Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Long, Long Way to Go

In early December I participated in an ecumenical dialogue held periodically between The United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church. During the three-day meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, we visited the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. The church is historic partly for tragic reasons.

On September 15, 1963, just before Sunday school, a secretly placed bomb, made of 15 sticks of dynamite, exploded. It ripped through this house of holy worship and took the precious lives of four young girls:  Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Diane Wesley and Carole Robertson.

As I sat in that serene church on a sunny December afternoon, it was hard to imagine the horror of it all and the evil infecting the hearts of people who would commit such a horrific crime.

Following our visit there, we walked over to the Civil Rights Museum where we could see the patient, painstaking progress that has occurred step-by-step since 1963.

The words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy at the joint funeral of three of the girls were ringing in my mind: “This tragic day may cause the white side to come to terms with its conscience,” he said. “In spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not become bitter. We must not lose faith in our white brothers. Life is hard—at times, as hard as crucible steel—but today, you do not walk alone.” 

Down through these many hard years it is at times clear that the African American community has not walked alone. Much progress has happened, and many on “the white side” have found their conscience, some even enough to journey with those trying to overcome racial oppression.

Fast-forward to the trial of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who, just 18 months ago, entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and viciously killed nine people gathered for a Bible Study.
It is clear to me that we still have a long, long way to go. Despite years of progress, the evil root of bigotry is alive, though not well, and it sprouts acts of disrespect, blatant hatred and racially motivated violence every day. We—all of us—must challenge it and try to dig up that diseased root. It must become a daily effort and our daily witness.

I echo the words of Dr. King: “White people need to come to terms with their conscience.”  As we remember the life of this great civil rights leader, and as we celebrate the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on January 18-25, may white members of our denomination take time to deeply examine our conscience…down to the root. May we acknowledge sins of commission and omission, sins of thought, word and deed. 

May we search our attitudes and behaviors, examine our church practices of reaching out and welcoming in. Do we use our voices, our political power to speak out against the continuing civil rights abuses in this country and for the improvement needed in human relations? 

Where can we be in better alignment with, and a better reflection of, the great love God has given to us through Christ Jesus, a love that we are to share with all our brothers and sisters?

I pray that we all will strive daily to overcome hate and division and to embody what this “drum major for justice” called “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” Amen. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New Beginnings

 The beginning of a New Year conjures up for me the image of a new start, a rebooted computer, a right-sizing of clutter on our desks, the balancing of a check-book, a new resolve to do things better.  New beginnings are never successful unless there is a serious ending to that which is old, and some of that is harder to let go of than it would seem.

The prophet Samuel in the Old Testament had labored long with King Saul’s monarchy, but it was heading for a dismal end. Samuel was grieving the fall of this leader and his part in choosing this tall, shy young person from the tribe of Benjamin years ago. In the midst of his grieving comes a word from the Lord.

The Lord often talks to us through grief and times of uncertainty. It is often the place where we finally stop all our noise and listen to God’s voice. Never shun grief and pain because there are clear and compelling messages that need our attention in order to move on in healthy ways.

God says to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel?  Fill your horn with oil, and go.  I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” (I Samuel 16:1)

The beginning of a new, godly monarchy begins with God commanding Samuel to put away his grief over the old one. May it be true for us as well.

As you ponder the new things you will do in this New Year be sure to intentionally deal with any residual grief of the old.  Pray through this pain. Seek to reconcile with those you have wronged, and forgive those who have wronged you. You may even choose to seek professional counseling.  Until the old thing is healed it will continue to creep into your “new” thing.

This thought is heralded well in one of our beloved hymns (UM Hymnal, #383) penned by Brian Wren:

This is a day of new beginnings,
Time to remember and move on.
Time to believe what love is bringing,
Laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

For by the life and death of Jesus
Love’s mighty Spirit now as then
Can make for us a world of difference 
As faith and hope are born again.

Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring,
Step from the past and leave behind
Our disappointment, guilt and grieving,
Seeking new paths and sure to find.

Christ is alive and goes before us
To show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings
Our God is making all things new

May the “Spirit’s daring” bring you a fresh start in 2017, giving you the courage to deal with past pain and then to move on!

Thursday, January 5, 2017


We are living in a time when our country is becoming more and more aware of white privilege. According to Wikipedia, “White privilege is a term of societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political or economic circumstances.”

Around our conference in recent months we have called white people together in small groups on our districts to learn about this reality in our world and in our churches. More of us will gather in churches and districts this month and next to discuss what it means to use that privilege and power to discriminate and build walls of institutional racism.

