Of the people, By the people, For the people

It was one of the most significant battles in American history. On June 1 of 1863, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army marched his men from northern Virginia into Pennsylvania where he went into battle with the Union Army of the Potomac in the town of Gettysburg. The fighting intensified on the second day, and on July 3, Lee ordered 15,000 soldiers to attack the center of the Union’s resistance at Cemetery Ridge. The battle came to be known as Pickett’s Charge.

Lee was able to penetrate enemy lines but at great cost. The Union casualties were 3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, and 5,365 missing. Confederate casualties were 3,903 dead, 18,735 wounded, and 5,425 missing. On July 4, after it started to rain heavily, General Lee withdrew what remained of his army and marched back toward Virginia. Meanwhile, most of the Union soldiers had been quickly buried in poorly marked graves.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. His now iconic Gettysburg Address turned the nation toward liberty and equality for everyone. And it was only 272 words.

Lincoln began, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal.” Lincoln ended with this charge, “From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We are privileged to live in a country where democracy seeks to ensure that all people have the innate right to food, shelter, the opportunity for an education, and a job that can not only support a family but is fulfilling.

The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church recognizes the importance of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Therefore, every year we sponsor an “Advocacy Day” at the state capitol in Des Moines.

The Iowa General Assembly (IGA) is the legislative branch of the government of Iowa. Our legislature consists of the Iowa Senate (50 members) and the Iowa House of Representatives (100 members). Our legislature is also part-time, and in 2020 they will be meeting for one hundred days, from January 13 to April 2. Governor Kim Reynolds is the chief executive of Iowa and is the state’s first female governor.

The Capitol building itself is stunning. Constructed between 1871 and 1886 on top of a hill, the Capitol’s 23-carat gold dome can be seen from miles away. In addition to the Senate and House of Representatives, the Capitol houses the Governor’s office, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the old Supreme Court room.

Having never lived near a state capital before, it was a new experience for me to participate in Advocacy Day for the past few years. Advocacy Day provides an opportunity for anyone wishing to make a difference to meet with legislators and express our views on impending legislation. We begin the day by gathering at a nearby United Methodist Church to hear about our legislative priorities.

This year, the Iowa United Methodist Women, along with our Advocacy Team, are providing leadership for prioritizing our time at the capitol as well as deciding which upcoming bills we will focus on as we meet with legislators. According to Conference Chair of the Board of Church and Society, Rev. Josh Seward, “It’s the annual opportunity for Iowa United Methodists to lobby the statehouse with a voice of faith and caring for the poor and oppressed.”

Our Advocacy priorities related to the 2020 legislative season are criminal justice, mental health, gun safety, the environment, poverty, and human rights. These priorities reflect the positions of The United Methodist Church as found in our Social Principles and Book of Resolutions. The Preface to our Social Principles says, The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Its members have often taken forthright positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles. Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling and to the cruel treatment of prisoners.”

  • Criminal Justice

Our priorities include humanizing the restorative justice system; racial and ethnic profiling; alternative outcomes to arrest; and financial bonds as a last resort.

  • Mental health

Our priorities include providing adequate funds for mental health care and suicide prevention and ensuring that there is an adequate number of mental health care workers in Iowa.

  • Gun safety

Our priorities include a call to end gun violence by ensuring that all guns are sold through licensed gun retailers; prohibiting all individuals under restraining order due to threat of violence from purchasing a gun; and promoting new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.

  • The Environment

Our priorities include advocating for an aggressive effort to halt the acceleration of climate change by changing human activities, including plastic pollution; also encouraging renewable energy and the right to abundant and clean water.

  • Poverty

Our priorities include advocating for a Minimum Wage/Living Wage; welfare reform; tax reform; gambling; and education.

  • Human Rights

Our priorities include equal protection of all under the law; immigrant rights; and the death penalty.

In the United States, we have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Every person has a responsibility to create a country where all people have the opportunity to live a full and healthy life and make a difference. The word “advocate” comes from the Latin word advocare, which means to “add” a “voice.” To advocate, then, means to add our voice in support of a particular cause.

I am grateful for a country where each person has the right to “add their voice” in support of those who need our help in order to live full and healthy lives. If you would like to participate in Advocacy Day, which is Thursday, January 30, please click here for the brochure, which also includes our legislative priorities. We will meet at Wesley UMC in Des Moines from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., including lunch and several hours spent at the Capitol speaking with legislators. If you decide to participate in Advocacy Day, please contact Deb Streff at debstreff@gmail.com and let her know how many are coming so we have an accurate lunch count. If you have other questions, please contact Brian Carter at briancar@dwx.com.

