Archive for August, 2011

Highlights from Singing a New Song

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Friends,

As I return from such an awe-inspiring weekend, I find it difficult to properly articulate all that Sing-a-New-Song meant to me. Powerful sermons, thought-provoking bible studies and joyful singing filled my four days at Sawmill Creek. My soul and call to take action for peace, poverty and people’s rights has been renewed.  I wanted to share with you some of the highlights from my journey.

We kicked off the weekend with the Dismantling Racism workshop led by incredible Crossroads trainers. We learned about societal “norms” and how these biases influence us, and that we cannot teach away racism. Rather, it needs to be organized away. This workshop helped me better understand racism, how my actions can contribute to systemic racism, and that we have more work to do!

 MFSA’s Program Council met to conduct its fall business, and although there wasn’t time for intentional chapter sharing, we still were thrilled that:

·         Cal-Pac sponsored student workshop leaders to attend SANS and share a presentation discussing the intersections between the LGBTIQ and undocumented communities. (which was a powerful and very moving!)
·         The Arkansas chapter is a leader and model in expanding our partnerships by working in coalition with Black Methodists for Church Renewal.
·         We met leaders from the new Mississippi chapter-in-formation! 
 
In addition, the Program Council elected (pending proposed term limit changes to the by-laws, which you will hear more about soon) two new young adults (Chris Reynolds of Wisconsin and Justin White of Mississippi) to represent the North Central Jurisdiction and Southeastern Jurisdictions on the Board of Directors!
 
We also kicked off the “Love Your Neighbor” campaign where 700 Sing a New Song participants called all the U.S. General Conference delegates! This is just the launch of our exciting coalition work, which we invite you to join. For more information on how you can help, contact Steve Clunn.
 
I could go on about what fed my head, but what fed my heart was reconnecting with friends and meeting new people engaged or interested in joining the movement!  Even on my return flight, I met an inspiring young adult who just recently starting attending a United Methodist Church. When asked about her experience at SANS, she said it was amazing, and she had never experienced anything like it.  During the conference she called her friends at home to tell them about the event and invited them to listen to some of the sermons online saying, “you have to listen to this, it’s amazing, I’ve never heard faith preached like this.” (You can listen to them too at http://sans2011.org/) She is planning to go back home, learn more about MFSA and RMN, and connect with her church’s social action team.  Friends – this is making disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world.
 
Thank you for all you do to be an agent of God’s peace, justice and reconciliation. I look forward to seeing you in Tampa!
 
 
Tara Thronson is co-president of MFSA's Board of Directors and currently resides in Sacramento, CA.

United Methodists Organize for LGBT Moral Equality at the Intersection of Issues

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Almost 700 United Methodists met in Ohio, July 25-28, under the banner of “Sing A New Song” to kick off the “Love Your Neighbor” campaign that calls for the loving treatment of all God’s children including the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians. The campaign leads up to the global General Conference, April 24-May 4, 2012, where legislation is voted which will guide the denomination for the next four years.

Issues facing the denomination include immigration, bullying, gay and transgender concerns, poverty and much more. United Methodists have a long history of recommending public and church policies based on their Christian values that support those who are hungry, homeless or excluded. Despite these values, the denomination still bans gay people from ordination and in recent years gave clergy the option to block gay people from membership.

Keynote speaker, Michael Adee from More Light Presbyterians, said to the full house, “United Methodists are next! Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal and United Church of Christ denominations have dropped all prohibitions against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians. Evangelical Presbyterians from Mississippi, North Carolina Pennsylvania and all states moved from fear to faith as they opened the doors to all who love Jesus. Now is the time for United Methodists to step out in faith.”

At the convocation were representatives of the more than one thousand United Methodist clergy who signed statements of their willingness to perform same gender weddings and blessings. The Rev. Amy DeLong shared the story of being convicted in a church trial for performing a marriage ceremony for a loving gay couple. Amy said, “Critics will tell you that you are breaking the clergy covenant for officiating at weddings for couples who are gay or lesbian, but there is no covenant that should compel us to forego our conscience.”

In Bible study led by the Rev. Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller, participants were urged to claim those biblical texts which defined Christians who show love, peace, patience and joy, rather than those texts which have been used to judge and exclude. Dr Nelson said, “Some faithful gay folks who have worked for inclusion for forty years are paragons of patience and continue to love despite hostility and rejection.”

Bishop Joseph Sprague, one of the thirty-eight retired bishops who signed a statement urging the church to drop the prohibitions said, “If we people of faith spent as much time advocating for jobs, schools and peace, as we do to keep people out of the church, we would be living in a much better world.”

