Category Archives: Church

It Ain’t What you Think

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24, NRSV)

The last forty years in American public life have been the most socially and culturally divisive, perhaps since the Civil War. The American republic has always been made of complex perspectives on a wide variety of issues.Throughout American history the divisions of black versus white, free versus enslaved, indigenous versus immigrant, North versus South, Christian versus “everybody else”, gay versus straight, east coast versus west coast, and just about any other division has dominated our portrayal of our selves as Americans.

While our divisions were built into American identity from the outset, the last half century has given way to consequential tears in the fabric of the Republic. We have used certain divisions to reinforce other in order to build coalitions, voting blocs and larger groups of influence. Our social discourse complexifies with compound descriptors like “Christian-southern-whites”, or “non-immigrant native-speaking persons of color”, or “black Southern gay men”. All of these descriptors are not just describing realities, but in fact are making out tribal distinctions. The carve out new spaces for entrenchment-home encampments to find like-minded believers  in order to feel “at home” somewhere. We shape these tribes (with their particularly ascribed stereotypes, ideologies and political instincts) in order to make the world digestible and manageable.

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BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Probably the most maligned of these complex tribal distinctions is any one of them that include the moniker Christian-a very well earned distinction. Throughout the centuries, Christianity has perpetuated some of the most egregious crimes or acts on other people. Slavery, indigenous conquest, and the subjugation of non whites, were all perpetrated with Christian institutional endorsement. Continuing in that surrogacy, we as Americans have used the Christian moniker to create new and distinct tribal groups to reinforce political and social beliefs. Since the Moral Majority of the late 1970s, to be Christian in America is to be part of the “Conservative” tribe and political party. For the mainstream, to be Christian means believing in creationism, being pro-life, for a singular definition of marriage (between a man and woman) and to believe in the divine right to American Manifest Destiny.

The problem will of this is the truth of the Judeo-Christian faith; it does not neatly fit into such well constructed, poll-tested, hermetically sealed demographic voting categories. Jesus was not a republican or a democrat. He didn’t defend unborn life at the expense of the living. He didn’t campaign for tax reform or wrap himself up in anyone’s patriotic symbology. He didn’t promote biblical adherence in schools, idolatrous belief in a state-sponsored savior, and he sure as heaven didn’t count on America as being the vehicle for the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn’t a progressive either. He wasn’t an American liberal seeking to harmony with everyone and promoting peace, love and soul. He didn’t believe in pro-choice, a government sponsored social safety net, and the unity of all humanity under one banner of peace. He wasn’t a socialist who believed in the redistribution of wealth (despite what you might read in the Gospel of Luke). He’s not the Jesus of the elitist and pontifical Left, or the xenophobic hypocritical Right. A pox on both our houses!

The American tribal adjective- Christian is a perversion of the ancient teachings of the one called the Christ. We lack the seriousness to believe the faith we practice. No, I am not suggestion that “we all fall short of the glory of God”. I am asserting that we (as Americans) intentionally avoid the hard practice of The Way! To be a follower of Jesus means leaving “stuff” behind, denying yourself, and taking up a cross. It means hearing the voice from eternity call you to “drop your nets” and follow him. It means you (and this nation) are far from the kingdom values we espouse and say we believe. Its just easier to pervert the gospel than to live it.

Only the words of the prophet Amos can give us the wisdom we need in our hypocritical and fiercely partisan time. God wants none of our worship, festivals or pomp when we cannot see the third way of moral justice. The vision of truth can only be revealed when we let go of our tribalism and let Christ challenge us all…

 

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Seeing the Mission with Fresh Eyes

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV)

After a four week hiatus from blogging to meditate and reflect (provide some creative restoration), I am resuming our weekly reflections with revisiting the work of the church and the mandate of Christ to his church. 

As Christians I often think that we have misunderstood the mandate of Christ that was given to the church. Much work has been done around the doctrines and beliefs that come about from the self-disclosure of Christ in the Gospels. Ideas about ministry, education, faith and belief are all shaped by the infinite number of teachings that elucidate on the ‘Great Commission’.

