Thanks…Bishop Leontine Kelly

Bishop Leontine T. Kelly died on June 28, 2012. I just found some words I wrote when she visited the church I served in 2003…

“Words for the Edge of My Soul”

On Sunday, March 23, Bishop Leontine Kelly will be our guest preacher for Reconciling Sunday.

There is much that can be said to praise this fiery octogenarian. In 1984, she was the first African-American woman consecrated a Bishop in the history of the Christian church. Repeat that last sentence! We date time based on the historic guesses about Jesus’ birth year. 1,984 years later a black woman becomes a bishop. The church has never been in a hurry.

Bishop Kelly…photo from CNUMC webpage

She was only the second woman in the United Methodist church consecrated Bishop. She’s a mother, been a teacher, served as a pastor in a local church, walked side-by-side with Desmond Tutu, and has been honored by the Ladies Home Journal as one of the most important women in America.

With all of her accolades, I remember one thing more than anything else about Bishop Kelly. She was my bishop in the relatively brief time she served as an active Episcopal leader between 1984-88. Thus, I heard her preach at least once a year at our annual conference of the California-Nevada United Methodists.

During one of her sermons, during one of the many worship services we have throughout a conference, she spoke a phrase that went straight to my soul. The phrase she spoke hit me with the force of personal truth.

Indeed, the phrase she used in the midst of that sermon is prominently displayed on the bookshelf in my office. I want those words around to remind me of that riveting moment long ago and to challenge me every time I glance at them. Continue reading →

Every Honest Word

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for June 24, 2012

“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you…” (2 Corinthians 6:11)

Every year United Methodists meet in regional conferences for work and worship. As with most situations where “two or three are gathered in my name,” good Christian folk might will disagree.

One person’s necessary budget cut is another’s lost opportunity to serve Christ. I’ve witnessed clergy squabble during a public Q&A session over whether #6 in Moses’ Top Ten was “shall not kill” or “shall not murder” in the original Hebrew. Another time our then Bishop Kelly (in the mid-1980s Rev. Leontine Kelly became the first female African-American bishop elected by a major denomination) defused a controversy during a business session by declaring, “I don’t follow Paul, I follow Jesus.”

Perhaps the spat between two opposing theological views involved the scriptural basis for women’s role in the church. First century or twenty-first century, we still debate Paul’s views about women.

I relish every honest word he bled onto the parchment...

Perhaps it had to do with same-gender marriage. First century or twenty-first century, we still debate Paul’s rants about homosexuality.

Perhaps the tension had escalated through interpretations of the value of one the lists (i.e. I Corinthians 12:8-10 or Romans 12:6-8) Paul scribed in his missives to Christian communities. First century or twenty-first century, we still debate Paul’s inspired or infuriating lists.

I really don’t recall the specific point of tension . . . other than a knock-down, drag-out, I’m-right-you’re-wrong argument ceased when Bishop Kelly announced her allegiance to Jesus.

I silently cheered. Had I, or another clergy, intervened with the same comment, it likely would’ve been ignored. But she was THE BISHOP. Regardless of her title, I also agreed with her.

I don’t follow Paul!

Isn’t that obvious? Without pausing to review any of my prior 10 (or 100) online lectionary reflections, I’m confident a Gospel reading influenced most of them. Each week the lectionary offers four choices (Gospels, a New Testament book, the Psalms and an Old Testament lesson). Paul’s letters—either written by or attributed to him—is usually one of the New Testament options.

To make my own list to justify ignoring Paul, it’s because he frequently angers, bores, confuses, dumbfounds and embarrasses me. Those are only five relevant feelings, ordered alphabetically, that could easily extend to “Z.” After all, Paul often causes me to zone out.

Then Paul scribbled a few words, launched from his century to mine, that strip away my petty skepticism, and I know my faith can’t live without the guy once knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus.

In his second note to the rascally Corinthians, I sense a lump in his throat and sweat slicking his cheeks as he pressed his metal stylus to parchment to bare his cranky heart about how he served Jesus . . .

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:8b-10)

All is forgiven, Paul! Continue reading →