2013, Day 1: GO

So #rethinkchurch is doing a pictorial Advent calendar…ok I’ll play along, as the Spirit moves.

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This photo is one I took on the Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Peace that was a part of the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Busan, South Korea last month; this was departing the train, in the rain, in Seoul for the busses and the next leg of the journey.

If you are like me perhaps you get wistful each time you start off on a trip. I usually do have some trepidation before leaving no matter how excited I am. The Peace Pilgrimage was no different. All I knew was what time I was being picked up at my hotel, that I would be traveling by bullet train to Seoul, South Korea and then towards the border with North Korea, and that I would not return till the following day. Talk about not having alot of information…. I along with 1499 other pilgrims got on the bus to the train. We did not know if we were headed for the DMZ or the Peace Park until we got our train tickets. We had no idea where we were staying the night until after our day’s travel and immersion visit, and dinner, and an amazing cultural show. My word for that day was “vulnerable”; as I did not know if I was staying with a group or going to a host home by myself (a woman traveling alone in a country where she did not speak the language) until it was time to depart for where I would stay the night. It was an amazing day, all worked out well, all were safe and cared for even by strangers in a land where we may not have spoken the language. It was an amazing experience and our hosts had it planned in detail before we arrived, but I did not know that at first and I only discovered that because I overcame my fears and simply went to meet my bus at the appointed time.

It is not always comfortable when God calls us. We do not always know where we are going. Sometimes we may even wonder if God is speaking out native language or showing us in ways we would expect to understand. But God does call, and has called people throughout history, to simply “go” and the funny thing is amazing and unexpected things happen when people let go of their comforts and simply go when God calls them to do so. And the call may not always be implicit, it may be an unfolding of events, we may not understand it at the time. So this Advent what is it that you would rather do than what God is calling you to do? What would it take for you to let go and go forth? …It may be just be incredible beyond your wildest imaginings, of course you won’t known unless you go. Don’t worry God is already there.

Monumentally Mixed Day

Well, yesterday, was an interesting day! I wonder what the Holy Spirit thought of it? I wonder what the Holy Spirit did to relax at after such a day. A day of monumental gender justice equality. A day of monumental ecclesiastical politics mixed with hatred, fear, power plays, denial of justice, and human inequality. Yeah, what would any of us do after a day like that!

I had finished my day of chaplaincy and started the car for the ride home from the skilled nursing facility I had been visiting. That’s when I heard the news on the car radio that made me want to jump up and down. The Anglican Synod had approved a new rule to allow women to serve as Bishops!! It still has to be ratified but…Yes! That is wonderful! The first person to see the risen Christ, and thus become an apostle, was Mary…and now the church has decided that woman can hold ecclesiastical seats of power. Imagine that! Honestly I thought the news was so wonderful, despite my snarky inner dialogue, that I cried.

Later in the evening I sat down to check the news on Facebook, oddly there was no chatter about women being approved to serve as Bishops in the Anglican church. There was the news, however, that the Methodist Church in Pennsylvania had convicted one of their own Bishops for presiding at the marriage ceremony of his own son; the Bishop was convicted of showing the love of God in presiding over a religious ceremony because the two people being married to one another were men, and that is against Methodist law. It was an ugly act to convict a Bishop for celebrating love, particularly the love of his own child. It was an act of homophobia and hate to convict a man who had faithfully served the church for over twenty years for celebrating a marriage. It was an act of clergy abuse for the ecclesiastical structure to expect any individual clergy to choose the law of church over the needs of the clergy’s family. It was a power play to make an example of one clergyman and further the continuation injustice perpetrated towards an entire segment of humanity, a whole segment of the Christian church. I read this news in disbelief, how could the “powerful” and “influential” Methodist church do such a unloving thing?  I wanted to cry. I wanted to repent for having been confirmed in a Methodist church as a youth. I was ashamed for having been formed by a Methodist seminary. I was thankful to be ordained in the United Church of Christ where “no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome”. I thought of Jesus and was sure that as throngs of people gathered to him, no one was ever asked about their sexual orientation before being invited in to the Master’s presence.

So there it was a monumentally mixed day–more liberation for women within the church and more discrimination against allies of GLBT Christians, let alone GLBT Christians themselves. So I sat there looking at the computer screen wondering how to react to it all. Because, really after a day of church news like that what does one do? Cheer? Mourn? Celebrate? Cry? I hope at the end of yesterday that the Holy Spirit had a glass of wine, or whatever spiritual energetic equivalent is available to her! Perhaps we should just all pray, pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the churches to justice and to peace for all people.