Depending on the millennia in which a Christian found themselves, those teachings on the church’s work of proclamation, education and expansion varied and shifted. In the early days of the church, it was “the blood of the martyrs that served as the seeds for the growth of the church”, said the 2nd century church father Tertullian. In the middle ages it was the sword that served as the way to expand, with teaching and proclamation being secondary concerns of the leadership of the church. Later, post reformation, this teaching was the motivation for Christian colonial ambitions and the work of the western (and purportedly Christian) nations to conquer the world.

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The thing that all of this interpretations have in common are the cultural underpinnings that guide any understanding of the commission. For better (and usually for worse), the church interpreted its mandate through the cultural mores of the time in which it existed (often meaning the validation of destructive practices and beliefs). So then, in the age of the martyrdom, it was martyrdom that Christ ‘meant’ when he spreading the church. When the age of sword was dominate, then Christ ‘spread’ the faith on the edge of the sword. When colonialism was the source of strength and power, Christ ‘used’ colonial powers to bring the Gospel to the “savages” in the New World.

But what if the above commission that Christ extends had little to do with verbal proclamation and actively “forcing” the expansion of the faith? It seems to me that the vague emphasis of method of expansion has little to do with a lack of concern of Jesus’ part. Instead, this commission occurs at the end of a Gospel where Jesus has spent all of his life, death and resurrection demonstrating the effects of the kingdom of God……IN HIS BEING!  What if the command of Christ was about BEING the church to the world? Instead of forcing the issue, what if expansion occurs through a witness of BEING the Christ to the world and therefore expanding the kingdom?

What if the church spent more time ‘being’ in the world? A church that is anti-abortion ‘proclaims’ the kingdom through stable loving homes for struggling mothers and “unwanted” children. A church that is pacifist, develops ways to engage adversaries around the things that divide, instead of being divisive itself. A church that provides this witness is not concerned about growth in an active sense, but instead is concerned about the ways the church can BE the church in the world, which achieves growth in the end. A church that lives out the commission in this way is not doctrinally focused, but mission driven. In this case, the mission is TO BE and NOT TO GROW. In the end, Christ is the one that grows the church, by virtue of the authority given to him in verse 18, (thus a COmmission and not just a mission).

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I recently spent a week in the island nation of Haiti. Much of what has gone in Haiti has been ignored by the International media despite a slow but steady attempt at readjusting and stabilizing the nation’s governance and infrastructure. (There will be a series of blog postings that will cover the lessons learned from Haiti.)

Much of the progress that has happened in Haiti has occurred through the work and witness of the Christian church. The church is the integral partner between the government and the work of restoration and healing that is taking place on the ground in Haiti. The church is rebuilding homes and communities and offering permanent housing for people. In being the church, the people of the church can teach and make disciples for Christ in the world.

In the end, the Commission teaches us the importance of being  a vision of truth for the “transformation of the world”!

 

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Kingdom Living

THIS IS A RESEND FROM LAST WEEK!

Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15, ASV)

The last month of public discourse has been interesting. As it relates to the election and the future of global affairs, there has been much speculation and forecasting in regards to the way current events have unfolded. Amongst the chatter are reactions to the Petraeus scandal, fiscal cliff negotiations, election recap, GOP talk, economic rebounding, Middle East Peace and all manner of other prognostications. While most of the discussion is rooted in an attempt at analyzing the facts, there has been some prognostication by certain Christians that infuriates me.

This group typically reacts to the overanalysis and intense scrutiny of real world facts by appealing to an otherworldly escapism.  I have heard, on more than one occasion, these Christians excuse their lack of needed participation in controversial and relevant actions by claiming their citizenship to “another kingdom.” Specifically, this statement, (as they use it) is implied to mean that they don’t have to engage in the realities of this present life (realities like the election, ending poverty, seeking human rights, eliminating economic disparity, etc.). There should be no engagement in those activities because “when Jesus comes, all of this stuff will be made right by him”, I was told by one person. Another person justified their failure to vote in the election as “not participating in a world that is going to be condemned by the coming kingdom of Jesus.”

