Friday, June 29, 2012

You Keep Using That Word . . .

It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, . . .
Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men . . .
 Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God . . .
                                      The Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2004

Within the United Methodist Church is a group seeking to work for greater unity in a denomination that has seen more than its share of factional fighting over a variety of issues.  Rooted in the conviction that there is "power of the gospel to unify women and men of all ages, nations, and races who have found new life and restored dignity in the truth of Jesus Christ and in His body the Church", they move on to what they call "three deep convictions":
  • There is no authentic unity in the Church apart from agreement on the truth of the gospel.
  • Our constitutionally protected Doctrinal Standards are foundational to our agreement in the gospel.
  • There are inadequate proposals for unity to be named and critiqued.
There is nothing in this statement from the Confessing Movement with which I could find disagreement.  Indeed, I believe that we need even more clearly and more loudly to affirm our unity as a people redeemed by God, living out our call to be the Body of Christ in and for the world.  This requires an acceptance of our sinfulness and repentance.  We need even more fully to work together, diligently to search our lives, and those around us, holding one another up in prayer, and being bold enough to call to account in love and humility those we see straying.

Saying that, I find the Confessing Movement to be misguided, suspect in their intentions, and outside the best of what can be called our traditions as Wesleyans.

In the Book of Discipline, there is a section that records what has become known as The General Rules of the Methodist Societies.  The background to these three rules, printed above, is also given in the Discipline.  Beginning in 1739, having been approached by groups of people seeking to work together to fulfill St. Paul's call that we "work out our salvation in fear in trembling", Wesley set up what he called societies, which were, in turn divided in to "classes" of a dozen who would commit to work together for mutual support, calling to account, prayer, and giving what they could to support the ministries of their churches.  As the story continues:
There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: "a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins." But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.
I made a case yesterday for the sources for our theological reflection to run as deep and wide as possible.  Trusting in the God who holds all creation as beloved, we should never restrict ourselves by some prior set of assumptions to the opening of the Spirit.  Today, I would like to make a case that the norm by which we do our reflection be nothing more or less than the single condition Wesley set 273 years ago.  As the statement concerning our General Rules continues, this desire will only be known as it is lived.

As James Cone succinctly tells readers, the norm of theological reflection is how the sources are interpreted (A Black Theology of Liberation, p. 35).  The point of departure, then, for theological reflection revolves around how we understand different words.  This is not to say these understandings are either arbitrary or capricious.  On the contrary, the specificity of the revelation of who God is in and through the incarnation in Jesus Christ crucified and risen as testified in our lives through the Holy Spirit demonstrates that these definitions are clear and specific.

To return to The Confessing Movement to demonstrate how it is possible I can accept their general statement of principles, yet find the movement itself to be so wrong-headed, let us consider some reflections they made on part of proposal before the recently concluded General Conference that would have made the seminaries affiliated with the denomination more accountable to it.
The question has often been asked, at least by those who seek renewal in the church, whether the church believes that its educational institutions, and particularly its theological schools, should reflect the values, the beliefs, and the mission of The United Methodist Church.  Or to put the matter another way, do the leaders of the church understand, and do they intend to do anything about, the conflict between bowing before academic altars on one hand and advancing the cause of Jesus Christ in The United Methodist Church on the other?

 Perhaps the question is moot.  The last known heresy trial in the church took place in 1905.  Up until then (during the period of tremendous church growth) the bishops of the church, given the responsibility by the Discipline to “guard the faith,” monitored seminary teaching even to the extent of being involved in the selection of professors.  The General Conference of the M.E. Church of 1908, influenced by the rising tide of theological modernism, removed from theDiscipline the phrase, …theological schools, “whose professors are nominated or confirmed by the Bishops….”   Later it would remove the reference that the theological schools existed “for the benefit of the whole church.”   Since the theological schools did not exist for the benefit of the whole church, for what or for whom did they exist? . . .
United and Gammon seminaries are perhaps the closest in their endeavor to come along-side the church in its attempt to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  Gammon seeks “to recruit, support and educate pastors and leaders for The United Methodist Church.”  Its vision is to “educate and equip persons to be prophetic leaders in the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (the exact words of the mission of the UM Church).

