Along the Way: The Hard Work of Hope”

Earlier today I read an article by Dr. Walter Brueggemann in which he used the phrase “the hard work of hope.” [1] The phrase stuck to the velcro on my soul, putting words to a sentiment I have had for some time: that hope is a verb, not merely a value–an action, not simply an attitude. [2]

Brueggemann used four words to give details to his phrase, saying that the hard work of hope is done through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. Each of the words brings the light of God to bear upon the challenges we face

Resolve….nothing changes apart from our will (individual and collective) to change it. The hard work of hope begins with the decision to do something–and to engage in the change-making now.
“Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Energy….we do not go far in our effort to change something before we realize that it is a supernatural task, and supernatural tasks require supernatural power. Zechariah 4:6 makes this clear, and his prophetic word is a call for us to live by and in the Spirit. The two great commandments and fruit of the Spirit describe this life

Courage….the “principalities and powers” take immediate and great offense when their beliefs are critiqued and their systems are challenged. Demagogues of any kind (civic or religious) will push back using anything (e.g. shaming, shuning, caricaturing, lying) to stay on their self-made pedastals of power. God’s admonition to Joshua to “be strong and courageous” was not a one-off call. It is what God says to anyone who sets out to overcome evil with good. [3]

Imagination….courageous change means “the old must pass away” in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the in-Chtist life–the making of new wineskins. Imagination is not only creativity, it is the conviction that some things will not be perpetuated, and that things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1) will be the conveyors of future realities.

The hard work of hope is what we must engage in today. Quick fixes are no fixes at all in the face of the formidable evil we are currently confronting. We must “incline our hearts into the Lord’ (Joshua 24:23), forming a long-haul spirituality that promotes justice (equality, fairness, inclusion, common good), through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. In the hard work of hope, we offer ourselves as instruments of God’s peace so that “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

[1] Church Anew e-letter, 7/1/22.

[2] Several years ago, Paul Chilcote and I shared this sentiment, going on to write about it in our book, ‘Living Hope.’

[3] The Center for Courage and Renewal, begun by Parker Palmer, is an excellent resource for developing and deploying courage.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #5

Read: “The Hidden Places of Deadness”

In the chapter entitled, “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” Rohr introduced the threefold paradigm that describes how evil exists and acts. In this chapter he uses the paradigm again, this time to show where and how evil hides.

Evil is insidious. In fact, it often does not appear to be bad. It hides under the guise of goodness, benefit, etc. Rohr sums it up by writing, “The triumph of evil depends entirely on disguise.” (p. 43)

This is the longest chapter in the book, but also one of the most helpful, further confirming the message of the previous chapter–that one of the major difficulties in overcoming evil is that so many profit from it.

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Along the Way: Full-Spectrum Reality

If you have followed my writing here on Oboedire and elsewhere, you know that I have found the song “Deep and Wide” to be one of the best ones for understanding the spiritual life. Many of us learned the song as children, so it has been with us for decades inviting us to glean its insights and live its wisdom.

I lived most of my life in the “deep” part of the song. Spiritual depth was my aim, and “the deeper life” (as it is often called) was my working definition of a maturing spirituality. Over the years, I have benefitted immensely from the “deep” side of the song, and I continue to do so.

But like each day’s sunrise, the “wide” side of the song began to shine into my life, illuminating places where the “deep” light had not. There is no way that I can write about this in a blog-length post. But I can name some of the key ways the “wide” light has provided full-spectrum spirituality.

I begin with Scripture, as I have come to recognize its breadth and the diversity of ways people have read, interpreted, and lived its revelation—and doing so within the context of orthodoxy. The splendor of passages like Psalm 19 created a panoramic view of life, and my now longstanding practice of underlining places where the Bible speaks of universality (e.g. “all’ and “everywhere”) and the oneness of everyone and everything (e.g. interbeing and the second great commandment) has increased my reverence for life. More recently, the Bible’s revelation of the Universal Christ (e.g. John 1:3 and Colossians 3:11) has made my understanding of him as “the light of the world” richer than ever.

I move next to the Wesleyan tradition, with its diversity and ecumenism. More recently the Wesleys’ theology of nature has captured my attention and is increasing the light of faith. Charles Wesley tells me there are “a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemer’s praise.” John Wesley’s multi-volume series on natural theology has helped me see the sacredness of all life—of sentient beings and inanimate beings too. All ground is holy, and as Macrina Wiederkehr put it, “every tree is full of angels.”

Within the Wesleyan tradition, I have been most influenced by E. Stanley Jones. Reading all his books (some more than once) has formed my faith to see that “Jesus is Lord” of everyone and everything. His seeing Christ in Gandhi and in world religions has given me a place to stand in order to experience the light and life which further illuminates my path. Jones’ book, ‘The Christ of Every Road’ shows how Pentecost fulfilled and commenced God’s plan from the beginning to unite all things, in heaven and on earth, in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Through the Wesleys, I also came to see the light offered through the Franciscan tradition, beginning with Francis and Clare, but also in their successors into the present day. The Franciscan tradition’s insight that everything belongs has woven the “deep and wide” spectrum into a seamless tapestry of Reality.

And from this tradition, I have been encouraged to “ask the animals” (Job 12:7-9) and finding that they do indeed tell us things about God that humans do not perceive. Through them words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘intelligence’ now extend to the whole of creation, as the Umwelt effect teaches us that human perceptions are only a sliver of all that’s going on—one part of a string (Psalm 19:4) that winds its way through the cosmos.

“Deep and wide”–full-spectrum Reality. The kind that reveals light, life, and love from everywhere….the kind that tells us to share light, life, and love with everyone and everything.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #4

Read: “We Are All Profiting from and Complicit in Evil”

I want to begin this week’s post by saying that I enjoyed being with fifteen of you in the Zoom meeting last Friday. I am glad we have made these gatherings part of our common-reading journey. Even though I have attended many such meetings, this was my first time to host one. We made it, but I have lots to learn!

The next Zoom meeting is July 15th at Noon (ET). In the “Engage” post for Monday, July 11th, I will provide the link.

And now….to this week’s reading…

As we move into chapter four, we enter what I would call a “hard saying”–but one Rohr had to name if we are going to know what to do with evil. That is, we must come to grips with the fact that we benefit from the “dirty rotten system,” and even more, we contribute to it.

Thomas Merton’s prayer opens the chapter and launches our reading, naming our “deep involvement in the collective sin” occurring all around us. We do this inwardly through “our bent to sinning” (Charles Wesley’s phrase) and outwardly through our benefiting from the spoils evil offers us as it vanquishes goodness. Through our condition and consent the status quo becomes a sacred cow.

That’s why it is so difficult to name evil and work to overcome it. Rohr writes about the seven deadly sins and about the laws that protect the powerful while oppressing the powerless. He is right when he says, “Expedience and ambition will always find a law or a scripture to justify their power grab.”

This short chapter is packed with stark realities, all of which we must recognize if we are to overcome evil with good. As the old song says, “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer “

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Along the Way: Oppression in Operation

I occasionally write that my Sociology major in college has served me well over the years, providing insight into my second major, Religion. At the time I graduated, I had no idea how both would interact to enrich my faith development.

The interplay is happening again, this time with respect to oppression theory—that is, how prejudice and institutional power create a system that discriminates against a targeted group, doing so in ways that demean the targeted group and exalt the oppressive group. [1] We see this being done today, and in the religious sphere it is the often-used strategy of Christian fundamentalists. It is a strategy at work in my denomination, the United Methodist Church, by conservative/fundamentalist groups leaving the UMC or planning to do so eventually.

But current as the use of oppression theory is, I began years ago to think about it through other sources: particularly the nature of imperialism in the prophetic era in the Old Testament which Dr. Walter Brueggemann so eloquently exposes, through studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and through Howard Thurman’s book, ‘Jesus and the Disinherited.’ Other resources (e.g. those that educate us to see injustice and engage us to resist it nonviolently) now accompany these three. Once again, my theological sensitivities have been enlivened by sociological insights.

As with any blog post, I can only get you started so that if you want to go farther, you can. Here is the general flow of oppression that we can discern from Scripture, tradition (historical oppression in both state and church), reason (psychology and sociology), and experience (how we see it operating today). The three terms are my summary. The words in parenthesis are those found in other resources.

Abuse (Violence)….This may occur in all sorts of ways. We see it happening today through vilification and vote. However it happens, a group is singled out as problematic, even dangerous. As the “othering” intensifies, the abusers play the victim card, portraying themselves as the ones who are being persecuted by the designated others (or their advocates and allies), leaving them no option but to stand up for (their version of) democracy and/or religion. Claiming to be abused, the abusers deflect attention from reality and create a false narrative (“sanitized history”) that makes them look righteous and hides (or tries to hide) what is going on. By doing so, they buy themselves more time to continue abusing the designated others, often doing so “in Jesus’ name.”

Anxiety (Fear)….The abuse is publically inflicted on a few who are “made examples of” by the abusers. The limited abuse sends a signal to the rest of the drsignated others—a message which says, “If we got these, we can get you too,” and this turns into chaos theory which goes on to say, “As long as we are here, we will keep acting and/or voting this way, further abusing you whenever we have the chance to do so.” Even as a minority, the abusers keep the anxiety (frustration) level as high as they can.

Abandonment (Exit)….Some of the abused conclude, “There is no safe future here for us,” and they leave. What the abusers know is that you do not have to be in the majority to succeed. So, they stay the course, continuing to create conditions that lead the designated others to go elsewhere. This is essentially a purgation based on a “purity” mindset. [2] And it is bolstered by language that fosters the idea that the abusers are the righteous ones who have “been on the Lord’s side” in keeping the faith.

Our nation’s history is exhibit A to illustrate the flow. Racism (abuse) genetated fear among Native-American and Black people, causing them to leave the South in what was called a “great migration.” So, even though the racists lost, they preserved their power by purging the population of the “undesirables.”

This is the flow of oppression theory. Sociology calks it subjugation. It is the flow which the prophets, Jesus, the first Christians, and Christians since have called out and resisted. It is the flow, whether in the state or the church that we must continue to resist. For at it’s heart is the failure to love (as per the two great commandments and the fruit of the Spirit). And as long as oppression theory is in play, we must resist it until love prevails.

[1] Simply google “oppression theory” and a wide door will open into resources that reveal its nature, history, and strategy—particularly in systemic, institutional structures. Sadly, this includes the Church.

[2] We will never know how many have left, abandoning a particular political party for another or a specific church for another. And sometimes, the picture is even more confused as the abusers decide to create new institutions where they can be free from the designated others. We see this occurring in politics and religion today. Sociologists identify it in survivalist movements.

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Christ: Christ is In All #2

The phrase “the hidden Christ in all religions” is sometimes used to describe Christ’s presence in religions other than Christianity. But Paul’s words do not speak of hiddenness, but rather about revelation. We see the essence of Christ in every religion even if we do not see the person of Jesus. Or to say it differently, Christ is found in any who live like him.

This is the ultimate integration. Christ is the thread running throughout the cosmos, binding us to one another with a sacred oneness. Buddhists call it interbeing. Christians call it loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Paul put it, “all are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).I

It is an integration that creates accountability and responsibility. We are, in fact, our brother’s guardian, no matter what Cain said. The universal Christ weaves a tapestry of singularity. Life is life together. Separating the threads destroys the tapestry. Eliminating our oneness destroys the world.

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New UMC: We Believe!

As the new UMC emerges, I look forward to being part of a denomination that conjoins belief and practice, faith and form, message and method to “serve the present age” in a mission that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

John Wesley summed it up in two words, living faith. He compared it with dead orthodoxy, and made it clear that the Methodist movement would unite knowledge and vital piety by spreading scriptural holiness across the land with a vision to reach the marginalized, renew the church and reform the nation.

We are heirs of living faith, and the United Methodist Book of Discipline is written to reflect it. Part III sets forth our doctrinal standards (beliefs) and our theological task (practices), doing so in ways that incarnate the Gospel and reflect our Wesleyan heritage. Putting this together, the new UMC will say to itself and to the world, “We believe!” We have a threefold declaration…

First, we declare what we believe. The doctrinal standards section of Part III spells it out. We believe in,

The historic creeds
The Trinity
Salvation in and through Jesus Christ
The work of the Spirit in us and in all of creation
Our place in the universal Church
The reign of God
The inspiration and authority of Scripture

These things, and more, are then viewed through the lens of our Wesleyan heritage, showing how they have been in our theological DNA from the beginning, and continue to be.

The next section of Part III roots all of this in the Methodist Articles of Religion (which cannot be changed) and the EUB Confession of Faith, which comes alongside the Articles to confirm why we use the word ‘United’ in our name. These two documents affirm the topics above, and go on to affirm additional things…

The Resurrection of Christ
The role of the Old Testament
Original Sin
Free Will
Justification by Faith
The place of good works
Going beyond minimalism via works of supererogation
Sin in believers and the need for ongoing repentance
The Church and the centrality of worship
Ministering in the language of the people
The Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper
The atonement and reconciliation through Christ
Married clergy
Variety in rites and ceremonies (contextualizatiin)
Support of the Government and Civil Authority
Stewardship of our possessions for the common good

Standing on this theological foundation, we exclaim, “We believe!”

Second, we declare how we believe. Part III captures it in three ways: by aligning with the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, by using Wesley’s ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament,’ and by conducting our lives in congruence with the ‘General Rules’ that the Wesleys established for the first Methodists, grounding them in commitments to do no harm, do good, and to practice the means of grace individually and collectively. These things help us turn our beliefs into practices

With this content and these commitments in place, Part III of the Book of Discipline moves to the third declaration of our faith: why we believe. We believe in order to live as God intends, and to help others do the same. We call this “Our Theological Task,” and it is described in terms of its nature, its guidelines (the Wesleyan quadrilateral), its challenges and opportunities, and our ecumenical intention to be a denomination that enriches the entire Church.

With respect to the what, how, and why of our theology we declare our faith. It is faith that is biblical, orthodox, and Wesleyan. No one need leave the UMC to find these things. It is the faith of the historic UMC, and it is the faith that will found and fuel the faith of the new UMC. We believe!

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Along the Way: What About the Bible?

A review of Church history reveals that when critical issues emerge in the Church, alongside the particular topic is the larger matter of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. [1] Some groups claim they are “biblical” and allege others are “unbiblical.” But a closer look reveals that claim is bogus.

Nevertheless, this “straw man” tactic has continued to be used to create false and deceptive right/wrong thinking. We find ourselves once again in such a season. In the midst of controversy over human sexuality, conservatives are alleging that they are the biblical ones, with others being less so—or not at all.

Their recruitment mantra is, ‘Come with us. We are the ones who believe the Bible.” And taken at face value, who wouldn’t want to do that? Problem is, the “we are the biblical ones and they are not” is a lie. It is a lie that is fueling the fire of divisiveness in the nation and in the Church. [2] I write to show that this is so. I begin with a testimony, so there is no doubt what kind of Christian I am, and where I stand relative to the Bible.

I believe in the inspiration and authority as much as any conservative you will ever meet. I do not hesitate to say with John Wesley that “I am a man of one book,” standing for Scriptural Christianity as much as anyone you might know or meet. Here I stand. And many others do as well, despite being caricatured and maligned under a false pretense of being unbiblical.

Three key false allegations allow the biblical/unbiblical lie to stand and to be promulgated. It is happening in the larger conservative Christian community [3] but I am most familiar with the three manifestations in the United Methodist Church.

The first one is using individual variations to justify denominational indictment. In my denomination the conservatives have lied in saying that the denomination no longer affirms doctrines like the virgin birth or the resurrection. That is not true. Of course, there are individual people who may not affirm some things, but that is a far cry from being able to allege the entire denomination has abandoned orthodoxy. Inflating individual variation to the level of institutional infidelity is ludicrous.

