Time to break up the UM Discipline?

One of my professors from seminary is now blogging...which scares me because I was completely disrespectful in his class and he may still want to tell the world about it.  Anyway, his post today is a doozy: let's break up the Discipline into more palatable parts for lay and clergy alike.

The United Methodist Discipline has grown from a small paperback to the 1.5 inch thick mind-numbing document that it is today...and yes, a substantial portion of it is important!  We have a large free-wheeling church and it is important that our diversity be exhibited.  But given the book's size, it does not tend itself to light reading and thus it has become less and less a part of the average UM lifestyle. To Wesleyan purists, this is a problem.

Boston University's Dr. Glen Messer rejects the notion that it is good to have a large tent book that people of most every persuasion can find themselves in its various and contradictory doctrines.
The Discipline began as a document about the essentials of how to be and live like a Methodist. I reject the notion that it should be the church equivalent of a fraternity house ‘garbage can drink’ into which we can pour whatever each of us brings to the party and then we all partake of the unpalatable (and spiritually toxic) concoction.
 To Messer, the Discipline is not an encyclopedia to turn to and see yourself. Rather, it is a tool for daily discipleship...and by tool, he doesn't mean a replacement leg to keep your bible bookshelf steady!  Its current incarnation is prohibitive to it being a part of our daily rhythm.

To push back against big-tent Methodism with a hands-off approach to the Discipline, Messer suggests we split it up into three different books:
Let us consider doing the following:
  1. Take the core historic doctrines and teachings of The United Methodist Church, a modernized (and doctrinally faithful) version of The General Rules, and a skeletal description of the basic ecclesiology of the denomination and collect them into a small volume to be renamed The Doctrines and Discipline of the United Methodist Church;
  2. Take the necessary extrapolations upon The Discipline, those that are more organic and subject to necessary, more frequent change, and gather those together with the assorted rules and procedures for the administrative and property concerns of the denomination. That book we can call The Order of The United Methodist Church, and;
  3. Take the miscellaneous teachings and declarations of the church (not included in the two other volumes) that are responses to contemporary issues and concerns and gather them together in a volume entitled The Teachings of the United Methodist Church.
[snip] Thus, we would build a written understanding of who we are as a church by providing a foundation, a frame, and then an outer structure.
Read his whole post...it is informative as well as evocative in its imagery (particularly how being UM these days is like Twister where we theologically twist ourselves around to stay in the game...ha!).

What do you think?

  • Ought we prioritize what it means to be United Methodist, clarify by different books what our essentials are and our contradictory non-essentials are and do serious soul searching...and buy a slimline copy of the Discipline for every church member to support Cokebury
  • Or is this another drift towards United Methodism that is more doctrinal than missional, one that places Doctrine as the essential part of the church (his proposed book one), rather than the heart for ministry exposed in different contemporary contexts (proposed book three)?



LOST, Wreckage, and Original Sin

The number one question to me in the past 48 hours is "What did you think about LOST?"  I guess my passion for this show isn't much of a secret, eh?  I've read so many commentaries and shared items (I'm shaking my fist at Dr. McGrath and Blake Huggins, shared feed reader fiends!) that where I get the below is a blur but I'll try to link as I can.

Needless to say, this post has spoilers.  But it's been over 2 days, and if you are a true fan, you will have seen it by now, I hope!

Before I begin, we need to clarify the main misconception and establish canon.  First, YES, everything that happened for all 6 seasons happened. The final 15 minutes where we find out everyone is dead in the "flash-sideways" world and that it is reminiscent of purgatory is the only whimsical aspect. Every one of the Season One survivors survived the plane (at least for a while) and they truly died or lived in the ways the show depicted. Stop hating on the entire show as a remake of The Sixth Sense or something.

Second, I actually didn't really appreciate the flash-sideways world. I think it makes a theological statement about the afterlife that I don't necessarily subscribe to. So I'm taking the comments below from the life experiences of the survivors and the island, not from the afterlife.  Consider it a canonization of LOST to address only the reality not the eschatology.

