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By Billie K. Fidlin, DSC Director of Outreach & Justice

Welcome to the June offering of Where Love Lives, with its theme: Committed to Diversity: Difference and diversity are not just words.

The Apostle Paul described the Holy as close by, not being far from any one of us. If we choose to distance ourselves from God, we become increasingly disconnected from all that lives and moves and has our being. In order for we as God’s children to become fully enriched in all that Creator has to offer us, relationship with the Holy and Creation is necessary. Relationship with God, and relationship with each other. Acts 17:28 states “for in Him we move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, We are his offspring.” Note that there is no reference to tribe or nation, color of skin, or language. Note that this passage clearly says “we” are the Holy’s offspring – God’s children. No division, no judgment – just “we”. All – of “we”. The acceptance of all God’s family. Should we choose to reject one or another, should we choose to defame one another, should we choose to hurt one another by judging ourselves and our differences as better than another, we are in process of damaging our relationship with God, and of course our relationship with one of God’s offspring – one of our faith family members. In other words – we are hurting a member of our family. 

Might we embrace a life-long philosophy and practice of celebrating what makes each of us unique and a commitment to inclusion in all that we are a part of? We should always be examining – who is missing from this conversation? Who is missing from the decision table? Who is missing, who is present – AND – why. If every person of every unique creation was at every table and this was the norm, it might be different. But that is not the case. And, if someone is missing at the table and for some reason can’t be present, let us take the initiative to invite, or to seek out that person’s opinion or views or input. Easy enough. There is no excuse for exclusion. There is always a way. Difference and diversity are indeed more than words, they are a call to action.

We are people of faith and with that comes the responsibility to embrace fully the teachings of the Word, and act with integrity and promise as we seek perfection. How we act, how we talk matters. How we accept, or how we reject, matters. Might we struggle at times? Might we say something without thought of how it will impact another? Yes. But as we become more and more aware, we can grow and do better. We can find the courage to right any wrong. We can be who we were created to be, children of God. God the Father, of all Creator’s children.

The thought around this theme of “Difference and diversity are not just words” is important for each of us to reflect on. What a wonderful opportunity we have to really think about this as we continue our journey of finding exactly where, Love lives, and how we will act upon that love. On your morning walk tomorrow, while gazing at the stars, or enjoying that cup of tea – think about these opportunities for you to join us, your fellow offspring.

We offer you both a video for use in worship and weekly devotions. Thank you to Rev. Khalif Smith, Rev. Javier Olivares, Pastor Sylvia Harris, Rev. Efrain Zavala, and Deb Williams for their contributions and blessings.

Video Message

Book Recommendations

Instructions

Click here to access the video above or the book recommendations as downloadable files or click on each title below to read them now.

Book Recommendations for Additional Reading
  1. Anxious to Talk About It: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully about Racism by Carolyn B. Helsel
  2. Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. by Lenny Duncan
  3. Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison
  4. Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson (thanks for this recommendation, Billie)
  5. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Bevery Daniel Tatum
  6. The Religion of White Supremacy in the United States by Eric A. Weed**
  7. After Heresy: Colonial Practices and Post-Colonial Theologies**
  8. The Christian Imagination: Theology & the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
  9. The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong by Karen Gonzalez
Books on the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ siblings include:
  1. Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality by Steve Harper
  2. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak
  3. Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  4. We Shall Not Be Moved: Methodists Debate Race, Gender, and Homosexuality by Jane Ellen Nickell
  5. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines
  6. Bible Gender Sexuality: Refraiming the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationship by James V Brownson
  7. On Sexuality and Scripture: Essays, Bible Studies, and Personal Reflections by the Chicago Consultation, the Ujamaa Centre, and Their Friends edited by Masiiwa Ragies Gunda & Jim Naughton***

Weekly Devotions

Instructions

Click here to access the weekly devotions as downloadable files or click on each title below to read them now.

Devotion 1: Words Matter. By Pastor Sylvia Harris

Scripture Reading: Genesis 16

“Words matter.” I have told my children time and time again, “Words matter.” I remember as a child the playground taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Talk about a lie. Words hurt—words scar. Words can tear you down or build you up. But more than that, words without actions turn into hypocrisy that rots the soul.

           Growing up in Western Maryland, I was rooted in The United Methodist Church through strong Evangelical United Brethren family roots. Holiness mixed with justice was something I saw lived out daily by my family. They went on work camps, engaging in direct action to help people hardest hit by everything from systemic poverty to destructive storms. Meanwhile, my grandma exposed me to the writings of strong women, like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, as well as the teachings of various Native American traditions. She had a way of mingling these diverse ways of living in the world with a relationship with Jesus Christ and justice for our neighbors that marked my soul. By her example, my mother taught me to push back on anyone or anything which said I wasn’t able. Whether it was studying engineering or auditioning for the lead in a play, she encouraged me that who I was, was enough. I learned through their words but understood by their lives how to be in the world. 

