Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The H Corridor

A statement in the newest issue of Time Magazine, the June 1 issue, caught my attention today. The article is about the large wall that is being constructed on the edge of Jerusalem, separating Palestinians from Israelis. The wall is offensive and cruel to many people, separating families and businesses and livelihood. Still, the people who find the wall offensive are finding a way to change the wall. Many people are writing their own message on the wall, covering the wall with graffiti. One of the graffiti artists is quoted in the article. Faris Arouri says, "'To resist something, sometimes you have to interact with it'" (June 1, Time, page 6).

To resist something, sometimes you have to interact with it.

I read this statement over and over and over again this morning, trying to discern its full meaning. My mind then turned to a lecture I heard last week at the Festival of Homiletics.

On Tuesday, Tom Long, professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, spoke. Dr. Long used Grady Memorial Hospital as one of the illustrations for his lecture. Grady Hospital was founded in 1890. It moved locations three times before reaching its current location. When the current facility was built in 1945, it was built as a segregated facility. Wings A and B, which faced the city, were built to serve white patients. Wings C and D, which faced the opposite direction, were built for black patients. The four wings were joined together by Wing E, a hallway connecting all four wings, forming a structure in the design of a large H. As a result of the two very separate sides, many people still refer to the hospital as "The Gradys." There were two distinct areas joined together by one hallway - a hallway that spoke volumes.

While many people have probably not thought much about that hallway, Tom Long explained how that hallway spoke of a vision - a dream for a different day. That hallway brought together that which had been separated as blacks and whites had to travel the hallway together. Wing E was shared by all people. The people who drew the plans for Grady Hospital knew that a collision was coming - a new day would dawn. The middle hallway, Wing E, demonstrated what was possible - it was a powerful interaction with walls of separation.

I talked about the Grady Hospital illustration often last week with my two roommates for the week, especially my dear colleague, Laurie who is the pastor of St. Luke's UMC in Columbus, Ohio. Laurie challenged me to apply my appreciation of Wing E, the H Corridor, to a current area of criticism I have for our church.

You see, I have long felt that our United Methodist Church's communication slogan, "Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors" was filled with hypocrisy - a bunch of baloney. Too often, it has seemed as though the people who have this slogan printed on their business cards are the people who are fighting to keep our doors closed instead of opened to all people. Too often it seems as though the churches that are hanging banners broadcasting an "open" message are not all that open, at least in my eyes. I told Laurie last week how this slogan is a "bunch of B.S." But Laurie pushed me to think differently.

She explained how when the "Open Hearts" media campaign was first introduced that many people fought against it. Many people worked tirelessly to defeat it. The slogan was too open for many people in our denomination, and many people were not willing to open the doors that far. Still, the media campaign won approval. For many years now, the United Methodist Church has been proudly proclaiming that we are a church with "Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors." It is a prophetic statement. It is a beautiful reality to live into - being a people whose hearts and minds and doors are open to all.

And while we are not there yet in all churches - perhaps the people behind this media campaign know a thing or two. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps if enough churches start proudly using and proclaiming this slogan then our hearts, minds and doors will be opened - further, wider, more gracefully and lovingly.

In the meantime, perhaps I need to open my mind a little - to what this slogan really means and the story behind it. Perhaps I need to interact more with that which I have been resisting for too long.

Thank you, Laurie, for your wisdom.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Faithful Dialogue About Homosexuality, the Bible and Faith

I'm in Atlanta this week, soaking in several sermons a day at the Festival of Homiletics.  So far, I have heard preaching giants like Desmond Tutu, Barbara Brown Taylor and Thomas Long.  It has been rich and wonderful.  I already have pages of notes and a few books to haul back to Washington on Friday evening.  I am grateful for the privilege of being here.

Barbara Brown Taylor has long been my favorite preacher.  I love to read her sermons.  She is masterful with words.  Hearing her teach for an hour last night and preach in worship this morning was a pure gift.  She said several things last night that are still making me think.   

Her lecture was called, "Red Letters in Red Clay."  She spoke of how the South is hardly Christ centered but more Christ haunted.  She then went on to share the different signs she has seen on her journeys along dirt roads and how so often she wants to stop and rearrange the letters to make God sound less stupid and mean.  She spoke of how there are a whole lot more people who love the Bible more than know what is in it.  She also shared how we cannot read the Bible unless we read our lives - how the Bible speaks in a different way after 9/11 than it did before 9/11, for example.

I preached a sermon on Sunday about the Bible and Homosexuality.  You can read the sermon on our website by downloading it here.  It's the second time I have devoted an entire sermon to this subject, though I have mentioned it numerous times in my preaching.  The sermon preached on Sunday is quite different from the sermon I preached two years ago.  My life is different now.  More and more individuals have shared their testimony with me, and I read the Bible differently now that I read it with their lives and my life.

Following worship on Sunday, we had a "Talk Back with the Preacher" session.  About 40% of the people in worship on Sunday stayed for the session.  It was a holy conference - a time in which we could introduce ourselves alongside our partner.  It was a place where we could share how we are the parents of a lesbian daughter or a gay son.  It was a room that seemed thin as authenticity took over and people shared their joy and their sorrow, their dreams for the future of the church and the hurts from the past.  No one spoke a word of hatred.  No one spoke a word of judgment.  Everyone seemed to offer a mind that was open.  The ages of the participants ranged from 24 to 92.  It was really quite remarkable, and I am grateful for it - so thankful for it.

And, I wonder.  I wonder what might happen if we had more conversations like this in church.  What might happen if instead of telling one another that we are right and others are wrong - if we came together, to try to always see the other person's side or viewpoint or life.

I cannot read my Bible without also reading my life.  And, I cannot read my life without reading my Bible.  Thank you, Barbara Brown Taylor, for your words.  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for offering words to me on Sunday.  Thank you, my church family, for struggling together and seeking to be faithful disciples.

Make us one, Lord.  Make us strong, Lord.  Make us courageous.  Make us faithful.  Amen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Proper Identification Required

Several weeks ago, prior to wedding season, when I was blogging regularly, I clipped an article from the Washington Post. The article appeared on the front page of the March 16, 2009, Metro section and is titled, "Here, Even Icons Needs IDs." Writer Michael Ruane explains how many people in Washington take for granted the familiarity of the many monuments and tourist attractions in our city. We believe that everyone knows that the tall cement tower extending high in the air is the Washington Monument. However, Ruane interviews tourists from Belgium who, when asked about the Monument, said, "We think it is the Ellipse."

Apparently, the Park Service is now in the process of fully identifying each monument in Washington, taking nothing for granted. In the meantime, I keep thinking about everything we take for granted at the church. There are so many places in our buildings that are not properly marked. And, there are so many parts of our liturgies that are not fully explained.

Right now, we are assuming that everyone knows where the handicap entrance is at Mount Vernon Place; there is no door to properly mark it. We assume that visiting families can find the nursery even though the sign on the temporary nursery door says "library." These things will be changed as soon as phase two of our building is completed, but I wonder how much confusion we have caused so far.

Once a person is on the inside, we do different things. We stand at some times, sit at other times, and offer the invitation to kneel at other times. We pray prayers, listen to scripture readings, hear a sermon, sing songs, pass an offering plate, exchange signs of peace and reconciliation with one another, and hear a closing benediction. It all (well, most of it) makes sense to me. But, I wonder how confusing it is to others.

We are trying to do a better job of explaining to our gathered congregation why we do what we do instead of taking it for granted. I am always trying to think of ways to make the church more user friendly, especially to those on the outside.

What about you? What makes sense in terms of what we do as a gathered community on Sunday mornings? What could use more explanation?