New math: With > 2 & 4

I am an American Baptist. I grew up attending an American Baptist church and I am ordained by the American Baptist Churches USA.

However (and oddly), I’ve spent the last 15+ years serving as one of the pastors of the Woodridge United Methodist Church. As The United Methodist Church is about ten times bigger than ABC/USA, I’ve had a lot to learn about tradition, history, structure and polity. It has been, and continues to be, a blessed journey. I’ve learned to love and respect the denomination. As you might expect, I especially love and respect the deep commitment The UMC has to mission and justice ministries.

However, there is a lot I still don’t know; I lot I can’t explain. Take, for instance, this Task Force and it’s list of member agencies:

The Interagency Task Force on Ministry with the Poor

  • General Board of Church and Society
  • General Board of Discipleship
  • General Board of Global Ministries
  • General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
  • General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits
  • General Commission on Archives and History
  • General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
  • General Commission on Communications (UMCOM)
  • General Commission on Religion and Race
  • General Commission on Status and Role of Women
  • General Commission on United Methodist Men
  • General Council on Finance and Administration
  • United Methodist Publishing House

That’s a lot of bureaucracy! I couldn’t begin to describe how each of those boards, commissions and whatnot officially relate to each other. I could not begin to create a flow chart of them. (Or at least not one that would reflect reality.)

But I do know this about them: They have partnered together to create a fantastic new resource for mission and justice!

This week Ministry With* the Poor went live and it rocks!

It has a ton of information and links to explore. You could easily spend hours reading and watching, donating and mobilizing, learning and blogging. At the very least though, please take 2.5 minutes and go watch the introductory video. We watched it as part of our Youth Mission Trip preparation this week.

Wait, are you still here? Go watch that video! Now! Do it!

…And we’re back. So, what did you think? Were you moved? Want to know more? Want to join the effort? At Woodridge UMC we’ll definitely begin exploring ways to do just that. Wherever you live, I hope you’ll join that conversation here or at Ministry With* the Poor.

For now, here are a couple pearls of wisdom from the site:

What’s this site about?

The goal of this site is to help connect, inform, inspire, and energize the people of The United Methodist Church to engage in ministries of love and justice that involve partnering with and empowering those who are in poverty to eradicate poverty. We are, after all, called to be disciples of Christ for the transformation of this world.

What are the founding principles?

Ministry with the Poor is fundamental to our Wesleyan and pietistic roots and integral to the Church’s mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in this world” (The United Methodist Book of Discipline 2008, par. 121). Indeed, Ministry with the Poor is a biblical imperative—as much for everyone today as it was for Jesus when he proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19; see Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6-10; Leviticus 25:8-55; Galatians 2:10).

Followers of Jesus too are “anointed”—anointed to serve as disciples of Jesus, to be his “witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), and to serve as God’s co-creators in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. But being “anointed” as disciples for the transformation of the world does not imply superiority; in fact, quite the opposite is true.

Disciples of Jesus are all called to be ministers with the poor. As such, disciples are called not only to be prophets, liberators, healers, equalizers, and justice-makers, but also to be hospitable and caring brothers and sisters in Christ, who break bread with one another, nurture community, and work together to make this world a place of justice, mercy, and love. (Romans 12:13).

“Anointed to serve as God’s co-creators in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.” To me, that is what following God in the Way of Jesus is all about!

Let’s share best practices: what ways are you engaging in ministry with people in need?

“You can cha-ange the world…”

Saturday, May 14 is the United Methodist Church’s second annual Change the World Day, how will you participate?

Not every detail is chiseled in stone yet, but here’s how the church at which I serve, Woodridge UMC, will join the effort and be counted:

  • Free T-shirts! Yep, that’s right, all Change the World participants will receive a t-shirt! (And really, what’s better than that? Do I even need to continue this list? Don’t you want to sign up right now? Everyone is welcome, just leave a comment below and you’re in!)
  • Meet at church 9:00am for light refreshments, brief orientation, divide into three teams and head out to Change the World! Return when you’re team has finished it’s work, enjoy more refreshments and share the story of your actions together. That’s really all there is too it!
  • Don’t forget, you also get a free t-shirt!   

A force to reckon with

In promotional video below (only 79 seconds long, why don’t you give it a view right now?), Rev. Mike Slaughter (who literally wrote the book Change the World) says, “The United Methodist Church as more than 11 million members; that’s a force to reckoned with! It can be a force to change the world!”

I wholeheartedly agree!

In the midst of celebrating this effort – and attempting to recruit you to join in! – I  must also renew my gentle critique that the whole idea of a Change the World day is a little, how shall we say…redundant? Ridiculous? Unnecessary?

I mean really, we need a particular day to say, “on this day church is about more than being inside the walls of our building; about more than taking care of just ourselves”? That’s what we who follow God in the way of Jesus should be doing all the time every day!

But the sad reality is that’s not how it goes for most people – myself chief among them. The mundane nature of everyday life just somehow gets in the way.

