Saturday, December 21, 2013

Love is Love

(This open letter is written to the students of Eastside Catholic in support of their protests against the dismissal of their principal Mark Zmuda for marrying his partner over the summer.  Here's the link to the intial story: Eastside Catholic students rally around ousted vice principal )

Dear sisters and brothers at Eastside Catholic:

Thank you.

Thank you for your faithful, loving witness on behalf of both your principles and your principal.  Thank you for the risks you are taking with those beautiful smiles on your faces.  Thank you for the truth you are telling with chants, writing and song.  You are all amazing.

There are many of us on this spectrum of Christianity that agree with you and are excited about and supportive of your call to reinstate your newly married principal to his position.  Your call for justice and fairness is echoing far beyond the halls of your school and filling many of our hearts with joy, hope and excitement.  Again, thank you.

Bishop Sartain is a good person and fulfilling the commitments of his position.  I both mourn this action and understand that it is consistent with what what some believe.  However, doesn't mean we should ever just settle in to our different positions with a shrug of our shoulders.  We are entrusted by God with the obligation to disagree with each other in ways that are loving, persistent and graceful.  I'm convinced that, somewhere in our journey of struggle and honesty, we create a path that makes way for truth.  It is our shared and sacred responsibility as children of God to speak up when we see injustice; to march forward with the hope our leaders will soon follow; and to celebrate love at all times as well as in all the ways it binds people together.

Love is love.  God is love.  Thank you for teaching us more about love's wide embrace.

God bless you all.


The Rev. Michael Denton
Conference Minister of
The Pacific Northwest Conference of

The United Church of Christ

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Blog post: PNCUCC News column on church conflict...

(This article is in the most recent issue of the PNCUCC News.  Check it out!  Since it invites feedback, I'm publishing it here, too.)

As you can imagine, a good bit of my time is spent learning about churches in conflicts of one sort or another.  I've been involved in regional  church work for about 10 years now, and - for better and for worse - this means I've seen, heard or been involved in a pretty wide spectrum of what church conflicts can be.  

Church conflicts are not getting easier.  Church conflicts have never been simple because of the personal nature of faith, traditions and the sense of ownership many have about their churches but in the last 10 year I've been doing this work church conflicts have become meaner and more entrenched (and, as I mentioned in a previous article, one of the primary reasons people are distancing themselves from churches).  The style of church fights seem to be more and more influenced by the style of our political fights than any of the ideals laid out in the gospels or the epistles.  Instead of our churches seeking to model healthy conflict for the world, we seem to model more and more of our conflicts after the most dysfunctional, messy conflicts that are tearing the world apart.

We can do better.  We need to do better.  So, let me throw out five things that I think would help.

1. Get to know each other.  I know this might be self evident and most church communities think they're friendly but being friendly and knowing each other are not the same thing.  Many churches end up moving in to conflict because folks don't have the relational base to solve disagreements in better ways.  That time of coffee after church?  Committee meetings?  Volunteer opportunities?  Mission trips?  Retreats?  Faith formation classes?  Bible study?  These aren't just central to church life because of the content of these activities but because of how these activities help build relationships and community.  As these activities decrease, more difficult conflicts increase or, just as worse, apathy settles in and smothers congregations.

2. Pray for each other and with each other...  especially if you're in conflict.  What is your community being called to do?  What is your church's vocation?  Prayer is weird and beautiful and I really don't understand it and I know that doing it makes a difference.  If you're courageous, specifically ask those you disagree with to pray for you.  Which reminds me...

3. Be courageous.  Yep.  Every conflict, every single one, requires courage.  Every conflict, every single one, is just as much about what people aren't saying as what they are saying.  Folks hold back about what something means to them or what their stake in a decision is.  Sometimes, the main reason people are involved in a conflict is because a person they consider to be their friend is involved and they're taking sides (see #1 and #2).  Be courageous enough to disagree with your friends and name what is true for you.  Otherwise, conflicts will just get bigger and bigger and encourage people to take sides when compromise might have been possible.