Of the people. By the people. For the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are Complicated Issues

I watch from afar with great sympathy. The British royal family is in crisis. On May 19, 2018, Prince Harry (Duke of Sussex) married Meghan Markle (Duchess of Sussex), in a fairy tale wedding at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in England. While Harry is not in the direct royal succession (he is sixth in line), he and his brother William have been in the public eye for many years, especially since their mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash in 1997. William was 15 years old at the time, and Harry was 12.

I can only imagine what it must be like to marry into a royal family, especially if one is a “commoner.” The challenges are immense. Meghan was not born into royalty. Nor is she British, and she is bi-racial. Meghan’s father is Caucasian, and her mother is African-American. Unfortunately, the British press has been brutal to Meghan. She has been criticized for being an outsider and for her career as a successful actress, not to mention the racism, sexism, and classism that she has experienced.

Like millions of others, I watched the wedding of Harry and Meghan as Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, preached and officiated. Curry remarked in his sermon, Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. And a movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about some power, real power, power to change the world.”

Harry and Meghan have a deep desire to use their fame as leverage to make a difference in our world. However, they also know how difficult it is to have the freedom to be themselves and also raise their son Archie in the midst of royal constraints.

After Harry and Meghan spent six weeks in Canada over Christmas instead of with the royal family, Harry made a statement on their official Instagram account that they intend to step back from the royal family and split their time between the U.K and North America.

On January 8, the Royal Couple wrote, “After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment…

“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity…” From Harry and Meghan

Buckingham Palace issued this statement in response, “Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

Since then, further conversation took place. Two days ago, on January 18, Buckingham Palace issued another statement, saying that a way forward had been reached where Harry and Meghan are “required to step back from royal duties” … and “will no longer receive public funds for Royal duties.” In addition, since they are no longer “working members of the Royal family,” Harry and Meghan will not use their titles. They will, however, continue to “uphold the values of Her Majesty.” In the Queen’s statement she said, “It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”

It’s complicated, isn’t it? And it’s not just a challenge for royals. Each one of us has been created by God as unique one-of-a-kind individuals with gifts and graces to be used in a world where everyone has the opportunity to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:2). God calls you and me as individuals to be Christ’s representatives, wherever we live.

At the same time, God also calls us to live out our faith as the church, the body of Christ. But that can be complicated, too, can’t it? The similarities between the challenges of the royal family and The United Methodist Church are interesting.

Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex seek more freedom to live out their call to establish a charitable entity and become more independent. But that will mean changes in the way the royal family operates, including a degree of geographic separation as well no longer using their titles. It will also entail more understanding, patience, and encouragement for all of the royals to become their unique selves, bless each other, and live healthy lives.

Meanwhile, United Methodists around the world are seeking to find a way to cooperate in ministry together despite differences around human sexuality. It has become clear that our denomination may need a degree of separation as well so that we can fully engage our world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

The newly published Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation offers The United Methodist Church the opportunity to engage in mission, evangelism, and outreach to our world in a more intentional way by opening a door to create two Methodist-related denominations. At the May 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis, United Methodist delegates from around the world will vote on the Protocol at the same time as other proposals are presented as well.

Yes, these are complicated issues for The United Methodist Church as well as for the royal family. I have much respect for Harry and Meghan. Even though it may seem as if they are swimming upstream, the royal couple is demonstrating courage by leading from their heart. They are discerning who they are called to be, how they want to raise their family, and how God desires them to use their power and influence for good.

I also have deep love for The United Methodist Church. Our common Wesleyan witness of grace, spiritual growth, evangelism, mission, and service has been hindered by our internal conflict. Complicated as the path ahead may be, God is not done with us yet. Perhaps God is asking us, too, to lead with our hearts through The Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.

Near the end of Bishop Curry’s sermon at the wedding of Meghan and Harry, he quoted the late Dr. Martin Luther King, “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world.” Yes, it’s complicated, but Harry and Megan – lead the way! Yes, it’s complicated, but United Methodist Church – lead the way! May it be so.

We Meet You, O Christ

A week ago, on Epiphany Sunday, I attended worship at New Hope UMC in Des Moines where Rev. Dr. Lilian Gallo-Seagren is the pastor. And guess what? We sang hymn #257, which I had never sung or played before. Never! I was astonished. The hymn, which is called We Meet You, O Christ, was written in 1966 by Fred Kaan, who was a British minister in the United Reform Church. The hymn tune was composed by U.S. church musician Carl F. Schalk in 1987.

I thought that I knew virtually every hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal, which was published in 1989. Over the past 30 years, I have sung an average of three hymns from the hymnal every Sunday, except when I have attended contemporary worship services that don’t use the hymnal. We Meet You, O Christ is clearly not one of the top ten hymns among United Methodists!

