The year 2020 will long be remembered for it's tectonic shift of attitudes and behaviors regarding race and racism. Major shifts are happening right now in the United States and perhaps the world. God's Holy Spirit is moving in every village and town, suburb and city. God is raising up people to make significant progress in "Dismantling Racism."
Joanne and I are committed to helping local congregations deal with this shift using Centering Prayer, Leadership Training and Small Groups. We bring decades of experience in "Christian Conferencing," the method favored by Rev. John Wesley to discern the will of God for individuals and congregations in any given situation. (Some great resources can be found at: End Racism UMC )
Even while we are still largely living a "Safe at Home" existence die to the Covid-19 epidemic, our congregations can begin to organize, explore, learn, connect and reach out RIGHT NOW!
We do this with a deep commitment to the unconditional love of God, the graceful forgiveness of Jesus Christ and a ongoing, eternal living in God's Holy Spirit. As discipled Citizens of Heaven, (Phil 3:20) we grow ever deeper in our love of God and of our neighbor.
Call us today and let's begin a conversation about "Eradicating Racism"in your locality.
Hashtags are one word "tag lines" that reveal a special handle for web content.
In this "Agapé Season" of our lives, Joanne and I have identified these four words as "words" to live by. They express the basic Christian outlook, lifestyle and values that have lived by for years.
#unconditonallove: Is the overwhelming, highest level of God's love that we discover in Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). As the long awaited gift from God that brings everyone home, Jesus ispresent with us in the here and now, not only teaching, loving and bringing change to people's lives, but actually offering the gift of God's self-sacrificing presence into our world. We are embraced by this love whether we want it or not.
And now, in the midst of our broken, hyper-consumeristic, overly divisive and painfully self-centered world, such a love is desperately needed to combat the evil, the tragedy, the loneliness and isolation that we all are living in.
#gracefulforgiveness: Often overlooked in the lives of many Christians, forgiveness is central to understanding that unconditional love. Forgiveness begins in the forgiving cleansing that God has for all that we've done, everywhere we've been, everything we've said that has been hateful and hurtful.
God's graceful forgiveness heals us as we realize we can't heal and forgive ourselves. It challenges us to live not just in love, but in God's UNCONDITIONAL love that is expressed most profoundly in forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. We "forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven." .... our friends, our neighbors, .....and even our enemies
#eternallivingnow: It's clear that we don't talk about God's heavenly presence enough. We hold it out as some sort of reward granted to us at the end of our lives. But we where Christ is, there heaven is. We easily say "Christ is with us" but we neglect the consequences of that reality.
We regularly pray "Your will be done, on heaven as it is on earth" but then let the brokenness and evil of the world overwhelm us so that all we look forward to is some kind of heavenly escape pod when we die.
"The Kingdom of God is at hand" Jesus proclaims at the beginning of the Gospels. It's a reality now!... as well as eternally.
And in fact, that is the "Gospel", the "Good News" that we are to proclaim. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;..." (Mk 1:15) It's a call to "repent, and believe in the good news." and so be welcomed in heaven right now, as an heir to the Kingdom, a sibling to Christ. We get to taste eternal living right now. To begin living a sanctified life right now, changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. We're "Citizens of Heaven" (Phil 3:20), and it's time we lived a more sanctified life because of that!
#radicalservice: The fourth hashtag makes all the previous three real by making sure that we truly love as God loves... an all embracing, Holy love that is focussed on all the people of his heart, everything we see around us and reaching out to all of creation. We are allowed to "till and keep" it all. (Gen 2:15)
It is this most holy reality that we are given and that we choose to remain in, serving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; serving others and serving the world in all the ways we can.
With all this in mind, Joanne and I are committed to deeply taking seriously John Wesleys' admonition:
“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”
We've all known that the last 50 years of religious participation in the U.S.A. has been in decline. That's been our common, discouraging experience.
Local Churches and regions may have seen some localized growth, but over all the pattern has been depressing. It's been filled with shrinking membership, budget cuts, staff layoffs and growing facility maintenance needs.
We've seen alarming trends in worship frequency, lower rates of young people participating and dropping donations.
The chart below puts the last 50 years into perspective. Were it to be extended into the 1920's on the left and to 2018 on the right, it would illustrate what we have really faced: An unusual "bump" in the level of religiosity in the United States.