37% Is Not Enough. 2% Is Not Enough…. Reflection on the WCC Busan Assembly #2

Women being underrepresented in the leadership of the contemporary Church is not exactly new. However, in my lifetime it does seem that women having leadership in the church has become more common. True, as any church pastor can tell you, women have always held power in the church for women, particularly older women, seem to do most of the organizing and grunt work that enables church fellowship–this is a type of power. But when I think of church leadership, I am thinking directly about the leadership of theological reflection, church messaging, and setting the priorities of church witness and social justice engagement and in these areas it has always been more of a struggle for women to be granted leadership roles.

One of the things that I learned during the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Assembly in Busan was that the contemporary global Christian church still struggles greatly to include the leadership of women, particularly theologically trained women. The work of the WCC is guided for the seven to eight years between assemblies by the Central Committee, which is comprised of delegates to the General Assembly. While the WCC strives for a 50%-50% quota of women and men on the Central Committee this has not been achieved. Why? Because, despite the aims of quotas, the Central Committee make up must reflect the make-up of delegates at the most recent General Assembly. Delegates to the General Assembly are nominated and sent as delegates by the member churches of the WCC. Women made up only 37% of the total delegates at the Busan Assembly, this means that only 37% of the Central Committee governing the WCC for the next seven years could be women. While the nominating committee did present a slate to be elected to the WCC Central Committee that was 37% women, the majority of those women seemed to be youths. While developing the leadership skills of young women is vitally important, it seems to me that counting youth in the overall all gender balance is one way to dismiss the theological leadership of women in the global church.

How can women become more represented in the global leadership of the churches? It is up to individual member churches/denominations of the WCC (there are 345) to design their own delegation to the WCC, the diversity of delegates will be reflected in the leadership elected to the central committee. Lay persons, youth, indigenous people, and persons with disability are also underrepresented in the church delegations to General Assembly, and thus on the Central Committee engaging in global church leadership. This means that the churches need to be more inclusive not only of women, but of lay persons, youths, indigenous persons, and persons with disability when selecting their delegations to the assemblies. The WCC asks churches to send delegations that reflect the diversity quotas of the WCC, but the quota seem to be just a suggestion.–I have to say that the delegation to the Busan Assembly from the United Church of Christ, in the USA, of which I was a member, did meet the diversity goals of the WCC. The UCC sent one ordained man, a lay member/female youth, and two ordained women one of who is also a woman with disability to Busan as delegates impacting the percentages which leadership coming out of the Assembly had to reflect.

The Assembly in Busan is now complete. The Central Committee which has to be carefully, and very politically, balanced as to church family, denomination, region, gender, ordained/lay, youth, indigenous, and persons with disability has been elected to serve until the next General Assembly. The numbers are not as balanced as desired, but General Assembly Delegates we were told that the slate was as balanced as possible. There was an effort to create the most balance, while still reflecting the demographics of the delegation of the assembly. I have to recognize that one of the Orthodox Bishops gave up his spot on the Central Committee so as to include a female youth representative; I wish others on the slate had followed suit to allow for more balance. The Church itself is a work in progress, still striving to show the world that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one on Christ” (Galatians 3:28). So let’s be honest, in creating a committee to guide the ecumenical body of the global church…38% female representation in the leadership of the church is not enough; less than 5% indigenous representation in church leadership is not enough; 2% persons with disability representatives in church leadership is not enough! We have work to do, yet, to meet even the New Testament’s expectation of the church!

Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund Reflects on the 10th General Assembly in Busan

Women are busy doing the work of the church and seeing to the ministry of Christ in the world.  We thought you might enjoy this video of Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund reflecting on the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. Rev. Dr. Lund is the Associate Conference Minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Exiles for Justice and Peace–WCC / EDAN #1

I am just returning from the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea! I was honored to serve as a North American representative to the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) Pre-Assembly Event and a Untied Church of Christ Delegate to the General Assembly. I hope to post a series of reflections on the events of the last two weeks as I process this unique experience.

I was asked to preach at the closing worship service for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network’s Pre Assembly Event in Busan; below is the sermon I presented.

Dr. Arne Fritzon serves as liturgist at EDAN Pre-Assembly event

Dr. Arne Fritzon serves as liturgist at EDAN Pre-Assembly event

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7  1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (1)

“Exiles for Peace and Justice” sermon by Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas for theEcumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) Pre-Assembly, WCC 10th General Assembly, Busan, South Korea on October 28, 2013

Brothers and Sisters in Christ it is an honor to speak with you today. As we worship together now, let us consider God’s word for the context of our own lives.

Our text for this evening comes to us from the Book of Jeremiah.While I admire Jeremiah faithfulness I have always felt that much was asked of him. The prophet Jeremiah’s unenviable task was to convince the people that going into exile was the only way for their community to reestablish right relationship with God. We understand that his message that people needed exile likely did not make sense to those around him, but Jeremiah also gave hope. Indeed our text comes from the portion of Jeremiah in which the prophet is seeking to give hope to the exiles, hope that peace and justice would still come to the world.