           Despite their best efforts, it took me time to lean into the truth of who I am. I wore masks and tried out different roles which made sense in the constructs of the world. I filtered myself and only acted from the margins to support those who were marginalized. I believed it was through quiet, subtle means the words of the world would be changed. And then, over time, and probably in another lifetime or two, the world’s actions would catch up to the words. But I started to realize something: without actions, words turn into hypocrisy that rots the soul. And eventually, rotten souls will rot a family, a community, a congregation, and the whole Church. Difference and diversity cannot be just words unless we want to continue to destroy ourselves from the inside out.

            When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, I remember looking at my three-year-old son and thinking that could be him one day. Then I started thinking, what if he is actually she and I just don’t know it yet? And if that’s the case, what would her life look like? As I looked at my two daughters, a newborn and one-year-old at the time, along with my son, I wondered what their lives would look like if their father were suddenly taken from them? I am not equipped to have conversations about racial injustices and need him, as a black man, to be part of those exchanges. As a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman, the diversity in my family was suddenly so much more than I had previously understood. I want to raise my children like my mom and grandma, but who the world sees when they look at my children is nothing like who they see when they look at me. The lessons and conversations my husband and I must have with them are nothing like the lessons and conversations from my childhood. And the reason for that, 57 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is because difference and diversity have been just words. A law does not change the heart.

           Unfortunately, for most of us, it takes a personal experience like I’ve talked about for the words of change to take root, so we begin to act. We are so busy doing our own thing, living our own lives, we fail to understand the web of life and how we affect others. So many people don’t change their views on the full inclusion of all people in the Church’s life until they know someone denied their full humanity in the body of Christ. I can’t leave who I am (married, white, heterosexual, cisgender female, and mother) outside the Church’s walls any more than anyone else can leave their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, marital or parental status. We identify people with so many different constructs, using our words to make categories of worthiness and unworthiness in the eyes of humanity. But our God sees us in truth and loves us in light.

           The story of the slave-girl in Genesis is one of namelessness by humanity. During her lifetime, society’s constructs left her without a name, only to be referred to by her worldly, social status. At least, that is how the other characters in her story reference her. As Sarai and Abram approach the lack of an heir in their lives, they look to surrogacy. It was not a new concept for the ancient near east. So, these two pillars of the faith took it upon themselves to engage in a normalized practice by using their property, an Egyptian slave-girl, to secure an heir. Never in the account of her life do Abraham or Sarah refer to this girl by name. It is only from the narrator and the angel of the Lord we learn her name: Hagar. 

           We overlook humanity, classifying people by the various statuses and labels we’ve constructed for categorizing purposes. We fail to see one another as people, we fail to hear one another as worthy, we fail to understand one another as children of God. Because we are so busy using our words, we fail to act. We fail to do the work of justice. The justice work I saw as a child was the work of physical labor to restore people’s basic needs. The justice work for today is about actions for equity. We have given words, saying all people are worthy and welcome here; open hearts, open minds, open doors. And yet, we ignore where minds are only open to what is already known, hearts are fearful of something different, and doors are left propped open, ready to slam shut at a moment’s notice. If we want difference and diversity to be more than words, we need to address what keeps us masked as false versions of ourselves. If our Church is going to live authentically in the 21st century, we need to be honest about whether or not we will be a home for all.

           I’ve found myself reflecting on how Sarai and Abram reacted to Hagar taking it upon herself to have agency. Instead of engaging with his now second-wife, Abram tells Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do with her as you please.” (Genesis 16:6a) Abram effectively demotes Hagar’s status, rejecting her as a wife and returning her to a slave. Instead of realizing Hagar was a woman in her own right, “Sarai dealt harshly with her” (6:6b) While what they had started, assuming Hagar as a wife for Abram (16:3b), they rejected almost immediately. Giving someone equal status in words only fails to ensure they are accepted, respected, and sustained in the fullness of their new place among humanity. The unequal status and animosity it bred against Hagar results in her and her child, Ishmael, being kicked out of the family altogether. Failure to make lasting changes born of words and not embodied in actions makes for a broken human family.

           If we seek to be where love lives and create a fully inclusive church, we need to look to her interactions with the Lord. We can only speculate on the reasons the Lord told her to return to her abusers. Perhaps at that time, the only way to ensure their survival was for Hagar to return to the people she knew to give birth to her son. The exchange between the angel of the Lord and Hagar tells us how the Church needs to act for difference and diversity. First, Hagar is called by name. She is not an issue or a policy concern; she is a person seen and named. Our marginalized siblings have names, and we need to embrace them as named children of God. Secondly, Hagar, oppressed by sexism (abused by Sarai and Abraham for her womb), classism (a slave), and racism (a foreigner from Egypt), gives God a name that lets us know God sees her: El-roi. The God who sees Hagar in her oppressed states sees all those people living lives in the margins. Seeing isn’t just a word; seeing is an action. Difference and diversity are not just words.

           Because of how I was raised, I thought I knew about justice and mercy. I read diverse authors and engaged in active works of compassion for people in poverty. I was encouraged to pursue my dreams with a life balanced in care for others. But it wasn’t until I realized in a personal way how oppression poses a threat to my family that difference and diversity became more than just words. I confess I fail to love like Jesus. I pray we can, as a Church, recognize the truth of our family beyond the ones who share our name. We can pass legislation, enacting equity for all persons in ordination and the life of the Church. But unless we go beyond legalities, we will only be using words for diversity and difference. Much like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only changed the legalities around racial justice, we will only change legalities while encouraging micro-aggressions and unconscious biases. We will be giving false promises to our LGBTQ+ siblings while they experience ongoing abuses and denial of their fullness in Christ.

