The United Methodist Church I attend has joined the discussion of the issue that the denomination has battled over since 1972 when the General Conference of the church decided that homosexuality was “incompatible with Christian teaching.” You know, like war and torture. Almost fifty years later we are still engaged in the battle.
As I listened to the discussion at Chapelwood last Sunday I couldn’t help but think of the deal with the devil our Founders made in drafting the United States Constitution: accepting slavery as the price of unification. Unification was ultimately achieved with terrible loss of life. And we have yet to achieve full freedom and participation for the descendants of the people who were brought here and who worked against their will for the enrichment of the European immigrants. Continue reading “Methodists: Could We Just Get on with the Great Commission?”
By the time most people hit their teen years they begin to grapple with the question of meaning. It is one of the main questions we take with us to college and into careers. Was there ever a college freshman who didn’t ask “What is the meaning of life?”
At the end of this month I will celebrate my 75th birthday. And I am still searching.
Some of us never find an answer that is fully satisfactory. Yet the question itself betrays a faith that there is, or at least should be, some meaning in our lives. As a practicing United Methodist, I finally submitted to regular attendance at that Methodist invention called Sunday School after resisting for many years. I became part of a small group at Chapelwood UMC that settled on a curriculum called “Living the Questions.” We don’t presume that there is a literature that will give us all the answers to questions of faith. We look for studies that will help us learn how to live out the faith that brings us, in the first place, to the question of meaning in our lives,
Although we may resist admitting to definitive answers to the questions of faith, sometimes an answer sneaks up on us that won’t let go. And it is compelling enough that we feel an urge to put it into action in our lives. It may be something as simple as this: loving and living in community. In fact, that pretty well sums it up for me after these nearly seventy-five years of searching.
Of course we can examine that proposition another 75 years trying to unpack all that is implied by loving and living in community. But it isn’t that difficult to set it in motion in our lives.
There is a prayer of confession in our liturgy of Holy Communion that helps me fill in the blanks each time I hear it.
Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every time I hear it, I wonder how it is possible to pray such a confession without looking deeply into our politics. After all, to truly love our neighbors and respond to the cry of the needy, we need to move beyond symbolic service that fails to address systemic issues like immigration, poverty, abuse, homelessness, addiction and unemployment. We certainly provide help and loving care to a family when we pay a utility to keep them in housing for another month. But it is our vote that makes it possible to address the larger underlying problems that these families experience.
And how does it all make sense in a world that has the gift of science to help us understand social and environmental problems? Is “talking to God” really a useful tool when we really need to be talking to the conflicted and corrupt politicians who have the power to do something? How does all this talk of a spiritual reality fit into what we know from science?
Our young associate pastor, Rev. Josh Lemons, gave a remarkable sermon this last Sunday at Chapelwood. He is doing a series on “Thinking for Christians.” The second sermon in his series was titled Faith Seeking Understanding. (The podcast is linked here.)
Josh is young, energetic and he has obviously learned something about the value of kinetic communication. He was all over the place Sunday. Please note that when you listen to the podcast, you will not be aware that he fakes a toss of a can of green beans into the congregation or that the climbed and stood on top of a tall four-legged stool to illustrate the Wesleyan quadrilateral concept: how scripture, tradition, reason and experience are all required in the analysis of our troubling theological questions if we are to have a stable base of support.
Chapelwood is an interesting place for Christians who need room to allow reason and experience to instruct the questions of the spirit. And when I hear ideas like these discussed from the pulpit, I feel freed for joyful obedience.
I invite you all to Chapelwood and to our Living the Questions class. The class meets at 9:45 am Sunday and the worship services are at 8:30 and 11. We always have good coffee – fair trade from Equal Exchange.
I grew up in a small, industrial suburb of Houston that was populated mostly by Southern Baptists and Methodists. There were a few other odd denominations of the Christian variety but no Jews, Muslims, or Others. In my little town of Jacinto City, Texas, the dominant Baptist and Methodist churches faced off across from each other on Wiggins Street and the Baptist church had the much larger buildings and congregation.
My family belonged to the Methodist Church and we only saw inside the Baptist Church when there was a wedding or funeral of a friend who belonged to the “dunkin’ church” across the street. Whenever we did get to go inside the Baptist Church, we kids were mostly interested in the transparent tank behind the altar with its painted desert scene complete with palm trees on the wall behind. My Methodist parents told us kids that Baptists believed dunking was required to effect a good baptism. They explained that Methodists felt that a sprinkle of water, done in the right spirit, would have the same result.
It was one of my first encounters with a basic difference in the way members of our demographically similar congregations thought about the symbols of faith. Over time, I would come to see that it also extended to the way they thought about the Bible, their morals, the world at large, and how they dealt with “exceptions to the rule of faith” that they encountered in their own lives and in the lives of others.
The First Amendment provision defining the separation of church and state stands as one of this country’s most valuable contributions to civilization. It allows everyone to worship; it forces no one to worship; it entertains diversity of faith; and it keeps the government to the secular business of governing for the welfare of its people. It is genius in a few simple phrases that limits the power of Congress in making laws respecting speech, faith, and other expressions of thought. The success of the doctrine has served as a model for developing countries as they sought ways to govern effectively in spite of deep religious divisions in their societies.
There is no constitutional provision that limits the expression of political views in religious services or within any of a church’s activities. That would contradict the free exercise clause. But, alas, there is the problem of taxation.
Churches that express political views or endorse candidates become subject to the federal income tax. And their donors, cannot deduct their gifts from taxable income. The rationale for the deduction recognizes the spiritual nature of the church and extends the favor of immunity from taxation only that far but not so far as any interest the church may express in influencing policy or in choosing the government. And, true or not, churches behave as though their institutional lives depended on being exempt from paying taxes and eligible for having their donors receive deductions.
When my kids were growing up, a local television station ran a plug just before the ten o’clock news each evening that was meant to be offer some parental coaching:
“It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?”
If only that had been enough for us to meet our responsibilities to them.
Instead, we leave them this bitter legacy. Rising sea levels. More extreme and more frequently violent weather patterns. Dysfunctional government. Deteriorating infrastructure. An ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Health care that fails to meet the needs of most people. The growth of the use of terror as a political tool. Refugees from many nations seeking asylum in an unwelcoming world.
Sometime between the time I was a teenager (that would be the 1950s and 60s) and today, my perception of America’s social and political environment changed from one that seemed more sharing, loving and mutually supportive to one that is, today, almost terminally corrupted by fear, violence, and greed.
To be exact, I do not say things have actually changed in those ways, only that my perceptions have changed. It is an important distinction since the world of my teen years was viewed through a lens of privilege that blinded me to the violence, racism, sexism, and poverty that many people in our country already dealt with on a daily basis. Maybe things are not so different now, only the lifting of the curtain to allow the rest of us to see and share the suffering more directly.
There have been, however, some undeniably real changes that will have to be addressed by rising generations. Today’s ruling powers have proved unwilling and unable to lead changes that would save our world from choking its own greed.
In my post of April 12, I suggested that you wouldn’t hear much about politics from me. May I please recant and apologize for that? Politics is at the core of the American character and to avoid political discussion is to hand over control of our lives to others.
Over time, Facebook developed some unwritten rules of social media discourse which I found constraining and, I do not use this word often, un-American. Of course, Facebook has a particular problem with trolls so that any mention of a candidate, party or policy preference would bring them out to haunt your page.