Like the people that Jeremiah sought to console—we too have traveled far from our homes too seek justice and peace. However we are different than those Jeremiah spoke to. Not only are we far from home but we are people with disabilities, and we are allies who have had that conversion moment in which through the depth of friendship and solidarity there is understanding that people with disabilities experience the world and society differently than persons without disabilities.

The experience of disability is as varied as the people in this room. Disability is a social location experienced by living in the world in an individually unique way, and yet that experience of being uniquely different from everyone else is an experience that is shared by all people with disability. This solitary nature of living with disability intrigues me, for we may be individuals but collectively PWD are the largest minority in the world.

The North American theologian, Thomas Reynolds has written that disability “entails involuntary impairment and real suffering, much of which is the consequence of social alienation and exile”(2). As a person born with mild cerebral palsy which manifests as a speech impediment and as one who has acquired chronic pain, the suggestion of disability as exile speaks to me. Most of us have had, at some time, an experience in which our day to day life is so different from our friends and colleagues without disability, that as people with disabilities we may easily relate to the experience of exile in our text today. Perhaps from our social location of disability it is clear to us that we are currently living in a world that is not just towards persons with disability. A world in which all God’s children are not living in peace.

In my American context we have a perplexity. The ADA made many public spaces accessible but churches were exempt. As a result in America faithful persons with disability still find themselves exiles of faith communities, either because local churches lack accessibility or social stigma and social inaccessibility leads to a lack of opportunities for PWD to fully participate either as lay members or employed as clergy with disability—it is a lack of justice and of peace.

So what are people with disabilities around the world to do when the Body of Christ is not accessible to them or excludes them? Brothers and sisters, I want to suggest today that we are to take encouragement from the words that Jeremiah spoke to the exiles. We are to build the foundations of a new inclusive church, within the current church—we are to plant our hopes, and teach these ideals to the children. We are to seek the welfare, of the community in which we find ourselves.

As persons with disability we seek the justice not only of physically accessible churches but inclusion in the ministry of the church and opportunities to serve the church. We seek the peace of full social inclusion in the church so no person is made to feel less than the fearlessly and wonderfully made child of God that they are.

The words of Jeremiah call all of us to speak out about who we are, to be willing to be exiles for peace and for justice when we are called to do so. This is not easy work, particularly when the work of inclusion is ever widening the circle of God’s community. Indeed this work asks much of us, calling us to do new things to bring God’s justice and peace to the world.

For the past few years the disabilities ministries and mental health ministries in my denomination have been working together. It has not always been easy for the two exiled groups to act as one, but it is effective. We continue to teach the church, and we continue to learn from each other. One of the things I have learned from our partnership, is that as far from justice as the disability community is there are still others who need the disability community to welcome them into the church , into the pews, and into ministry together. We are a sprout of justice.

As we go forward into this week, discussing all manners of the ministry and work of the Church universal, I ask this group—the advocates and associates of the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network, to be attentive to how we may be called to use our perspective—to call the assembled body of Christ to new ministries of inclusion, even if in doing so the way to the future is, yet, unknown.

May God Be with Us and Meet Us as we work for justice and peace!

(1) “Jeremiah 29” (NRSV), Devotion.net, [on-line] accessed August 28, 2013 available at http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Jeremiah+29
(2) Thomas Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, (BrazosPress: Grands Rapids, MI, 2008) 21.

T-6 Days

Hello Friends!

Well its hard to believe that in less than a week I will be flying off to the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. The theme of this Assembly is Justice and Peace. I still have things to do before I go. I am preaching while I am there. I will also be serving as a delegate to the General Assembly from the United Church of Christ and of the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network! Please keep me and all the delegates in your prayers as we prepare for this Assembly, as we travel, and as we deliberate and engage in intra-faith dialogue. (And I hoping to make friends with some Eastern Orthodox priests!)

Thanks, Rev. Kelli

Disability and Diversity-Access Sunday 2013

On Access Sunday this year I was invited to speak to a local congregation about disability and diversity. Below is the talk I prepared, I did not follow it completely in speaking but it is my thoughts on the matter. I am available to speak with congregations about accessibility and disability ministries.

I am Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas and I want to thank you for asking me to speak with you this evening. I was asked to speak with you this evening about the issues of disability and diversity—I am especially happy to have this talk with you this evening as today is what the UCC calendar calls Access Sunday, which is a day to celebrate accessibility in local churches; it is also the beginning of disability awareness week which concludes a week from today with Mental Health Sunday . So by further way of introduction let me introduce myself as a person with disabilities I was born with disabilities so I grew up with all the social stigma of disability but as I grew I was also well trained to pass as a person without disability; I have also acquired disabilities as adult and been a caregiver for persons with disability and mental health issues. So I come to speak with you about the diversity of disability as a person with disabilities. As I believe you were told in preparation for this evening, I also serve on the Board of Directors for the United Church of Christ Disability Ministries, for who I am the Secretary; and I am engaged in the ecumenical work of disability advocacy through EDAN a program of the World Council of Churches.

