Do You Hear What I Hear? Away In A Manger

Read the Scripture for this message: Luke 2:1-7

If you missed last week, you missed out on our giveaway and some great conversation about favorite traditions.  There and in some other great times with friends this week, we started talking about the variety of traditions that are wide and varied around the US and the world.

Does Santa wrap the presents he brings to your house or not?  He didn’t when I was growing up but when I got married, suddenly he started wrapping gifts.  Today is Lessons & Carols in our traditional services.  I never had been to this type of service until I moved to Cumming FUMC.  It is a really beautiful service to be part of.  Nativity scenes were not an immediate part of church tradition either.  Nope, Francis of Assisi was credited with creating the first one, a living one, around 1223.  In 1957, Frances Kipps Spencer at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia began thinking about a way to decorate the Christmas tree in her church that would be more suitable for a sanctuary and came up with the idea of the Chrismon tree with symbols of the Christian faith.  Some of our traditions are easily taken for granted.

Since it appeared in 1887 in a book of songs no one would be caught reading today “Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses,” people believed that it was the church  reformer, Martin Luther, who had written the song.  It was described as a lullaby which he sang to his kids.  But in 1945 a church historian named Richard Hill began to research the song’s origins.  He went all the way back to Luther’s original writings and have you guessed?  Yep, there is no trace of these words in Luther.  In fact, the earliest Hill could find the words referenced was in 1885 and then it was only the first two verses.  Somewhere between 1885 and 1887 the third verse was added.1. 

We’ve come to imagine so many scenes of the night of Jesus’ birth from this carol among others.  Did they have cribs like we have back then?  How do we know there was a cow there?  One of my favorites though is the line, “no crying he makes,” really?  But there is one aspect of this simple little carol that is spot on important – the one whose head lay in that manger was the Lord of all creation.

Over the past few weeks we have traced the advent story through three carols now.  It began with prophetic message of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” God had heard the cry of all creation longing for hope.  And in “O Holy Night,” the truth of that name was given to simple shepherds and sinners, a word of hope to us all that God loves everyone.  And it was the shepherds who brought word of another title for this little baby, a title we find in 2:11 – this is Christ, the Lord!

Jesus is referred to as Lord over 700 times in the New Testament.  The idea of Lord combines two ideas 1) that this is The One who has the absolute power to create us (which God did) and 2) has the absolute authority to demand our worship (which God doesn’t). 2.  To be Lord is to be The One who is ultimately in control.  I’m sure some of ya’ll have done personality inventories.  I am a Myers-Briggs “J,”  I’m a DISC –“D,” I’m an Enneagram “1,” shall I go on?  Clearly, control is not an issue for me – not!  Those are images we know far better than the image of “Lord.”  We don't use the word Lord much (though it is part of pop culture in one place: Darth Vader is also known as Lord Vader, but I digress).

Why is this important?  What is the difference this ought to make in our live’s?  I believe that Jesus is God after all.  But that is just the point!  It is easy to make declaration of belief but it is so much harder to release control of our life.  Jesus is far less interested in just what we believe than He says he is concerned about how we’re living life!  “After what they did, there is no way I’ll forgive!”  “How can avoid going into debt if I give 10% to God especially during Christmas!  Look, I’ll give God Sunday mornings unless the game on Saturday is a late game or if the Sunday game is a 1pm start time, or if I had a long week.” 

I really don’t know if you are hearing what I hear, I hope so because what I have been hearing today or these past few weeks has been a vision for a new creation, a new world, a new life.  As I have been leading a small group this year, I’ve been offered some new ideas and this week really struck home on one of them.  “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” was a verse we reflected on everyday.  One day we were asked to write a list of all those we loved and consider them as we reflect on the verse and then, we were to list those we had difficulty loving and reflect and pray for them.

You know what I heard in this?  I heard that believing offers a new life, an eternal life, a life like Jesus, Emmanuel: God is with us, the one who is Christ the Lord!  Eternal life doesn't refer to living the same life.  Eternal life refers to the new life - God with you! God isn’t going to force you to believe or change.  In that manger, the Lord Jesus came to us, became like us.  Later he died to save us.  We sing it in Away In A Manger, a simple prayer, "Be near me Lord Jesus," and it echoes the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28; "I am with you always even to the end of the age!"

Works Cited:
1. Morgan, Robert J. "Then Sings My Soul, Book 2." Nelson, 2004.
2. Bromiley, Geoffrey. "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged." Eerdmans. 1985.

Do You Hear What I Hear? O Holy Night

When Heather and I got married we had to figure out how to merge our family traditions into our own.  We had to figure out when the tree goes up and when it must come down.  When do the presents go under the tree?  As they get wrapped or on Christmas eve?   One of the traditions of her family was listening to Nat King Cole’s famous Christmas album.  Today we’ve added a number of CDs to our collection and we have a blast doing karaoke while putting up the tree.  But I can’t help but stop and reflect everytime Nat King Cole’s version of “O Holy Night,” comes on in the rotation.

The carol, O Holy Night, was written in the mid 1800's. There was a parish priest asked a guy in town to write a poem based on Luke 2.  The man he asked was a French merchant and a poet named Placide Cappeau. Now Placide was known more as the life of the party than by a life changed by Jesus Christ.  Church was not on his to do list but he was known as a good poet. So, Placide wrote the poem as requested but then he did one better.  He asked a friend who was a good song writer to put the poem to music.  Of course, this friend wasn’t a Christian and in fact, his family was Jewish by heritage.  The song became so popular within a couple of years everyone in the Catholic Church was singing it!  Word did get out though about the character of the two guys who did the work and so a push was made to remove the song but it didn’t do much good as so many people loved it.

Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides, French and German, stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang the first line of “O Holy Night.”  The story goes that an unofficial cease fire occurred for the next 24 hours as the soldiers celebrated Christmas together.

Later in 1906, Reginald Fessenden was a 33-year old professor and assistant to Thomas Edison, did what many people thought was impossible. He used a generator, plugged a microphone into it and broadcast the very first AM broadcast in the history of the world on Christmas Eve in 1906. He read from Luke, Chapter 2, and broadcast the Christmas story.  Sailors on ships and writers at newspapers were shocked to hear a voice over their radios that before that day only broadcast coded impulses. Next he took his violin and played into the microphone the first song broadcast across airwaves in the history of the world.  The song was “O Holy Night.” (See Beliefnet's History of O Holy Night)

Honestly, why should this really surprise us?  As I spent time both with the scripture and the song, it seems to make perfect sense.  Read the words carefully and it seems that the song comes from the perspective of the shepherds.  Shepherds, a group of people whose profession made them unclean by the temple standards and unable to testify in court.  Shepherds were a people who the Pharisees and Priests couldn’t get by without because they needed the sheep for making sacrifices!  And who again wrote the poem?  Who wrote the song?  Why, an outcast and a sinner.

