Thursday, January 29, 2009

They Don't Know Yet

This morning I pushed through the ice and snow of Cortland to make my way to Syracuse. Once there I boarded a plane headed for Atlanta Georgia. As we taxied to the runway I began to pray for the trip, and then for the people in Syracuse I knew. This broke into prayers for the people on the plane with me, and for all those represented by the buildings out my window. This however is not about the prayer time I had this morning, it is about what God revealed to me.

Before the flight was even 15 minutes old we were breaking through the clouds and the promise of sunrise colored the eastern sky. As we flew the clouds below began to break up and I could see towns, cities and places where people were calling home. In one glance I could see the homes with lights all aglow, and the impending in breaking of the sun. Then it happened. It hit me, the people in those places below didn't know what was happening above. While those on the ground waited for the dawn, it had already broke, they just didn't know it.

I wonder how often the dawn had broken in people's lives and they do not even know it. I wonder how many times it has been my job to tell them, and I have allowed them to live in silent anticipation of what has already happened. For those who follow Christ, the greatest thing we can do is tell people waiting for dawn that is is here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Its Just Not That Complicated

Last night I had the joy of teaching our prayer 101 class at church. There is a possibility I might be posting the audio of text of the class in the coming months. I love teaching the basics classes in churches, for me that means two introductory Bible classed and two introductory prayer classes. In all of these classes and others for that matter, people come with a lot of anxiety about the topic. They are not sure they are qualified to engage in such activities.

For centuries the church has excelled at helping to reinforce people's insecurities. In the enlightenment age of specialization the church and the Christian tradition was not able to be the exception. It seems as though there are to be experts in certain areas, or disciplines of the church, and the rest of us are to just let them do what they do. While this may be true in an area such as counseling, when it comes to prayer this is just not true. Yet, many feel they are not good enough, or do not know enough, or will not do it right, so they leave prayer to the trained specialists.

It is not that complicated. Talking with God does not require anything more than a willingness. It could be seen as simple as having a conversation with a friend. The words, form and physical posture really do not matter. The only thing that matters is us taking time to yield our lives and hearts to God.

If there were one thing I wish I could help more people understand is walking with God is not that complicated. The church and other followers have done their best to make things complicated, but God has made it quite simple. It is not always easy, and it requires commitment, but it is not complicated.

One last note. I think we like to chalk it up as complicated because it leaves us an out. We can simply state we tried it didn't work because these things are complicated. No, it is quite simple, we are often not willing to put in the effort.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reflections of a Nation

This is one of those entries where some of you might question my patriotism. Some might read this and think I am out right anti American. Please understand I am eternally grateful for the country God has planted me in. I have an amazingly deep respect and appreciation of the men and women all around the world who have, will and are sacrificing, even with their lives, for my freedom and right to spout off.

This has been a historic week in the life of this great nation. Something many never thought possible has happened, the Oval office has welcomed the first African-American, ironically still housed in the White House. Whether one thought George Bush was good as president or not, the truth which raises to the top is, it was time for change. The time for change is in more than just our political system. It is time for a fundamental shift in how we function as Americans.

While on Wednesday morning we greeted the new day with diversity in leadership, our country really has the same challenges. Having an African-American president does not mean all of a sudden we are done with racism in America. Having a new president of any ethnic or racial background does not automatically set right that which infects our country. Greed and arrogance rule the day. Some might say just by my writing of this proves arrogance is still alive and well. Understand my writing comes from concern not pride or arrogance. It could be easy for us to enter into a time of great delusionment, where we think things have changed.

The words of Gandhi hold true, we must be the change we want to see. To truly change the course of this nation will mean each individual will have to choose to live differently. Consume less, conserve more. Horde less, give a way more. All around the world there are people who hate this country of ours, and I do mean hate. I have heard it said they are just jealous of our country. I have heard it said they are just too lazy to create a country as great as ours. Others have informed me of the great benevolence of America to the world. From where I sit, the people who hate America do not do so out of wanting what we have, they are far from lazy, and there is not an experience of a benevolent America. From where I sit, granted it is a limited view, I can see how America would come off as arrogant, the international bully. There are all kinds of statistics which prove our track record with benevolence is not what we think it is.

