#ministry + embracing nonconformity

Last week was interesting to say the least. It started off simple enough with some phone calls regarding my career, applying for jobs, co-writing blog posts, not doing my dishes, watching C-SPAN in bed, and advocating for my annual conference (PNW) to embrace nonconformity to our denomination’s Book of Discipline.

No big deal. #ministry

In a lot of ways, I am still processing last week and praying (thoughts & action) that the PNW Non-Conformity is implemented well, even if ruled against by our Judicial Council.

I’m processing the overwhelming yes that my annual conference voted on to join the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

I’m processing the move towards complete divestment from fossil fuels that passed as well.

In many ways, the PNW decided to be nonconformist!  Inclusion, women’s health, and divestment were successful in my annual conference, but all lost during General Conference. I feel hopeful and continue to advocated to the best of my ability. Most of all I’m tired, but the work keeps moving.

#ministry

Next steps in UMC polity are change on the jurisdictional level and I am watching the Western Jurisdiction like a hawk, praying that they will be prophetic. And now, it’s time to apply to a few more jobs.

living liminal

Endings are the first, not the last, act of the play.

Transitions, pg. 132

A week ago, I walked and was handled my diploma symbolizing the end of my time in graduate school. I immediately drove off and took a ferry to the Golf Islands of Canada to camp, spend time with my friends, read books I wanted to read, and begin this arduous and hopeful process of moving from graduate student to working professional. For the past few months I have felt stuck in a hold position, just waiting to be unleashed onto the world. I am officially in transition. In the midst of change, I know I can thrive as I’ve been there and have learned from that place, death gives possibility to new life. But there were 3 days where Jesus’ waited from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, there is the liminal space between.

Living liminal isn’t my favorite, but at the same time it is. This liminal space is where I have found new life awaiting me, and I make sure my copy of Transitions: Make Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges (that my seminary, Seattle University, required its students to read) is close by. I originally read that book when my life was up in the air and was having difficulty seeing the new life beyond. Needless to say, I take that book to heart whenever I start back down liminal lane… and here I am.

…new growth cannot take root on ground still covered with the old habits, attitudes, and outlooks because endings are the clearing process.

Transitions, pg. 108

Through my seemingly endless pursuit of discovering my faith, seeking authenticity, and being able to name my ministry during seminary so much gardening was done: to change my habits, redefine attitudes and outlooks, to see hope and possibility, and to fully accept myself. My Master of Divinity did a lot of clearing, which feels like the understatement of the year. It was the good work, where the joy outweighed the mourning, tears, suffering, and pain during the recovery of my sense of self.

I found new life in seminary, but it’s over and I am back in what Bridges’ names the neutral zone (liminal space). He suggests that during this time one should:

Accept your need for this time in the neutral zone.
Find a regular time and place to be alone.
Begin a blog of neutral zone experiences.
Take this pause in the action of your life to write an autobiography.
Take this opportunity to discover what you really want.
Think of what would be unlived in your life if it ended today.
Take a few days to go on your own version of a passage journey.

The perfectionist in me is saying (and trying to give high-fives), “Dang, Irene, you are getting it done”, but that’s not the purpose of living liminal. It’s the slow and steady pace, it’s the savoring and it’s the learning. So here I am again, living liminal and finding how my degree and sense of ministry in the world align with a career.

Take things step by step and resist the siren song that sings about some other route where everything goes smoothly and events are always exciting and meaningful.

Transitions, pg. 171

I am in the in-between. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, and most of all, I want my new beginning, but here I wait… blogging, pausing, contemplating between job applications. Fully aware that it’s not going to be smooth, exciting, and always meaningful, but I have lived liminal before.

My pursuit of my faith, continue journey of authenticity, and application of how my vocation intersects in this world is not over, it’s just begun. I do not know where I am heading off to, but I know that at the end, life will fall into place and at the end will be my beginning.

oh #hillzyes no (on hillary & the men of the secret council)

Someone needs to remind me to not get upset about patriarchy before bed, but that’s the thing about patriarchy, it’s just sneaks in and ruins the situation or moment at hand. I’m so over patriarchy in the here and now.