United Seminary also seeks to reflect UM values in its vision statement.  United seeks to educate leaders to make disciples of Jesus Christ, renew the church, and transform the world.  It is perhaps the only seminary which takes seriously the task of “renewing.”   One of its professors, Jason Vickers, has written a book, Minding the Good Ground A Theology for Church Renewal, which actually links renewal with theology and a new direction. 

When evangelical students have been asked if any of the seminaries affirmed their evangelical faith while they were students, two seminaries have been mentioned as being open and affirming to evangelicals, namely, United and Duke.  Some students speak positively of certain professors in other seminaries, but none of the other seminaries have received overall positive remarks. (emphasis in this paragraph added) 
What does the author of this piece mean by "evangelical"?  What does the author mean that such self-identifying students find their faith "affirmed"?  What would it mean for them not to experience such affirmation?  In what ways?  Clues are given in following paragraphs:
Claremont speaks of being a “multi-religious consortium” with the inclusion of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists.  “Multi-religious” affirmation does not appear to include the affirmation of evangelicals.  Claremont desires to instill students with ethical integrity, religious intelligence and intercultural understanding.  Being interpreted this means it does not seek to seek converts from other religions.  

Iliif affirms its United Methodist identity but within the “liberal” Christian heritage which is interpreted to mean openness to emerging truths especially those from science, experience, and other faith traditions.  Iliff is committed to modeling the values it embraces: diversity, mutual respect, accountability, honest communication, critical self-reflection, curiosity, creativity and a sense of adventure.  There is nothing there about winning disciples for Jesus Christ.
Quite apart from the notion that seminaries be held to the same set of criteria as churches (not to mention reinstituting heresy trials; that's a big winner right there), it seems clear the Confessing Movement has no real interest in "authentic unity" under the Gospel.  Were that so, why on earth would they spend any time worrying about whether or not one group or another attending one of our United Methodist seminaries felt affirmed there?  Far from affirming anyone, the Gospel is a constant source of negation, a destroyer of our comfortable assumptions and a constant reminder of our need for repentance and renewal.  It is this Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ died for us while we were still sinners, that leads to the one needful thing: a desire to flee the wrath to come, and be saved from our sins.  This is not done in affirming anyone about anything; rather, it is only known as the lives of believers unfold.

The single norm by which any reflection deserves the title "in the Wesleyan tradition" is simple enough: it will be known by its fruits.  I can already hear the clamoring: But . . . but . . . what are those fruits?!?  That just goes to show you didn't click the link at the top and read what follows each ellipsis after the rules are stated.  In other words, there are specific norms by which we can know that we are being upheld in the faith; or, to reverse the order a bit, there are specific norms by which we can hold one another accountable to the faith.  They do not lie in adherence to any set of words.  They do not lie in crafting mission statements.  They do not lie in affirming any particular group in their particular profession of faith.  Rather, the only norm that serves us people called Methodist is a life of personal and social holiness; a life attendant upon the corporate worship of the God of Jesus Christ, including participation in the sacraments that renew the Body of Christ in its mission and ministries.

I have no need to join a "confessing movement", despite affirming that we Christians who call ourselves United Methodist are in need of remembering who we are and whose we are.  We all have the need to have our lives together, including our God-talk, always ready to submit itself to the test of whether or not it is evidenced by the fruit.  That is the norm, not just for our reflection and dialogue; it is, as it should be, the norm for our life together.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Take Me To The River

Our doctrinal affirmations assist us in the discernment of Christian truth in ever-changing contexts. Our theological task includes the testing, renewal, elaboration, and application of our doctrinal perspective in carrying out our calling "to spread scriptural holiness over these lands." While the Church considers its doctrinal affirmations a central feature of its identity and restricts official changes to a constitutional process, the Church encourages serious reflection across the theological spectrum.
Our Doctrinal Standard And Theological Task, Section 4, United Methodist Discipline, 2004
I was reminded last night that we United Methodists have certain standards that are to guide theological reflection within our unique heritage. These standards include our 25 Articles of Religion, Wesley's Sermons, and his Notes On The New Testament.

