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