Consciousness After an Extended Absence

According to the date stamp, it’s been about 10 months since I wrote anything here. It’s certainly not for lack of desire or opinionated musings rolling around in my head. It’s because, well, life with two kids is totally different than with one. Our oldest, Marqui, just turned 3 in October. Selah is 17 months…and she’s something else. We had no idea what it was really like to be parents until she was born. Marqui usually maintains homeostasis pretty well. Selah…well…her equilibrium can be disrupted at the drop of a yogurt spoon. Life with two really is getting better, so don’t just hear that as whining.

So many times in the last 10 months I’ve sat down with the intention of writing an article…an idea for ministry, a commentary on the current state of the United Methodist Church, a rant that nobody warned us what having a second child would be like :-), but nothing ever moved beyond a draft.

Today I just happened to have some time to satisfyingly clack this out on my new macbook pro…upgrades are fun. So I feel like I’ve regained blogging consciousness.

In my last post, I wrote a bit about the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward:

Since 1972 there has been a statement in the Book of Discipline that states that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Discipline further forbids same-sex marriages from being performed by our clergy or in our churches. It also bars self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from being ordained as clergy. These provisions in our polity have been debated ad infinitum every four years at General Conference. In 2016, it seemed that the debate around this particular issue had reached a complete impasse. The Commission was called together by the Council of Bishops at the request of General Conference 2016 to help our Church find a way forward surrounding issues of human sexuality. At the time the Bishops were charged with the creation of the commission, I voiced my displeasure. We’ve had commissions before (3 come to memory) that have yielded no way forward. However, our Bishops asked that we all pause, take a deep breath, and let the commission do their work. I want to honor the voice of our shepherds and have decided that I will do what I can to support the work of the commission.

And I have done that. I have taken time regularly to pray for the members of the commission and their work. I’ve been encouraged by their regular reports highlighting how they were building trust and deeply engaging the issues (and there are several issues, human sexuality is simply a presenting symptom of a deeper level of disunity). The commission will eventually give a full report to the Council of Bishops, who will then make a recommendation to the General Conference. We now know that there will be a special “called session” of the General Conference February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri for the sole purpose of acting upon whatever proposal the Council of Bishops brings. I’ve eagerly awaited the reveal of the interim report from the commission. Last week, their report was given to the Council of Bishops at their fall meeting. In a press release, the Council of Bishops outlined three possible models:

  1. Affirm our current language with high emphasis on accountability.
  2. Remove restrictive language from the Discipline, but would not compel traditionalists to act against their conscience by protecting their right to not officiate same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  3. Create separate branches of the Church while retaining unified doctrinal standards, liturgies, and a shared Council of Bishops.

My colleague, Rev. Chris Ritter, provides some in-depth commentary on all that happened at the Council of Bishops fall meeting here.

I must admit that my initial excitement over the release of the interim report quickly turned to disappointment. “Really?” I thought, “this is all the farther we are?” It seems to me that these three “sketches” are pretty well in line with what was already proposed and debated at General Conference 2016 when the Bishops called “time-out”. I felt disappointed because I thought all we had done was kick the can down the road a couple of years with no real clear alternative to the struggle that was already enveloping our Church.

The United Methodist Church in the United States is facing unprecedented numerical decline. We cannot afford the distractions that are before us. We need to decide whether we will remain a more traditionalist church or move toward being a more inclusive denomination; and if these are the same three options, couldn’t we have decided in 2016? Folks on all sides of this debate can agree that lives and souls hang in the balance.

Add that disappointment to a very real concern that I’ve had all along…do we really believe that anything will actually pass the General Conference? What if the proposal(s) brought by the Council of Bishops are flatly rejected and the delegates leave St. Louis on February 26 without any decision? Do we just maintain our current level of dysfunction? I know I’m not the only one who has this major concern. Over a month ago, I was listening to Rev. Adam Hamilton inviting people to join his co-exist model group which will launch this week. When talking about the options that could possibly be presented to the special General Conference he said something to the affect of: “I have hope. But I really can’t see anything passing the general conference.”

I have disappointment and concern because of a deep and abiding love for my Church. It makes my head spin, and could easily lead me to despair. The task ahead of us is so great and I don’t know if the Church that loved me into ordained ministry will endure. In several moments of desperation, I’ve been reminded of God’s promise to Zerubbabel.

Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews out of Babylonian captivity over 500 years before the birth of Christ. When they returned to Jerusalem, the priest Joshua and Zerubbabel were tasked with rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed. Can you imagine what a monumental, overwhelming task that was? They knew they were exactly where God wanted them, God had said He was coming again with compassion to Jerusalem, but rebuilding the temple…that’s too much for even a great leader like Zerubbabel. Very few seemed interested in rebuilding the temple with him. They had settled back into the land and started rebuilding their own lives and homes. The solution of the temple didn’t seem like a high priority, after all the temporary altar had become status quo over nearly fifteen years. Why disrupt that? I’m sure I can’t even begin to comprehend how desperate Zerubbabel felt, like he didn’t even know where to start. Then the prophet Zechariah received a vision just for Zerubabel:

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

The temple would be rebuilt. Zerubbabel had laid the foundation and it would be completed. But it would not be by his own strength, intelligence, ingenuity, or ability to delegate tasks to others. It would be by the Holy Spirit working through Him.

It has occurred to me several times recently how much our current impasse in the United Methodist Church is like rebuilding the temple. We know it needs done, but the work is going to be really hard. For some, the status quo is just fine enough. We cannot vote our way to vitality. We cannot legislate our way to renewal. Those only come by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Spirit chooses to work through us–so I’m not suggesting that General Conference is no longer needed–I’m just being convicted again with the realization that our hope cannot be in commissions and conferences and councils. Our only hope is Jesus Christ. This is His Church and by His Spirit, the mountain before us shall become a plain. I can’t wait for the day we shout “Grace” again!

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