In many ways I am still musing about how to speak to you about the diversity of disabilities. (Because of our limited time I am going have to be rather general so please write down your questions to ask later.) Disabilities and all that is included as a part of that is a very broad spectrum, but that does not mean it is relative and we can say we are all somehow “disabled”. I say that up front because I think that as we look at what disability is there is the temptation to make it into something that includes all people, and it simply is not. Disability is a social location experienced by living in the world in an individually unique way, and yet that experience of being  uniquely different from everyone else is an experience that is shared by roughly 1 in 5 persons world-wide or 20% of persons. I also want to say a word about mental health. Mental Health issues affect 1 in 4 families, or 25% of American families. While disability does not guarantee that a person has a mental illness, often times the social stigmas, effects of bullying and/social oppression/discrimination that people with disabilities commonly experience lead to the development of mental health issues—btw I have read some statistics that suggest that bullying of youth with disability is more common then the bullying of any other youth, including GLBT youth. Similarly although having mental health issues does not necessarily mean that a person with mental health issues has another form of disability, many mental health issues have physical effects and may lead to temporary physical disability as part of the mental illness. I am going to talk about later about the specific work that UCCDM and the UCCMHN are doing together. But for now, I just want to underscore for you what these statistics mean—it means that for every 100 people in your church, 20 people likely have some type of disability and 25 likely have or are in a family with a person with mental health issues—and there is likely some over lap of these persons.

If we had more time I would ask you at this time to tell me what a disability is and I would write that all out for us to see, we don’t have time for that, so pull what it is you think a disability is up in your mind. Have you got it? Good, but we won’t have time to share that right now, but hold it for your small group discussions. There are two definitions of disability that I find to be very very useful.

1. “[a] firm definition of ‘disability’ underlies the authority of the ADA, which defines ‘individual with a disability’ rather broadly. A person may be considered disabled if he or she has (a) has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits one or more of the major life functions, (b) has a record of such impairment, or (c) is perceived as having such an impairment. Even if the impairment is no longer present, the individual may still be considered disabled. [Arthur Shapiro, Every Body Belongs: Changing Negative Attitudes Towards Classmates with Disabilities, (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 1999) 263.]

 and, people with disabilities have developed the following definition of disability, which is used in the ecumenical movement

2. “Impairment: Lacking all or part of a limb, or having a defective limb, organ or mechanism of the body.

Disability: The disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by contemporary social organization which takes no or little account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities.” [Arne Fritzon and Samuel Kabue, Interpreting Disability: A Church of All and for All, (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2004), ix-x.]

We are still going to talk about what disability is for a moment but I want to start moving into disability  and the UCC. The UCC has been involved in addressing the issue of disability through an active disability ministry for at least the last thirty years. The most recent General Synod resolution about disability, called “The Called to Wholeness in Christ Resolution”, was passed in 2005 and it calls on all expressions of the UCC to become accessible in the spirit of the ADA. This means our Synod has called for local congregations to work for the full inclusion for all persons with disability–

This includes: Physical disabilities, Developmental disabilities, Mental/Emotional disabilities (including mental illness, brain disorders, autism, depression, anxiety, ect.); Mobility disabilities (arthritis, back issues, use of canes/walkers/wheelchairs ect.); Auditory/hearing impairments; Vision impairments; Temporary disabilities; Hidden disabilities (things people don’t/won’t talk about); Disabilities brought on by accidents or age; and anything else missing from this list.

Guiding churches in doing the work of becoming accessible and inclusive of all persons with disability is part of the work done by UCCDM. The UCCDM has a designation we call A2A. Churches who want to be A2A are asked to work through a curriculum/resource packet to help the congregation gain a better understanding the breath of the diversity of disabilities, how to be welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities, and how to be prepared to make appropriate accommodations when necessary. This resource packet is called “Any Body, Every Body, Christ’s Body” it is free and you can download it from the UCCDM website. The UCCDM Board acknowledged that while accessibility for churches often means making physical accommodations, the majority of work involved in becoming accessible is related to what we term becoming “socially accessible” to people with disability and this is a process of learning and integrating disability etiquette.

Many people do not realize or forget that up through the 1970′s people with disabilities were prohibited from public spaces under what were called “ugly laws”,  confined to institutions (sometimes w/o consent), denied the right to marry due to eugenics laws, and that people with disabilities were not guaranteed access to public education until 1973. As you can guess there is still much work to do in society before we reach the full inclusion of people with disabilities and persons with mental health issues—but there is actually more work for us to do in our churches. When the ADA came into existence it was supported by the churches, but most people don’t realize that the clergy supporting the passage of the ADA also worked to exempt churches from the implications of the law; the result is that in addition to churches being among the most racially divided places on Sunday mornings, churches have become the most inaccessible places in our communities.