4. If money is not the issue, do not make money the issue.  This is huge.  I can understand people being hesitant to give financially to a community if the stewardship of that money is the primary concern.  There is some logic in that.  But, withholding monies or offering monies to try and manipulate the mission of a church is a betrayal of the whole community and a form of hostage taking or bribery.  The community discerns what their call is and choosing to be part of a community means that you do not always get what you want.  Belonging to a church means sharing what you can.  If you can no longer do this because you are not called to the same mission the rest of the church is called to, you need to seriously consider seeking out a new church community; graciously and kindly.  If there are folks in your church doing this, listen to them, pray with and for them and - if it becomes clear that their vocation and the vocation of the church are incompatible - except their resignation graciously and kindly.

5. Make.  A.  Decision.  In the end, we can't do everything and can't make everyone 100% happy.  Churches' tortured decision making processes are what makes many conflicts so painful.  The majority of church conflicts aren't because the church can't make a decision but because they won't.  Read #1-#4 one more time, please.  Its not difficult to find resources that might be helpful, here.  Carefully consider if some of the same resources you use in your family or work life to manage conflict might apply.

What are some other things you'd add?  I'm going to be posting this article to my blog ( and on our conference Facebook page (  Feel free to add your own suggestions, there.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 12/10/13: Mary

(This is a prayer I wrote for 12/6/11.  It was on the tail end of the Occupy moment and at there were similar uprisings occurring in Russia, at the time.)

Inspired by Isaiah 1:46-55

God of Mary the Teenager,
God of the Let-Down and Lowly,
God of the Filled-up Hungry and the emptied rich;
We have been waiting for you.
We have been longing for you.
We have been hoping for you.
Some things are not quite right.
This world of ours is off-kilter - spinning all wobbly – and it seems like some
are falling
The impoverished are being flung off in to the outer darkness as others laugh at the spectacle of it all.  Children are choking on the air.  Greed is being celebrated as a Darwinian virtue.  Love is being criminalized.  We keep finding new ways to be violent.

Why should we complain, though? Where is our thankfulness?  We are here, in this safe place, right? We are here, in this safe place, right?  We are here in this safe place, right?  It is safe here.  We are fed.  It is safe here. We are safe with these fences around us, right?  They are here to keep others out, right?  They keep out the wildness.  They keep us safe, like cattle.

Much safer than a world where God is held in belly of some teenage girl with, likely, brown skin and, likely, dark hair who is, likely, poor.  Much safer than a world where God scatters the proud and deposes the powerful and calls this “mercy.”  Much safer than a world where God seems so small you need a soul like a magnifying glass to make God bigger.

Oh God, help me. I am so impatient and so tired.  Fling open the cynical squint of my eyes in the midday and, then, help my fearful eyes close in the middle of the night.

“Be not afraid,” you say… 
I am finding this difficult, I confess…

Help me look in to the eyes of that pregnant, teenaged girl and be in awe of her certainty; her assuredness; her excitement.  Help me to sing along with her like it’s a lullaby; like it's a hip-hop rhyme; like it’s a protesting, marching chant.

“FOR THE MIGHTY ONE HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME!!!!!!!”  May I yell it like one of those deep belly yells that makes my throat ache.

(For the Mighty One has done great things for me…) May I whisper it over and over again like a mantra.

And, then, maybe…  Just, maybe…

Justice will roll down like


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 11/26/13: Beat

(Inspired by Isaiah 2:1-5)

We have beat the ploughshares into 
swords and
coal-carrying trains and
missile-firing drones and
pollution-belching smoke stacks and

We have beat our pruning hooks into
spears and
life-disrupting mobile this or thats and
earth-ravishing chemicals and
ever-meaningless coins and

We have beat our people into
defeated-depression and
soul-crushing submission and
life-devaluing objects and
prescription-enhanced servants and

the earth itself feels the weight of every step and
the sky itself has become weighted and
hope feels more and more like an advertising slogan and less like something that is


It is, though, 

"something that is real.”


