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.
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.
1) God loves everyone deeply and individually where they are.
2) The Holy Spirit challenges us all to become much more than where we started.
3) Everyone in the church - ALL sides in this issue, progressive, traditional and "in the middle" LOVE Jesus Christ and LOVE EACH OTHER deeply.
4) We all welcome each other warmly and gracefully, even if there are major and painful differences over facts, qualifications, interpretations and opinions.
5) The ultimate dividing issue before us is how we are to understand the appropriateness in the christian lifestyle of a set of same sex, genitalia stimulating actions.
------ I offer this as a re-starting point of our discussions because I'm aware that the church has affirmed, sanctioned and celebrated same sex families and living units for hundred of years.
They were called monasteries and convents.
------ People covenanted together, living together deeply in God's love. They worshipped together, prayed together, raised children together, shared their deepest hearts and souls together, as well as working productively in society. They also affirmed that engaging in that set of genitalia stimulating activities was spiritually distracting and harmful to their community.
Perhaps we can learn from them and begin a more profound discussion on the motivation of those activities for the 21st century.
“Blurred Lines” would make a great theme song for the 2019 Special UMC General Conference in February.
What we about to witness is a full throated, post-modern deconstruction of our United Methodist association. We are asked to choose between cutting the child in half or shattering like glass into millions of pieces.
Despite the deepening political positions, any shared understanding and common truths about sex and sexuality has been lost in the forty year fray. There is no serious survey of the field, no coming together for prayerful theological reflection on any deeper issues. We’ve lost the real issues, as a church we are unfocused, or worse yet, MIA: Missing in Action.
We are ignorant of the reasons why we are at this deadly crossroads. Yes, there are been discussions ad nauseum of the “Seven Clobber Verses.” But any serious, shared engagement with the whole Gospel, the arc of Creation-Sin-Reconciliation-Redemption has been absent.
We cannot see below the surface of our oft repeated views to the quicksand that often hides under a mirror layer of water, to the huge, amorphous and undefined conflict in society. And it will not go away simply because we ignore it and tear ourselves to pieces in the process.
On one hand we have the New Testament call and commandment to “love one another” and to “love our neighbor as yourself” along with the 300 to 600 references to love, (depending on your translation). At the same time there are many warnings and clear deadly consequences for not having a faith that is clear headed and mindful about sinful practices that separate us from God.
This is the quicksand we have been mired in for over 40 years.
And now we are at a point of throwing up our hands and saying “ENOUGH! Let’s at least do something!” Even if that something leads to gracefully inviting each other to leave part of our heart and/or mind behind.
It’s like two third degree burn victims embracing in a hospital ward. They desperately need to embrace, but that very act causes them great pain. Separation of any kind solves our immediate pain but ignores what’s really happened to us and the world around us.
We urgently need to pause and prayerfully consider togetherwhy the Greek new testament never uses any form of “eros” when it talks about love, …or even “storge” for that matter.
These two shadings of love are the Greek words most often used for physical love and family love, the very kind of love at the heart of our often-emotional disagreements.
In contrast, “agape” occurs 259 times as a verb or a noun and “phileo” occurs 54 times. These words for Godly, unconditional love and deep committed friendship love are the very heart of the Christian message. It’s a revelation to realize that Eros and Storge are completelyabsent! (Go ahead and google it, I’ll wait.)
Even since the birth control pill started the sexual revolution, we, as a church, have been mostly absent in the culture -shifting discussion of sex and sexuality EXCEPT in the area of intimate homosexual behavior and whether it is a fundamental part of Christian life.
When did Godly love = Physical love?
Now, in little over a month, without any biblical, comprehensive, and prayerful church wide- study on the understanding and effects that this sexual revolution has had (including behaviors such as trafficking, pornography, mental and physical sexual diseases, etc.), we are careening into a vote to dismantle our 300 year old, uniquely United Methodist “covenant connection”.
My heart weeps and is broken into uncountable pieces.
After church on Sunday (July 23), you may have noticed a group of people under our “Gathering Tree” in front of the Sanctuary.
They were all ages and dressed in various ways: casual, shorts & sandals, work clothes and one couple in formal attire!
It was a bizarre gathering of people who I did not recognize. Perhaps it was it a large family that decided to worship with us that day?
As I approached them, I noticed they all were looking at their cell phones intently and very few were talking to each other.
That gave me a clue. I knew what they were about.
I walked up to them I said in a loud voice: “Welcome Pokémon* players! What’s the occasion?”