The conservatives have their own Achilles’ heel in this regard. One example suffices. Some in their group affirm the inerrancy of the Bible, while others do not. But individual variation is not sufficient grounds for anyone to say that the whole group has abandoned inerrancy. That is, they would never stand for such a false equation of individualism and institutionalism to be made against them, yet they conflate the two when disparaging the United Methodist Church. The biblical/unbiblical allegation is false because it elevates individual differences to the “straw man” status of denominational indictment.

The second false allegation is that progressives do not believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. But we do—I do, as I said above.

The issue is not inspiration and authority, it is interpretation (hermeneutics). Interestingly, some of my conservative friends have said, “Steve, you are right. It is about differences of interpretation, not revelation.” When I ask them why they are not willing to come clean and admit this, the response has been, “If we acknowledge that a progressive interpretation is biblical, it weakens our position.” And that, of course, is precisely what they are unwilling to do—unwilling to admit there are valid, credible, scholarly interpretations (put forward by equally-devoted Jesus followers) other than theirs. [4] And my jaw drops in disbelief that anyone would hide the truth in order to make their position appear to be the only “biblical” view when they know it is not.

The third false allegation is that the historic Church has been uniform in its theology of Scripture and sub-topics like human sexuality. The fact is, there has been much more diversity in orthodoxy than conservatives allege. In Wesleyan language, conservatives have attempted to claim their position is orthodox (i.e. correct) when it is more nearly a doctrine or (in some cases) an opinion—that is, not the only way to look at it.

These three false allegations bring us to the need to ask, ‘So what is true with regard to the United Methodist Church’s view of Scripture?” The answer is plain and readily available. It is in Part III of the Book of Discipline. You can read it for yourself, and when you do, you will find (among other things) these foundational affirmations…

(1) The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church (in effect since 1784), in which the Bible is declared to be “Holy Scripture” containing “all things necessary to salvation.”

(2) The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (in effect since 1963), in which the Bible is declared to contain all things necessary for salvation, and it is “to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”

(3) The Theological Task of the United Methodist Church, which in relation to the Bible is to recognize it is primary (authoritave)—“the living core of the Christian faith.” A long, 12-paragraph section spells this out in detail.

The sum of all is this, United Methodists are biblical, no matter what others may allege. To be led to believe otherwise is deceptive and wrong. It is past time to call out the “straw man” that caricatures the truth.

In our nation and in other denominations right now the same biblical/unbiblical false allegation is being leveled at progressives by conservatives. And while there are things we do not agree on, and over which we disagree vigorously, the belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture is not one of them. It is past the time to name the falsehood and move forward in ways that do not require lies in order to be believed.

[1] I have identified a dozen such issues, and all of them contain claims by one group that they were “biblical” and others “unbiblical.”

[2] My own denomination, The United Methodist Church is in the midst of this controversy, with its episcopacy, agencies, seminaries, and ordination processes alleged to be “unbiblical.” As with the larger, national dynamics, the charge within the UMC is not true.

[3] David Gushee exposes the false allegations in the larger conservative Christian community in his two books, ‘Still Christian’ and ‘Beyond Evangelicalism.’ Diana Butler Bass has recently exposed similar falsehoods in the Christian Fundamentalism movement, with posts on her.”The Cottage” site. Beyond these two people, numerous books about Christian Nationalism uncover the biblical/unbiblical deception used to preserve power and control and advance its “MAGA Jesus” message.

[4] In the “LGBTQ+ Resources” icon on the Oboedire home page I provide a list of books, articles, and resources to validate this claim.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #3

Read: “Paul’s Spiritual Genius”

Much of the spiritual life is paradox. A major one is that we find life through death (John 12:24). Necessary suffering and disorder clean the lens of our vision, enabling us to see clearly. For Paul, he saw the heights when he hit rock bottom. Rohr begins this chapter with this insight and develops it in significant ways. The pattern is Life—Death—Life.

Rohr explores this pattern in numerous ways in this chapter. I counted sixteen, but I may have missed some. But regardless of the number, we are drawn into Paul’s genius—the paradox of which is that we must see evil for what it is (death) before we will be motivated to overcome it. This week’s chapter gives us this vision.

This coming Friday, June 17th at Noon (Eastern Time, USA) we have our first live Zoom conversation. It will last 40 minutes (as per Zoom policy). Here is the link to use in order to join the meeting…

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 931 408 5719
Passcode: s32xDL

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Christ: Christ is in All #1

Christ is in everyone and everything—no exceptions, from the smallest particle to the farthest star. John put it this way, “Everything came into being through the Word” (John 1:3). Nothing and no one excluded.

We do not live in a world that believes this. Under the influence of the false self (individual/collective), we concoct all sorts of ways to be “top dogs.” Supremacy has replaced the original blessing of the imago dei with the original sin of egotism/ethnocentrism. [1] Oneness has been replaced by endless variations of “othering” that do great harm.

These three words of Paul clean the lens of our spiritual vision. If we lived by them, the world would be a different place. We would be “one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” [2] As things are, these three words indict us, while simultaneously offering us the way home. This is the “all flesh” message of the season of Pentecost that we have just entered. All means all. Why? Because Christ is in all.

[1] Matthew Fox, ‘Original Blessing’ Revised Edition (Penguin, 2000). First edition in 1983 by Tarcher-Putnam.

[2] Hymn, “In Christ There is No East or West,” words by John Oxenham, 1913.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #2

Read: “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil”

This short chapter is packed with insight. Taking the threefold paradigm of historic moral theology, Rohr sets the trajectory for what he develops in the rest of the book. When the world, flesh, and devil dynamics converge, they create what Dorothy Day called, “the dirty rotten system.”

And it is a system. Rohr points out that failing to see it as such, “the world and the devil basically got off scot-free for most of Christian history.” This failure, he writes, has led to “many twentieth-century catastrophes that often took place in Christian countries.”

But there’s more—it is a system that benefits its adherents. Rohr devotes chapter four to this idea, but he mentions it in this chapter. “Injustice always profits somebody,” he notes. And the ultimate benefit is that the evildoers come to “think they are doing a holy duty for God.” It is calling evil good. Evil advances appearances, not realities.

It is impossible to underestimate the extent to which we under the guise of evil. As I read this chapter, I thought of these things…

–war justified under the guise of “peace-keeping”
–greed, justified under the guise of “a strong economy”
–voter suppression: justified under the guise of “election integrity”
–male dominance: justified under the guise of “complementarianism”
–subjugation: justified under the guise of “Manifest Destiny”
–power: justified under the guise of “law and order”
–elitism: justified under the guise of “personal freedom”
–exploitation: justified under the guise of “national interest”

Rohr’s chapter reminds us that evil cannot stand the truth. Indeed, as Jesus put it, evildoers prefer darkness to light…precisely because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).

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Along the Way: Oneness & Oneing

The Day of Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church, and there is a sense in which that is true. More on that below. But a look at the text itself (Acts 2:1-21) shows that it was the rebirth of oneness and the ignition of oneing.

Luke uses the language of universality repeatedly to make the point. People from “every nation” were in Jerusalem. “All” of the Christian community was together in the upper room, and the Spirit descended as wind and fire (life and passion) on “each one of them,” so that “they were all filled with the Spirit.”

But from the outset they knew that what had happened to them was intended for “all people.” So, they took it to the streets, and before the end of the day, 3,000 people had been added to the community, with daily additions thereafter. The “splash” of the Spirit in Jerusalem became an immediate “ripple effect” that went everywhere and included everyone.

Pentecost is about oneness, and we call it the birthday of the Church because the first Christians recognized the oneness and immediately set about oneing (Julian of Norwich’s word) the world, eventuating in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, where the oneness was acknowledged and declared to be the essence of the Gospel–that “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

I have said this before, but today on Pentecost Sunday, I say it again: oneness is the message and oneing is the ministry. We call it the message and ministry of reconciliation. The lack of both is the fundamental force that is destroying life and the planet. Pentecost is about oneness and oneing, but fallen-world principalities and powers reverse the flow, creating division and all the destructive things which come from it.

Pentecost was the revelation of radical faith–the faith that “all flesh” is in-Spirited. It remains the radical-faith Sunday in the Christian year when we go against the grain of political and religious imperialism to re-experience and declare that “all means all.’ The Church is birthed and re-birthed when we proclaim that Christ has broken down dividing walls so that oneness is our reality and oneing is our mission.

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Christ: Christ is All #2

Continuing our look at Paul’s first three words about Christ, it is important to make clear he was not trying to impose Christianity on any other religion. Rather, he was recognizing the presence of Christ in every religion—and even more, the presence of Christ in everyone and everything.

Thich Nhat Hanh has affirmed this in his writings as a Buddhist. [1] Martin Aronson’s anthology, ‘Jesus and Lao Tzu’ expands the same vision, one the first Christians attributed to Christ’s own testimony, “It is I who am the all. From me did all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.” [2]

Paul’s first three words about Christ are declarations of discovery. In this sense we do not take Christ anywhere; we find Christ everywhere. [3] As we live each day, we too must be on the lookout for Christ wherever we go.

[1] His book, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ’ is his best known teaching about the universal Christ

[2] ‘The Gospel of Thomas,’ saying 77.

[3] This is, in fact, the vision he had as he spoke to the Athenians in Acts 16:16-34.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #1

Read: Introduction

Today we begin our common reading of Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ I join with you in praying that our experience will be a means of grace. I have heard from a few of you who have gotten the book and already read it. It is that kind of book. I hope our slower pace will now give you an opportunity to read it again with benefit. If you are reading it for the first time, it will quickly seep into your soul.

I had no idea that our reading would be set against the backdrop of so much “in your face” evil. Beginning in our country, the thread of evil winds itself around the world in a suffocating grip. The need for this kind of book is greater than when Rohr wrote it, and greater than when I suggested that we read it together. Evil grows more aggressive and dangerous. But even though the challenges are increasingly formidable, we are not without guidance when it comes to recognizing and resisting it. Rohr’s book is one resource for doing this.

Each Monday, I will write a post related to what we will be reading that particular week. I have intentionally kept each week’s reading brief. Many of you who are on the journey have indicated that you are adding it to your already full life. The “chapter by chapter” approach will take us longer, but hopefully it will make our experience richer…and less frenetic.

In this week’s reading we get a big-picture overview which takes us beyond a personal-sin focus that can prevent us from seeing evil for what it is—a “dirty rotten system” (Dorothy Day) which masquerades as good and godly. But with “eyes to see” (Mark 8:18) evil for what it is, we also recognize God’s systemic salvation (Ephesians 1:9).

Moreover, we realize we are in this thing together, both in terms of our culpability and our call to be instruments of God’s peace in overcoming evil with good here and now.In the first thirteen pages of the book, we know we are in for a transforming experience.

I encourage you to keep a journal or make notes in the book itself (there is ample white space to do this), so that you can record your experience. Use the format most natural for you, but here some possible reflection questions,
(1) What’s the “big idea” I received?
(2) Why is it important for me to have right now?
(3) How can I practice it in my life?
(4) How can I use it for the good of others?

Finally, here are the dates for the four Zoom sessions we will have for our online holy conferencing. As per Zoom regulations, we will meet for 40 minutes. The sessions begin at Noon (Eastern Time, USA). I will include the meeting link in the “Engage” post the Monday before the Zoom session. The dates for the meetings are, June 17, July 15, August 5, and August 25. Note that the last meeting is on a Thursday; the other sessions are on Friday.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me using the Oboedire email: oboediresite@
Off we go!

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New UMC: Normal New

Not long after the pandemic began, and church changed in all sorts of ways, people began to ask, “How long before we get back to normal?” The question morphed into the sense that some things have changed permanently, and that we are moving into a new normal. The question became, “What will the new normal look like?”

I resonate with both questions, but I no longer see the future as getting back to normal or moving into a new normal. My reason for viewing things differently is with respect to the word ‘normal’ when it is the noun. Whether old or new, when ‘normal’ is the noun, it is the word where our thinking begins—in whatever categories our understanding of ‘normal’ exist. I no longer think the word ‘normal’ (old or new) as a noun is the way forward. I am moving it into the place of an adjective…

The Normal New.

I do not have this all thought out, but I want to offer it as a template for envisioning the new United Methodist Church. I offer the following ideas, but I do so as one who is still on the path of discerning what it might mean. A Normal New.

New is the noun. This means we are not engaged in recovering, restoring, reinvigorating, or remodeling anything. Or to say it another way: there are no sacred cows or status quos to protect and defend. If we are in Christ, we are new creations; the old must pass away so that the new can come (2 Corinthians 5:17). If we do not live in this truth, our default ‘normal’ will take over and inhibit the “new creation” journey.

E. Stanley Jones saw that inhibiting when he attended a conference in 1938 in Madras, India. It was a conference intended to bring the Christian denominations in India together, to restore greater ecumenism and cooperation. But it did not happen, and Jones left deeply disappointed, writing that,

“I missed a church which started from where Jesus started, the Kingdom of God, and found a church which started with itself and therefore, largely ended with itself…dangerously near to fulfilling the statement of Jesus when he said, ‘he that saveth his life shall lose it.’’ I missed a church which said the Kingdom of God is the hope of the church and of the world, and found instead a church which said, ‘I am the hope of the world.’ I missed a church loyal to the Kingdom of God and found a church loyal to its own fellowship.” [1]

This is exactly why ‘normal’ must not be the noun. It takes over before God has the opportunity to get in a word edgewise. We cannot avoid this, especially if we have hung out in the institutional Church for any length of time. It is just where our conditioned minds go. But to acknowledge this is where God’s future has a chance to be seen. The new UMC will become new if new is the noun. The sky is the limit when new is the noun.

So…what about normal? If it is the adjective, we can use it without it using us. As an adjective it is a servant, not a master. It holds in view the reality that movements cannot exist without manners, methods, and machinery. The content has to have a container. The first Christians soon discovered this after Christ ascended (Acts 2:42 onward). The emergence of the new UMC will require some kind of manifestation. Faith and form are distinct, but not divided.

So….here I am. In search of a Normal New—God’s new creation, the Kingdom of God. I have miles to go before I sleep. But I have awakened to a fresh vision that is cleaning the lens through which I am trying to look to see the new UMC.

A Normal New.

[1] Quoted in ’30 Days With E. Stanley Jones’ by John E. Harnish (Front Edge Publishing, 2022), 82. The statement was one Jones wrote in an article in The Christian Century magazine in 1938 entitled, “What I Missed at Madras.”

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Christ: Christ Is All #1

Colossians 3:11a

The earliest Christian statement of faith was, “Jesus is Lord.” It was a radical affirmation, announcing the belief that Jesus was Yahweh incarnate, and that Caesar was not Lord, as he claimed to be. Three words reset the religious and cultural world. They also ignited intense persecution against Christians (Hebrews 11).

But there was more going on. John Wesley pointed to it in his notes on the Old Testament, showing that the ‘jah’ in Yahweh was the ‘jao’ in Taoism and other Eastern religions. [1] In other words, the first Christians affirmed Christ in the broadest way possible.

Paul’s words are a three-word synonym, with the same comprehensiveness. Today, we might put it this way, “Christ is reality.” This is not triumphalism, it’s testimony. This is the cosmic Christ, of whom nothing fuller can be said. [2]

[1] John Wesley’s comment is found at Psalm 68:4 in his ‘Notes on the Bible,’ still available in multiple formats.

[2] Matthew Fox, ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ’ (Harper & Row, 1988).

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Engage: The Transformation Pattern

Next week, we begin our common reading of Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?” Next week’s post (and each Monday thereafter) will serve as a guide for our group.