This worldview is not new, nor is it only present in times of intense crisis. This worldview forms the foundation of many movements, the most prominent of which shapes the theology of Jehovah Witnesses. At its core, this approach to life carries a sense of anticipation and expectation at the coming reign of Jesus Christ. While that anticipation is shared by all Christians, this view defines one’s social engagement through the lens of Christ’s coming reign. Known academically as Millennialism and Dispensationalism, practitioners believe in the reign of Christ as future event distinct from this present time. Developed in the 19th century reading of the Biblical text, Millennial and Dispensational theology hinges on the destruction of all present systems of the world so that Christ’s reign can be truly “new.” In many cases, the hermeneutic (lens for interpretation) includes Christian Zionism, the Rapture and a literal (or even Fundamentalist) interpretation of the text. (The Rapture is not even mentioned or outlines in the Bible.)

What these ideas (and their adherents) fail to engage is the critical analysis of the teachings of Bible, the Christian ideas of the end of time, and (above all) the work of the historical Jesus. The above passage taken from the opening of Mark’s Gospel offers a different view from some of my Christian friends. This passage occurs at the conclusion of Jesus’ baptism and wilderness experience. Jesus steps onto the scene in Galilee and begins his formal ministry with a simple, yet earth shattering pronouncement, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe in the gospel.” 

The kingdom of God is at hand? You mean the very first thing Jesus does is make a pronouncement of what is taking place and not what is going to come? Every act, every sign, every moment of betrayal and trust, joy and pain, miracle and madness, are all part of the kingdom? Yes! According to Mark’s understanding, Jesus’ presence and mission ushers into the world the very kingdom which we now speak of in escapists terms. For Mark’s Jesus, the role of the Christ births the new kingdom and gives humanity entrée into the love, hope, trust and peace that this kingdom creates.

Most interestingly, for my millennial Christian compatriots, the work of Christ, follows his pronouncement of the kingdom. He makes the pronouncement and then he proceeds to perform the work for which the kingdom is to be known. In other words, the Jesus that pronounces the kingdom, then demonstrates the kingdom by caring for the needs of the blind, the sick, the bound and even the dead. Jesus does not merely talk about the kingdom of God as a futuristic reality, but makes it real in the lives of the people that are present.The idea that we take no action because of what Jesus will do is simply a form of lazy escapism. This view makes a mockery of what Christ has done! The active work of the church and her disciples is to “go and make new disciples” or at the very least set the standard for what God’s continual kingdom of love, hope, trust and peace looks like in the 21st century.

The kingdom of God hasn’t gone anywhere, its subjects just stopped believing in the power of that kingdom to make the crooked nations straight, heal the sick of the world, open the blinded eyes that further oppression, and liberate the captives of our economics and social policies. Instead of engaging the ‘principalities’ of systemic oppression and subjugation that plague this world, some of us use our energy to escape to a place and a day that may be long in the coming (or may be tomorrow).

The Christ gave us one more command while we anticipate his return and we no longer have a vision of the truth, we will know it then. He said “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” Beloved, it’s still day, and there is still work to do….

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Unity of Mind, Heart and Hand…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? ’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.(Matthew 7:21-23, NRSV)

I read on Facebook that there is a movement called the RAOK Nation. RAOK stands for Random Acts of Kindness. Likewise there are churches who have started this ‘fad’ entitled ‘Radical Hospitality’. In the former example, the Facebook based movement appears to be designed to promote good deeds (are you ready) without the desire for recognition. Go figure. In the latter example, the practice of Radical Hospitality is the attempt of some churches to ‘aggressively’ reach out to visitors, guests and random persons to make them feel a part of the community. Another way to attract people to their worshipping community.

In both of the above examples, you get the emphasis on good practice, with horrible motives. They show Christian behavior without a Christian motive. The basic conundrum is that these movements take what is principally Christian normative behavior, something we are to be, and make it to a goal or motive toward an end. Hospitality is a fundamental sign of Christian belief, Christians are to be hospitable to all they come across. To turn that state of being into mere behavior for the purposes of growing your church is to violate the message that hospitality is communicating. To take a random act of kindness and make it a movement of recognition is just…….stupid. It ceases to be both random and a genuine act of kindness when you target someone for an act in order to receive credit.