So, let's begin: I think my take-away from the show began at the final credits (though they were not actually scripted by LOST, they are still true images and "canon" and it's an effective place to start).  
Wreckage of the Oceanic Flight 815
The island is littered with wreckage and after-effects of centuries of previous inhabitants, whose lives and intents were exhumed throughout the show.  The broken foot of Taweret. The hole in the wall of the Temple. The Black Rock pirate ship ran aground by Richard's captor. The US Army's nuke. The Dharma Initiative's VW bus.  The broken-down shack of Horace that the Man in Black sat in occasionally. Rousseau's pit made out of her boat's pieces.  Henry Gale's parachute. Mr Echo's brother in the heroin-mule plane. The filled wells. The wheel at the light below the Dharma greenhouse. And now, the airplane wreckage on the beach. 

Somewhere down the line, someone else will come to the island and wonder about their stories. And they will wonder what happened to them.

While we don't know the entire story of every piece of wreckage, each involved violence and death. The ancient people had hieroglyphics of the Smoke Monster killing their ancestors.  The Black Rock's crew wiped out by a manipulative Man in Black's homicidal jealousy towards his brother. The Dharma Initiative was wiped out by a father's resentful son.  Rousseau's decades of guilt over killing her crew and losing her child.  Mr. Echo's innocent brother who died in his brother's place. Who knows what killed Henry Gale! All these are some of the worst sins one can commit to another.

And all we have are the wreckage and try to make sense of what we have inherited and make do with what we can.  Like the Bible and archeological finds, all we have are the broken pieces or fragments of parchment with text scribbled on them, and we seek to make sense of the God who inspired them.

fan-made map of the LOST Island
So, when you zoom out a bit and see the long view, while the characters were awesome and moving...in the scope of the island, they are merely the details to the wreckage, even if they are hinge points. The filled well was the details as to how Jacob and the Man in Black came to be antagonists. The airplane wreckage was the details as to how Hurley and Ben became #1 and #2.  Who knows what will happen next or happened before!

So what is ultimately important isn't so much the individual stories, but the common thread linking all the wrecked pieces and wrecked people and wrecked lives on the island. That common threads are cycles of violence and death. Violence was so pervasive on the island that my spouse covered her eyes and said "how can they show that on TV?" Violence claimed the lives of perhaps all but 8 survivors of the place crash, all but 2-3 of the Dharma Initiative, every single member of Widmore's company. The wrecked people who came to the island had tons of violence and sin afflicted to them and afflicted by them and doubtless many generations of visitors before them.

Perhaps the show isn't about the characters but about the commonality of human sin and death and violence that repeats itself with every new item of wreckage.  It is this phenomenon that Jacob and the Man in Black argue about on the beach at the Season 5 finale:
MAN IN BLACK: They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.
JACOB: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.
Jacob and the Man in Black on the beach
Violence that repeats itself and litters the landscape of the world we inherit with wreckage is my understanding of Original Sin.

One of my convictions is that Original Sin is not some tainted bloodline from Adam that all humanity inherits and passes on through intimate relations (Augustine did say that it passes bodily in the moment of intimacy). Rather, Original Sin can be understood as sin that we are born into that is out of our control, be it violence as a way of being in Harlem, or bigotry as acceptable in a racist family. Both of those and beyond are sin that we are born into, maybe participate in, but ultimately once we can define it as sin, we can choose to let it go.

Being born into sin tarnishes and afflicts us. Working at a job that has an acceptable level of misogyny that we buy into tarnishes us. Playing corrupt politics as part of the game tarnishes us.  Going to an island and reverting to the self-centered life histories (Sawyer hoarding items from the plane) tarnishes us.  But in each of those, we can choose to not buy into the cycles of sin and violence once we understand the choice.  Once we see the effects of racism, we can shuck it off.  Once Locke saw the effect of the island's healing properties, he embraced its possibilities even to a fault of maiming Boone.  The problem is choice (ala the Matrix) but only when the choice becomes obvious.