The UCC and UCCDM have been heavily involved in area of civil rights for people with disabilities; just as all groups of people who go through a civil rights process seem to reclaim. language and even rename themselves as a group, the disability community has done this as well. The UCCDM through the A2A resources have sought to establish the use of what the disability community calls “people first language”, and that handout is on the table for you. People first language is language that names the person, or theologically the humanity, of the person about whom one is talking or writing before defining that person by their disability, as previous terms did. People first language is the standard within the UCC and within the disability community—I will tell you that some disability scholars with disability are using other terms and the language within the disability community is in flux, but people first language will not offend, so its safe as a rule to use in all settings.

So I just want to close with a very brief description of the larger work of the UCCDM. The UCCDM has fostered a renewal of the UCC Mental Health Network, which this summer changed their name to the Mental Health Network. Some of the other projects that the UCCDM is actively engaged in are….[this has been omitted from this post, please see uccdm.org for more information about UCCDM activities]

So that is just a little about the diversity of the disability community, disability history, civil rights, and how disability is part of the life the UCC. I am going to stop and open it up to questions. 

God Loves. God Provides. God’s Kingdom

A Sermon based on Hosea 11:1-1 Luke 12: 13-31; Preached at La Jolla Congregational Church, UCC

The hymn we just sang (God of Grace and God of Glory), aside from being one of my favorites, was written by Harry Emerson Fosdick one of the major theologians of the modernist movement during the twentieth century. For Fosdick, the Bible was a repository of our basic human experiences. (1) Religion for Fosdick was, as one historian wrote “a psychological experience….an experience that makes a difference, for the kind of religion that matters is the kind that saves, that is to say, the kind that integrates, strengthens, and enriches the personal lives of those who engage it.” (2) The role of human experience was important to the theological and biblical understanding of Fosdick and other of the modernist theologians of the twentieth century.

“God of Change…” I wonder what Fosdick would think of the scriptures before us this morning. I wonder how he might take the social, political, and economic realities of our own time and interpret these scriptures today. He of course is long since gone, so I am afraid you will have to allow me this morning to step in for him and look at these scripture with you to see what ‘meaning may yet break forth’ from them for us today. (3) As I have thought about these texts this week I have come to the basic ideas outlined in my sermon title: God Loves. God Provides. God’s Kingdom.

Now there are those persons who might tell me that I am stretching it to find the message that God Loves in the Book of Hosea. I am not, but it is true that this prophetic book is one that recounts the tresspasses that led to the exile of the Northern Kingdom of ancient Israel, and it was not pretty. Much like, Fosdick, Hosea was a prophet trying to make sense of his world. For Hosea, the world he came into was one in which God had made promises to love and care for, to prosper the people, of Israel. But the rules changed. Hosea found himself in a time in which numerous Kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were assassinated; a time in which political and military alliances were being made with Assyria–an oppressor of the Kingdom Israel at the expense of traditional allies. It really did not make a lot of sense… Hosea and his people found themselves in a world of change, a world in which exile would arrive. Theologically speaking, the people of the Northern Kingdom had turned their attention away from their covenant with God and the aspects of their lives that defined their society, and focused their attentions on chasing the political powers and material wealth that kingdoms outside Israel might provide. The Northern Kingdom had shifted their focus from the values of covenant to placing ultimate meaning on material gains and wealth and the prophetic record is clear they paid for their focus on materialism and wealth with exile. Which way are choosing in our own day?

The Book of Hosea is a book of prophecy so it is not all doom and gloom…there is hope. Hosea’s doom and gloom, however, are a warning about the downfalls that await a society that strays from right relationship with God. For right relationship with God that is at the very heart of prophetic messages. For Hosea, the hope for restored right relationship lies in the history of God’s love, care, and historical provisions for the people of God’s covenant. It is this hope in God’s love for God’s people that rings through our passage for this morning.

Our passage from Hosea this morning portrays God’s love for the people by recounting the God’s acts of providing for the people of Israel. Hosea recounts the Exodus quoting God as saying “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11: 1-11).  Then the prophetic narrative goes on to portray God telling the story of God’s presence in the life of the Northern Kingdom “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk…I led them with cords of human kindness with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.” (Hosea 11: 3-4) This is not a God far off but a God who is intimately involved in the life of the people. It may even be that the reference to Ephraim is a reassurance to the people of the North Kingdom, as their first King Jeroboam was from the house of Ephraim. (4) The metaphors used to portray God’s acts of love toward the people are ones we would expect to find in reference to a loving parent.

