Portland: Keep it weird

May 13, 2016
Bishop Sally Dyck invited United Methodists to "go learn mercy" during her sermon in morning worship on Friday. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

I have been out exploring Portland. Gotta enjoy the sunshine before it starts raining. It is an interesting city of contrasts. I have happened upon public squares with fountains filled with small children splashing around while parents look on. I have walked by many homeless persons who have been setting up sleeping bags for the night, or simply walking the streets asking for change. I have been passed by countless bikers, the pedaling kind. I have been helped by TriMet (public transit) staff and friendly locals, and seen every kind of fashion, tattoo, and piercing, and enjoyed the coffee and food truck scene.

Portland is a city that embraces weird…being unique, individual, and something of an iconoclast. And they all get along and co-exist. It seems like an easy-going, friendly kind of place. I am not a big fan of the word “tolerance,” because it implies that I put up with something distasteful instead of actively loving someone, but there is an aspect of “live and let live” in this city that I find appealing.

Bishop Sally Dyck preached a powerful sermon Friday morning with a charge to go, learn mercy. She aimed at the heart of the divide in The United Methodist Church about how we name homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching in our Book of Discipline, and that is the only category of person with whom we do that. She was preaching on Jesus eating with the tax collectors and how in Jewish law, the tax collector collecting taxes from the Jews and giving them to the Roman oppressors, according the Pharisees, was completely incompatible with Jewish law, and Jesus should have no business with him. Jesus’ response: Go, learn mercy. Why is our response to whomever we meet not the same as Christ?: “Go, learn mercy.” There is no person outside of God’s love. No person incompatible with Jesus Christ. Bishop Dyck lifted up Pope Francis, who declared this a year of mercy for the Catholic Church. Bishop Dyck said she would love for The United Methodist Church to have a year of mercy, a decade of mercy!

We live in close quarters. Our world is bigger and yet smaller all the time. We have never been more dependent on one another for our very survival...whether it be not shooting one another, not hacking one another’s identity, or not using up the created resources so the next generation can breathe and drink clean water and species don’t die off. We will not have a future unless we can embrace our diversity and the very sacredness of human life.   

One of my explorations took me to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park. There was a quote on the granite wall, describing the events that led up to the Holocaust. As the war progressed, Hitler was emboldened to turn his attention to the most helpless of victims: “those deemed unworthy of life…the handicapped, deformed infants, the chronically ill, and people in nursing homes.” They were killed with a form of euthanasia. There were protests. But not enough. And so began the gas chambers where at Auschwitz alone, 10,000 Jews a day were killed. This is what happens when we do not learn mercy. We begin to believe we have the right to choose who lives and dies. Who is in or out. Who is worthy of love and respect. That is a world based on fear.

I am sure Portland is not a perfect city. But in this, I think its residents are on to something: Keep it weird. Appreciate the differences, the quirkiness, and for goodness sake, practice a little mercy and grace. It makes life so much more interesting and fun!

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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