But before we get into the details given to us in the book, we need to see that it is a resource set against the background of what Rohr calls “the pattern for spiritual transformation.” [1] It unfolds through three phases,

ORDER…in this phase we establish an identity, world view, belief system, group affiliations etc. that give us a sense of place and security. This first phase is essential, but given the propensity of egotism and ethnocentrism to create comfort zones and sacred cows, we can turn anything into an idol, which then moves us to defend it and resist change. But if we are to move with the fresh wind of the Spirit filling our sails, we must understand that “the old” must pass away in order for “the new” to come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

DISORDER…in this phase we experience “system failure” of some kind. Disorder is liminal space, an in-between time that ignites a necessary emptying which then leads to an infilling. We feel disoriented, unsure, and insecure as our status quos and sacred cows fall by the wayside. We do not know where we will go, but we know we cannot go back. God is calling us to leave one thing and go to another (Genesis 12:1).

REORDER…little-by-little we enter a new phase, seeing and hearing differently. A reorientation ignites new associations and actions. We are new creations who “engage ourselves unto the Lord” in fresh ways. In the context of this “Engage” series, the reordering includes a nonviolent resistance to evil, overcoming it with good. We experience life together with others who have offered themselves to God in this regard.

These phases can occur in relation to the stages of human development, but they are not just three phases we go through between birth and death. They are repeated processes which continue the “tearing down and building up” (dying/rising) experience in maturation. They are confirmations of impermanence, and reminders that to grow is to change. We are always “in the making” (as E. Stanley Jones described it), moving from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Reading Richard Rohr’s book, beginning next Monday, will assist us in maturing us with respect to how we respond to evil. I am looking forward to this common-reading experience with you.

[1] He introduced the pattern in his book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (pages 253-248). He has since written a book that further develops the concept, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’

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Along the Way: Another Inquisition

Jeannie and I have stood in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I imagine some of you reading this have as well. It was one of the main locations (there were many others across Europe) for the Inquisition. [1]

Alleged infidels were rounded up and interrogated by “the righteous.” With unbridled authority, they could unilaterally determine who was in and who was out. Expulsion was without due process and recourse. Dismissal was immediate.

If the guilt was grave, they were led across the plaza, down a long stairway, and on to a place (where a memorial cross now stands) where they were beheaded. All “in the name of God” and for the upholding of orthodoxy. The inquisitionists rejoiced. Jesus wept.

We have entered another inquisitional age, where self-righteous tribunals have declared themselves to be God-appointed guardians of true faith. In their “pure church” councils and enclaves, they define orthodoxy to suit their aims, one of which is the exclusion of those who are not like them. Their prayer book begins, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…” (Luke 18:9).

Nancy Pelosi’s being barred from Holy Communion by the Archbishop of San Francisco is the latest illustration of the inquisitional spirit. But it It is not a Roman Catholic problem; the spirit is alive and well in Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and non-denominational Christianity. It is active and dangerous in other world religions.

But keeping things in the context of Christianity, it is the spirit by which Christian fundamentalism/nationalism advances–a legalism that traffics in shaming. [2] And like the Inquisition, great harm is done–harm that was viewed as “defending the faith” at the time, but in retrospect is seen to have been destroying it.

And so it will be again.

[1] We usually think of the Inquisition as a short-lived, intense persecution. But in all its iterations it ran from 1184–1834.

[2] Diana Butler Bass’ post on May 4th, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” (part of a larger series about Christian fundamentalism) reveals how shaming is a deformative tactic.

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Site Update: New LGBTQ+ Resource

On the Oboedire home page, you will find the “LGBTQ+ Resources” icon at the top of the page.

I have added an outline entitled, “All Means All: A Wesleyan Theology of LGBTQ+ Affirmation.” It utilizes the Wesleyan quadrilateral as the interpretive lens for developing a theology of affirmation and inclusion within which the church offers to LGBTQ+ people all of its sacraments, ceremonies, offices, and ministries.

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Christ: All Means All

[Note: As this series unfolds, just a reminder that I am writing it because I believe that Christology is not an abstract theologizing, but rather is at the heart of the new Awakening. This series will, over time, develop a vision of the universal Christ (excarnate and incarnate) which is our means of recovering the oneness we must have if we are to survive. Today’s post makes this point.]

“Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

I agree with E. Stanley Jones when he said of this verse, “Nothing in all literature can compare with this.” [1] These six words provide the summary of who Christ is. In our time of new Awakening, Paul’s words have become the lens through which I look to see God’s work, and in Christ I see the One who is the source, substance and spirit of it. I understand the new Awakening in relation to the universal Christ.

The first thing we see is the comprehensiveness of Christ’s person and work. Paul breaks the six-word message into two three-word parts, and the word ‘all’ is used in both. All means all.

I see this in the first doublet: Christ is all. I have affirmed this from the outset of my profession of faith in Christ in 1963. The second doublet: Christ is in all, has been a newer discovery, although I now see how far back seeds of this were being sown which are now bearing fruit. This is where we begin in seeing Christ as the heart of it all. We will spend extra time exploring Paul’s words: “Christ is all and in all.” All means all.

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 40, Saturday

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Along the Way: Now More Than Ever

Recently on a phone call with a former student who is struggling spiritually, I said to him, “I am more in love with Christ than I have ever been.” I spoke the words as an encouragement to him; the words fit the moment and context of our conversation. But as I shared them, they encouraged me too, and my soul rose up to exclaim, “It’s true! I really am in love with Christ now more than ever.”

Some would not say that of me. To them I have “gone down the slippery slope,” or to say it another way, I have “gone off the map and sailed where there be dragons.” But despite their allegations, I declare, “I am more in love with Christ than I have ever been.”

Why do I say this? Because I see him everywhere and in everything. As Paul put it, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11), and I agree with E. Stanley Jones that those six words are the most important ones ever written. [1] They increase my vision of Christ, and the expansion increases my love.

One way to say it is this: I do not have Christ, he has me. And more, as Christians, we do not have Christ, he has us. And in that relationship Christ says, “Follow me, and I will show you what I am up to.” In that following he says over and over, “Look, I am here”…..”Look, I am there.” Then he blows all the sides out of my box and says, “I am Alpha and Omega.” And just as those words transformed John’s vision on Patmos, they transform mine in Florida.

The universal Christ has me now in ways I never experienced, and with it comes the increase of love. It is no accident that when Paul described the “in Christ” life (2 Corinthians 5:17), the next thing he mentioned was that those who are in Christ are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5;18-19)—the ministry of being instruments of God’s peace for the restoration of oneness willed by God in the beginning. It is living in the new Awakening (at the heart an awakening of love) in ways that witness to the grand truth that “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), and that just as all died in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). All means all.

It all happens as the cosmic Christ is on the move everywhere and in everyone telling them every way he can, “You are God’s beloved. This is my Father’s world.” And….he includes us in the privilege of getting that word out to everyone through our attitudes and actions, our words and deeds.

It is impossible not to love Christ more when this magnificent revelation washes onto the shore of your soul as a fresh wave of grace (John 1:16). I am not on a slippery slope, “I’m pressing on the upward way. New heights I’m gaining every day. Still praying as I’m upward bound, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.” [2]

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 40, Saturday.

[2] Hymn, “Higher Ground.”

[This post also appears on Ob

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Engage: A New Awakening

Last week I stated my conviction that we are living in a new Awakening. [1] I also refer to our time as “living in a Micah moment” (Micah 6:8.) It is a time of global crisis brought on by imperialism (collusion between politics and religion), demagogic leadership, and manifested in a plethora of ways that do great harm. It is a time that preserves supremacists who enrich the few at the expense of the many.

A Micah moment is also a time of opportunity—a time in which we “engage ourselves unto the Lord” (John Wesley) both to take aim and take action in overcoming evil with good. It is a time of deep trust that God is light, and that the darkness will not ultimately prevail (John 1:5).

The nouns in Micah 6:8 inspire us to take aim at justice, kindness, and humility. We aim for life that promotes the common good, shows compassion, and eschews hubris.

The verbs in Micah 6:8 enable us to take action through doing, loving, and walking. We enact long-haul discipleship, relating to everyone graciously, and doing so in every area of our lives.

In her book, ‘Fortune,’ Lisa Sharon Harper describes our time as an invitation from God to fix what is broken. In this time of new Awakening, we are players, not spectators. And thanks to Micah, we know where and what the Lord requires of us.

Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ is an excellent common reader to expand on Micah’s message. We begin reading it together on May 30th. You have time to get it and become part of the “Engage Group” experience. If you decide to do so, there is no formal registration, but it would be nice to know you will be on the journey. Use the Oboedire email ( to let me know.

[1] I have a “New Awakening” series on Oboedire. It fleshes out what I only mention in this post. It is archived on the home page sidebar.

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Christ: The Universal Christ

Revelation 1:8, 22:13

We begin our look at Christ using the most expansive words he spoke about himself. From these words we derive our belief in the cosmic Christ, universal in his excarnate and incarnate person and work. The words he spoke to John open and close the Book of Revelation, framing the letter’s message…and our faith.

‘Alpha and Omega’ is a phrase of height, depth, width, length, breadth, and time. It means all-encompassing. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said this himself, “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone and you will find me there” (saying 77). [1]

John was soaking all this up as he followed the incarnate Christ (Jesus) all the way through to his experience of the excarnate Christ on Patmos. His gospel and four letters (1,2,3 John and Revelation) reveal the universal Christ. And so we sing that Christ is “so high we can’t get over him, so low we can’t get under him, so wide we can’t get around him.” Once we see him in his glory, we do not want to.

[1] James M. Robinson, ed , ‘The Nag Hammadi Library,’ revised edition (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 135.

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Engage: Heading Toward the Light

Without reminding you about things you already know, I begin by saying we are likely in for hard times. I expect this will occur on multiple fronts…all at once. We are living in trying and dangerous times.

I do not say this as a “dooms day” pundit. I believe we are in a time of Awakening, but the journey into it will be more challenging than ever before. The old does not “pass away” quickly or easily as the new comes (2 Corinthians 5:17). And as the Awakening advances, it will be “new” in more ways than we can predict. Many of our sacred cows, status quos, security systems, and comfort zones will fall by the wayside, leaving us to live in what Richard Rohr calls, “the naked now.”

Living as Rohr envisions it calls for a thorough cleaning of the lens so that we “see as the mystics see”—that is, see discerningly with both realism and hope. It is “having eyes to see” as Jesus put it in Mark 8:18. Living well in this time of Awakening requires realism and resolve. It means having faith even when what we hope for is not seen (Hebrews 11:1), and that faith (as the rest of Hebrews 11 shows) includes suffering. But it is a journey in which we are heading toward the light.

In our day, new-awakening living includes knowing what to do with evil. Hence, our use of Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ as our first common reader. If you intend to participate in the “Engage” group experience, you still have time to get the book. We begin reading it together on May 30.

We are living in perilous times. But as we do so, we are heading toward the Light. God is doing a new thing today (Isaiah 43:19). We can live abundantly and be instruments of God’s peace in these days. I hope “Engage” will contribute to that for you.

You do not have to formally register to be in the group. But if you intend to do so, I would like to hear from you. Use the Oboedire email ( to be in touch.

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Christ: An Amazing Revelation

John 20:30, 21:25

Writings about Christ begin in various ways. I choose to begin this series using the word ‘amazing.’ I take my cue from John, who gathered up his experience of Christ with this sentiment and testimony. I say the same. Everything about Christ is summed up in the word ‘amazing.’

For one thing, It is amazing how little we know about Christ. This will be clear in the posts having to do with the excarnate Christ, but as John noted, the same can be said about the incarnate Christ, whom we call Jesus. The four gospels give us accounts of about ninety days of his life, with a few passages looking beyond Christ’s time on earth. But taking everything into account, it is only a glimpse—again as John pointed out.

But even a glimpse of Christ is amazing, and that is how I want to begin this journey into Christ. In the Bible (including Deuterocanonical books) and outside it (e.g. the Nag Hammadi texts), the little we know about Christ has been enough for people to live and die for him, and to bear his name. Amazing! I hope what you will read in this series will keep the word ‘amazing’ in your heart and mind and on your lips as a whispered prayer response to your experience of Christ.

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Engage: Introduction

Living in a New Awakening means living in a time of disorder. [1] The twisting and turning leaves us hopeful some days, and discouraged on other days. It helps explain the two aspects of faith the writer of Hebrews wrote about– “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). The rest of the chapter describes the disorder Christians were experiencing.

To live well in such a time requires courage and community. [2] The book of Hebrews sought to offer both to the early Christians. The “Engage” component of Oboedire begins today, with the aim of assisting in the formation of both these attributes today.

Community will occur through common reading, a formative practice used in Christianity and other religions for a long time. Courage will be fostered by reading books that look realistically at the time in which we live, looking at this time with hope, and looking at it with the intent to (as John Wesley put it), “engage ourselves unto the Lord.” [3] He meant an engagement rooted and enacted in relation to the two great commandments with the increase of personal and social holiness in our lives.

The book we will read together first is Richard Rohr’s ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ It is exactly the way I want “Engage” to begin, for it asks the question we are all asking, and it provides wise counsel in response to it. It increases our courage for living well.

The book can be ordered directly on the Center for Action and Contemplation website (, via Amazon Books (not Kindle Books), or through an independent bookseller near you. [4] With postal delays increasing, order the book soon to insure it arrives in time for us to begin reading it together on May 30th.

Between now and then, I will add some additional “Engage” posts. From May 30th onward, I will post a brief weekly guide for each week’s reading.

Community will also happen through occasional Zoom meetings while we are reading the book, occasions where we can share insights, ask questions, and practice the means of grace called holy conferencing. I will announce these meetings in advance and provide the link for joining the 40-minute meeting. I plan to offer the them at Noon (Eastern Time). Through each one we will experience what Eugene Peterson called “the ministry of small talk.”

Everything on Oboedire is voluntary. You do not have to register to be part of the “Engage” group. But if you would like me to know you are joining the journey, send me an email: It would be nice to have an idea as to who and how many of us are on the journey.

My intent is to follow our reading of Rohr’s book with Walter Brueggemann’s ‘Tenacious Solidarity.’ He expands on many things we will discover from Richard Rohr, with applications to economics, racism, climate, and religion. Reading these two books together will be a rich experience for us. The two books will lay a good foundation upon which we can build. And more, they will give us a place to stand in our respective ministries of engagement.

The “Engage” journey is more of a marathon than a sprint. “Engaging ourselves unto the Lord” is not an event or a program; it is an ongoing commitment we make. And it is one facilitated through a “life together” practice. I hope the “Engage” experience will be a means of encouragement and education to that end.

You can read more about “Engage” on the top of the Oboedire home page by clicking on the “Engage Group” icon

[1] Richard Rohr describes the journey in his book, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’–the transformative process of moving from order, to disorder, to reorder.

[2] The Courage Renewal movement begun by Parker Palmer years ago offers a wealth of resources for cultivating courage and enacting it through nonviolent resistance.

[3] This phrase was part of the invitation extended to worshippers in the Covenant Renewal Service of early Methodism. It was an annual means to keep the flame of long-haul discipleship burning. It is still used today. Magrey deVega’s book, ‘One Faithful Promise’ is an excellent exploration of the Service and the importance of covenant living faith.

[4] On some sights, the book is entitled, ‘The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: What Do We Do With Evil?”—which moves the original subtitle to the main title.

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New UMC: Withness

This is the final post in this series, at least in the sense of an opening round of posts. I may add to it as time goes by.

I have written with the confidence that the new UMC has a “future filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11), as we move forward to develop and express an inclusive theology of love. “All means all” is a controversial declaration, but it is the Gospel, and it is the message for such a time as this—a time of new Awakening when God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) and we are called to join in. [1]

In Wesleyan language, this means we are called “to serve the present age.” [2] As a third-order movement, early Methodism was positioned and energized to do so. And as we recover a third-order mindset, we can be too.