With 8 million members in the US and 4 million around the world, many United Methodists are working hard to move the denomination toward accepting the moral equality of all members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The three national organizations collaborating on this effort are:

Media Contact: Ann Craig, director of media, 917-280-2968

Methodist Values, Methodist Money

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

As Bishop Joseph Sprague reminded us last night, war is incompatible with Christian teaching, according to our Book of Discipline. Our church is clear on this point, and clear in its support for human rights and the principles of international law. This morning, Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace talked about the importance of aligning our money with these values.

Sydney, a longtime activist on issues, including queer rights and justice in Palestine/Israel, presented the workshop “Divestment: A Strategy for Peace in the Holy Land.” At General Conference 2012, delegates will consider a resolution that would require boards and agencies to remove investments from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. These companies remain involved in serious human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza, despite years of United Methodist representatives asking them to change their practices.

So why use divestment as a tactic to achieve peace? Because we want to live out our values as Christians and United Methodists. For decades, our church has said that we oppose the illegal military occupation under which almost 6 million Palestinians live. We have opposed the construction of segregated settlements, and we declared our support for justice, equality, human rights, and international law. Where we invest our money should reflect these values.

The other reason to support The United Methodist Church divesting from these companies is that Palestinians (including Palestinian Christians in the Kairos Document are asking us to take this step. Sydney reminded us of other campaigns—the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the boycott of Chilean grapes in 1965, and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign to resist apartheid in South Africa. These historic campaigns were initiated by the people most affected by the injustices they were challenging; likewise, this campaign comes out of the communities directly experiencing the occupation.

All of these campaigns began as controversial—in society and in the church. Over time, they gained endorsements and solidarity with other allies, and produced historic victories for justice that we remember today.

This divestment campaign will be controversial, too. But as Christians and United Methodists today, we have a responsibility to challenge the status quo, which right now has the church investing in injustice, discrimination, and militarization. It’s time for us to use our money in a way that reflects our values and to respond to the call from our Palestinian brothers and sisters to act.

 —

Emily McNeill is the project manager for United Methodist Kairos Response, which is working to pass the resolution Aligning UMC Investments with Resolutions on Israel/Palestine at General Conference. She is also an MDiv student at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Singing Through Intersections

Friday, August 26th, 2011

by Lauren Reynolds

We've been speaking a lot about intersections today, and here's the one I'm experiencing right now at SANS:

You know that feeling you get when you're surrounded by smart people with fascinating thing to say? How you long for a written transcript of everything you're hearing, so you can go back later and fully absorb the amazingness? I'm feeling that intensely here. Like I'm trying to drink from a fire hose. There are so many voices here that I've never heard before, and I want to memorize all of their perspectives and thoughts and ideas and ooooh man I need so much more than a weekend to process all this!!
 
Intersecting that is the fact that I'm surrounded by family here. People whose voices I'd know in my sleep, people whose sentences I can finish, who will call my bluffs, and with whom I cannot be anything less than genuine. How amazing it is to be surrounded by the family we choose, who also choose us! Today, I had an eyebrow crooked at me, and it was worth a thousand words and more. That eyebrow was telling me me that I need to speak with my real voice, speak LOUD, and be heard. An eyebrow told me that! What a privilege to know, and be known, so well.

I hope everyone here is experiencing this intersection in their own way. What wonderful things will come from blending well-marked paths with uncharted territory? The care-worn with the brand-new? I have NO idea, but I cannot wait to see. I'm betting I'll be reassured, but challenged; comforted, yet blown away completely.

Hugs to Start the Day

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Today started early for me – a little after midnight I was setting up the MFSA Hospitality Room and had posted a sign outside the door of 1102 Chippewa that said “Free Books”. As I was fixing a rainbow cross on the door, a man was passing and asked about them so I invited him to choose a book.  He was very up front that he used to be a “really bad person”, in prison three times (and tough enough to get what he wanted there), married five times, addicted to alcohol and heroin from the age of 13. He said he was an atheist for the first 38 years of his life and only became himself when he thought he was at the absolute worst point in his life – but now realizes that it was what brought him to God and he could finally be himself.  He was a real blessing to me – someone who was open about learning all he could about God and religion and being hungry for anything to read that helped him be closer to God.  He wasn’t positioning or politicizing or defending – he was presenting just himself as an authentic God-loving person who relies on others to learn more about God.  I invited him to attend worship with us at SANS and asked if I could share his story with you. It turns out that he’s now lovingly married to a bi-attracted woman who is “big into rainbows” – and that’s what caught his eye on the sign outside my door.