By talking with them, I learned that this month, July, 2017 was the one year anniversary of the Pokémon Go Video game. For that occasion, a special, hard to find monster / animal was created and we were the only local spot to have it!
At least 50-60 (wow!) Pokémon players showed up at our “Gathering Tree” to try to “capture” this beast on their cell phones and so advance in the game.
I share this because as I walked away, I wondered about that old church saying:
“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
Of course, showing up for church and church activities might count, but not for much.
Billy Sunday, noted evangelist once said: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”
Our friends on the lawn were engaged in some serious game playing visible to everyone!.
And their standing in the community depended on them knowing the rules, using their wits, traveling about town to find new animals/monsters, and then battling with others to grow in experience.
Whew! That’s a lot of work…
What would our faith look like if we took our faith walk with the same passion that these game players had about their game?
Could we be with God at least weekly? Perhaps spending time at home reflecting about God’s love in Christ and what he does for us?
Would our prayers before mealtime and bedtime grow from one liners into a deep thanksgiving for the day and for God’s guidance and strength?
Would we remember to bring our bibles to church, underlining the passage of the day and taking notes on the sermon, the hymns, the anthem and prayers for later reflection?
Would we share with our family and friends a deeper sense of how much Christ loves us and them?
Would we pray for ways to reach out and love them more completely?
I think we would also identify ourselves not just by our actions but by our words as well.
We’d pray with others when they need it, we’d pitch in and help others when needed as well.
We’d participate in the classes offered at Church, and look up reliable sources of Bible insight on the internet.
We’d work to initiate classes into studies and topics we’d like to see offered. (Maybe we can LEAD a discussion group with dvd input?)
We’d join in a mission team like our “FIVE ALIVE”, our Soup Kitchen, our Children’s Education effort, our Choir or Praise Band.
There are LOTS of opportunities to both grow and serve.
Our world is being turned upside down by a serious and global change as we move from a manufacturing society to a digital society. Everywhere we look is effected (Facebook anyone?)
The best way to survive through this pervasive turmoil is to have a strong foundation of trust/faith in Christ, and go share God’s will actively in the body of Christ.
Come and join us for a weekly time to be “under the Gathering Tree” here at Lancaster UMC.
You and those around you are personally invited.
Our very life depends upon it.
What scripture has stayed with you this week?
What have others learned about Jesus Christ because of you?
How goes it with your soul?
Grace and Peace,
(*Pokémon Video Game:
Pokémon was a Nintendo video game first released in 1996 Last July, Nintendo came out with a cell phone version called Pokémon Go.
It started a new wave of the Pokémon craze began. All last summer people starting walking around staring at their phones, using them as tracking devices for the animals/monsters
Churches and other “public” buildings became “gyms” where you could meet up with other players, work out to strengthen your character and engage in battles to earn points.)
Let’s meet up next Sunday and strengthen our Spiritual life. OK?
Last week the Pope shared historic speeches to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.
To me the most moving words were spoken in the context of worship, reflecting Jesus Christ and proclaiming the hope and power of the Resurrection.
Especially powerful was when the Pope declared in Philadelphia (at the World Meeting of Families): “Family is like a factory of hope - a factory of the resurrection.” Families have, he continued, “a citizenship that is divine.”
These words resonated with me deeply.
They come as a powerful corrective to what’s heard so often: “It’s all about me!”
Our self-centered emphasis on whatever feels good has destroying our families. Sacrifice, honor and commitment to others is out of vogue. “Do it for yourself,” “You deserve it” and “You only live once” have replaced concern for others, authentic community and loving relationships.
So these words of Pope Francis are both refreshing and “counter-cultural.”
A little history….. I often describe our United Methodist Church (UMC) as “half way between the Roman Catholics and the Baptists/ Independents.
We affirm that all those following Christ in the historic understanding of Father – Son – Holy Spirit (The Trinity) are close and spiritual brothers and sisters to us.
When we baptize, we baptize into the universal body of Christ, accepting the baptisms of other Trinitarian churches and praying that they accept ours.
We work together “Ecumenically,” with other Christian organizations to advance the cause of Christ and the love of God in the world, even if we have some differences on doctrine and practice.
(We also work with other religions of the world to promote shared good words, understanding of our differences and basic respect. But that’s another column.)
But as Protestants, we did not always regard the Pope so highly. Our “Protestant” origin came from “protesting” the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church hundreds of years ago.
We are in the tradition of Martin Luther, John Huss, John Calvin, John Knox, Thomas Cranmer and others who severely criticized the Roman Catholic Church and it’s hierarchy that was directed by the Pope.
