Forest Home Chapel
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
United Methodist Church, Ithaca New York

Pastor's Blog

Lent 2019

March 4, 2019

Lent offers us a period of waiting. This time is an opportunity to listen to God, to hear that which we might miss in the noise of moving forward in our denomination and congregation.

Some of us are heart-broken at the vote that was affirmed at General Conference 2019 affirming homophobic language to the UMC Book of Discipline, which states that persons who love and marry same-sex partners live a life that is incompatible with scripture. Some of us don’t care about the language at all. Some of us agree with this theological understanding of who and why God calls us into being. How shall we live with these differences with our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and all those who confess a faith-centered life? 

It is part of John's gospel to "love one another as I have loved you" (13:34) that we spend time intentionally wandering in this love even if we do not understand what this sort of love Jesus commanded means.

At Forest Home Chapel, we actively and prayerfully chose to be part of the movement that speaks through scripture and embraces all God’s people in the love of Christ. It is called: Reconciling Ministries, please visit their informative website for more specific information (www.rmnetwork.org)

I personally hold love as the primary energy Jesus brought to the people of God. I invite you to discuss what this divine love is about, with me. This vote did not feel like what Jesus intended with this love at all. However, there is yet a great deal of hope for the people of our denomination to open their hearts and vote to affirm the worth of all persons when we meet and vote at General Conference 2020. This is set to convene in 15 months in Minneapolis, MN. 

Part of the hope is not only in a new General Conference, but heard in this moment in the roar of the marginalized, the prayers of the faithful, and the theological scholarship of the biblical community. There is love for us all in the Word and some choose to seek it in our scripture and in our hearts. 

During Lent we can actively wait for God to keep whispering to us, as we pray, dialogue, read, serve and worship. 

Scripture tells us the prophet Elijah gives us this very beautiful idea, passed down through generations of people seeking God. The lesson is that God isn’t always where we expect to find God. The Lord, he says, wasn’t in the strong wind, earthquake or fire. Instead, Elijah met God in “a sound. Thin. Quiet.” traditionally translated as “a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).

This coming Wednesday, March 6th, we will look at what a “still, small voice” means to us. 

Quiet comes in many moments in the bible that we might experience something God is trying to speak: 

God commands for God's people to, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10 NRSV).

Isaiah's prophetic presence pulls God's guidance into words, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NRSV).

The Gospel writer of Mark writes Jesus needed to “be still” and listen, too: “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer” before leading the disciples to the next place (Mark 1:35-39 CEB).

We are meeting Wednesdays at 12:00 noon during each week of Lent in the Forest Home Chapel Fellowship Hall to read, talk, pray, and have quiet time. 

Let us journey together as we wander in the desert of Lent, moving things out of the way so we might strengthen our relationship with God, heading to the empty cross that is the promise of new life. 

blessings of hope, 
Rev. Robin Blair


St Louis General Conference Special Session

February 27, 2019

In the Room at The Biblical Truth Buffet 1.0

Representatives from the United Methodist Church (UMC) gathered in St. Louis, MO from across the global connection to decide this single issue: What Is the Way Forward for all God’s people regarding human sexuality. From Saturday’s prayers to Tuesday’s votes, tension filled the cavernous Dome, where the St. Louis Cardinals once played football. But, we in the UMC were not playing although, from my experience, it felt competitive enough, and only certain biblical truths ever made it to the end zone.

History: The call for a way forward was put forth during the 2016 General Conference by the Council of Bishops after a forty-year debate. This call was driven when delegates and visitors responded to the visible pain of the LGBTQIA, a community the church “left behind." The notion that we have allowed some members of the church to be marginalized under the protection of language found in the UMC Book of Discipline (BOD) is sorrowful. That language reads: homosexuality is incompatible with scripture (para 304 BOD http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/homosexuality-full-book-of-discipline-statements). This language, added in 1972, is based upon a few lines of scripture found in Romans (Romans 1:18-32), Corinthians (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), and Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22).

This way of extracting scripture demonstrates the dangers of a biblical-truth buffet. The word and context of "love," for example, is mentioned 574 times in Old Testament alone (NIV through Strong’s Concordance), and in the New Testament, you can see the word, "love" 232 times (NIV https://www.reference.com/art-literature/many-times-love-mentioned-bible-f8eb228f4fe0a4). Portion that against the few lines mentioned previously supporting the language in the BOD. Is not this biblical truth of love worthy of hearty helpings? Knowing love, we are left with hunger satisfied. This idea will be addressed more extensively in another contribution to this blog series, for we need to consider our theologies and how we respond to God’s grace revealed through the text.

