In-Sight: Oh, How Marvelous!

This coming Sunday, we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent, the beginning of another new year in the Christian telling of time.  In preparation for this holy season, I have been thinking about The Story in its summary essence, remembering afresh why we sing about it exclaiming, “Oh, how marvelous; oh, how wonderful…”  I share my reflections with you today, using the classic form of second-person soul talk..

“You are of eternal sacred value.  Whether you realize it right now or not–in fact, whether you even believe it or not–it is where God’s revelation toward you begins (Genesis 1:26-28).  You are a beloved child of God, so much so that God stopped at nothing short of redeeming you from every attitude and action that prevents you from recognizing how loved by God you are. You do not have to make yourself lovable or acceptable before God will notice you or accept you.  In fact, you cannot do so, and it is soul-wearying to try.  You only have to claim who you already are, and by grace, allow Reality to wash over your soul in one wave after another for the rest of your life.

The confirmation of all this is in Christ, the eternal Son of God, who became flesh and lived on the earth for a little over thirty years.  Through his words and actions, Jesus invites you to leave all your tiresome self-salvation efforts behind and come to him, where you will find rest (Matthew 11:28).  He has abundant life–life like you can never know on your own waiting for you (John 19:10).  In Christ you will experience and express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

You are made for this.  This is actually who you are, and your restless heart cries out for this kind of life to be made real and active.  It is marvelous.  It is wonderful.  Fall into the arms of God and find yourself embraced by the One Who made you and Who Is head-over-heels in love with you!”

I pray that this reflection will lead you into a blessed new year in Christ.  Happy Advent!!

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UMC: We’re Best in the Open

My advocacy of a an interim period between 2016-2020 has been viewed by some as creating a predilection in a particular direction so as to influence what the Plan for Unity (I mentioned yesterday) would contain.  But that is not the case, and it is not my intention.  Rather, it is my belief that we live and work best in the open, and the 2016-2020 quadrennium would provide us with a level playing field for doing so.

But it would be a playing field engaged in the discernment of how to stay together rather than how to divide everything, as some people and plans have previously viewed an interim period to be. That’s why my first proposal yesterday was to have a General Conference vote for unity–a vote that would set the trajectory for subsequent interim work.

The further provision for an expansion of local-options is based on the fact that we already have local-option Methodism in our polity.  And, we currently have it in all three ways I proposed in Point # 5 yesterday.  Clergy now have the option to decide whom they will marry.  Congregations have the option to set property-use policies.  And Boards of Ministry are authorized to design ordination processes that make it variously easier or more difficult for LGBT persons to be ordained. 

The 2016-2020 proposed interim does not create anything new.  What it does is temporarily expand allowances to bring everything out in the open, so that clergy, congregations, and boards can operate without fear of retribution while the UMC creates its Plan for Unity. It opens the door for a fuller voice to be heard than is possible when things are hidden or forbidden. It gives any and all the freedom to bear witness to the Gospel and its enactment in the UMC as they believe to be best. Everyone who will can contribute through their words and deeds.

The interim would eliminate the need for back-room politics, unsigned proposals, and other forms of secrecy (except by those who still prefer anonymity to public testimony), and it would give the UMC a clearer picture of who we are across the earth, as individuals and groups are free to speak and act without fear.

This would, I believe, give the committee charged with developing the Plan for Unity necessary “on the ground” data that would lead to a better assessment of who we are than would be possible without it.  Doubtless, the interim would confirm we are “a coat of many colors” but at least we could see the threads as they are, rather than as various groups claim them to be.

In terms of our Wesleyan hermeneutic, the 2016-2020 interim would increase ‘experience’ in relation to the already-existing manifestations of scripture, tradition and reason.  Surely this would be for our good, and be of great help to the Plan for Unity committee.  It would also create a more-educated delegate pool for 2020, based on their observations between 2016-2020, and the information they would receive from the denomination to help them be even-more effective delegates once they are elected.

At the base, I am advocating a process that could lead us to say in 2020, “This is what we are going to do” rather than looking back on 2016 after the fact and asking, “Why did we do that?”

