An open note to the people called United Methodists during this election cycle...

We often speak of John Wesley extending a hand to those who have things in common. We speak of his quote of doing good as often as we can. Yet, I ask you, where is this evident in your blogs and Facebook posts lately?

Where is there evidence of goodwill and charity when you insult the intelligence of differing political views? Where are you offering grace to those who may not share your view on party allegiance? When do you admit, based on the information available and reasoned thought, a fellow Christian may end up at a differing opinion as yours?

In his sermon, “On Charity,” John Wesley writes,

“’Love is longsuffering.’ It endures not a few affronts, reproaches, injuries; but all things, which God is pleased to permit either men or devils to inflict.”

You may well agree to disagree agreeably and that is our right and privilege under our Constitution but what of how we speak under the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ? Is the insulting of candidates appropriate? Are the snide and crude pictures an evidence of longsuffering love?

I appeal to you all who call yourself United Methodist to consider who you represent and what fruit is evident when you speak with words out loud or with words on a screen. I pray that this year be a year of longsuffering love for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus and the people who claim the name United Methodist.

Five Ways Our Senses Can Help Through Conflict
Thoreau once said, " If I do not keep in step with others, it is because I hear a different drumbeat."

But what if you're surrounded and overwhelmed by drumbeats?  What if you don't even know what a drum sounds like anymore?

I did a wedding in the Duke Chapel this past weekend and saw the Occupy Duke/Durham protest.  I had to wonder (as I didn't have time to ask) if they had taken time to consider their parents were paying over $50,000 a year to send them to a private university and most families at Duke represent the 1%?

And why do so many on the other side of the equation condemn said protesters?  Do they not sense the disconnect?  They talk about greed and envy but what about the forgotten passion known as avarice, the unwillingness to share one's resources with others?

Dr. Roberta Bondi points out the passions cause blindness.  I think they also cause deafness, as well as the loss of all senses.  We need to reconsider and review what we learned in grade school about our five senses.

1.  Seeing is believing.  Our society is dominated by this sense.  The historic first televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy ushered us into the age of sight that has dominated us.  As a broadcasting major, we learned the importance of manipulating an image.  It is easy to make a crowd out of 20 people and just as simple to make 1,000 no more relevant than 10.

2.  You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  We do need to listen more and talk less.  We also need to realize that sound bites are not information - they're appetizers.  I've about had it with both groups of my friends (left and right) who all sound ignorant when they keep spitting out quotes of intended to irritate their 'opponents.'  It does not take long for the ears to reveal true colors and help us see the truth.

3.  I smell a rat.  I have never smelled a rat but I have been into some pretty disgusting places and homes.  You honestly don't have to see a rat (or mouse) to know they are there.  Get enough information and your gut takes over.  Smell is the sense of the gut.  Radio, TV, internet, Wall Street to Washington and Democrat to Republican, we are covered up in rats.  The color makes no difference nor does matter if it is in the wild or a pet: a rat is still a rat.

4.  Taste and see.  This is the sense of faith.  At some point we step out and take a chance, we put the data into us and try it out.  The phrase is from scripture (Psalm 34:8) and it simply points out we can't keep doing life by reason or tradition alone.  Of the debates and senses related to our current world, it is the one sense few have the courage to acknowledge let alone use.

5.  Give me a hug!  It is okay if you don't but you cannot ever lose sight of this one thing: we are each human beings - we are mortal and we have feelings, experiences and thoughts that differ from one another.  I love the song, "We All Bleed Red," for it connects us to the reality of our humanity that we will never escape.

May I Ask?  What sense will you use today to know others better?

More Cowbell? How About More Spirit?

May I ask you a question?  I am asking because I'd like this to be a rhetorical question, something for you to really consider.

Is our faith journey a...
1) Intellectual journey?
2) Spiritual journey?
3) Emotional journey?
4) all of the above.

I have been on my own journey to discovering and learning the spiritual side of the journey.  Recovering it, may not be too harsh a word either.  And while some in the Church today are arching their backs and drawing a line in the sand over the "new age" term: spirituality, it is nevertheless a reality for us who follow Jesus Christ.  This is a spiritual journey.

It seems to me somehow, in the passing of the years, we have, for all practical purposes, removed the spiritual side of faith out of the equation.  I recently attended the 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation sponsored by The Upper Room.  There, Dr. Bruce Rigdon discussed how the Church in the west sided with the idealist thought that the physical world was the definition of what was 'real.'  Prior to that point, the Church Universal understood the real world to be the spiritual and the physical world to be a reflection of this.

