from “Anthem”, by Leonard Cohen

Monday, April 4, 2016

On Waiting

                                     I was of three minds,
                                     Like a tree
                                     in which there are three blackbirds.

                                                                      - Wallace Stevens,
                                                          “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

In our ongoing non-conversation about homosexuality
in the United Methodist Church,
those arguing from one side rarely, if ever,
change the hearts or minds of those defending the “other” side(s).

Each camp responds to the other in the manner of boorish tourists,
impatient and frustrated because the natives don’t understand
their” language”.

So irritated, all sides shout louder still . . .  as if.

Unable to communicate better, all sides lament -

            why do they not comprehend what we are saying?
            (our position is so obviously true.)
            Not to mention that we are speaking so clearly!
                        Are they daft?
                                    or biblically illiterate?
                                                or maybe just plain stubborn?

In this state of dysfunction we have now wandered in the wilderness since 1972 –
4 years longer than did the children of Moses also wander.
Beleaguered tourists all, we simply cannot hear the “other” side, their language foreign to us. 
We are indeed spiritual babes, whining? in a tower of much Babel.
I include myself, of course.
There are few heroes in this long draining saga.

 - - - - - - - -

The quadrennial meeting of our beloved United Methodist Church convenes next month.

On the contentious issue of homosexuality,
a road to wholeness will once again be sought.

There are, of course, rumors in the air.
Of endings.
Withering compromises.
Woundedness without balm.
The usual sad stuff.

But it need not be that way.

It is still possible to tell the truth -
admit that our church as a whole does not know what to do about homosexuality,
and decide to have no “corporate” opinion whatsoever.


Since we obviously cannot agree,
why not remove all language about gay people from our Discipline,
then wait until such time when 
the Spirit speaks more clearly to all of us.

Why endorse a moral position (one way or the other) when significant numbers of our members will be in disagreement?

Our church has often avoided landing on one side or another of an issue when we had no commonly held settled opinion. (abortion, divorce, for instance)

Why should the issue of homosexuality be any different?

What is rush in “solving” this issue?

Since when is the United Methodist Church required to vote requiring every ethical issue in the world?

We don’t even have to agree to disagree!

We need only speak the most obvious truth in the room – which is that

                                                we have no consensus regarding
                                                the morality of homosexuality and so
                                                we will say nothing about it at all
                                                until a wider consensus is found.

 - - - - - - - - - -

I took the following from a blog called Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Judaism -

         We Jews love to argue. We argue with ourselves, with one another, and even with God. We value argument over faith, and doubt over belief. Ours is a tribe of inquiry. When we argue over our story we never ask, “What does it mean?” Instead we ask, “What could it mean?” And as soon as  one of us tells us what it could mean, another of us asks, “What else could it mean?” For us misreading Torah in order to yield ever–more meanings is the deepest spiritual practice, one that ignites the imagination and invites dialogue and argument.

         We never tire of arguing. That’s why we say, “Two Jews, three opinions.”          What tires us, what bores us, are answers. If you are looking for answers,   our tribe is not for you. If you are looking to sharpen your questions, or better yet discover new ones, you might find us a good fit.

I am jealous.

I love the way this rabbi encourages what our church so often discourages.

I want our United Methodist Church to encourage every member to hold at least 2 opinions on issues!

Is it possible we maybe misreading the Bible when we find inside its pages definitive answers to all of life’s questions?

Not every jot and tittle has to be just so, perfectly in place.

Not every issue needs to be addressed by tomorrow at high noon.

I wish our church were like Wallace Stevens’ tree,

accommodating, no,


                        3 opinions, or a 103 – in a tree holding all of us!

- - - - - -

To view Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Judaism –

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bishop Webb Dismisses Complaint

Bishop Mark Webb, (Upper New York Conference, United Methodist Church) has dismissed a complaint filed against me for my officiating at a same sex marriage.

In a letter addressed to me he said,  “ . . . consider this matter closed.”

Remarkably, his letter contains no restrictive clauses, expectations, instructions, or requirements by which I might yet be held accountable.

There is no quid pro quo.

No deal was struck; no secret promises made.