Summarizing this for me has come down to the word ‘withness.’ It is not a word I came up with, but one I have discovered as I have developed the first round of posts in this series. It comes directly from the book, ‘Contextual Intelligence’ co-authored by Leonard Sweet and Michael Beck. But as I have seen how they use it (to call the Church to renewal), I recognize it is an expression of something I have known about for a long time: incarnational ministry. [3]

Withness is another way to describe the Immanuel Principle—that God is with us, and our life with God issues from this Reality. [4] Withness is a good word to connect the idea of Third Orders to the new UMC, with early Methodism as a third-order movement that illustrates the idea in theology and ministry. The new UMC will be a “withness” manifestation. Here are some ways that I see this playing out.

First, being with each other. Formative community is the root which produces the fruit of authentic witness. Making disciples (not converts or members) begins with ourselves before it becomes a ministry to others. Without this, we have little or nothing to invite people to join. [5]

Second, being with the times. This is the continuous process of discernment necessary for congregations to “serve the present age” with intellectual, emotional, and social intelligence. This keeps us informed and responsive, enabling us to be an adaptive church in a changing world.

Third, being with our location. This is the withness of concrete presence that keeps the church grounded, literally. This is the hands-on expression of incarnational ministry that keeps individual congregations visible and neighborly. We cannot claim to be missional if those nearest to us are underserved.

Fourth, being with those who check us out. When people make the effort to seek us out (by attendance, conversation, or online), we must be ready to tell them who we are (identity) and extend to them all the sacraments, ceremonies, and offices/ministries of Christianity (hospitality). As they say, we only have one chance to make a first impression.

Fifth, being with the world. Each day, we fan out all over the world serving Christ through “many services.” Here is where in-person and virtual ministries give 21st century meaning to “the priesthood of all believers” as the new UMC continues to say, The world is our parish.”

These are all expressions of life together. They address the “nones and dones” concern that the church is irrelevant to them, or worse, a negative influence. They speak to Christians who have suspected that there is more to discipleship than church membership. They connect the daily practice of our vocations to the mission of God. Withness is what the world needs. We are destroying ourselves and the earth for lack of it.

As a third-order movement, the new UMC has the opportunity to be one of the wineskins into which God’s new wine can be poured and through which it can be poured out. What could be more exciting than that?

[1] The “New Awakening” series on Oboedire looks at this in a larger context. The new UMC is only one means God is using to bring it to pass. You can follow this series to see the bigger picture.

[2] Charles Wesley, “A Charge to Keep.”

[3] Richard Foster develops this in his book, ‘Streams of Living Water.’

[4] Richard Foster develops the Immanuel Principle in his book, ‘Life With God,’ and this idea is the organizing design for the ‘Life With God Bible’ produced by the Renovaré ministry.

[5] I have benefitted greatly in my understanding of “making disciples” from Dallas Willard’s writings, especially ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ and ‘Renovation of the Heart.’ This has shaped my view of spiritual formation, standing along with Robert Mulholland in his books, ‘Invitation to a Journey’ and ‘The Deeper Journey’ and with Richard Foster in his books, ‘Celebration o Discipline’ and ‘Life With God.’ The Renovaré ministry, the Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation, the Dallas Willard Institute, and Richard Rohr’s Living School are four examples of ministries that teach this understanding of discipleship formation.

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New UMC: Movement Networking

In the previous post in this series I wrote that a movement mindset in the new UMC will produce a renewed commitment to locality. In the Wesleyan tradition this intention is not toward independence, but remains in the context of a network called connectionalism. From the outset, the Wesleys used language that kept the movement communal…

“The United Societies”
“The General Rules”
“The people called Methodist”
“The Methodist Connection”

There are at least two ways that the Wesleys understood connectionalism. The founding documents of Methodism reveal this. [1]

The first expression of networking was structural. The Annual Conference (the first one was in 1743) became the means for facilitating cooperation and coordination for the movement. [2] Each year, delegates gathered to practice the means of grace called holy conferencing, exploring three primary matters: what to teach, how to teach, and what to do. Responses were compiled into Minutes which guided the movement as-a-whole for the next twelve months. In many ways, the Minutes described the vocation of Methodism and were the essence of “the Connection.” [3] The Minutes kept Methodism updated and responsive, as well as grounded.

Structural connectionalism gave the Methodist movement its soul, its essence, its values. Beginning with foundational documents (reminiscent of Third Orders)–“The Character of a Methodist” and “The General Rules”–and annual holy conferencing, structural connectionalism provided the core values of Methodism and kept it current and responsive. Structural connectionalism helped prevent independence, subjectivism, and rogue leadership. The future UMC will continue to need this, but the makeup of it must be simpler, and more will likely be via technology than bricks-and-mortor.

The second expression of networking was missional. Methodism’s commitment to locality (noted in the last post) connected it to people in specific places and situations. This factor alone distinguished Methodism from other conventional religion of the day. Absentee clergy and a “come to” mentality distanced much of the Church from the people they were called to serve. By contrast, early Methodism connected with the people, offering them Christ in pluriform ways. In our time Chuck Collins sees connectionalism as “being in authentic relationships where you show up with your vulnerability.” [4] I think the Wesleys saw missional connection that way. The early Methodists showed up. We must too. [5]

Just as structural connectionalism in the future UMC will be more technological, so too will missional connectionalism. The cyber, digital world is redefining both stucture and locality. The pandemic has accelerated a new paradigm, and the new UMC must not go back to “business as usual.” Connectionalism and having the world as our parish calls for new visions, intentions, and means. [6] Recovering a third-order movement mindset gives us the language to do this.

This commitment to connectionalism further reflects the Third Order nature of Methodism. The Wesleys third-order leadership had the same instinct (structurally and missionally), and produced a formative bond for all the local manifestations of Methodism. The new UMC must remain connectional in this dynamic way—the way that integrates locality and linkage. This too is in our DNA, not only in our Methodist heritage but in Christianity as well.

But make no mistake, this is a counter-cultural decision that flies in the face of congregationalism. We live in a time when the cultural spirit of autonomy and independence has infected the Church. The disease has spread to concerning proportions which create formidable challenges, “the decline of denominational loyalty and the rise of ‘pastor warlords’ who run their churches with little or no accountability.” [7] The new UMC must eschew policies and practices which reflect this.

Instead, we must work for a future UMC that exists by way of life together. If the Wesleys could conjoin locality and structure (the local church and the world parish) in their connectionalism, so can we. So must we.

[1] As a third-order movement, early Methodism had a Constitution and Rule. “The Character of a Methodist” established the principles of Methodists. “The General Rules” enjoined the practices. Methodist community was marked and directed with connectionalism in view.

[2] Henry D. Rack, ed., “The Methodist Societies, The Minutes of Conference,” The Works of John Wesley(Bi-Centennial Edition), Volume 10 (Abingdon Press, 2011).

[3] Paul Chilcote’s book, ‘Wesley Speaks on ChrIstian Vocation’ takes the three questions and shows how they can advance the sense of vocation in our day.

[4] Chuck Collins is co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good. This quote came in The Daily Good eletter, 4/26/22.

[5] Here is a good place to remind ourselves that we have existing structural components where we “show up.” UMCOR is an example. As the institutional nature of the new UMC is discerned, these must be sustained and other structures will need an increase of go-to mentality. Structure for mission will increasingly characterize the new UMC

[6] The Fresh Expressions ministry offers wisdom and guidance for this. Path 1 at the GBOD has a Wesleyan component overseen by Michael Beck. The new UMC will take shape from this.

[7] Russell Smietana, “The Vineyard was built on friendship and shared values. Then a leading pastor split” Religion News Service, April 21, 2022. His article exposes the dangers of excessive individualism and independence in North American Christianity. We have gone too far in these things in some United Methodist congregations.

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The New UMC: Movement Locality

Thinking of the new UMC as a third-order movement gives us the opportunity to combine two key dynamics: locality and networking. Early Methodism expressed both, and so can we. In this post we’ll look at Wesleyan locality. In the next post we will explore Wesleyan networking.

When John Wesley said, “I look upon all the world as my parish,” he was stating his vision. That vision was realized at the local level through bands, classes, and societies. The Methodist movement operated close to home, reflecting the nearness of the kingdom of God and incarnational ministry. This commitment to locality must be a hallmark of the new UMC. As Will Willimon put it, we must “learn to love the local.” In this post I offer thoughts about what this might look like.[1]

First, place. Congregations should identify their “ministry zone.” Nothing makes mission more concrete than this. [2] Establish a radius (e.g. one mile in all directions) and name it as your holy ground for service. Put up a map with your ministry zone encircled, as a visual reminder. [3]

One of the learnings may be how many of the congregation’s members live outside the zone. No wonder the church seems distant and invisible in relation to its locality. Many members are never there. They don’t work in the zone, shop in the zone, go to school in the zone, or have relationships/friendships with people who live in it. Establishing a ministry zone is one way to see this and begin to take steps to change it.

The band and class meetings (some societies too) were geographic, within walking distance. The people who met together for spiritual formation had other interactions to strengthen their relationship. Locality keeps this potential alive in our minds and methods.

Second, proaction. Become familiar with your ministry zone by walking the beat, getting to know the people and listening to them. This is a reignition of the parish concept, and it is a “back to the future” understanding of ministry the Church needs to recover.

Early Methodism had a go-to mentality. Class leaders knew their territory and visited from house to house. Their meetings were attractional because their context was missional. They asked, “How is it with your soul?” not only in their group meetings, but also in their neighborhood contacts.

In my course on Social Spirituality, one of the assignments was for students to interview someone proximate to the congregation they attended or pastored. It might be city council member in whose district the church was located. Or maybe a public safety officer in that area, or a public school principal, community social worker, health-care provider, business owner, etc. Someone in the zone.

The interview could vary, but it was generated by two questions, “What is not around here that needs to be?”…..and…..”What could our congregation do to improve things?” Needless to say, the responses were revealing.

But the most surprising thing was how often interviewees said, “You’re the first person from that church to ask me these things.” A doctor who was interviewed by one student seized the moment to add this note, “The thing that bothers me most about preachers is that they act like they have all the answers, but they have never asked any questions.” Wow! Ouch! Being proactive is one way to change that perception.

Third, partnerships. The future church (not just the new UMC) will be collaborative. It will avoid redundancy by joining with existing ministries (ecclesial and civic) that are serving in the identified ministry zone. Most of them need workers. The future church will not reinvent the wheel, it will grease the wheels already there.

The ecumenical nature of early Methodism made it colaborative. The vision was to “offer Christ’ through various means, and if those means already existed, the Methodists joined in.

I think back to one church I served. Like the others in the community, it was small. One of the things we fellow pastors lamented was insufficient youth ministry. None of us could afford a full-time youth minister. One was able to hire a summer youth worker. But the rest of us muddled along.

Ironically, we could have had someone year-round if we would have had a community vision rather than a denominational one. But because we were siloed, we were unable to respond to a need we agreed we all had. Even now there are places all over the land who could do things if they partnered in doing them.

Fourth, pieces. This point connects to the interviews mentioned above. Students received specific ideas. They carried them back to their congregation to become part of a discernment process with the spirit, “We cannot do everything, but we can do something.” They knew that discernment includes choice, and doing a few things well.

With nearly 400,000 congregations in the USA, that adds up to a lot of pieces, a lot of specific ministries (“in the zone”) that could make things better in each locale.

I recently read about a congregation who found two pieces in their zone. They discovered people nearby needed affordable health care and access to food services. They used empty space in their building, partnered with existing organizations, and began operating a free clinic and a food distribution site. Learning to love the local, they became the hands and feet of Jesus in two specific ways that were not there before.

Fifth, perpetuation. The future church will make investments, not just have events. Programs will emerge from processes. The long-haul will govern the short-term. Congregations will establish “zone teams” to keep asking, seeking, and knocking—keeping informed and being responsive.

Eugene Peterson coined what he called the pastor’s question [4] It is also the congregational question—the question which makes hope local: “Who are these people, and how can we be with them in ways that they can become what God is making them?” This question gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.

This is the locating question that congregations need to ask in the new UMC. Pastors will come and go. Members will move away and die. But the congregation will remain, saying in each locale year after year, “We are here for you, and we intend to stay.” [5] The new UMC will thrive by learning to love the local.

[1] When I was a local pastor, I did not know most of what I am sharing in this post. If I would have, my ministry would have been better. I have learned these things from pastors who knew and lived the principle of locality. I am grateful for their wisdom and witness. Alan Roxburgh’s book, ‘Joining with God in the Great Unraveling’ (recommended by a friend) connects renewal with the recovery of locality.

[2] Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” One meaning is that it is near. Nearness is always specific. Incarnational ministry is tangible with respect to a people and a place. Eugene Peterson wrote about this in his book, ‘The Jesus Way,’ 4-6.

[3] Visualizing locality does not eliminate a world mission. The general church connects us to the world, offering a variety of ways to connect with and serve it. But it is the congregation that knows and names local mission. The general church cannot do that for you.

[4] Eugene Peterson, ‘The Contemplative Pastor,’ 11.

[5] Michael Beck and Leonard Sweet’s book, ‘Contextual Intelligence’ is an excellent resource for understanding the importance of locality.

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New Awakening: Exile

From the day after Easter until Advent, we live in two seasons of the Christian year (Eastertide and Pentecost). In this longest stretch of our liturgical journey, we say “the risen Christ is with us.” It is summed up in the word ‘Immanuel.’ [1] It is the time to remember God is with us—a time to mine the meanings of Christ (excarnate and incarnate) to open ourselves in ways that make our hearts Christ’s home. [2]

But there’s something else. When we say “the risen Christ is with us,” we raise the question, “Where is Christ with us?” That’s one question the disciples had to ask beginning with sunrise on Easter morning…and everyday since. We ask it still. Where is Christ with us?

The Lectionary readings link his presence to places, a room somewhere in Galilee and an island in the Mediterranean Sea. And it is good to remember that when we say, “the risen Christ is with us,” we mean right where we are here and now. As we sometimes put it, Christ is present “in the midst” of us.

But the where-question is also linked to an experience. It is described in the word ‘exile.’ Reading John’s introduction to his letter to the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1:4), I remembered today that he wrote as an exile. And that recollection expanded into a fresh realization that from Easter morning until now, we are followers of Christ in exile.

Awakenings are exilic times—times between the times. [3] They are times when the old is passing away, but the new has not fully come (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are messy times, hard times, challenging times—times of dislocation, literally and figuratively. But they are also times of promise, transformation, and restoration. Awakenings lead us into times filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

The kingdom of God is here, but not yet fully realized. Christ is alive, but not fully in charge. We live in exile. Exile is the reminder that we, like the first Christians, must choose over and over whether we live in radical ways that declare “Jesus is Lord” or choose to live in conventional ways that say, “Caesar is Lord.” From Easter sunrise until now, that is the essence of our life choices.

Christ is with us in exile, with us when we have to decide between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This is never easy. Thankfully, it is not always an either/or decision because there are many good things in the world, and we are free to enjoy them. But as our current new Awakening is revealing, it is a choice we must yet make. Because we are exiles.

This world is not what defines us and gives us our identity. Our citizenship is in the kingdom of God. That’s why Christian Nationalism is so evil. It is a faux faith which tries to have its cake and eat it too by allowing the world to define the faith (e.g. materialism, self-interest, and power), to the extent that it would have us to believe it is “of God,” which it is not. Christian Nationalism is not the way God calls us to live in exile. We must reject it, call it out, and resist it.

Living in exile is living another way. The first letter of Peter is a primary document for learning how to be Christians in exile. I am diving into it and may write more about it in this series. For now, I point to it as a guide for exilic living. Christopher Hall’s introduction to the letter sums up living in exile as living faithfully, courageously, with perseverance, and with love. [4] These are the words that provide the pattern for exilic living.