The Biblical writers saw no division, it was in Dr. Ridgon's words, "the whole ball of wax!"  Dr. Wilkie Au notes, "Christian spirituality offers us a truer understanding of the self and the nature of human fulfillment."  (The Enduring Heart, pg 40).  

Merely engaging in apologetics has failed to grow the Church.  Why?  Reason alone will not carry the day. Consider following the advice of any of our modern thoughts on atheism and we end up just as morally bankrupt as the Church during the Crusades.  Have millions died because of religious beliefs?  Sadly, yes, and how many have died at the hands of governments that have espoused atheism?  Millions again.

What I am more interested in is what will we do as the Church to address the spiritual bankruptcy of our culture.  The role of the Church is to do just this - to be this place - not of intellectual or emotional renewal but of spiritual renewal - to help us see the "real" and not follow the path of Narcissus and become obsessed with the "reflection."

Did you know that hidden in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, paragraph 629, section 6, there is a recommendation for the Annual Conference to have an Area of Spiritual Formation?  That it has its purpose to help develop the devotional life for people and families, CLERGY and LAITY?  

I have found the more I practice spiritual formation, the more I pray, the more I engage in reflection, the more I offer grace and the less I offer gripes.  But that formation isn't merely rote prayer practices that have been shoveled on us by modern publishing houses and contemporary authors.  Spiritual formation engages the width, depth and breadth of Church history and tradition.  

Christopher Walken, a United Methodist lay person, might prescribe more cowbell.  But the real remedy is found not in answers we come up with in our planning and studies.  It is in the reality that "God is a spirit. Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24).  We need more spirit.  We've been doing far too much banging on cowbells.

Thoughts on Extravagant Generosity: Monday of Week 3
Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’ Luke 21:1-4

Put aside politics for a minute and we get to the heart of the matter. When Jesus tells this story, he isn't talking about giving to just another charity or paying taxes. It is giving to God and that is equal to giving to God's Church. It is we who have made giving into something it isn't. Bishop Schnase makes it uncomfortably clear, "The opposite of generosity is greediness..."

The tighter we hold onto the things we have, the harder it becomes to let go and grab onto something better. Generous people have a knack for being optimistic, why? For the same reason God is optimistic about us - remember, God first gave his own son (John 3:16)!

Has giving changed you? In what ways? Have you ever given more than you thought you could? What was that like?

Week Two: Tuesday (Thoughts on Extravagant Generosity)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2

Reading Bishop Schnase's devotion today I couldn't help thinking about rafting this past summer with our Boy Scout Troop.  One thing I've learned is that going down the river with a guide is far more fun than most people realize.  Guides "know" the river.  Every turn, every rock and every branch.  They also know how to have some crazy fun!

Our guide kept us focused and taught us all a great deal.  Having someone like that to look up to can make a whole lot of difference not just on a river but in our crazy, hectic, fast-paced world.  Guides don't panic - they have been through it.  Having God, friends and guides on our "white-water" life adventure can make all the difference!

Today, think about what has been carrying you along and what "rapids" you're in or about to face.  Who is a guide for you?  If you don't have one, pray about finding one and start looking for those who have some "white-water" experience!

Book Review: Seeking Spiritual Intimacy

“The deeper spiritual life is available to all genuine believers. It is not an ideal reserved for a handful of elite Christians,” writes Glenn E. Myers. “The Beguines epitomize the pursuit of one thing: loving Jesus with their whole heart.” With a little history and descriptive narrative, Myers introduces us to the lives of these women of the twelfth and thirteenth century. While today churches continue to struggle with the role of women, we find in their own words and the record of history, the Beguine women, leading by example how to experience a deeper spiritual life.

Myers does not try to write a mere history but attempts to engage the writings of the Beguines so as to reflect their impact on their society and the faith of Christians during the Medieval Period. The book introduces us to their general histories, the struggles with family and the acceptance of the Church to the writings and lifestyle of these women. In these pages we meet four of the leading women of this lay renewal movement.

The reader is invited at the end of each chapter to reflect on what they have read through a variety of practices. Though it has an extensive bibliography and could be considered worthy of textbook status, it is a book which connects us to themes common in our modern times such as the issue of suffering, creating community and even the issue of men’s spirituality.

As theologians, historians, writers, clergy and lay people alike, try to engage a fuller understanding of Christian spiritual formation, all would do well to consider the influence and example of the Beguines. I found Myers writing engaging and the chapters applicable to my own spiritual journey and my ministry as a pastor and spiritual director. If you are indeed seeking spiritual intimacy or simply an understanding of the Beguine movement and history, I recommend adding Myers’ work to your reading list.

