What’s in a name?

What is distinctive about the United Methodist Church? What is United Methodist identity?

In other words, what makes United Methodists United Methodists?

WUMC building
A look at our building

This is the question our Confirmation class pondered the last couple weeks. How would you respond?

(Or, for my non-UMC readers, how would you answer the question for your denomination or religion or organization with which you are affiliated?)

The first time we asked the Confirmands this, their answers ranged, it seems to me, from surprising to impressive to, frankly, a little scary. They wrote:

  • Anti-gambling.
  • Broke off from the Anglican church.
  • Anyone can take communion.
  • Only grape juice used for communion, no wine.
  • Started by John & Charles Wesley at Oxford in England.
  • The Wesley Quadrilateral of how to think about faith: through scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.

As you can see, they mentioned some history, some worship practices, some social commentary, and some theology (which I’d also argue is in large part anthropology, but that’s probably a post for another day). Each item elicited more conversation.

Talking about gambling means talking about how state-run lottos prey on the poor as well as being good stewards of our money.

Talking about open communion means admitting none of us fully understands the sacrament but are all in need of God’s amazing grace.

Talking about using grape juice means talking about Methodist’s history of supporting Alcoholics Anonymous and – going back to open communion – wanting all present to be able to partake.

Talking about the Wesley brothers and how the Methodist movement got started means talking about reappropriating a slur into a badge of honor. It also means tracing our faith heritage back through the ages: UMC => Methodist Church & Evangelical United Brethren => Church of England => Roman Catholic Church => early followers of the Way => Jesus => Hebrews. Can you accurately place each of those pieces of church history on a timeline? Our Confirmands can.

Talking about how we come to believe what it is that we believe – using the Quadrilateral – means admitting to the human condition. We all read and think through those lenses, but the UMC is nearly unique in naming that reality.

As you might have surmised by now, it was a robust, wide-ranging conversation. But there was one other item a youth put on the board; one other way that they see United Methodist Church’s identity. Can you guess what it was?

  • Against gay rights.

It’s like having a mirror held up to your face and being forced to see what others see, regardless of how you view yourself. Like I said, a little scary. And certainly uncomfortable. Think about it: this is what our 7th and 8th graders think it means to be United Methodist. Is this what we want 7th and 8th graders to think? Is this the legacy we want to leave them?

Of course we talked about the complex nature of the United Methodist Church and gay rights. Doing so requires talking about the confusingly bifurcated Social Principles statements on human sexuality. It means talking about General Conference and how there is a decades-old movement to change the language to be fully welcoming and affirming of our gay sisters and brothers. It means talking about the most recent General Conference in 2012 when a proposal to just change the language to (paraphrasing here) “We United Methodists disagree about human sexuality and about how the church should and should not respond to LGBT sisters and brothers.” While that is so clearly the actual truth of our current reality, even that simple, honest change couldn’t pass.

All of that led to a terrific chat about ways to respond to this situation:

  1. Get fed up with super slow progress on accepting the LGBT community and leave to another church that is welcoming and affirming. Or leave church altogether.
  2. Stay in the UMC and ignore the issue, hoping it will go away or get resolved without me.
  3. Stay in the UMC and work for change.

We said all three of those responses are happening right now. The last of which leads to others staying in the church working to keep the language the same. For which of those four response will Woodridge UMC be known?

While it is quite disconcerting to look into the mirror that is our youth’s perceptions of our denomination, it is also a gift. It is an opportunity, an invitation even, for self-reflection. What is the state of the church we are handing over to the next generation? Are we living God’s call on our lives – as individuals, as families, and as a denomination – to transform the world with the Holy Spirit? If not, how will we improve it?

I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

Watch, read, and give for #WorldWaterDay

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. So what? Water changes everything:

I first learned of World Water Day two years ago. Some of what I wrote then still applies:

I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t even notice just how available water is to me. Among the kitchen sink, the water dispenser in our fridge and our bathrooms, I probably can’t get more than 20 feet away from a water source!