Because there is a difference between being "beat" and "beaten" and
THIS is the difference 
that makes every oligarch shudder and
every abuser worry and
and every oppressor wake
in the middle of the night
in a 



There are arms out there strong enough to beat those swords into ploughshares.
There are feet out there strong enough to stomp those spears into pruning hooks.
There are backs strong enough to break chains and
Those people who have been beat?

They have not been beaten 

and they can beat


(beat beat

beat beat

beat beat

beat beat…)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 11/12/13: Storm's Rage

(All photos of the Philippines, pre-Typhoon Haiyan,  by Frederica Helmiere)

Inspired by Isaiah 65:17-25

Dear God:

When storms rage,
When towns are swept away,
When children suffer,
it is hard
to believe

When our hearts rage,
When serenity is swept away,
When confidence suffers,
it is hard
to believe

How will we appreciate
this “new heaven?”
How will we appreciate
this “new earth?”


we haven’t

figured out how

to appreciate

this one?


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 11/5/13: Cutting Teeth

Tuesday Prayer for 11/5/13

Inspired by Psalm 145

Dear God:

These sounds of early morning teething and reading the Psalms seem to go together.  The sounds of wailing and gnashing of, well, gums seems to match the sorrow and the pain in these songs.  My son has not had pain quite like this before.  It is not something I know but something that there are only deep memories of.  When I hear him cry, it seems like this is a flaw in our creation.  Our bodies seem to rebel against themselves to do something normal.  It is bone slowly cutting through flesh.

And billions of people have all gone through this.  And millions of other parents are thinking similar things…


I was once told that you really can’t pray the Psalms until after you turn thirty.
The pain and reality you thought might be passing you begin to realize
is permanent
and real
and cumulative.
It takes awhile to really get 
Psalm weary and
Psalm angry and
Psalm tired and
Psalm frustrated.

It takes awhile to get
Psalm desperate.

“God fulfills the desire of all who fear God;
    God also hears their cry, and saves them.

God watches over all who love God,
    but will destroy all the wicked.”

These are strange prayers and I pray them.
These are strange songs and sing them.

I do not always believe in the kind of G-d that they call for but
There are days I pretend to and
On those days,

I am comforted.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 10/15/13: Presence


Dear God:

One:  What has you weary this week?
All: (Silence)
One: What would you like to give up?
All:  (Silence)
One: What are you still called to do even though you might be tired doing it?
All:  (Silence)
One: What are you called not to do, anymore?
All: (Silence)


One:  God, help us know you are present.
Many:  Help us breath in life and renewal;
One:  Sit next to us in those moments of weariness and exhaustion;
Many:  Hold us as we seek persistence and wisdom;
One:  Celebrate with us as we find release and forgiveness. God, help us know you are present.
Many: God, help us know you are present.  Amen.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

9-24-13 Tuesday Prayer (a day late): More Than This...

Tuesday Prayer for 9/24/13: More than this...

Inspired by Jeremiah 32:13a, 6-15; Luke 16:19-31; and Seamus Heaney

One: Is this really what we have?  This land this land soaked with waste and short-sightedness?  This land paved over with parking lots and roadways?  This land that we fight and kill over?  There must be...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  Is this really what we have?  These people soaked with violence and greed?  These people used and abused by those who are addicted to power and wealth?  These people who fight and kill each other?  There must be...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  Is this really what we have?  These souls soaked with cowardice and grandiosity?  These souls broken and crushed and twisted and cold?  These souls lost and forgotten?  There must be...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  There must be...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  There must be...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  There must be more than this...  There is that water, air and decay that heals that land and makes way for the life that was sleeping; waiting; that tree that breaks through the pavement and makes it dirt again; the peace that is stronger than the green things that break through and make the cracks in the sidewalk.  There is...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  We are that people through whom flows hope and commitment; the people who rise up on a great warm wind and are set free from that which burdens us; the people who create peace and give shape to justice.  There is...
Many: ...more than this.
One:  We have these souls that, although sometimes painfully bent, cannot break; souls that are fed by courage and give birth to life; souls connected to the source of all souls and great love; souls that always - always - are closer to more beginnings than endings.  There is...
Many: ...more than this.
One: That rumble is not the end.  That rumble is not the end.  That rumble is grace and hope and love and peace and forgiveness and freedom and emerging like a belly laugh from deep within God.
 "History says, don't hope on this side of the grave.
All: But then, once in a lifetime, the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme."
One: This may be that time.  Right now.  This very moment.
All: (Silence)
One: Let all God's people say..
All: (loudly) Amen!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 9/17/13: Gravity