Many white people unknowingly have lived in a “white bubble” of family and social circles all their lives. They may not realize they have privilege that on a broad, systemic level causes harm to others who don’t. These are important conversations, and we will—we must—continue having them, as we enter courageously into ventures over these next four years that respond to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference’s Call to Action. It is a call to begin building racial awareness and understanding, while making progress in the cause for racial equity and harmony among all peoples.

Hearing privilege

Recently, I had lunch with an old friend who works with the Deaf community, and she told me about the new twitter feed #hearingprivilege. I have worked in the Deaf community for many years, but this was new to me. It is similar to the dynamics of white privilege. Hearing people have many more advantages than those who cannot hear. Yet it is often taken for granted. Here are some of the tweets: 

“Hearing privilege is being able to hear the ‘loud and verbal commands’ given by the police before they shoot.”

“Being able to find and meet with a mental health professional who speaks my language (sign language).”

“To be able to walk into your gurdwara (Sikh) or mosque, church or temple and fully understand and participate.”

“To be educated in your own language, alongside people you can actually understand.”

The truth is, everything we are and have in life can be a privilege. And it can all be shared with less privileged sisters and brothers.

I remember Deaf members of the Deaf Church I served in Baltimore having “seeing privilege.” Some other members were deaf and blind; so those who could see had a privilege over those who could not.

Some of the Deaf members would interpret the visual signs of the worship services for the Deaf-Blind members through a tactile sign language that “spoke” into their hands. Thus, the Deaf-Blind members could “feel the Word of the Lord” by a tactile reception of the signs.

Privileged and unprivileged

The church, the full Body of Christ, is this amazing, diverse collection of privileged and unprivileged people living through a variety of situations and scenarios reflected in our races, ethnicities, socio-economic status, genders, abilities, sexual orientation, health, ages, and so on. We are, within ourselves, a unique collection of both privileged and underprivileged people on any given day.

Yet, no privilege is as universal as those that relate to the basic human body. Each of us has a body of some kind; and at best, most of us are “temporarily able-bodied” until the processes of aging and death take their course.

Disability crosses all lines of race, ethnicity, gender, class, etc. Sadly, however, many of our churches are ill-prepared to receive people with disabilities. Not only are they unable to receive them physically, with accessible buildings and services; but often church members have inaccessible “hearts” that fail to welcome disabled visitors. It is even harder to find churches that engage in the greatest form of accessibility of all: empowerment.

I was at the meeting of the NEJ Committee on Native American Ministries recently when its president, Cynthia Kent, praised the UM Church for offering her a place where she could be both a Native American and a Christian. “I did not have to leave who I was at the door when I joined the United Methodist Church” she said. “I praise God for that.”

But as I consider disability access it is true that many people can’t even get into the doors of our churches because of the architectural barriers. Many are still not able to even enter. Is that true of your church?

Disability Awareness Sunday

I encourage all of our churches to hold a Disability Awareness Sunday this year, whether on the official observance date of Jan. 22 or another Sunday. Use the Disability Awareness Sunday Resources website for sermon ideas, liturgies and hymns.

Invite a person with a disability to be the preacher. Do an accessibility audit of your church and report findings to your congregation. Explore avenues to serve and involve people with disabilities, so they can use their unique gifts to enhance the ministry of the Body of Christ.

I Corinthians 12:22 reminds us, “The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” Understanding that principle and giving honor to those among us who lack advantages is the first step to eradicating “able-bodied privilege.”


The Discipline
, the book of procedure and legislation of the United Methodist Church, states that the church is to be inclusive, and that it should enable every person to participate in its life (¶ 139). It further states that all persons with “mental, physical, developmental, neurological, and psychological conditions or disabilities” are fully human and full members of God’s family, with a rightful place in church and society. In recognition of this status, the church is to be in ministry with all people who have any special need, and to enable their full participation in its activities. The church is also to be an advocate for equality (¶ 162, emphasis added).

To recognize and affirm these statements, a Disability Awareness Sunday is to be observed annually. The date is determined by each Annual Conference. An offering may be received for disability ministries if the conference chooses to do so (¶ 265).

If churches want to receive and designate an offering on Disability Awareness Sunday, they can give it to UMCOR’s “Disability Ministries” Advance Special # 3021054, which provides “resources and funding to develop ministries that include and empower persons with disabilities and their families.”

Pastors and lay leaders may contact Disability Ministries Committee members in their districts to offer disability awareness promotion ideas. (See the list on the Disability Ministry webpage.) Or contact committee chairwoman Barbara Skarbowski at or 717-584-6170.