Category Archives: United Methodist Church

Diversity and Unity – Uniting Methodists

In our current struggles as United Methodists over differing views, particularly on those related to same sex marriage and the acceptance of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the Church, I have heard numerous predictions that we will split as a denomination. I’ve heard others suggest that a split might be the best thing. Or, similarly, if my side (pick yours) does not get its way, we should split because we do not want the other side to have the choice to disagree with us.

The drum beat that a split is the only fix or the only real answer, as the UMC has struggled with these issues all these many years, can be compelling for many. Lets face it, isn’t it much easier and much less difficult to relate to people who think like we do? Wouldn’t it seem easier if “progressives” and “conservatives” did their own thing?

I’ve prayed about what I love about United Methodism, what called me to be in fellowship with my UMC sisters and brothers and what makes me still want to be a United Methodist. It is our connectionalism matched with a wide and generous diversity the is compelling and life giving. I’ve joked that “where there are two Methodists there are at least three opinions!” But that is what I love about our Church.

John Wesley said it best when he said, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.”

While some United Methodists see a split as the only option, I see the opportunity to find a new diverse way more compelling, more exciting, and more of what I would like to see the Church in the world to be about. We have hundreds of little splinter denomination in the US. If the UMC splits we only give further evidence of the lack of unity and diversity in the body of Christ.

While it may not seem likely, or even humanly possible, I want to see our Church hold together empowered by the Holy Spirit in the United Methodist faith we all love.

I also do not want us to become what United Methodists decry in other denominations. I do not want to see one side in our divisions force (or continue to force) their will on the other side. While those of you who know me know that my understanding of the gospel is quite progressive, a progressive/liberal Methodist denomination that does not allow for differences wouldn’t be much better in my mind than a doctrinaire conservative Methodist denomination. If diversity dies, the heart of Methodism dies with it!

In pursuit of the aim of keeping our great connection together, I’d like you to prayerfully check out the Uniting Methodist Movement. What I see this group of committed United Methodists doing is working for the diversity AND the unity that I long for in the UMC.

Many would say it would take a miracle to keep the United Methodist Church together. I am praying for that miracle!

You can find the website of the Uniting Methodist Movement here. I hope you will consider that God may want to perform a miracle, that God may want to keep the body of Christ found in the UMC together in ministry!

 

Where the Church Should Be Today!

This week in Charlottesville we were reminded of the horror and ugliness of evil in our world. We were reminded that racism and bigotry are far from gone from our county. And while we all this weekend stood in our pulpits to denouce this hate (at least I hope you did!), I am left with a profound anxiety about how we can now combat these evils knowing that none of it seems like enough!

Facebook posts and blogs, sermons, and prayers declaring that we disagree with and decry such evil are all a good start. But we are all left with the clear fact that we may have even more work to do than we thought to make this a just and safe nation for people of all nations, ethnicities, creeds, gender expressions and sexual orientations, etc. 

I thought about my Grandparents today. Their generation has been called by many “the greatest generation.” They were the generation, with whatever flaws they had too, that stood together against the evils of Naziism. Many of their generation fought and died to stop the horror of a megalomaniac who hoped to rule the world by conquest and by genocide. The fact that any American, ANY, could wave a Nazi flag (or wear a KKK emblem) without feeling the deepest shame is beyond my comprehension. And any American that does not feel they can decry such evil should also be ashamed. 

But more yet I’m shocked at those who are willing to start making this a left/right us/them argument and that those who chose to be in Charlottesville to oppose the Nazis and the KKK are somehow themselves also to blame, as if there is a valid argument to be made in favor of facism, racism, and white supremacy over liberty and equality.

The old argument that there are “two sides” to everything does not hold true here. Racism and bigotry are poisoning evils. The is no pro and con argument to be made about bigotry. Hate is always wrong. Bigotry is always wrong. Hating others as individuals or as a group is always wrong. 

Shockingly, as American Christians, many have turned Christian morality on its head. We tithe dill and cumin and avoid the weightier commandments of the gospel to love our neighbor as ourselves, hear the cry of the poor and marginalized, and stand with those whom Jesus would stand with. We are arguing about who we’d bake a cake for while destroyers with torches march in the streets. Do not think that God will not call us accountable for such frivoless use of our faith!

If you are wondering where Christians and the Church should be doing its ministry right now, you have no further to look than the streets of Charlottesville. The only images that gave me comfort and hope this weekend were the images of clergy of all faiths standing arm in arm wearing symbols of their faith singing, “This Little Light of Mine” as they were threatened with insults and violence. In those faces I saw the light of Christ shining. In those linked arms I felt the strong arms of Jesus. 