Comparing my water privilege to these stats from around the world is, in a word, sobering:

  • About 800 million people in the world lack access to reliable, safe drinking water.
  • 90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are children under five years old. Every 20 seconds a child dies from water-related illness.
  • The integrated approach of providing water, sanitation and hygiene reduces the number of deaths caused by diarrheal diseases by an average of 65%. (WHO)

Fortunately, there are many organizations doing really good work helping developing countries find and access safe waterWater.orgCharity: WaterNational Geographic (which has an eye-opening tool to calculate your water footprint, yikes!), World Health Organization, Blood:Water Mission, and WaterAid.

And, the United Methodist Church through The United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Water Collaboration. (UMCOR is the humanitarian arm of the UMC.)

As far as I can tell, partnering with any one of those organizations is a great and important way to make a difference in the world water crisis (though I haven’t done extensive research into all of them).

For we who follow God in the Way of Jesus – for self-professed Christians – taking up this cause is not optional. How can we claim to love and serve the one we identify as Living Water if we aren’t doing all we can to help sisters and brothers around the world have the water they need to simply live.

world water day

How are you celebrating World Water Day?

Seeking hospitality

For me, striving to live the life of faith always comes down to “love God and love your neighbor.” That’s why I always say it in any parting blessing I offer. It is the essence of following God in the Way of Jesus (as I understand it based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience).

While on retreat last weekend with the 19 amazing teenagers who comprise our current Confirmation class and their parents, we talked a lot about that statement. Jesus called it the greatest commandment. I was reminded that my usual formulation of that greatest commandment – “love God and love your neighbor” – is really shorthand for “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” It occurred to me that my shorthand version presumes knowledge of and familiarity with the full version – a presumption that is inherently unfair to those without such knowledge and familiarity! I wonder how many people over the years I’ve cheated out of a deeper resonance with God’s call on their lives by continually using what amount to code words?

This reminds me that it is really easy for we who are comfortable and familiar with the language, traditions, and practices of the church to fall into the trap of thinking everyone is just as comfortable and familiar as we. Yet even a moment’s reflection upon this reveals the obvious truth: everyone really isn’t comfortable and familiar in church.

So what are we to do?

Fortunately, scripture and tradition are full of wise words on hospitality. Here are a few:

  • “The Bible is full of stories of sojourners, strangers without homes, whom God called people to protect. The ethic of welcoming the sojourner was woven into the very fabric of Israel. It was more than an ethic, it was a command of God. ‘Do not mistreat or oppress a stranger; you know how it feels to be a stranger, because you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.’ (Exodus 23:9)” – The United Methodist Church Book of Resolutions
  • “Let love continue among you. Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all – even to strangers – for as you know, some have unknowingly shown kindness to heavenly messengers in this way.” -Hebrews 13:1-2, The Voice version.
  • “You must treat the outsider as one of your native-born people – as full citizen – and you are to love them in the same way you love yourself; for remember, you were once strangers living in Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:34, The Voice version.
  • The United Methodist Church “encourages churches to embrace a lifestyle that welcomes all people intentionally.” – umc.org article, Want to Practice Radical Hospitality?
  • “If this is God’s world and if the rule of love is at work, then our mandate is not to draw into a cocoon of safety; rather, it is to be out and alive in the world in concrete acts and policies whereby the fearful anxiety among us is dispatched and adversaries can be turned to allies and to friends.” –Walter Brueggemann in Mandate to Difference via Carl Gregg
  • Finally, this from Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out via Cheesewearing Theology and Slacktivist:

If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is the concept of hospitality. It is one of the richest biblical terms that can deepen and broaden our insight in our relationships to our fellow human beings… Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.

Making a slogan about this is the easy part. hospitality pic

But if we are to live up to our calling to love God with our whole being and love our neighbors as ourselves, we must continually seek to be aware of how our language and practices are viewed by those who are not comfortable and familiar with them. We seek this awareness not because our language and practices are wrong or bad, but because God whom we love and serve is the author of hospitality. We seek this awareness in order to make “space where the stranger can enter and become a friend.”