These movement, (and others like them) exemplify the failure of effective teaching and shepherding of the 21st century church. Misunderstandings abound about everything from Halloween to “turn-the-other-cheek.” Church ministries, pastors and Christian communities have failed to do their part in educating and challenging societal and theological misconceptions about the work, word and worth of Christian living. What results are disciples who spend more time focusing on the minutia of litmus tests around doctrine, behavior and political ideology instead of reading the Bible, questioning our traditions, and challenging the status quo.

Apparently this is not the first time that disciples have focused on the wrong thing. Nor is this the first time the teacher has been concerned about the student going astray. The above passage from Matthew 7 comes from a long passage of instruction by Jesus after the initial statement of the Beatitudes. In this corpus of instruction to the disciples and the gathered throng, Jesus spends time teaching on prayer, forgiveness, the Law and a whole host of other topics. Towards the end of this teaching, Jesus makes a qualifying statement about all who has already stated. In verse 21 he makes a dire warning to those with false motives saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Essentially, there has to be some purity of motives and unity of behavior for the one who seeks entry into heaven.

Of greater significance to me in the passage is Jesus’ statement of the self-deception that many persons (including the disciples) will engage in, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’” This is a profound statement about our motives and the intention of our actions. We spend so much time looking for a particular behavior and/or response from believers and Christ is saying behavior is not enough. Likewise, confession is not enough (Lord, Lord). Jesus statement should force us all to constantly check our motives and actions.

 

Jesus is asking each one of us to examine why we do a thing. We are not called to be duplicitous or manipulative in our behavior. This includes performing a RAoK just to be seen doing good, or performing hospitable acts in order to be remembered for them. Jesus calls ones that perform such behavior “evildoers”. Our churches should be about more than merely good behavior. Our church members should be known for more than trying to grow the church. Our faith is about being Christ in the world today. Christians should be known for being what they want in the world, instead manipulating the world for their own ends. Manipulation, even for the kingdom, is still manipulation and the motives are not genuine.

We follow Christ because of who Christ is and not just because of what he does. Every miracle, every teaching, every pronouncement of Jesus was predicated or precipitated by a belief in his work as the Christ, the son of God. If we in the 21st century have become so focused on feigning acts and measuring belief, then we have ceased to believe in the work and being of the Christ. Remembering that Christ was/is in order that he be all God intended is fundamental to being a Christian, period. Being the Christ as he was in the world is the only way this world can get a vision of truth in a crazy, mixed up world.

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Not Against Us, Then for Us!

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40, NRSV)

Many of us were shocked and appalled to awaken to the news of the death of a US Ambassador this past week. Further, many of were still shocked to see violent eruptions of protest at our embassies in the Middle East and other countries. Both the death of four diplomats and the destruction of diplomatic missions remind us of the dangers and hostilities that often are part of this world in which we live. However, I was much more disturbed at the root of all the chaos….

A video had been produced in Los Angeles back in June by a man calling himself Sam Bacile. The video purports to be a feature film that ‘exposes’ the true Islam and its revered Prophet Muhammad.  The video in actuality is a poorly produced vile insult to everything that is religious and decent in the world. I have not dignified the creators by watching any part of the video, but many reports portray it as everything from “pornographic to absurd.” The fact that this movie was made in the US (and seized by fundamentalist Islamic clerics) serve to many in the Islamic world to be further evidence of the US’s vile hatred for Islam.

On first account, I am still stunned that such a video (and let’s be clear it is an internet video) is able to produce such a backlash in certain parts of the world. My shock quickly fades when I contextualize my understanding of the Islamic faith with traditional values of the sacred religion. Respect, honor and dignity are of extreme importance in public discourse and are highly valued in the Islamic religious culture. Violations of this code can be treated as gross negligence worthy of retaliation. That explanation not withstanding, the violence and death of last week us not at all justified by the majority of Muslim throughout the world.

At issue for me is the level of our own intolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ in the world. Many in the United States are still deeply suspicious of Islam as a religion and some are outright hostile to what they perceive as a threat to our national security. Many communities deny the construction of new mosques and undermine the work of Muslim groups through openly questioning the motives and their presence. Many professed Christians openly commit to violently “protecting” their native land against a 21st century infidel that looks nothing like the average Muslim adherent in America (or the world for that matter.