And so who is it the angel is sent to tell the “Good News?”  It is shepherds, in other words, the dregs and outcast.  And who is it Jesus, as a grown man, would be accused of hanging out with again and again?  What kind of people would attach themselves to Jesus, and follow every word and every step?  Tax collectors and prostitutes…sinners. 

But as I sat reflecting on the scripture and song, I felt I was still missing something.  How is it these two collaborators had created such an inspiring and well loved song?  And then it hit me in the first lines of each verse, the words of the apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 13…faith, hope and love.  Could it be that these three that remain are a longing for all of humanity?  Could it be they expressed the desires of all our hearts and proclaimed a message that resonates in us all?

1. Hope for the weary world.  Have you ever just stopped and listened to your soul?  Usually it is on a mountain top or that morning cup of coffee looking over the beach.  Something speaks to our core – that is our soul.  Our souls have worth and we are not left to wander aimlessly in this life. 

2. Faith leads us to Good News, the reality that God has come to be with us (Immanuel).  This is what led the wise men to search.  All they had was a star in the sky!  They had no Tom-Tom, Google maps or Siri to talk with about where to go.

3.  Love becomes the new law by which we live.  Love is how Jesus lived and what he taught.  Not just any love but a love that breaks our handcuffs that have us locked to sin and frees us to live a new life!

The hope to begin anew is here.  The faith you have been seeking is here.  The love you have longed for is here.  If this is good news to shepherds it is good news for you.  If it is good news for tax collectors, it is good news for you.  If it is good news for prostitutes then it is good news for you.  If it is good news for sinners it is good news for you.  Faith, hope and love remain, wrote the Apostle Paul, but the greatest of these is love and love is here – in Jesus!

Swords To Plowshares: What The Walking Dead Revealed About the UMC

I am a recent comer to the series “The Walking Dead.”  I am not a
fan of the zombie genre at all but so many friends were watching it that I ran through the seasons on Netflix and am now thoroughly entranced in the story and up to date.  Like many others, I have, to a limited degree found myself reflecting on the moral messages of the story arc.

The mid-season finale of the fourth season clearly struck a chord with many of my friends and viewers.  I was not so surprised because the writers have done a good job of creating a universe where no one is immune to the reality of their mortality.  Even so, I was caught off guard by one word.


It was a word spoken by the “Governor/Brian” in response to a plea by the story’s hero, “Rick.”  Rick had laid out the possibility of two groups living in a prison that had in fact, become a fort protecting them from the zombie hordes.  The Governor declined the plea from Rick with one word declaring Rick to be a liar.

Had Rick lied?  Oh, certainly he had at other points in the story arc but Rick had also been humbled and broken by many crises.  The Governor, we thought, had been changed for the better too, up until this point.  But the Governor had been a liar and continued that path.  He had come to see in everyone else the sin which most tormented himself.  In one man’s plea for peace and community, all the Governor could see was the evil which had come to own him.

As I read and listen to conversations surrounding our United Methodist Church about the recent rulings in Pennsylvania and the actions of a retired Bishop in Alabama, I could not help but consider the many sides and the conclusions we seem to be reaching regarding one another.  I have no intention of calling anyone out for their posts on blogs, Facebook, or Twitter.  I willingly admit to creating “straw-men.”  I do not see how the other matters at all.

Sexuality and homosexuality specifically, has taken center stage for the UMC.  We have done much work according the “Quadrilateral,” making careful cases using Scripture, reason, experience and tradition.  I have read well presented cases from many sides of the issue.  Yet, it seems to me, we continue to fall for the same mirage which entrapped the Governor.  Are we really making our cases “for” or “against” a position or are we seeing in others the sins which we fear in ourselves? 

When Jesus brought up the issue of “specks” and “logs” in our eyes, he kept it simple, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)” It is incredibly easy to make this a measurement of how much sin we have compared to those we want to judge but I don’t think it is that at all.

We have got to come clean with the condition of our own soul and our own sin.  Jesus’ example is one of absurdity to try and show us the truth that it is most often what we fear the most in ourselves is what we see in those around us.  When “the right” is condemned for a lack of compassion and failing to love like Jesus, is this not what we on the left are failing to do ourselves?  When “the left” is condemned for being slack in their scholarship and wishy-washy about sin, is this not what we on the right fear in our own inner work? 

Liar.  With that word, the Governor proceeded to end the life of one of the show’s most prophetic voices.  The left and the right of this argument (and many other arguments for that matter) do not own a monopoly on having prophetic voices.  However, the quicker we are to cut with the sword, the fewer brothers and sisters we have to beat them into plowshares.  

Ken's Note: This is not an endorsement for watching "The Walking Dead."  If you are uncomfortable with gore and violence, don't watch it.  I think I did a fair job of describing the scene, just leave it at that.

Do You Hear What I Hear? O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Click for this week's text: Matthew 1:18-24

How do songs, centuries old, full of religious imagery and messages, keep getting air play?  Simple, stop talking about the meaning.  As the season of Hallow-thank-mas gets to the final stretch, we will listen to every version of every Christmas carol in every store we visit.  Yet in many cases, the meaning has been lost.  My hope and prayer during the weeks leading up to Christmas, we’ll rekindle some of the glow.

To start, I’d like to share with you about the history of the lyrics of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The history of this carol dates back to between the Eighth and the Twelfth Century. During this era in Church history people would actually either sing or chant these phrases that all started with the letter 'O'. Songs were important because most people were uneducated.  Somebody would read a Psalm and then they would sing or chant phrases that started with the letter 'O', and they became known as the O antiphons. Over time, one of the lines they would sing birthed this song, O Come O Come Emmanuel  (from "Then Sings My Soul, Book 2 by Robert J. Morgan).  In the Methodist Hymnal, you’ll find these antiphons still listed!

But that is only part of the story.  It is a name meaning “God with us.”  It also doesn’t come from the night of Jesus’ birth.  It actually comes from the words of the prophet Isaiah found in Isaiah 7:14-15:  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat butter and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Names were important in the Bible.  The choosing of names and the titles one received were critically important.  One can easily dismiss the “Immanuel” with the idea of God being present through his Spirit or that God is present in his creation.  But Verse 15 of Isaiah tells us something unique – God became like us: he ate our food and lived our lives. 