Those choices have consequences, even devastating ones completely out of our control. Random violence against children in this world is as meaningless and senseless as Michael shooting Libby accidentally.
Michael accidentally shoots Libby in Season 2
So Original Sin is not just something to be educated about but a part of the human condition that must be eradicated so that no more people are born into it.

I wonder if this is the reason why women could not have children on the Island. Perhaps Jacob's one act of violating Free Will was that he didn't want any more children born into cycles of sin and violence in the one place where he had a say about it.   Seems out of character but it's the best I got.

I also wonder if Jacob was serious about "everything else is just progress."  Did every succession of wreckage progressively got better and how did Jacob define it "progress?" Did less people die on Oceanic 815 than the Black Rock and thus it was better? Was there more epiphanies and reconciled people on the airplane than there were on the Dharma Initiative? Was there seriously less sin and violence on the plane's survivors part than ever before? I doubt it. 

Perhaps then the "progress" is an increasing awareness of the depth of human sin that we participate in.  Our new global economy and information infrastructure opens our eyes to the blood cost of diamonds, the sweat-shops making our clothes, the effects of limiting access to women's health services.  These sins that we participate in and are "born" into harm our joint human condition until enough of us are awakened to it that we can begin to eradicate it. 

If, as John Wesley would say, the beginning moment of the Christian journey is repentance, then revealing and becoming more aware of the depth of human sin and awakening others to their participation in their Original Sin is our calling as Christians. Perhaps it took an island adventure to awaken the Oceanic passengers to their own sin and the possibilities for change.  Perhaps it takes a moment at Jacob's lighthouse to realize our own importance.  Perhaps (and this is my only reference to the flash-sideways purgatory world) when we awaken people to the story that they are a part of, then they can finally let go of their past and find peace in community. Perhaps that is our calling is to help others awaken to the sin they are born into and that we passively accept and participate in...and offer them the choice to denounce it and become reborn anew (minus the island, of course).

In short, I think the Island offered its characters a choice that parallels our own choices. We can choose to be blissfully unaware of the sinful world we have inherited. We can choose to know of it and doom and gloom and reap despair over it.  Or we can choose to take the wrecked pieces of our world and try to put them all back together. Gather the trash, the leftovers, the lost and tell them that they are born into sin but sin does not define them. To labor together as broken people seeking redemption. Tell them that they have suffered beyond their control the sins of their forefathers, but they do not have to be chained to the slave hold anymore.  To open their eyes to their issues and seek peace and understanding.

the entire story of LOST begins and ends with an open eye.

So, there's my thoughts. Thoughts? Responses?



From the Pentecost Lectionary today:

Acts 2:19 

"I will show portents in the heaven above 
Flight 815 explosion (Season 1)

and signs on the earth below,
Dharma Map in the Hatch (Season 2)

blood and fire, 
Michael's boat burning (Season 1)

and smoky mist."
Smoke Monster (Season 2)

Happy PenteLOST!

(fine, it's not really Michael's boat, but there was no pic handy)


"Having two identities is a lack of integrity"

During my board of ordained ministry final interview, we spent 50 minutes talking theology and ethics and ministry...and 10 minutes talking about this blog and facebook and concerns over clergy not being prudent over what they post online.  I hadn't done anything wrong, but having made the front page of UMC.org, it was clear that there were a lot of eyes on what this clergy was writing and they wanted to make sure I had reflected on it.

There's been a lot of concern over facebook and online personas recently.  I know that there are really bad horror stories out there of people whose lives have been negatively affected by online jerks. Early in my blog's history, in fact, I had a threatening message left on my church answering machine by a disgruntled blog reader (good times!).  It's relatively easy to search for my name, bring up my church website, and call the office number.  Heck even UMC.org posted my picture from my local church website instead of my publically-produced blogger one!  So breaches in the digital/analog divide happen with varying amounts of drama.

So I can understand why clergy would want to limit what they post online or write pseudonymously (under an altar-ego or online "nickname"). I did that for 5 years, running an online religion forum under a pseudonym.  In doing so, I did learn a lot about how to articulate my message clearly, navigate the online waters, and handle trolls more effectively...without worrying about it affecting my real-life career and family. So I get it and encourage it if that's where you are in online interactions.

