Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Divisions in Christ's Body and The UMC

I've never really wanted division within The United Methodist Church. I've always held up hope that somehow, someday, we'd find a way forward through acrimony and division to a better place. I don't think I'm particularly naive, I've watched the coverage of every General Conference from 1996 to the present pretty clearly, attended a United Methodist seminary, and experienced all sorts of tension--but I've always wanted to believe that we could learn from each other how to follow Jesus better. I don't know anymore. The truth is, the last year has left me unsure about the future of this particular segment of Christ's Church. I've seen the tensions rise around issues regarding homosexuality, mostly, and that's a part of it. I believe that underneath our disagreements about homosexuality lie our differences on the proper place of sexual ethics in the overarching schema of being Christian, and different theological anthropologies (specifically around the place, power, and role of passions for Christians). We can't seem to get beyond the surface issue to the deeper issues, and I'm not sure if we can (in my opinion, no other mainline Christian body in North America has, so we'd be unique if we succeeded).

 I've always held out hope, though, that God might do something different with United Methodists. I've wanted us to offer a better model of Jesus' vision for his people (the Church) from John 13:35 "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Now, I'm not Greek scholar, but the "love" here is no mere affection, no familial presence, but a deep care for the Other we learn from God--it's not erotic, familial, filial or anything of the sort, it's AGAPE. As long as we let each other be who we are, and love each other enough not to directly impinge on one another's deep convictions, while working on how to be united in living out Christian faith, there's hope we can agape in the same house. Once that mutuality reaches a point where it's gone, then we need to consider if the only way to maintain agape is in separate denominations.

While my level of mutual accountability to other United Methodists is greater than my Congregationalist, Baptist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic friends, my agape for them isn't. Some of us live together, some apart, but our agape ought to be the same in the Church of Jesus Christ, whether we share in one communion or not. In fact, it's easier to live out agape across those bounds at times than within one part of the Body of Christ, in part because the decisions of another part of the Body are less likely to impinge on my deep convictions directly--we can focus on a common identity as Christians without being constantly and directly impacted by our differences.

We've argued, we've wept, we've disagreed--but I had believed that all sides acted out of mutual agape at least most of the time until now. I have Conservative, Moderate and Progressive friends (and many who would prefer other labels or none), and most (if not all) genuinely seemed to love Jesus and want to follow where he leads. The United Methodist Church might not be united in all the finer points of Christian living, but at least all clergy are asked if we've studied the Church's Doctrine and if we will uphold and teach it, so at least we're all good with our Doctrinal Standards, right? We're far from in complete agreement, but at least we have common ground!

I'm not pretending I've never heard either side malign the other--I've heard Conservatives call Progressives apostate and Progressives call Conservatives hatemongers and homophobes. I've never wanted to believe either was true, and I've seen much evidence to the contrary over time. Sadly, I began to wonder during Annual Conference last year. 

I'm theologically orthodox, a thoroughly Nicene Christian in the company of the Wesleys (as I've heard Eddie Fox say). During the entirety of Annual Conference we had the text of The Lord's Prayer placed before us, but it was never the prayer Jesus taught the Disciples based on any Bible I'd ever seen. Apparently, the words he gave us weren't good enough--we had to learn a new (presumably better) way to pray. As we were encouraged to pray in our own languages, I prayed the prayer that has shaped me, that continues to shape me, and went on with the work of Annual Conference. Only during the actual Laying on of Hands in Ordination did anyone ever use the Trinitarian Name of God from the "pulpit" during the entirety of our Conference together--we heard many names used, but here and here alone the God named in Article I of both the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith. 

Perhaps I was being oversensitive--these are challenging things for me, but our metaphors describe the God revealed in Scripture and the Incarnation, and there was at least some reference to the God I know. Perhaps there's room for worship that speaks obliquely of Scriptural Truth, especially at Annual Conference--we assume all of these leaders of the Church ought to be converted already, right? Yes, this is MY church, the place of my membership, but it's a shared space with all the others present as well. Sure, I there were some prayers I couldn't pray authentically, so I stopped, and prayed silently that God would be with me and all of us. I'm open to letting church be church for all of us! 

This was a first for me, that most of worship at Annual Conference felt more like a political show than worship of the Triune God, but I was open to this being my own false-perception. That broke down during the hymns in the ordination service. At that point, I experienced real hate from some of the Body in a way that nearly drove me to leave the service--hate and vitriol that has stuck with me ever since. The thing is, it was directed at me and those who needed the heart-song we were singing, telling us just how unwanted we really were. While singing "Victory in Jesus," some voices among the clergy began screaming over the text every time we sang of Jesus' redeeming blood. Even now it moves me almost to tears. Something that to me is an essential affirmation, that Christ died for us, ALL OF US while we were yet sinners, was desecrated. This was no disagreement over gay marriage or sexual ethics, no divide over secular politics or even theological minutiae--no, for me this was an assault on the CORE of the Gospel (how are we freed from the power of sin but by the blood of Jesus? I can't find another way--and at least my reading of Hebrews 9:11-10:18 seems to indicate the same). 

