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How fun that this comes out just a week after my post mentioning Indaba. How wonderful if it also became an ecumenical gift to the whole Church!

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Pictures from Turkey soon, but in the meantime I have been reading about the recent United Methodist General Conference. It is reminiscent of what has happened at Lambeth Conferences in England in the past 20+ years. The UMC is an international denomination with delegates from all over the world present at its central governing board meeting. The decennial Lambeth Conference is an international meeting of Anglican bishops. The UMC General Conference, meeting Apr 24 – May 5,  voted down a significant restructuring plan that had been in the works since the last General Conference in 2008.[1] It also took up the debate about homosexuality. Unfortunately, this was anything but an open and respectful conversation. It devolved into hateful accusation, suspicion, and anything but love. The Conference voted down a resolution calling for the members of the denomination to “agree to disagree.”

It is not news that these international debates are as much about deeply held cultural mores as they are about Scripture. They are also about colonialism. Our international bodies, whether communal, as in Anglicanism, or jurisdictional, as in the UMC, are made up of delegates from North American, Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Much (but not all) of the resistance to acceptance of gay and lesbian people has come from African delegates. It became very clear in the Anglican Communion that the vehemence of the opposition was about a sense that The West was once again imposing its cultural views upon the people of Africa and beyond.

Christian missionaries from England, the United States, and other western countries spread throughout the globe to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ. These were brave, courageous, and devoted individuals. Unfortunately, they were also at times patronizing, arrogant, cruel and manipulative. Too often they were pawns of imperial or national aspirations seeking to dominate the world. We westerners imposed expectations about dress, language, food, and social customs, as well as religion upon the people we encountered. It is a dark spot in our long history, and we continue to pay for our folly – and our best intentions. The resentment we now hear from our brothers and sisters in these lands should not be surprising. Nor is their resistance to yet another directive about what they should believe and how they should live.

I support inclusion of LGBT people in the Church. And I do think it should be universally accepted among Christians. However, I can also recognize why people from cultures that my culture colonized would resent my pronouncement. We have come to recognize much of our failing in the colonial era. But our contrition does not mean that the wounds are suddenly healed, or miraculously forgotten by those who bear them.

The challenge we face, and the penance we bear, is how do we remain in relationship with the brothers and sisters whom we have harmed? How do we continue to witness to our ever-growing understanding of the Gospel AND how do we truly listen to what the Holy Spirit is showing them?

Lambeth 2008 was not perfect. Many people were deeply hurt that the validly elected and consecrated bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, was not invited to participate. Others were hurt that clerics who had left the Episcopal Church and been consecrated as bishops in other provinces of the Anglican Communion were not invited. In spite of this, a process was developed that allowed bishops to share their stories and to listen to those of their colleagues. The Indaba groups became places of deep sharing. Lasting relationships developed among bishops who had previously viewed each other as opponents.

There is still great debate and disagreement on homosexuality in the Anglican Communion. Because it is a fellowship rather than a governing body, that tension is slightly less immediate than perhaps it is among United Methodists. The Indaba model, though, is a tool that the Anglican Communion could offer to other church bodies struggling to dialogues across differences of opinion, theology, and culture.

Our inclination in times of conflict and struggle is to turn inward, to seek people like ourselves, to look to our own resources for help. We tend to shut out other voices, even the voices that could be most helpful. I see this happening across denominations and at the local, national, and international levels. Ecumenism offers some antidote to this tendency. In seeking support, counsel, and tools from denominations other than our own, we increase our capacity to adapt. We increase the likelihood that we’ll stumble upon just the thing we need. We increase our vision.

The Indaba process is just one example of a strategy for greater attentiveness to one another. As an ecumenical resource, its message becomes even more profound.

Summaries of the 2008 Lambeth Indaba Groups are are available here.


[1] United Methodist Reporter, Vol.159 No.3, May 18, 2012

Nicea

It’s our 4th full day in Turkey. We didn’t have reliable internet access where we were staying in Istanbul, but we’re now in Bursa and have wi-fi. This is also the first chunk of down time that we’ve had.

Today we went to Nicea, Iznik in Turkish. It’s a beautiful lakeside town. The church where the 2nd ecumenical council was held is now a mosque, and still beautiful despite the fact that all the frescoes and icons of the Christian era have been removed.