Last night as I let my house cool (Seattle has been pretty hot for us PNW folk without easing us into it), something amazing happened.

Hillary Clinton won the New Jersey democratic primary giving her enough votes to secure the democratic nomination. Yes, she is the presumptive nominee, but all roads point to #HillzYes. I have been a Hillary fan in the sea of Bernie supports in Seattle. In the midst of caucusing for Hillary and speaking about why she had my vote, I always remained hopeful (feel like I should name that as a spiritual gift) and knew others were showing up for her around the country, outside of the PNW Bernie bubble.

The first woman EVER in the history (his-story, so important) is making herstory! One of the largest platforms for any person could, and should, go to Hillary Clinton. In fact, the inactive Tumblr, Texts from Hillary is back with a victory text.

I should be riding this high, this shattering of one more glass ceiling and being mentally prepared for another glass ceiling shattering as well. I’m so excited I am close to the happy tears I get when pumped about the movement of society, then it happened.

As I was looking through Facebook posts getting pumped about the first woman president, I saw an article about my church, about General Conference, aptly titled The story behind the story of a “A Way Forward” the ultimate Methodork click bait. It contains what some thought was the mythical list of the small working group, secret Methodist council that led to “A Way Forward” or how I think of it, we froze The United Methodist Church in carbonite Han Solo style.

I had heard through solid sources during General Conference who was on this secret Hail Mary group, she wasn’t 100% sure, but the actual names she was able to rattle off were all men. I’m so over patriarchy in the here and now.

Here is the list:

Bishop Warner Brown
Rob Renfroe
Maxie Dunnam
Tom Lambrecht
Patricia Miller
Mike Slaughter
Adam Hamilton
Tom Berlin
Don Underwood
Scott Campbell
Randall Miller
Matt Berryman
Patricia Hixon of JustPeace
Greg Bergquist, trusted lieutenant to Bishop Brown and scribe for the proceedings

I know we should be stepping away from gender binaries, but work with me for just a little bit. (Please note this is just a social analysis of gender, this group doesn’t have diversity of age, race, sexuality as far as my limited research shows.) The Bishop and his scribe are men. 2 men, 0 women.

From the, for lack of better terminology, right we have:  Rob Renfroe of the Good News (man), Maxie Dunnam former Asbury Theological Seminary President (man), Tom Lambrecht of the Good News (man), and Patricia Miller of the Confessing Movement (women). 3 men, 1 woman.

The Centrists of the group are Methodist mega-church leaders, Mike Slaughter & Adam Hamilton (men), Tom Berlin of Floris UMC in Virgina (man), and Don Underwood of Christ United Methodist Church in Texas (man). 4 men, 0 women.

Last, but not least, we have the progressive church leaders: Scott Campbell retired clergy from the NE who serves as council during church trials (man), Randall Miller the Director of Global Religions at the Arcus Foundation in NYC (former professor of theology at PSR, and a man), and Matt Berryman of the Reconciling Ministries Network (man). 3 men, 0 women.

Patricia Hixon of JustPeace (woman) is on the list for conflict resolution. 1 woman.

We have 12 men, 2 women at the end of this exercise. This is clearly not a Justin Trudeau table. The left and centrists have no female voices, while only the right has a women’s voice. This mythical secret group was male dominated, and therefore not representative of the body of Christ, and the actual makeup of The United Methodist Church.

There are women in leadership throughout the spectrum of theological viewpoints/beliefs. Sure, they may not be as prominently placed, but maybe we need new people at this table. The voices we haven’t been listening to, the ones that bring a different angle, and can maybe break through to each of the theological groups. Also, I just need to say this: I’d love a woman Bishop to be the presider of this hypothetical group, Bishop Sally Dyck and her hot tips has my vote.

