Archive for May, 2016


What are you worried about?

Sparrow tattoo“Cast all your anxiety on [God] because He cares for you.”             – 1 Peter 5:7, NRSV

What does that mean exactly? And maybe more tellingly, what does it mean that I regularly turn up as the guy who forgets or ignores this wisdom?

Anxiety is defined as worry about the future, right? Continual stewing over the errors or mis-steps of the past is called something else. I believe the clinical word for that little mind game is “useless.”

Yes, but aren’t there good solid reasons to be anxious about the future? I mean, what if the money runs out? What if my health or my wife’s health or the health of one of our kids or grandkids takes a sudden turn for the worse? What if the Pacific Northwest falls into the ocean? What if Donald Trump is elected President? (Hold on now! You’re really starting to scare me now!)

What if, indeed. And what if none of that happens? When we worry about all that stuff, aren’t we just borrowing imaginary troubles from tomorrow and using them to suck the joy out of today?

Yes. Yes indeed.

That sort of “take one day at a time” approach is good and sound. It is the kind of guidance we might expect to receive from Dr. Phil or from a 12-step group or from a benevolent uncle.

What I am most interested in digging into, however, is the part of this common sense advice that makes it particularly godly or biblical and sets it apart from advice you might get from Dr. Phil. Nothing against Dr. Phil, you understand. Good guy with good guidance.

But Dr. Phil is not the inspired Word of God.

The first thing I am interested in with this passage is the fact that it does not tell us not to have anxiety. In fact it seems to accept that because of our flawed and less-than-holy nature, people will get anxious about life. We will habitually worry about things we can’t control.

Instead, it tells us what to do with our anxiety when it pops up. It says, “Cast it on God.” In other words, it says to take that anxiety, wad it up into a big ball, dribble it a couple of times like it was a basketball, and then launch it toward the sky… just like Steph Curry shooting a three pointer. I’m not entirely sure about this, but it would probably help if you actually went through those exact motions every time you read this passage. And then after you launch it be sure to say, “Here you go, God! It’s all yours now!”

So why does God even want that stuff? We’ve already said it is imaginary… existing only in the fevered recesses of our tiny brains. Why not flush it down the toilet instead? Why not send it away with the other crap down there.

It’s because the act of giving our distorted and anxious ideas about the future to God is an act that makes an important… and even vital statement. Actively giving our anxieties to God (by pantomiming a Steph Curry three-point shot) says, “Here is my messed up vision of the future, God. By giving it to you, I am admitting that the future is not mine to know or own. I am hereby giving this to the one who actually DOES hold the future. I am giving it to you.”

In other words, it is an active act of surrender… it is surrendering MY vision to God’s vision and acknowledging which vision is superior.

The writer then finishes it all off by telling us that God invented this totally genius anxiety ridding process for one reason and one reason only: “Because he cares for you.”

Now is that cool or what!


In Pursuit of Rightness

rabbduckAs Edwin Friedman first reminded us, anxious times bring with them an overpowering need for certainty. And the times have rarely been more anxious for the United Methodist Church than they are right now. For starters, this denomination is experiencing a state of unprecedented decline… a decline that could – if not checked – spell the end of “the people called Methodists.”

We also just concluded a quadrennial global gathering of lay and clergy leaders that ended with a resounding lack of resolution on the fundamental question of how our policies as a global denomination might be shaped to account for a variety of expressions of human sexuality.

When you stop to think about it for a moment, even trying to hold that specific conversation in that specific environment is a pretty bold and dangerous undertaking. Putting 894 people together, some from the uber-liberal Pacific Northwest of the U.S., some from countries in Africa where people are beaten, stoned, and jailed for being gay, and asking them to come to a common mind on the issue is just… asking for trouble.

And so, once again as predicted, the can gets kicked down the road.

Therefore we reach out anxious fingers and grasp for certainty; something solid to hold on to… something that will quell our anxious stomachs. We want… no, we NEED… to be able to say with confidence, “THIS is right. THIS is true.”

We also feel a need to be seen standing in league with that rightness. It may be because we believe that in so doing, our rightness will shine like a beacon to the rest of the world, the lost and confused will be drawn to us and our rightness, and the denomination will be saved from certain doom.

The problem is: we were not called to be right. We – as the denomination called United Methodists – were not called to survive either.

But when we make rightness (defined here as “perfect alignment with God”) our ultimate objective, we make a grotesquely arrogant assumption. We assume a human ability to perfectly know the mind of God. We also assume a human ability to live perfectly in tune with our understanding of the mind of God.

These are both objectives I aim for as a person of faith… the knowing and doing of God’s will. They are also objectives I fall far short of every moment of every day.

As I see it, there are only two conditions that make a perfect understanding of and perfect alignment with the mind of God possible; either the human mind must be unlimited in its reach (in order to match God’s unlimitedness), or God must be limited (to match the limitedness of our minds).

Because you see, if we really believe what we say about God in our hymns and our praise and worship songs (God of Wonders, Beyond our Galaxy, You Are Holy… In Light Inaccessible, Hid From Our Eyes, etc.), we would be forced to concede that the full depth, complexity, and wisdom of God is ultimately unknowable by mere humans. At least by me, that’s for sure.