Today, the second Sunday of Easter, we declare “the risen Christ is with us.” And in that declaration, we remember he is with us in exile. Today we renew our commitment to living as an exilic people in the light of his promise, “I am with you, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

[1] ‘The Life With God Bible’ (2005) produced by the Renovaré spiritual formation ministry is designed in relation to the Immanuel Principle.

[2] Robert Boyd Munger’s booklet ‘My Heart, Christ’s Home’ develops this metaphor. It is a beautiful devotional classic still in print.

[3] In his pattern of transformation, Richard Rohr calls this phase “disorder.” He offers the pattern in his book ‘The Universal Christ’ (pp. 243-248). He expands it in his book, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’ Walter Brueggemann sees the same pattern (orientation, disorientation, reorientation) in his book, ‘The Psalms, the Life of Faith.’ Diana Butler Bass writes from the same vantage point in her book, ‘Christianity After Religion.’

[4]’The Life With God Bible,’ 434 NT.

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The New UMC: Becoming a Movement (Again)

The UMC resources I listed recently in this series have revived my conviction that the way forward for the new UMC includes recovering a movement mindset. I am in agreement with those who believe the Wesleys intentionally designed Methodism as a Third Order. [1] The term is not used much in Protestant Christianity, but it has a rich and formative heritage in Christianity. [2] In this post I offer some overview thoughts about the future UMC as a third-order movement.

First, the UMC will never be a pure Third Order because it must necessarily be a denomination. That requires a different structure. Nevertheless, I believe that keeping a movement mindset can help determine a structure that is less bureaucratic and top-heavy. Third-Order thinking can enable us to revise our structure (general church and congregational) in helpful ways. Third-order thinking can keep the formative principle of simplification in play. [3]

Second, the early Methodist movement was a Third Order expression. It is in our DNA. [4] Drawing it out can benefit us today. Three dynamics shaped third-order Methodism: reaching the marginalized, renewing the church, and reforming the nation. If I continue this series, I may write more about these missional elements. I mention them today only further to confirm the Third Order nature of our heritage. The reignition of these elements will enliven our movement mindset.

Third, because Methodism was a movement before it was a denomination (Christianity was too), we can follow a good renewal path for the future UMC by starting with a movement mindset. If nothing else, this kind of thinking calls us from the get-go to envision the future apart from the conventional institutional categories that have become second nature to us. Without being more radical than I intend to be (for we are a denomination), a movement mindset gives us a new place for responding to the question, “What might a different kind of Church look like in the future?”

Putting it all together, we have the opportunity to discern the will of God in the creation of something new. We have had Third Orders and denominations in Christianity. We have the opportunity to envision a third-order denomination, and work to bring it to pass. That’s exciting and in keeping with Wesleyan theology’s convergent nature: “a Third Order…and…a denomination,” resulting in a reality larger than the parts. I am praying that the new UMC will become such.

[1] I did not originate this idea. Dr. Melvin Dieter first called it to my attention. I have confirmed his insight through similar thoughts provided by Colin Williams, Frank Baker, Ted Campbell, and Elaine Heath.

[2] The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good summary of Third Orders. The New Monasticism is a contemporary expression. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, ‘New Monasticism’ is the place to start in learning about it. The movement’s ‘Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals’ provides the daily liturgical energy for the New Monasticism. Within the Wesleyan tradition, Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins have provided excellent insights in their book, ‘Missional, Monastic, Mainline.’ I use the New Monasticism as a paradigm for renewal in my book, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’

[3] Richard Foster’s book, ‘The Freedom of Simplicity’ is an excellent resource to see the importance of simplification. If nothing else, the previous institutional model of the UMC is financially unsustainable. Simplification will be a forced necessity. But we can make it an educated and formative necessity—a freeing one, to use Foster’s term.

[4] Three books have helped me recognize our movement DNA. (1) Leonard Sweet, ’11 Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening’ (Abingdon 1998), (2) George Hunter, ‘The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement’ (Abingdon, 2011), and (3) Gil Rendle, ‘Back to Zero: The Search to Discover the Methodist Movement’ (Abingdon, 2011).

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Christ: Sources for the Series

I expect this series will go on for awhile, so before I dive into it, I want to let you know the sources which have formed me with respect to Christ. Maybe it’s the teacher in me that motivates me to begin this way. But whatever the motivation, I am offering these sources for three reasons.

First, I want you to know that I am indebted to many others in coming to profess my faith in Christ as I will be doing in this series. I have indeed benefited from a “great cloud of witnesses,” and I want you to know this from the start. My words are only among the latest in a long line whose lives have been changed by Christ, and their witness has profoundly shaped me. I begin with a list of resources as a way to say, “Thank you” to them.

Second, I do not want these sources to get lost or minimized in footnotes. They are too important. I will refer to them (and others) as the series unfolds. But I want them to stand out on their own here.

Third, because the series will advance little-by-little, you may want to do your own study. So, here are suggestions for doing that…

(1) E. Stanley Jones….I cite him first as my way to (once again) point to his influence upon me, and that especially in relation to Christ. I would not be afield to name all of his books (and audio-visual resources) have played a role in forming my faith relative to Christ, but for this post, I cite these in particular: ‘The Christ of Every Road’…..’The Way’…..’The Word Became Flesh…..’In Christ’…..and ‘Abundant Living.’

(2) The rest I offer in alphabetical order…

  • William Barclay, ‘The Mind of Jesus’
  • Diana Butler Bass, ‘Freeing Jesus’
  • Marcus Borg, ‘Jesus’
  • Cynthia Bourgeault, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’
  • Emil Brunner, ‘The Mediator’
  • Frederick Buechner, ‘The Faces of Jesus’
  • Ilia Delia, ‘The Emergent Christ’
  • John Deschner, ‘Wesley’s Christology’
  • Matthew Fox, ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ’
  • Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch, Christine Cain, ‘ReJesus’
  • Joseph Girzone, ‘Joshua’
  • Dennis Kinlaw, ‘The Mind of Christ’…and…’Let’s Start with Jesus’
  • Randy Maddox, ‘Responsible Grace’
  • James Martin, ‘Jesus: A Pilgrimage’
  • David McKenna, ‘The Psychology of Jesus’
  • Jürgen Moltmann, ‘The Way of Jesus Christ’
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ’
  • ‘Oneing’ journal, “The Universal Christ,” Vol 7, No 1, 2019
  • Richard Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ’
  • Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, ‘Jesus: A Theography’

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The New UMC: Resourcing the Renewal of Hope

The renewal of hope is a radical task. With respect to the new UMC, it means the re-formation of our identity. We have lost this internally and in the society as we have been consumed with debates, differences, and division. In the media we are known as the denomination that’s coming apart. That’s not an identity we can abide. A future of hope requires us to recover who we are and declare it.

It must be a sustained effort (not a short-term program) at the congregational level–one that includes knowing the world we live in and discerning how the Wesleyan tradition can be present and active in it. Charles Wesley summed it up in the phrase, “to serve the present age.” [1] The recovery of hope includes the use of resources that inspire and equip us to do this.

In this post I suggest resources that can assist us in the recovery of hope, organizing them in the categories of vision, intention, and means. [2]

(1) Vision—the realism of hope (kairos)
–Phyllis Tickle, ‘The Great Emergence’
–Brian McLaren, ‘The Great Spiritual Migration’
–Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’
–Paul Chilcote, ‘Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision’

(2) Intention—the roots of hope (heritage)
–Rueben Job, ‘Three Simple Rules’
–Steve Harper, ‘Five Marks of a Methodist’
–Elaine Heath, ‘Five Means of Grace’
–Magrey deVega, ‘One Faithful Promise’

(3) Means—the reignition of hope (mission)
–Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, ‘The Awakening of Hope’
–Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, ‘The Shaping of Thongs to Come’
–Kenneth Carter & Audrey Warren, ‘Fresh Expressions: A New Kind
of United Methodist Church For People Not in ‘
–Michael Beck & Jorge Acevedo, ‘A Field Guide to Methodist Fresh

Other helpful resources to mention…
–Amplify Media (at the United Methodist Publishing House)
–The Wesley Study Bible
–Michael Beck & Leonard Sweet, ‘Contextual Intelligence’
–Ted Campbell, ‘Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials’
–Kenneth Carder, ‘Living Our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way’
–Kay Kotan, ed., ‘Being the Church in a Post-Pandemic World’
–Daryl & Andrew Smith, ‘Discovering Your Missional Potential’

Congregations should create a task force that becomes familiar with these resources and discerns how to use them in the recovering of identity in their context. We must not defer this. The time to launch the recovery of our identity is now. Fellow members and the public are more than ready to hear a vibrant declaration, “This is who we are.”

[1] This phrase is in Charles Wesley’s hymn, “A Charge to Keep.”

[2] Richard Foster develops this threefold o paradigm in ‘The Life With God Bible’ (2005), xxv-xxxvi. I agree with him that it is a paradigm that generates transformation.

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Christ: The Heart of It All

Yesterday, Christians around the world exclaimed, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” We are an Easter people, those who embrace Christ’s promise “because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19).

On this day after Easter we say, “the risen Christ is with us.” In this sense, every day is Easter, a day to “come alive” because Christ is alive.  A day to say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ. He is my source of joy, my reason to live” (Philippians 1:21, Amplified Bible).

As many of you will know, I believe we are living in another Awakening, a time when once again God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). As I continue to explore this reality, Christ shines brighter and brighter. Christ is deeper and wider in my faith than ever before. He is the heart of it all. 

Eastertide affords us the opportunity to see Christ as the source and substance, not only of the new Awakening, but of Life itself. So, we begin today “lifting up” Christ believing that as we do so (as he said himself) he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32). Oh, how we need this right now on the earth!

I expect this series will go on for a while, but we will get moving with more frequent posts in Eastertide, with others to follow in the season after Pentecost. My current vision for the series includes exploring the universal Christ, the excarnate Christ, the incarnate Christ, and the Christlike life that ensues as we abide in Christ.

I am looking forward to sharing this series with you. I am increasingly seeing Oboedire as a means to bear witness to the foundational elements that have formed my life. Maybe it’s an “aging thing” to center and simplify as a way to dwell more in the Main Thing, which for me is not a principle but rather a Person: Christ.

Off we go! I hope you’ll join me. Feel free to share these posts, and invite others to join the Oboedire journey.

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Along the Way: Reconciliation

Midway through Holy Week I am connecting the redemptive work of Christ with something Thomas Aquinas wrote. They both shed light on the word ‘reconciliation.’ On Friday of Holy Week, the grand clarification occurred.

Aquinas wrote, “a mistake in our thinking about nature is a mistake in our thinking about God.” [1] In our day, we are living under the curse of two main mistakes with respect to nature, viewing it as binary and with a “chain of being” that gives rise to supremacist thinking. Both mistakes come to us from an Aristotelian philosophy which has been supplanted by contemporary understandings of reality [2], but which continue to be the lens used to interpret the world by those whose world views are advanced by a binary/supremacist ideology.

We are under the harmful influence of those whose power is protected and preserved by these two mistakes, and who make them with the accompanying mistake that God is supportive of their efforts, mistakenly alleging that God blesses what they are saying and doing.

This may seem to have little to do with Holy Week, but actually it has everything to do with it. Paul astounded the political/religious milieu of his day by writing that God “reconciled all things to himself” through Christ, bringing peace through the cross (Colossians 1:20). Jesus cleared up (and overcame) the two main mistakes about nature haunting us today: binary creation and supremacy. This is part of what it means to believe that Christ has reconciled all things to himself.

He has overcome the mistake of binary creation by furthering God’s honoring of eunuchs in his day (Isaiah 56:3-5, Matthew 19:12), so that Paul could say “Christ is in all” (Colossians 3:11). In Christ the intersex/transgender dimension of humanity is recognized and affirmed. The human family is reconciled by the cross to its original nonbinary spectrum of sacredness.

Furthermore, Christ has overcome the mistake about supremacy by removing walls that divide (Ephesians 2:14), so that we declare “all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, all the idols of supremacy and privilege (injustice) are cast down, and the common good (justice) is advanced. All means all. [3]

Christ has corrected our mistaken thinking about nature with respect to binary creation and superiority, and in doing so has revealed that God does not support or bless either one. Instead, God reconciled (brought back together) the oneness of reality and the relationships we are meant to have with each other.

The cross stands in every Holy Week, clearing up our mistaken notions of nature that lead to mistaken notions about God. As E. Stanley Jones put it, “Jesus puts a face on God.” [4] It is the face of reconciliation, through the cross, so that everything belongs. [5]

[1] Quoted in the April 2022 e-letter of the Center for Christogenesis.

[2] The theology of Open Theism corrects the Aristotelian errors, integrating Scripture and science (e.g. cosmology and physics) in a radical and inclusive theology of love. I recommend Thomas Oord’s books, ‘An Introduction to Open and Relational Theology’ and ‘Pluriform Love.’ Oord rightly notes that John Wesley’s theology is in this stream.

[3] E. Stanley Jones, ‘The Word Made Flesh,’ Week 2, Saturday.

[4] Richard Rohr, ‘Everything Belongs.’ He sees the cross as the focal confirmation of nondual reality.

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The New UMC: Making Hope Real

When we envision a “future filled with hope’ for the United Methodist Church, we often do so using renewal language. And while there is “fire” in using renewal language, there is also the danger that the fire will go out. It has happened before.

Beginning with Scripture, we can summarize the loss of renewal fire in these words, “these people turn toward me with their mouths, and honor me with lip service while their heart is distant from me” (Isaiah 29:13 & Matthew 15:8) and “faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2:17). If we are to realize the renewal we need and pray for, we must make hope real.

Doing so requires ongoing attentiveness and sustained effort. In our tradition, John Wesley called it “living faith” and “practical divinity.” This was his way of describing hope in action. He would agree with the sentiment of Gandhi: we must be the change we hope to see. He would “stride toward freedom” with Martin Luther King Jr. He would commend Eugene Peterson’s emphasis on lived theology. [1]

The greatest challenge the new UMC faces is making hope real at the congregational level. If this does not happen, “business as usual” will put us out of business, leaving us an old-wineskin denomination that does not hold or offer God’s wine. But it does not have to be like that. God is inviting us into a future filled with hope. Making hope real includes strategic action—action which congregations should implement immediately.

First, deep rooting. I noted this in the last post. I repeat it because we bear fruit from our roots. As a new UMC emerges, we face an identity challenge. Both among our members and in the larger community/world, people are going to ask, “Who are you?” We must respond, and thankfully we have resources to use. In the next post I will provide a list of resources congregations can use to do the rooting.

Second, locale. The new UMC’s mission must be made specific. That’s always been true. It’s one reason the Wesleys emphasized practical divinity. The word must be enfleshed through concrete and contextualized expressions. There is no “one size fits all” renewal. I will write more about this in a future post.

Third, collaboration. The new UMC must be simpler in structure and ministry. One expression is avoiding redundancy. God’s call will be to join existing ministries rather than creating duplicate ones. In some communities, it will mean having a common ministry (e.g. a community youth ministry) rather than multiple ones. The future is one of ecumenical and interfaith partnerships. But it will produce a more realistic and responsive denomination.

Fourth, adopting a go-to mentality. The Fresh Expressions movement is teaching us this and confirming it through concrete ministries. [2] It incarnates the Wesleyan mission to go outside the walls reaching the marginalized and reforming the nation. The paradox is this: the new UMC will become stronger inside by serving those outside.

Making hope real is not program, it’s a process. It is not an occasional event, it’s a sustained effort. We make hope real when we do church in ways which say, “We are here with you, and we intend to stay.”