In those days, the Roman Catholic Church was seen as corrupted and false. The Protestant Reformation called everyone back to the Bible and to have a personal, direct relationship with God through Christ.
And even today, in some circles of the Christian movement, Catholicism and the Pope are highly suspect.
Rev. John Wesley, the founder of our own religious tradition, warned us of things that were “pope-ish”. (Partly in response that Methodists were seen as trying to re-establish Catholicism in England. We got it from both sides.)
Likewise, in Latin America, our Methodist movement very clearly stands in the middle of the religious landscape with the Roman Catholic church on one side (often still seen as suspect and allied with rich landowners) and the more charismatic protestant churches on the other.
Owing to our roots in the Church of England we celebrate Holy Communion and Baptism in ways close to the Roman Catholics. We observe Advent, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week and Pentecost, We often use robes, candles, an altar table and a baptismal font in worship.
But we also have the congregational freedom found in the Baptist, Independent and other protestant churches. As a congregation we decide where our funds are spent, the style and music of our worship, the programs to support and the missions to promote.
We have no Pope or Vatican City. We do have Bishops, but they are primarily to provide spiritual inspiration and teaching, upholding our “Discipline” and the care and nurture of the clergy, assigning them to the churches as needed.
No one in the Methodist movement is seen as infallible, we are all sinners, ones who are self-centered and often fall away.
To be a Methodist means that grounded in the Holy Bible, all are challenged to think and reason, learn from our traditions and experience the Holy Spirit in the presence of God.
So it is with joy and the recognition of a long history of relationship in the body of Christ that even as “Protestants,” we welcome and celebrate the visit of the Pope and the words he has for all of us.
We don’t agree with all the social and theological positions of the Roman Catholic Church, but we do affirm that Christ is present in the Roman Catholic Church and in all the churches of the Christian movement.
And that is why his proclaimation that “Family is like a factory of hope - a factory of the resurrection.” and that we have “a citizenship that is divine” is important.
This means that because of the Resurrection of Christ, we are all given accessibility to God and God’s love. The presence of Christ makes heaven on earth a reality.
In Jesus, we gain a foretaste of eternal life, eternal love. We are given the opportunity to live as ones already acceptable to God.
And the place that this heavenly gift becomes most real is in the family. Families can be the place of Godly hope, of forgiving encouragement, divine inspiration and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
And sadly, families can also be places of dysfunction, pain and tragedy inflicted on one another when we stay focused on ourselves.
We have the choice as to what our families will be.
We have been given the power to transform what the world wants us to be (self centered and entertainment seeking) into families of deep grace, filled with forgiveness and hopeful love.
Is your family one filled with this “Resurrection Love?”
Do you want it to be so empowered?
Then join us every Sunday. That’s what we’re here for.
With the death of Brittany Maynard, the discussion of assisted suicide / choice for suicide is once again with us.
We all know life begins and life ends, but when we are suffering or someone else is suffering, we want to do all we can to alleviate that suffering. Every doctor, nurse and medical attendant has that desire as an important part of his or her calling.
And now, as more people are choosing to spend their last days at home, their loved ones surround them in their pain. This means that the sharing of that suffering comes back into the family, as it once was before the advent of hospitals. We are confronting a new/old reality of having the death and dying process back in our homes.
I thank God for those families who accepted this challenge. They have embraced all the consequences, the joys, the caring and the weeping, of being a hospice home. It is a major testimony to their faith and the faith of their family.
It does raise the question of suicide / assisted suicide as watching someone die can be unbearable. Watching your family care for you as you die can be unbearable as well.
The place of suicide / assisted suicide for the Christian has been long debated in the church. All the major denominations: Protestant and Roman Catholic, have issued statements about it. Our United Methodist Church has some guiding thoughts, (but they are not “doctrine” i.e. core faith statements). It’s found at bit.ly/UMC-Stmt-Suicide.
It talks about being non-judging, but also the need to be very careful because our support to reduce pain can easily ends up undercutting hope. It could also lead to the abuse of the elderly. And in addition, some will use it as an “easy out.” Of course, others will struggle until the very end. (Oregon reports that of those receiving drugs for assisted suicide under their laws, only one-half have actually used them.)
Christians are a people of hope. Christ brought us life over death and so over the centuries we have been very reluctant to end life by our own means. Such an act was seen to close off all hope even as it ends obvious suffering and pain. Such an act was also seen to go against the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
All in all, the church generally reflects what Paul said in Roman 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It doesn’t mean we should ignore the sufferings. But it does affirm that we should not lose hope in Christ and use every moment we can have to love God and love others as God loves us.