It is in fact time to celebrate the fact that America is the greatest nation going. Not with military might, and not with political maneuvering, but with how each of us as individuals live our daily lives. I wonder what would happen if we as a nation moved from %.2 of our Gross Domestic product given to benevolence around the world, to a tithe. Not for gain, simply for showing the graciousness we have been shown over the years. What would happen if we the people consumed less. What would happen if we the people began to put the interests of others ahead of our own. What would happen if we the people fundamentally changed how we live our lives. By the way, that is the true call of Christ.

Change in leadership has come to our country. Now it is time for us the citizens to begin our work and responsibility to change.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seeing Gray

I have just finished ready Seeing Gray by Adam Hamilton. The main premise of the book is a question, is there territory for a Christian between Jerry Falwell and John Shelby Spong? For those who might not be up on your religious polar extremes in the USA, Falwell is a former voice of the Religious Right, and often a source of embarrassment for all those who would call themselves Christian. John Shelby Spong has often been called the voice of the radical left in the church world. Calling people to abandon all understandings of Scripture and disregarding centuries of Christianity for the sake of the moment. Understand those are both gross simplifications, but this is not about them, but about a place to claim.

Hamilton proposes there is a middle ground to be found, but it is not the land of moderates, it is called the radical center. I like that. The radical center is the place where the classic foundations of the church are honored and celebrated. Scripture is still the anchor to our faith, and the patriarchy has not gotten it all wrong. At the same time, there is an acknowledgement that the church has wandered far from the social issues of our world. I guess it would be best echoed by the words of Wesley, possibly the earliest radical center dweller, stay in love with God, do good and do no harm. Or as James put it in Scripture, faith without works is dead.

The church has been a place of either, or, a place of division and conflict for far too long. I confess for many years I participated in the battle which divides the church. I am not sure if there is a need to point fingers of write and wrong. I know there is time for repentance form all. I know it is time to reclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and put to rest the gospel of human initiative. Time has come for the people of God to reflect the will and work of God.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Quadrilateral -- Experience

The final area of the Quad is the area of experience. In our day and age experience has an exulted role in our lives. We base things on how we feel about doing them. We determine our course of action by the previous outcomes and challenges of similar activities. Essentially we live in an time of if it feels good do it, and if it doesn't feel good, don't do it. This is the lenses through which we view experience.

Through reading the works of Wesley and other writers on the area of experience I find this is a place where the people called Methodist are a little pentecostal. This may or may not involve some of the classic actions of what many think of as pentecostal. It is my understanding that all followers of Jesus are pentecostal, some are simply more expressive than others. This is of course when we look at pentecostal less a label and more as a people who have the Holy Spirit imparted to their lives. Experience is in fact the place where emotions come into play, and the work of the Holy Spirit is what guides us in our actions.

Experience is not simply how we encounter the world, rather it is how the Holy Spirit works in our lives as we encounter the world. Not raw interaction, emotion and response, no, interaction, emotion and response based on the the movement of the Spirit. This would be the area Wesley referred to as sanctifying grace. They way in which we live out our relationship with God, as an extension of the grace shown to us through Jesus Christ, and fully developed in us through the work and being of the Holy Spirit.

It is important to note we are called beyond our own experience by the grace of God on a regular, if not daily basis. The use of experience to filter whether we should or should not do something is an exercise in following the Holy Spirit, not the human spirit.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Quadrilateral -- Reason

For the last 300 years the western world has been ruled by thought and reason. To the point that when we are asked if we want to do something we say we are going to think about it. We might not realize the impact reason has had on our lives. On the other hand there are areas where reason is looked down upon or as non-spiritual. Often what would be called the pentecostal movement is cautious of reason and thinking. So how are we to navigate the waters of reason?