This language of love is more important to me than how or whom one loves. Love comes from God, for "God is love" (1 John 4:7-13), naming another biblical truth that seems to have been left off the plate of sisters and brothers in Christ who selectively decide that we should all be of their mind. And those not of like mind? They are invited to leave. Exit plans were discussed and voted on. Again, this issue, which continues to develop even as I write, will be another entry to this blog series.

It is vital to know how this restrictive reading and language manifests itself in our practice of theology. UMC Bishops are forbidden to ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexual people” for spiritual leadership in the church. This despite the candidate's call, service, training, and love for God and God’s people. That such a decision hinges on someone’s sexual identity seems ludicrous to me. Are we not all so much more than our sexual identities? Further, thinking theologically, how we can close doors to those already here, already baptized, or to children we have baptized who have yet to discover their sexual identity. That our institution will not welcome those whom we have baptized and promise the full measure of nurture and love is heartbreaking. It sounds like we want to institutionalize hatred and exclusion: be like those in the position of rulemaking or you will not be counted.

This division has been described by the Council of Bishops President, Ken Carder, as two core theological differences. One group sees mission and outreach while the other sees a literal reading of scripture as “purity” of theology. This seems too reductionist as we are all more complicated than these simple statements. The underlying theological problem is that there is no actual biblical literalist among us, though some claim they are because Scripture is being quoted. We must not forget that only Jesus, God Incarnate, is perfect. The rest of humanity must stumble along trying our best to hear and see God for the common good.

Using a single issue of disagreement over scriptural interpretation to slam doors shut has historical roots in the UMC. The same was done based on scriptures stating, “women should be quiet in the church" (1 Cor 14:34-35), which was used to bar women from positions of leadership. We were appeased with the promise that women will “always beloved and welcome to the church.” Sure, women were needed as Sunday school teachers, cooks in the kitchen, and piano players, and to grow babies for the future of the church. Leadership from the pulpit was not an option for us even if called by God. Finally, this ruling was overturned when we ordained women to full membership with voice and vote in 1955 in the Philippines and in 1956 in North America (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/timeline-of-women-in-methodism). For many, this issue still stings as evidence of sexism still exists in the UMC.

Similar tactics were effectively used in our church history to block blacks from leadership roles. This time, the biblical reference suggested slavery as acceptable (Eph 6:5-6). This rift has had a lasting impact. Shamefully, we have tensions to this day both in our complex history in the USA (http://www.umc.org/resources/timeline-methodism-in-black-and-white) and in the connection in the many countries in Africa (http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/central-conferences) where many of the BOD rules are different than they are in North America. Living our UMC institution is indeed complex.

To me, the tension between “love your neighbor” and “tolerate your neighbor as long as you have all the control” requires theological space that allows room for growth, discovery, adventure, and joy-filled love as invite people to a relationship with the Lord our God. To place walls, barriers, and restrictions upon who can enter these gates with singing and praise is not holy and loving but mean spirited. Those who block entry do so stand at the front of the line not with love but with arrogance. This ruling is not leadership from the majority but fear mongering and harsh judging that will result in more hate in this world. And Jesus speaks to that sin.

Since Jesus did not speak in scripture about homosexuality or anything regarding LGBTQI, these pushing for exclusion used Matthew 19:1-11 where Jesus speaks of divorce and a “marriage between one man and one woman.” This scripture was claimed as their biblical truth. Let me present some questions for thought:

Would a transgender marriage be acceptable? Jesus did not speak to this.

Should we next take up the issue of divorce? The users of this scripture neglected to mention the part of this scripture that speaks to divorce and remarriage as “adulterous." Can we leave this off the biblical-truth buffet? Should clergy that divorce not be held to the same standard of exclusion as our LGBTQAI friends? If "the law is the law," should not we claim all of the law?

If we are going to talk about sexual anything, shall we talk about sexual everything? What about poly-amorous? One man and one woman would seem to exclude a variety of spouses in a single marriage. However, King David and King Solomon both had multiple wives? Is that our biblical truth? While a batch of spouses may not seem palatable, it appears to be a biblical truth? Where is this on the biblical-truth buffet?

In the context of any day in history, do we accept that some of our biblical truths are relevant for the lessons that can be gleaned but are not to be extracted in their literal context to hurt one another? Is there not a context for a day in which we respond to our interpreted texts with the grace that has been poured out for us?

Friends, God is the judge for our humanity whatever those identities, character traits, and flaws might be. Heterosexuality is not a “go straight to heaven” (pun intended) pass. (More on this in another installment of the blog series.)