Of course, it means that all of us will have to decide in 2020 whether we fit within the Plan for Unity.  There is no way to avoid that eventuality.  But it means that our decision would be made in response to the best our denomination can envision collectively and globally, not the result of a hurried and stressful politicized process next May.

[Thanks for reading the first two posts in this new series.  I will post occasionally in the future. If you have specific questions or concerns, and you communicate them respectfully, I will consider addressing them. Email me at I will not respond to questions or concerns in the “Comment” section of any specific blog. I view these posts only as “food for thought,” not as springboards for online dialog, and surely not as an ignition for debate]

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UMC: Prayerful & Paced Decisiveness

Chris Ritter characterized my position as one calling the UMC to a quadrennium of prayer and deliberate action between 2016-2020.  I stand by that conviction, and the more so when I saw that my friend, Bishop Rueben Job, wrote similarly in the book, ‘Finding Our Way’ (Abingdon Press, 2014). I am happy to express my position and in doing so, honor the essence of his.

Like most people I know, my position continues to develop as I learn more from personal research and changing circumstances.  That’s not surprising given the fact that we are dealing with the future of an historic denomination seeking to find its way in the 21st century.  As I discover more, I am more convinced that a 2016-2020 decision-making period is still the better way to go.

But I want to be clear that I do not mean an avoidance of the controversy regarding human sexuality or the maintenance of unity that is threatened by our differences on this subject.  What I mean is the need to establish something more than a tug-of-war on this subject, but rather something that would generate a decision based in communal consideration that is largely absent when people talk more about each other than with each other.

But more than that, we need to envision our future based on more than any single topic.  It would, in my opinion, be a mistake to preserve or dissolve unity based on one subject when The United Methodist Church is called by God to bear witness to Christ all over the world in relation to many things.

My position means making use of the 2016-2020 quadrennium to draft a Plan for Unity (that addresses opportunities and  challenges in the context of what it means to be a global church), a plan undergirded by accompanying worldwide prayer–a plan that would be voted on in 2020.

I continue to advocate this for the simple fact that ten days in Portland is not enough time to “gather the fragments” and develop a Plan for Unity that has the breadth and depth to represent United Methodism in the 21st century.  Wisdom is the child of time, and we need time and space to discern and design our future.

We need this, if for no other reason than because our language in the Book of Discipline is dated.  New insights from biblical exegesis, theological reflection, scientific understanding, and global realities are different than when we began the conversation 43 years ago–and even different than was the case in 2012.  We need to design a denomination on the best current reality we have available to us, so that we might be faithful in honoring Charles Wesley’s hymnodic exhortation, “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill. O, may it all my powers engage, to do my Master’s will.”

So, I am an advocate for actions in Portland along lines that give us time and space for holy conversation–actions that represent our quest for unity through sustained, representative engagement–through Christian Conferencing.  Here are some considerations along that line…

(1) Commit to the preservation of unity in The United Methodist Church.  Vote to remain The United Methodist Church.  This would establish our baseline vision from which the exercise of intention and the discernment of means would proceed.  The matter of remaining united would be fixed, so that the ways of being so could be discerned.

(2) Use plenary time to identify the essential ingredients which must be included in a Plan for Unity–a “How then shall we live?” deliberation of core topics which would become the building blocks for the plan.  Proposals reaching the floor would assist and direct that discussion.

(3) Constitute the group to be responsible for developing the Plan for Unity, with the requirement that it deliver a plan (not a proposal that could be deferred yet again) for unity that will be voted on at the 2020 General Conference.  I assume this group could be The Connectional Table; that is, an already-existing group rather than a newly-created one.  But whatever is best, the group would be a “Round Table” that is representative and respectful while recognizing and accepting its mission.

(4) Remove the prohibitive language regarding human sexuality from the Book of Discipline (as was the case before 1972), so that the commissioned group can be a true “Round Table” engaged in Christian Conferencing, not operating under the shadow of existing language.

(5) In the 2016-2020 interim expand the already-existing provisions for local-option Methodism in The Book of Discipline to allow clergy to decide whether or not to conduct same-sex weddings, to allow congregations to determine whether or not same-sex weddings can be held on church property, and to permit Boards of Ordained Ministry to consider whether or not openly LGBT persons can be ordained, including the consideration of how currently-ordained LGBT persons would no longer have to conceal their orientation in order to remain UM clergy.