Wesley and many before as well as after him knew we needed to keep our brains in gear as followers of Christ. This however goes far beyond logic and linear thinking. The modern evolution of the thought of Wesley and others is to say the things God calls us to must be logical and make sense. If this is followed through the end point is that God never calls or leads us to do something which we cannot make sense of. From my own life I know this to be a problematic conclusion.

It is not that our callings need to make sense, it means that we are to engage the fullness of our intellect around issues and decisions. What is meant by the fullness of our intellect means we are to be students and not just accept the company line. We should be people who study, by video, by book, by teaching, by art by whatever means we best gain information. However, we should not be people who simply study one angle of the issue. In my own effort to be a student I have begun reading more books written by authors that I do not always agree with, or for that matter like. I read magazines and journals were the primary thoughts and leanings are very different than mine. This is what is meant by reason.

Another way of thinking about reason is to live and examined life.For years and centuries people have journeyed in faith, and never examining their faith. An unexamined faith is a thin or shallow faith which is easily rocked by the waves of this world. the examined faith is one where the person knows what they believe, why they believe it, and they have tested that belief against others. An examined faith is one that asks questions about what God is doing, and a faith that reads the scriptures and allows us to question what we are reading.

Jesus told us to have faith like that of a child. Classically this has been interpreted to mean acceptance of faith without question or concern. Obviously the people who put forward this interpretation did not spend time around children. Children are full of questions and concerns. They want to know why and how, they want to be involved on every level, not just accept the pat answers. Children do this, while not questioning if they are loved, accepted and a part of the family. Interestingly children who do not ask a lot of questions, often do wonder if they are loved. Questioning is evidence there is an atmosphere of love and safety.

May we all live a faith that is examined and well reasoned.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Quadrilateral -- Tradition

Tradition plays a huge role in our lives. There are activities we all participate in for the simple reason of tradition, what we have always done. This holds true in our faith journey as well. There are activities we do repeatedly, simply because we always have. There are places we visit repeatedly just because we always have. There are words we utter repeatedly just because we always have. We call this tradition. As we engage in our theological and ethical reflection, along with discernment for our actions we must take tradition into account. We must also be mindful of what we are calling tradition.

For most people tradition is tied to experiences they have known personally. Like going to grandma's for Christmas dinner. This tradition is known because we have experienced the annual trek to Grandma's. In most contexts, tradition is used as a code word for the things which are familiar or that I am accustom to. For many these traditions are tied to one possibly two generations of life cycles. This is too short sighted for using tradition in the way Wesley intended.

For Wesley, and I think for us today, tradition is not merely what we can remember of faith and church, rather it is a much more long term look. It is looking at the way things worked in the 40's and 50's, not just he 1940's and 50's but all the 40's and 50's found in time. We are not the first people to wrestle with a relationship with God. Since time has been recorded, possibly longer only we have no record, people have been working out their relationship with God. This view through the centuries is what tradition really is.

When applying it to the Quad. tradition is the second most important part. Scripture is first, tradition is second, but not the tradition of our life, or even one or two generations before us. No we must examine and learn from the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us(thanks Hebrews). So when we are wrestling with a decision or discussion we are to ask what have the generations through the centuries done, not just what did my parents and grandparents do.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Quadrilateral-- Scripture

The starting point for the revisiting of the Quad. is Scripture. This is much more challenging than it was in Wesley's day due to the fact the varying understandings of Scripture have become more vocal. I think there have always been more and less orthodox understandings of Scripture, just now there is a greater platform and acceptance of divergent ideas. In the current climate there is question as to the historical accuracy of Scripture, questions of its validity, questions to whether God was involved in the writing at all. Much ink and many trees have given their lives to the working out of this concept of Scriptures. It is not my intent to resolve that issue here. My intent is to look at how Scripture informs the life and function of the people called Methodist.

