Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rationale for the Resolution on a Call for Non-Conformity With the Book of Discipline in the Cal-Pac Annual Conference

Today, the California-Pacific Annual Conference voted overwhelmingly to approve A Call For Non-Conformity With the Book of Discipline:

WHEREAS, according to The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, "all persons are of sacred worth" and "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching" (161.F); and

WHEREAS, United Methodist Church doctrine calls for inclusiveness in which “all persons are open, welcoming, fully accepting, and supporting of all other persons, enabling them to participate fully in the life of the Church, the community, and the world” (140); and

WHEREAS, a candidate's sexual orientation and gender identity should not be considered as criteria for fitness or effectiveness in ministry; and

WHEREAS, the Book of Discipline encourages “a respectful dialogue with those with whom we disagree, to explore the sources of our differences, to honor the sacred worth of all persons,” and acknowledges that “we do not see the ‘Discipline’ as sacrosanct or infallible” (Episcopal Greetings, p. v); and

WHEREAS, ordained clergy seeking to navigate the inconsistencies within United Methodist Church doctrine face extraordinary penalties by ministering fully to the LGBTQIA children of God, and charges have been made and trials held against ordained clergy for conducting marriage ceremonies; and

WHEREAS, Bishops have publicly and privately opposed recommendations for such charges, and spoken out against trials and penalties for ministers officiating at these marriages; and

WHEREAS, by scripture, God’s covenant extends to all persons, as made living by the Christ whose command was to love God and neighbor, teaching radical inclusion, and through our Church mandate to gather all persons of faith into the community of the body of Christ;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the California-Pacific Annual Conference urges the Bishop and Cabinet to state publicly they will not deny appointments based on sexual orientation or gender identity; urges the Board of Ordained Ministry to declare its intention not to consider sexual orientation and gender identity in making decisions in regard to commissioning and ordination; urges trial boards not to convict for chargeable offenses pertaining to being "a self-avowed, practicing homosexual," as well as for those clergy who officiate at weddings for couples regardless of the gender of the partners, and that these matters would be addressed through "Just Resolution."

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the California-Pacific Annual Conference and its members are urged to not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to The Book of Discipline's prohibitions against LGBTQIA persons.

**Because I was one of the authors of this piece of legislation, I was able to take the opportunity to speak in favor of it. Below is what I shared on the floor of Annual Conference: 

Bishop Carcaño, my name is Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow, clergy from the North GA Annual Conference, appointed to serve the faithful congregation at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church.

This resolution borrows language from our sisters and brothers in the New England Annual Conference who, yesterday, affirmed a similar piece of legislation. It uses strong language – the language of non-compliance – because this is the time in which all eyes are upon us, to see how this Conference will respond as we wait and hope for the work of the Bishops’ Commission to begin.

As one who watched from afar for many years, I am keenly aware of the gift of this Annual Conference’s continual work for justice and inclusion. But, I will tell you that people are hurting. In the days following General Conference, I heard from my LGBTQIA congregants a great wail of “How long, O Lord?”

I stand here as the pastor with a broken heart. I have loved and cared for, ministered to and provided the sacraments for my LGBTQIA siblings as best I can. But my best isn’t good enough, because I serve a denomination that is so entrenched in bureaucracy that it cannot move forward fast enough. So, I am left with the awful truth that my beloved congregants and friends – my family in the body of Christ – may leave. I am heartbroken that I have come to a time in which I cannot be the pastor to those whom I’ve been serving, because they cannot stay in an abusive relationship with our denomination any longer.

This title of this legislation is strongly worded, because the actions needed to restore the trust of our LGBTQIA siblings in Christ are strong. But, this piece of legislation doesn’t ask any more of this Annual Conference than what you’ve already done, for you have stood on the right side of history. Bishop Carcaño, you have demonstrated radical hospitality to those who have been rejected based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and you have acted with grace to those clergy who have risked their credentials to officiate the weddings of same-sex couples. You have always done what was right.

This legislation is necessary because people are looking to us to make a strong stand. People are desperate for us to do more than wait. People are watching for us to model grace, rather than judgment. It is our call, as the beloved children of God, to embody Christ’s love in the most radical and life-giving ways we can, and to put our faith, not in the law (which is not sacrosanct or infallible) but in the Gospel. For it is our call, to continue the push, with grace, compassion and mercy, for a church that errs not on the side of judgment, but on the side of love, just as you have modeled for us, Bishop Carcaño.

This resolution speaks to Christ’s life-giving love, and the desperate plea the world has uttered for the church to live into its baptismal promise and to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves (including the Book of Discipline). I humbly offer this resolution as my prayer for this power to be used wisely and courageously, urging this Annual Conference and the Board of Ordained Ministry to act with the same prophetic witness you have always shown.


Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow
Senior Minister
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Pulse: Massacre in the City Beautiful

Weeks ago, I planned a sermon series on the marginalized people in scripture. Today was the day I planned to preach on Jephthah's Daughter, one of the most notable "texts of terror." I've been dreading it. 

