Monday, December 15, 2014

Love, No Matter What

This season at Campbell UMC, we have considered how our lives are illuminated by hope, peace, and joy. These ideas have taken us through three weeks of Advent, in preparation for the coming of Christ.

And this week we light the fourth candle - the candle of love, Of all the lights that shine in this holy season, the light of love shines brightest of all.

You know you love someone if the room seems brighter when they walk in.

Love connects people together. Love connects people to God. The connections of love are like wires closing a circuit, the current flows and the energy surges and (if there’s a light bulb attached) there is LIGHT!

In a similar way, when a relationship is one of love, there is energy flowing. In a loving relationship, there is light. The light of a loving relationship will illuminate the darkest places of life; the darkness of conflict and disagreement can never overcome the light of love.

Helen Keller said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

Even if the future is uncertain, even if what lies ahead is intimidating or the path is going to be difficult to follow, having someone you love by your side always makes it better. And on the flipside, even if life is certain and comfortable and the future is clear ahead of you, if you have to go it alone it just isn’t as good.

Love illuminates our lives by connecting us together with a light that refuses to be overcome.

Therein lies my hope for the future of the church. I believe with all my heart that things will be okay if we can just manage to remember that we love one another.

And even more, if we truly practice scriptural hospitality, we are reminded that we love not just those who already love us. We are to show the same love to "strangers" (as in Hebrews 13:2 - Gk. philoxenia: love of strangers, also in Romans 12:13) as we do to family and friends.

The light has come into the world. The light is Christ. The light is love. And although we seem to forget it and tend to act like we don't believe it, no darkness of any kind will ever be able to overcome it.

Love - No matter what.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I Wish I Didn't Have to Write This...

I got a letter this week. It begins:

“Once again the Family of Faith in Springfield, MO is under attack.”

Whoa! Excellent attention-getter, right? “UNDER ATTACK!!!” I was hooked immediately! So I read on…

“Our City Council, on October 13, 2014, passed General Ordinance No. 6141, which prescribes exclusionary rights to individuals aligned with the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement in our community.”

Yeah, I had to read it again, too. Feel free to take a moment.

As near as I can tell, “exclusionary rights” means the right to have a job and a home. So, there’s that.

And “individuals aligned with the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Trans …” … yeah, that phrase. That means gay people.

So to interpret that sentence in actual words, it says the Springfield City Council passed an ordinance to ensure that gay people would have the right to hold a job and live in a home.

Still looking for the “attack.” Right? Because I sure haven’t read it yet. But maybe he’ll illuminate.

Next sentence: “Even though an overwhelming majority of Springfieldians spoke out in opposition, our Council voted 6 to 3 in favor of implementing this ordinance with its un-Biblical, anti-Christian bias and its un-Constitutional provisions.”

So now I am genuinely confused. This must be the description of the attack, but it isn’t clear who the letter writer is actually mad at.

Does he mean “un-Biblical,” like ignoring Romans 13 when it suits us? Or does he mean “un-Biblical” in just leaving off the entire chapter of Matthew 25, or any other part of the Holy Word of God that instructs us to care for those who are in need by … oh I don’t know … maybe making sure they have full access to a job and a home?

And “anti-Christian bias,” meaning that we ought to use the tenets of one particular expression of faith to measure what our government does? Like as in one of the key things the founders of our nation were attempting to avoid in setting up our amazing system of government in the first place?

Which leads to the “un-Constitutional provisions” part … is he meaning Amendment 5 that says the government cannot deprive anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process? Or maybe he means Amendment 14 that says specifically, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Okay, enough with the snark. Let’s be clear here. This letter is from a group of people who wants Springfield, Missouri to repeal a duly passed City Council ordinance that essentially inserted sexual orientation and gender identity into all of the city’s anti-discrimination language. And this group wants pastors to encourage the people of our congregations to vote in favor of this repeal effort.

This ordinance, just to be crystal clear, includes this paragraph:

“Nothing in this article shall be taken to prohibit a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society and whose purpose and character are primarily religious, from giving employment preference to members of its own religion.”

So, if gay people are not welcome in your religion, you don’t have to hire them.

And in the exceptions section of the ordinance, religious groups are quite clearly allowed to give preference to people of their own choosing for housing consideration, as well.

If you can make the case that gay people are not a part of your religion, the city of Springfield will allow your religious group to exclude them as much as you’d like.

Here’s the whole thing if you’d like to read it - click this.

In a nutshell, we have a City Council ordinance that passed with a clear majority (6-3) that seeks to ensure that discrimination is not happening in Springfield for any reason, and yet gives an exception to religious groups who want to include a particular form of discrimination in their own practices.

And still I’m wondering, where is this “attack” actually happening?

The letter tells me that “As a pastor, you are one of the leaders in the church community, which is the first line of defense against the powers of immorality and inequality in our city.” And funny thing, this is a statement with which I completely and utterly agree 100%. Ironically, that is exactly why I feel the need to write and post this response.

To be honest, I wish I could just let this go away and focus on more important things. But I am a follower of Jesus, which means I cannot allow such misrepresentations of the Gospel to simply go unchallenged. I could if it were the fringe, like Westboro. But this is pretty mainline – like First Baptist Church of Springfield. (That’s where the meeting is to be held on Thursday, December 4, to organize the repeal supporters.)

Incidentally, I also sent the following via email. I sent it to the email address I found on the Christians Uniting for Political Action website. That’s the group on whose letterhead the letter was printed:

I'm not sure who is reading this email, but I'm sure you can forward it to the appropriate channel.

I am writing to ask respectfully that you alter your language in your communications regarding the anti-discrimination language in the Springfield City Council issue. Your letter announcing the December 4th meeting seems to assume that there is one, uniform, Christian response to this action.

In truth, our responses are varied and diverse. If you would just change a few words here and there, to indicate that "some" Christians view this as an attack, or that "some of us" are upset by this decision, instead of making it seem as though all Christians feel the same way, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you so much! Peace be with you,
Andy Bryan, Pastor
Campbell United Methodist Church

Like with this post in general, I really wish I wasn’t having to deal with this. I wish I could just be focused on ministry and mission and Advent and Jesus and stuff like that. But if nobody says anything, if stuff like this goes unchallenged, it will be assumed that this point of view is THE “Christian” point of view. So I decided to go ahead and send the email, and see what happens.

At this point, I really don’t even care about changing people’s minds. I just want them to stop presenting their own personal view as if it represents all Christians everywhere. To do so grossly distorts the Gospel, which claims that God is far too big to fit into any one particular human understanding.