Adding insult to injury is the discovery that Mr. Sam Bacile is actually an alias (one of more than a dozen) of an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who is seeking to air his own Islamophobic views. So here, you have a Christian (in the same vein as Terry Jones last year burning a Quran on Sept 11) exposing their deep fear and hatred in the name of truth and free speech. Our fears, our hatred, our hurt and our pain being used to inflict others with hurt pain and injury.

Jesus in the above passage is answering a query from one of his disciples who sees someone operating from a different understanding than the disciples have. The man is casting out demons in the name of Jesus but does not belong to the twelve. He is outside of their experience and from what the disciples can tell, has no experience of Jesus personally. He makes all of the right moves (as testament to his ability to actually cast out demons), but is not in line with the disciples’s understanding of belief and behavior.

Jesus says one of the most profound things in the New Testament. He says, “Don’t stop him. Whoever uses my name to do powerful things will not soon say bad things about me. Whoever is not against us is with us.” I love this statement from Jesus about the ‘other’. What he is saying, is that “a person who operates as I operate will not turn away from me.” Anyone who is not overt in their opposition to our message, our actions, our hope, and our love as Christians is still with us. Jesus’ statement makes the world a little less complicated than we have made it. Their are only those who are against us, and with them, we can see who they are in that they oppose us.

 

The bigger lesson from Jesus is that we need to acknowledge where we see Him at work in the other and celebrate that as a manifestation of the work of Christ. We are so easily led to acknowledge the difference and separation and the negative points in anything opposite our own perspective. Our conservative  ideologies define the norms for both sides: The Muslims who protest violently are the “true Islam” while the Christians who foment anger and hatred are the “the real views of all Christians”. These limited and narrow minded views are minorities within religions that are much more alike in their views of humanity, God and the service to one another. (To be clear, Muslims and Christians are very different in belief and practice, but we are not so different as to not recognize the oneness of God working in both of our traditions.)

 

Jesus’ statement calls into question our own proclamation of “if you are not for me, you are against.” In fact in turns it on its head, for His statement is literally, “if you are not against me, you are for me.” The only way this idea can be lived out is through a reaffirmation of goodness of our God in the world working through many of our traditions. Seeing someone doing good work in the world (regardless of the tradition) is a reason to celebrate the goodness of our God working in them. Seeing the Muslim feed the hungry or take care of the sick is to see God use them in the same way God uses every one of else.

Places of division and discord are ready and always apparent. It takes a vision of truth to view your ‘other’ brother or sister as a co-worker with God…..and with you.

 

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Disagreements, Decisions and Life Together…

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. (Romans 12:1-5, NRSV)

Decisions and disagreements mark our lives as human beings. Every aspect of our lives together as community is marked with deliberations, conversations and decisions that bind us together in one ‘communal’ life. Families engage and fight and even disagree, but they manage to maintain (for the most part) the sense that they are bound together by familial connections. Businesses, governments and communities all come to work of finding commonality and purpose through the infinite ways of disagreement, deliberation and conversation. The church, (the body of Christ), even has to reconcile itself to agree-to-disagree and/or be of differing views and yet be under the banner of Christian fellowship.

Sadly however, the hallmark of the age of partisanship (there is no such thing as a post-partisan), is that we have lost the ability to disagree and yet hold to our common bonds of identity and fellowship. Churches split, governments gridlock, businesses dissolve, and families separate because of disagreements that highlight our individuality over our sense of communal life together. Because I disagree with your position, I can no longer be identified with this group and must define myself by how I am different. This is what community looks like in the 21st century: fractured, breaking/broken and distraught with individuals searching for other individuals who they ‘can only’ agree with.

