Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What About Joy?

Over on UM Insight, my most recent blog elicited this comment from a reader:

agree that something has to be done about the way that the UMC is heading. I don't think that this is the way to do it. What if what a local church wants is to not pay apportionments and be free to discriminate? (Perhaps that is what some want now.) The question is how do we retain the ability to act and speak as a denomination and yet have a lot less "top down" governance. How do we give more authority to the local church without becoming the "rope of sand" bemoned (sic) by Whitfield? And if the real thrust of what we are doing is to give more power to the local church what does that say about the episcopacy and the superintendency? What did the study commissioned by the Council of Bishops say about the effect of apportionments on the local church? Is the general church here to serve the local church or is it the other way round? Not having been at GC I can only ask questions as someone outside looking in. All I can say is, we are better than this. Rather than scapegoating some while holding others sacred we need to continue to do the work of the Great Commission while working together on solutions.

This comment was posted by “John Wesley.” I was flattered.

I commented back to Mr. Wesley:

Mr. Wesley, While I am indeed honored that you have commented on my humble blog, allow me to ask you to go ahead and answer your own question. What if a congregation doesn't pay apportionments? What if a congregation or a pastor discriminates? (My answer - the GC responds to a congregation acting thusly in the same manner a congregation responds to a church member who is.)
But then answer mine - What if they don't? What if UM congregations are so excited by what is happening in the denomination they simply can't wait to pay 110% of their apportionment? What if UM congregations are so fired up by the ethos of grace that they begin to truly welcome all people fully?
If you'll forgive me, since I know you only by reading your sermons and a few of your journal entries, Mr. Wesley, thinking "What if something goes wrong?" is exactly the kind of thinking that is stifling our denomination.
We need to start asking, "What if everything exceeds our wildest imagination?"

Then I read an article today about withholding apportionments as a way to affect change in the denomination. The article is a litany of negativism and hopelessness that really harshes my buzz, man. And it is only one in a long list of laments written in response to the 2012 meeting of the General Conference.

The majority of responses that I have read have been either pity parties or gripe sessions or angry diatribes. We are angry, we are upset, we are afraid. And those of us who aren’t are taking an attitude that says the 2012 General Conference was a harbinger of rebirth and radical transformation; in other words, it was awful - but better things are surely coming.

Why do we United Methodists seem to be unable to ask any question other than, “What if something goes wrong?" or "What if we die?" We use terms that are designed to elicit fear and despair, and then we wonder why everybody is so afraid and gloomy. Um … duh.

We are asking, “What if something goes wrong,” and “What if our denomination splits,” and “What if we run out of money,” and “What if our structure collapses,” as if these questions have anything whatsoever to do with the way the world is being transformed in spite of us.

Yes, the world is changing, has changed, is forever different than it was a generation ago. And we’re missing it as we engage in denominational hand-wringing.

Okay, look - our General Boards are going to restructure, but now it will be because they are forced to rather than because the General Conference did so proactively. They are just going to run out of money and not be able to function as they currently do. I wish we would have been able to anticipate and preempt this, but we didn’t. Now it will happen reactively instead.

But even that’s not the point.

All of this negativity around this year’s General Conference is misplaced and not the least bit helpful. We expend so much organizational energy being anxious about the “What ifs” that our fear not only paralyzes us, it also distracts us from all of the wonderful stuff, changing stuff, transformational stuff, stuff that we can celebrate.

What we miss is the joy. What about joy? There is so much to rejoice over, and we can’t even see it because we’re so afraid.

Do we remember? We follow a Teacher who told a story once about leaving behind 99 perfectly flocked sheep in order to find one that was lost, and then rejoiced when it was found. One sheep. Call the neighbors, throw a party - Rejoice!

Have we forgotten how to rejoice?

Personally, in small groups, in congregations, and percolating upward from there, we need to remember how to rejoice. We need to stop asking, What if we die?

What we need to be asking is - What if we live?


David Hutchison said...

I'm loving the inclusion of joy in our denomination's vocabulary, which seems to have been relegated to the realm of the past at some point. I only hear of joy in our church when it deals with something great and joyful from the past, from historic church events to the big J.C. himself.
A lot of folks would contend that to call for joy and celebration and a proud heart that pushes forward boldly into change and a future of hope for our tradition, is one that has its head stuck in the sand, unwilling to acknowledge the painful decline, the broken systems, and shortcomings of our denomination. I would respond: Look up the theological definition of "joy," my friend.
Joy is a transcendent form of happiness that is born of the pain, suffering, brokenness, fortune, thanksgiving, and pleasantness of the past, all at once, and which acknowledges the deeper reality of our joy in Christ, who ultimately conquers all the pain and suffering we gather in and with us.
I'm rambling, but the essence here is that I would dare our church to look hopefully and joyfully to the future from a perspective that believes what we teach our laity to believe every Sunday: that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

Anonymous said...

With two like you, Andy and David, assuming leadership roles in the MUMC, there is hope - there is optimism - there is joy!!!

Mom/Caryl B

Michael Pope said...

Thanks, Andy and David, for reminding us that our denomination is bigger and better than negativism and naval gazing!

There are three things that last forever, according to Paul other than God's eternal Word, and these are: faith, hope and love...We know how this chapter ends...but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13). Love should be our focus as UMs.

Joy comes knowing that we are not alone and that we are loved unconditionally. We experience real joy in the presence of God and usually after God comes to us out of some extraordinary test of some kind. For us, like Jesus, it is the experience of Resurrection after Crucifixion. It is the paradox of life: If we want to live for God, then we must first die to self.

Joy is the most infallible proof of God's existence in our lives and denomination. If we practice "the presence of God" and are open to the fullness of the Holy Spirit, then we will find renewed energy, strength, wisdom and courage for the future that God can make in and through us!

It seems to me that if we focus on the past only, which many UM churches are doing, then we decide that we will not have a future, and certainly not a better future than the past.

We need to control the backward look while learning from our past. Otherwise, we will be forever condemned to relive our past! As Faulkner said, "The only thing that we've learned from the past is that we haven't learned from the past."

I am hopeful about the future of the UMC because I believe in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as well as the Church of Jesus Christ!

The world needs us Christians to be transformed transformers! Then, when we are full of the Spirit of God, we can carry out the Great Commission and see lives, countries and the world changed. Oh, if we only would believe and imagine the world as God envisions the future for us, then work for that kind of world! Just imagine what would happen!