           And at the transition between BCE and the Common Era, sometime around the year 1, the Jewish people were under foreign rule.  Rome and Caesars had the final say.  The prophets and people hoped and looked for a leader, a king, sent by God to free the Jews.  What they couldn’t seem to understand was God not only wanted to free them but all of humanity from our sinful nature, to make a way for us all to choose good. 

The Jews were looking for a Messiah.  The Jews and gentiles alike were looking for a savior from Roman rule.  Today those words have lost most of their meaning.  But when I read the headlines, articles and blogs, the one I still hear people looking for is a desire for God to be with us. John’s gospel describes that The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  It almost sounds like Jesus meets us down at the Waffle House. As it was 2,000 years ago, it remains today, humanity is still crying out for Emmanuel, but how will the people of the world know God is with us?  It will be “...through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in Jesus’ name” (from Clarke's Commentary on the Holy Bible).

There is a story told of a winter night where a farmer heard an irregular thumping sound against his kitchen storm door. He went to a window and watched as tiny, shivering sparrows, attracted to the evident warmth inside, beat in vain against the glass.

Touched, the farmer bundled up and trudged through fresh snow to open the barn door for the struggling birds. He turned on the lights and tossed some hay in the corner. But the sparrows, which had scattered in all directions when he emerged from the house, hid in the darkness, afraid.

The man tried various tactics to get them into the barn. He laid down a trail of Saltine cracker crumbs to direct them. He tried circling behind the birds to drive them to the barn. Nothing worked. He, a huge, alien creature, had terrified them; the birds couldn’t comprehend that he actually desired to help. The farmer withdrew to his house and watched the doomed sparrows through a window. As he stared, a thought hit him like lightning from a clear blue sky: “If only I could become a bird – one of them – just for a moment. Then I wouldn’t frighten them so. I could show them the way to warmth and safety.”  At the same moment, another thought dawned on him. He grasped the reason Jesus was born.  (story credited to Paul Harvey)

 And when we invite Jesus into our hearts, then the world will see the truth - God IS with us. 

Ken's Note: I am aware of the similar series done by Craig Groeschel  and  It is a work I have referenced in my own work but it has not been the basis for my work.  Where appropriate, I will cite.  

Losing My Way: Farther Down A Blind Road

It isn’t hard to lose your way.  I’ll admit, it is rare for me to lose my way, or at least it was.  I have always had a good sense of direction.  I have done navigation with GPS and with map and compass.  I have navigated underwater while scuba diving both with and without a compass.  I have navigated with shadows and by the position of the sun as well.

With my vision loss, things have changed.  When people ask me about how I’m doing, I often tell them each day is a new experience and I learn something new each day. This past weekend is a good example.  I got an invite to help a friend dog training for upland bird hunting.  I had a great time but I realized my head and eyes now naturally look down when I’m in unfamiliar terrain.  This causes some challenges when birds get flushed when hunting.  Most times I only caught sight of one bird not two (or more) because it flew to the side and I have no peripheral vision now. 

As the sun was setting and shadows grew longer, I realized how easy it could be for me to lose my way.  When your favorite place to be out is being way out, that is a sobering thought.

The thing is, there are adaptations I can make.  Using other visual cues, always having a flashlight, using a trekking pole in uncertain terrain would all help.  I have come to accept that solo hunting and hiking is likely a thing of the past too and this assures me there is a more reliable pair of eyes for me to lean on.

What happened to me physically though, also impacts me mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  I am not so self absorbed that I think I have it worse than others.  The onset of a disability, regardless of the degree it impacts a person, still changes your life.  There are days when it is incredibly lonely.  I feel isolated from peers, friends and family.  I recognize when people don’t know what to say or how to respond.  I have prayed and wondered.  So for lack of better words, I have at times, lost my way. 

I think this is what has struck me so much about the transition into Advent this year.  For so many years, for so much of my life, I have thought about and prayed for what I wanted or what I thought God wanted.  Whether it was a fresh wind or clear purpose, I walked a road where the lines were so clearly marked, you’d have to wonder how anyone could ever “turn to the right or the left” as the writer of Proverbs noted.

But when your dreams crumble and platitudes become bitter on your lips, it does not take long before you find yourself off the path of least resistance.  It did not take long before I realized the path I found was not really a new path but an old one, one it seems had fallen into disrepair.  If you hike much, you will know what it is like to find just such a path.  Leaves cover the depression.  Bare ground occasionally breaks through.  Maybe a worn blaze marker on a tree.  Whatever signs are found affirm that while this is the road less traveled, it is also the road meant for thee.

I found it first in a book of little acclaim in most circles of the Christian tribe, called Shattered Dreams.  Then it was an article here and word of encouragement over to the side.  I began to discover voices from the Church, long forgotten or were they just ignored?  I’m not sure it even matters.  I caught the sounds in the chants of the monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.  In the broken bread and juice poured out I tasted the sweetness and the sweat of a severe mercy and a suffering grace.  In the Jesus Prayer, I claimed a pattern of prayer that resonated with my soul.   

And so with each step I have taken these many months, I have slowly tried to wear out this path, to follow the way wear my spirit can see even if my eyes might fail me.  Sometimes we have to lose our way to find The Way.  If that puts me out of step with some, then so be it.  In all of this I have learned it best not to trust my own faculties for they will fail, of this I know.  More than all the world, this year I claim the advent truth: Emmanuel – the promise that God is with us.  

One Day At A Time. What It Is Like In My Shoes.

This is a post originally put on Facebook.  As I have had so many comments, phone calls and conversations about how helpful this has been, I thought I'd share it here for a better record.  I wrote this in response to being asked recently about how it is that I can need a cane and am still legally able to drive? As I am in the process of learning myself how disabilities are classified, I thought I might explain some of what I've learned and how it might help other's understanding. After you read this, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

1. The Low Vision Classification. 
Having low vision is unique for each person. Persons with low vision will have different areas of their vision which are impacted and different approaches to compensate.

2. What do I see?
My peripheral vision is impaired in both eyes. What is more, if you think of the eye as a circle, draw a line across the center and color the bottom half black. That is what I see. However, the top half of my vision is perfect and that is what I use. The signal my brain gets is a little tricky. The poor vision in the bottom half of my vision, is blended with my perfect upper vision, thus everything I see is somewhat blurred.