I know that I fail at this, likely often. I hope that forgiveness is offered for those times. What stories of hospitality (or lack there of) can you share?

This is a few years old now, but Church Marketing Sucks has a terrific series on hospitality.

A certain way to help Sandy survivors

I love UMCOR. It is without a doubt one of my favorite things about the United Methodist Church. While the election naturally grabbed most of our attention this week, recovery from the damage done by Hurricane Sandy continues. As always, UMCOR is there.

Through UMCOR, United Methodists extend relief and recovery to people in need in the United States, Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe. Our work with affected communities helps them build capacity to meet the needs generated by an emergency.

That is from the Disaster Relief project at 10 Fold. (Yep, two years after 10/10/10, 10 Fold is still going strong. Check it out, just a few clicks sends donations to worthy projects. You can donate your own money there as well.) That was written well before Sandy. So was this:

When a disaster strikes a community in the US, local churches provide the first response. This basic understanding—that disaster response is local—is the foundation for all of UMCOR’s US disaster training programs and emergency response. We are, first and foremost, a resource for the local response. UMCOR provides training, expertise, and networking to help communities recover.

The stories of wreckage are hard to read. But worth reading anyway.

He looked up and down his streets, where his neighbors’ piles of ruined belongings were growing next to his own. “It’s unfathomable, the damage,” he said. “You can’t get your mind around the enormity of it.”

The best part of UMCOR is that 100% of donations go to relief. Administrative costs are covered by other means. I doubt there is another relief agency that can say the same.

Donate through UMCOR.

Learn how to create a Relief-Supply bucket.

Pray without ceasing.

Thanks, United Methodist Insight!

What’s United Methodist Insight? Truth be told, I was unaware of the project before they contacted me this week. I certainly like the idea though: UM Insight “seeks to provide a broad range of information and perspectives for concerned United Methodists and decision-makers that will affect the future of The United Methodist Church.”

And I definitely like that they’ve picked up my Good Questions post! Admittedly, their formatting isn’t my favorite as it seems to de-emphasize parts of the post I was trying to highlight. But they use the same format for all posts, so it’s just an unfortunate coincidence. Besides, it’s their site, they can make it look however they like.

I also am apparently too dense to understand the connection between my post and the picture they added to it… I suppose that’s what I get for not including an image of my own.

These are minor quibbles. The main point here is still:

Thanks, United Methodist Insight!

I’m in the United Methodist Church. We’re doing a Change the World project. I love Twitter. How could I not reblog this? Join the movement…

Tweet to Change the World

How can you get involved with #CtWTweets?

  1. Join our prayer team. We’re looking for people to pray for Change the World events for 48 hours on May 19 and 20. Sign up for our prayer calendar and our prayer team will send you information!
  2. Tweet about events you are participating in and share pictures, using hashtag #CtWTweets. Don’t have an event? Find one.
  3. Make a donation to Imagine No Malaria, an initiative of the United Methodist Church to provide education and mosquito nets to those who need them. No donation is too big or toosmall. Use this online form. Please designate your gift In Honor of CtWTweets. (This will help our team know how much was given in response to this effort)
  4. Tell your friends. Share a link to this page on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Pinterest. Or heck, share it on all of them!
  5. Pray…

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“We will work with each other, we will work side by side”

“I’m praying for you.”

I must admit that far too often when I say those words to people experiencing pain, loss, grief, despair, they sound trite. Even though I mean it. Even though I’m actually praying for the person and the situation, I don’t know how to say those words without sounding rote and insincere. Even though I mean it.

And but so anyway (with apologies to Fred Clark), today is the two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has a long history of good work in Haiti, work that continues today. By most accounts, there is a ton of work still to do there. I’m proud to be affiliated with a denomination that is still there, working side by side with the Haitian people. I’m proud to be affiliated with a denomination doing its best to live in the way of Jesus: loving God by loving neighbors.

