The convergence was uncanny. Last Tuesday Pope Francis gave a surprise videotaped talk for the International TED 2017 Conference, “The Future You.” TED is a non-profit organization devoted to spreading ideas through talks that are no more than eighteen minutes long. TED began in 1984 as a place where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converge, and it became an annual event in 1990. This immensely popular conference costs $10,000 per person, and attendance maxes out at 1,800 people.
A successful TED Talk might lead to a lucrative book deal or a great job offer. Imagine, then, one of the most beloved religious leaders in our world giving a TED Talk! Why? Why, to remind us that the future of our world rests upon our willingness to welcome everyone into the circle of God’s love with tenderness and compassion. Pope Francis’ primary focus in his TED Talk was that the future of every person on this earth is connected with one another. He mentioned three themes, the first of which is about “us,” not “me.”
1. “I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other. None of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I,’ separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.”
Last Friday, our United Methodist Judicial Council voted 6-3 that the July 16, 2016 consecration of Karen Oliveto as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction violated church law. Bishop Oliveto is legally married to her spouse Robin Ridenour. The decision said, “Self-avowal does not nullify the consecration and cause removal from episcopal office but is a sufficient declaration to subject the bishop’s ministerial office to review.” That review will be forthcoming.
In the meantime, Bishop Oliveto continues her ministry in the Mountain Sky Area, visiting almost every church in this geographically vast conference, connecting in a deeply pastoral way with clergy and laity alike, and working toward health, vitality, and outreach in local congregations. Like Pope Francis, Bishop Oliveto stands together with all, sharing her hope for “The Future Us” by a passion for evangelism and preaching Christ with conviction and courage.
Pope Francis’ second theme focuses on our responsibility toward each human being.
2. “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”
By retelling the story of the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis reminds us that by not taking care of others, we leave thousands of people and even entire populations by the side of the road. On the other hand, when we recognize each person in this world as precious and irreplaceable in the sight of God, hope is reborn.
As I listened to Pope Francis’ Ted Talk, I couldn’t help but reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham (Alabama) Jail, which I read last week. The letter was written on April 16, 1963 while King spent eleven days in the Birmingham Jail for demonstrating without a permit. This most powerful document of the civil rights era testifies that freedom and justice mean nothing if they perpetuate violence and injustice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily… Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”
“Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?”
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo.”
“We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”
Finally, Pope Francis calls for a revolution of tenderness in our world.
3. “Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”
I wonder, what will The Future Us be in The United Methodist Church? If we are not willing to live together by celebrating our differences and using them to witness to God’s grace and glory, how can we expect our world to live in peace and harmony? If are not tender toward one another, how can we advocate for the rejected and the very least of God’s children?
If we are not able to risk humbling ourselves and living in solidarity with those who are not like us, how will our world become a more just place? How can we join hands together across the theological divide and minister to people who don’t care about the nuances of our political and social stances but simply want to know if we care enough to help them find their way into God’s future?
I received a message from a United Methodist teenager on Saturday night. “Hey, bishop, I was reading up on Bishop Oliveto’s situation, and I realized it’s time for a change. I reached out to the youth in the church, and we all agree that her violating the Book of Discipline based on sexual orientation, especially in this day and age, is absurd. If you could advise us into the best way to bring about a positive change in the church on a potentially global scale, that would be so greatly appreciated.”
As I prayed for God’s grace and wisdom in how to respond, I went back to Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham jail, where he commended the real heroes of his day,
“I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhumane provocation. One day the South will recognize its true heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose, facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feet is tired, but my soul is rested.”
Pope Francis’ feet get tired at times, but his soul is rested as he proclaims tenderness, inclusion, and equality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s feet became tired at times, but he never stopped speaking out and his soul rested in God’s grace.
The feet of countless United Methodists across the globe are tired at times, but our souls are rested and filled with hope, compassion, and joy in believing and serving.
The feet of our youth, the future of the church, get tired at times, but their souls are rested when they realize that they, too, have a voice and can make a positive difference in the future of our world.
Dare “The Present Us” as United Methodists commit to becoming “The Future Us” by recovering our tenderness and acting humbly? God, soften our hearts, keep us connected, and show us how to live and serve tenderly.