Thursday, June 30, 2011

I got issues

my surprise birthday cake -
thanks Trinity UMC family!
We all got 'em - trust me, to be human is to have issues.  For the past year or so one of mine was turning 50.  Gasp!  One of the reasons I went to the Wild Goose Festival was to be away from home on my 50th birthday (Friday, June 24th).  I figured I could be inconspicuous, and let the day slip away, 50 is just a number - right?

In the hills of North Carolina we were far removed from the news of the day.  Cell phone service was sketchy at best, and WiFi was not very reliable.  It was nice to be away from it all - tho I missed my daily routine of browsing a variety of websites and blogs this was actually a good thing.  We all need a hiatus from things from time to time.

One of the challenges of living in this age of instant information is the heightened awareness of what's going on around the globe.  Whether its a tsunami or famine, war or tornadoes, a child with a serious illness or sex slavery and human trafficking, as part of the human race and especially as people of faith we often find ourselves on compassion overload with too much information about very real needs which leads us all wanting to DO something in response.

Our desire to DO something, and then the relentless reminder that the needs are great not only around the world but down the block can lead to fatigue.  I know that here in Iowa many of us are just plain tired of floods and flooding.  The emotional toll has been great, so the thought of going and doing something is overwhelming and can make us kinda numb.  So, often we just write a check and try to forget about it.

One of the critiques of the Wild Goose Festival was the atmosphere of political activism. I have a variety of thoughts about this that I would like to share.  First, puhlease!   Speaking to Mark Tooley, a brother in the United Methodist Church, let us remember that since the days of John Wesley we have always been about BOTH Piety AND Social Justice!  When people of faith are together, we are called to love God and love one another.  How can we look into the eyes of another and not recognize each other as one of God's own beloved children.  IF we see God in the person next to us, then we must acknowledge not only their humanity, but their needs as well.  This is how the Body of Christ works.

Were there some politically charged issues brought up?  Sure.  War, poverty, prisons, clean water, and the one that seems to draw the most attention in this season - the LGBT-Q (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual - queer) issues to name a few.  But why shouldn't we be talking about these things as people of faith?  Again, BOTH a biblical grounding in faith, prayer, worship, etc (what Wesleyan's call the Means of Grace) AND faith in action.

During opening worship on Thursday we were invited to turn to someone near us and share our hopes and our hang ups that we brought with us.  I turned to my right and there was Matt from New Jersey, wearing a bright pink t-shirt with the phrase "legalize trans*" across the front.  When I shared that my hang up was my 50th birthday the next day he broke out into a huge smile, gave me a high 5 and said joyously "mazel tov!"

Moments later, as we remembered our baptism, it was Matt who was first in line to celebrate the great things that have been done by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through His life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.  Through the sacrament of Baptism, and more importantly by virtue of being a child of God, Matt and Mark are both my brothers, just as is the starving child from India whose picture is flashed all over TV in the Save the Children ads.

While the organizers publicized that prison reform and restorative justice would be the bigger issues, we did seem to talk about sex and sexuality a good deal too.  But each of these conversations covered both the LGBT-Q as well as the heterosexual issues and challenges that we all face with our sexuality.  The conversations were civil, open and engaged a number of things that I deal with on a weekly basis as a pastor.  

As Phyllis Tickle said; 'The question is not about gay verses straight, this is the last fingerhold of the battle over Sola Scriptura.  I am sorry that you got caught in the middle of it, its not about LGBT - its not...Over the past 200+ years the authority of scripture has been challenged by science, psychology, women's suffrage, civil rights, etc...we are in the last battle over the one question 'to what do we give authority,' (this is a paraphrase of Mrs Tickle's comments)  As Phyllis said, it will take us decades to sort this out.  (I will post later with my thoughts about this one)

While some present at Wild Goose accused Jim Wallis of caving on the issue of gay marriage...I think Wallis has modeled a truth that we need to learn.  We can not do it all.  We can not go to every flood, every tornado, every tsunami.  We can't write a check to every victim of domestic abuse or rescue every child from war zones.  But we can not and should not just sit back and wring our hands either.

The Wild Goose Festival helped me to clarify these thoughts.  With displays and information from a wide variety of very important groups, I realized that just like I pick and choose when I go through the produce section of the grocery, I must pick and choose, with fear and trembling and lots of prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, which causes I am going to support with my time, talents and treasures.

Rather than use the scatter approach, we must become more focused.  Otherwise, we will give only half hearted attempts and get nothing accomplished.  My passions center around sustainable agriculture and walking along side veterans of war.  This is more than enough for one person to be passionate about.  

So, while there are many good things, for me these are the things that will get my energy.  I think what Wallis, McLaren, Dear and others were asking is -what is it that you are passionate about?  What can you give yourself to?  Who is your brother or sister?  How can you honor your love of God and your care and compassion for the least and the lost in this fast paced society we live in?

I think these are very important questions that all of us with issues need to prayerfully consider.  And these kinds of conversations are best done in an open and loving environment.  This is another thing I found at the Wild Goose Festival - room to listen, talk and share in a safe place for all of God's children.

Thanks be to God!

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