I’m gonna let you think what you think, even if I disagree with it. All I ask at this point is that you allow me to do the same, and stop pretending that following Jesus means agreeing about everything.

If there really is an attack going on, that’s it. 

Monday, December 01, 2014


The second Sunday of Advent asks us to think about peace.

Really? Your timing just couldn’t be worse, Second Sunday of Advent. It’s a pretty hard topic to think about just now. Violence seems to be the norm, hatred makes headlines, conflict rules the day.

Peace is not trending.

But honestly, has it ever been? Have you ever arrived, Second Sunday, and found the world to be truly at peace? Has there ever been an era in which peace was the rule of the day? We are fond of lamenting how bad the world is “these days,” and how idyllic the “good old days” were. But is that truthful?

Maybe we just remember things through the lens of sentiment, and maybe that makes it seem better than it really was. Is that how it is, Second Sunday of Advent? Are our memories selective that way?

You come around every year, Second Sunday; why are we so surprised? Shocked, even? Peace is kind of a big deal in the Bible, after all. Even Jesus himself is identified with it, him being the Prince of Peace and all. So why is it that all we can do is cluck our tongues and shake our heads?

Why can we not seem to figure out how to actually live lives of peace? We are supposed to “strive to be found by Christ at peace,” for God’s sake (2 Peter 3:14). So who’s striving?

Okay, Second Sunday of Advent … we hear you! We’ll give it a try. Who knows but if we do, that this “peace” thing might not just be the next big thing?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


My siblings and I have had three grandmothers: Nanny, Nana, and Twila. Nanny was our mom’s mom; she died in 2012. Nana was our dad’s mom; she died in 1989. Twila was neither our dad’s mom nor our mom’s mom. She was our grandfather’s second wife. And she was amazing.

Actually, she was my "grandmother" longer than Nana was my grandmother. Nana was amazing, too. And so was Nanny. Three amazing women that I am so happy to have had in my life.

In 1992, three years after Nana died, my Grandfather, “Daddy Monk” Bryan married Twila Stowe, who has been my grandmother since then. 18 years with one grandmother; 22 years with another. I’m a pretty lucky guy.

Twila died this morning.

I called her daughter and she said, “Mom adored you and your family. You brought her so much joy. She was proud of you.”

Daddy Monk and Twila used to love it when I would sit down at the piano and play hymns. I would jazz them up and ad lib here and there and they would be in the kitchen cleaning up after supper or something, listening, singing along. It brought me joy to bring them joy.

But then, ever so sneakily, I would start up with the verse of “Victory in Jesus.” Before I could even get to the chorus, here Twila would come storming out of the kitchen wielding a wooden spoon or some such utensil, an expression of utter disgust on her face, often accompanied by an inarticulate growl of rage. If I had given her time, I’m not sure but she would have thumped me on the head.

However, I would just give her a grin and shift quickly to “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” or some other Charles Wesley hymn.

Oo, did she ever hate “Victory in Jesus.”

Daddy Monk and Nana used to hang out with Twila and her husband, Mac. The two couples were dear friends. Monk and Mac (that would be Alonzo Monk and William McFerrin) were both bishops in the United Methodist Church. Mac died in 1988, and my grandparents (of course) stayed friends with Twila.

So when my grandmother died one year later, Monk and Twila stayed in touch. Over time their friendship deepened. When he was visiting our family he would go into the bedroom to call her and tell her goodnight. I used to do that in high school with the girls I was dating!

And then there were a few months there during which Monk and Twila AND Erin and I were engaged to be married at the same time! (Yep, both Jim’s dad and son were engaged at the same time. That must have been weird.) It was fun to share that time with them, both of us planning for weddings.

Twila was gracious. Classy. Gentle. Strong. Beautiful. Passionate. She had to be some special kind of woman, to be married to not just one but TWO United Methodist bishops in her life!

She was amazing.

We were hoping to stop in Dallas to see her tomorrow on our way to Austin for Thanksgiving. But she was ready to go. She said so. Her body was failing, and she was in pain. She let God know that she was pretty much done living this part of life, and God said, “Well okay then, come on.” And she left.

I just hope someone warns the angel choir not to sing “Victory in Jesus” any time soon, or maybe ever again!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Root Cause of Schism: "Want of Love"

Have you ever wondered what John Wesley may have thought of proposals to divide the United Methodist Church? Wonder no more:

“It is evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christian, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows cold, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretenses for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of the Spirit in the bound of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined: To that of St. Paul, ‘Let brotherly love continue:’ -- that of St. John, ‘My beloved children, love one another;’ -- and especially to that of our blessed Master, ‘This is my commandment, That ye love on another, as I have loved you’ Yea, ‘By this,’ saith he, ‘shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.’” – John Wesley, Sermon 75, On Schism

Let me just repeat the phrase I highlighted above:

“The pretenses for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause.”

In the present case, the pretense for separation is the status and role in the church of people who are gay, specifically as it pertains to marriage and ordination. There’s no way to know, except to speculate, as to what Mr. Wesley would have believed regarding the specific questions on same-sex marriages and the ordination of people who are gay. I’m not intending to engage in such speculation at the moment.

I am intending to elevate our denomination’s conversation to a place of love and true ecclesial connection. Talk of who has permission to marry or not, talk of who might be ordained or not … all is mere pretense. The true root of our division is want of love.

For God’s sake, can we not love one another?

Furthermore, John Wesley understood schism as more than mere formal division. “[Schism] is not a separation from a church … it is a separation in a church,” he preached (emphasis mine). In that sense, the United Methodist Church has already experienced schism, and the true question is not whether to divide or not, but rather whether to unify again or not.

The question becomes one of faith: Do we as a church have sufficient faith in God to become one again? We are already divided. The schism has happened. The question really is: now what?

It seems to me that if we truly loved each other, we’d stick together, even if we fight sometimes. My kids argue with each other, but they stick together, because they love each other. Can the United Methodist Church follow the example my children are setting?

There are a bunch of plans floating around out there; we could see anything from maintenance of the status quo to outright division to some kind of compromise. All will be decided in 2016 at our next General Conference, pending an appeal to the Judicial Council, I suppose.

As we approach General Conference of 2016, maybe the United Methodist Church needs to start with confessing that the schism has already taken place. Maybe by reorienting our denomination to that reality can we ask the questions that really need to be asked:

Are we bold enough to come back together?