Hugs started the day and I hope hugs end the day.

Hugs continued at our breakfast in the Hospitality Suite with MFSA Board members Melissa Calvillo, Rowland Curry, Ginny Lapham (who arranged a veritable feast of choices) and Kevin Nelson and former Director of Outreach and Communication Jen Mihok getting ready to start our respective days of action.

7 am brought the first meeting with MFSA Co-President Tara Thronson, RMN Board President John Oda, and RMN Executive Director Troy Plummer….and more hugs.

Then a run to the office to ask James Dalton to help “fix” my computer so I could tweet and blog – turns out there’s a physical switch that was turned off. I wish all our “fixing” could be as simple as turning a switch to on.

No hugging yet in the Dismantling Racism– but I’m joined by almost 75 people attending this all day workshop sponsored by MFSA and facilitated by Crossroads (and 2 people who’ve participated in their trainings before said “….it changed my life” so I fully expect that there will be hugs at our day’s end.

Some phrases in our session:

“What is the dominant cultural center of the U.S.?”

Individualism, democracy, male, capitalist, middle/upper class, “melting pot”, white, dualism, WASP, straight, married to opposite sex, children, able bodied, “proper” English

“Today what matters more instead of ethnicity? It’s race.”

“What happens when the dominant cultural center isn’t the majority?”

“If we’re not dismantling racism, we’re enabling.”

“People outside the dominant cultural center are in the borderlands. And a single story is told by the dominant cultural center describing the borderlands as abnormal, culturally deprives, deficient, threatening, non-conformist, threatening, unstable, criminal, whiny, lazy, promiscuous, illegal, uneducated, poor, communist, socialist, terrorist, LGBTQ,  female, exotic, erotic, mystical, emotional, irrational, artistic, slaves, non-Christian, non-English speaking, intruder, …. Borderlands become entertainment, cheap labor, etc. Who gets pushed to the borderlands?  Don’t romanticize the borderlands.”

“The Center has the resources, and we can’t fight the Center alone.”

Looking forward to our work to eliminate borderlands with MFSA and RMN.

Jill A. Warren is the Executive Director for MFSA.

Follow Sing A New Song from Home!

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

In only a week (9 days!!), Sing A New Song kicks off in Huron, Ohio. Are you ready!?

As excited as I am to gather, greet, celebrate, worship, learn, strategize and socialize with over 650 people that will be in attendance, I’m also excited to be in communication with those who will not be able to attend.

Why, you ask?

Because while many of us are gathered in Ohio, we will not have forgotten the many faithful people we have left behind in the many places we call “home.” So rather than just talk about you, we want to invite you to follow along. And let me tell you: there are countless ways to do so!

For starters, we at MFSA are going to be tweeting about great things we see, hear and do throughout the week. Not following us on Twitter? There’s no time like the present! Find us at @MFSAVoices – and look for the #sans2011! Feel free to follow along with the @SANS2011 account too for up-to-date information on what’s happening!

Of course, we can’t fit everything into 160 characters. So we’ll be blogging every day, too. Look for updated MFSA blogs every day of the conference on both MFSA and OnFire’s websites! Need a friendly reminder that we’ve updated our blogs? They’ll all be in one place on our Facebook page: so make sure you “Like” MFSAVoices to get these updates (and conversation about them!) all in one place!

If you’re really a tech guru and looking for as many live and up-to-date updates as you can find on the web, there really is only one place to find yourself: at sans2011.org. On the Sing A New Song website, you’ll be able to find these twitter updates, links to blogs from various participants (including friends from all of our coalition partners!), browse through photos, read daily newsletters that will be uploaded each day – and even find a place to submit your own updates or announcements to be included in the next day’s publication!

Whether you can join us in person or are joining us in spirit through the gift of the internet, I look forward to connecting with you soon! Until then… I hope you've had a chance to download and browse through our SANS program book!

Safe travels and happy web browsing!

This Way to the Coffee

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

After two and a half years on the staff of MFSA, I am in the midst of a move from DC to Boston, where I will begin seminary this fall.  For the past few weeks I’ve spent a significant portion of my time sorting through boxes and files—at my house in DC, at the MFSA office, and now at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania.  A few days ago I was going through stacks of cards and letters that I had collected while living in Germany, and I came across a folded piece of white paper with colorful letters in child’s handwriting: “Jennifer, Hier geht’s zum Kaffeetrinken” (this way to the coffee).