Reading through the Articles, what stands out is they are little more than standard, banal doctrinal statements. They beg the questions that theological discussion and dialogue seek to expound. The very first article, affirming the the Church's belief in the Trinity, is all well and good. Do we make that affirmation in the metaphysical language of neo-Platonism, as the Church Fathers who first expounded it? Do we affirm it in the modalist vocabulary of mid-20th century dogmaticians? Do we, perhaps, affirm the Trinity as a speculative summation without granting it any necessity, as Christian thinkers have done throughout history, perhaps noting with Emil Brunner and others that, not being a doctrine testified in Scripture, it serves a heuristic function rather than dogmatic one?

I would take a step back, however, and wonder why it is some find it necessary to offer warnings such as this. When I wrote the other day that
we need to do is stop trying to be something other than the bearers of the Gospel in Wesley's particular idiom. We need to stop trying to be proper. We need to stop trying to be doctrinally upright, theologically correct, socially acceptable
I thought it should be clear that we needed to remember that ours is a tradition rooted in what one author has called Practical Divinity. I felt no need to state adherence to any particular set of dogma or doctrine precisely because I took them for granted. Some, however, of my interlocutors seemed to assume I was setting theological dialogue to one side. Rather, I was trying to make clear that theology is little more than church-talk about God, and does not have primacy over holy living.

That reaction, more than anything, demonstrated for me the tremendous lack of trust abroad in our denomination. Any suggestion that we might, perhaps, need to think in new ways was greeted with stern warnings that we cannot water down the Gospel, that we must stand firm on our confession, that I was arguing in some way that we need to be more culturally relevant in our practice of church. This last I find most interesting. It should go without saying that the Christian churches have always lived with the tension between relevance and difference. Why should it be necessary to state that obvious reality of our existence? Immediately upon making a suggestion that the United Methodist Church might be dying because a whole generation is not so much hostile as apathetic about our message, meaning we might need to find new ways of speaking and living out who we are, and I was told that I was hinting at certain accommodations some commentators make that include watering down the offense and foolishness of our confession of the Gospel. 

I'm still stunned anyone would think such a thing. Nothing I wrote, or have ever written, would suggest such a thing. The only conclusion I have come to is that we are so afraid, we cannot bear the thought that we might need to change. We have grown far too comfortable over previous decades of social acceptability and cultural relevance.

We are in a curious position now, however, where the traditional sources by which we Wesleyan Christians have done our theological reflection have become completely open. Rather than cringe in fear that the world, or our human experience, or the traditions of the churches through the ages might lead us astray, it is more necessary than ever to reaffirm our belief in the prevenient grace of God by seeing the Providential working out of the Kingdom in all sorts of places. Again, why should I have to state such a thing explicitly? It was my understanding we Wesleyan Christians held that as part of our theological legacy, a legacy that gave Wesley the courage to preach his gospel of personal and social holiness in places and to people the "official" Church ignored. We have lost that fearlessness as we have spent far too much time mourning losses that might well be rooted in an institutional amnesia more than anything else.

The river is wide and deep. I suggest, if we are going to be serious about being United Methodist Christians, we not think about the dangers but plunge headlong in to the current, trusting that God will buoy us up, guide us through the rapids ahead, seeing us safely to the other side. Nothing less will demonstrate our commitment to our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Sort Of Preamble

As I mentioned the other day, I'm reading Gary Dorrien's 3-volume history of American liberal theology. Combined with a renewed interest in some concerns regarding the United Methodist Church, I'm feeling more and more led to make some kind of positive statements regarding what it is, precisely, I believe as a United Methodist Christian in the second decade of the 21st century.

Before I do that, I have found myself in the most odd position of trying to justify, to and for myself, how it is I can affirm both a personal affinity for the kind of mediating theology represented by the best of the liberal theologians, German and American as well as past and present, yet also stand firm in my basic confession, rooted in my heritage as a Methodist in line with John Wesley, of the centrality of the saving Gospel of Christ for the world. Much of the intellectual energy of the liberals was outside this basic confessional center; while the godfather of theological liberalism exuded a Christ-centered, evangelical (in many senses of the word) concern with the meaning of the Christ-event on human life, subsequent generations moved through concerns over Scriptural interpretation and authority, the ethical personalism of Ritschl and his American student in the school known as Boston Personalism (begun by Methodist preacher and teacher Borden Parker Bowne), the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr, and the process theology of John Cobb and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki. The heart of liberal theology is the primacy of human experience over doctrinal or theological rigidity; the first stirrings of American liberal theology was the Unitarian split in the Reformed Congregational churches on New England led by William Ellery Channing. He understood the doctrine of the Trinity as an offense not only against reason, but against experience as well. Later American liberals would couch their attempts to recast our God-talk in to wholly different sets of categories in a vocabulary that privileges experience. As such, they moved through much speculative as well as practical theology as well as writings on ethics and politics with one eye focused on the world in which they lived.