On the other hand, being part of a global program? Especially one with resources behind it producing videos and fliers and sermon series and more? Well now, that’s exciting! So I get it. I get why we’ve created this Change the World day. And I fully support it (even as I maintain my critique). And I hope you will support it to.

What kind of work will we do?

You will pick one of three teams to join:

  • Clean up the park! Doesn’t it just irk you how much trash is always lying around on bike paths and parks? This team will do their best to rectify that.
  • Help at an affordable-housing complex! Out in Batavia, Franciscan Ministry runs an apartment complex providing affordable housing for low-income families, the elderly, and residents with special needs. They need help cleaning and repairing their food pantry and other services. We’re going to drive out there, learn more about who they are and what they do, and then help with whatever projects they need done.
  • End modern-day slavery/human trafficking! Ok, so we won’t be able to fully “end” the world’s second largest criminal enterprise in a few hours on a Saturday afternoon…but we will continue to raise awareness about this ever-growing evil by distributing anti-traficking posters and fliers to area businesses. (Outreach materials courtesy of IL Rescue & Restore Coalition, of which Woodridge UMC is a proud member!) In doing so, we’ll inevitably get to talk with people who are unaware of the nature or the proximity of this great injustice. And that is how change happens.

There are so many people and groups and organizations doing such good, important work to fight modern-day slavery. You can find a couple on my sidebar, but that’s a very small sample. If you pick just one justice issue to engage with, I sincerely hope it will be this one.

Hey, did I mention you get a free t-shirt if you join our Change the World day efforts?

Let’s be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world! Together with sisters and brothers in the faith from all around the globe, this May 14 let’s Change the World!

There is power in numbers. Will you be counted?

[Apologies to Eric Clapton for this post’s title. Also, this post is – as just about all of my recent posts here have been – a revised version of what I write almost-weekly for my congregation‘s eNewsletter. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

“Water, water, everywhere…”

[Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. Whatever I write for eNews usually ends up here too. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

It seems Oscar Wilde was right. Life imitated art far more than usual for me this week. I’m sure I’m not who ol’ Sam Coleridge (Yes, I can call him ‘Sam.’ We’re tight like that.) had in mind when he wrote his famous poem, but all week I ran into “water, water, everywhere.”

(Although, unlike that Ancient Marnier, I got through the week without killing an albatross. Or any creature great or small, for that matter. Well, at least not that I killed personally; I mean, I did eat this week…um, let’s move on…)

The water theme started with scripture. Both of this week’s lessons (Exodus 17:1-17 and John 4:5-42) involve thirsty people. Both stories depict those thirsty people doing just what you’d expect them to do: trying to find some water to drink!

In their efforts to quench their thirst, the people in both stories have interesting, thought-provoking and question-inducing encounters with God. Questions from these stories that I’m considering and hope you will too:

  • For what does your soul thirst?
  • What things and people are life-giving for you right now?

Let me guess what you’re thinking: thus far this might be interesting stuff, but it’s still pretty standard pastoral musings. I’d be hard pressed to disagree. But that’s where the week took an unexpected turn…

Tuesday was World Water Day. Now, I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of World Water Day and had no idea it existed until it showed up all over my Twitter feed that day. I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t even notice just how available water is to me. Among the kitchen sink, the water dispenser in our fridge and our bathrooms, I probably can’t get more than 20 feet away from a water source!

Meanwhile, here’s something I learned through World Water Day:

  • Between 900 million – 1 billion people on the planet (about 1 in 6 of us) don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water.

Even more sobering are the effects of that lack of access:

  • Every week there are 42,000 deaths due to unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation. 90% of those deaths are children under 5 years old.

Reading that horrible fact made me want to learn more. Fortunately, there are many organizations doing really good work helping developing countries find and access safe water:, Charity: Water, National Geographic (which has an eye-opening tool to calculate your water footprint, yikes!), World Health Organization

The Untied Methodist Church (UMC) is among them as well. Read an introduction to UMCOR’s work (the United Methodist Committee on Relief is the humanitarian aid arm of the UMC) accessing clean water:

Here are UMCOR’s Water Projects

See videos, pictures, facts and more stories through The Board of Global Ministry’s 10-Fold project. (I must admit, it is difficult to keep all the UMC’s boards, agencies and projects straight. Lots o’ bureaucracy in the UMC!)

All of which leads me to this question:

  • How are you responding (and/or how can you respond) to thirsty voices in your community?

I’ll share more thoughts and questions about water – and offer those present a chance to chime in – in worship this Sunday, March 27. Hope to see you there! Or, you know, comments here are always appreciated.

The UMC is at work in Japan

[Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. Whatever I write for eNews usually ends up here too. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

First a massive, record-setting earthquake that triggered devastating tsunamis. Now a damaged nuclear plant forces us to consider the terrifying damage of radiation as well as forcing us to face the very real limits of nuclear power as “safe energy.”

Needless to say, the people of Japan need our prayers and our support.