Are we faithful enough to trust God with the future?

Do we love one another or not?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hold Dear the Connection

An adaptive change in Methodist ecclesiology has led to three (and sort of four) technical changes in the Missouri Annual Conference.

The adaptive change in question is a shift in philosophy from a connectional attitude toward a congregational attitude. I have a couple of ideas about why this change was implemented, but those motivations are not the subject of this post. The shift itself is happening, as evidenced by the aforementioned technical changes.

The first technical change that was impacted was in our connectional support of community based service agencies. This connectional support (what the UMC calls “apportionments”) was given to a long list of groups working to alleviate injustice, poverty, homelessness, hunger, etc. all around the state. We supported them connectionally because of a philosophy that said, “We can do more together than we can alone.”

When that change happened, we were encouraged to think more congregationally. Now, individual congregations are in relationship with service groups that have particular local meaning: maybe hometown agencies, agencies that dealt with an issue of particular importance to the congregation, or agencies led by people in the congregation.

The second technical change that happened was in our resourcing of campus ministries at colleges and universities. Again, the philosophy behind maintaining on-campus facilities and appointing clergy to serve on campuses was that “we can do more together than we can alone,” in this case with regard to nurturing the Christian discipleship of students in college.

The Annual Conference decided to change the way we do campus ministry by encouraging local congregations to start college-age ministries of their own. And today there are many vibrant and vital college-age ministries based out of congregations all across our state.

The third change is ongoing, and relates to Annual Conference support for church camps and retreats. Rather than pool our resources connectionally to support staff and facilities designated for church camping and retreats, a different vision has been cast.

It is still unclear what this vision is exactly, but seems to revolve around 1) bringing the idea of camping to local congregations and 2) individual directors of camps seeking out their own facilities in which to hold them. In broad terms, a shift from connectional support of camping and retreats to a more local, congregational vision. Because this is an ongoing change, it is unclear what exactly the result will be.

The “sort of” fourth thing I want to mention is a wonderfully connectional idea called “Serve.” The idea of a “Serve Day” grew out of a vision of United Methodists all across the conference serving outside the walls of our church buildings. It was an amazing idea – thousands of people working on the same designated day to truly make a tangible impact for God’s sake in communities all across the state.

It did not take long, however, for this distinctly Methodist, “we can do more together” idea to fade away. Rather than a designated “Serve Day,” congregations are now encouraged to adopt the attitude of Serve throughout our ministries all year long. I can’t help but wonder if the idea of a Serve Day was simply too connectional to withstand the current trend toward congregationalism.

Finally I would like to add that I do not offer this as a negative criticism of the current climate, simply an observation. I am not offering one approach as “better” than another. I’m simply naming something that I’ve observed, a trend that I see taking place in the United Methodist Church.

Personally, I prefer a more connectional model of church over a more congregational one. That’s just my preference, though. I understand that the local church is where disciples are made most effectively, and so I can see the logic to the shift.

And I’m sure the pendulum will swing back the other way at some point, and we’ll reclaim some more of our connectional spirit again. It may look different, which I actually think will be a good thing. Our “connection” hasn’t really been “connected” for some time. We have lived in the illusion of connection for a long time now. I believe that it has become a top-heavy connection, deriving our connectional identity from conferences and agencies that exist on a far different plane from many United Methodists “in the pews.”

Perhaps a new connectionalism will emerge that connects congregations in new and innovative ways, “in the trenches,” so to speak. Maybe Methodists will connect personally with other Methodists in ministry and service in ways that nobody has thought of yet. That’s pretty exciting actually!

Right now, we’re focused pretty intently on “healthy congregations.” I get that. I appreciate that. I just hope that we don’t lose a valuable part of our identity as Methodists in the process. I'm looking forward to new and creative ways to "Hold dear the connection!"

Thursday, October 09, 2014

My One Idea - What's Yours?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … let’s just say for the sake of the story …

There was this technology that, when applied, would remove everything that a person believed, except for one single idea. All the complications and clutter of belief and dogma and doctrine and feelings and thoughts … just *poof* … gone. And only one idea would remain.

That solitary idea would be the center, the core, the pillar on which all the rest were constructed. The remaining idea would be the idea that served as the foundation of the house. It would be the heart of hearts of everything you believe to be true.

Got it? Do you see the concept? (Never mind how would it work, just play the game, okay?)

What would yours be?

What is your core idea? What is your single central belief on which all the rest are built? What’s the one idea that, if everything else were wiped away, you would hold on to with all your strength?

(Yes, just one. Again, just play the game!)

Please post your answer in the comment section, on Facebook, or on Twitter. I’m curious to read the responses.

Mine would be: Everybody matters. That would be My One Idea.

If everything else were taken away, I would cling to the idea that every single person is worth something. Not because of what they do or might do in the future, but simply because they exist. They matter because they are.

No matter your age or gender or wealth or health or race or religion or language or culture or nationality or anything else … YOU ARE IMPORTANT. For me, everything else builds upon that idea.

And that means that whenever that idea is challenged, I rise to defend it. Providing foster care, working for marriage equality, helping someone pay for a motel room, confronting racism, or just being nice to someone – it all comes back to believing that people matter. It shapes what I believe about God, who I believe Jesus is, how I identify the Holy Spirit, how I read scripture, what I think the church is about, and just about everything else.

So, I hope you’ll engage this little thought experiment with me. Here come the aliens with their belief-erasing devices! They have you in their sights! And … ZAP. All but one of your beliefs has just been eradicated.

What’s left?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Kids Are Church, Too

One of the foundational principles by which I live is that each person matters. Every single individual is worth something, just because they are. People are of inherent value, not because of utility or potential or who they might become; but simply because they are somebody - right here and now.

As such I devote much of my energy to counteracting anything that says otherwise, and affirming those who seem to be especially diminished in the eyes of the world.

Children, for example.

Is there any group of human beings more soundly devalued than children? Even when we try to affirm their worth, we usually do so by saying that they are “our future.” That happens in the church all the time. “Those kids are the future of the church,” we say with a condescending smile, usually while also noting how “cute” they are.

Please stop. Children are not objects for you to ogle. Children are not of value only in the future. Children are human beings, with thoughts and feelings and ideas and opinions of their own. They matter right now, because they are here right now, and we need to stop treating them like they WILL matter in a few years, but acknowledge that they are worth something for this present time.

Sunday is “Children’s Sunday” at Campbell, and we will celebrate the children of the church, not as the “future of the church,” but as the vital and vibrant present.