3. Why walking with a cane?
I have been walking without a cane for a while. But, I can tell you it isn't always easy. I have a bruise on my thigh from hitting the corner of a filing cabinet every day this week. I fear every Sunday running into a pew during the processional or falling down the stairs in the chancel. I trip over sticks and rocks regularly when hiking.  In working with a low vision specialist discovered that a cane helps me recover, to an extent, both some of my lower vision and peripheral vision as I walk. In the USA, it is a sign to other people that I have a disability.

4. You can drive?
Yep, I'm still legal. I don't determine this, the government does. Because I have that upper vision, I can still drive. So you know, I try not to drive at night or during bad weather conditions. I like right hand turns...a lot. And the speed limit? Yep, that is the limit for me.

5. Reading is work...period.
Remember how I've lost the bottom half of my vision? The bottom half of your vision is the vision used when reading. Even with the CCTV and magnification software on the computer, it takes longer for me to read. Do my eyes get tired? You bet.  I find that it takes me longer to do the work that once came quickly whether that is reading, research and writing.  To a degree, it takes me longer to collect my thoughts in general.

6. Are you giving up hunting?
Nope. For the principles of fair chase, my hope of taking up bow hunting is out and trying to hunt with a rifle doesn't seem much fair to animals so those are out. That keeps me in the game for upland bird, waterfowl and turkey for sure since I can use a shotgun. I can still see with the top half of my vision and that is where birds are flying.

7. Interdependence.
I appreciate the offers to help and to drive. Ask me first, don't assume I need it. Offer to help before extending a hand or let me bring it up.  Through the help of my Vision Rehab Specialist, I learned recently how others can lend an elbow and guide me in certain situations.  On Sunday, one of my fellow clergy helped out in this way during our processional and it was a huge help.  I am still the same person. I am not always aware of my limitations but like a child learning to walk, I need to fall sometimes to learn.

Please feel free to ask me questions. Whatever you do though, don't pity me, I am husband and a father, losing my vision doesn't take that away. I'm blessed to be given the title pastor too and I will continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. I don't have to see to know what love is, to experience it and share it. I pray you find this post helpful.

Looking at the church through Blinded Eyes: 7 things to reach out to those with vision impairments

My experiences with low vision have greatly influenced how I see the world (pun intended).  Because of my vocation, I have begun to consider how people with low vision or no vision experience worship.

In talking with the team at Vision Rehabilitation Services in Smyrna, Georgia, I learned of some of their conversations.  The leading cause of vision loss right now in the United States is macular degeneration.  While this is primarily a disease that effects older people, it should not keep us from ministry for them and ministry with them.  Many of these people who have sought help from V.R.S. have indicated how important their church experience is to their lives.  More to the point, they want to be able to continue in ministry!

Like me, there are others whose lives have been impacted by various other causes that have taken some or all of their vision.  An estimated 19 million in the USA have problems seeing that cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts.  While there are a multitude of other impairments effecting people, churches can do some practical things to reach out and care for these people.  Here are seven observations I have made recently.

1. Make Large Print Hymnals and Bibles Available.
This simple addition to a sanctuary can make a world of difference.  Keep them stocked in a central location in the worship space or lobby.  Have it printed in a large font in the bulletin that “Large Print Hymnals are available” and make sure you state where they are and/or who to ask.

2.  Closer Seating.
This may not be easy to do but would certainly be a welcome addition for those with vision problems.  Even where I sit on Sunday mornings, I can barely make out faces of the minister preaching or the choir singing.  Services where communion is celebrated can be difficult with walking.  The shorter the distance for walking is often for the better.

3.  Thirty Point Font (or larger) on Screen.
Guy Kawasaki has long recommended taking the age of the oldest person in the room and dividing that age in half to determine the font size for a Powerpoint Presentation.
Thirty Point Font is the minimum size one should use to project text on Sunday morning.  No argument from me.

4.  High Contrast Colors on Screen and Signage.
Moving backgrounds, detailed images and multi-colored slides can be difficult to read even with good vision.  Those in higher education and technology say, “yellow is the color of learning.”  In other words, yellow or white text on dark, simple backgrounds is best for songs & sermon notes.  Apply this same principle around the church campus for signage too.

5.  Transportation to Church.
Many churches do provide bus or van transportation from nursing homes on Sunday mornings.  Not all with visual impairment are in long-term care facilities.  Considering reaching out to the larger congregation with a carpool could make a huge impact.

6.  Provide Prayer, Healing Services and Caring Theology.
Jesus provided a  powerful ministry of healing that was taken up the Apostles.  Through the centuries, people have experienced healing in the name of Jesus Christ.  Churches need to not shy away from offering prayers and services of healing.  We also need to wrestle with the reality that God does not always heal according to our desire or design.  We need not feel guilty as the Church when this occurs nor should we heap blame on those who come to us even as we try to understand what God is up to in a person's life.

7.  Understanding and Empathy.
Low or lost vision can be very embarrassing.  With my vision, just because I look in your general direction does not mean that I recognize you or see you, especially at a distance.  Older people with macular degeneration have expressed concern that friends have interpreted their lack of recognition as being “uppity” or “snobs.”  What does this say about the church if our first response is offense?

 I regularly have to break eye contact in order to shake a person’s hand.  I fear going up and down steps wearing my clergy robe each week in the chancel for fear of missing a step. I used to love large crowds.  Now I get very uncomfortable in very small crowds so Sunday mornings can be tough for me.  I have just about 50% of my vision.  Try imagining the difficulties of dealing with even less. 

The story told in Luke 5:17-26 regarding Jesus, the paralyzed man and his four friends can tell many different stories.  It is about forgiveness and healing as well as about faith.  It also expresses the love of four friends for a fifth.  They were willing to go all out to help.  But I wonder too, was this a common occurrence for these friends?  Did they regularly drop by and literally, pick-up their pal to go the market or temple worship?

I also note that the paralyzed man’s disability was also quite visible.  People with vision loss, like myself, are not always so easy to recognize.  We make our way and try to remain independent as much as possible.  The line between humility and humiliation in these cases is a very thin line.  One reflects a broken heart before God.  The other reflects a broken spirit.  The people of God have the Good News both need to hear if only we’ll look deeper and go into the world where people are blind in both spirit and body.