The story behind this simple invitation is an important one for me.  While serving as a mission intern prior to coming to MFSA, I had lived on the sixth floor (no elevator) of a Soviet block style apartment building in Genthin, a former East German “city.”  It must have seemed strange to the neighbors when a US-American showed up to spend a year and a half in this hole in the wall of a town, or, to use the German expression for such places, “where the dog’s buried.”  Explaining that I was there with the church didn’t make it any easier, as only about 10% of Getnthin’s population had retained or reinitiated any religious affiliation—let alone Methodist—after forty years of socialist rule.

My first encounter with any neighbors in the “block” came a few weeks after I moved in.  I had been parking my bike in the only cellar I had a key to, which apparently was not the bike cellar, but the stroller cellar.  The first person to speak to me was a woman who gruffly accosted me about parking my bike where her grandchildren’s playthings were.  Only half understanding the “Ossie” (eastern) accent I wasn’t yet used to, I went away feeling less than “Willkommen.”

A few weeks later, a storm passed through Genthin leaving beautiful rainbows in its path.  I took as many pictures as I could from my apartment window and then rushed downstairs to get some from a better angle.  The same woman who had scolded me was leaning out of her second story window in the building next door.  She watched me for a while and then in the same gruff voice, called down, “schön, nicht wahr? (beautiful, isn’t it?)  She began chatting away, making comments about my digital camera, suggesting where I might get a better view, explaining that her daughter and grandchildren lived in my building and her mother up the street—all still in that same, curt intonation that my senses hadn’t quite adjusted to. 

The next day, I printed some copies of the rainbow pictures and left them in her mailbox.  When I ran into her sometime later, her demeanor seemed to have softened.  She thanked me repeatedly and whole-heartedly for the pictures and invited me to afternoon coffee at her daughter’s apartment—on the second floor of my building.  The whole family would be there; all I had to do was show up at three.  Despite the more welcoming encounter, I found myself quite nervous on the day of, and over little things, too.  What if I didn’t understand them well enough?  What if I mispronounced something?  Which second-floor apartment was it anyway?  What if I rang the wrong bell?

But when I got down to the second floor, I saw this sheet of paper in Jessica’s (the granddaughter’s) handwriting: “Jennifer, Hier geht’s zum Kaffeetrinken.” A personal pathfinder, just for me, just when I needed it.  I remember smiling and breathing a sigh of relief as I rang the bell.

Jessica and Jennifer having coffee together in Jessica's apartmentThat afternoon led to many more occasions of “Kaffeetrinken” over the next few years, including visits made on return trips to Genthin after I began work in DC.  When I came across that paper this week, I thought of the many times that people at MFSA and RMN have left pathfinders for me, including personal invitations to attend events like Sing a New Song.  We all have a general idea of where we’re going—to a justice-filled and inclusive United Methodist Church.  But getting there isn’t easy.  We might be put off at first by personalities we don’t quite understand, or confused by the legalism and politicking that often goes into setting church policies.   And yes, sometimes it’s as small as worrying about getting the right room number for the Reconciling Sunday School class.  (In my personal experience, rainbows come in handy.)  I’m looking forward to Sing a New Song for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of its ability to help us find our way together to a new and brighter future for the church that we love.

I hope to see you there, and if you’re wondering where to find me—it will probably be by the coffee.  I’ll be sure to make some colorful signs to the MFSA hospitality suite—just for you!

Grace and Peace,

Jen Mihok

This post has been cross-posted with the OnFire blog.

Faithful Budget Prayer Vigil

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

For several weeks, interreligious prayer vigils have been held weekdays at 12:30pm on the lawn of the United Methodist Building, which faces the US Capitol. These services, hosted by the Interreligious Staff Community (WISC), have been focused on development of the Federal Budget, calling on God to move in the hearts of policymakers to develop a just, compassionate budget. Yesterday, August 3, staff of the national MFSA office were invited to lead this short service through Word and litany. As the budget was officially voted through on August 2, this was the final gathering of this lunch time prayer group.

WISC Faithful Budget Prayer Vigil

We Gather with Persistence In Prayer

A Reading from Habakuk 1:2-4 

A Prayer for Reflection:
Sometimes It Just Seems to Be Too Much
by Ted Loder (Guerrillas Of Grace: Prayers For The Battle)

Sometimes, God, it just seems to be too much: too much violence, too much fear; too much of demands and problems; too much of broken dreams and broken lives; too much of war and slums and dying; too much of greed and squishy fatness and the sounds of people devouring each other and the earth; too much of stale routines and quarrels, unpaid bills and dead ends; too much of words lobbed in to explode and leaving shredded hearts and lacerated souls; too much of turned-away backs and cowardly silence, fiery rage and the bitter taste of ashes in my mouth.