Here’s a letter from Northern IL Conference Bishop, Hee-Soo Jung:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Northern Illinois:

In this humble time of Lenten self-reflection and spiritual journeying we are reminded that our world aches for hope and comfort.  The suffering of others, the tragedies and pain that abound in our midst, all call us to extend a hand to those who need to know Christ’s love for their lives.

My prayers and concern have been with the people of Japan and the Pacific area in these hours of devastation, uncertainty and fear following one of the most powerful earthquakes in history and the resulting tsunami.  As loved ones are accounted for we give thanks.  As the death toll mounts we mourn.  As the magnitude of the devastation slowly sinks in we extend our resources.

The United Methodist Church has nine missionaries, six full time volunteers and several mission associates in Japan.  Most have been accounted for.  Over the next few days our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) will be working with partner agencies in organizing relief efforts for those in need.  Please hold those affected by this natural disaster in your prayers while extending aide through our agencies.

Your Brother in Christ,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

One big advantage to giving through UMCOR (the humanitarian aid arm of The UMC): 100% of gifts go to the relief effort. That’s right. 100%

This is made possible by The One Great Hour of Sharing, an offering taken each year to fund the administration of UMCOR. Apportionment dollars are not used to fund UMCOR, only One Great Hour of Sharing funds.

Here’s the latest on the UMC’s work in Japan from the Board of Global Ministries.

But this is just a glimpse into relief work in Japan. Let’s broaden the picture: What are you (or an organization you associate with) doing in Japan?

I give thanks for all the ways God is at work in and through and with people and agencies from all over the globe, including the United Methodist Church, bringing healing and hope to so many!

IL gets it right

[Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. Whatever I write for eNews usually ends up here too. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

Pop Quiz time! Grab the nearest Bible and find this verse: “God helps those who help themselves.”

…Time’s up! Did you find it?

I hope not, because it’s not there. While frequently quoted as scripture, it was actually Benjamin Franklin who said it. (As often noted in this space, Scripture actually has the exact opposite to say: God helps the helpless and calls his followers to do the same. But the great divide between those two ideas is a post for another day…)

I thought of that “verse” today because I just discovered that I’ve been guilty of something similar. For years I’ve heard – and repeated – that the great 20th Century theologian, Karl Barth, instructed we who would preach and teach the faith to do so “with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

Turns out, Barth said some things in that vein, but never actually said that. What kind of in-depth investigative journalism was required to learn this? About 30 seconds of Google searching and then reading. Wow.

As you may have already guessed, I was thinking about that Barth “quote” this week because of this 1A, above the fold, top headline of the week: “Illinois Bans Death Penalty.” (Though today you could make a strong case that the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan have taken over that top spot.)

Excuse me. That should probably read: ILLINOIS BANS DEATH PENALTY. That’s how it was in the print version of this Chicago Tribune’s story. For reasons unknown to me, the online version has a different headline. (For comparison sake, the Sun-Times’ version.)

That’s just huge, huge news; perhaps even cause for (muted) celebration. For we, the people of The United Methodist Church, have this to say:

We oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

– ¶164G Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s actually the conclusion of the Death Penalty section of the Social Principles. Here’s how we get there:

¶164 Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

The Political Community:

While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society. Because we know ourselves to be responsible to God for social and political life, we declare the following relative to governments:

…G. The Death Penalty

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

Offered as scripture references to support the UMC position are:

Matthew 5:38-39 – Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount “turn the other check” teaching on non-violent resistance to oppression and abuse.

John 8:1-10 – Jesus’ response to the crowd looking to stone to death a woman caught committing adultery (with no mention of punishment for the man!), “let anyone among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

As you would expect, the Board of Church and Society (which is the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church), leads the way in turning this statement of faith into action. To the words of the Social Principles and the Scripture references, they add:

When another life is taken through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued. Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime in general nor a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed. The death penalty also falls unfairly and unequally upon an outcast minority. Recent methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die from among the larger number who are convicted of comparable offenses have not cured the arbitrariness and discrimination that have historically marked the administration of capital punishment in this country. We will continue to advocate for the final elimination of this act of barbarism, which has no room in a civilized society, nor in a country that prides so much on its Christian heritage.

And you can sign up for their action network

They also offer a link to Amnesty International, an organization which I support. Amnesty is at the forefront fighting against the death penalty. Check out their take on this story. In that post, Amnesty also offers a way you can add your name to a thank you note to Governor Quinn.

As this Chicago Tribune editorial reminds us, you can add this information to the reasons for abolishing the death penalty. “The Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment found that the death penalty is most often pursued when the defendant is poor or a minority or when the victim is white.” These racial, social and economic factors alone make capital punishment untenable.

The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Our faith moves us to action. I offer these resources to encourage you to take some time to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider where you stand and why. As always, I’d love to make this a conversation by hearing your responses.

What do you think? Did IL get it right? Does the UMC? What, if anything, would you change about the UMC’s position on this?