Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Every Means Every

In order to be ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, I had to answer “Yes” to Bishop Schnase when he asked, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?” Needless to say, I answered in the affirmative.

(There were a few other things I had to do, as well, but for now let’s focus on this one.)

I think the intention of the historic question is to ask about the children “in every place you are appointed, wherever that might be.” But I tend to take it further than that, and just let it mean exactly what it says - the children “in every place.”

The children in one place are just as important as the children in another.

As I write this, a friend is preparing to come home from China with a new son. A team from Campbell is returning from a heart-wrenching visit to an orphanage in Haiti. Schools for poor children in Pakistan are being named “Malala Schools” after a fifteen year old hero. And in Springfield, Missouri my family has just received a newborn infant in order to provide foster care for a time.

Every place.

Matthew 18 includes one of my favorite Jesus quotes: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Could it be any clearer? Welcoming a child is welcoming Christ. (The Greek word translated “welcome” in the NRSV means “to take by the hand” or “to take hold of” or “to receive.”)

Children are more than ornaments to the congregation’s life, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we welcome them as if we were welcoming Christ? Do we take them by the hand and value them for who they are or do we try to mold them into smaller versions of ourselves?

My prayer, this week and always, is that the church embraces God’s children of all ages, in every place.

Every. Means. Every.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Diverse is Different than Divided: 2012 Election Reflection

I must say, after Tuesday’s election, most of us seem to be … just fine. Of course, there is a distinct minority of Americans which is not just fine, and within that minority there are two sub-groups: people who are ecstatic and people who are appalled.

The ecstatics are ecstatic because President Obama was re-elected and now all is right with the world.

The appalleds are appalled because President Obama was re-elected and now our nation is hopelessly doomed to oblivion.

Neither outlook is truthful, and that’s why most of us are just fine. We know we’re not great; there is a lot of work that needs to be done, so we’re not really ecstatic. We know we’re not horrible; things have been and could be a lot worse than they are, so we’re not really appalled.

And of course there are degrees of “just fine-ness,” with some of us on the pleased end of the scale and some on the disappointed end. And there is variety within the spectrum of “just fine,” depending on if you are talking local, state, or national levels.

The “just fines” voted Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, and the rest. Some of our candidates won, and some lost. Some of our ballot initiatives passed, and some didn’t. Some of our amendments amended, and some didn’t. And so it goes.

And “just fine” doesn’t equal “weak” or “ambivalent” or “disengaged,” by the way. Many of the “just fines” are energetic, passionate people who care deeply for our communities, our states, and our nation. We’re just realistic about it, and by realistic I mean this:

We understand the difference between “divided” and “diverse.”

If Tuesday’s election did nothing else, it reinforced the idea that the United States of America is a diverse nation. The “ecstatics” and the “appalleds” want to talk about how divided we are, but I don’t think that is accurate. Our nation is not divided, it is diverse, and there is a big difference.

There are times it feels divided, but the problem lies with the system, which is currently structured in such a way that the myth of the divided nation is perpetuated. One of the changes I wish for is the immediate elevation in significance of multiple alternative political parties, so that the system more accurately reflects the diversity of our nation, and provides a process by which we can choose from among a more diverse set of platforms.

Just for example, this year I was struck by the number of people with whom I communicated who expressed the core of the Libertarian Party platform. Though not a clinical survey, it seemed to me that a fiscally conservative approach that emphasizes personal freedom, including the freedom to marry whomever one chooses, was fairly common. However, neither the Democratic nor the Republican platforms fully reflected this perspective, so the people who felt that way were forced to compromise something of their values if they wanted to feel as if their vote counted for something.

We should never have to choose between feeling like our vote counts and feeling like our vote fully reflects our values. Many of the “just fines” vote for people rather than party already. Last Tuesday, I personally voted for candidates representing three different parties. I think it would be very healthy to bring more voices into the conversation, more perspectives, more philosophies from which to choose, and not automatically consider these alternative parties to be “fringe” or “extreme” or any other dismissive label, but rather legitimate perspectives that we could hear, understand, and then choose, or not.

However, all in all, I’m just fine. Our nation is just fine. So is our state and our town. My president is a Democrat, my U.S. senators are Republican and Democrat, my U.S. representative is a Republican, my governor is a Democrat, my state representative is a Republican. See, just fine. Not ecstatic, not appalling.

There is a difference between divided and diverse. Our nation is not divided, we are diverse, and I for one love it that way.