Sometimes the very air seems scorched by threats and rejection and decay until there is nothing but to inhale pain and exhale confusion. Too much of darkness, God, too much of cruelty and selfishness and indifference … Too much, God, too much, too bloody, bruising, brain-washing much. 

(join together)
Or is it too little, too little of compassion, too little of courage, of daring, 
of persistence, of sacrifice; too little of music and laughter and celebration.

We Gather Seeking Patience

A Reading from Amos 5:10-15, 18-24

A Prayer for Reflection (also taken from a Ted Loder prayer)

We Discover Perseverance for the Journey 

A Reading from Luke 18:1-8

A Litany to our Nation’s Leaders
taken from
The Federal Budget as a Moral Document:
A Letter from Religious Leaders”
January 25, 2005

One: “Our faith traditions teach us that every person is created in God's image and that we are all part of God's family. 

All: We are called by God to care for each other, both individually and as a nation.

One: Because of these core beliefs, we feel called to speak out on the federal budget. Despite its complexity, the budget is essentially a moral document–the specific expression of the values of the nation.

All: As people of faith and responsible citizens, we must examine the budget closely to determine whether its provisions are fair and just. We must ask specific questions to discover whether the budget… promotes the common good.

One: Does the budget provide those in need with the assistance necessary to build self-reliant, purposeful lives?

All: Does the budget provide adequately for all of God's children, including the poor and sick, the old and very young?

One: Does the budget strengthen the foundations of our country in order to make us safer and more secure?

All: Does the budget protect God's creation, the environment?

One: Does the budget spread its burdens and rewards fairly, or are some groups given special unearned privilege, while others are excluded from America's bounty and opportunity?

All: Does the budget promote justice and equality by providing for basic human needs in health care, education, housing and other areas?”

One: As we move on to “step two” and discussions about revenues and spending cuts, “we will assess…provisions concerning health care, education, housing, the environment, foreign policy, national security and other issues. If the budget falls short in these areas,

All: we will work to transform it into a document that reflects America's best moral values and who we are as children of God.”

Going Back to Work – to Serve 

(join together)
Together, as your beloved community, O God, may we learn the lessons of life and time; so that as we practice the arts of persistence and prayer, we might discover within us the patience and perseverance that leads to courage, hope, change and joy for all! Amen.

An Added Amen!

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

The Methodist Federation for Social Action Adds an “Amen”
In Thanks to Jim Winkler & Bob Edgar

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 at 1 PM in the Capitol rotunda (Washington, DC), 11 religious leaders of an interfaith coalition to protect the poor were arrested after they joined hands and sat down to protest the direction of current federal budget debates. The group is asking the Obama Administration and Congress not to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor,” according to the release sent out after the incident. As these people of faith sat down, supporters surrounded them, chanting “Amen.” We, the leadership at the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) would like to add our “Amen” to the efforts of this inter-faith coalition of advocates. Among them were two United Methodist leaders; Jim Winkler, top executive for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination’s social action agency, and the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist elder and president of Common Cause. We applaud your faithfulness and willingness to sit in solidarity with the voiceless poor in our nation!

            The Methodist Federation for Social Action has a 104-year history of advocating for the poor and working class of our nation and world. We very clearly see the connections between the ministry of Jesus with the poor and marginalized and the Christian call to ‘love God with all your heart, soul and mind; and, your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Unfortunately, we are already seeing responses to this act of faithfulness that express not only the divisions in our nation, but the apparent distain, greed and selfishness that is becoming endemic in a society that values the personal accumulation of wealth, power and things over the values of the beloved community of God.

Please take a moment to send a note of appreciation and support to the General Board of Church and Society, Common Cause, and other groups who participated in yesterday’s protest.  The negative sentiment is never in short supply, and we want these bold United Methodists to know that they have our support.  Send an email or visit their Facebook pages to drop a quick line.

General Board of Church and Society gbcs@umc-gbcs.org http://www.facebook.com/gbcsumc

Common Cause http://bit.ly/pIRolq (Online contact form) http://www.facebook.com/CommonCause

We applaud our United Methodist leaders who took part in yesterday’s protest on Capitol Hill on behalf of the poor and add our “Amen” to their efforts! We look forward to the day when we can equally applaud our governmental leadership for their efforts in being responsible at faithfully protecting our nation’s most vulnerable.

Related News stories:

United Methodist News Service

News From the National Council of Churches

The Hill

National Office:212 East Capitol St., NE,Washington, DC 20003 * tel: 202.546.8806 *email: mfsa@mfsaweb.org