This list of men (and the two awesome women included) is what’s wrong with the church. Women aren’t being heard in the church, I just blogged about this yesterday! If we aren’t included at the table, why stay when we are essentially silenced time and time again.

I’m so over patriarchy in the here and now. I want women of all theological and political beliefs to have a voice. I rather have a discussion with disagreement about reproductive health, choice, and justice issues (any issues primary affecting women) with another woman, rather than a man.

Back to a happy space. As The United Methodist Church still follows the patriarchal models of the past millennia, one United Methodist woman is fighting, Hillary Clinton. I hope that she inspires the woman staying in the church to speak out, stand up, and refuse to have their voices be muted. Let’s do it, ladies!

My plea to the future President Hillary Clinton, a strong United Methodist woman, becomes this, please dismantle the patriarchy in our country and then come smash it in The United Methodist Church. Once more for posterity: I’m so over patriarchy in the here and now.

synthesized? the resistant theologian + heartache, hope, & action

Yesterday, a little more than 24 hours after my Master of Divinity Synthesis, I got a text message while walking Seward Park: “Irene, shit is going down.” Now this particular message could have gone several ways, so I found myself on the phone hearing the news from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference (BWAC). Before General Conference, the BWAC’s Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM)[1] and the New York Annual Conference both declared they would not ask questions about sexual orientation.

“Both the New York and Baltimore-Washington Boards have decided to not inquire about the sexual orientation of their candidates. We believe that we can do so within the current strictures of the Book of Discipline and that it is the right thing to do. We invite other Boards within our connection to claim their authority on this matter as well. It’s time. It’s past time.”[2]

During the clergy session at the BWAC, they vote on candidates for commissioning and full-connection. The BOOM had fully recommended these individuals as possessing the gifts and graces for ministry. It’s usually a courtesy vote, but for one candidate it wasn’t. TC Marrow was (I pray still is) up for commissioning as a Deacon. During the clergy session, it was not her gifts and graces up for discussion, it was her sexuality because TC Marrow is married to her partner, who happens to be a woman. To be commissioned she needed 2/3 of the vote of the clergy, she was 19, or 20, votes shy. It is heartbreaking. A “progressive” annual conference whose body (BOOM) exists to discern who is to be commissioned and ordained couldn’t prevent this act of spiritual violence upon a beloved child of God, made in the image of God. Denying her calling, the affirmation of her calling by BOOM, and the countless others who have nurtured and supported TC Marrow’s journey of discernment.

Where does this tie in with my synthesis? How do I make sense of this heartbreak and more news of this sort over the next month of annual conference and jurisdictional season? The pastoral leader that I am, and evolving to live into, is a public (and highly practical) theologian rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency. Because I am United Methodist, I cannot walk away from the injustice TC Marrow and others like her experience. Because I am a public theologian I cannot be silent.

My theological framework of my Holy Trinity: God, Creation, and Spirit lead me to mutuality and relationship between God and Creation. Where this mutuality of the Spirit leads humanity to set an open table[3], for all to experience the wonderful love of the Divine. When one person hurts, collectively as creation, we all hurt through the mutuality of the relational Spirit. As we deny the calling of TC Marrow, she is denied access to our open table by our institution. But, as the institution denies her, the Spirit acts through people like myself decry this injustice and will seek justice. The Spirit moves us towards mutuality and action.

The Spirit also moves us towards the journey of lived grace. Grace that is abundant! I stated in my presentation, this is why I am still United Methodist; grace is as integral to my faith as air is to my body. This is something I had to fall back on as I reminded myself to breath and unclench my fists as I walked in anger after the phone call. Grace, Wesleyan grace, is how I was raised and how I model my life. Wesleyan grace is in my life, in my faith, and in my way in the world. I am Wesleyan at my core, and so are the millions of other progressive Wesleyans like me fighting for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+, that’s why we cannot and will not leave and/or give up. God’s freely given gift of grace is abundant and open for all.