(6) Let the human sexuality subject (and others identified as building blocks in the Plan of Union) be developed within the context of global United Methodism, expressed in a revised Book of Discipline that provides sections for universal United Methodism, along with sections for what can be regionalized.

(7) Using the internet and other social media, launch a global prayer initiative for the preservation of unity in the UMC, assigning oversight to an existing entity (e.g. Upper Room Living Prayer Center or United Methodist Communications).  Regular “calls to prayer” (with specific prayer requests) would be issued, with congregations interceding in their regular worship services, in other existing groups and meetings, and in special prayer vigils.

Just writing out these ideas (to say nothing of others that will arise at General Conference) is an example of why I believe it is too much to expect the 2016 General Conference to accomplish all this in a ten-day session next May.

For any who would say, “We have waited long enough; we must act now!”, I would only ask how a rushed decision this coming May is better than a reflective one between 2016-2020.  That kind of pressure (from any caucus or conviction) strikes me as antithetical to the holy conversation aimed (by General Conference action–see #1 above) to produce a Plan for Unity to be voted on in 2020.  Having voted to remain united, would it not stand to reason that we would then move to develop the plan for being so?

But more than procedure,  I ground my hope in the belief that an approach akin to this would be a denomination-wide affirmation of Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the God of all flesh.  Is anything too hard to me?”  It would create the soil of humility in which discernment can occur and from which good fruit can come.  It would be an expression of faith in Christian Conferencing as a means of grace that God will use to lead us to be more than we can presently ask or imagine–ending up as a denomination that is even better than we are now because we are willing to respond to the Spirit rather than react to each other.

[To complete this opening idea, I will post again tomorrow]

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UMC: Theme Introduction

The Rev. Chris Ritter has done us a good service on his blog ( by providing helpful overviews and summaries of key issues in The United Methodist Church today, and particularly with respect to the upcoming General Conference next May.  His posts contain numerous links to his thoughts elsewhere and also to ideas and documents from other people and groups.

Today (11/21/15), he posted his take on the four options he believes are most likely to influence the UMC as we head toward Portland.  It is a good review of current reality.

As I read it, I was surprised to see myself mentioned as an influential voice.  I also found Chris’ brief summary of my position to be essentially accurate; that is, that I am trying to be a moderate voice in the conversation. But like everyone else on the spectrum, my position is not a static one, but rather one that is developing (I pray, is maturing) as time goes by.

Being referred to as a “voice, I have decided to begin an occasional blog here on Oboedire entitled “UMC.” I am entitling the posts this way to differentiate it from the larger mission of Oboedire, which is to be a site to assist any Christians in their spiritual formation.  When you see “UMC” you can know I am addressing something in my denomination, and if you are not United Methodist, you can skip that post, or read it, as you like.

I thought about starting a separate blog, but decided to put “UMC” within Oboedire because it is an established site you already know about, and you will not have to subscribe to yet another blogsite to follow my “denominational” thinking.  Also, this will allow a simple archiving of posts in one place as they are written.

These posts will be occasional, and not on a scheduled day of the week. I have no intention at this point to continue them after General Conference next May.

I am hesitatant to even do this much, because I am not a delegate to General Conference–I have no official role at all.  But if I am viewed as a “voice” by some, I do not want to be silent, but rather contributive to the important discussions taking place right now in the UMC. 

As Christians in the Wesleyan tradition, we believe that Christian Conferencing is a means of grace.  And as some of you will know,I have been emphasizing our need to converse together and to talk more, not less.  I suppose I must must do as I say.

Nothing I will write is intended to ignite reactions or further widen gaps that already exist.  We have too much of that already. I have only one aim: to enrich the conversation for the sake of our denomination and more importantly, for the glory of God.  There is nothing good to be gained if we hold our respective cards to our chests and hope for some kind of last-ditch effort within the ten-day period in Portland next May.

So, as you like, I invite you to follow this new thread of posts.  And if you wish, invite others to do so and/or share these writings through your social media.

Come back this coming Monday for more.