And a necessary corollary to that concession is that we would also no longer be able to say that the sum total of all that God was, is, or ever will be is succinctly contained within the sixty-six books of our authoritative text; the Holy Bible.

We can continue to say that God speaks through the words of scripture. We can say that God inspired the writers of scripture. But we simply cannot say that God stopped speaking and inspiring humans when the last period of the Bible was put in place. An unlimited, infinite God doesn’t stop speaking when humans stop writing.

All of this is prelude to explaining my current state of discouragement as I ponder the conclusion of the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. A sizable faction of our global denomination seems bent on shaping the church’s policies to fit their avowed “perfect understanding” of God’s will in regard to human sexuality.

For them, there is no latitude… no wiggle room… no space for compromise on this question. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is their posture.

This position threatens to force the United Methodist Church to become something it never was – in my opinion – intended to be; the defender of one strand of Christian orthodoxy. I love what Adam Hamilton said to the seminarians he spoke with the other day in Portland; that the UM Church is known for being the “big tent” church with room for people who hold a wide range of interpretations on issues relevant to our faith. I love that this denomination has become known as the “both/and” church rather than the “either/or” church… where we strive to retain an appreciation for truth that resides on both sides of an issue.

And so it is painful to witness proposals surface designed to divide the church between those who strive for rightness and those who strive for love. Because if we were to truly live out the calling I believe God has placed on our lives, we would find a way to retain both of these camps under a single tent.

Today I am grateful for the tireless and often thankless work of the men and women who served as delegates to that General Conference. I am grateful to those who still strive to arrive at a solution that allows the word “United” to still mean something in the name of our denomination.

And I pray that the Holy Spirit will flow and move and permeate hearts on both sides of the Great Sexual Divide and convict us in a way that draws our focus to the real mission Christ calls us to: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.


WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR – General Conference 2016

michelangelo davidI am not a delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which begins on Tuesday, May 10. I will, however, be in Portland, Oregon coincidentally visiting family at that time. And so I am planning to take advantage of that wonder of synchronicity to go to the Portland Convention Center, sit in the spectator’s gallery for a couple of days, and watch some of the GC 2016 proceedings.

(Incidentally, my wife thinks this is one of the stupidest ways ever invented to spend vacation time and will not be coming with me. And I am not sure I blame her one bit.)

But the thing is… I love my church. At the same time I am worried about my church. I also know that the deliberations taking place during this quadrennial global gathering will have a profound effect on the future of this wonderful, screwed up, faithful, bureaucratic, pioneering, affirming, frightened, bunch of Christ-followers called United Methodists.

And so I will go and watch from the gallery… hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

As a denomination we have been punting the issue of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people down the field for many decades. Which means, of course, our inaction has allowed Disciplinary language to stand that mandates an official church stance that says, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

And so… by deferring action on this piece of our doctrinal heritage, the United Methodist Church has officially endorsed a form of discrimination and has blessed a form of denial of full humanness for a particular class of people.

Many are hopeful that this gathering of the global church will finally be the moment (#itistime) when our church repents of its sin and goes and sins no more. And yet there is also a formidable contingent of folks – also calling themselves United Methodists – who have an equally passionate hope that the church stick to its “godly ways” and continue to exclude any LGBTQ person from the life and ministry of United Methodism.

It is an issue that even the shrewdest of diplomats would have a hard time finding a middle ground on. Either gays get to be United Methodist pastors or they don’t. Either a United Methodist pastor can perform same-sex marriages, or they can’t.

And given the extremely volatile nature of the issue and the capacity for explosiveness it has carried with it every time it has come to the floor, I wonder if resolution is too much to even hope for. Lack of resolution – or a decision to retain the current language – means continued oppression in the name of faith. And I am not sure how or if I can live with that.

And yet, a decision to change, to become an inclusive and – in my opinion – a more loving and Christ-like global body of people likely means deep schism in the denomination.

And so I have decided that my hope is that an example for the world will emerge from the coffee-flavored atmosphere of Portland… an example of how two very disparate groups, living under the same ecclesial “roof” can engage passionate and vital dialogue on a divisive subject and do so with goodwill and clarity.

I pray that both sides will see their project in the same light that Michelangelo described his sculpting work on the famous statue of David… in which vital chisels are wielded by the hands of both the pro-inclusion and the anti-inclusion folks and where a recognition dawns that they must work together under divine guidance to uncover the masterpiece of consensus that already lives within the block of rough marble before them. And that when they finish, and the last extraneous piece has been chipped away, they can stand back together, embrace, and behold what GOD – not either of them flying solo – has wrought. Of course, in the name of justice my prayer is that this finished work of art provides a way for ALL (“all means all,” after all) people to come to the table of grace with their full humanity intact.

And just to mix in a baking metaphor for fun, the icing on the cake would be that the rest of the world takes note of what happened there in Portland and says, “You know… I bet we could do what the Methodists did, too. Let’s give it a go, shall we?”

God’s abundant blessings on each and every delegate and their families as they prepare their hearts and minds for this historic 10 days.

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