Yes, our sisters and brothers in Charlottesville gave us the example. Our call is stand between the haters and the targets of all hate and share the love of Christ. May our loving God give us the strength and courage so to stand!

Struggling with Our Faith

The gospel reading for this Sunday tells the story about Jacob wrestling with God. For me it is all about a human being struggle with what it means to relate to God.

I grew up with a view of Christian faith that gave the impression that the Bible was like a rule book with all the answers to all the questions we have about life and faith and that the particular set of interpretations I was being taught was the “New Testament faith.”

I did not have to gain too much theological education to realize that many passages of scripture have more than one interpretation and that many Churches/Denominations have been founded based on those differing interpretations.

While there was a lot of talk about the Bible being a book of all the right rules, there was also what became to me a more valuable emphasis on a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

When I look back on my early faith I realize that many of my views on quite a few specific Christian teachings have changed radically. But I still very much appreciate having learned that one of the most important things about being a Christian is a relationship with God through Christ.

Of course it is more than just our own personal connection with God. John Wesley, our most famous United Methodist founder, declared that that the only holiness is social holiness! What Wesley meant was that our relationship with God is not for our personal self-fulfillment. In fact the relationship’s value is much diminished if we are not allowing our experiences with Christ to lead us to want to make our world a better, more loving, more gracious and more just place.

Jesus did not die for us so that we could horde God’s love. Jesus came that we might live life more abundantly and share that abundance. That balance of personal and social holiness is one of the reasons I am a United Methodist Christian.

While I believe I know more about my relationship with God now than before, I do still struggle with parts of my faith. (Did you know that pastors do and can struggle with faith? And if they do not, that is something else to worry about!) Paul Tillich said that doubt is a part of faith. And I believe that struggle is also a part of faith. What do I struggle with?

I struggle with why good people suffer, why children go hungry, why God yet allows evil in the world, and if the Church in the world will get over its own internal struggles enough to represent Christ’s love. I struggle with why Christians sometimes believe that being right is more important than being grace filled. (This list is not exhaustive!)

There are days I wrestle with God searching for the answers to the questions I struggle with. Some of the highest and holiest experiences are that wrestling with God because I’ve learned that it is not me finding the answers that is important, it is that God is loving and gracious and willing to wrestle with me. And of course, the best answer God gives me in those struggles is, “I am with you always.”

If you are struggling with your faith, know that God is there to struggle with you. Know that God does not stop caring for you. No matter how much you struggle, God is with you.

 

 

God is For “Us”

Sunday I’m preaching from the passage of scripture in Romans eight in which we talk about how God is for us, how God cares about us, and how God works in our lives for us to become conformed to the image of Christ.

Of course for me the first question I want to ask is, who is “us?” I grew in the context of church from a congregationalist background where the congregation was “us.” So much so that communion was only for the members of that congregation. Even fellow members of the same denominational family were not really “us.”

When I was first getting to know United Methodists I would often refer to the UMC as “they” and “them.” A mentor in UMC ministry told me that as I transitioned into the Church that one day I would find that it was no longer “they” or “them” but that I would become part of “us.” I learned that I did indeed transition to a place where I am part of the “us” of the United Methodist Church. And it feels good to be one of “us.”

Beyond United Methodists the wider “us” is all of the Christian faith. All of “us” who call on the name of Jesus are part of the same “us” known as the universal Church. It is what we mean when we say the Apostles’ Creed and say, “I believe in the holy catholic church….” Catholic in that context means the universal “us.”

But is that enough? Is that adequate? When God created humanity he created the yet bigger “us.” We are all part of the same human family. We are all God’s children. So when I say that “God loves us.” God doesn’t mean God loves us United Methodists or God just loves us Christians, or God loves us Americans or God loves…. You get the picture.

God loves the whole diverse human family, not just the “us” that I like to make myself a part of or am the most comfortable in.

We as the church at First UMC Indianola and as the United Methodist Church need to think about a bigger “us.” When we seek to share the love of God and that God loves everyone, that God loves ALL we are saying that you are a part of “us.” We want to tell Indianola that you are part of “us” and are welcome. We want to say to people who are unique and different that we want them to be part of “us” too. Because God is for a really really big “us” not a narrow, small “us.”

So the next time you read the words “if God is for us who can be against us” read that in the context of the big “us” of humanity. God is for God’s children and God calls all of us God’s children. That’s us!