While the Unitarian movement disappears, by and large, from Dorrien's narrative after Emerson's Divinity School Address (except, if memory serves, a short discussion of James Luther Adams in a later volume), one would be hard pressed, I think, to find within the writings under consideration, after a certain period, a concern with such doctrines*. Indeed, Jesus himself seems to become a distant, dim memory as the narrative moves through an exciting, dizzying array of theological and philosophical concerns.

Yet, I find myself nodding in agreement through large portions of the work, as I did five years ago when I read it the first time. As I did when I read Schleiermacher's Glaubenslehre my last year in seminary. Yet, I can also nod in agreement with large portions of the sermons of John Wesley; I can celebrate the polemical dogmatics of Karl Barth, for whom Schleiermacher was a bete noir in every sense of the term.

The only answer with which I can rest comfortably for this contradiction lies in my own wonder why these matters have to be "either/or". Is it not possible, as Schleiermacher insisted, to consider the human experience of absolute dependence as the proper methodological starting point for theological reflection as well as affirm with Barth that such a starting point leads us only so far without the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, precisely because these are two movements that are only intelligible when they meet one another? I daresay Schleiermacher would whole-heartedly agree with my own assessment, considering the centrality of the Christ-event in his own theology, and the hearty evangelical preaching evidenced in his On Religion.

I think we have lived far too long under the illusion that our traditions are like statues in museums. Beautiful works of human art, they are nearly impossible to move, and any attempt to change them destroys their near-perfect balance and proportion. Which is why considering them this way makes them absolutely useless.

We need to think of our traditions as living things, as Christ is alive. We need to consider our traditions as human things, both sinful yet justified. We need to consider our traditions as starting points for speaking our faith now precisely because they were, once upon a time, expressions of faith in their own place and time. Finally, we should never forget that our theological reflection is not the same thing as our confession. Our confession is part, but not the heart, of our identity as Christians. No one was ever saved by doctrine. No soul ever closed a book of theology, and found itself strangely warmed. No life has ever been changed except by the Holy Spirit testifying to the truth of God's self-emptying on the cross of Jesus Christ, a witness that made manifest the reality of God's power as the stone was rolled away revealing the empty tomb.

This simple confession, the heart of any Christian confession, belongs to no school. It is not the sole property of any denomination. It cannot be revoked by any magisterium or council. It cannot be augmented by any unanimous vote or careful consideration of alternatives.

How we go about making sense of this senselessness is our on-going conversation. We should consider the whole range of Christian traditions as fair game for clues as to the wisdom of this Divine foolishness. As such, I do not think any "label" works well for me. I'm happy being a liberal Christian. I'm happy being evangelical. I'm happy being C/catholic, O/orthodox, whatever.

Finally, if there are things here with which you disagree, that's OK. Theology is the church's ongoing conversation in which we try to understand what it is we mean when we confess God was in Christ reconciling the world to God. I don't believe there is such a thing as "wrong" theology. There are just all sorts of steps along the way.

*The exception that proves the rule is a thorough examination of Horace Bushnell's treatment of the Trinity.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


My post from yesterday has been reprinted at United Methodist Insight.

Gerbil Wheels

Five years ago was the last time I made my way through the three volumes of Gary Dorrien's history of American Liberal Theology. I thought it would be a good time to revisit it, and while I took a break to read Darwin, I am close to finishing volume 1, which leaves off the story at the end of the 19th century, as liberal Protestantism is ascendant. 

Reading history serves a variety of useful functions. Dorrien's work, in particular, reveals how little changed are the many conversations and arguments we Christians have had, both with ourselves and the country in which we live. In the 1880's, Theodore Munger and Washington Gladden were writing about the theological insights available to Christians who appropriate Darwin's theory. Discussions concerning American exceptionalism, American imperialism, racism, religious diversity, immigration, and social ills were carried out, by and large, in the same language, with the same set of assumptions guiding at least the most prominent advocates of various sides and factions.