And now we're right back where we started 100 years ago.
In fact, our nation has experienced three "Great Awakenings" before this when religiosity rose to high levels and then fell back again. (Unfortunately, polling was not available to measure their relative strength.)
So we've had these massive rises and falls of religious participation pretty regularly.
Are we doomed?, or we can see this as a "glass half-full" opportunity?
Within a 1/2 mile walking radius of most churches, 70% of the population is uninvolved in religious activity, according to recent MissionInsite polling data.
AND 40% of that population report that they are lonely, and have few, if any close friends.
This can be seen as a failure on the part of the church, or it can be caused by the forces of a highly secular, consumer society training people to "cocoon" and isolate themselves out of fear, anxiety or a false sense of material wealth. Maybe it's both.
Instead, this can be seen as a golden opportunity for the church and it's unbelievable gift of great and meaningful relationships with God and with others.
The Good News is that the Realm of Heaven has come near! And that we are all invited to become Citizens of Heaven, right now! (Phil. 3:20)
With this in mind:
Perhaps the local church can reclaim it's position in the neighborhood as a "mini-community center?" It can offer many activities and "neighborhood focused" gatherings.
Perhaps the local church can be the place where people come as individuals and leave as friends?
Perhaps we can encourage people within that 1/2 mile radius to get out, walk a little, meet neighbors, make new friends and at the same time discover a deeper meaning to life!
Relationships are the historic "GOLD" of our Chrisitian religious communities and now is the perfect time to offer these riches to those around us.
Let's grow "small" in order to grow vital once again.
We are living in a "Gutenberg Moment"* that dwarfs other such moments by it’s breath-taking power to change life on earth.
In the past, such moments end up disrupting everything. Nothing is the same. Everything before is changed.
The digital revolution is well on it's way to be such a disrupting force. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is the next wave that has already begun to buffet our economic, social and technical worlds.
The future appears turbulent and uncertain to a young adult workforce that is begining to navigate the gig “piecework” economy and the uncertain future of many industries.
But this is not the only major disruption in our society.
In the midst of the the “Love, Peace and Rock n’ Roll” season of the 1960’s & 1970’s, another major revolution in human behavior was unleashed that was completely unprecedented.
The birth control pill came into widespread usage during those years and for the first time in the history of humanity, sex was no longer linked to lead to pregnancy.
“Recreational Sex” became possible. People could emphasize the pleasure and rush one gets from genital intercourse and not worry about producing a child that needed decades of care. Pornography has become a major industry on it’s own right, changing how men see women and how people use each other.
And the change agents didn’t stop there.
The first effects of climate change were mere theories in the 1960’s and 1970’s, ...projections of energy supplies and the health effects of unchecked industrial pollution. All that has coming into focus and more as the harsh realities of scientific study provide clear evidence that human activity is the significant contributor to the rising sea levels, the spread of plastics in the oceans and the frequency/intensity of major storms (among many other ecological changes.)
We are in the midst of a tri-fecta of technological, social and environmental tsunamis. And our traditional faith structures, democratic process and social constructs are failing us.
No wonder so many people are angry, confused, anxious and rude with each other. So much change in such a few short decades has never, EVER happened before.
We are adrift in a huge, storm sea of change, with very few moral, spiritual and social resources left to navigate by.
As Christians, we claim the God of Israel to be a global, cosmic God. The God of all creation, who flashed the universe into being with a word, and called it “Good” (Genesis 1:1-27).
In Christ we recognize a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) that changes not just our hearts but our relationship to everyone and everything around us.
When we accept Baptism into the body of Christ, we affirm that we are given “immigration papers” into the very presence of God, the realm of Heaven, as a free gift of unconditional love.
Our honest repentance unlocks all the power of “loving God and loving neighbor” needed to address each and ever one of these major changes.
With the great and boundless forgiveness, wisdom and encouragement found in God’s grace, we can begin to call ourselves and all around us to a new relationship with creation, with each other and with ourselves.
The world as we know it (and as we’ve modified it), is changing and morphing at a blistering pace. It is only in the rock solid, unconditional love of God, found in the life giving sacrifice of Christ, that can guide us, heal us, save us.
It’s not too late.
Grace and Peace,
*“Gutenberg Moment” was the term coined by T. Scott Plutchak, a librarian who first applied the term to the effects of the digital revolution to libraries.