  1. We meet you, O Christ, in many a guise;
    your image we see in simple and wise.
    You live in a palace, exist in a shack;
    we see you, the gardener, a tree on your back.

It was no coincidence in my mind that we sang this hymn several days after a press release from the Council of Bishops regarding a “mediation team” that had been working for the past several months to bring a proposal to the delegates of the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis. The mediation team was a diverse group of representatives from United Methodist advocacy groups with contrasting views and bishops from the US and Central Conferences. Working with a third-party professional mediator, their goal was to offer a solution for our impasse around human sexuality in The United Methodist Church. Click here to read the document, Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. Click here to read FAQ’s about the Protocol document.

After reading the document, I met Christ. I had a vision of Methodists from across the globe, simple and wise, living in mansions and huts, old and young, speaking many languages, singing praise to God, and bearing a tree on our backs as gardeners and humble servants.

  1. In millions alive, away and abroad;
    involved in our life you live down the road.
    Imprisoned in systems, you long to be free;
    we see you, Lord Jesus, still bearing your tree.

Jesus, you live down the road from each one of us. You want to be a part of our lives, yet so often we turn away. Just as the wise men followed a star in the sky, so you are the light of the world, beckoning us to see you in those around us: in the prisoner; in the police officer and fire fighter; in the person working at the checkout counter; in communities of different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions; in the LGBQT community; in the weariness of clergy, day in and out giving our all to ministry by bearing our tree; in those who seem invisible: the homeless, the hopeless, the hapless, and all those imprisoned in systems; and in our common human yearning to be recognized, acknowledged, celebrated, and thanked.

  1. We hear you, O man, in agony cry;
    for freedom you march, in riots you die.
    Your face in the papers we read and we see.
    The tree must be planted by human decree.
     

After my initial reading of the Protocol document, I was both hopeful and deeply grieved. The very thought of separation, even if it is amicable, is anathema. Yet the more I prayed and pondered, I realized that faithful disciples who are in different places around human sexuality long to be free of a system that has unwittingly imprisoned others. What if there were a way that all of us could be free? Not free to continue hating, but free to bear our unique trees under the big tent of a Methodist movement that provides for a gracious separation that will reach more people with the gospel. The tree of life offers shelter for all living things.

  1. You choose to be made at one with the earth;
    the dark of the grave prepares for your birth.
    Your death is your rising, creative your word;
    the tree springs to life and our hope is restored.

It is the beginning of a new year. Jesus is born. Wise men from the east come to bring homage, following a star in the sky. They travel from pagan lands and are Gentiles, not Jews. Yet through this baby, God has now invited all people to enter the story of salvation. Something new is being created out of people who did not think they would be part of the story. Nations have been brought to the light.

Yet we know it won’t last. Yes, the baby has become one with the earth, but it is the dark of the tomb that prepares for his birth. The word is creative, the tree is alive, and we know how it will end. The grave looms. Yet love wins, and hope reigns.

It’s time to plant the tree of life so that all may experience its fullness. For it’s the tree that offers shelter. It’s the tree that provides a resting place, shade, and protection.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is January 18-25. Every year at this time, Christians around the world pray for grace and reconciliation. The worship materials for this year center around the theme, Unusual Kindness (Acts 28:2, “The natives showed us unusual kindness”). They have been prepared by the Christian churches in Malta and can be found in the attached file. The following prayer spoke to me.

Prayers of the People

Gracious God, heal the painful memories of the past which have wounded our churches and continue to keep us apart.
Hear our prayer for Reconciliation.
Gracious God, teach us to fix our course on Christ, the True Light.
Hear our prayer for Enlightenment.
Gracious God, strengthen our confidence in your providence when we feel overwhelmed by the storms of life.
Hear our prayer for Hope.
Gracious God, transform our many separations into harmony and our mistrust into mutual acceptance.
Hear our prayer for Trust.
Gracious God, give us the courage to speak the truth with justice in love.
Hear our prayer for Strength.
Gracious God, dismantle the barriers, visible and invisible, that prevent us from welcoming our sisters and brothers who are in peril or in need.
Hear our prayer for Hospitality.
Gracious God, change our hearts and the hearts of our Christian communities, that we may be agents of your healing.
Hear our prayer for Conversion.
Gracious God, open our eyes to see the whole of creation as your gift, and our hands to share its fruit in solidarity.
Hear our prayer for Generosity.

Dare we meet Christ in each other with reconciliation, grace, and unusual kindness, even in the midst of the possibility of separation? Where will you meet Christ this week?