My personal Creed of Grace is:

Grace leads to relationship with the Divine.
Grace leads to walking with.
Grace leads to living like Jesus.
Grace leads to seeking justice to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the world, now.
Grace leads to public theology.
Grace leads to systemic agitation.
Grace leads to unconditional love because the root of grace is God’s love of Creation.

As I distill and further synthesize my time at Seattle University’s School of Theology & Ministry, I fall into my Creed of Grace. As much as the definition of my pastoral theological guides me, I am fueled by grace, grace that moves me towards the mutuality of Divine and Creation.

Grace leads to relationship with the Divine: Grace opens up the metaphorical and literal communion table. This relationship with the Divine is something that we choose and define as we make our journey of grace during our lives. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate that the table is open, no one can block someone’s access to relationship with the Divine.

Grace leads to walking with: Just as God walks with us, we must walk with others whether it is in the midst of joy, love, and/or suffering. To be a presence of lived faith, that walks with and listens until they are restored. This allows us to advocated and journey while seeking justice. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate as I walk with those seeking justice.

Grace leads to living like Jesus: Just as Jesus did and taught us the Beatitudes, we must walk with the Blessed. He actively sought justice for all and grace fueled his ministry in our world. Moving forward, I will model my ministry as I ally, advocate, and agitate just as Jesus did.

Grace leads to seeking justice to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the world, now: “Learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”[4] Isaiah wasn’t waiting around on the Kin-dom, Jesus wasn’t waiting around on the Kin-dom, and we certainly shouldn’t be waiting on around for the Kin-dom to cometh. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate to bring forth the Kin-dom of God, now, not tomorrow.

Grace leads to public theology: Theology is faith-seeking understanding, and our understanding of God cannot be just within the church, it needs to be outside in the public sphere where injustice meets us at every corner. We must undo the systemic bonds of society that oppress, we cannot be confined in our church building and/or institutions. Moving forward, I will work to undo the systematic bonds of society to embolden the oppressed to be free in the public sphere through my lived faith of being an ally, advocate, and agitator.

Grace leads to systemic agitation: Jesus turned the tables, but before that supreme agitation, he challenged the system of his time. Just as Jesus shook the core of church and society, I am called to do as well. Grace leads us to action, actions that I have already participated in, planned, and will continue to do. Moving forward, I will ally, advocate, and agitate in ways that bring systemic change, it may not be table flipping, it will be slow and steady building mutuality and trust.

Grace leads to unconditional love because the root of grace is God’s love of Creation: Love of our neighbor, love our ourselves, love of creation, and the love of God. Moving forward, I will love through being an ally, advocate, and agitator, but love through seeing everyone as God’s beloved.

My theology of grace leads us to love, is something that I have to cling onto today. I fall back into the arms of the Spirit as I despair on the state of the church that I love with my whole being, yet despise the oppression we choose to sweep under the rug. Synthesizing my faith, impacted greatly by my Master of Divinity, leads me back to who I am as a pastoral leader: I am a public (and highly practical) theologian rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency.

Today as I sit reflecting in anger, others are grasping their God-given agency to shake up the church. As I wrote this reflection, Patrick James Dupont who was up for commissioning in the Upper New York Annual Conference withdrew his name for ordination as a radical act of solidarity for TC Marrow[5]. Patrick James Dupont is living grace; he is showing himself as an ally, advocate, and agitator. God’s grace is abundant and God is good. I have hope for the future, and have enough grace to be sustained in seeking justice.

[1]The United Methodist Church (UMC) really likes initials and acronyms to a fault.
[2] bwcumc.org/an-open-letter-to-boards-of-ordained-ministry/
[3]John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that conversion could happen anywhere so the UMC’s theology of Communion is one where the table is open to all. The one requirement is that you are open to the experience, or to experience God’s love.
[4]Isaiah 1:17, NRSV.
[5]snarkypastorrants.blogspot.com/2016/06/solidarity.html