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Here’s the group gathered behind where the altar would have been, in front of the cathedra from which Constantine would have moderated the council.

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After enjoying the church and the gardens around it, we walked through the charming town and found a small shop selling decorative tiles, for which the region is famous. The owner showed us how he throws pots and forms ceramic tiles and we purchased our souvenirs from his wife, who paints all the tiles by hand!

We then went to the lakeside for lunch of something like catfish. The morning clouds had broken and in the afternoon sun we skipped rocks on the lake (where the church of the 1st ecumenical council lies under water!) We were joined by local kids who clearly enjoyed watching the foreigners. Walking through the lakeside park we were greeted by families cooking out, playing games on picnic blankets, and otherwise enjoying the beautiful Sunday afternoon.

We could not have ordered a more picturesque day in Nicea.

Tonight we are going to see the Sufi whirling dervishes. So more to come!

Trying Again!

What we’ve learned over the past year is that I’m a terrible blogger! I run out of things to say that seem worth reading, and so I stop posting.

BUT, I’m leaving for Turkey tomorrow on a trip sponsored by the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, along with esteemed colleagues David & Libby Whiteley, David Cameron, Bill Ingraham, Carole McGowen, Frank Yates, and our Turkish hosts Resul, Nagib, and Rabia. So maybe I’ll get back into the swing of things!

I’ve tried blogging while traveling before and was not any more successful than blogging when not traveling, but who knows, maybe I’ll pull it off this time! Depending on wi-fi accessibility, free time, and whatever else, watch this space for more news!

At the very least, I’ll tell you all about it when I get home!

Summer Newsletter!

NMCC has one last addition to summer (just as the temps begin to cool.) The summer newsletter is available at nmchurches.org.

Get more information about the upcoming Statewide Gathering, meet our newest PEP staff member, and learn about our new venture with the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. Photos, articles, and more!

Licenses for All Drivers

The letter below comes from the New Mexico Conference of (Roman) Catholic Bishops. As the issue comes up in the special legislative session, this letter helps to highlight the key issues involved and offers an opportunity for reflection and discussion. Please share with you congregations and communities! If you’d like a version in Spanish, e-mail me or go http://www.archdiocesesantafe.org/. (Sorry. WordPress editor link maker  isn’t working!)

August 15, 2011

Letter to the Editor:
LICENSES FOR ALL DRIVERS: A MATTER OF MERCY, FAIRNESS, AND SAFETY
A Statement by the Roman Catholic Bishops of New Mexico

We, the Roman Catholic Bishops of New Mexico who are the spiritual leaders of over half of our state’s population, are obliged to inform and educate our church’s members and the public about issues of moral concern and social justice as seen through the eyes of the Catholic faith. It is in this regard that we address an important contemporary issue facing our state and nation: the treatment of migrants in our society, including those laws and public policies that directly impact the justice and dignity experienced by all residents of the State of New Mexico.

We strongly support the positive impact that immigrants have made in our state and nation while, at the same time, we recognize the right of our country to regulate its own borders and to control international immigration. Those controls, however, should be influenced by a sense of justice and mercy in light of the God-given right of people to migrate when faced with grave social or economic dangers. It is always important to remember that the United States was founded by a broad collection of immigrants who fled their country of origin seeking a better life. This idea of seeking a better life has been, and always will be, a part of our national identity.

We support extending driver license privileges only to residents of the state. We are in favor of allowing individuals without Social Security numbers to obtain licenses provided that they present other acceptable forms of identification, such as a valid passport, consular identification card, or other recognized government-issued documents, currently required by present law. The present law when enforced addresses the issue of fraudulent documents. We have, in the past, called for a compromise that can strengthen the law and yet issue drivers licenses. We continue to call on the Legislature and the Governor to work diligently on a compromise. We believe that this is in the interest of all New Mexicans, and our rationale for this position is as follows:

  •  Licenses for all drivers make our highways safer, since unlicensed drivers have not been tested and,

therefore, present a potential danger to everyone using our roads. In addition, un-licensed drivers
tend to raise everyone’s insurance rates since the former cannot obtain auto insurance.

  • Licensed drivers make our communities safer because they are more easily identified and tracked.