Some Get It - Some Don't: What I Learned From Public Transit

Some get it.  Some don’t.  Granted, learning to navigate the public transit systems around Atlanta can be difficult the first time for a sighted person.  For my newly developed super power known as low vision, said public transit, becomes that much more difficult.  Still, this past week, I had a goal – make it to my eye rehab appointment in Smyrna on public myself.

When you have lived your life with the freedom to get in your car and drive wherever – whenever you want to, having a change in vision can be like getting chained up on a leash.  Suddenly, your freedom is hindered.  It is not that I don’t want to accept help from others, it is about freedom. Public transit systems become a means of reclaiming freedom – independence can be returned.  Some get it.  Some don’t.

It is not whether one has family and friends who can drive you about.  It is a matter of being able to go wherever – whenever you want.  I found that sense of accomplishment on Tuesday.  I “got it” and so  much more.

Along the journey, I was the recipient of acts of kindness and I had the opportunity to return the favor to others.  I saw Jesus in others, in strangers, and the encouragement of friends.  I also got to discover my definition of a crowd had changed.  Where my definition of a crowd used to be a group of people shoulder to shoulder in numbers of the hundreds and thousands, crowds for me can be 10- 20 people!

But transportation was only part of the day.  At Vision Rehabilitation Services, I discovered an incredible group of people committed to helping people like me with low vision and blindness.  It was the most empathetic environment, one that celebrated our victories with us and is there to assist us overcome or cope with the next challenge. 

I got to put my hands on magnifiers and technologies at no charge to determine what might work best.  I had the chance to ask questions, not about treatments, but about everyday; what do I have to look for with my vision?  I learned that my vision does, in fact, fatigue when I read over time even with assistance.  My experiences of stepping on my cat, bumping into door frames and desks, and losing balance on uneven terrain is to be expected.

What I also need is the opportunity to make it on my own.  I have to adapt.  I have to work on new habits that will benefit me long term.  I will welcome your offer to help but I do not need you to assume I need help and step in. Ask me first.  If you have offered, please understand, I am not turning away from help when I choose to do things on my own.  I do it on my own because I can and, for my own self-esteem, I need to do it, I must do it, and I will do it. 

New Insights From Lost Sight

I read today about a legend of a girl who had a hump on her back.  As the story goes, because of this apparent deformity, she was ridiculed, pitied and picked-on.  However, when she died it was discovered the hump hid her angel’s wings.

In an age of platitudes, pithy remarks, and pride, we remain fallen and false in our approach to dealing pain and difficulties.  We are thankful when they don’t impact us but are quick to discern what others ought to do in response to their struggles.  Walking in other people’s shoes is, well, uncomfortable.

Over a year has gone by since ischemic optic neuropathy damaged the vision in my right eye.  It wasn’t so troubling because my left eye was doing just fine.  It was easy to be humorous as I got to wear an eye patch, my driving ability was still fine and it was easy to change the safety on my shotgun from right to left handed.  I could still do all the things I loved.  Over a year later, everything was fine…until the same condition damaged my left eye.

Just like that I began to live in a new world.  Between sight and blindness, I discovered a new term: low vision.  While not legally blind, yet, I have found myself both able and disabled.  I keep finding others like me, some hiding it, others living with it, overcoming day by day.  For me, my emotions and spirit and mind fluctuate day by day as I adapt to my condition and the impact on my life.  I pray and hope that in the end, I too will find this deformity to be “angel’s wings.”

Crowds of people, something I previously enjoyed being a part of, now cause me to be wary for fear of running into people or tripping.  I find myself bumping into doorways and desks as I have lost peripheral vision.  To shake someone’s hand, I have to intentionally look down to be sure.  I don’t see faces across the room.  I sometimes don’t recognize faces right beside me.  Reading, something that was a joy before, is now a chore requiring real effort and work to focus and even then, I can only do it for short periods of time.  I have to magnify screens and text on my computer and phone.  While legally I can still drive, I no longer can drive wherever and whenever – night and rain are especially difficult.

In a way, I see with new eyes.  I “see” what others with disabilities face.  I experience barriers where I used to have freedom.  While some have pointed out that those with disabilities don’t define themselves by that disability, it isn’t always so.  It is also shortsighted to make such statements while one is still grieving and adapting to their loss of abilities.  Having read the blogs and articles of others who have gone through similar situations, I realize my experiences are shared by others.  I need those words. 

I haven’t come to grips with this yet.  Knowing the cycle of grief, I’m certain there are difficulty days ahead.  I know that I will find barriers which can be overcome and some I may not be able to conquer, certainly not on my own.  What I do know is the power of grace to transform but even transformation can be painful; it is quite often, difficult.  But as Norman Shawchuck states so well, “This is the glorious promise of conversion: God is able to make all things work together for good.  What we cannot redeem, God can…”

Life Transitions When You Least Expect It

The end of turkey season had me distracted from blogging actively.  I had been working on some thoughts and was anticipating returning to writing some more.  As the season closed last Wednesday, I was ready to get back at it.  

As I sat down at my computer at the end of last week, I noticed the vision blurring in my left eye. You may or may not be aware of vision problems last year that took most of the vision from my right eye. Upon viewing my eye, my opthamologist concluded that I am showing signs again of Ischemic Optic Neuropathy in my left eye. I knew this was a possibility but not likely. I ask for your prayers as we deal with this. I am aware of the many conditions which can cause this or come as a result of this. Previously, I showed no signs of other conditions and so many treatments were ruled out. Please just pray for me and my family and those who I entrust my care to at this time.

My vision difficulties are most pronounced when trying to read books and text.  As of now, I am not sure when I will return to writing and blogging.  Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.


Beyond Your Backyard - Serving Our Friends

The first week of June, our Children’s Ministry will kick-off the summer with God’s Big BackyardVacation Bible School. (Click here for more info about all the Camps at Cumming FUMC) It is one of those, don’t miss it experiences.  Because of that, I feel like it isn’t fair for all the fun to get hogged by the Children so like last year, we’re kicking off “Beyond Your Backyard.”  It is like Vacation Bible School for all of us!

I love this year’s theme because growing up, the “backyard,” any yard for that matter, was where our imaginations ran wild.  I remember the countless football games played between the Cowboys and Steelers in David’s front yard across from my house.  I can remember Star Wars, the original trilogy, played around my club house and swing set.  And there was the winter of our fifth grade year when cafeteria trays became the best sleds ever as the ice storm of that year created a winter wonderland.

What all these had in common was how these adventures and the countless one’s like them, were made possible by one factor being present: my friends.  Now we did not always get along.  We fought hard and went home with a few bloody noses and hurt feelings now and again.  But after a day or two we would be back at, riding bikes that had become X-wing fighters or playing spotlight after dark.  Backyards, rock.  So do side yards and front yards too!