I don't know what the intent was--but the message I received was clear: we're done with Jesus' blood, and you probably should be too. I'm glad we didn't sing "And Can it Be?" I think I might have been driven to walk out, or perhaps cried out to the Bishop to stop the singing had the Methodist Hymn of Hymns been treated in that manner. 

 I've never really wanted division within The United Methodist Church. I want to hope that somehow, someday, we'd find a way forward through acrimony and division to a better place. I'm finding that harder and harder these days.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No More Checks?

Walletpop.com this week includes a post about the end of checks at the supermarket.

Let me just say, I've never payed a grocery bill with a paper check. I know there are plenty of folks who do--and there are a few places I do use paper checks (tithes to church, bills where a company charges extra for some kind of electronic payment, certain personal services, the IRS, etc...), but for the most part, I'm a part of the "post-check" generation.

If your friendly local supermarket stopped accepting personal checks, would this cause you personal anxiety, make your life more difficult, or have vitually no impact on you?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Being Church--First Thoughts

There's currently a lot of conversation in the blogosphere about what it means to be church. This week at Elm Street, we have been engaging in some live conversation about being church together, and about being church into the future.

Earlier today, as I checked my email, I received links to the following blog posts by Dan Dick. After some time reflecting on them, I want to offer them to you.

The first post should sound fairly familiar to anyone who has been a part of our conversations at Elm Street--Church Without Churches. Much as we have done this week, Dan Dick opens a thought experiment about what might happen if tomorrow, every United Methodist congregation found itself without a building. Dan informs his readers that "Approximately 60% of our current membership defines church as attending worship on Sunday morning. “Going to church” describes the fundamental experience for the majority of United Methodists — especially inactives."

How do you primarily define "church?" Is it more about "Going to..." or "Being..." church for you? I'd encourage you to read Dan's blog post and spend some more time thinking about these questions--his insights are powerful and insightful!

The second post I recieved hit home as well. In Irresponsibly Unresponsive, Dan asks us to answer the question "What responsibility does the individual have for her or his own spiritual growth and development?" In it, Dan talks about people who leave United Methodist congregations and their stated reasons, while raising questions about our personal responsibility for Christian discipleship and development. One of my favorite parts of this post is the following:
The majority of people attend church hoping to receive something, but very few express any responsibility to bring anything to worship. (In fact, the question was confusing to many people. We asked two questions: “How do you prepare yourself for worship?” and “What are your regular practices to grow spiritually?” In both cases, “what do you mean?” and “Nothing/None” are the top answers.)

I'd really love for you all to check out Dan's post--I don't want to give too much away, but I can't resist offering the following thoughts for you:
One interesting reaction from 4-out-of-every-5 people who left the church was a sense of indignation, and often outrage, that “the church” would expect anything from them. Various people expressed resentment that they were instructed to pray, read the Bible, regularly attend church, give money, give time, or support congregational projects. The overwhelming opinion is that all these things should be up to the individual.

Again, these thoughts make me want to ask, how do you primarily define "church?" Is it more about "Going to..." or "Being..." church for you?

I'm currently in the midst of a sermon series on "Being Church" that will continue until Christ the King Sunday (the last one before Advent). For those of you who will not hear those live, but who would like to know more, you can listen to the Elm Street UMC Podcasts here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Time for a North American Dollar zone?

I've wondered about NAFTA and the EuroZone for some time now, but I caught a bit of the North American Summit news reports this afternoon, and it got me thinking again. There are parallels, but significant differences as well.

The key difference (at least the most obvious, not to get into the EU parliament connected to the EuroZone), of course, is multiple currencies in the US, Canada, and Mexico. I'd argue that we need to move toward a single super-national North American community (that would include eliminating inernal boarder crossings between the three North American nations and simplify transnational residence), but that's a complex matter. Simpler, and perhaps more mannageable in the short run, is the creation of a single, North American Dollar zone. No, I'm not dissing the Peso, but with two Dollars already, it's the easier way to go. In fact, if we developed a "Dollar/Peso" zone, with total equivalency (essentially printing three currencies without exchange rates, so 1$US = 1$CAD = 1 Peso), we could all keep our familiar currencies in our wallets, but use whatever we happen to have while traveling between the three states. This would have immediate positive impact, especially in boarder communities.

Even better, now's the time. With virtual equivalence between the US and Canadian Dollars, only Mexico would have to reissue the Peso, which could be subsidized by the other two states to facilitate trade.

I know it's not likely, but hey, we could be smarter than we are! Why compete with one another in North America (with only 3 official languages), when we can cooperate to compete with Europe. If the polyglot EU can do it, why can't we?

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A

Loving Father,
when we knew the presence of God in Jesus, he promised God would always be present for us, as you would send another Comforter.
Grant that we who know the presence of that Comforter, the Holy Spirit,
will be empowered to live as Disciples who know the Risen Christ;
Through that same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Inspired by John 14:15-21.