Inspired by 1st Timothy 2:1-7

So, this is what I say;
Let them fall.
Let them fall.
Let them fall, fail, fly and flee.

Let me push,
when need be.

Gravity has a way of

Of strengthening when being denied,
Of opening herself up and saying
Rest here.  
Come sit with the rest of us.
You have not died.

You have not died.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for 9-3-13: Searing

Dear God;

There are images I
get out of my head:

these cocoons
shrouded in white
in an endless line...

some are heartbreakingly small
some faces tinged blue
same faces forever afraid

these cocoons
shrouded in white
in an endless line...


This is what always happens when
Missiles are launched or
Food is denied or
Plague comes or
Bullets fly or
Bombs explode or
(                         or)

these cocoons
shrouded in white
in an endless line...

As these things go,
as they always seem to go,
as there is a response to the outrage
(that will create outrage)
after the missiles fly

these cocoons
shrouded in white
in an endless line...

We do not end it
By adding to it but...
We do not know how to end it
Or we refuse to, at least.
The arch of the fist is already in motion.
It has momentum.
It has momentum.

(The other night I had a dream or
maybe it was just a vision of
these cocoons
shrouded in white
in an endless line...
As the sun warmed them
one of them began to move
and the shroud began to rip
and I was afraid
until this child, this beautiful child,
stood up,
wiped her eyes like in the morning and
stretched her arms back like new wings
and laughed with death fracturing joy and
as she did
these cocoons
shrouded in white
in an endless line...

The sky was torn open by the sound of
death shrouds
ripping and
death fracturing laughter made the earth rumble
and waken those long buried.

And we joined them, we all joined them,
and empires melted
and dictators relented
and hunger was forgotten
and the missiles turned to dust
and plague was healed
and the gas dissipated
and the guns were put in the graves of the once buried

There was laughter everywhere
There was laughter everywhere
There was laughter everywhere)


Friday, August 16, 2013

Some sabbatical reading....

I've been reading lots of fiction and catching up on periodicals but a couple books have really stood out.  Both of these books have stuck with me past reading them:

Rich Church, Poor Church
by J. Clif Christopher:  So, what's a book about church stewardship have to do with decision making?  Pretty much, everything it turns out.  This book could have been as easily titled Thriving Church, Sick Church.  The author's theology is more conservative than mine and his understanding of church leadership is sometimes too pastor-centered but his basic points are compelling and thought provoking.  Its worth the work of theological translation in order to get the wealth this book shares.  Its intended as a study book with questions at the end of each chapter.  A couple key quotes?  
  • "In the Poor Church, you will hear of discipleship, but in reality the domination decision-making factor is appeasement."  
  • "Do al of your people understand what the mission of your church is?  Is this mission a unifying factor in your church?"
  • "Bad decisions regarding debt will cripple a church faster than just about anything... Debt can be forever and it is unforgiving."
  • "There is a humbleness of attitude in the Rich Church and a pervasive arrogance of attitude in the Poor Church."
  • "The Rich Church will almost always mandate classes for anyone seeking to join the church."
  • "Persons joining the Rich Church are constantly reminded that they are just getting started in Christian life...  In the Poor Church, the attitude is that once a person joins, he or she is finished with his or her obligations."
  • "The Rich Church has systems in place to ensure that leaders are indeed leading."
That's really just a start.  I found this book but thoughtful and thought provoking.