Now I say this because I do not want you to leave here today without considering the question - how important are friends?  There is something in this message on healing often overlooked and it is that it was made possible by friends.  For one thing, this man’s healing would not have happened had these friends not picked up his mat and him with it.  But secondly, the healing was based on faith.  It is just that the faith wasn’t the paralyzed man’s.  Jesus said it was the friends.

This paralyzed man had four of them.  Some of us may have one or many.  Some of our Facebook pages say that we have 500 or 1,000 or even more.  But it is what one does for another which really shows who your friends are.  This was something Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play Major League baseball discovered.  If you’ve seen the movie “42“ or have read about his story you know that Robinson was not warmly greeted when he got the call to join the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Everywhere he went, he was called names, pitchers threw pitches at his head and even on his own team, he found himself alone.  It came to a head one game following an error that caused the stands to errupt in jeers.  Shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, called timeout, walked over to Robinson and with all eyes on the two men, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder. 

It is one thing to say your a friend.  It is a whole other thing to act like it.  Friends are not going to heal us when we’re sick or bring back a family member who has passed away.  What friends can do, what friends do, is they stand beside us and offer us a ministry of presence.  Friends are going to be there when we need them.  

There was a whole crowd of people in that town who stood at the door on that day.  It was a whole town of people, many, I suspect who may have known this man or his family.  They too could have gone to his home and picked up the mat, but they did not.  They may have thought, as many did and many still do, that this bad thing happened because he had “taken God off the throne of his heart.” 

After seeing the faith of these friends, Jesus deals with the full extent that healing requires.  Jesus does offer the forgiveness of sins for that is the condition of all of us - we’ve all taken God off the throne of our heart, Jesus dealt with what couldn’t be seen.  But then Jesus goes on to address the physical: what everyone could see.

Jesus didn’t dwell on the specifics of the sin - he went to the root - all of us need forgiveness.  What we all need too, is that friend or group of friends who love us enough to get us to Jesus when we can’t, to carry our soul and prayer and our body to the gathering of believers called the church.  But we also need is to be the kind of friend who does this very same thing to others, to our friends.  We need to be the ones who won’t let the crowd stand in our way.  We are called to be the ones who won’t let a roof or a wall keep our friends from Jesus.  This is how we serve friends.

Not Made To Be Sinners

A fellow pastor asked me to respond to help him respond to a couple questions he had received regarding the image of God in our lives and how sin effects us after salvation.  It wasn't what I had intended to put it in a blog, but as I thought about all the approaches and thoughts people express and share about, few think about the premise.  The premise is at the heart of this one.

Thomas Oden writes, “We are not originally made to be sinners” (298).  This statement is important to remember in reflecting the optimism and hope that is at the root of Wesleyan/Methodist theology and practice.  We chose to become sinners because of how we have been created, which includes free will, and is in the threefold image of God which Wesley talks about in his sermon, “The New Birth.”  Wesley divides the image of God three ways:

1.  Natural image of God.  It is in this form of the image we have free will & immortality.
2.  Political image of God.  It is this form we are stewards of creation and order society/enact justice.
3.  Moral image of God.  In this form, we show how we are made for righteousness and holiness (298).

In the fall, the image of God is defaced.  “…the Fall entails the complete loss of the moral image, while the natural image and the political image are retained, albeit in a distorted manner.  The moral image, however, is the image proper” (48, Colin Williams).  While not always received well, Wesley clearly understood, in agreement with Calvinists, humanity suffers from a state of total depravity.  Williams writes again, “The loss of the moral image spells total depravity because separation from God and the substitution of self-government in place of acceptance of the Lordship of God means that the good capacities of man are twisted from their true course and used for wrong purposes” (49, Ibid).  See also Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament, Romans 6:6 when writing about “our old man,” states, “ …for that entire depravity and corruption which by nature spreads itself over the whole man, leaving no part uninfected.”  But the grace of God is an intervening gift, a gift which works to make possible a decision for God to intervene – to save us.

So to answer the initial question, “can the image of God be lost?” The moral image, is lost to us until salvation while the natural and political image of God is twisted and marred.

I like the way Bishop Scott Jones paraphrases Wesley when he writes “…justification is something God does for us through Christ, while sanctification is something God does in us through the Holy Spirit” (178).  There is simultaneous nature to these gifts of God.  But if, as Jones notes later, “Sanctification is a real change, where righteousness is imparted…(179),” then it seems to me that it is in the gift of sanctification we find the moral image of God renewed within the life of the Christian.

Can we later lose our salvation?  Can we, by our actions, regress in to a fallen state?  Wesley thought so as he describes in “The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God.”  Thomas Oden outlines this in far more detail, but in essence, the longer the Christian gives into temptation, remaining unattentive to the Spirit’s corrections and warnings, if  becomes a downward cycle.  The power of the Lord eventually leaves BUT their always remains prevenient grace present and at work.

1 John 3:9 contains the promise that “whoever is born of God does not commit sin.”  To this Oden, attributes that the sins of “voluntary transgressions of the law” are what is meant.  What Wesley understood as the “Wilderness State” and “Heaviness” reflect two distinct states on the Christian journey.  The “Wilderness” is descriptive of the downward cycle when the Christian begins to give into temptation.  The time of “Heaviness” is comparative to St. John of the Cross', “dark night of the soul,” wherein the Christian finds temptations abounding and are called on to be in prayer continually, seeking after God even in the struggles. 

Oden, Thomas.  “John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity.” Zondervan. 1994.
Williams, Colin W.  “John Wesley’s Theology Today.” Abingdon. 1960.
Jones, Scott J. “ United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center. Abingdon. 2002.

What an Old Tom Turkey Taught Me About Biblical Spirituality

For most pastors and church staffs, the week after Easter Sunday is like a big exhale and collapse on the couch kind of week.  It is a bit more than that for those of us who define the start of spring not by the cycles of the sun and moon but by the sounds of barred owl calls and spring turkeys gobbling from their roost.

It was an incredible Easter worship that we celebrated.  Definitely in my top five and maybe even the number 1 for me.  The thing about Sundays, my friend and fellow pastor, Tommy Willingham reminded me a number of years, is that after Sunday comes another Sunday, and another, and another.  Somewhere in there, clergy have to take Sabbath rest.  I found some of that rest time on April 1.