So much of the discourse of American Christianity, both with its various branches and to the country at large, sounds stuck to my ears. There are those who reject critical readings of the the Bible for reasons that are precisely the same as those used two hundred years ago when the first tentative historical readings were being offered in German universities. The evolution/creationism debate is precisely the same, at least on the creationism side. Even debates and discussions about the relationship between the churches and their relationship to the larger society sound an awful lot like the same conversations the churches had then.

Far too many people seem stuck on ideological gerbil wheels, running faster and faster only to arrive nowhere. This can only stop when we realize that those who wish to carry on and continue such debates and discussions do so for their own purposes, most of which have little to do with the imperatives of the Gospel.

We in the churches, it seem to me, have an obligation to keep our eyes and our words upon that Gospel. Finding ourselves rehashing debates that occurred 130 years ago, in terms that have not changed, gives fuel to the larger cultural criticism that we Christians are more than a little backward, and even more than a lot irrelevant. We do ourselves no favors becoming lured in to the honey-traps set by those who have no desire to hear the word in new ways, for whatever motive.

There will always be those who rant and stamp their feet about all sorts of things, whether it's science or race or immigration or whatever. Rather than react, we need to preach the Gospel. Rather than answer questions, we need to state boldly the promise and hope we have in God through Jesus Christ. Rather than hop on the gerbil wheel yet again, we need to smile, grasp these folks in our arms and tell them we love them, and continue on the Way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

They Will Know We Are Christians By Our . . .

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1 John 3:17
The following video was shown during worship yesterday:

 On this same day, The New York Times offered what will surely be a much-discussed op-ed by David Leonhardt:
The generation gap may not be a pop culture staple, as it was in the 1960s, but it is probably wider than it has been at any time since then.
For those who have been following this blog, this is a much-discussed theme. The reality that people coming of age over the past decade live in a world very different from the one in which people my age, including our current President, came of age needs repeating and amplification.

Among the many (to me, unsurprising) things that mark out the differences between young adults and the rest of America is something that should surprise no one: "they are also notably less religious". Clustered within a larger group of social attitudes that are vastly different from those of my own and older Americans, displaying an acceptance of national diversity across a wide array of areas, from racial and ethnic attitudes to sexual difference, the evidence is clear: younger Americans live in an America that is a place to celebrate.

The challenge, of course, is the divergence evident in their views regarding their acceptance of our diverse human landscape and their insouciance toward religious belief. I have little doubt that, at least at an anecdotal level, the video expresses precisely the hurdle over which we in the Christian Churches have yet to leap. Not that our churches are seed-beds of intolerance and bigotry; rather, our most visible and vocal advocates are seen, far too often, as preaching and practicing a kind of social and cultural distinctiveness that is closed to the varieties of human life choices that are evident in society. 

I believe we deserve the loss of much of a generation of Americans, alive to the hypocrisy of our alleged devotion to a God of love that no longer presents that love to and for the world. Even the best, most open, most active, most vital congregations cannot escape the judgment laid upon us by a large swath of young Americans that we just aren't relevant anymore in a world that has changed so much. 

I for one freely admit my membership and participation in a denomination that continues to lag far behind in its acceptance of the new realities around us. I admit that, as a person called United Methodist, I have failed in fellowship and faithfulness with my fellow Americans.

Confessing our manifold sins, however, without active penance is meaningless. We need, as all Christians do in all times and places, to find our voice so we can speak the singular confession that Jesus Christ died and was raised by God for us. We need to learn a new language to speak that confession so that it makes sense in a world that has lost any sense that "sin" has meaning.

Most of all, we should order our lives together as communities of faith that live out that confession. Our worship and liturgy, the first work of Christians gathered together, should speak and sing and pray in the emerging vocabularies of this new day. The promise of disciplined mutual accountability should be offered as an antidote to the atomizing anomie inherent in the regnant individualism of the rest of American society.

