Listening to One Another and to the Spirit of God Among Us!

Some have already left for early meetings.  Others are leaving soon from places around the world.  All are headed to Portland where next week, the 2016 General Conference of The United Methodist Church begins.  Delegates from 130 Annual Conferences from all parts of the globe will gather at this quadrennial meeting of our Church.  While many points of view on a variety of theological, ethical, political, and social issues are shared from our pulpits and our official and unofficial agencies on any given week, it is the General Conference and the General Conference alone that can speak for The United Methodist Church as a whole.

The ten day gathering in Portland will be filled with wonderful creative worship led by choirs, bands and preachers from many countries.  There will be reports shared that will offer opportunity for celebration as well as reflection on where we need to grow and change.  There will be mission opportunities and ministry information galore.  And of course there will be the challenge that exists everywhere in United Methodism to focus on that which divides us or that which unites us.

I recall hearing recently a presidential candidate expressing the belief that while they and their opponent were both battling for their party’s nomination and were very willing to point out what they saw as flaws in one another, the things that held them together were much stronger than the things that pulled them apart.  When I heard that I thought about our Church. I thought about how easy it is to focus on a few things that divide us rather than the many that draw us together.  Now that is not at all to say that the things that divide us are not important, they are.  But I believe deeply (you know that because this is not the first time I’ve written about this here in this forum), that one of the greatest gifts the UMC could give to our culture here in the United States is an image for how you find a way to love one another and live together when you disagree on significant issues.  If there is anything we need in our polarized culture today it is this ability.  So we must continue to speak to one another and share our various perspectives.  More than that, we must continue to listen to one another and even more listen to the Spirit of God moving among us.

I don’t know what will happen in Portland this year.  I don’t know what we will decide about any number of issues.  And I am both excited about the possibilities and aware that regardless of what happens, some will come away unhappy.  So I’m praying for the delegates.  I’m praying for our Bishops.  I’m praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon them and upon our Church.  And I am trusting that regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen, what new legislation or program or initiative is passed or not, that in the wonderful and amazing grace of God we will find our way forward into the rich mission set before us.

Thanks be to God!

Peace,
Bill

Jesus Taught us a Third Way of Thinking

A third way. It’s a concept that I like. Third way thinking says simply that very often there aren’t just two ways to go. There isn’t just a right or wrong, forward or backward, this way or that way option, but rather there is very often a third way we might follow as we deal with a given situation. The interesting thing about third way thinking is that most of the time it requires us to work a lot harder.

Two sided thinking is easy. It is clear. I’m right, you’re wrong. This is the way to go or that is the way to go and those are the only options. Two sided thinking by definition creates opposing, conflicting, perspectives. It is either this or that. Third way thinking requires us to go beyond the easy course of two sided conflict to discover a new alternative. It requires creativity and often humility. It demands that we push beyond what is easy to embrace that which may stretch us and cause us to find a way we never considered before.

Jesus taught third ways all the time. His culture demanded that one was either Jew or Gentile with all kinds of rules around what that meant and how one lived out that reality. Jesus found ways to embrace the humanity in everyone and widened the circle beyond the two sided cultural construct. The culture says there are enemies and friends and everyone is treated appropriately according to those categories. Friends you treat well and enemies you seek to hurt or kill. Jesus invited a third way that called us to love enemies as well as friends and end the circle of violence both real and emotional, that always seems to accompany the way enemies are treated. Jesus third way invites us to see again the humanity even in the enemy and treat them accordingly, giving the best opportunity for a change in the relationship.

Two way thinking says that evil, anger, and violence can only be defeated by a stronger force ─ greater violence ─ that overcomes the violence first perpetrated upon us. My mother invoked this thinking when I told her that my friend had gotten angry and hit me. Her response was, “hit him back.” Jesus’ third way thinking invites us to resist evil and violence differently. He invites us to resist it to be sure, but to resist it without engaging in it, to resist it without falling into its cyclical spiral, to resist it in ways that actually defeat it by pointing out its futility and evil through creative non-violent means.

I suppose that the ultimate third way is seen in the reality of Easter. Until Easter, there was life and death. Jesus invites us to see a third way which is life through death. That reality really changes everything and opens up all the avenues of third way thinking.

May we be those as individuals, as congregations, as a Denomination, who choose not to settle for two sided thinking, but who instead seek to discover third ways, ways that often only come through humility, prayer, and the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,
Bill