(Feminist scholars would note that it is significant that the metaphors for God in this passage of Hosea refer to the love either a father or mother would give a child. It is significant because the rest of the Book of Hosea is often very harsh towards women. Thus to portray God’s love and protection in gender neutral way here of all places is such a rarity of the prophet it must be paid attention to as carrying another layer of meaning. (5) We shall, however, leave the feminist treatment of Hosea for another day.)

Our passage from Hosea concludes with God providing for the people to return from exile to their own homes, once right relationship with God is reestablished.

Perhaps Harry Emerson Fosdick would ask us, at this juncture, how we maintain our right relationship with God? How do we balance our need to live in society, exist on the material level, and maintain relationship with God in light of our hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom? How indeed do we find the wisdom & courage “for the facing of this hour”?  (6)

As Christians, we look to the gospel for guidance and wisdom in how to maintain right relationship with God. The gospel lesson the lectionary presents us with today, verses 1-11, are those that deal with the distribution of wealth and the accumulation of goods. However, if we read further in the text we learn that it is not enough to just note that Jesus refused to address the just distribution of wealth, when he refused to address the man’s concerns about inherited possessions. It is not enough to note that Jesus warns those who hoard material goods that God will make a mockery of material hoarding, when God comes like a thief in the night to call us from this life (Luke 12: 20). Whereas Hosea was concerned with the national or corporate pitfalls of striving for power and wealth; the Gospel speak to us of our individual drives for power and wealth.

The parable alone is not enough,to understand the Jesus meaning. It is Jesus’ commentary to his disciples after the parable if the rich fool, in verses 12-31, that teach the spiritual values if the Kingdom of God that Jesus trying to impart to those he had chosen to spread his message. In the verses following the parable, Jesus’ teaching to the disciples makes it clear that he does not address the man’s concern about the division of inherited goods not because Jesus is disinterested in the division of material goods, but because it is the wrong concern to focus on. Jesus affirms at the end of this speech that God knows we need the materials necessities of life (Luke 12: 30). Jesus’s point is that all those material things are not only not the point and goal of living but can actually get in the way of our right relationship with God.

Jesus’s teaching to the disciples in verses 12-31 speak directly to the the value of human worth and value of human life. Here Jesus reminds the disciples that the birds do not work; they behave as expected of birds. The parallel for us seems to be that we are to be concerned less with doing work, but in being human. Similarly Jesus teaches the disciples that we are valuable to God just because we are who we are, not because of the things we do. Jesus teaches that the value of the lilies is in the inherent beauty of their nature, which far surpasses what can be accomplished by human hands. Jesus attempts to teach the disciples that we are human beings, and not human doings.

This is not an easy teaching. I often wonder if the disciples grew to understand this teaching. I often wonder if we understand it today.

As a hospice chaplain I often interact with persons facing depression, not so much because they facing the end of their lives, but because they no longer are able to do the things they once did or fulfil their roles as they once did. You see in our contemporary individualistic society we tend to place ultimate value on doing and providing for one’s self, and that is how we judge human worth. So when people can no longer do for themselves they face a crisis of meaning, which I tend to think of a crisis of being. At the root it is a crisis caused by being human and vulnerable. In these situations I often find myself coming to this scripture about the lilies. You see we have worth because we are living, because we are in relationship with God; not because of what we may do or accumulate. It is hard thing, in our society, to comprehend that our worth rests in something we have no control over at all, its all ”God of Grace”.

I was at our recent Synod in Long Beach. And while I am one of the first people to get excited about the theological implications of a God who is still speaking, I heard this so ad nauseum that I started thinking….about the the still speaking God…About myself as a person who started life with profound speech impediment…There are so many ways to communicate, why would God need always to speak? I started thinking about the persons with whom I minister: those who are dying, those who struggle with worth; then I thought of those who never spoke and those whom can no longer speak. How does a still speaking God speak to them? I recalled, in that convention hall so full of speeches, how profound it is to sit in silence, to try to be rather than do, and I knew that simply being is way of living I have yet to understand much less to master. And I then thought..what about the God who can not speak?

The “speaking” of God and human beings is our covenant or relationship. Given that we live with a “God of Change and God of Glory”, how do we interpret the prophetic text from Hosea and Jesus’ parable about the rich fool and Jesus’ lillies in light of our own experiences? Like Hosea and his people, like the farmer with full barns, we too are called by our covenant with God to be God’s people so fully concerned with the importance of human personality that our focus remains right relationship with God. (7) What do we do with that call? What would Harry Emerson Fosdick, have me say?

It occurs to me that what I might say is this: What if God is still loving, and God is still providing, but we are so concerned with wall street and the dow, with NASDAQ and the unemployment rate, with behaving as the superpower and keeping “other” people where they “belong”…What if we are missing our call to live into God’s Kingdom? What if God can no longer speak, because in our experiences we have become so consumed with the idols and of modern life that we are no longer listening?