Seeking Spiritual Intimacy
Journeying Deeper with Medieval Women of Faith
Glenn E. Myers. 2011. Intervarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-3551-5


Let Me Ask Ya This...

It is good to be home in Pirate Country! Georgia is now home but East Carolina is always on my mind. I'd like to play a little game today, something interactive to get our minds going a little. It is a fill in the blank game. I'll say a phrase and you finish it...

At an East Carolina home game you hear: First Down...(and you say:) Pirates!
A Teacher: There is no such thing as a stupid (question)
A Police Officer: Please hand me your license, insurance and (registration)

All three of those phrases were part of my time here in Greenville. But of the three, only one is part of my journey. It is so much easier to major on the minors but it is in the questions, that we come face to face with God. Granted the same might be said to be true: if you don’t want to come face to face with God, don’t ask questions.

There is unfortunately different stigmas around questions. We are afraid to ask for fear we might look stupid. Also, people take questions to mean you don’t like them. One of my best friends asks great questions but because he does, some people take it the wrong way. But as a military officer he learned to ask REALLY good questions.

But questions also cause us two fears. One of the things we fear is not knowing. The other, less obvious, is finding the answer. In the earliest centuries of the church, the formation of monastic communities in the deserts were places where men and women could go to face questions. On one occasion, a group of men went to see Abba Anthony. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a Bible text and beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each had his opinion but to each, Abba Anthony said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he came to last, to Abba Joseph and he asked him, “And what is your explanation.” Abba Joseph replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way. for he does not know ("The Sayings of the Desert Fathers," pg 4).” These early Christians learned there was nothing to fear in “not knowing.”

What maybe the greater fear is finding the answer or for that matter, admitting we knew it all along.

The pattern of the desert fathers and mothers grew out of the Rabbinic traditions of the Jewish people. For us, the questioning of Jesus in the temple is exactly the type of pattern which kept the earliest Christians questioning, attentive and passionate about the way of God Jesus had revealed.

Look at this exchange between Jesus and the priests in Matthew 21:23-32

Whoever reported to Matthew the argument only reveals the tip of the iceberg. The priests’ response to Jesus’ first question seems to be the same as Abba Joseph: “I don’t know.” But it is a heart issue. The seeker of God does not fear not knowing. The seeker of glory fears being found out. And it is true of us: We know but we don’t want to know that we know.

But stories reveal the deeper things of our souls. Stories reveal who we are as people. When we hear a story, it brings down our guard. Try this one:
Allan Boesak, was involved in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
That simple phrase told you a story if you know anything about the hideous effects of apartheid. It prepares us for what comes next for Allen wrote, “We will go before God to be judged, and God will ask, "Where are your wounds? Was there nothing worth dying for?'"

Like those folks in the temple, we’re hearing a story, one we casually consider and think it does not apply to us. And then suddenly, Jesus drops the hammer on us... “Who did the will of the father after all?” Or maybe it is Allen’s words, “Was there nothing worth dying for?”

In the height of the middle ages, Mechthild of Magdeberg noted, “...that too often Christians - especially those who are intellectually bright - obstruct the Lord’s intimacy (Glenn E. Myers, Seeking Spiritual Intimacy, pg 143).” How? We avoid the questioning nature of the Spirit of God. We cover over ourselves with “busyness” or “ministry” Examine the Old Testament starting with what maybe the oldest of its writings, Job. Seek after God, question him by all means, but be prepared chapter 38 verse 2 and 3 tell us:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”

In other words, to go after God is (in the words of my friend Jeff Coleman) to put on your big boy underpants and your big girl panties. It is to recognize that any God we can understand or even prove, is not likely to be a God any of us would find worthy to worship. This, I have to imagine, is what must have been so disconcerting for these priests, I more pity them than get angry with them for here appears a man, flesh and blood, claiming divinity!

So let us at least give credit to these priests, they are not yet condemned. Just because some are going ahead does not mean those at the back can’t get in too!
This isn’t an intellectual journey
This isn’t a physical journey
This isn’t a belief journey
I’m not even sure it is a faith journey

No, this is a soul journey and the way to the soul Jesus tell us, is in the story - it is in the questions - it is in the moments that God arrives and we stand our ground and do not shy away.

So let me ask ya? What about those two brothers? Who are you? You may not like the answer but like Sister Hazel once said (maybe even paraphrasing this verse):
If you want to be somebody else,
If you're tired of fighting battles with yourself
If you want to be somebody else
Change your mind...

My invitation to you is this: become part of God’s story.

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