The Future Us

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.

31 thoughts on “The Future Us

  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom. It’s nice a teenage church member has the confidence and commitment to write to you. Also, I appreciate you lifting our sister church leader Pope Frances. Many of us UMC members are out here watching to see how our church leaders eventually handle this issue. I am one who is hoping for the best, but given these current political times, unfortunately expecting the worst.

  2. Your messages fill my day with a hopeful spirit. Thank you for your thoughtful and concerned writings.

  3. Thank you for referring us to Pope Francis’ TED talk and your blog about it and Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham. I admire the writing and the persons you blogged about and, of course. I highly admire you and your writings. I feel led to give another Good Samaritan message and include words from all three of you. If everyone on earth could hear these messages, perhaps more would be willing to join a revolution of Tenderness. It seems so simple an answer that would bring profound results. Thank you again for your leadership in our United Methodist Church in Iowa and beyond.

  4. I am so proud of the youth who are taking a stand realizing that we cannot keep saying open hearts, open mind and open doors, except for you and you and you…Big round of applause for the youth…Thank you for the message, I am disturbed that the church is not moving forward to love and acceptance for all…

  5. Thank you, Bishop! I am so happy you are our bishop–though I am retired and living at PIlgrim Place in Claremont, CA. Your message is powerful and straight to the point. Dwight and I are on the Reconciling Committee at Claremont UMC and I am preparing the liturgy for our 24th anniversary celebration of becoming reconciling for May 21st! Please, please find ways to support Bishop Karen and to move us toward acceptance, inclusion and love. We must not continue hurting so many–LGBTQI persons, their families and allies. I value unity but only if it comes with justice, compassion, inclusion and hope. The world desperately needs the Gospel message as our national leaders seem to be abandoning the poor, the welfare of the earth, Muslims, gays, women, immigrants and so many more.

  6. Too bad that both churches (I’m Catholic) still haven’t found the courage to judge people interested in serving their respective religions, solely by their spiritual understanding and moral convictions, instead of gender or gender classification. But just as there are now religious, pastors, church officials and those of all walks of life who participate in their (church’s) Community functions without the stigma of being classified by their country of origin or race…these barriers of gender and gender classifications too shall come down. Not a matter of if, but when. Truth and the Freedom to be as God made us will ALWAYS “…Overcome someday.”

  7. Thank you Bishop for your understanding of how we should reach out in loove…hope that you will do that to my situation as well…Love always surpasses the rules which some people set down….Bless you Bishop you make me proud to be in ministry from Iowa…Bob Stemme

  8. Thank you for these words of hope. I am thankful that you are part of the COB. I pray that, like that amazing teen who wrote to you, more UMs will come to see that Jesus’ command to love everyone was not a suggestion. May Grace prevail.

  9. Thanks for your hopeful words. I ask with the teenager you quoted regarding the wording . How do we bring about positive change? How do we work together to deal with deep differences held by faithful people regarding the words in the Discipline relating to homosexuality?

    • Nancy, somehow I think it is very much wrong to think of united Methodistts as having open minds, open doors, and open hearts when we are willing to treat lgbq peope this way

  10. And yet, Pope Francis has never contradicted the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition LGBT relationships (which is essentially the same as the UMC’s current position.) He has certainly spoken with a different tone.
    We can learn from him in understanding that standing together humbly as humans does not require ordaining everyone who desires it into one’s denomination… that we can love and respect people who are not part of our denomination (as I trust we do now.) To equate loving people with ordaining LGBT persons does not help us.

  11. Thank you, Bishop. I am proud to have you as my bishop and to live in Bishop Grant’s Cal-Pac conference. We must find a way to live together with difference and grace or we will not be able to live together at all and the negative witness we offer our youth, the LGBTQI community and their families and friends will damage the inclusive, compassionate, justice-seeking witness we are called to share with our hurting world.

  12. We want everyone to be included in the church but not all behaviors are embraced as Christian teaching. We don’t want to remove anyone from the body of Christ, but we don’t define Christ’s body. As clergy we are called to keep the rules and not amend them. This is not as helpful piece as I had hoped. Show the church how repentance and grace work together in Christ

  13. Seems we’ve quickly forgotten that Jesus came full of grace and TRUTH! Attempt to justify sin in any light you choose, sin is still sin! The call of grace is repent (Turn from your sinful ways) and embrace His future for us! It is foolhardy (at best) to assume any blessing will come while living a life of disobedience.

  14. I am but a lowly retired Licensed Local Pastor from South Carolina in supply status, but I thank you , Bishop, for speaking so candidly and so boldly. I thank you also for your inclusion of the contributions of Dr. King and Pope Francis. I am told that I need only to look at “Christian teachings” to understand why my lesbian daughter and her wife are living a life of sinful behavior. If by Christian teachings we mean the teachings of Christ, perhaps someone can point me to that place in any of the Gospels that condemns the behavior of two persons in a committed, monogamous relationship. Jesus was much more clear about divorce, yet The Discipline didn’t prevent me, a divorced man, from being licensed and given the authority to lead three local churches. When will we decide that the institutional church as we have crafted it, as opposed to the church which is the body of Christ, will soon become irrelevant if we don’t commit every ounce of our being to acknowledging the here and now of the kingdom of God and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world into that kingdom? May God continue to bless your leadership.

    • I am a lay person with membership in the local United Methodist church and am active in that church. My understanding is the “situation” involves the vows that United Methodist clergy take – akin to wedding vows – and that now some of these leaders have disavowed those vows to go in their own direction. Shouldn’t it be then they should form their own denomination and hold up their right hands and say vows to their particular denomination. They are in the minority and for the sake of an established and functioning denomination should be willing to do this. The LGBTQ community is more than welcome to worship with us. They are only excluded from leadership positions in which they “vow” to serve according to our current discipline.

  15. Since this post was referenced in United Methodist News Service’s daily newsletter, I’m assuming it’s available for reprint on United Methodist Insight. If not, please let me know by Tuesday, May 9. Thank you!

  16. It’s just crazy to believe that we can pick and choose what doesn’t need to be repented of, when the Bible clearly states this is something God will not allow in the Kingdom. I posted a video of a homosexual who was saved by Christ, it’s only 20 minutes of your time, please watch this and tell me how you want me to advocate for another soul to go in this direction. TY ~

  17. I have for fourty years and more fought a fight in silence that speaks against hate, bigotry, ignorance, oppression, and marginalization. I stand with all advocates of true liberation and equality for all, and when I say, “all, it’s all!”

    • I find it highly offensive to be called a bigot, ignorant and oppressing the marginalized. Those are not ‘loving’ terms to call anyone, let alone a fellow member of the UMC. Personally I have sound reasons to not wish to amplify some choices in our culture and with the freedom of religious liberty have a right to do it. The more I study this issue, it appears that liberals want a ‘utopia’ of their making with no consequences for any choices, so we could start there in a discussion because from my experience that is a false hope and leading people towards that end a waste of life.

  18. I lost my gay son to AIDS in 1989. I wish I’d known more and could have helped him more, tho’ he knew he was loved.

    He was faithful to the end to his Methodist church. They were not faithful to him.

    • I am so sorry for the loss of your son, Doris, and pray for the day when all people know that they are loved and accepted by their church.

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