I hope you grown-ups will be there to worship with your youngest sisters and brothers in Christ!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Altar of Struggle

Arguably the most notorious altar Abraham built was the one upon which he nearly sacrificed his son Isaac. To tell you the truth, I’d rather this altar was omitted from Scripture altogether. The story sure would be a lot easier to read.

But it’s in there. And since it’s in there, we’d best give it a go. I mean, it may be a struggle - but just because something involves struggle doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it, right? Especially if that “something” is our reading of God’s Holy Word.

In fact, the struggle itself can be an altar. Struggle can be sacred space. Often times our struggles are the moments in which God is most fully present with us, strengthening us, guiding us, helping us get through one moment at a time.

Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Indeed if everything comes easily to us, we tend to become complacent, lethargic, and apathetic. We expect to grow without doing the work that leads to growth.

I’m sure that Abraham struggled as he walked with Isaac to the place that infamous altar would be built; he would not have been human if he had not. And in that struggle, he grew even closer to God.

I’m sure that you have struggled in your walk of faith; I assure you that I have. And in that struggle, we grow closer to God, and closer to becoming the people God wants us to be.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quantifying Church Camp as Leadership Development

One of the ideas floating around out there about church camps is that a lot of people experience the call to ministry in a camp setting. Not only pastors, but church staff members, team leaders, team members, and other leaders in congregations.

That idea indicates that church camp is a valuable tool for leadership development. However, as far as I know there is no assessment tool in place in the United Methodist Church that quantifies that correlation.

My friend Jason Carle, a Presbyterian pastor in Overland Park, messaged me recently to tell me that his Presbytery tracks camping participation as leadership development. He serves on his Presbytery’s board of directors for their camping ministries, and he says they “have numbers on our former camp counselors and campers who are now ordained as either elders, deacons or pastors in churches.” (The terms “elder” and “deacon” mean different things in the Presbyterian Church than they do in the UMC.)

Using this metric, they have a concrete numerical assessment of the fruitfulness of the camping ministry as it applies to the area of leadership development. Of course, church camp is not ONLY useful for leadership development, but leadership development would be one way to measure the fruitfulness of camping. And that assessment would not be all that difficult to achieve, if there was an intentional effort behind it.

Of course, leadership development is not dependent upon location, and it is quite possible that future incarnations of church camping in Missouri may result in as many (or even more) excellent congregational leaders as the current system has. But the truth is that we will never know for sure, since gathering that specific information was not a priority in the decision-making process of Missouri’s camping board.

I sent an email to the camping board and conference staff asking if any data had been collected correlating church leadership and camp experience. The replies I got indicated that had not happened in the systematic way my friend Jason described, while affirming that many (including some Camping Board members) were called by God into leadership of the church while at church camp. I am hopeful that information would be gathered in the future in a more systematic and (dare I say) “methodical” way.

The future leadership of the church resides in our youth and children, and many of them realize that while they are at church camp. I’d really like to know exactly how many that is.

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's About Congregations: More Thoughts On Missouri UM Camps

I watched part one of a video that was taken of a meeting at Liberty UMC on Wednesday, September 10. The meeting was convened to discuss the recent decision of the Missouri Annual Conference Camping Board to dismiss the camp staff and take church camping in a new direction.

Here's the video - CLICK HERE. (Thank you to colleagues and friends Steve Cox, Jon Spalding, and Garrett Drake for being present, and to Liberty UMC for hosting the forum.)

I invite you to listen to what Garrett Drake has to say at 19:30 and immediately following. I believe this is the number one factor that led to the Camping Board's decision:

"The mission of the conference is different than the mission of the church."

He means, I think, the conference will focus on, fund, and support efforts to strengthen local congregations, not necessarily individuals. This has been the clearly stated mission of the Annual Conference for years.

It was the opinion of the Camping Board that church camping does not strengthen local congregations in a way that is faithful to the resources expended in that effort. (If I have misinterpreted that opinion, I trust I will be graciously corrected.) This does not mean they think church camp is a bad thing.

No one is disputing claims that children, youth, and adults feel God's presence in powerful ways at church camp. No one is disputing that people are called into the ministry at church camp on a regular basis. No one is disputing that it is good for people to be immersed in God's beautiful natural creation. Etc. Etc.

So, if I understand correctly, all that stuff is a red herring to the true point of conversation. What the Camping Board IS disputing is that church camp makes an impact, a positive, meaningful, tangible difference, to the health of local congregations, a difference that is worth the cost expended to achieve it.

I think this is how the conversation should be framed. Here's the order: People are members of congregations; congregations are led by the conference. (A conference, by the way, of which I am a member.)

For the record, I believe with all my heart that church camping DOES, in fact, make for healthier congregations. Those who have participated in church camp are always among the most active, joyful, energized members of the congregations I have served. I could describe so many different situations where church campers are the ones reaching out to invite others, leading small groups, serving on mission and ministry teams, and on and on.

So here's the problem - there is no numerical metric I can show the Conference office that directly demonstrates the impact camping has on the congregation's health. And lacking that, it is really hard to communicate it to anyone. We send reports that measure stuff - worship attendance, small group participants, apportionment dollars, and so forth. There is no "People invited to church by someone who never would have done so had they not attended church camp" report, for example

There are, however, "describables" in the life of a congregation. As Bishop Schnase has written, "There are thousands of ways of impacting lives through the ministry of Christ and a thousand forms of fruitful ministry. Some are measurable, and these we should count and learn how to do better. Where we cannot measure outcomes, we can describe changes and bear witness to the visible signs of the Spirit’s invisible work through us and our churches."

Which points out another problem - had we known about the "new direction" earlier, we would have had more opportunity to describe ways church camp was making our congregations healthier. A simple question on our annual report would have been sufficient: "Describe ways that church camping made your congregation healthier?" or something like that.

My colleague and friend Ann Mowery, a member of the Camping Board, posted on Facebook, "And for congregations that did send campers to our programs, the week’s experience seemed to be completely isolated from their experience in the local church." That statement revealed as much as anything about why this decision was made. Simply put, there is no way I could disagree more with this perspective.

But sadly, I have neither the means nor, it seems, the time to convince the Camping Board otherwise.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Being Mr. Banks

Over these past two months, Mr. George Banks, Esquire has become an important part of my life. I am humbled by the opportunity to portray him on the stage of the Lander’s Theatre as a part of the Springfield Little Theatre production of “Mary Poppins.” I have come to know George Banks quite well. And I must say, I love him dearly.