I have permission to hunt on some private land not far from my home.  I got home a little after 5pm, donned my camo, checked my calls, got my shotgun and headed out for what I thought would likely be an hour or so taking a walk in the woods listening for a non-existent gobbler nearby.

It was 5:30 when I began my walk, crawling under the barbed wire fence and walking up to the highest ridge.  Taking my time, I sent a few gently yelps and clucks out to let any turkeys know a "hen" was in the area.  No one picked up on my advances.  So about ten till six, I did something I rarely do.  I set up a turkey hen decoy on the ridge, found a nice pine tree and I sat down.  I played a game on my phone.  I checked e-mail.  I remembered my prayer beads in my vest and began to pray.

Then I waited.

I’ll admit I don’t wait well.  I get antsy, bored, and anxious.  I also know that I need those feelings and turkey hunting is a sport able to teach patience more than most.  It sure seemed like a lot more time had gone by but right around 6pm, I gobble sounded off right in front of me.  Game on.  I paused a moment and responded with a soft cut and purr from my call.  Nothing.

So I waited.

Five minutes later, the gobbling came from my right.  I turned my head slightly to see that old turkey had covered about 100 yards in five minutes and was anxious to get a glimpse of the hen he had been hearing.  I gave him another cluck and purr and watched his head perk up.  He began putting to hear from that hen.  Then he got a glimpse of the decoy moving in the wind.

He lowered his head down and came in on a string to that decoy.  When the tom was about 15 yards from my pine tree, I brought the hunt to an end.  In reality, my time with this bird was far from over.  I got him back home, took measurements and took to work cleaning him.  I think I'm one of the few who treasure this part of every hunt because it is a time for me to give thanks to God for the blessing of food for my family and the joy of being part of God’s creation.  I give thanks for the bird, for the life and for the hunt.  In these moments after a successful hunt, I am reminded of my own mortality, those sacred words we as clergy say on Ash Wednesday and at funerals: “Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.”

Why do I share this story?  In part, I have come to see and experience the camaraderie in hunt stories.  Sportsmen and sportswomen have a shared language and find meaning and life in the stories.  I have sat with folks in hospital rooms, at home or over a cup of coffee, who had no life in them but who caught spark when the stories of days in the woods came up.  It was people sharing their lives that have help me to come to hold stories, psalms and allegories in a much higher regard than I used to do.  In his article, “To Taste With Heart,” Dr. Mark Burrows writes about this when he observes, “Allegorical reading with its creative interest in possibility, finds its grounding in a spirituality of movement and change.  But this occurs only for readers who are willing to stay put, to remain at the still point within the text... (176, Burrows).”

In our rush toward advancements and achievements, human beings speed by the stories and poems around us.  In our commitment to quiet times with God, we become more interested in checking off our to do list.  In our hurry to be right, we fail to read and live what is written.  In fact, we fail to live at all.  The root of allegories and poetry in the Scriptures are the revelations of human beings who became still; who waited.  The reading and study of Scripture is more than an intellectual experience for it is intended to be spiritually transforming.  A Biblical spirituality needs a patient reading, reflection on a life lived and time in the presence of God.

On a Monday afternoon, I took time to be at rest.  I stopped my hurrying and chose to sit and wait.  I need to wait more.  I need to sit more often.  That old turkey reminded me once again what can be discovered and the stories that are written when we stop and wait in the presence of God.

Psalm 40:1-3 GW  For the choir director; a psalm by David. I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry for help.  (2)  He pulled me out of a horrible pit, out of the mud and clay. He set my feet on a rock and made my steps secure.  (3)  He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see this and worship. They will trust the LORD.

Works Cited
Burrows, Mark. "To Taste with Heart," Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology.  April 2002.

Examining Spiritual Practices Through a Wesleyan-Methodist Lens Part 4

This wraps up my work in examining Ignatius' Exercises from a Wesleyan-Methodist tradition.  There were some additional thoughts and questions raised in this research.  I will continue to reflect on some of those in the future, mostly as it relates to Wesley's own works as opposed to Ignatius' writings.  I am convinced there is a real benefit we can find in being forthright and careful in examining other practices for we may find we have more in common than we thought at the outset.  

As the first paragraphs here focus on differences, be sure to read my previous posts starting here.

However, there are those practices which Ignatius’ outlines and encourages within the Exercises that are problematic in nature and ought to be addressed as well. As I have just addressed the penitential practices in week one, we must consider that beyond fasting, Ignatius encouraged denying oneself comfortable sleeping and more drastic, the chastising of the flesh. He writes on this account: “This is done by wearing hairshirts, cords, or iron chains on the body, or by scourging or wounding oneself, or by other kinds of austerities (The Spiritual Exercises, 62).” I certainly have no doubt our Methodist tradition flinches at even the thought of such practices. The response I received in an e-mail correspondence with Paul Brian Campbell, SJ, a Jesuit and Publisher at Loyola Press, confirms the same from the modern day descendants of Igantius’ practice. Paul writes,

“Penance and self-denial can sharpen our senses and help us become more receptive to God's gifts. Ignatius wrote the Exercises in the 16th Century. Our understanding of the psychosexual dynamics of "scourging or wounding oneself" has progressed considerably since his time, to say the least…I cannot endorse any form of self-harm, any more than I would allow an illness to be treated by the standards of 16th century medicine (2012).”

Additional practices not part of Methodist (or many protestant churches) such as praying the “Hail Mary” or the “Anima Christi” are encouraged throughout. One also finds references to the “dark night” or that “the Divinity hides itself (The Spiritual Practices, 92).” John Wesley’s views on this subject are somewhat conflicted as both Collins and Tuttle note in their writing. Wesley appears to misunderstand John of the Cross’ “dark night” as a place of “sin and ignorance” and not as a spiritual journey of purgation (Collins 1993, 310). A spiritual director in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition ought to be aware of this if using the Exercises.

So while both Collins and Tuttle address concerns of contemporary spirituality, we in fact are talking not about contemporary practices at all. Instead, to examine Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is to engage in a ecumenical study and to continue in the same vein as John Wesley himself, which was to see what the practices of other denominations and Christian traditions might hold for us as a Methodist people. It seems on further reading, there is much in common with Ignatius and Wesley.