For all I know he may be the first United Methodist bishop to dismiss this particular complaint (officiating at a same sex marriage) without going through a trial, insisting on a penalty, or otherwise demanding some promise.

He did not have to dismiss the complaint.

He was not required to accept the Church Counsel’s recommendation “to dismiss”.

He had the right to bring this matter to a trial.

Instead, a dove of grace appears.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

There will be fallout, of course, mostly for Bishop Mark.

If one is a public figure, there is always fallout.
And all bishops are public figures.

Some will assume his decision was strictly political – a “savvy play to gain street cred” with the overwhelming number of people supporting marriage equality resolutions in Upper New York.

Others will accuse him of infidelity to the faith, or ignoring Scripture’s so-called “clear teaching” about homosexuality, or not upholding his duty as bishop.
Some will claim betrayal, apostasy, or “caving in” to the whims of popular culture.

It’s hard for most public figures to feel attacks are not intended to be personal.
I hope he can.
This week, as fate would have it, he has unexpected company.

Last Monday, Tony Campolo, one of the most influential evangelical preachers in the country announced he changed his mind about gay people and gay marriage.

“It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church", he said.

THAT VERY AFTERNOON, AFTER READING TONY CAMPOLO’S ANNOUNCEMENT, David Neff, the retired chief editor of “Christianity Today” (the most esteemed and revered magazine written by and for evangelical Christians) agreed with Campolo’s affirmation of gay people.

 “God bless Tony Campolo,” he said. “He is acting in good faith and is, I think, on the right track.”

Is the Spirit gently blowing here and there?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE SUPREME COURT is supposed to release its decision about the constitutionality of gay marriage sometime in the next 20 days.

Many have suggested that no matter what the Supremes announce, “there will be winners and there will be losers.”

To be sure, if the court upholds the right of gay people to be married, I will be among the many to heartily cheer the decision.

Millions of gay people, and their families and friends, will at long last, be vindicated.

Personally, I hope it’s rainbows from Maine to Alaska!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Yet, from the perspective of  “Jesus Drawing the Circle Wide”, the win/lose thing doesn’t really work, does it?

To go back to where we started, what if Bishop Webb's decision (regarding my case) is not so much "a victory for our side" or a “defeat for the other side” but rather "one more hope-filled step closer toward living together in grace, all our issues notwithstanding”.

You see, I actually need my conservative/traditional brothers and sisters to balance me.

I need them to forgive, learn, celebrate, worship, and share the Gospel with me.

Sure, we have different interpretations of the Gospel.

But so what?

The Gospel (the way Matthew figured it out) sits calmly in my Bible next to the Gospel (the way Mark thought it should be).

According to Luke’s memory, they sure missed a lot of parables but the last time I checked, neither Matt nor Mark had left my Bible angry.

All of them are quite different from John, but not even once did John challenge the other 3 that they pretty much missed the main point.

I know scores of people who have found healing, life and joy because of the way conservative churches have preached the Gospel.

It’s quite different than how I preach, but so what?
I know many people who have discovered God's presence in the most liberal of churches.

Why should one size fit all?

We have more in common than we have differences.

If we progressives just “win” the gay issue, but our conservative brothers and sisters leave the church because of it, we will have accomplished very little.

As Len Cohen noted,
            “Love is not a victory march.

             It’s a cold and it’s a broken halleluiah.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Bible Says Nothing About Homosexual People (updated)

In Bible times, no physician ever diagnosed a man’s hypothalamus-pituitary endocrine system as not functioning -

         therefore, people who lived in Bible times assumed (wrongly)             that the “shame of barrenness” was a woman’s fault.

Back then, no one understood that epilepsy was a malfunction of the brain’s electrical system -

         rather, people assumed (wrongly) that demon possession caused the grinding of teeth and the thrashing about.

When the Bible’s story was being written, a bacterium called mycobacterium leprae had not yet been discovered under the lens of a microscope -

         for centuries, people reasonably assumed (wrongly) that lepers deserved the stigma of “religiously unclean”.