Mr. Banks’ defining question is - “Is that enough?” Of course, he doesn't realize that is THE question of his life until he says it out loud to a bank customer named Mr. Von Hussler. But once that question has been spoken, everything begins to change for George.

Because, you see … the way he is living - it really isn't “enough.”

It is not enough to sit in your study and never tell your children goodnight. It is not enough to relate to your wife as if all you do in the relationship is “pay for everything.” It is not enough to give up on your dreams because they were beaten out of you as a child.

Precision and order are not enough.

But as a boy growing up, he had been taught that it is. Precision and order, knowing the “right people,” children kept out of their father’s way … these are the values that have shaped George Banks. His parents were absent, and glad to be rid of him. His Nanny was abusive verbally and physically. One gets the idea that he was often alone.

And yet there is a spark in there, deep down. In his heart of hearts there is still the little boy who ran off from his Nanny to collect gingerbread stars from Mrs. Corry and hide them away where no one would find them. It is hard to imagine George Banks spending time in Mrs. Corry’s shop in the park, such a far cry from the buttoned-down world he inhabits. He was obviously drawn to the chaos and color, the “untidiness” so foreign to his experience at home.

Mrs. Banks knows that spark; she has seen it. Winnifred fell in love with THAT Mr. Banks, and he knows it. When he interacts with her, he mimics his father’s treatment of his mother, because he thinks that is “enough.” But he knows better. She is his last, tenuous connection to his true and better self, and when he finally realizes it, his line “How can you ever forgive me?” feels so meager and inadequate. Her response, however, “How can you even ask?” demonstrates the fire of her character even as it melts the last little shard of ice in his heart.

There is a special bond between Mr. Banks and his daughter. George is just as “thoughtless, short-tempered, and untidy” as Jane is. Jane treats the servants precisely the way she has seen her father treat them. It is Jane who notes that “Father would never approve” of their trip to the park with Bert. Jane’s curiosity at the bank elicits pride from her father, and clarifies an important decision he must make. In many ways, Jane is very much George’s daughter and Michael is very much Winnifred’s son (mother and son both tend to the “noisy, mischievous, and troublesome” side of things).

And finally ... Mary Poppins. “It’s that Poppins woman! SHE’S the one responsible.” But you know, Mary Poppins doesn't really “save” George Banks. Mary Poppins creates opportunities for people to save themselves, and to save others they love. Mr. Banks is saved by Winnifred’s devotion, by Jane’s strength, by Michael’s whimsy, by Bert’s wisdom. Mr. Banks is saved by Mrs. Corry’s gingerbread stars. Mary Poppins flies in and cracks everything open, like an old vase falling from a high shelf and out of the heirloom fly shining sparks of light. Mary Poppins will place the broken kite on stage, but she will leave it to him to pick it up and repair it.

I remember seeing David Tomlinson’s portrayal in the movie, but not really “seeing” him. He was tangential, almost. His Mr. Banks was two-dimensional - stuffy and uptight became free and happy. Only after seeing the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” and hearing that one line, “You think she’s come to save the children?” did I realize that there is much more here than just the caricature of a British gentleman banker.

Thankfully, the stage version of Mr. Banks is much more nuanced than the movie. He is multi-dimensional, with layers of back story that add such depth to his identity. He is certainly not a shallow Disney cartoon character on stage. He is real. He is true. He could be me.

I suspect that I love him so dearly because I do see myself in him in some ways. Not in his horrible childhood of course, but certainly in the way his priorities become skewed and his family suffers in consequence. Certainly in the way the pressure of his work clouds every other part of his life. Certainly in the way that his wife and children are the core of his identity and the source of all his life’s meaning, even if he seems to forget that from time to time.

Mr. George Banks, Esquire has become my constant companion of late. I wish you all could know him as well as I do. I’ll do my best to introduce him to you, if you’ll come see the show. Perhaps you’ll fall in love with him, as I have.

Monday, September 08, 2014

How I Feel About It ...

This morning I sent the following email to our friends and colleagues at the Missouri Conference Office. My goal was to express my feelings about a decision made recently regarding United Methodist church camping in Missouri. These are just my feelings - I claim them and I own them. And I want to share them with you...

Dear Friends,

I want you to know how I feel. Almost all of you know me, and know that I carry no agenda and bear no ill will. I simply want you to know how I feel about recent developments in our conference's camping ministries.

I feel like, if I do not say "I am excited about the new direction camping is taking," that I will be somehow judged as part of the problem.

I feel like the dismissal and eviction of some of my dear friends was presented as a calculated business decision, void of grace.

I feel like, if I offer my sincere critique of the "new direction" it will be casually dismissed with "well, change is always hard."

I feel like "land near the campus" on which we might have some "unique rugged experiences" is supposed to somehow replace a days-long immersion in the midst of God's beautiful creation.

I feel like a small group of powerful older people made a decision that impacts a large group of relatively powerless children and youth without hearing from those voices in any meaningful way.

I feel like you think just explaining the money situation again is a sufficient response to the pain of this moment.

I feel like I have nothing to offer the children and youth of my congregation, including my own children, when they ask me why this happened.

That's how I feel. It is important to me that I express these feelings to you, brothers and sisters. I think it is important for you to hear those feelings. And I thank you for hearing them with ears of grace and understanding. I do not need you to validate my feelings or affirm my response in any way. The opportunity to simply express them is enough. I am also planning to post these feelings on my blog, as another channel of expression and communication within the connection. Granted I am only a part of "the 20%" who utilize Missouri UM church camps, and thus in the minority, but perhaps my posting these feelings online will provide a venue for some others to express similar grief and pain, should it exist.

Finally, I feel as though this decision is pretty much finalized on your part, and the ongoing effort to "Save MO UM Camps" will be fruitless. However I am hopeful that the dialogue generated by that effort will be grace-filled and respectful. The atmosphere is fraught with emotion, which is okay as long as it does not degrade into bitterness and enmity. May the Spirit of God guide us always.

Andy Bryan, Pastor
Campbell United Methodist Church

My goal in posting my feelings here is not to create animosity or bitterness. It is simply to share publicly what's going on in my noodle at the moment, wondering at the same time if there are any others out there struggling with similar feelings today. If you are led to respond, I ask that your response be grace-filled and respectful, or I will ask you to delete it.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gay Marriage Will Neither Kill Nor Save the Church

I have a request for us, United Methodist Church. Can we please avoid linking the same-sex marriage conversation with the declining numbers conversation in any way, shape, or form?