The vote at General Conference ultimately was cast this way: 438 to affirm harmful language in the BOD and 384 opposed such language. A vote was passed to send the entire plan to the Judicial Council (JC), the adjudicating body of the UMC. The JC will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois. And so, we are still unresolved and will not know anything definitive until after the rulings of the JC are published.

Many blessings and hope. It is a joy to serve God with and among you, and I look forward to our conversations and prayers.

Rev Robin Blair, DMin
2/27/19
 


December 22, 2018

I wanted to write a letter for this blog about Christmas that speaks to the faith, which should come as no surprise as I am a person of faith!  Yet, it seems important to say, out loud.

I honor all the ways folks celebrate the thing that is love this season, but friends, Christmas is not about gifts under the tree. Let’s be plain: gifts symbolize the love we feel for one another, and Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the one whose love made love possible.

This season, the commercialization is bothering me more than other years, perhaps because I have been involved in professional ministry for nearing 20 years, been ordained and hold a Doctorate in Leadership through a theological perspective and specialize in spiritual care of women and children. I am totally invested in the world view that speaks to love being a part of our figurative DNA, that part of us that is elusively called, the soul.  We yearn for love in some form; it can be meaning making through caring for a pet, a family member or a partner/friend. All of those relationships find that love is a journey and is generally reciprocated; we can be grateful, even joy-filled with this reality.

We know all that is good comes from the Lord our God, and even though we question the miracle of Jesus’ birth, the mystery of our faith, or the announcement of the angels, we somehow know love what it is genuine.  Somehow, life becomes worth living in all languages (including those with words), when we realize we are not alone and the spiritual truth that is love can be experienced. Praise be to God!

So I am asking that each one of us brings a little Jesus to each party, each cookie tray, or each coffee with a friend as we notice the lights, decorated trees, and mall muzak in the speakers.  If you can say – Oh Come All Ye Faithful – before you sip, nibble or use the credit card – praise be to God.  You will have remembered why we celebrate with such hoopla each year. 

We celebrate the birth of the One who came to know us, that we should know the character of God and that God is an unstoppable force in the universe.  That presence is love between each living thing, in each language.   I say each living thing’s language because the language of the trees in relationship to air, or the birds and migration, or the whale that travels through the sea for food and survival – all move on love and instinct.  As people, we do the same; and we make a choice to be aware of that over which we we can have great influence, like the respect for the trees and air that they might do what they are meant to do.  Or  like the birds we help feed before they fly south for the winter and like whales that need to swim in water not surrounded with islands of plastic that ruin food sources and speak to the waste we humans inhabit.

Caring for all that lives on and around the planet starts with love – and love, starts with God and God, is known, through Christ.

September 28, 2018 

Dear Loved Ones,

Watching the media coverage yesterday of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh - I was as emotionally exhausted as I imagine so many of you were.  What a mess. What a spiritually confusing tangle of truth, peace, love, honesty, courage, and fear. I cried and cried at the pain of it all for lots of reasons. Maybe you did, too. 

It is possible that all the testimony and who is holding a truth and who is not, triggered spiritual issues or questions for you.  I want you to know that if you need  spiritual direction or just your have pastor to be available to listen, I am here for you. 

This situation is really is more than "he said, she said" in terms of truthfulness, I think.  Dr. Ford is totally believable, her recollections as she presented them are consistent with the memories and sensibilities of someone who has endured a traumatic event of rape, incest, sexual abuse or sexual crime;  if you would like to read a bit more about what that means, there are a variety of resources and here are two of them: 

https://www.rainn.org/articles/adult-survivors-child-sexual-abuse

http://www.aaets.org/article178.htm

I hope it deepens your compassion for those people that you know who carry this burden of trauma, and who carry it in a culture that does not prioritize its healing and end. 

I don't know how to relate to Brett Kavanaugh's testimony, except to say that his inability to hold a more even emotional temperament without anger is very concerning.  His arrogance at tossing questions back to the women on the committee is also concerning since they were not questions relating to clarity (do you like beer Senator Klobuchar?) were jaw-dropping in this process.  If a woman of any stripe had done that - there would be no end to the criticism.  

And that he felt entitled to behave like a 12 year old who was told he had to go to bed early because he used a 'bad word' to his parents or some such infraction of the rules for which he needed to be punished or disciplined, was confusing.  This man is a judge who hears all information before making/passing judgements that cause people's lives to be permanently impacted? Really?