The scriptural passage above is taken from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. It is one of the most comprehensive places in the New Testament where the theology of Paul is on display. He writes here as a pastoral theologian with great attention to the nature of faith, the power of the church and the work of God through Jesus Christ. This Chapter (12) is one of the most profound chapters in the book as it conveys the relationship of the believer to their community….the Church. The admonition here is that community takes sacrifice. Community takes an individual sacrifice that keeps the whole of the community in perspective. Sometimes, the whole (community) benefits and is strengthened when the particular beliefs and ideologies of the individual are sacrificed in light of the whole. Be wary of however, of the same individuals being asked to make all of the sacrifices. There is a fine line between elevating the greater good and oppressing the minority.

As much as Paul’s teaching makes sense, it is hard to live into the existential truth of its claim. The work of keeping the ‘bond’ in the forefront of our minds is always difficult if we think our position is of supreme importance. The text of the letter here reminds us to “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The scripture offers a truly profound statement in an age of partisan gridlock and 30 second sound-bytes, all designed to gain the upper hand in the debates we have in our communities.

Last Friday concluded two weeks of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference. The General Conference is the legislative body for the global United Methodist Church. According to the church’s website, “is the only body that officially speaks for the more than 12.1-million-member denomination.” Nearly 1,000 delegates from all across the world traveled to Tampa Bay to discuss, debate, caucus and vote on nearly 1800 pieces of church legislation. With the addition of live streaming, social networking and all of the other ways we are connected, the global church participated in the deliberations in ways that have never been experienced before.  Despite the Christian nature and character of this particular gathering, the UMC is much like every other community and institution that suffers disagreements. Self-disclosure: I am not United Methodist, but a proud member of the Baptist Tradition. I am married to a UM pastor and son-in-law to a Methodist Bishop.

Watching on live stream, I witnessed mean-spiritedness, politicking, anger, hope, sadness, betrayal, offense and at times, gridlock and failure. Issues around sexuality and inclusivity, structural reorganization, and commitments to long-term change so stymied the assembly that protests, tears and gridlock seem to rule the day. Initially, I thought all of that I had witnessed was chaos, disorder, and the disintegration of a mainline protestant denomination. However, in light of the larger issues presented in the text and the struggle for communal unity, I see a different paradigm. I am sure many of my progressive UM friends will challenge me on this, but I like to think the world witnessed a Christian community struggle to be…. community.

Getting nearly 1000 people to sit in a room and agree on anything is a miracle in itself. Getting 1000 people to agree on what the Bible says takes nothing short of Divine intervention and influence. The fact that over a two week period, Methodists were able to hold in tension their individuality over and against the community of the global church is a model for the communal life together. Do they sometimes get it wrong? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT! Are some people hurt in the process? YES, and their hurt, challenges the whole to be better. Can the way we communicate be done in better ways? Certainly! An assembly like this still takes place and the community remains intact (even though hurt in the process), means that God is still in the reconciling and communal business.

The way I saw the above scriptures most strongly lived out was when the Conference voted to continue exclusion of openly practicing LGBT from recognition as clergy or as living in concert with Christian teaching. The failure of the Conference to even acknowledge the continuing disagreement around human sexuality speaks volumes regarding the lack of frank disagreement in our communities. Both of these positions are certainly the ‘right’ and privilege of the Conference to vote on according to UM polity. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, the fact that this segment of the UMC church has said they will continue to live as part of UMC church and as United Methodists speaks volumes to the love and belief of this population in the community as a whole. The world can take a lesson from the hurtful dialogue and discussion that surrounded this issue. Disagreements do not need to define us exclusively. Instead, the community we live through should always be our defining quality as people sharing life together.

A professor of mine once said, “The greatest sin in Christian community is schism.” Disagreements are an unchangeable part of life, schism is a choice. It violates our unity together and separates us from the diversity that strengthens us. A future without communal hurt and pain is a vision of truth; but so is a future without schism.

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‘Sharing is’………Divine

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

I have two daughters. One is five months old and the other who is a thirty-year old trapped in a three-year old body. Both of them have passionate and assertive personalities that are true to their genetic heritage. (Translation: they get their stubbornness and bossiness from mommy and daddy!)My three-year old in particular is highly intelligent and fiercely independent; both of which are qualities that my wife and I want to nurture and contextualize as she grows up. Yet, we face the problem that all parents of siblings face around this age….sharing.