The Anatomy of Revolution by Crane Brinton:  This is an older book (first published in 1938) that was part of that pile of books I've been planning to read for a long time.  It's a study of four different revolutionary movements build on more of a biological model.  Although bone dry at some points and annoyingly academic at others there's still a richness in the text.  I found myself relating many of its points about the unfolding of revolutions to church conflict.  Here are some quotes related to church conflict and religion that jumped out.
  • "Our revolutions, then, clearly were not born in societies economically retrograde; on the contrary, they took place in societies economically progressive."  Otherwise, the revolutions studied in this book did not come when things were at their worse but when things had started to get better.
  • "In each revolution there is a point, or several points, where constituted authority is challenged by the illegal acts of revolutionists.  In such instances, the routine response is to have recourse to force, police or military.  Our authorities made such a response, but in each case with a striking lack of success."
  • "The moderates, then, do not really believe in the big words they use.  They do not believe a heavenly perfection is suddenly coming to men on earth.  They are all for compromise, common sense, toleration, comfort.  In a normal society, these desires are part of their strength and give them hold over their fellows, who share at least their desire for comfort.  But in these three revolutions large numbers of men were for the moment lifted by desire and emotion to a point where they seemed to despise even comfort.  The moderates could not deal politically with such men; they could not take the first steps which are necessary if such men are to be understood... For we are here in a land fabulous but real, where the wisdom and common sense of the moderate are not wisdom and common sense, but folly."
  • "What separates these revolutionaries from traditional Christianity is most obviously their insistence on having their heaven here, now, on earth, their impatient intent to conquer evil once and for all.  Christianity in its traditional forms has long since, not by any means given up the moral struggle, but given up its chiliastic hopes - the hopes it had when it was young and revolutionary, the hopes of the immediate Second Coming of Christ.  By distinguishing between this world and the next world, the natural and the supernatural or divine, Christianity can bridge the gap between what men are and have and what man want to be and want to have.  This gap your revolutionary knows well enough.  He proposed, however, not to bridge it, but to fill it in or leap over it.  He often ends, where the mystic begins, by persuading himself the gap isn't really there."
  • "As Ferrero has put it, when the 'silken threads' of habit, tradition, legality are broken, men must be held together in society by the 'iron chains' of dictatorship." Dictatorship in a church can make it a cult of personality but it does bring up the need for strong leadership and commitment when bringing systemic change.

Friday, July 12, 2013

July '13 CM Report

  • Sabbatical: I’ll be starting sabbatical (my first ever!) next week and my first day back in the office will be October 15th.  
    • Although a good deal of my time will be practicing the “sabbath” part of sabbatical-ing (I am going to try and match Leo’s napping schedule, for example), I’m also going to be exploring the subject of decision making from the perspective of different organizations, different fields and brain science.  I’m really pretty excited about it and have a good sized pile of books I’ll be working through the next few months as well as a conversation or two with some experts.  As you might imagine, one of my primary roles is accompanying individuals, churches, committees and institutional structures as they move through various discernment and decision making processes.  I want to learn more so I can share more.  I’ll be posting occasional updates and reviews of what I’m reading on my blog (Thoughts and Prayers) if you’d like to keep up.
    • While I’m away, if there’s anything you’re seeking that you’d normally call me for, contact Arlene.  For those of you who might not know her, Arlene Hobson is out Executive Administrator.  Our office number is 206-725-8383 and Arlene’s email address is  Although we have many of my tasks covered, please be patient with those in our conference structures when - inevitably - something comes up that’s outside those systems we’ve set up.  
    • Do know that I will not be able to receive emails, phone calls or any other work related communication while I’m gone.  I ask your prayers for rest, refreshment and new insights.  THANK YOU FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY!!!!!!!
  • General Synod:  For those of you who follow the Pacific Northwest Conference listserv, you saw some of the wonderful reflections on General Synod from our delegation and visitors (if you’re not on our listserv, please sign up!  Its a great way to keep up on PNC news.  Click on this link to get instructions).  I really appreciate the snapshots of conference life that our moderator, Tim Devine, shares with the conference!  There are a few actions of Synod, in particular, that I’d encourage you to keep your eye on or check out:
  • Insurance Assistance Fund: You’re going to be hearing more about this soon, but we need to increase those monies that are part of the PNC Insurance Assistance Fund.  These monies are used to help support those retired clergy and smaller churches that could not afford to pay for health insurance, otherwise.  In many cases, we’re talking about retired clergy that served churches others would not; congregations that served rural or isolated settings with small memberships.  Many of the churches we support are in some sort of transition or in communities where the voice of a more inclusive form of Christianity is small.  This is important work for both the health of our congregations and pastors.  If you are so called, please consider sending a check to the Pacific Northwest Conference with “For the Insurance Assistance Fund” written on the memo line.  Thank you!
OK, that’s it for now.  See you all in a few months and, again, if you’d like to see an occasional sabbatical report, take a look at my blog: Thoughts and Prayers .