To enter into this discussion, I need to place my understanding and bias regarding the scriptures on the table. The way I understand the Scriptures are this. They are God inspired, and contain the teachings from God about the ways in which we as the created are to live in relationship to the creator. Yes they are written by humans, but I feel God is bigger than our attempts to rewrite the story. It is not important to me if all the details line up, and I am no longer in favor of a literal reading. The Scriptures contain the Truth, and point us to the only one who can with any certainty declare truth, God.

For those who are still reading, I now turn my attention to how we apply scripture in our lives. This first portion of what is know as the Quad. is by far the most important and significant. In fact all the other portions conform to this one. So, what does that mean? It means when faced with a decision, or call to action the Scriptures are the first place we turn, and are the primary resource informing our actions. If our tradition, experience and reason are not in alignment with Scriptures, we must reconsider them in light of the Scripture. Not that we should disregard the other three legs, but they are to always be subject to the Scripture.

This is a great challenge to the church today. Often the church functions from their understanding of tradition, and what they have experienced. Reason, for many, has replaced the Scriptures at the top of the puzzle. In many cases, the other three have realigned the ways in which we understand the Scriptures. This is workable as long as we are changing our understandings of Scripture, not trying to change the scripture all together. I would guess, that there are a great number of churches who are doing things which are not necessarily consistent with the Scriptures, but they have always been done that way, I think this is a problem.

If I had to put it the simplest way possible, it would be this. If your tradition, experience, and reason do not square with the Scriptures, it is not the Scriptures which must be re-evaluated. The people called Methodist, in fact the people called Followers of Christ are to be people of one Book, and if a person only reads one book their whole life it should be the Scriptures. Fore that is the starting point of the story God is writing with our lives through Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

For those of you who are up on your studies of John Wesley, you might be familiar with what is commonly called the Wesley Quadrilateral. For those who are not, play along and I think this will be fun. I am going to take the next few entries to revisit the four points of the quadrilateral Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience.

Wesley himself did not refer to a quadrilateral, that took the modern world and thinkers, in this case it was Albert Outler. Quite simply the Quad. as I will call it is a set of filters by which our actions and thoughts are to be guided. When making a decision about what to do, individuals and churches are encouraged to use the Quad. template to journey through their decisions. While it might seem out dated and that there has to be a more current way of thinking, I am not convinced there are any better ways to walk through life and decisions than the Quad.

First off to call the equation a Quad. is not as helpful as once appeared. Most of the time when put into a drawing the four points are given equal weight, and therefore the shape is a rectangle, or square. However, if we were to look closely at what Wesley taught throughout his earthly journey we would find that one point far out weighed the others, Scripture. I would propose more of a stretched diamond or a tetrahedron than a Quadrilateral. That is a lot of math terms.

There is much more to the background and working of the Quad. but I will not bore us with them. I will however, invite you all on a journey to revision, or possibly recapture the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for today. Next we will look at what it means to use the Scriptures as our filter for living and decision making.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Brand New Day

The New Year is here and so are new ventures. I have just finished the first entry on the Cortland UMC Scripture Journey Blog. I hope you all will stop by and enjoy.

As I greet the new year, I am feeling an even stronger call and demand from God on my life to lead a church in non-conventional ways. There is significant need to push the limits as far as possible, and call people, myself included, to radical discipleship in Jesus Christ. This will mean some very difficult things in the coming year. I know there will be some very difficult days, and there will be resistance from people who want to leave the church are it has always been. Additionally I know there could be ramifications from the higher ups of the UMC, but I am prepared for that as well.

So what will this look like? To be honest, I am not real sure. I do know this. I will need to draw closer to God than I have ever been. I know that it will mean challenging peoples comfort like never before. I know it will involve conflict like never before. However, I do not think I can do anything less. Why do all of this? For one reason and one reason alone, to see the reality of a missional church right here in Cortland that will change the city, state, country and world.

Stay tuned for what this will look like, and if so inclined, I invite you to pray with and for me as the year ramps up.