That Kavanaugh did not speak gently of a women who had clearly been traumatized and that he was innocent could have been demonstrated in many ways, but he did not do that gentle, measured, intelligent and compassionate response addressing his innocence.   He displayed his belligerent, entitled self.  He demonstrated he was indignant of the process itself, furious that he had to be there and while I can only imagine how awful it was to be accused of such ugly actions, the mature response needed, to my way of thinking in this very elite and pivotal moment in time where brightest and the best, the most intelligent and compassionate, the most reasoned and helpful people in our country are held to a very high standard, was not shown to the American people by Kavanaugh.  

How to understand something deeper about this man evaporated yesterday because his immature emotional response overwhelmed; to be in control of his emotions while expressing them, not hiding them, was not a part of his strategy.  It was more like being in a middle school cafeteria during a fight.  I have expect a slice of pizza to go flying through the room. 

It was hard to hear his truth over his claims of being the victim in the process.  I have great fear if he is moved forward in this process - just from his behavior in this process.  Spiritually speaking, I believed him to be a liar who was arguing with peers as in Mark's gospel, 9th chapter: "who is the greatest?" and Jesus  said, "the one who helps the vulnerable, of course."   So, in all those Sundays you say you went to church Brett - were you listening to anything?  

Finally, I cannot help but wonder if the midterms were not fast approaching, would the committee have already passed on this candidate because of the stink that comes with him?  

Survivors of sexual trauma and abuse, there are those of us who know you are indeed of value and who will believe you.  You are not alone.  You are in my prayers and if I can be of service, do not hesitate to call.

Sincerely, 
Rev Robin Blair, DMin
Pastor, Forest Home Chapel
Spiritual Director
Founder, Common Good Radio 


For my first blog at Forest Home Chapel (the Chapel) I thought it might be nice to share some of what I perceive to be core values we focus on and pray over, here.  It is not a big reveal because all you need to do is wander the website and you will see scripture embodied by this loving community of folks serving the “least of these” who deal with food insufficiency, or who need warm clothes, school supplies or even clean underwear from the elementary school nurse. 

You will see, “make a joyful noise” as we offer worship with community- out-loud prayer and song, drenched in the spirit of hope and love as we “pass the handshake of peace” in the very beginning of worship Sunday morning.

And you will witness, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” sprinkled everywhere in all we aim to do as a congregation of the UMC.  If you join us for worship, you will experience it, too.

So, I want to share that the Chapel is a historic, progressive United Methodist Church that welcomes all, worships sincerely, challenges the status quo, and seeks to transform the world through God's love. Drawing upon long-established rituals and spiritualities, the Chapel delights to be a place of safety, positive change within Christianity, within our denomination, within our own souls, and in the world.  We stand firmly in unity with all our brothers and sisters who yearn for our UMC Book of Discipline to be updated and remove the language that restricts persons of the LGBTQ+ community to be ordained and married in our sanctuaries by our clergy. We believe it is so harmful to have this institutional hurt a real thing.  We pray for God’s blessing to be poured out to all God’s people.  We also stand in resistance to all the ism’s that separate us – for with God, “all things are possible.”

The Chapel’s mission is based on its statement of call to deepen faith through worship and challenging study, to create engaged community through inclusiveness and caring, and to transform the world through active service and prophetic leadership.  We hold Micah 6:8 in our hearts as we ponder with the prophet: And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 

This scripture gave rise to our mission statement:
To embrace God’s will for our community through education, compassion and justice.

The Chapel sits on the edge of Cornell University’s campus, and just a few miles from the Ithaca College campus. We have students, staff and faculty from both schools in our congregation and as part of our ministry we honor education.  We honor compassionate living as we reach out with love’s response to what has been given to us, and we seek justice for those whose justice seems a distant dream: we march in protests if we find the cause just – like a solution to school shooting and gun violence, like spiritual justice in our institution for the LGBTQ+ community, like ending racism and sexism. 

We collaborate on ideas, projects, ministries and even paint colors – the entire lower level was recently renovated and the congregation still stands!

We also aim to practice radical hospitality & inclusion so that when you are here, you feel loved. And we aim to build partnerships with local efforts to make the world a bit kinder, gentler or joy-filled because it speaks to the notion of beloved community, and we find ourselves committed to that ideal.

If you would like to explore the idea that says, Love the Lord your God with your passion, prayer, intelligence and energy, AND love others as you love yourself. Then I invite you to join us at the Chapel.  You will be most welcomed to bring your gifts and grace to a place where you can belong.  Then we send you out into the mission field to share what has been given to you.

These are some of the core values lived at Forest Home Chapel UMC, Ithaca, NY. Praise be to God!