However, as you can see, I write now as my own name.  Am I older and more assured in my views and life choices? Certainly.  But more than that, I felt it was better to be transparent than continue to write under a nickname.  A dear pastoral friend T.L. told me "anything you write you should be able to say to your bishop's face." I hope I hold to that standard always. Although I *do* miss my old days of raging without a care for retribution (it was therapeutic), I'm able to channel the rage into channels now...sometimes.

But here's the issue--Some pastors have taken to having a "real persona" and a "church persona": ie. two facebook accounts, one for their family and friends (Jeremy), and one for their "professional" life (Pastor Jeremy). While it can be useful for some people, I think it neglects to use Facebook to its full advantage.

I'll have a full write-up of this eventually (or steal someone else's), but here's my process of using facebook with one account that keeps my blog readers, parishioners (especially youth!), and close friends separate but interacting.
  1. I consider my statuses to be my most publically private (not an oxymoron!) thoughts.  Thus, if i want to merge online identities, there has to be a way to have everyone together but keep the statuses private.
  2. I make three friends lists: Limited Profile, Safe Profile, and Full Profile.
  3. Under privacy, I set these groups to have different levels of access.
    • People I meet online or know from church, I add them to my Limited Profile.  People here can only see my information, but not my wall (any posted links, pics, tags, etc). It is essentially a static page with my interests and that's it.
    • As I get to know them, I graduate them to my Safe Profile and allow them to see my posted links for discussion.  I don't consider those as private and I don't mind linking to controversial topics to spur discussion.
    • Eventually, I graduate them to Full Profile where they can see my entire wall and everything. Am I taking a risk? Sure. But 
  4. Everyone discusses and I can discuss with them all in one place! Saves time and energy with only a little setup and diligence!
Since setting up this last year, there's been some tweaks. My parishioners and youth are put in a "Parishioner Profile" and they can see my pics but not anything else (I need professional distance but my pics help make me more real to them).  Blog friends who obviously just friend me as blog readers get a "HX Profile" designation that is like the Limited Profile, but my wall is only my blog posts (neat huh! Use BlogNetworks as the feed!).

Blake shared this quote by Facebook CEO Zuckerberg that I think hits at this pretty squarely:
"The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook
I disagree that having two identities is a lack of integrity, but I do think it is inefficient.  Hopefully I've outlined how Facebook can be used to merge online identities while keeping a reasonable understanding of privacy. I know for some contexts this is impossible, but if you can the merging helps keep a sense of integrity or at least consistency in thought and word.

It is evident from my BOM meeting that perhaps all pastors need a session on how to use Facebook and blogging?  Perhaps all we need is a bit less fear and prohibitions, and more literacy and technological savvy. This is an important tool for ministry, people! And there's a great wealth of Methobloggers that could easily lead workshops at district events to help out. Maybe we can all put together a "best practices" thing for specifically Methodist pastors?

Anywho, those are my thoughts on multiple identities online.  They are reflective of my own experience, not critical of yours.  Thoughts?


You bring your own fire to Hell

Kester Brewin posted recently on a little-known Hindu tale of one of their gods who travels to hell.  While certainly not in the Christian canon, it's got an interesting final line that I'm still musing on. Enjoy:

One day Lal Shabaz Qalander was wandering in the desert with his friend Sheikh Baha ud-Din Zakariya. It was winter, and bitterly cold and as the evening came they decided to build a fire to keep warm while they camped. They gathered some wood and built a pyre, but then realised that they had no way to ignite it. So Baha ud-Din suggested that Lal Shabaz turn himself into a falcon, fly down and bring some fire from hell.

Off he flew, and hours passed. Eventually the bird-god soared back to Baha ud-Din, and fluttered to his side, empty-handed. Cold and bewildered Baha ud-Din asked him why he had not brought fire back with him. “There is no fire in hell,” he reported, changing back into his usual form. “Everyone who goes there from this world brings their own.”
Thoughts/reflections? Remind you of any Christian mysticism or writings?