Endnotes
(1) Macquire, John. Twentieth Century Religious Thought. (Trinity Press: Harrisburg, 2001) 189.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Play on a quote famous in the UCC, from a sermon Robinson wrote to a congregation upon reaching the new world.

(4) From “Ephraim” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephraim, accessed August 3, 2013.

(5) Yee, Gale. “Hosea” in the Women’s Bible Commentary (Louisville: John Knox, 1992) 200.

(6) Harry Emerson Fosdick, “God of Grace and God of Glory”, as printed in Hymnal of the United Church of Christ. (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1974).

(7) See commentary by Moore, Rickie in Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2005)  1273-1274.

NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

Note this maybe a part one of more.

Occasionally I am reminded that people don’t understand me…reminded that I don’t fit the neat categorical boxes…and occasionally I am reminded how uncomfortable that can be for me and other people.

I had the unfortunate experience of this happening to me at the recent UCC Synod in Long Beach, California. I was there as a delegate for the Justice and Witness Ministry of the denomination, the board that I served as the disability ministry liaison to until the denominational structure changed at the end of Synod. As a delegate I was on the floor for discussions, and there were a lot of us, so I tried to minimize my speaking so all who needed to speak may be heard. If you know me, or have read a few of these blogs, you may know that means I found myself at the microphone at least two or three times (in five days to be fair to myself). Once upon returning to my seat I had the following conversation with a man who was also in the Justice and Witness delegation with me, thus he knew me from previous board meetings and who I represented. My inner thoughts, no matter how badly I wanted to say them, will be in italics:

Man: You don’t (snidely) really have a disability, but I think its nice you speak up for people who do.

Me: Excuse me, wh-at? What did you just say? I’m not disabled, or not disabled-enough? Act-u-ally I do have a disability. (I spoke slowly and clearly so he could hear me in the convention hall with 2000 other people, and at the table full of our delegation, and clearly he lacked understanding the type for which I lack diagnostic powers.)

Man: (He leaned in close to me, and if he had been any closer I would have felt his beard hairs brush my face.) No you don’t. (Nodding his head closer to me. This man was in my face!) Well, then what is your disability?

Me:  Are you kidding me? I can’t believe I am going to answer that question. But I have to because if I don’t he either thinks I am a fake or a liar, my only choice is to revel my personal medical history. So I gave him the bullet points of my history. I felt like I was unveiling a secret window into my personal and family history–not because I was ashamed but because it was personal and vulnerable and I was surrounded by people in a loud place and practically commanded, not asked, to reveal myself, or else be deemed a fraud. Only in retrospect as I consider the gender, age, and racial power dynamics of this interaction do the connotations of white, male, aged, and able bodied privilege reveal themselves. In retrospect this man becomes more and more a creepy old man.

I quickly looked away and avoided eye contact with him. The business of the evening moved on. I glared.  He moved back to his seat at the other end of the table. I watched him and his presence made me uncomfortable the whole rest of the evening. I knew I was upset, I did not want this unjust and unequal type of exchange to color my experience of Synod. I knew he was only one person. But, still, this was church, ALL SHOULD BE WELCOME, INCLUDED, and AFFIRMED. But I felt uncomfortable and unsafe. I seethed. I had trouble focusing on the worship but somehow pulled myself together. I knew if given the chance I needed to ‘lean-into’ this conflict.

At the end of worship and the evening I felt heavy and weighted, and only partly because I was exhausted from the day. Most people left the convention hall quickly. I soon found that myself and this man were among the last at our table. I glared at him. He stepped forward to give me a hug, having been all pumped up by the preacher.

Me: No. I am sorry. I want to be in fellowship and Communion with you, but I am still thinking about our earlier conversation and I am just really hurt.

Man: I understand. (He dropped his arms and started to drop his head.)

Me: I don’t fall for the dejected liberal do-gooder act very well. UMM. No I don’t think you do. To insinuate that I don’t have a disability, or am not disabled enough, when you know that is obviously how I self-identify is not ok. It is a form of bullying. I have to put up with that type of bullying in the world and in the workplace but I’ll be dammed if I am going to put up with it in church! And you did that while wearing your anti-bully scarf so no I don’t think you understand at all!

He but his hands to together as if in respect and walked away out of the hall, as he left I saw him take the anti-bullying scarf off and place it in his bag, that made me feel slightly better. I was very upset and had to find one of my disability peeps to talk to about this.

The next day, Synod debated the anti-bullying resolution that was before us. I spoke from experience about being bullied as a person with disability, and reminded the church, the Synod, that it happens even “here” within the “bar” that separates delegates from the rest of the church; and I asked they vote not to feel good but to change themselves.(The UCC News quoted me.)