I’ve read articles that try to make these links in reaction to decisions by the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in recent months, and I’d rather not we rehash it in the UMC.

I have heard two arguments, essentially. One is, “The church will die if we allow same-sex marriages” and the other is, “The church will die unless we allow same-sex marriages.” There have been a few variations on those themes, but that’s the gist.

Can we just stop that altogether? It isn’t helpful. I honestly do not think the impending death of the church has all that much to do with whether or not we marry gay people. Please, let’s not make this question the scapegoat for our impoverished ecclesiology.

One thing that I do know, from real life experience, is this: The fight about gay marriage could very well be what kills the church in the end. Okay so, it may not actually kill the church, but it sure isn’t helping it live, either. The nastiness (so different from the actual content of the Gospel) is eroding the contemporary church from our core outward.

The numerical decline of the church has to do with a whole lot more than just who can get married or not. Honestly, it has more to do with outdated measurement tools than it does with human sexuality. But sometimes it’s as if we cannot allow ourselves to actually engage the nuanced and complicated cultural shifts taking place in the world around us that are impacting the church.

Or maybe gay marriage has become the symbol of these shifts, so we are obsessively latching on to it as “the issue,” so that we might be spared from honestly discerning what’s really going on, let alone confronting it.

In the UMC, gay marriage is not currently allowed; some congregations are shrinking, some are growing, and the denomination as a whole is in decline.

If gay marriage is allowed after the 2016 General Conference, some congregations will shrink, some will grow, and THE DENOMINATION AS A WHOLE WILL STILL BE IN DECLINE.

That decline is a result of decades of enmeshed issues that would (will?) take decades to unravel. I hope that gay marriage proponents are not so naïve as to believe that droves of people will flock into our pews once we can marry same-sex couples. At the same time I hope opponents of gay marriage are not so naïve as to believe that as long as we keep marriage between a man and a woman, all our problems are solved.

Gay marriage will neither kill nor save the church, and it borders on idolatry to think so.

We can and should be talking about gay marriage. We can and should be talking about the church’s decline. But I hope that we won’t talk about them as if the one is causing the other.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rethink Generosity: Myth #3 - "Bigger is Better"

There's a simple answer to the problem of a bountiful harvest.  Just build a bigger barn.

Bigger, after all, is better, right? Building a bigger barn is admirable. Big barn builders are revered, idolized. There are gated communities filled with bigger barns all over the place. Bigger barn builders make headlines and become our heroes.

And why? It’s all because of Myth #3 in our series “Rethink Generosity.”

Myth #3: Bigger is Better

This is an insidious, nasty myth that pervades pretty much all of North American culture. It devalues work; it devalues art; it devalues nuance; it devalues complexity. 

And it has a firm foothold in the church. Bigger churches are automatically better churches. Bigger events, bigger offerings, bigger worship attendance … all are unquestioningly considered to be “better.” 

And all too quickly the myth infects individual discipleship, especially concerning our giving. That is to say, people start to “measure” their own individual discipleship by comparing it to others, and the one who gives more is somehow a “better” disciple of Jesus.

Actually, when we are talking financial discipleship, we are talking about proportional giving: a percentage of one’s income. Financial discipleship is about capacity, not amount. The question ought to be: What proportion of your income are you offering to God? Rather than: How much money are you offering to God

So don’t worry about how big your barn is. Life is more than wealth. Faithful discipleship understands that bigger isn’t better - better is better. And God is the best of all.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rethink Generosity: Myth 2 - "Giving Time and Talent is Enough"

This is part two of a three-part series called “Rethinking Generosity: Busting the church’s money myths.

Myth #2: “Giving time and talent is enough.”

So, how many weddings have you attended in which the happy couple stands in front of family and friends and vows before God to give themselves to one another in covenant wedded bliss for ever and ever amen … and then they list a disclaimer?

“I promise my life to you, darling. Well, you know, except for all the chocolate cake, I’m keeping that all for myself. Well, I may let you see it every now and then, even have a little nibble. Say, somewhere in the five to seven percent range, maybe. Definitely not more than ten.”

Absurd, right? A marriage is all in, 100% of everything, mutual love and respect and support.

So why is it, in our relationship with God, which should be even more important, that we think there is an exception clause regarding our money?

I have heard it throughout my ministry. People will say, “I give my time, I give my talent, I’m here serving. So that’s enough. I don’t have to give financially. I’m ‘covered.’”

What if the Samaritan had said that? “Hey dude, I stopped to help. I bandaged his wounds. But pay for his continued care? Now you’re talking crazy. It’s MY money, and I want it now!”

That would have been a-whole-nother parable.

But that’s NOT how Jesus told the story. Not only did the Samaritan give time (stopping at the side of the road) and talent (binding the wounds), he also gave money to the innkeeper to provide for ongoing care for the wounded man. To be a neighbor, the Samaritan had to be “all in.”

Theologically speaking, the new life that is offered to us in Christ Jesus requires a complete transformation that impacts every part of one’s life. “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” Not “some things.” Not “most things.” EVERY thing.

And everything includes your time. Your talent. And your money. Yes, even your chocolate cake.

Myth #2 = Busted.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

F**k You, Pain: Thoughts on Robin Williams, Michael Brown, etc ...

Note: There are cuss words in this article. This article has been rated PG by me, just so you're aware.

I want to think about how funny Robin Williams was. All in all, I’d rather not reflect on the pain that must have led him to take his own life.

There’s a human tendency to deflect from that which is just too painful to dwell upon. We are experts at distraction.

I can scroll through Youtube videos of Robin Williams’ funniest moments all day long and laugh and laugh and laugh. And it saves me from imagining the scene described in the coroner’s report.

There’s a similar thing happening around the death of Michael Brown. I can watch coverage of marches and read reports of violence and looting in Ferguson, clicking my tongue and shaking my head and muttering, “Shame, shame, shame.” And it saves me from reflecting on the reality of a human life taken too soon, the pain of parents, family, and friends.

We do it all the time. In Gaza, I can explore the geo-political implications of a two-state solution and read about the history of Islam … so I won’t have to think about children dying when bombs fall on school buildings. In Ukraine, I can bad mouth Putin all day, which of course keeps me from thinking about planes filled with people being shot out of the sky. On the border, if I grandstand and play the political game enough, I don’t have to acknowledge that they are real live children who are probably really scared and just want someone to take care of them. And so it goes.