Finally, if we are to be known by our love, we should live that love out in and for the world. When we see acts of mercy and justice, we should celebrate the presence of the Spirit of God in them, even if those who did them would not do so. When we hear tell of self-sacrifice for others, even if done in the name of another god, we should remember that this is the witness of Christ, and call others to see Christ present even if Christ isn't known there. These are some of the ways we can witness to the reality that is the crucified and risen Christ in the world through the Body of Christ, the Church. Let this be our witness and confession in a world that isn't so much hostile as apathetic to the reality of God's gracious love for it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Darkness Shall Turn To Dawning

We've a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light,
a story of peace and light.
H. Ernest Nichol, "We've A Story To Tell To The Nations"
Last night I was talking to Lisa about my many frustrations with our current moment in the life of the Christian Churches. I realize my view is limited, my position colored by my exposure to particular points-of-view, and to the sinkhole of nonsense that is so much of the Internet, whether discussing religion or anything else. All the same, I cannot help but feel the mainline churches actually want to die. Oh, I realize there are vibrant congregations and faithful witnesses in all our pews. I get that denominational institutions and structures have their role to perform. I understand that some of our old-line churches are dragging themselves kicking and screaming in to the 21st century.

All the same, and I reiterate, I cannot help but feel the mainline churches want to die. Perhaps I generalize far too much from my experience with my own United Methodist Church. Perhaps, following the train-wreck that was General Conference back in April, I considered that an object-lesson in how to commit institutional suicide as the world watches. I gazed in wonder as nearly one thousand delegates from around the world flounced and flailed, trying with equal parts desperation and cluelessness, to find a way to mend the many ways our denomination is broken. In the process, we managed, as a group, to display our preference for a status quo that is untenable while actively ignoring our heritage, our specific gifts, and the grace that calls us to live for the world.

At one point, an amendment was offered to change the wording of the preamble to our Social Principles, part of our heritage as a community of believers who hear in the gospel Good News for the poor, release to the captives, freedom for those in all sorts of chains. The change was the addition of a single sentence: “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

Forty-four percent of the delegates voted against the addition. Nearly half of the delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, a Church built upon the solid foundation of John Wesley's mission and ministry to the poor and excluded, a ministry rooted precisely in this faith, did not want us as a Body to declare our faith in the ubiquity and prevenience of God's grace.

At some later point, the delegate declared their intention to work harder to bring more youth and young adults in to the Church. Bewailing the on-going trend, not just with us but in all Churches and religious groups as a whole in the United States, of people no longer finding religious practice and observance relevant, General Conference dedicated itself to work over the next four years to try to buck this trend.

Cluelessness, thy name is General Conference 2012.

Ours is a world filled with pain and fear. We know that because we live it. We feel it. We see it in the faces of our friends and co-workers, our family and those on the street. We see the worry lines grow in the mirror. If we United Methodists cannot even support the Biblical proposition that God's grace in Jesus Christ is available to all persons, how in the world can we convince the world we have anything worth saying or doing to alleviate the pain and suffering all around all of us?

I am a United Methodist because John Wesley's message of grace, lived out in disciplined mutual accountability, is a verse in that story we have to tell to the nations. I am a United Methodist because we declare that ours is a life of discipleship for the world. These are beautiful, Spirit-filled, life-affirming verses in the song we have to sing to the nations.

I am saddened beyond belief by our simple-mindedness, our pandering to cultural norms that have nothing to do with the Gospel of grace and peace and reconciliation. I am angered by our pettiness, the smallness of heart and life so evident in our General Conference. There have been many times I have wanted to give it all up for lost because it seems we no longer really believe what we say we believe. When we no longer live out the possibility of a life perfected in love, how can we declare our allegiance to it?

I told Lisa last night we United Methodists still have a story to tell to the nations. I told her that I still believe it is possible to breathe life in to the dry bones of the United Methodist Church. The first thing we need to do is stop trying to be something other than the bearers of the Gospel in Wesley's particular idiom. We need to stop trying to be proper. We need to stop trying to be doctrinally upright, theologically correct, socially acceptable. We need to be fearless, as Wesley was when he stood at the mouths of mines preaching a word of grace that many if not most of those working there had never heard. The United Methodist Church, in many ways, is lost but not without hope. We are divided not in vision but because we have none.

I am and will be a United Methodist because I believe our specific difference lies in our practicality. We are a people who have always been defined less by our adeptness at theological disputation and doctrinal adroitness, but rather more our dedication and devotion to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When we forget that, distracted by the controversies of any particular moment, we can find ourselves, as we do now, flailing around in search of an identity. We already have an identity, however. We need to be about living that out.

Virtual Tin Cup

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