Graduation Sunday Liturgy

This is my adaptation of the Book of Worship's "Prayer for Graduates" BOW #536 into a responsive liturgy, weaving in the first/last verses of "This is a Day of New Beginnings" UMH #383. Hope it is helpful.

Liturgy of Celebration for our Graduates

Leader: God of truth and knowledge,
by your wisdom we are taught the way and the truth.
 Bless our graduates as they now finish this course of study.

All: We thank you for those
who taught and worked beside them,
and all who supported them along the way.

Leader: Walk with the graduates
as they leave and move forward in life.
Take away their anxiety and confusion of purpose.

All: Strengthen their many talents and skills,
instill in them a confidence in the future you plan,
where energies may be gathered up
and used for the good of all people.

Leader: For the graduates, this truly is a day of new beginnings,
a time to remember and move on,
and a time to believe what love is bringing.

All: May they always know that
Christ is alive and goes before us,
to show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings,
our God is making all things new.

Presentation of Senior Gift / Pastoral Prayer / Senior Speeches, etc


Baccalaureate Speech

I try to be sensitive to church-state issues, even when no one else has problems.  I fretted for a while about a proper commencement scripture for my town's High School Baccalaureate (yes, it's a Christian-based service in my part of the world).  For any others looking for Scriptures that are not expressly narrowly religious or come-to-Jesus, here's my 60-second scripture and speech:

From the Prophet Jeremiah 6:16 (NRSV)
Thus says the Lord:
“Stand at the crossroads,
And look,
And ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way lies;
Then walk in it and find rest for your souls.”
As graduates, you stand at a crossroads today,
The wind is at your back, many paths and choices before you.
My parting words for you are simply to know your story
to think and reflect on how you got here.
Everyone has a story, a good one or a difficult one.
Whatever your faith tradition is,
you have an ancient story too.

As you prepare to take that first step past this point,
know that you have a choice
You can repeat the mistakes of the past,
or choose new paths that lead to life.
The world is open before you.
May you find assurance and peace knowing
that no matter what you choose
you are never alone in your journey.


Poll: Favorite Stoles for Clergy

Handmade stole from Bolivia
(Taken with my iPhone)
In 2006, I was given a really mean present by my former pastor: a beautiful handmade stole from Bolivia (pictured to the right).  Why was that a mean gift?  Clergy in the United Methodist Church are not allowed to wear stoles until they are fully ordained...and I will not be fully ordained until June 1st of this year.  So for four years, the stole has hung on my wall as a reminder of what my future status could look like and I'm happy to say it will be the first stole I wear in my parish.

Stoles are important vestments that change color with the liturgical seasons and thus clergy usually have at least a half-dozen or so of them.  Now that I'm reaching that point in ministry where I can wear stoles, I would like recommendations!  I'm not a clergy fashionista by any stretch of the imagination but would like people's recommendations of stoles they find powerful or evocative or great in their simplicity.

So, are there any stoles you would recommend? If you have links to Cokesbury, Alban, or wherever sites, that is most helpful. Otherwise, just the styles or elements on the stoles would be great too!

Thanks in advance!

P.S. Yes, I've already seen the FSM stole...awesome but probably inappropriate!
P.P.S. I would pay top dollar for a custom stole that sneaks in Star Wars elements in very subtle ways. Are you reading this, Jessica? I'm kidding!....kinda.


RIP Beloved Octogenarian Methoblogger

Olive Morgan, an 88-year old Methoblogger, has passed away. I know her digital fan club (Olive and I have commented on each other's blogs off and on) will miss her.

Rest in peace, Olive.

Olive Morgan

Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 
England, United Kingdom

:edit: Richard Hall notes that she was profiled back in 2006. Great read!


So THAT's How Megachurches Roll...

"Stuff Christians Like" blogger Jon Acuff points us this morning to a parody video of Sunday Mornings at a megachurch.  I'm glad to be in on their secret strategy and I hope Acuff doesn't end up with concrete shoes for revealing their secrets.

