Posts Tagged ‘inclusion

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.

28
Feb
19

Here in the aftermath…

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21, NRSV)

GC2019 floorToday, words fail.

And yet, I have always been encouraged that the attempt to assemble appropriate words can often be the beginning point of the process of healing.

So I press on…

I traveled to St. Louis, MO early Monday morning to observe the proceedings of the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a session with one task on hand: to resolve, once and for all, more than 45 years of bitter wrangling in the church over whether or not we will include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the life of the church.

While it is true that the two main issues at stake in General Conference 2019 were whether the United Methodist Church would permit LGBTQ+ people to be ordained as pastors and whether UMC pastors will be able to perform same-sex weddings, the real issue was inclusion.

Because if we assign one group of people a different, diminished set of rights than other people enjoy, we effectively exclude them.

I went to St. Louis hopeful. For months and months, I have heard a groundswell of support for something called the One Church Plan. The One Church Plan was structured to allow progressive United Methodist congregations to stay progressive, centrist congregations to stay centrist, and conservative congregations to stay conservative… while all still continuing life under the United Methodist tent

It seemed like a no-brainer.

But when I arrived I was reminded: the gathering in St. Louis was a global gathering. It was made up of not only delegates from North America (2/3 of whom said they supported the One Church Plan), but also delegates from Europe, Central and South American, the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa… where the UM church is seeing its most dynamic growth.

I was also reminded that many of these global delegates come from countries where homosexuality is a crime punishable by fine, jail time and in some instances, corporal punishment.

And yet, even on the four-hour drive from Kansas City to St. Louis, I was still hopeful. For the last eight months, I have been praying daily for the conference and the delegates. My prayer has been for God’s spirit to move through the hearts and minds of each delegate and that LOVE be the guiding force in the deliberations in St. Louis.

Since entering the ministry in 2001, I have seen firsthand the damage our church’s current policy has done to people who are something other than heterosexual.  My fervent hope has been that the church might no longer be an instrument of injury in those lives and would instead start being an instrument of healing and welcome.

The best chance for something new to happen was General Conference 2019

OCP voteYet those hopes were dashed Monday afternoon as the One Church Plan was defeated by 50 votes… then dashed further as the Traditional Plan– featuring even stricter condemnations of LGBTQ+ persons – was passed.

I was heartbroken.

Today I am still heartbroken. I am heartbroken as a person. I am heartbroken as a member of the United Methodist Church. I am heartbroken as the pastoral leader of two United Methodist congregations. I am sure I am still in the aftermath of the moment of trauma, but right now I feel like my mother just evicted and disowned me.

No one is terribly clear where things are going from here. Some people are talking about leaving the denomination altogether. Some people are talking about organizing an effort to “de-globalize” the United Methodist Church, making the North American church its own discrete entity with its own Book of Discipline. Some are saying this has been their church home since birth and will continue to be, no matter what.

And some – I imagine – are rejoicing that the United Methodist Church has finally “done the right thing” and “followed God’s teaching.”

For me for now, fretting over the future of the United Methodist Church does nothing good for my soul right now. I have to try and remember that my call is to discern and do God’s will in this next moment… and the moment after that… and the moment after that… for the rest of my life.

I pray that people are somehow able to see the face of Jesus even through the thick fog that is often produced by his church.

I pray for the healing of LGBTQ+ United Methodist people who have heard this ruling from the church and in it heard the words, “Because of who you are, you don’t belong here.”

God bless each of you. This is not the end of God’s story. It might just be the beginning of something extraordinary and new.

12
Jun
18

Daring to die

jesus-last-supperPicture, if you will, this scene: Jesus gathers with his closest disciples to celebrate the Feast of Passover. They are in the upper room in Jerusalem… the same place they have gathered every year of his ministry.

As the last words of the Haggadahfade and the tables are being cleared, Jesus makes an unusual request. He asks for their attention and tells the assembled followers he has an important announcement. He then tells them that in the last 24 hours he has received very credible reports of a conspiracy against him… led by the disciple Judas.

“In fact,” he continues, “… I know that even now a group of Roman guards is gathering and preparing to arrest me tonight in the garden of Gesthemane as I pray.”

The end result – he is confident – will be a quick, perfunctory trial followed by death by crucifixion.

“Which is why I am telling you now that instead of going to Gesthemane as originally planned, we need to gather up our things quickly and head out the back entrance of the house and out the southern gate of the city.”

Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “Guys, we have come too far with this ministry to let it be stopped by a misguided Zealot and a bunch of corrupt religious officials. We have to preserve what we have AT ALL COSTS!”

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Bible knows this is NOT what happened that night… the night of the Last Supper.

Even though he knew full well the fate that awaited him, Jesus went forward to meet his horrible, painful, humiliating destiny. Yes, he prayed earnestly that God would take the painful cup away from him. But he ended his prayer with the powerful words, “… yet not my will, but thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, NRSV).

Schism road signToday the church I serve – the United Methodist Church – faces the very real threat of schism. This looming split is over whether or not we will decide to allow our Book of Discipline to reflect the full inclusion of all God’s children… without qualification or exception.

For a long time, a portion of the leadership of the United Methodist Church has said, “Some people – mostly because of their sexual orientation – should not be fully included in our communion.”

“Yes, we will let them come into our houses of worship and sing and pray with us, and even serve on committees. But due to our preference for a narrow, culturally-bound interpretation of scripture, we will not ordain them as pastors, or allow an ordained United Methodist pastor to preside at one of their weddings. They are just not compatible with Christian teaching.”

As you might imagine, another portion of the church’s leadership disagrees with this position and advocates instead that ALL faithful, believing Christians be fully included in ordination, marriage, worship, service, and fellowship.

Without exception.

And so, after more than 40 years of heated wrangling and name calling by persons on both sides of the issue, a compromise solution has been reached. It is a solution that was developed by a select group of thoughtful leaders representing both sides of the question, over a period of many months of prayer, deliberation, listening, and conversation.

This solution has been endorsed by the Governing Council of Bishops and will likely be adopted at a special called session of the church in February 2019.

The solution is called the ONE CHURCH SOLUTION… meaning it will allow us to avoid schism and remain one, unified, global church.

And in my humble opinion, it stinks.

To high heaven.

The essence of the ONE CHURCH SOLUTION is to allow geographical districts of the church (called Annual Conferences) to make their own decision about whether they will be an INCLUDING church or an EXCLUDING church.

That way, you see, we will be able to avoid the heartbreak of a painful breakup and allow the United Methodist Church to both HAVE its cake and EAT IT at the same time.

The part of this solution I find so objectionable is that it provides theological cover for unjust discrimination. It would be exactly the same thing as if we rolled back the calendar 150 years and said, “OK… if some churches want to endorse slavery and keeping of human beings as property (based, of course, on certain select scripture passages), we will let them do that.”

“If, on the other hand, you don’t think slavery is just, you are free to believe that also.”

I’m sorry… but it doesn’t get to be both ways. Discrimination is either right or wrong. (it’s wrong, by the way). Both positions can’t exist under the same roof.

And if the adoption of the position of justice means that our global denomination has to split in two (or three), then so be it.

Please understand… I really hate the idea of a schism in this church that I love.

In a way, I see schism as a death.

But by his example, Jesus showed us that sometimes we have to dare to walk the path that leads directly to a painful and horrible outcome… trusting that new life will somehow emerge on the other side.

Can we pray, “Not my will, but yours be done,” and mean it?




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