Unlike the complaint Wesley seemed to have with other mystics, namely, they tended toward the heresy of Quietism, Ignatius it might be argued, leaned more toward the Pelagian side of the equation – a salvation by works. As I have already stated, Ignatius placed his feet firmly in a belief in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. However, like other mystics (and Wesley himself), Ignatius believed the journey of our life was toward Christian perfection; a perfection in love. Ignatius made clear, “…love ought to be manifested in deeds rather than words (The Spiritual Practices, 103).” Indeed, much as the Wesleyan-Methodist movement has been characterized by “social-holiness," a faith of serving others, Ignatian mysticism could be described as at once a “mysticism of love," it is a striking “service mysticism" (Egan1978, 415). In one meditation, Ignatius calls the exerciant to reflect on the Nativity story, taking upon the role of a slave and caring for the needs of a the Holy family, who themselves are poor. This is done so a person might gain an understanding of the poor estate into which Jesus was born. All of this is consistent with Jesus’ own words given to his followers, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 NASB)

By examination using the Albert Outler's, "Wesleyan Quadrilateral," I have presented already the heavy emphasis on Scripture in the Exercises. In addition, the intent of the Exercises is to provide the exerciant with an experience of knowing Christ Jesus and imitating Christ Jesus. But what of tradition and reason? Rabbi Kushner makes a statement, I think, both Ignatius and Wesley would agree upon when he writes, “Religious rituals are a funny sequence of things we do to help us remember that we have forgotten why we have been created, and gently provide us with the instruments of return (Kushner 2006, 88-89).” Ignatius’ Exercises incorporate many of the rituals and traditions of the Church. Yet, the Exercises offer us additional instruments to return to the world with humility, “...that I may obey in all things the law of God our Lord (The Spiritual Practices, 81).” In addition, the exercitant is not asked to suspend reason in the exercises but employ it in the reading of Scripture, meditation, and in the use of imagination. In week two, Ignatius addresses making good choices and the exerciant is challenged to, “...use my reason to weigh the many advantages and benefits...(Ibid, 85).” While not solely ecumenical, clearly The Spiritual Exercises put to use the criteria of the Quadrilateral.

What then does it mean for us as Wesleyan-Methodists if we find a mystical practice does fit within the criteria of both Collins’ questions and the Quadrilateral? In the case of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, where it is intended for a person to participate under the direction of an experienced spiritual director, finding an experienced director would be the first requirement. Secondly, it ought to be addressed that there are practices which fall outside the norm for the Methodist Christian (already named). Ideally, a Wesleyan-Methodist spiritual director will have already participated in the Exercises and would be aware and available to those seeking to practice the exercises.

It would benefit the spiritual director to have an understanding of what Gary Thomas terms an exerciant’s, “sacred pathways” or personality type, such as Myers-Briggs. This need not be required but worth the time to consider. Because of Ignatius’ use of imagination, Eucharist ritual, and full engagement of the senses, to name a few practices, having an understanding of either the pathway or personality, the spiritual director might be more attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit during certain aspects of an exerciant’s experience. This is not to imply the director manipulate the exercise, but to be aware of where an exercise might overlap with a natural pathway in the life of the exerciant.

Worth considering as well, is the use of the Exercises as part of a Methodist Select Band. Daniel Prechtel references the work of Morris and Olsen in regards to group spiritual direction as they highlighted the unique aspect of the Select Bands in the Methodist Societies. Not only were the select bands a unique peer group, the focus of these small groups had to do with the coming to live out a perfect for God and for one’s neighbor (Prechtel 2010, 65). The unique process of The Exercises would need to be honored and so would the typical ways we might measure success in a small group (Dougherty 1995, 65 & 67). Directors in the United Methodist Church should also be aware of the reporting structure of the Vital Congregations reporting format.

The Spiritual Exercises are given the flexibility by Ignatius, through the spiritual director, to be accessible to all, regardless of ability or education. Ignatius writes, “A person who is uneducated or of little natural ability should not be given matter which he could not…bear or…get no each should be given those exercises which will be of the most profit…(The Spiritual Practices, 41).” This is certainly in accordance with John Wesley’s wish for us to speak “plain truth for plain people (The Wesley Study Bible 2009, 592).” The director ought to be attentive to making the Exercises available to all so all might grow in grace.

In our time of societal upheaval and religious exploration, churches are being both challenged by searching voices and offered practices from differing faith traditions. The growing field of spiritual formation as both an academic area and ministerial practice, as well as the vocation of spiritual directors, presents us a unique opportunity to re-examine faith practices within our Christian traditions. John Wesley’s own journey provides the Methodist people with an example of this practice of questioning and assimilating and Kenneth Collins’ questions provide us with a modern means for this endeavor. A further refining of these questions might benefit us in exploring spiritual practices to be introduced into our churches.

In the case of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the questioning work has demonstrated the Exercises to be beneficial to the life of Christians, regardless of their denominational background. The theological and practical similarities between Wesley and Ignatius prove at times to be striking. Under the guidance of an experienced and gracious director, both Methodists and Roman Catholics could find a meaningful middle ground to journey together in grace toward the perfecting love which both Wesley and Ignatius clearly desired and prayed for in the followers of Jesus Christ.


Campbell, Paul Brian, SJ.  email message to author.  December 11, 2012.
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Coppedge, Allan. Summer 1995.  Theology of John Wesley, DOC 628.  Asbury
 Theological Seminary.

Dougherty, Rose Mary. Group Spiritual Direction. Paulist Press. 1995.

Egan, Harvey D. 1978. “Christian apophatic and kataphatic mysticisms.” Theological
Studies 39, no. 3: 399-426. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (Dec 10, 2012).

Foster, Richard.  Streams of Living Water.  San Francisco. Harper Collins,  1998.

Jones, Paul W.  The Art of Spiritual Direction.  Nashville, TN. Upper Room Books. 

Kushner, Lawrence.  God Was In This Place & I, I did not know.  Woodstock, VT, 2006.

Mabry, John R. “Generational Ministry: Spiritual Guidance for the Five Adult
            Generations Alive Today.”  Presence 18, no. 4: 13-22. December 2012.

Prechthel, Daniel L.  Where Two or Three Are Gathered. New York, 2010.

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The Wesley Study Bible.  Nashville, TN. Abingdon. 2009

Thompson, Marjorie J. Soul Feast. Louisville, KY. Westminster, 2005.

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Pathways.  Grand Rapids, MI, 2010.

Tuttle, Jr., Robert G.  Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition.  Grand Rapids, MI.
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Vennard, Jane. Praying With Body and Soul. Augsburg. 1998.

Wesley, John.  The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI., Baker,

Westminster Shorter Catechism Project. (accessed Dec.
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