Then we awoke to the news that the deadliest shooting in US history occurred at The Pulse, a popular gay bar in Orlando. 

Today at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, we rang 51 chimes for each of the deceased. We prayed for the victims, the shooter and their families. And, we listened to this dreadful text, which suddenly made sense in the wake of this terrible act. 

Jephthah's Daughter was sacrificed on the altar of her father's insecurities and fear. Fear is what cripples us. Fear is the way we limit God. 

No longer can the church be afraid to stand up for the rights of LGBTQIA people. We can no longer pretend that this community isn't the subject of great harm. We are no better than Jephthah if we continue to use our privilege to permit the destruction of the lives of others. 

This was a targeted act of hate against the LGBTQ community. This isn't an issue of religion or even a matter of lax gun control laws. This is a matter of homophobia, and it's beyond time for the church to do more, shout more, advocate more. Love more. 

We have work to do, because the Body of Christ is broken, and only love can heal it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sermon: Anything Less than Everything

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Anything Less than Everything

Luke 24:1-12
24But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Every preacher longs for this day, and dreads this day. Because it is the day we are to have the best words crafted together for the sake of all who have ears to hear them. And, this text, quite simply, is the beginning of our narrative as Christians. But, it’s not a recollection of Christianity’s first sermon. It’s the story about the people who preached it. Which means that what the women, Christianity’s first preachers, said… wasn’t what mattered. It’s not what they said, it’s what they expressed.

They expressed to the apostles something they believed to be “an idle tale,” and the apostles did not believe the women who preached it to them.

Except for Peter. Loving Peter. Peter, the rock. Simon Peter. The disciple, the denier, the saint. He didn’t preach a sermon about the resurrection. He went home, amazed, and told no one. Because sometimes that's all you can do with your amazement, is tuck it in your heart and let it sit for a while. 

Because what Mary, Joanna, Mary-mother-of-James, and Mary Magdalene said maybe the truest sermon ever preached. Mary, in John’s Gospel, doesn’t say, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed,” but “I have seen the Lord.” Upon these five words hang all of our theology. "Resurrection is not a third person confession but a first person testimony. We don’t want to hear that the resurrection is a creed of the church -- we need to hear that the resurrection is a truth we might witness and to which we might give witness on a daily basis.”[1]

The problem with that is that the resurrection isn’t something that can be easily explained or paralleled, or even witnessed. It’s not a myth or a metaphor. Resurrection is, as we say, the great mystery of our faith. This is why Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51) There is no explaining it. We must live into it. But how?

I think we need to approach the story of the resurrection with a healthy dose of gumption and willingness to lean into our faith. Because, as Paul states, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17)   Perhaps it’s not the cross that’s salvific, but the resurrection. Maybe the cross was a means for God to enter into our suffering, but not what was necessary for salvation.

Maybe I’m a heretic.

But, what Paul is really asking, and what the women are telling the apostles is quite simply this: “What’s the point of anything less than everything?”

This is the reason for Christ’s resurrection.

It’s because, God knows, we crave a whole and complete relationship with our creator, with the one who loves us first and best.

This is what God is trying to tell us, through the intention of the incarnation and through every sliver of revelation we receive.

God is trying to tell us that God is in it – literally putting on flesh. "God has skin in the game because we have skin in the game."[2] And because God does, we can. We can look at death, which is going to do terrible, horrible things to our lives. Death will chase us, mock us, pursue us. Death will tell us we are unworthy or unlovable, but death will never EVER define us. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The angels said. This is the question for us all.

That's because we are not people who worship a God of absence. When the stone is rolled away, and Mary proclaims, “he is not here, for he has risen,” she isn’t speaking about the absence or distance of a savior who was once so real that she held his bleeding head in her lap as she anointed him with oil and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, just as she’d done when he was a baby. Not in a manger, but now in a tomb. This is not a distant God who exists only in comfortable ways. This is a God of food troughs and caverns. A God of hunger and scarcity. A God of anger at injustice. A God of righteous indignation.

THIS is the God of whom we speak when we say, “He is not here, he is risen!”

Christ has risen because anything less than everything wouldn’t be enough.

Anything less than everything would be what we are capable of.

But, aren’t we capable of more?

Aren’t we capable of more love, more grace, more forgiveness, more righteous indignation. And not always on our own behalf, but on behalf of others?

After all, how do you take a lifetime of small victories and a lifetime worth of sorrows and pull them together into a space that makes sense? How can we take the joys that are fleeing and the griefs that are abiding and hold them in the tender care of who we are, as children of God? How do we make sense of the narrative that sometimes seems more like struggle than it does like comfort?

We do it because this narrative is real and true. God didn’t defeat death by making us immortal; rather, God lived into the suffering. We worship a God who is unafraid to go hungry, who is not reluctant to get dirty, who is willing to get hurt.

My boys play baseball, and they have a teammate named Josh. He is eleven years old. The only brother of 3 sisters, a stellar athlete and a brilliant boy. He is good and kind, tenderhearted and compassionate.  And, he was diagnosed 8 weeks ago with an inoperable tumor on his brain stem.