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In-Sight: Attitude of Gratitude

I am not usually a cliché Christian–you know, the kind of words that fit on a bumper sticker. 

But truth be told, the phrase “the attitude of gratitude” is difficult to improve.  We must not allow the brevity and cutesy rhyming to turn us away from the fact that gratitude begins as a disposition of our hearts–as an attitude.

Without this attitude, we can find more than enough to dislike, criticize, find fault with, judge, and condemn.  Check it out and you will find that the bitterness expressed by people on the outside is due to the fact that they are bitter people on the inside.   By contrast, grateful people express their gratitude from grateful hearts.

One way to realize this is to ask yourself this question, “Is this person someone I look forward to seeing?–even before a word has come out of their mouth?  Likely, the people we are drawn to are those who are attractive from within.  As soon as we acknowledge this, we need to explore our attitudes to sense whether or not we are the kind of person others look forward to seeing.

This is not shallow naiveté or superficial pretending.  Gratitude is the inner conviction that goodness and blessing are at the core of reality, and that by showing gratitude to others, we are more likely to bring it out them than if we lead off with negativity.  This is what we mean when we sing, “They will know we are Christian by our love.”

Next week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  We will go to the grocery store, purchase all sorts of food, prepare it well, and set our tables attractively.   As we do this, let’s go into our hearts to be sure the attitude of gratitude is ready to be served along with good food.

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In-Sight: Soul Calming

The sign read, “Traffic Calming Ahead.”  I had never seen a sign like that, so I wondered what was awaiting us around the corner as we neared the KOA campground we were going to stay in for the next few days.

When we came to the spot that the sign was describing, it was a speed bump.  That little raised portion of the street designed to cause you to slow down going over it—or—jar loose all your dental fillings if you ignore it.

I have been over many speed bumps in my lifetime, but for some reason this one became a spiritual formation metaphor for me:  “Traffic Calming Ahead.”

I believe God puts “traffic calming” places in our souls–places intended to slow our pace and calm our spirit.  God knows our tendency to go full-steam ahead in our 24/7 world where, by definition, too much is asked of us and thrown at us.

So, God tells us there are “Soul Calming Ahead” moments, and like the speed bumps we can honor them or experience the spiritual jarring effect that jolts us without calming us.  We can race through the soul-bumps and have nothing to show for it but an anxious spirit–worried and troubled about too many things.

Each day has “Soul Calming Ahead” moments provided by nature: sunrise/sunset, leaves moving in the breeze, birds flying in formation, squirrels playing outside our window.  Fall is full of such moments.  In addition, there are spiritual disciplines which help us calm down: silence, solitude, and simplicity.  “Soul Calming Ahead.”

Long ago, David described it this way, “I have calmed and quieted, my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast” (Psalm 131:2).  ” Soul Calming Ahead.”

Slow down.

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Editorial: No Christian Persecution in USA

For months I have been seeing one allegation after another that Christians are being persecuted in the USA.  The “evidence” is drawn from things as diverse as marriage licenses and coffee cups.  Hardly a day goes by without some new “proof” that is supposed to further confirm Christian persecution in this country.  For some, it has become an outright fear campaign.

I decided to do some research on documented religious persecutions in pre-Constantinian Christianity, in the Middle Ages, in and around the Reformation, and also in the Jewish holocaust.  Here is what I found.

We can declare we are being persecuted when there are restrictions and/or prohibitions on…

(1) Travel inside or outside the country

(2) Worship where and how we choose

(3) Housing type and where we can live

(4) Access to basic life necessities (i.e. food, clothing, and shelter)

Added to these four major signs is martyrdom–that is, when governments torture or kill people who profess faith in Jesus Christ.

There are places on the earth where Christians are being persecuted, but the USA is not one of them.  Of course, there are people who disagree with us and take opportunities to oppose Christians.  But that is not persecution, and it is wrong to use that word to describe what is happening.

To say Christians are being persecuted in the USA cheapens the true persecutions occurring elsewhere, and it counterfeits the concept here.  We are not being persecuted.  To continue to claim it does not make it so, but it does make Christians increasingly appear to be more ignorant and spoiled than we  might ever imagine ourselves to be.

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