[1] Peterson wrote about this multiple times. In his book, ‘Practice Resurrection,’ he used Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to show how God creates a church that acts inwardly and outwardly in ways that give rise to personal and social maturation in Christ.

[2] Discipleship Ministries has its Path 1 emphasis which includes a Fresh Expressions ministry with Wesleyan distinctives.

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The New UMC: A Future Filled With Hope

[Note: I have written in the “UMC” category here on Oboedire for years. Today’s post in this category is focused on the new UMC which is already taking shape, but does so more formally on May 1st when the Global Methodist Church launches and some people exit the UMC to be part of it. These new-UMC posts are for those of us staying in the UMC.]

When I think of the future of the United Methodist Church, I do so in relation to God’s promise to Jeremiah, to give the people “a future filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). This is God’s promise to “the people called Methodist,” who will remain in the UMC. Ours is a future filled with hope. [1]

It is a future with many formidable challenges and unanswered questions. It is a future coming into being through the pruning process Jesus described in John 15:2. [2] We have new potential to bear the fruit of the Spirit through a vigorous declaration that “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11), moving us into the new-Creation of life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) that not only welcomes and affirms all people, but goes on to offer all people access to the sacraments, ceremonies, offices, and ministries of the Church.

Experiencing a future filled with hope contained numerous experiences for early Methodism. Here are some of the ones that I find especially transferable into today…

First, a Trinitarian theology, emphasizing love. [3] God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), creating another new Awakening, redeeming us from the things that have prevented us from experiencing it, and sustaining us as we serve Christ as instruments of God’s peace in advancing it. It is summed up in three words: life in Christ. [4] Leading with grace (the outworking of God’s love in our lives), the same order of salvation can transform us today as it did the early Methodists. The future of the UMC is filled with hope as respond to Trinity love at work in us, and aim to be those through whom it flows (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Second, a deeply-rooted identity. For Wesley, the taproot identity was in the Bible, calling himself “a man of one book.” On the heels of Scripture, he found identity with the early Christians (c. 100-600 CE). [5] With these roots, he drank from the wells dug by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the classical Protestant tradition, and the Anglican tradition. All of these gave him the “catholic spirit” which saved him and Methodism from theological arrogance and sectarianism. He found fellowship with the whole Body of Christ, with adherents of other religions, and with those who professed no particular faith but were earnest seekers after God. The non-partisan nature of early Methodism was a hallmark, and it is one that is sorely needed today. The future of the UMC is filled with hope as we root ourselves deeply in this identity.

Third, a reignition of mission. The Wesleys saw the Church of their day too focused on itself. The Methodist mission to ”spread scriptural holiness across the land” ignited a fresh intent to renew the Church in ways which turned its ministries outward in reaching the marginalized and reforming the nation. The early Methodists saw themselves as servants of others for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 4:5). Similarly, we too have an opportunity to escape our too-inward focus, which has rendered the UMC (and a lot of institutional Christianity) increasingly irrelevant. We have an invitation to make a fresh start in our mission “to make disciples for the transformation of the world” as we focus our energy, time, and money being a church that exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of others (Philippians 2:4)—the mission modeled by Christ himself (Philippians 2:5-8). [6] The future of the UMC is filled with hope as we give ourselves to this sense of mission.

Yes, the future of the United Methodist Church is a future filled with hope as we follow God’s guidance into the future with our theology in the Trinity, our identity in deep roots, and our mission in the mind of Christ.

[1] Paul Chilcote and I co-authored a book aimed at this, ‘Living Hope: An Inclusive Vision of the Future.’

[2] After fifty-years of increasing turmoil in the denomination, the branches of Christian fundamentalism (which produce divisiveness, legalism, judgmentalism, and exclusion) have been pruned. Our energy can be focused in a fresh way on “bearing much fruit” through a theology of love (John 15:7- that enacts the two great commandments in an “all means all” oneness (e.g. Galatians 3:28).

[3] Thomas Oord, ‘Pluriform Love’ presents a theology of love akin to the Wesleys and applied to today. He connects it, as the Wesleys did, to the larger message and mission of the entire Body of Christ. I also recommend E. Stanley Jones’ book, ‘Christian Maturity’ for exploring the life of love.

[4] My book, ‘Life in Christ’ explores this in more detail, using Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the lens for seeing and experiencing it. With Christology at the core of renewal, many of E. Stanley Jones’ books are especially helpful. And Richard Rohr’s ‘Universal Christ’ reveals the magnificence and significance of the excarnate and incarnate Christ.

[5] Benedicta Ward’s book, ‘The Desert Fathers’ shows the major themes of early Christianity: progress in the perfection, quiet, compunction, self-control, overcoming lust, possessing nothing, fortitude, nothing done for show, non-judgment, discretion, sober living, unceasing prayer, hospitality, obedience, humility, patience, charity (love)y, and visions. We these themes reflected in Wesleyan theology and the early Methodist movement. Emphases from the Rule of Benedict are also found in the Wesleyan tradition.

[6] Elaine Heath has developed the Philippian passage in her book, ‘The Mystic Way of Evangelism,’ 66-70, making kenosis a paradigm for our life and witness. Similarly, Thomas Oord sheds further light on kenosis in ‘Pluriform Love,’ 154-160. Both authors reference others who saw kenosis as paradigmatic.

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Along the Way: The Unsettling Bible

Once in a while someone will say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” There was a time when I spoke the words. They almost always are said in a defense of Scripture and as a declaration of our commitment to its inspiration and authority.

Problem is, the statement is not true.

I will use a simple illustration to begin this post.

Suppose I said, “Today, I am going to write about trunks.” I said ‘trunks,’ and you believe what I said, but saying it settles nothing.

You would be quick to say, “You’ve got to tell me more. What kind of trunk do you mean?”

Your question is valid…and…necessary. What I said does not tell you what I mean. I might be referring to the base of a tree, the back of a car, the snout of an elephant, or a large container. Saying something does not settle anything. It’s no different with the Bible. We may sincerely believe what the Bible “says,” and still be sincerely wrong.

This is not a controversial critique. In fact, we have a phrase which teaches that believing what the Bible says settles nothing: “A text without a context is a pretext.” You’ve likely heard the phrase, maybe even used it. It means that to understand the message of the Bible, we must go beyond what it “says.”

Inductive Bible study methodology is a way to get beyond the erroneous “the Bible says” statement and into an informed understanding of Scripture. It begins with the question, “what does the text say?” What it says is important. But IBS methodology follows that question with five others….

–What does the text mean?”
–What other passages in Scripture help interpret the text?
–What insights from other sources help interpret the text?
–How has this text been evaluated and used since it was written?
–How can we apply the text, so that it comes alive today? [1]

To say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it” asks, the first question and stops there, leaving the other five questions unaddressed. Richard Foster has offered a way forward that he calls reading the Bible with the mind and with the heart. [2] He includes the following elements in a reading of Scripture with the mind…

–recognizing the literary forms of Scripture (e.g. law, prophecy, gospels, letters)
–reading “from cover to cover” to get what John Wesley called “the whole counsel of God”
–exploring the context of the particular text
–interfacing the text with other passages of Scripture
–seeing what others have said about the text.

In addition to reading with the mind, Foster rightly notes that understanding the Bible also means reading the Bible with the heart—what is referred to as lectio divina. This is a form of prayer that includes these phases…

–listening to the text
–reflecting on the text
–submitting to the text
–applying the text

Taken together, inductive methodology and Richard Foster’s teaching conclusively show why it is insufficient to say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” But there is an even greater revelation.

It comes from Jesus himself. Six times in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48) he reinterpreted biblical passages with the opening phrase, “You have heard that it was said….but I say.” And in Matthew 9:13, he quoted Hosea 6:6, but then told his listeners, “Go and learn what this means.” As a Wisdom teacher in good Midrash form [3], Jesus was saying, “Do your homework. Don’t read and hear Scripture passively.”

When we do this, we will not come away from our reading of the Bible saying, “That settles it.” Instead, we will find the Bible very unsettling, as the it punctures our preconceptions, slays our sacred cows in ways that turn us every which way but loose…until we are transformed.

[1] These questions, and other Interpretive questions like them reflect the inductive method’s phases: observation, interpretation, correlation, evaluation, and application. Robert Traina’s ‘Methodical Bible Study’ (1952) is a classic book about inductive methodology. He and David Bauer updated and expanded it, publishing it under the title, ‘Inductive Bible Study.’

[2] Richard Foster uses this phrase to describe a full reading of a passage. He goes into detail about this in his book, ‘Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation.’

[3] Midrash is a way Jews study (Hebrew: investigate) their sacred Scripture inductively, with a resulting diversity of interpretations that enrich and expand the text. It is a method (like lectio divina) that can be used by individuals, but is meant to be used by groups.

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Along the Way: You Can’t Handle the Truth

The prophetic message to fallen-world priests and potentates can be summed up in the line taken from the movie “A Few Good Men”—”you can’t handle truth.” Walter Brueggemann writes powerfully about this in a recent blog. I have attached it at the end of this post. Using the book of Jeremiah (chapter 36) he shows how banning and burning is in play when people cannot stand the truth. It happened long ago, and it is happening today as…

–Trump and his cronies keep telling “The Big Lie”
–legislatures pass voter restriction laws
–anti-LGBTQ+ bills go into effect
–fundamentalist Christians deny new facts about human sexuality
–witnesses plead the 5th when testifying about the assault on the Capitol
–sanitized history and related restrictions on public education advance
–demagogues go to war without regard to the lives of others
–white supremacy is deemed patriotic
–a Supreme Court nominee is demeaned by questioners
–the rich keep getting richer through legal and illegal (hidden) means
–right-wing media fan the flames of anti-democratic ideologies and actions
–QAnon craziness is promoted by politicians

A veritable mountain range of falsehood runs through the nation by those who cannot handle the truth. Brueggemann sums it up when he names the banning/burning tactics as efforts “to maintain a status quo social arrangement of advantage, privilege, and domination”—efforts which require the perpetuation of ignorance aimed to keep the sacred cow of untruth well fed and the feeders of that cow in power.

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Rebuild My Church: The Re-Formative Paradigm

Richard Foster has given us many gifts of inspiration, insight, and instruction. Among them I find his renewal paradigm to be especially important in this time of New Awakening. He describes it in three words: vision, intention, and means. [1] When I was visiting with him about the paradigm, he said it was the one he unearthed as he studied renewal, and it became the one that moved him to become a reformer in the late 1970’s. [2]

I am going to use this paradigm to develop the posts in this series, combining it with insights from St. Francis who responded to God’s call to “rebuild my church.” [3] In this post I will review the paradigm. In further posts I will apply it.

I begin with the reminder that renewal is about re-formation. Francis’ call to “rebuild” was a call to re-form the Church, not abandon it. When Richard Foster and I were visiting about the paradigm, he was clear that it is a re-formation paradigm. And he reminded me that it was a paradigm he had seen in the Wesleys and early Methodism. Putting it all together, the paradigm offers us the model for renewal that we need in our day.

Vision….the ministry of re-formation is a response to God’s revelation which comes to us in the form of vision. Richard Foster takes this to mean that God chooses to work through people. We are co-creators with God, doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Rebuilding the Church is part of the re-formation, part of the New Awakening. John Wesley captured the collaborative dimension when he said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” The vision is our inspiration.

Intention….the ministry of re-formation is our investment in the vision. We use the word ‘mission’ today when we are describing intention. In God’s call to Francis, we see intention in the word, ‘Go’—the same word Jesus used to begin the Great Commission (Mathew 28:19). When we express intention, Foster notes that we are recognizing the privilege it is to be co-laborers with in the re-formation. Intention is also the reminder that re-formation is not a spectator sport, it’s an “in the game” engagement.

Means….the ministry of re-formation happens through concrete practices. Means are the ingredients of re-formation. They begin in the practices we call the means of grace (spiritual disciplines), and with the nourishment we receive from them we go on to rebuild the Church through the “many services” (John Wesley’s term) that are to be done. Richard Foster calls the disciplined life “doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done.” We see Francis doing this—not assessing the importance of the work in size language (and especially not in “bigger is better” language) but in terms of an act’s necessity. He was honoring Jesus’ call to be faithful in little things.

Vision….Intention….Means. This is the re-formation paradigm. Upcoming posts will explore each aspect in more detail. For now, the words ignite the re-formation ministry in our individual lives, and in the life of each congregation that desires to co-labor with God in the New Awakening. We ask,

–What is the vision we see?
–How can we invest in it?
–What acts can we do to make the vision a reality?

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Wesley’s Way: A Comprehensive Hermeneutic #2

[Note: today I resume this series after lying dormant since 2013. I hope you will go back and read the earlier posts archived on the home page sidebar. They deal with important ideas related to Wesleyan spirituality that I will not repeat because I have already written about them. I am resuming the series particularly because I believe that Wesleyan spirituality (broadly understood) has insights for us as we live in this time of New Awakening, and because I believe it makes a particular contribution to the emerging re-formation of the new United Methodist Church. I am intentionally continuing the idea I began in the final post in 2013. Wesley’s comprehensive hermeneutic extends beyond the quadrilateral. I will explore some additional aspects of it, beginning in this post.]

The Wesleyan quadrilateral is not the product of John Wesley, although he would understand it, given his education for the priesthood in relation to the Anglican trilateral..[1] We are on solid ground in naming and using the quadrilateral as part of Wesley’s comprehensive hermeneutic. But we are also wise to see it in relation to things other than itself.

Howard Snyder has confirmed this by adding the creation into the Wesleyan picture. In fact, he now refers to the Wesleyan pentalateral. [2] He adds the fifth dimension for two reasons: to show that Wesley was a nondual theologian (especially in overcoming spirit/matter dualism) and declaring that creation care is that beyond which nothing else matters. If the planet becomes unliveable, everything else dies with it.

I agree. And as I resume this “Wesley’s Way” series, I want to include the creation in the picture of Wesleyan spirituality that I am painting, and I want to do so for the two main reasons Howard Snyder does so. [3] To interpret the spiritual life as John Wesley did, we will include creation, all that it reveals to us, and God’s call to to see that it thrives. I will write more about this in future posts.

[1] The trilateral included Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. In the previous post (back in 2013) I showed why it is accurate to say he emphasized a fourth dimension (experience) in keeping with Christianity’s appreciation for sapiential theology, which he variously termed a “a religion of the heart” and “living faith” and some other ways as well. He took his cue for this from the Wisdom/Mystical tradition in the Bible and Christian history. Experience, he believed, watered Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, keeping them from becoming “dead orthodoxy.”

[2] Howard Snyder, “Holistic Mission and the Wesleyan Pentalateral,” (2006). He developed this creation theology into his book, ‘Salvation Means Creation Healed’ (Cascade Books, 2011).

[3] I would also call your attention to Matthew Fox’s book, ‘Original Blessing’ in which he develops the creation spirituality for which he is well known. He includes John Wesley on the family tree of creation theologians.

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Rebuild My Church: Introduction

With this post, I am beginning a new occasional series here on Oboedire. On the one hand, I am doing it so that the existing “Along the Way” series can remain the means for exploring the spiritual life in its diversity. I do not want “Along the Way” to be overtaken by any single topic. It will continue as a broad-view series.

On the other hand, I am commencing this new series to provide the category for a focused and continuing look at ecclesial renewal. I am doing this in the context of my conviction that we are in a time of new Awakening, a time that includes God’s call for the re-formation of the Church. I recently wrote about the new Awakening here on Oboedire. [1] I want to make the general idea specific in the context of the Church. As the new Awakening emerges, the Church is called to be part of the renewal. Indeed, as Peter noted, judgment (restoration) begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). The Church is renewed in the midst of every new Awakening.