Are we so afraid of pain? Must we always retreat, escape, withdraw?

In a conversation with a friend recently, I remarked that our prayer life would be much more vivid if cuss words were allowed.

What if I could stand before the congregation, lift my middle fingers to the ceiling, and on behalf of the people just shout out “God Damn It!” at the top of my lungs? Or if I could lament in prayer with a guy whose life has gone to shit and actually say, “Dear God, Joe’s life has really gone to shit.” What if I could hit pain right in the face with a liturgically appropriate “Fuck you!”

We should not be afraid of pain and seek distraction from it. Pain is real. Pain reminds you you are alive. Pain doesn’t go away if you ignore it – it festers. Pain needs to be cussed at. Pain needs to be grabbed by the throat and shaken. Pain needs to be crushed.

And please hear this: Pain needs to be shared. “I don’t want to be a burden.” Never mind that, you can’t kick pain’s ass all by yourself, fool. You need me. “But it’s not your …” No, it isn’t. But some day I’m going to need you to help me with my pain, so the opportunity for payback’s coming.

I’m not talking about momentary respite. Taking an emotional Tylenol to relieve the symptom is fine. Watch a movie, listen to a song, take a walk … all good. When you do this, you are saying, “This really hurts and I just need a break.” No, I’m talking about refusing to acknowledge the pain at all, pretending it’s not there, trying to trick yourself that you are “Just fine” when in reality, you are not.

 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast…” (Psalm 22:14)

There’s a lot of pain in the atmosphere these days. Please, let’s not yield power to our pain by pretending it isn’t there. Drag it up to the surface. Express it. Reveal it. Cry a lot. Cuss in your prayers. Scream and shout as necessary. Share it with someone, so that it gets scared out into the open, flushed from hiding.

When pain is uncovered it is weaker, smaller, less scary. And it becomes oh so much easier to crush.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rethink Generosity: Myth #1 - "The Church Needs Your Money"

For the next three weeks, I'm busting money myths. Our worship series at Campbell is called "Rethink Generosity," and each week I'll do all I can to disillusion the church when it comes to money. Here's week one:

MYTH #1: “The Church Needs Your Money”

Although I cannot remember ever hearing it spoken as bluntly as this, I believe that the perception is real. Whether it is created by television preachers asking you to send your donations or pastors asking for more offering, the perception exists that “all the church wants is my money.”

It is a myth.

More precisely, the statement simply doesn’t make sense. A pastor cannot stand before a church and say “the church” needs “your” money. The people to whom that pastor is speaking … ARE THE CHURCH.

When a member of a congregation puts cash in an envelope or a check in a plate or clicks the button to complete an electronic funds transfer, that member isn’t giving anything away. The money involved in the transaction still belongs to the individual as a member of the body. All that has happened is that the money has been transferred from the “home account” to the “church account.”

It is accurate to say, “The church needs money to do ministry” and I believe this is what most people mean when they say, “The church needs your money.” But it is a fundamentally different expression. It takes money to function in the world, which is precisely where ministry happens. The church (read, the people) makes that ministry happen with our money.

Followers of Jesus do not give because an organization needs our money - Followers of Jesus give because God has changed our lives! And now, with lives changed, we long that other lives might be changed, as well.

Myth #1 = Busted.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Quadrilateral of Reasons not to Divide the UMC

Allow me to say quite methodically ...

A church schism is incompatible with Christian teaching. Let's run it through the good ol' Wesleyan quadrilateral, shall we?

Scripture is quite clear on this point. Over and over again followers of Jesus are commanded to live in unity with one another. It is a prevailing theme of Paul’s. It is inherent in the teachings of Jesus. It is a theme in the Psalms. It is a feature of the most familiar stories of the Old Testament.

And for as long as there have been followers of Jesus, this divinely desired unity has never included uniformity of understanding. Although differences in our beliefs have led to numerous and repeated divisions in the church, Scripture makes it clear that the feet can’t tell the hands to get lost (1 Corinthians 12). We are one. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God now and forever, amen (Ephesians 4).

Unity does not require uniformity, but Christian unity is not equivalent to moral relativism, as some argue. Being united in Christ does not mean that I do not care what you believe, that “anything goes.” Being united in Christ means that when we disagree, we will do so together, in love, as brothers and sisters, unique and beautiful individual members of one body.

Being united in Christ means not only that I care about what you believe, I care about why you believe it. And more, I care about how you treat your neighbor who happens to disagree with what you believe. Being united in Christ means that you should care about what I believe, why I believe it, and how I treat my neighbor, also. Being united in Christ means not that we will agree about everything, but that we will love one another as we disagree with respect and grace.

One who would call for church schism based on disparate beliefs regarding same-sex marriage has decided essentially that what the Bible says about marriage is more important than what the Bible says about unity. And I simply cannot go there. Unity is one of those foundational themes of the entire Scripture - right up there with love and grace and peace and forgiveness.

To make the point through our tradition - Unity is so important to us as United Methodists that we have made it one of the most important roles our Bishops are expected to fulfill. From our Book of Discipline, paragraph 403: “The bishop leads therefore through the following disciplines…,” one of which is “A passion for the unity of the church. The role of the bishop is to be the shepherd of the whole flock and thereby provide leadership toward the goal of understanding, reconciliation and unity within the Church - the United Methodist Church and the church universal.”

This expectation of our Bishops is aligned closely with another Disciplinary statement, namely that “all United Methodists are summoned and sent by Christ to live and work together in mutual interdependence and to be guided by the Spirit into the truth that frees and the love that reconciles” (para. 130).

It really couldn’t be much more clear, could it?

But just to add the lens of reason - how would this split work exactly? How do we know “who’s who” in the two new denominations? Conferences decide? Congregations decide? Pastors decide? And by the way, who gets the pension fund?

And then, once we are two denominations, how are we going to make sure that the people within those churches never have occasion to disagree about things any more? How will we ensure that couples who attend churches in favor of “traditional marriage” never have gay children? How will we guarantee that those who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman are excluded from congregations who favor “marriage equality?” I hope you see my point here: it just doesn’t make any sense.

Scripture, tradition, reason - all in favor of unity. And lest we forget experience, perhaps we should speak to some of our brothers and sisters whose denominations have split over the ordination of women in the not so distant past about the pain, anger, bitterness, and brokenness that resulted.