For two years, my eldest was the only thing that mattered and we doted on her as any loving and excited parents do with their first child. Gifts from friends and family were always centered on her and she quickly grew into a child that would expect attention, even if she didn’t want it. Last year’s birth of her sister meant all of the status quo had to change. While she has understood and adapted well to the presence of her sister, my wife and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with ‘Boobie’ (my nickname for her).

As my second child gets older, she becomes more active and engaging with the world (especially to include her sister). Many times we give our second child the toys Boobie received as a baby. Boobie never much played with the toys and in many cases was totally unimpressed for much of her life with the toys she received as a baby. Her sister on the other hand, is the opposite. Totally enamored and mesmerized with the blinking, music, singing dancing toys that so traumatizes the aural memory that you can hear them in your sleep! It has been recently that Boobie has now wanted all the toys that her sister finds fascinating. Once her sister’s interest is peaked, here comes Boobie claiming the toy for herself and often pouting over its usage by her sister.

On one level, I find this behavior annoying and as any parent should do, my wife and I use those moments as opportunities to teach Boobie the importance of sharing with her sister. Often the lesson does not sink in right away, but we trust that we are laying a good foundation that will bear fruit (Pray y’all!) But the theologian in me finds a much deeper principle at work that is reflective in the human-divine relationship.

So often in life sharing does not appear normative to the human experience. Sure communities, families and friends share food, dwellings and other necessities that benefit the whole, but those acts are built on relational understanding. Sharing in its basic sense is the act of apportioning in such a way as to benefit the parties who are sharing. It doesn’t require a preexisting relationship and truthfully shouldn’t. Sharing however, has been relegated in our society to tax-deductible charitable giving and the consequence of last resort when there are not enough resources to satisfy each individual present. To each his/her own; you get yours and I’ll get mine, THE END!

This norm is not always explicitly taught by parents nor is it something that we seek to nurture in society. In fact, I am not sure where it originates. We didn’t teach our daughter that the toys she received were hers alone. In fact, we teach her that everything she has is ours, on loan until such a time she can pay us back!!! LOL. A pastor friend of mine told the story:

A man watched his two children playing in the mall one day. As they ran back and forth playing tag he marveled in the wonder of child’s play and the innocence therein. Suddenly the older sibling stopped to play with a small toy that she just happened upon. Upon discovering the toy, her younger brother also wanted to play with the toy…together. To which his sister pushed him away saying, “No IT’S MINE!”

It is clear to me in both raising my children and pastoring congregations that sharing is a reflection of the divine moving in the world. For some reason, (some call it sin, others call it human frailty, and others still call it instinct), children and their larger counterparts seem to fail when it comes to giving from their abundance. I believe the text above reminds us of the power of the divine in community to move us to give and to share. The text from the book of Acts displays the power of sharing providing the move of the Holy Spirit through the people. It takes an effort to move from your storehouses that which benefits you and can benefit another. In fact, it is Divine effort that accomplishes such a feat. This text shows that Have-nots have because the Haves felt to give. Such is the power of sharing as a divine initiative. O what a different world this might be if just the Christians decided to share!!

The church is the place where sharing should be the modus operandi and the hallmark of the people of God. Yet so many congregations keep their buildings, food and fellowship to only the people they have relationships with (i.e members and family). Our consumerist culture dictates that we get what we want and the scraps are for the late comers and the “lazy folks”. One political argument this election season says:

‘Don’t demean me because I got all of this prosperity. I don’t have to share and I don’t want to!’

The world’s most prosperous nation and arguably the most Protestant-Christian-centered nation (the USA) also has the highest rate of hoarding per person in the world. If there is already so much access to ‘stuff’ in the US, than why do we need to stock up just for our usage? It takes the move of the divine in our lives to move us to be concerned about our neighbor in such a way to give for their sake. I know, we should do that instinctively to better all who are involved, but history tells us that we don’t.

The old adage is true, “sharing is caring”, but is not reflective of just our caring. Sharing is revealing the power of the God who cares for all of us through relationship. We share because we want someone to share with us. News FLASH: Someone has already shared with us! We share because God shared(s). God shares, so we share. Sharing IS caring, but it is also a vision of truth…

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