This video seems like a good way to remember victims, honor all the people still rebuilding, and inspire support:

 

That title comes from “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love”, which was my favorite Sunday School song growing up. It remains a favorite today because it so succinctly names the purpose of my faith.

Even though it may sound trite… Haiti, I’m still praying for you.

Our church welcomes Muslims

I was interviewed recently for an article in Interpreter Magazine, a product of the United Methodist Church. It’s the cover article for Sept/Oct and the online version just dropped.

Woodridge UMC is one of three churches discussed in the article who are opening their doors to Muslim groups, including for them to worship. Here’s a taste:

Ten years after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the interfaith friendship between Woodridge and Irshad offers hope in the unpredictable seas of Christian-Muslim relations.

A vital United Methodist congregation is involved in interreligious and ecumenical work, says the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., general secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the denomination’s ecumenical agency. [read more]

I don’t know that our two groups sharing space is enough to “offer hope” on any grander scale than the local. But maybe the local scale is the most important one to act in?

At any rate, I’m thankful I don’t sound like a complete imbecile in the article. (Or at least I hope I don’t. Difficult to judge such things about oneself, no?)

More importantly, I’m thankful our church said “yes” to Irshad, thankful we have a good relationship with each other, thankful our story is being told to a national audience. Perhaps other Christian churches will be moved by the congregations in the article and inspired to find their own ways to create good interfaith relationships.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, a story like this one includes an opposing voice de rigueur. This time it’s a person named Jason Hood, a writer for Christianity Today online who posted this back in January. (Comments are closed for that post, so I have no interaction with Mr. Hood to offer you.)

Still, I can tell you exactly where Mr. Hood and I disagree. He asks, “Does facilitation of false worship violate the love command?”

Really? False worship? Ugh. Way to denigrate about a third of the world’s people, Mr. Hood. I believe Muslims honor God and of course God hears their prayers.

Even if you can’t agree with me about that, at the very least, shouldn’t we treat our Muslim neighbors the way we want to be treated? isn’t that what Jesus taught and lived? Would we who follow God in the way of Jesus want our way called false? Or would we hope for a more gracious response from neighbors of another faith?

There is plenty actual evil in the world and far, far too many people living in hell on earth for us to go around looking to make enemies out of good faithful folks.

Be an advocate. Please.

Summer is winding down, school begins soon for many and the weather is (finally!) outstanding, beautiful and inspiring. If you’re like me, that means your tolerance for reading some long missive from me is basically nil.

Yet, the call to incarnate the love of God as experienced in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is always upon us. Our scripture, tradition, experience and reason tell us we are to be advocates for justice; that we are to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world, especially with and for the most vulnerable among us.

Fortunately (and obviously), the unending reach of the internet has flattened the globe and enabled us to raise our voices even in the midst of vacations, school preparations and doing anything and everything we can outdoors.

Poverty.

Hunger.

Modern-day slavery/human trafficking.

Water.

Peace.

The needs of the world are tremendous.

But so are the resources of the people of God! So, as always, I encourage implore you to prayerfully discover the intersection of your passions and the world’s needs.

And then respond.

Need to be more informed on issues?

Try this tool from the advocacy arm of the United Methodist Church, the Board of Church and Society.

Need to be inspired?

Read this amazing, poignant story from Nicholas Kristof about a child’s incredible generosity and the Charity: water campaign she inspired.

Want to make sure your members of Congress do the right thing by supporting the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011?

Consider this and follow the steps.

Haven’t forgotten about the devastation in Japan earlier this year?

Use this to send a word of hope.

Or, for something completely different, log off and go buy some school supplies for families in need right here in DuPage County. Bring the supplies to church and we’ll get them to our wonderful partners, West Suburban Community Pantry.

Pray, read, click, give…act. Sometimes being Jesus-followers is as simple as that.

[Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post originally written for my church eNewsletter, which drops Friday, Aug. 12]

Guest blogger: Pastor Jim responds to Ministry With

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new UMC resource, Ministry With* the Poor  I hope you’ve checked that out by now and at least watched the introductory video. If not, I encourage you to do so now.

One of the fascinating things about Ministry With* the Poor is the collaborative effort bringing it to life. You may recall I was a bit overwhelmed by all the boards that make up this task force. I’m happy to say Rev. Dr. Jim Galbreath, Lead Pastor at our church, writes to offer some clarification and education about all those boards!

————————

Pastor Jim Writes

OK, so you read Pastor Dave’s excellent column dated June 3, and you were impressed with the “Ministry with the Poor” initiative and the great video clip.  (If not, click here right away—it’s less than 3 minutes.)  BUT you were a bit overwhelmed by that list of United Methodist groups, wondering “what are they all for?” (Enough of a Methodist structure to give a good Baptist like Dave a bit of a migraine!)

Well, you’ve asked a good question, and I’ll try to break it down a little.  (As to the question of lines of communication and flow charts, I’ll touch on that in a moment.) The word “General” in each of these names refers to the fact that these bodies serve and are responsible to the whole United Methodist Church, not some smaller section of the church’s geographical divisions.

•       General Board of Church and Society
This group is responsible for helping the church become aware of issues of social justice and designing ways for the church to respond faithfully to areas of need for empowerment and witness.  Often confronts controversial issues and speaks up for the voiceless.

•       General Board of Discipleship
This group provides liturgical and devotional resources for worship and spiritual growth.

•       General Board of Global Ministries
This group trains and sends missionaries around the world and supports ministries of healthcare, agriculture, and mission schools. Often works in areas of extreme need.

•       General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
This group examines and certifies relationships with colleges which claim connection with the United Methodist Church, and it manages the overall standards and materials for working with those seeking to enter the ordained ministry. It also supports Africa University.

•       General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits
This group handles clergy pension benefits for tens of thousands of United Methodist clergy, as well as managing the health benefits for them. Because it has a massive investment pool of several billion dollars (There are a lot of UM clergy!)and operates under strict guidelines for socially responsible investing, it has been able to invest over $775 million for the creation and preservation of affordable housing and other community development facilities.

•       General Commission on Archives and History
This group conserves an amazing archive of United Methodist heritage writings and artifacts, reminding the church of its origins and consistent work with and among the poor.

•       General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
This group provides a vital link to the wider Christian community and facilitates and encourages interfaith dialogue.

•       General Commission on Communications (UMCOM)
This group tells the church’s story, both through internal resources (websites, videos, brochures, etc.) and through resources aimed at the world beyond the church (press releases, web resources, advertising programs, etc.)  It also arranges for churches and church-related programs to obtain software and computer hardware at substantial discounts.

•       General Commission on Religion and Race
This group has the responsibility to monitor racial and ethnic inclusiveness in the operations of the church structure and to provide resources for raising awareness of such issues in the life of the church.

•       General Commission on Status and Role of Women
This group works to monitor and advocate for full inclusion of women within the structure and life of the United Methodist Church and lifts up women’s issues.

•       General Commission on United Methodist Men
This group works to revitalize the church’s work with men, and to encourage men to find ways to express faith through Christian outreach and service.

•       General Council on Finance and Administration
This group is the budgeting arm of the whole church and handles the details of administrative order and financial planning and accounting.

•       United Methodist Publishing House
This unit of the church handles printing and distribution of resources and items used in the life of congregations in education, worship, music, signage, church furniture, etc.

As to the significance of this list of agencies and commissions working together on the initiative of  Ministry with the Poor, a graphic might be helpful.  This represents the way many groups tended too often to see their relations to each other:

 

 

 

 

 

This  Ministry with the Poor initiative is changing that vision to more closely resemble  the image below:

Hallelujah!  Looks like the church is heading in the direction Jesus would expect!

Blessings!