One of the staff members saw me the following day and asked about my comment related to being bullied at Synod. Upon my arrival to Synod I had been talking with this staff member, who happens to be African-American, when another (white) delegate came up and asked her if she had “gotten a tan” on vacation; by the time I was mid-way through my double take processing the comment about a “tan” the staff member was so elegantly agreeing that she had gotten a “tan” that I almost believed it was casual conversation. It wasn’t and the staff member brought it up when she asked about my bullying comment. We alluded to having some of the same feelings related to our separate experiences.

So church, think before you speak or ask… Think about the privilege you carry that others may not have. Consider the other, the Thou, the beloved child of God before you speak. Just think before you open your mouth. Could what you are about to say be offensive? Can your curiosity be framed another way? Because, yes, I do have a disability; and yes, maybe she did get a tan. But then maybe, just maybe. ITS NONE OF YOUR DAMMED BUSINESS!

“Run Free”?–An Ontological Question

Sunday morning in church the choir sang an amazing anthem. One line of that anthem stuck out to me and has left me pondering since the service went like this “…the lame will run free”. The anthem was speaking about the world as if settled in the Kindom* of God. The image of the lame walking is a standard image found in the Biblical narrative. It is not so much a literal image as it is one of the metaphorical images used to depict the the Kindom of God where right relationships are restored and persons are liberated to be who God made them to be. An image used to show that the Kindom is real and here on earth.

The line from the anthem stands out to me because this making the “lame” to “walk” has theological implications of personhood and ontological implications of our identities in the afterlife. Its a question I hear only quietly asked between friends, even within the disability community. It is not so much an opposition to the metaphorical image of making the blind to see or the lame to walk being symbolic of the Kindom of God, for of course there is an expectation that the Kindom of God will bring many things that we can not now imagine and that there with be a wholeness of identity and personhood that is beyond our mortal understanding . But between friends in the disability community, I have yet to met one persons who thinks or wants to arrive in the Kindom of God “cured” and without their impairments. No, my friends are not in need of psychological assistance, on the contrary most are clergy and have passed psychological background testing and others whom I have had this conversation with are PhDs. This issue here is not what the Kindom of God brings or does not bring, it is not an issue of God’s power needing to be made manifest, the issue is ontological individual identity.

“Of course I will have disability in the Kingdom of God!” I have a clear memory of a friend proclaiming this to me. It was not a denial of all things being made new in God , but an assertion that the identity that God created in her was GOOD (see Genesis)! The identity of people with disabilities  is what often gets misunderstood when we toss around ideas of the mute persons talking, the blind man seeing, and the woman with a limp suddenly having none.

As human beings we are embodied beings. Just as Jesus came to know the world by becoming incarnate, we come to know the world, build relationships with others, and come to know and understand God through our experience of being in our bodies. It is hard to deny that our bodies impact our identities. Look at how the theory, theology, and lived experience of the GLBTQI movement over the last twenty years has demonstrated how our experiences of embodiment impact our identities. It would be impossible for me to know how not growing up being ridiculed and bullied for having a speech impediment, physical slowness, and poor balance would have impacted my identity. Do I, personally, think I  will have a speech impediment and poor balance in the Kindom of God? No, actually I think in the Kindom of God I have a voice, power of communication, and poise that actually compels others to listen to me–because that would the topsy-turvy righting of relationship found in God’s Kindom. As a person who has lived with chronic pain, do I believe I will have pain for eternity? No I do not. ButI do think my experience has taught me that human beings have limits; that is not necessary or even desirable to be able to anything one wants at anytime. I have learned humility, and grace, patience and perseverance. Pain is a teacher and gaining  experience in how to learn from subtle experiences is something that offers profound spiritual lessons. They are not lessons about have speech impediments nor are they lessons about pain. They are lessons about getting to know oneself in relation to self, others, and God.

So I am left wondering who is going to “run free”? And why? Is it something within their personality that leads them to want or need to “run free”? Or are we finally going be able to “run” as we are without the judgement of others suggesting that we need to run, even though that may be uncomfortable for us. (Please don’t make me think about school “Field Days”, as I would consider those days to be one of Dante’s many circles of Hell.) For some of us, people with disabilities, the metaphors of the Kindom of God maybe what they are—we can’t change the scriptures, and its beautiful poetry so why would we want to? But why are the people with disabilities the only ones who have to be “transformed” to fit into the Kindom? For myself, and others with disability, it is more of an ontological question. God made me this way, and it is Good. Given the nature of my ontological being as a person with disability; given the fact that my personal identity is defined by experiences of disability, to what degree to I fit the “normalcy” of others in the Kindom of God? Why do I need to run, when I am already free?

* “Kindom” is not a misspelling of Kingdom, but an intentional feminist interpretation of the Kindom of God where equality exist between people living together as God intends