As always, self-deprecating humor is often a good hack!


ProBlogger on Church and Social Media [video]

Problogger Darren Rowse is a blogger extraordinaire who actually got his start writing a religious blog, being involved in a religious chatroom and forming virtual community there. That's close to how I got my start in the digital world too, running my own webforum for 5 years which predated my seminary entrance. Cool!

Anywho, Darren made an appearance digitally at the TransFORM conference (an Emerging Church event) and has a LOT to say about churches and social media and the value of online community. Check it out:

(ht/ Tall Skinny Kiwi)


BSG: Dehumanizing the Other

My geek cred suffered for a few years while Battlestar Galactica was on TV...I missed out on the entire season. So I borrowed the DVDs and am working through them now slowly. I'm on Season 2.5 now, so lay off the spoilers, please!

The basic premise is that Cylons (robots that look like humans) have declared war on humanity and infiltrated the fleet of starships.  The remaining survivors have to deal with outside attacks and internal suspicions of Cylons in their midst.

There's another war going on, however: how much can you dehumanize the other? They regularly call the Cylons "toasters" and have no guilt over killing them in combat no matter how human they look. The crewman who illegally killed a Cylon in custody barely got any punishment.  Another (kinda...) Cylon in custody is called a "thing" regularly by even the Commander.  And yet there are some who treat the Cylons like people, with dignity and grace. It is this internal conflict of how to be at war with the other without demonizing/dehumanizing the other (even if they are really not human) that is really interesting.

There's a scene that is really painful and exemplifies this conflict.  (I am outlining basic points without revealing who Cylons are.  Please be respectful of this in the comments) In the episode Pegasus (Season 2.0, Episode 10), a female Cylon in custody is raped (or attempted rape...there are alternate scenes) by an officer who has raped and dehumanized another Cylon in custody.  She survives and the scene ends with her crying with a blanket held over her body.  You cannot watch the scene and not see the Cylon as a human woman who has just been violated by people who do not treat her as a human, and is saved by people who do.

But that's not the scene I'm talking about.  In the next episode Resurrection Ship (Season 2.5, Episode 11), the Cylon is examined for trauma by a doctor who has this poignant exchange:
Doctor: Your fluid and electrolytes levels are stable. [minor edit for spoilers] You do have a cracked rib though. Hairline fracture, which means it's gonna hurt like hell for a while. But, I'm not seeing any signs of permanent damage from the attack.
Cylon: The attack. Is that what we're calling it now?
Notice how it is a non-human who is commenting on how inhumane it is to refer to rape as anything other than rape. And a subtle reference to this internal conflict of dehumanizing the other.  It is easier to violate the other when you don't see them as human (even if they aren't human in the sci-fi show, they are at least humane).

I am reminded of a 2007 courtroom case where the judge outlawed the use of the word "rape"...in a rapist's trial!  They could only use the term "sex" (not even "sexual assault").  Feministing's commentary is worth reading.  Here's a snippet:
Bowen testified for 13 hours at Safi's first trial last October, all without using the words rape or sexual assault. She claims, not unreasonably, that describing what happened to her as sex is almost an assault in itself. "This makes women sick, especially the women who have gone through this," Bowen told the Omaha World-Herald. "They know the difference between sex and rape."
When we dilute violence by calling it names other than what it is, then we do injustice (again!) to the victims.  And a sci-fi show about treating even non-humans like humans exposes how our language in our real world dehumanizes human women!  Powerful. Poignant.

I did not expect to write about rape and science fiction today, but I cannot let this moment pass without reviewing the way how our language dehumanizes human experience.  I hope you got a little notion of that from this post today.

Thoughts? (please, no spoilers!)


May the Fourth Be With You Always

(cue United Methodist response: "And Also With You.")


Worship Music via iPhone

For a peek at worship in the 21st century, here's a cover of Chris Tomlin's worship song done ONLY by iPhone music synthesizers (each iPhone is an individual instrument).


(via michaelhalcomb)


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