And so, for a quadrilateral of reasons, I believe that church schism is incompatible with Christian teaching. And even so, I am hopeful. The Gospel pull toward unity is infinitely stronger than the human tendency toward division. Anyone with a halfway decent sense of eschatology knows that. In that sense, if the UMC does divide, it is only a delay of the inevitable - the feast at the heavenly banquet table in which all of God's children gather together in unity and peace.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Schism Talk is a Regrettable Necessity

The idea of a United Methodist schism was mentioned a grand total of twice at Missouri’s Annual Conference session this past weekend. Once it was addressed directly and once it was hinted at. Both times the idea landed with a notable thud.

Safe to say, if it’s up to Missouri, the United Methodist Church is sticking together.

Mark Sheets hinted at it in the sermon on Sunday morning. His remarks were essentially what I said a couple weeks ago in my sermon here at Campbell - I’m not sure what’s going to happen in 2016, but we are Easter people! We believe in resurrection, and that makes all the difference.

Then Adam Hamilton mentioned it directly in his presentation Sunday afternoon. His position is well known, and many have signed onto the “AWay Forward” document, myself included. When he said that he hopes schism doesn’t happen, it was met with enthusiastic applause from the floor.

Other than those two brief moments, we really didn’t talk about it at all in any “official” capacity. I’m kind of hoping that it is as much of a non-issue in other conferences, including the biggie in Portland in May, 2016. We’ll see.

I was encouraged, renewed, and inspired at Annual Conference this year. I feel hopeful about the future of the church. Leadership sets the tone, and the tone set by the leadership of our conference was healthy, upbeat, and joyful, while at the same time realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.

I have a newfound respect for Adam Hamilton. I have always thought highly of him, but I thought his three presentations and sermon this weekend were somehow more real. It seemed as though he was more vulnerable or maybe … sincere? I don’t know exactly what it was. But I know for sure that he is a person wholly devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the health of the United Methodist Church, in that order. And he gives me hope for the future.

Bishop Schnase continues to be a leader who is not afraid to do things differently, which gives us as congregational leaders permission to do so, as well. His desire for healthy and vibrant congregations permeates everything he says and does. The pastors of Missouri United Methodism are inexpressibly lucky to serve with him.

Other Missouri leaders (Meg Hegemann, Emmanuel Cleaver III, Margie Briggs, Lucas Endicott, etc.) are focused on the work of the church, the mission of love and grace, the health of local congregations, the spiritual health of pastors, the transformation of the world, etc. You know, ordinary stuff that church leaders are supposed to be focused on.

This fact actually makes me worry. (Ironic, I know, but nevertheless…) Allow me to explain.

Here’s what I’m worried about. Folks in Missouri and other rational leaders in Methodism are going to be so focused on doing what we’re supposed to be doing, that the pro-schism voice is just going to grow gradually louder and louder until by May of 2016 it is going to catch us by surprise and before we know it, we’ll be voting on division.

I think it is sadly necessary for church leaders to say out loud in as many ways as possible, “We do not want a schism.” You can start by signing “A Way Forward.” You can speak up in a variety of ways to pastors, friends, and colleagues. Next year, before deciding for whom to vote as your General Conference delegates, ask them if they favor unity or division. And then vote accordingly.

I would rather not have to deal with this, either. But I’m worried that if we don’t, it will blindside us. The level-headed ones who are focused on doing church, focused on unity, focused on the mission … this very focus will ensure that our attention will be drawn from the schism conversation, and by next General Conference it will be too late. Addressing it is a regrettable necessity.

I honestly don’t know what will happen with the ideas those 80 unnamed leaders have advanced. As I said before, I believe in resurrection and so I am not afraid. I know that the body of Christ has been beaten and bloodied before, and rose again on the third day. So I am not afraid.

I simply don’t want us to be sitting there in June of 2016 wondering what in the world just happened in Portland. And what in the world are we supposed to do next?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The First Schism: A Fable

“Pretty moon tonight,” said one, gesturing toward the sky.

“The moon is pretty,” said another, “but why are you gesturing like that?”

“Like what?” asked the first.

“With your palm up and all your fingers outstretched. The correct way to point at the moon is with one finger extended and your arm straight.”

“Actually it is more proper to do as I am, it reveals the moon ever so much more elegantly.”

“But look at your elbow, all bent like that. Just awful.”

“Well look at your finger. You have dirt under your fingernail, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

And they stopped looking at the moon so they could concentrate on what was wrong with the other's gesture.

“They now enjoy the moon itself instead of fighting over whose finger points to it most accurately, quickly, or definitively.” - Richard Rohr, in "Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Just then, two young lovers walked into the park. They noticed the old ones arguing, but they gave them not a second glance.

“Pretty moon tonight,” said one.

“Beautiful,” said the other.

And they danced together in the moonlight.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Schism Shmism?

I did not think that the UMC would divide eight and a half years ago when I wrote this post (click here), and I still don’t.

I think some people might leave, and I think that would be fine. In fact, people already have. But I do not think the denomination will divide. The ones who desire it are simply too small a minority for it to actually happen at the General Conference level. Cooler heads will prevail.

The “Via Media Caucus” doesn’t make a lot of noise, but we vote. If outright division is proposed, we will vote “No.”

By the way, the reason we will vote “No” has nothing to do with whether or not we think gay people should be getting married. The reason we will vote “No” is because we will consider the idea of schism to be the most inane idea we have ever heard, doing absolutely nothing to advance the mission of the church, and completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

We won't even vote "no" - we'll vote "smh."

The truth of the matter is that the United Methodist Church doesn’t actually need to say “gay marriage is not allowed” anywhere in our official policy. It’s pretty much covered in the line that says, “The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor” (340.1.c.1).  I don’t have to marry anyone if I don’t want to, as the current policy stands.

Which means, if an individual pastor really believed strongly that gay marriage isn’t cool, she or he could say, “No.” What the specific prohibition provides is institutional authority behind the pastor’s action. But we already have that, in the section that gives us authority to decide on each individual wedding.

So yes, the Book of Discipline is at times redundant, at others contradictory, and mostly a convoluted mess.

Is it messy enough to actually and formally divide the denomination into multiple parts? *smh* Hardly.

I will confess that sometimes when I hear/read about schism, I think, “Marvin K. Mooney will you please go now!” There are other Wesleyan denominations around that would welcome you. But in truth I do not want anyone to go; I love our holy mess.

Now, can we please stop talking about schism and remember what we’re supposed to be doing here?

btw: schism articles ... here ... here ... here