And his cancer is aggressively growing. 

After reading one of the most recent updates, I sat and cried and shook my first at God with the demand to understand why this would happen to such a person. Why does a young child have to suffer like this? How can God ask me - us - *anyone* to preach faith in a good and loving God when the manifestation of evil that is Cancer is slowly and painfully robbing this boy of his life and this family of their wholeness. God may not have willed this but I want desperately for God to stop it. THAT is the great mystery of why I keep my faith.

But, this text reminds us: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here!” It’s because we expect something less than everything.

Two days after we got the most dire update about Josh, we received word that there was more news.

The MRI had been read incorrectly.

Josh’s tumor wasn’t growing aggressively. It was possibly shrinking. His cancer is still present, he is still fighting through the sedation, there is still a lot of wondering and hoping. But, his prognosis is much better than anticipated.

I want God to be a mighty force for good. I want the cancer gone. I want miracles of healing and hopefulness and to be right without a shadow of a doubt. I want Nothing Less than Everything from this God of all creation. I want the mystery to be about how his cancer disappeared without a trace.

But, sometimes what we get is a matchstick’s worth of light in the darkest of valleys. And, what we find is that it’s enough. It’s enough to give us all the light that we need to see what’s next. And, though we may want fireworks, God knows that we’d be overwhelmed. The soft glow of hope allows our eyes to adjust, to take it all in, and to focus as we see what’s next.

“Anything less than everything” is what we anticipate, but we are loved by a God who will do nothing less than everything to abide with us.

In the name of the God who is with us, for us, and refuses to be God without us. Amen. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday: Meditation in Word and Art

Table by Rev. Dr. Beth LaRocca-Pitts
"The Crucifixion," James Weldon Johnson 

Jesus, my gentle Jesus,
Walking in the dark of the Garden --
The Garden of Gethsemane,
Saying to the three disciples:
Sorrow is in my soul --
Even unto death;
Tarry ye here a little while,
And watch with me.

Jesus, my burdened Jesus,
Praying in the dark of the Garden --
The Garden of Gethsemane.
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
This bitter cup,
This bitter cup,
Let it pass from me.

"Betrayed," Bobby Strickland

Jesus, my sorrowing Jesus,
The sweat like drops of blood upon his brow,
Talking with his Father,
While the three disciples slept,
Saying: Father,
Oh, Father,
Not as I will,
Not as I will,
But let thy will be done.

Salvador Dali, "Vision of Fatima," 1962

Oh, look at black-hearted Judas --
Sneaking through the dark of the Garden --
Leading his crucifying mob.
Oh, God!
Strike him down!
Why don't you strike him down,
Before he plants his traitor's kiss
Upon my Jesus' cheek?

"Jesus Before Pilate," Jan Richardson
And they take my blameless Jesus,
And they drag him to the Governor,
To the mighty Roman Governor.
Great Pilate seated in his hall,--
Great Pilate on his judgment seat,
Said: In this man I find no fault.
I find no fault in him.
And Pilate washed his hands.
But they cried out, saying:
Crucify him!--
Crucify him!--
Crucify him!--
His blood be on our heads.

"Via Dolorosa," Bobby Strickland

And they beat my loving Jesus,
They spit on my precious Jesus;
They dressed him up in a purple robe,
They put a crown of thorns upon his head,
And they pressed it down --
Oh, they pressed it down --

And they mocked my sweet King Jesus.

Graffiti Art, London

"Simon of Cyrene," Bobby Strickland
Up Golgotha's rugged road
I see my Jesus go.
I see him sink beneath the load,
I see my drooping Jesus sink.

And then they laid hold on Simon,
Black Simon, yes, black Simon;
They put the cross on Simon,

And Simon bore the cross.

"This I Do For Love," Bobby Strickland

On Calvary, on Calvary,
They crucified my Jesus.
They nailed him to the cruel tree,
And the hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem's streets.
The hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!

Rang through Jerusalem's streets.

"Stripping of Garments," Bobby Strickland

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands;
Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his feet.
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the Roman spear plunged in his side;
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.

Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

Weeping Mary,
Sees her poor little Jesus on the cross.
Weeping Mary,
Sees her sweet, baby Jesus on the cruel cross,
Hanging between two thieves.

"Heaven Weeps," Bobby Strickland
And Jesus, my lonesome Jesus,
Called out once more to his Father,
My God,
My God,
Why hast thou forsaken me?
And he drooped his head and died.

"Sealed," Bobby Strickland

And the veil of the temple was split in two,
The midday sun refused to shine,
The thunder rumbled and the lightning wrote
An unknown language in the sky.
What a day! Lord, what a day!

When my blessed Jesus died.

Oh, I tremble, yes, I tremble,
It causes me to tremble, tremble,
When I think how Jesus died;
Died on the steeps of Calvary,
How Jesus died for sinners,

Sinners like you and me.