Devotion 2 By Rev. Javier Olivares

Scripture Reading: Acts 2: 5-17

What is Your Native Language?

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,

and your old men shall dream dreams. Acts 2:5-17

What is your native language? In what language did you hear your first lullaby? Or said for the first time “I love you”? what is the language you speak to your children or talk to your pets? In what language do you pray?

There’s something special and mystical about our native language. We find in it comfort and joy; we feel at peace and safe; we can relax and be less stressed since perhaps we don’t have to translate in our heads what we’re going to say.

Perhaps this is how all these people were feeling hearing their native language, but there were two reactions of this crowd:

One group reacted with wonder and the other one with mockery. One responded “what does this mean?” on other words, what is God teaching me through this? How do I take this opportunity to grow?

And the other group said “they’re drunk” or in other words “I can’t accept this”, “I’m not open to this newness”. Both groups encountered diversity and reacted differently.

I feel that this reaction could be the same in our congregations when diversity is encountered. As we grow more towards a diverse church, we will be able to worship with people of other native languages different from us. And we will be able to have the opportunity to ask “what does this mean?” What is God teaching me?” instead of “I can’t accept this”.

May we embrace and learn from those who are culturally different from us, may we be open to diversity in all its forms. When that happens, the Spirit of God will be poured upon each of us.

Let us pray:

God of many nations, we come to you asking for your forgiveness for the moments when we have reacted refusing your invitation to diversity. We are here asking that you may fill us with your Spirit so we can be whole again and can react with awe and wonder and ask what are you teaching us? How can I embrace diversity? Teach us your ways Oh Lord and be with us so we can be the church you want us to be. A diverse church, filled with your Spirit, a church where the young people have a prophetic voice and see visions, a church where the adults dream dreams. 

In your name we pray, the name is Jesus. Amen.

Devotion 3 By Deb Williams

Scripture Reading: Micah 6:8

6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to walk humbly with your God.

The good news is that conveners of meetings and events now seek to practice diversity when preparing an invitation list. But, how do we decide which “different” people/cultures comprise the proper assemblage that may be considered appropriately diverse?

Do we look at differences among people as a strength or as a polarizing reason to keep us apart; perhaps to exclude people who don’t look like, act, or think like we do? Differences among us are to be celebrated, not feared (Romans 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.) Being different is not a sickness, it is not a problem to be solved or corrected, it is just different.

How do we move beyond “getting along” to developing and acting on our personal convictions to end the systemic and institutional practices that drive the continuation of poverty, social injustices, educational inequities, and unequal health care?

Prayer: Lord, in your mercy, may we keep justice prevalent in our hearts and minds and integrate these thoughts into action for daily living. Amen

Devotion 4 Rev. Efrain Zavala

Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 10:12-22 

Loving the Stranger Growing up, I attended Methodist Churches in Mexico. I was always moved by the passion and the commitment that people demonstrated in worship and service. One of the most memorable things from my youth was participating in ministry to people who had been deported from the United States and found themselves homeless, with no money, and distanced from their families. As a response, my church formed teams and prepared meals for them on a weekly basis. Everybody participated in some way. At that time, I became aware of the pain and the struggle of migrants who had to leave their homes in search of a better life. Years later, I was serving on the advisory board of The Inn, a ministry that provides hospitality and care for refugees and asylum seekers in the United States. I still remembered the times we served the people at the border, people who are often marginalized, and even forgotten. The work of my youth has provided me with a sense of direction for ministry, challenging me to serve those who are minoritized and excluded.

With time, I have come to understand race and migration conversations to be of utmost importance for the church and our society. The scriptural witness constantly encourages us to love and welcome foreigners. The most repeated commandment in the Old Testament is “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This is a wonderful call to empathy and love. The people of Israel were reminded (several times) of their own journey; they were reminded of the oppression they experienced in Egypt. They were told that they had more things in common with those they considered strangers than they thought! And they were challenged to break the cycle of oppression they themselves had experienced in the past. They had been hurt before, but now they were able to bless others.

It seems to me that we are all people on a journey. Certainly, not all journeys are the same, and some journeys can be quite difficult. Yet, there are ways in which we can all make a difference. I believe that we can learn from our past, break the cycle of oppression, and help create something new. We can work to create a new community where people’s lives are affirmed and valued for what they are. While some are pushing for uniformity, I believe we can strive for unity in diversity. There is much work that needs to be done in this area. Conversations about racial and ethnic diversity in our country have become contentious, and the church struggles to find common ground. Yet, as a committed member of the UMC, I want the church to look forward into the future and reformulate its mission in a way that involves people of color in a meaningful way. Indeed, this is not an easy task, but we are people of faith, after all. We have the assurance that God is with us every step of the way; and we have each other, fellow sojourners, extending helpful hands as we go.

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