I take my cue for this series from God’s call to St. Francis, which began with these words, “Go and rebuild my church which, as you can see, is falling down.” Responding to this divine invitation, Francis moved from being a wanderer in and around Assisi to being a reformer in the Body of Christ. If the Church is to be an instrument of renewal in the new Awakening, it must be rebuilt. This series will explore theological and practical dimensions of the Spirit-inspired reconstruction process.

Today, I point to the part of God’s call to Francis that linked his new mission to current reality. God launched the Franciscan renewal movement using Francis’ own assessment of the Church, saying to him, “which, as you can see, is falling down.” I will not dwell on this except to say that we have decades of evidence to recognize the decline of the institutional church. But as with Francis, the aim of this new series on Oboedire will be “to rebuild,” not to remain focused on what has fallen down.

I am writing from a twofold vision: that the general Church needs rebuilding…and…that the institutional part of it to which I belong (the United Methodist Church) needs rebuilding too. This means the series is for all who recognize the need for ecclesial renewal, with a specific application to the future of the UMC.

I note also in God’s call to Francis that the vision for renewal began with a bricks-and-mortar sense focused on the church of San Damiano. Only as he was faithful to a specific task did he come to recognize the larger mission God was calling him into. I hope the same will happen with this series. By focusing on the UMC—the one part of the Body of Christ that I know best, I hope to connect with the larger mission of renewal to which God is calling us.

In this introduction, I end noting that God made it clear to Francis it was God’s church he was rebuilding, not his. Part of the rebuilding God is calling us to engage in today is a purging of arrogance that causes us to believe it’s our church—a disposition which fosters egotism and ethnocentrism. God made it clear: it’s “my church” and that remembrance cleans the lens through which see the renewal. By remembering it was God’s church he was rebuilding, Francis saw himself as only “an instrument of God’s peace,” modeling the humility we must have as we respond to God’s call to rebuild the Church today.

If you want to be an instrument of God’s peace in this mission, I hope you will find this “Rebuild My Church” series to be helpful. If you know others who would be interested in a series like this, please tell them about it.

[1] The series “New Awakening” ran from October 13, 2021 to January 13, 2022. Prior to this, I wrote a book entitled ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’ that explored the same idea in more detail.

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Along the Way: Treasures Old and New

Jesus described transformation as bringing forth treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52). The context of this idea is that the kingdom of God is a treasure, sometimes hidden, but never non-existent (Matthew 13:44). In this context, Jesus said that disciples of the kingdom—that is, advocates of it and allies with it it, are called to unearth the treasures, so we can see them and live in congruence with them.

They are treasures old and new, Jesus says. When unearthed, the kingdom-of-God life is the synthesis of the past and present in ways that move us into the future as people of light, life, and love. Kingdom life is nondual, with “and” defining us, not “or.” [1] And as Richard Rohr notes, it is an affirming, celebrating, engaging “and”—what he calls, “Yes…and.” [2] Bringing forth treasures old and new means not demeaning the past, but also not dwelling in it. In the kingdom of God, we continue to declare “Jesus is Lord,” but the way it was first said in the past is not the script we must read without change as we say it in the present. In the kingdom of God even saying “Jesus is Lord” is a treasure old…and new.

The treasured life called the kingdom of God is an old/new combination meant to be salt and light in every area of life. It is joining Jesus’ courageous enterprise of declaring, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.” Our call to bring forth treasures old and new is to offer an alternative orthodoxy that lives on the edge of the inside (as Richard Rohr describes it), accepting the challenge to join Jesus in fulfilling the law without destroying it (Matthew 5:17). We are called to do this everywhere all the time. It is the radical re-forming nature of the Gospel, incarnate in Jesus himself.

This life for many if us now includes the work to be done in the formation of the new United Methodist Church. It is a kingdom-of-God task that will bring forth treasures old and new. We have good guidance for this from the Wesleys and the first Methodists.

Viewed in this way the early Methodist movement was an alternative orthodoxy dwelling on the edge of the inside of the Church of England, with a similar challenge to other institutionalized versions of Christianity. Many dimensions of Wesleyan theology and manifestations of its methods and mission were a “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you” movement aimed to overcome evil with good. As we move into the new UMC, we are called to bring forth treasures old and new.

I believe we must begin this task recognizing that Methodism was a movement shaped by the Wesleys in ways akin to Third Orders (e g. the Franciscan Order). These were renewal communities, made up largely of laity, lived with the singular devotion (i.e. a theology of love defined by the two great commandments) of monasticism, but doing so through a myriad of vocations in the world.[3] I believe that the future of the UMC will include bringing forth treasures old and new in “the Wesleyan spirit” of third-order Christianity. I will write more in detail about this in future posts. Today, I offer only an overview of what I mean, doing so in relation to the foundational documents of third-order movements.

They had a Rule of Life which described the community’s conduct. The conduct emerged from a Constitution which formed character. Spiritual disciplines, practiced individually and collectively, matured personal and social holiness (piety and mercy). And a regular service of commitment kept community life updated and vital.

Early Methodism had all these: (1) A Rule—”The General Rules of the United Societies”….(2) A Constitution—”The Character of a Methodist”….(3) Spiritual disciplines—the instituted and prudential means of grace….and….(4) Regular recommitment—”The Covenant Renewal Service.” The Wesleys brought treasures old and new into the Methodist movement, believing that what had given prior Christians abundant life would do so again. The “old treasure” of Third Orders conjoined with the “new treasure” of Methodism. We are here because of that union.

We have a God-given moment to be instruments of God’s peace in our time of new awakening, just as the early Methodists were in theirs. And thanks to the vision of those at the United Methodist Publishing House, we have the same four third-order resources the Wesleys used to establish and enrich the Methodist movement. The UMPH (Abingdon Press) has produced volumes that take the original foundational documents and offer them to us today. The General Rules are now offered in the book, ‘Three Simple Rules’ by Rueben Job. The Character of a Methodist is represented as ‘Five Marks of a Methodist’ by Steve Harper. The means of grace are commended in the book ‘Five Means of Grace’ by Elaine Heath. And the Covenant Renewal Service is presented in the book, ‘One Faithful Promise’ by Magrey deVega. [4]

By re-publishing and re-presenting these dimensions of third-order Methodism, the UMPH has brought forth treasures old and new that we can use in shaping the new UMC, and doing so in faithfulness to the Wesleyan message, methods, and mission: to reach the marginalized, to renew the church, and to reform the nation.

[1] Paul Chilcote captures this synthesis in his book, ‘Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision.’ He shows the power of “and” in theology and practice.

[2] In his book, ‘Yes, And…,’ Richard Rohr provides daily meditations which help to form this way of seeing and living.

[3] Melvin Dieter was the first person to point out third-order Methodism to me. Howard Snyder has explored the idea in multiple articles and in his book, ‘The Radical Wesley.’ I have developed the idea through numerous conversations. I have come to believe it is a key for understanding the early Methodist movement in a way that yields fruit for us today.

[4] To these four resources I would add ‘The Wesley Study Bible’ (Abingdon, 2009), which itself brings forth treasures old and new in relation to Scripture as it interweaves John Wesley’s notes with comments from contemporary Wesleyans.

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Along the Way: The Transforming Union

In my post entitled, “Press On,” I re-emphasized the need (my need) to resist evil by practicing the better—that is, by overcoming evil with good. This post builds upon that idea.. Today, I want to write about the starting point for pressing on. We don’t do this without a sense of direction. I have found it in Paul’s words, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). These words have given me the motivation and the means for pressing on. They provide me with what I am calling the transforming union.

E. Stanley Jones said of Paul’s words, “Nothing in all literature can compare with this.” [1] I agree, and I believe it even more now than when I first read the verse or Jones’ assessment of it decades ago. The verse is the transforming union that is necessary if we are to press on in a way akin to the Gospel and the message of the kingdom of God which it proclaims.

“Christ is all and in all.” The word to note is “and.” Paul put together two ideas that were unfortunately disconnected—and still are. Let’s look at them in their separateness, and that will help us see why Paul joined them.

First, “Christ is all” without also saying “and in all.”

Even the first Christians kept them separate. They said “Christ is all” (i.e. “Jesus is Lord”) but did not initially declare it to be so for everyone, at least not as Paul wrote about it later in Colossians. The Church began with walls which needed to be removed (illustrated in Galatians 3:28) so that Christian faith would bear witness to God’s Reality: “all are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus was the Word made flesh in and through whom the dividing walls were removed (Ephesians 2:14), thus enabling Paul to add the second phrase, “in all.”

By including “in all” the transforming vision moves us to press on with the universality of Christ as our inspiration. [2] Four illustrations show how this is so. Within the Christian tradition, C. S. Lewis saw Jesus as the Tao incarnate. [3] Thomas Merton saw the same connection. [4] And E. Stanley Jones saw Christ in Gandhi, to the extent he said that even as a Hindu, Gandhi would be in heaven. [5] Outside Christianity, Thich Naht Hanh saw Christ in the Buddha and in Buddhists. [6]

In my part of Christianity called the Wesleyan tradition, John Wesley made the same witness, writing that anyone who “endeavours, according to the best light he has, to do all things well, is accepted of [God] through Christ, though he knows him not. This assertion is express and admits no exception. [Anyone like this] is in the favour of God, whether enjoying His written word and ordinances or not.” [7]

Unfortunately, some Christians today say, “Christ is all,” but do not go on to say “and in all.” This leaves them with a misapplied orthodoxy. In this place a penchant for correctness eclipses the passion for community, legalism (regulations) supersedes love (relationships), hubris triumphs over humility, and exclusion defines faith more than inclusion.

But we also see truncated Christianity when we say “Christ is in all” separate from “Christ is all.”

This happens when we rush to say, “In God we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), but leave the word ‘God’ undefined. “Christ is all” gives us the definition for then saying “and in all.” Unfortunately, some Christians do this too. This leaves them with a misinformed spirit. In this place we are left with the right spirit, but one which lacks sufficient substance.

By adding “Christ is all” (“Jesus is Lord”) to the phrase “Christ in all,” we have conjoined substance and spirit. We say that the Christ who is in all is revealed by the biblical words Yahweh, Wisdom, Way, Truth, Life, etc—and that all the words that help us see the Christ are enriched in relation to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. [8]

Christology is the center that provides the reference point for everything else. In the excarnate (eternal) Christ we see everyone and everything held together in an amazing oneness (Colossians 1:15-20). In the incarnate (temporary) Christ, Jesus puts a face on God and models the life we are meant to live. [9] Christ is the lens through whom we look to interpret life. [10]

But in all this, don’t forget that it took two pentecosts (one in Jerusalem and another in Caesarea) for the first Christians to put the two ideas together. It took the change in a leader (Peter) who was present at both pentecosts and would come to say, “God doesn’t show any partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). And more, it took the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) to say that henceforth the Christan Church would declare to the world that “all means all.”

And so, in the fullness of our faith we combine the two ideas and say with Paul, “Christ is all and in all.” Here is our starting point for our journey of pressing on rather than pushing back. “Christ is all and in all” is our offense, not a defense. It is our declaration, not a debate. It issues forth in the kind of life that E. Stanley Jones described,

“This eternal Christ is ‘the true Light, which enlightens everyone who comes into the world’ (John 1:9). The light that was in conscience, in insight, in illumination, in ideals, was the light of the excarnate Christ. If people live according to that light, they will be saved and saved by Christ, however unconscious they may have been of Him as Christ.” [11]

“Christ is all and in all.” This is the transforming union. It is the Gospel, and it is the message the world is longing to hear.

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 40, Saturday. Still available.

[2] Richard Rohr writes about this in his book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent, 2019). Jürgen Moltmann explores it with additional theological substance in his book, ‘’The Way of Jesus Christ’ (Fortress Press, 1993).

[3] C.S. Lewis made the connection in his book ‘The Abolition of Man’ (Macmillan, 1947), chapter two, and also in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken (12/14/1951) in a collection of his letters entitled, ‘Yours, Jack’ (Harper One, 2008).

[4] William Shannon & Christine Bochen,, ‘Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters’ (HarperOne), 373.

[5] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Gandhi, Portrayal of a Friend’ (Stone & Pierce, 1948). Still available.

[6] Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ,’ 10th Anniversary Edition (Riverhead Books, 2007).

[7] John Wesley’s ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755). Comment on Acts 3:21. To study this idea further, search the word ‘recapitulation.’

[8] From a formative standpoint, Richard Rohr’s book, ‘The Divine Dance’ (Whitaker House, 2016) is excellent. A more classical study is by Alister McGrath, ‘Understanding the Trinity’ (Zondervan, 1990).

[9] The writing of E. Stanley Jones is focused on Christology. ‘The Word Became Flesh’ is a good place to start. More recently, I have found ‘Jesus, A Theography’ by Leonard Sweetand Frank Viola to be a good look at the excarnate and incarnate Christ. Diana Butler Bass’ book, ‘Freeing Jesus’ explores key aspects of Jesus that need fresh attention.

[10] Richard Rohr calls this “The Jesus Hermeneutic,” and in his book, ‘What Do We Do With The Bible?” he provides twenty one ways Jesus related to the Old Testament that help us know how best to interpret the whole of Scripture today.

[11] E. Stanley Jones, ‘The Way’ (Stone & Pierce, 1946), Week 50, Sunday. Still available.

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Along the Way: Press On!

In my post, “Parting Words & Words of Witness” (now viewed about 8,000 times), I simultaneously made a point and recovered a lesson. The point is in the post itself, and you can read it if you have not already done so. The recovered lesson is what I want to write about in this post.

The lesson is simply this: in every challenging situation we have the choice of how we will use our energy. We can either pushback against the challenge or press on toward the overcoming of it. If we concentrate too much on pushing back, we ironically are taken captive by the situation, becoming part of the problem more than part of the solution. We fulfill the adage, “What gets your attention gets you.” We can become as negative as the negativity we oppose.

Living the Gospel life is pressing on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14), which is summed up as overcoming evil with good—what Richard Rohr calls “the practice of the better.” [1] This does not mean ignoring evil, but it does not mean getting caught up in it. Resistance names evil en route to goodness. In pushing back, we remain stuck in the “tar baby” of evil. In pressing on, we bear witness to the fact that evil does not have the final word.

The emphasis of witness is commending “the more excellent way” (1Corinthians 12:31). Resistance focuses on outcomes—e.g. letting justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:24), not the things which prevent it from happening. Resistance is declaring the mission (Luke 4:18-19), not dwelling on why it has been set aside. Resistance confronts the kingdoms of this world by commending the kingdom of God. That is, it keeps the emphasis in the right place. And in doing so we become better, not bitter.

The upcoming separation of the Global Methodist Church from the United Methodist Church is a specific illustration of the general principle. As one who will remain in the UMC, living in pushback says, “Here are the reasons you should not go with the GMC.” Rather than this, pressing on says, “Here are the reasons for staying in the UMC.” Pressing on does not eliminate the necessity of having to choose. In pressing on in the way forward for the UMC, some will still leave us. But in choosing to press on rather than push back, we will be laying the foundation which makes leaving unnecessary and which creates the spiritual health (e.g. the fruit of the Spirit) that’s essential if the future UMC is to be a vital part of the Body of Christ.

[1] I wrote a series of Oboedire posts about this entitled, “Practicing the Better” and a related one on “Nonviolence.”

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UMC: The Future United Methodist Church….Is Now

Note: I posted this on Facebook on March 5th. Given the inquiries I have received the past three days related to resources, I am posting it again here on Oboedire…

I received the announcement that the Global Methodist Church will officially begin on May 1st with multiple thoughts and feelings. Knowing this has been the end game of the Traditionalists from the outset, their announcement came as no surprise. For them it means actually enacting their separation, not just threatening or telegraphing their intention to do so.