In Bible times, the notion that every human being had a unique, irrevocable sexual orientation would have been considered bizarre -

         lacking the insights of modern psychology, most assumed         (wrongly) that same gender attraction was unnatural and reprehensible.

Fact of the matter is, biblical authors could not have written accurately about sexual orientation even if they wanted to -

no more than they would have written accurately about gravity, vitamins, NETFLIX, or, for that matter, the hypothalamus-pituitary endocrine system !

­- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Most of the people of the Bible
(as well as the writers who brought them to life)
sincerely believed human beings were normally,
naturally and exclusively
heterosexual .

When Bible people clumsily or hurtfully opined about same sex attraction, they were not really being hard-hearted or even close-minded.

Rather, they were simple minded because they were mis-informed.
So, what then to do with all those “clobber verses” in the Bible, warning about homosexuality?

First, it might be noted that since all people were thought to be heterosexual as an orientation, no biblical injunctions about homosexuality as an orientation were ever introduced into the Scriptures!

For starters, gay folk might want to start celebrating their own collective exemption from exhortations in Scripture which were intended exclusively for people with a heterosexual orientation!

OK, that may be a bit of a jump, but there is truth in it.
The reality of sexual orientation was simply invisible when the Bible was written.

Obviously, one cannot talk about that which one cannot imagine.

The Bible cannot have offered moral guidance about a topic it cannot have understood.

In short, the Bible offers nothing particularly useful about being gay.

For sure, the Bible has nothing useful to say about the morality of homosexuality, anymore than it has anything useful to say about the morality of infertility, epilepsy, or leprosy!

­- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So, if you still believe that being gay is a sin, you might want to consider this short quote:

“Why do you judge others for their sins,
just because they are different than your own?”

I have no idea whose quote it is, but it finds home in a refreshing way.

(It has helped me to begin to address my own judgmental self,
- no small feat!)

Like the Bible says, “All of us are to blame” or “None of us is to blame”, I ‘m not quite sure.

One thing for certain:
we are all more alike each other

than ever we will be different from each other.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

… this agitating subject !

                       Thoughts About Marriage Equality 
                           During Black History Month

            Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air; and no human law can deprive him of that right which he derives from the law of  nature.

            If, therefore, you have any regard to justice (to say nothing of mercy, nor the  revealed law of God) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature.

            Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do unto every one as you would he should do unto you.

     excerpted from John Wesley’s pamphlet “Thoughts on Slavery”,   printed 1774.

            “If you have not resigned your credentials as a minister of the Methodist  Episcopal Church, I really think that, as an honest man, you should now do it. In your ordination vows you solemnly promised to be obedient to those  who have rule over you; and since they (the General Conference) have spoken . . .  distinctly, on this subject, and disapprobate your conduct, I conceive you are       bound to submit to their authority, or leave the church.”
from a letter to the editor written by the Rev. George W. Langhorne, which  admonishes an unnamed  Methodist pastor who, in 1836, continued to agitate for “racial equality” even after the General Conference voted NOT to support abolitionists who  advocated for the end of slavery.
            “The New York Annual Conference met in June, 1836, and Resolved,  . . .   we are  decidedly of the opinion that none ought to be elected to the office of a deacon, or elder, in our church, unless he give a pledge to the conference, that he will refrain from agitating the church with discussions on this subject, and the more especially as the one promises,“reverently to obey those who (have) . . . charge  over them.”
           resolution passed by the New York Annual Conference (1836) aimed against progressive  pastors who advocated for the ending of slavery.       
            Methodists are to “abstain from all abolition movements and associations, and to refrain from patronizing any of their publications . . .” and further, “From every view of the subject which we have been able to take, and from the most calm and    dispassionate survey of the whole ground, we have come to the conclusion, that    the only safe, scriptural, and prudent way for us, both as minsters and people to  take, is, WHOLLY TO REFRAIN from this agitating subject . . .”
  summary of the bishops’ report at the General Conference of the Methodist Church in Cincinnati: cited in The Methodist E. Church and Slavery by Rev. D. Scott, printed in Boston, 1844. 

The “agitating subject”  dividing the church was the morality of  slavery.

 “The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.”    
                                                                                                            William Faulkner