If a law enforcement officer stops an unlicensed driver, that individual might easily give a false
name. Such names would not be found in the state’s database, thus undermining law
enforcement’s efforts to determine whether there are outstanding warrants or other matters
related to the person in question.

  •  Repeal of the current driver license law would detract from limited state resources at a time of

economic crisis. We want our law enforcement and court resources focused on the apprehension
of dangerous criminals, rather than on the detention of normally hard-working immigrants.

  •  And, finally, without legal access to driver licenses, immigrant workers would not be able to travel

to their places of employment, undermining the economic stability of their families as well as the
many New Mexico businesses, farms, and ranches that depend on their labor.

We understand that many people are frustrated at the current state of affairs surrounding immigration in
our state and nation. Ultimately, however, the issue of immigration reform is of enormous importance. The
principal driving force behind the vast majority of undocumented immigrants’ presence in the State of New
Mexico, and elsewhere, resides in a chronic lack of legal visas available under our current immigration
system. With a total of only 5,000 permanent visas offered to unskilled laborers for legal entry into the
United States, it is clear why as many as 300,000 undocumented people each year are absorbed into our
nation’s workforce. Comprehensive immigration reform would replace illegality with a system based on
legal presence and legal entry. This would restore the rule of law to a chaotic system while protecting the
basic dignity and lives of our fellow brothers and sisters, as well as preserving the dignity of the rule of law.
Not to be confused with a system of “amnesty,” this type of immigration reform would require those who
have broken the law to earn their legal status by paying a fine, paying taxes, learning English, and waiting at
the back of a long line to have the opportunity of becoming a United States citizen.

Therefore, the Roman Catholic Bishops of New Mexico endorse state-enacted policies that would permit
migrants to become full members of their communities and our nation. And in that way, all New Mexicans
can continue to benefit from their contributions without sacrificing our long-held values as a nation of
immigrants: freedom, fairness, and opportunity.

Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan,            Most Rev. Ricardo Ramírez, C.S.B.,          Most Rev. James S.

Last Friday, NMCC’s Board of Directors invited community members to join them for lunch at their quarterly meeting. The topic was ecumenical support of congregational life. Clergy and lay leaders from Presbyterian, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist congregations joined us as well as staff and volunteers from Catholic Charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Interfaith Power and Light, Bread for the World, Called Back to the Well, Water in the Desert, Church Women United, and the Ecumenical Institute for Ministry. It was a fun and lively congregation about how we can work together to become the Church of the 21st century.

If you’ve looked around lately you’ve probably noticed that the Church is changing. We are smaller, poorer, and older than we used to be. At the same time the culture around us is looking for less institutionalized organizations, greater media engagement, and greater inclusivity. We discussed the challenges we face as well as our dreams for what the whole Church, and our particular congregations, could be. We imagined a Church where kinship was a fact of life and people felt deeply connected to one another. We imagined a Church in which a sense of abundance and sufficiency reigned so that all people’s basic needs were met so that no one was hungry, homeless, or destitute, and no one was burdened with too much. We imagined living in solidarity with one another across lines of difference. We imagined seeking, working for, and living in peace. We imagined all of this in the midst of a recognition of the sacredness of the whole creation that inspires us to care for our environment, the creatures with whom we share the planet, as well as the people around us.

In short, we imagined a Gospel community living out the commands of Jesus Christ, in fellowship with all God’s children. I asked what needed to change in order to make these dreams a reality and how we could work together to make those changes happen. The thing we kept coming back to is that we need to know one another. It’s probably not any worse than ever before, but it’s true that in many communities we don’t know the people around us very well. We may drive past four churches on the way to our church on Sunday morning, but we don’t know the people who are worshipping in those communities. We may chat with the other parents at soccer games but we never get beyond polite niceties.

We wondered what our churches and communities could be like if we dared to go beyond polite acquaintance. We can’t work together very well if we don’t know each other and we can’t embody Jesus’ dream for the whole Church if we don’t care for one another. So, we proposed a one day event that would invite people in neighboring congregations to come together in prayer and fellowship as they walked from congregation to congregation. A kind of Progressive Prayer Walk (like a Progressive Dinner!) Watch for more details. In the meantime look for ways to get to know and work with others, whether in a neighboring congregation, a mosque or synagogue nearby, or the other parents at soccer.