I hope some of this background helps. I encourage everyone to continue to pray, talk, share in love, seek Christian conferencing and work to discern God’s will. It is a very difficult and multifaceted issue.
The responses have been very helpful and insightful into the struggles happening in our congregation.
Thank you all for participating in our “three questions.” Your answers have been very helpful.
Here are a few we’ve received so far (grouped by question but in no particular order):
1. We WONDER about:
Forgiveness, Tough love vs. Unconditional love. Lawlessness. Selfishness/insensitivity. Our families. How to accept Christ. Doubt God’s love of us. Science vs. Faith. Why is there so much hate. Is Heaven real? “Why me? (both good and bad).
General Faith questions. Rejection of Religion and Spirituality. God’s happiness. Book of Revelations. Heaven – being with Christ. Our children’s future. Islam.
Keeping my faith. Staying Clean and sober. Astounded at all God does and has done. End of the world.
2. We WORRY about:
Family issues: health & illnesses (especially of children), family safety and health, alcoholism, mental illness, isolation/estrangement getting along with each other.
Evil in the world. Terrorism. Current lack of national leadership. Weariness from worrying about the world.
Relationships. Feeling good enough. Future of my children. Children on drugs. Anxiousness about faithfulness. Money. Tragedies around the world. Declining churches. Problems of welfare.
The end times. Values of our government-our culture. My relationship with God, my spouse. Crime. Reaching people in a fast paced world. Decaying morals and a Godly lifestyle.
3. We WISH for:
Peace in families, community and world. Reasonable explanation of the meaing of life. Morales and Values.
Church to be relevant to the young. More personal education. Travel. That every member of my family is happy and fulfilled. Bringing my family together.
Ways to ‘pay it forward.’ End of racism in America. More time with family. Finding a job. To help my family, church & charities. To be surrounded by my loved ones.
Shelter and food for the homeless. More time in silence with God. Publish my writings. Health and happiness. Start a small business. Move to the Central Coast. Health to all.
That our children have faith in God. Hope in the future. More time to cherish what I have.
To be less jealous, less negative, less critical, more loving, more considerate, more like Jesus.
There was a clear balance between the personal (my family, my self, my community) and the world around us (our community, our nation, our world.)
Much of it was personal: drugs, estrangement, family problems. Health, Happiness, growing closer as a family. Much of it was seeing similar situations and struggles in those around us and looking for ways to help.
There was also significant anxiety and worry about our present time: the hate and self-centeredness in our world, our lack of leaders, a feeling of helplessness. In addition there was an anxiousness, wonder and concern about our future, the future of our children, our ultimate future with Christ in Heaven.
What comes next....
As the year unfolds, we’ll be addressing some of these in Sermons, classes and outreach activities. I encourage you to look around our church, your neighborhood, your workplace, your school and see if there are groups and individuals addressing your concerns.
Please take advantage of our upcoming Classes starting Sept. 10. There is a wonderful class on “REAL LOVE” along with one on basic faith questions: “ALPHA.”
Our DISCIPLE Bible study (I) is a great overview of the bible from Genesis to Revelation. (And Disciple IV will include an in-depth study of Revelation for those who have had Disciple I.)
By the way, each year we will offer Disciple I along with one of the 3 others Disciple classes. Next year we’ll offer Disciple II, then Disciple III in 2016, etc. Watch for other studies as well.
A new and exciting addition to our classes and groups will be two Hispanic oriented “GRACIA” faith study and “GRUPO y AMISTAD” crafts group.
(You can read about these classes and sign up for them at: www.bit.ly/2014-LUMC_Adult_Classes )
Please let God guide you into increased faith, love, knowledge and wisdom! We are all here to help each other on our spiritual journey.
What scripture has stayed with you this week?
What have others learned about Jesus Christ because of you?
How goes it with your soul?
Grace and Peace,
*Be sure to check out all the activities listed on our website: www.LancasterUnited.org that are especially designed to strengthen families in a difficult world.
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)
All our life comes from the fact that God has first loved us.
Everything else is response. We live out of gratitude and thanksgiving. We have nothing to give except what God has given us.
In as much as we have received our Lord Jesus Christ, and with joy and expectation, we then continue each and every day, living our life out in the Lord.
Joan Chittister wrote: ”All we have in life is life. Things – the cars, the houses, the educations, the jobs, the money – come and go, turn to dust between our fingers, change and disappear.… the secret of life … is that it must be developed from the inside out.”.
And so, the two must go together. Our inner spiritual life must have a way of expressing itself out in the world. Our outer, “helping others” life, must be