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Flooding: Tuesday Prayer for 6/25/13

Inspired by 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Dear God:

These days are long ones.

I feel the guilt of every task delayed one more day because previously undone tasks became urgent.  It is the small things that feel big, the big things that I try to do too quickly and the unimportant things that I turn to too often because I can hide there looking busy as my anxiety flies around
(like a swarm of bees).
I swear that I can feel the weight of each new email as it drops into my inbox.  I fool myself into thinking that if I don’t listen to a voicemail it doesn’t quite count.

And, then, these are the small things.  Because, then, I read the paper or listen to the radio and people are killing each other and people are DECIDING TO LIGHT THE PLANET ON FIRE and people are protesting and people are indignant and people are trying to change things and I know I will join them

right after I catch up on email.

The diapers...  These are a new thing.  Yes, here is the stink of happiness and messy, wonderful reality.  There is nothing more important than this happiness and this laugh and these new teeth.  
Nothing.  I will set everything aside for the smile that comes after this smile and too figure out what our boy needs when he can’t quite speak it, yet.

All those other things and people - however - already use their words.  Frequently.  Insistently.

These days are long ones and, sometimes, It feels like someone left the faucet and the tub is overflowing and I keep mopping trying to figure out why the mopping doesn’t take care of this flood.

(Deep breath..)

(and again...)

(and again...)

These days are long ones.  They are full ones.

God, if I can’t turn off that faucet, would you mind parting the waters?
A little dry land would be lovely.
If not, could you help me find an island of dry land?
A little time alone would be lovely.
If not, might you send a boat my way?
A sailboat would be lovely.
If not, could you remind me how to float?
Taking a little time to stare at the stars would be lovely.

Let me try that again:
(Deep breath..)

(and again...)

(and again...)

(there is the sound of birds, now. the sound of my child waking, now.  the sound of rain, now. the strangely comforting sound of the dishwasher, now.  the sound of my breath... and my breath...  and my breath... now.)

And the waters

These things, these people, this family, this place, this day, these tasks...
They are lovely.
They might be a tapestry that grows things if I just nurture and pray and love
and pray and love and pray and love
and pray and love and pray and love
and pray and love and pray and love.....


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday Prayer for June 11th, 2013: First Father's Day

I am his father and
he is my son and
I am at his feet as I
hold him up over my head
just to hear him giggle.

He thinks I am wonderful for no other reason than I can do


right now

(at the moment he most needed it).

I am at his feet and

he is looking down at me and

his giggle washes over me like

the most




(at the moment I most needed it).

My sins and my father’s and his father’s and his father’s are all washed away by these blessed giggles of this blessed child.
This is grace and beauty and forgiveness and hope.
This little boy.

I know there will be other days but
this one...
this day... good.

I am his father and
he is my son and
I am at his feet as I
hold him up
over my head
to hear
him giggle.