For those of us who will remain in The United Methodist Church, it means navigating an evolution. In a different way, the UMC has as much work to do as those who will constitute the GMC. The future UMC requires a new phase of identity formation. The society at large, the general church, and Methodism as-a-whole will be asking, “Who are you?”

The question engages us on multiple fronts simultaneously. It’s important for us to stay in our lane as we cooperate in the way forward for United Methodism. My lane is that of an older adult who will not live to see the new UMC in its fullness, a retired Elder who has no official role to play as the next UMC comes into being, and as someone who has lived for decades at the intersection of Spiritual Formation and the Wesleyan tradition. This post is written in this context.

The future identity of the United Methodist Church will be rooted in our Book of Discipline. The 2024 edition will be the first step in a longer process of identifying ourselves as-a-whole. At this level things move slowly, in four-year segments, step-by-step.

The more continuous and concrete identification occurs at the congregational level as 32,000 worldwide outposts of the denomination tell their communities who they are. It is a formidable task.

Congregations who intend to remain United Methodist should begin right now (not wait until 2024) to develop and declare their identity–first to themselves and then to the communities they serve. From a spiritual formation vantage point, there are some key elements in the identification process….


We are living in a time of a New Awakening, just as the first Methodists did in the 18th century. God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). Making disciples for the transformation of the world requires us to “serve the present age.” [1] We must define ourselves in relation to this reality or we will be an antique rather than an advocate. Here are resources to help congregations recognize the New Awakening and be instruments in its advance…

Phyllis Tickle, ‘The Great Emergence’ (2012 edition)

Brian McLaren, ‘The New Spiritual Migration’

Steve Harper, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing’

Conrad Kanagy, ‘A Church Dismantled: A Kingdom Restored’ (first volume in a series)

There are many other means for understanding to the New Awakening. The Fetzer Institute has published valuable studies. The Barna Group has many helpful reports. I have provided others in my Oboedire series entitled “New Awakening” archived on the Oboedire home page.


Early Methodism was a movement before it was a denomination. It was a spiritual order akin to the third orders (e.g. Franciscans) that engaged laity and clergy in a variety of ministries in the world We must have a movement identity and expression more than an institutional one. Here are some resources to help congregations develop a movement mindset…

Be UMC (umc org/beumc)

Kenneth Carter and Audrey Warren, ‘Fresh Expressions: A New Kind of Methodist Church for People Not in Church

Alan Hirsch,‘5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ’

Leonard Sweet & Michael Beck, 'Contextual Intelligence'

The Wesleyan movement is further resourced by the Share Church ministry offered by The Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, and through ministries provided by The General Board of Discipleship.


When John and Charles Wesley launched early Methodism (as a third-order movement), they included foundational aspects: a Constitution (“The Character of a Methodist”), a Rule of Life (“The General Rules of the United Societies”), Covenant community (“The Covenant Renewal Service”), and Means (Instituted and Prudential means of grace). Happily, Abingdon Press has published a series that brings these foundational elements to life in the present. Congregations will bear fruit in ways akin to early Methodism by rooting themselves in these resources…

‘Three Simple Rules’ by Rueben Job

‘Five Marks of a Methodist’ by Steve Harper

‘One Faithful Promise’ by Magrey deVega

‘The Means of Grace’ by Elaine Heath

The Wesleyan message is further resourced by Amplify Media in its “ Wesleyan Resources” category, as well as other formative resources.


Early Methodism called it “spreading scriptural holiness across the land.” We call it “making disciples for the transformation of the world.“ However we say it, we mean the Church exists for the sake of others. This part of our Wesleyan DNA brings everything above together, and it is a crucial facet of our identity if the future UMC is to reach, receive, renew, and send the “nones and dones” who have walked away from institutional Christianity. Here are some resources to help congregations shape this part of their identity…

Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, ‘The Shaping of Things to Come'

Kay Kotan, 'Being the Church in a Post-Pandemic World' (contributors to this book are all UMC leaders)

Daryl and Andrew Smith,‘Discovering Your Missional Potential’

The future of the new United Methodist Church is now. We must be intentional and engaged in the formation of our identity. Every congregation that intends to remain United Methodist should establish a task force of leaders who will actively develop its identity and then move to declare it to those inside and outside its walls. I hope this little post will inspire you to do this, and give you some places to begin. To be passive in these days will make congregations impotent and irrelevant, even if they remain in the UMC. The phrase “United Methodist” is a verb.

[1] From Charles Wesley’s hymn, ‘A Charge to Keep’

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Oboedire Anew!

In the past two days nearly 7,500 people have visited Oboedire. More than fifty new people have subscribed to Oboedire, and will now receive writings automatically. Others have also found it, and have been in touch to tell me they will be visiting the site periodically.

To all of you newcomers, and to those who have been on the journey, I say, “Thank you.” Since 2010, Oboedire has grown into an online resource for spiritual formation. This is the mission, and it will continue.

For those of you new to Oboedire, I hope you will find the site useful in your spiritual formation, through reviewing archived materials and the icons on the home page. Some groups use these materials, and among the icons you will find suggestions for using them in groups.

Taking today as a fresh start for Oboedire, let me share my thoughts about the future of Oboedire. In doing so, I welcome your ideas about how it might be particularly helpful to you. We have made changes since 2010, and will continue to do so as we discern a better way forward. Email me at

“Along the Way” is now the mainstay theme, with others (old and new) appearing less frequently. “Along the Way” recognizes the multi-faceted nature of the spiritual life and faith formation, so posts cover a variety of subjects. I no longer post on an announced schedule, but “Along the Way” appears regularly.

Other posts are categorized by subject, usually becoming a series. You can see a list of major series in the icon section of the home page. Other specific topics are listed on the home page sidebar. The use of series is intentional. The spiritual life is a journey that unfolds step-by-step. Writing in a series helps me to do that with the topics.

Many of you in the Oboedire community are United Methodist, and the flurry of growth the past two days has been largely from UM laity and clergy. As a result, I am resuming the series entitled “Wesley’s Way.” You can read the archived posts in this series. More will follow. I am reviving it to offer insights from Wesleyan spirituality that I hope will assist you in your formation, whether or not you stand in the Wesleyan tradition or are part of the UMC.

Some of you have linked with Oboedire as laity and clergy in the UMC with the hope that you will find writing and resources for renewal as a new UMC takes shape. So, the “Wesley’s Way” series will include posts I hope you will find useful in this regard. The early Methodist movement aimed at renewal. Stay tuned for more on that in future “Wesley’s Way” posts. Also, when a post is focused on United Methodism, I will archive it in the “UMC” category.

Finally, I would remind you that Oboedire includes the “Heart Sounds” podcast. You can listen on Spotify. The second season has begun, and will return after Easter.

All this to say, “Thank you” for joining the Oboedire journey. In July we begin our thirteenth year. Oboedire is a free formation resource that grows solely by word of mouth. If you know others who would like to know about Oboedire, please tell them about it.

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Along the Way: Parting Words & Words of Witness

On May 1st, the Global Methodist Church will officially begin, and some congregations will disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church, the first wave of a separation process that will take years to complete. I will not be going with them, and as the GMC day of departure draws near, I am pondering why I will remain in the UMC. I offer the following thoughts as parting words to those who will disaffiliate, and also as words of witness to those who will stay.

I do not say “good bye” apart from a deep sadness. I still believe that unity is a higher biblical value than division. But I have had to accept the fact that there is a difference between a theology of religion and a sociology of religion. We sum up theology in the word Gospel, and we describe sociology in the word institution. The Gospel is the wine, and the institution is the wineskin. Sometimes the wineskin cannot hold the wine, and it bursts. New wineskins are necessary. We will, of course, continue to disagree about which new skin has the “best wine”—division does not bring that debate to an end—but from the vantage point of sociology, it is time to go our separate ways.

But I do not say “good bye” apart from the remembrance that until I was 66 years old (Lent of 2014), I lived and worked in the part of the UMC that is soon to become the GMC. My time included leadership in Good News and the Confessing Movement, as well as teaching/administration at Asbury Theological Seminary—the seminary now most-aligned with the WCA/GMC split. [1] I did all this in the context often described as ”welcoming but not affirming”—that is, thinking I was being as relational and charitable with LGBTQ+ people as the Gospel would allow. [2]

I lived this way willingly. I trusted those who taught me the non-affirming theology. They taught me many good things about Christianity; why would their beliefs about human sexuality not be good too? I accepted what I was taught (and went on to teach it myself), not taking the time to do my own homework until 2014, quickly discovering that to do so put me “outside the camp” in short order.

Where I now stand comes from the mixture of having been a conservative “insider” for so long (steeped in its scholarship and ecclesiology) and the ensuing eight years on another path. This journey is full of details, points and sub-points, many of which I have previously written about. In other words, my decision to remain in the UMC is an informed one, a decision that advances on several key components.

First, I have learned that progressive theology in general and with respect to human sexuality in particular is as substantive, scholarly, and plausible as conservative theology. I have learned that progressives believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture as much as any conservative does. Our differences are about hermeneutics, not revelation. For those of you reading this as longstanding progressives, you may say “tell us something we don’t know.” But living for six decades within conservative Christianity, you must believe me when I say this was a transforming discovery.

With conservative Christianity’s “one-stop shopping” disposition, I was not encouraged to explore liberalism—mostly with a “no need to do so” attitude (benign neglect), but also with an occasional “if you do so, you will be on a slippery slope” warning that alleged I would be descending into “Christianity lite,” unorthodoxy, and perhaps even heresy. It took firsthand experience to see this is not so.

My parting word to GMC folks is that I have learned progressive theology is as credible as conservative theology.

My witness to those who will stay in the UMC is that you will remain in a denomination that is biblical. You do not have to join the GMC to be faithful to Scripture.

Second, I have discovered that LGBTQ+ people live as committed Christians and devoted disciples of Jesus as much as conservatives do. They do so on the same basis as any Christian—fidelity to the covenant. [3] And they do so made in the image of God as much as anyone on the nonbinary spectrum of humanity.

Additionally, I have seen them live their faith as ignored, demeaned, and persecuted people and do so with a depth of commitment greater than I have had to live it in a heteronormative environment. By expanding my understanding of humanity through the witness and friendship of LGBTQ+ people, my experience of God has been deepened and widened beyond what it once was.

My parting word to GMC folks is that in beginning a new denomination which continues a non-affirming theology of human sexuality that then prohibits full access by LGBTQ+ persons to the church’s ministries (ceremonies and callings) you are providing a seedbed where other divisive, regulatory, and exclusionary seeds can grow, as they have done in other split-off denominations.

My witness to those who will remain in the UMC is that you have not compromised or diminished your faith by commending acceptance, inclusion, and the common good. You have, in fact, decided to personify Micah’s exhortation to “do justice” (Micah 6:8), and doing so in ways that a “pure church” mentality does not do. [4]

Third, I have chosen to remain in the UMC because the two previous points (along with others) produce a theology of love that’s deeper and wider than the stated intentions of the GMC. Of course, GMC folks will disagree with me on this (as they do also on the two previous points), but I believe the potential for a theology of love is greater in the future UMC. And because a theology of love is at the heart of Wesleyan theology, I must remain where it is practiced to the greatest extent. [5]

My parting word to GMC folks is to judge the new denomination “by its fruits”—the heart of which is love, and see how it defines and practices love in actuality. Pay attention to who is affirmed and not affirmed, who is welcomed and who is turned away, and who is given “in” status versus who is “out.” Notice how this happens, and why.

My witness to those who will remain in the UMC is that you can be confident that you are staying in a denomination committed to love in an “all means all” fashion (Colossians 3:11). You will be in a denomination that sees its mission to remove walls that divide (in the spirit of Ephesians 2:14) so that Galatians 3:28 can be realized.

In sum, my parting word to the GMC is “good bye” because it does not offer anything I have not found in the UMC. If you believe otherwise…then go.

In sum, my witness to those who will remain in the UMC is this: if you want to be in a denomination where biblical authority, a credible theology of human sexuality, and a commitment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself is in full force—you need not leave. [6]

[1] I go into more detail about this in chapter one of my book, ‘Holy Love.’

[2] I now understand that the “welcoming but not affirming” position is harmful, along with other non-affirming stances.

[3] I write about this in chapter two of ‘Holy Love.’

[4] In the Bible, the word justice means equity, fairness, inclusion, and common good. Walter Brueggemann writes about this in his book, ‘Journey to the Common Good.’

[5] The writing of Thomas Oord is shining bright light on a theology of love. I am reading his latest book, ‘Pluriform Love’ with great benefit, helping me to see that the focus of John and Charles Wesley on love was an “openness theology” in the sense the United Methodist Church affirms and teaches it.

[6] My decision to remain in the UMC does not ignore the fact that the future UMC has challenging work to do. Some have already given up and gone to denominations where progressive theology is more fully lived. Like John Wesley, I confess that I have drawn a picture that I/we have not attained, but it is a vision to live into after the GMC is gone. We will not ultimately be judged by the GMC’s leaving, but what we become once they have.

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Shepherd’s Care: Go To Your Place of Wonder

[This post arises from the wearying challenges many of my clergy friends are facing these days. If you are among them, I hope you find this encouraging. If you know a clergyperson who is troubled and tired, feel free to share it.]

I was fifteen years old when I began to consider becoming a clergyperson. It came around this time of year…fifty-nine years ago. In its early stages, I did not think of it as a call from God, but only as an unexpected idea which had gotten my attention. As the idea stuck, and expanded into a sense of calling, I remember being awed by the wonder of what I was experiencing. And from then until now, wonder has been the context for interpreting God’s will for my life. Even now, I cannot say that I “understand” my calling, but the wonder of it has been present all the way through.

The call has not always been pleasant and positive. In fact, it has sometimes been perplexing and painful. But it has never ceased to be wonderful, and in that sense, wonder has been a place of refuge and restoration when the call itself was fragile.

I’ve been thinking about this these days. I am reading (and watching videos) from clergy whose callings are bringing them to the point of “growing weary in well doing.” The pandemic has taken its toll on those called to “shepherd the flock in your care” (1 Peter 5:2). And for some, that soul-drain has been exacerbated by in-house fightings in the Church which leaves some of us being judged as “less-than clerics” by fellow clergy and being excluded by them and from their meetings. It hurts to be declared a persona non grata by friends and colleagues.

In such times, go to your place of wonder—to the place where your experience of being God’s beloved child intersected with God’s call for you to be an instrument of God’s peace in the vocation of ordained ministry. Go to the place where the feeling that “this is too good to be true” was, nevertheless, true. Remember how you felt when you were first amazed by God’s call. Go to your place of wonder. God will meet you there, love on you, and renew you.

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Along the Way: Just Say Evil

Theodicy—there, I said it. The problem of evil—it’s what the word means. The problem of evil—there certainly is one, actually many problems. The problem of evil—when and how to talk about it as a Christian? That’s the question I hope to address in this post. I apologize in advance for the length of it. It requires some detail.

I begin with a story I read recently.

Two friends were standing in the rubble of their bombed synagogue. An anti-Semitic terrorist had done the deed. One person lamented the “evil” of it. The other one replied, “I hesitate to use the word ‘evil’ because I don’t want to sound judgmental.”

Theodicy. The problem of evil. It’s a problem all right. Knowing how to speak about it is too. In this post I offer focused thoughts, not on theodicy in general, but rather on three specific questions which can help us know when and how it is okay, even necessary, to say, “This is evil.”

First, what is evil? As I have written before, Richard Rohr has been helpful to me with respect to the question. [1] In summary, he wisely exhorts us to remember that evil is a system that becomes an infectious “spirit of the age.” Very importantly he reminds us that people are not evil. We are all made in the image of God. But we can become sick with evil and be willing participants in it. We oppose evil, not people—even though the two are inextricably joined much of the time.

Keeping the distinction is essential. Paul made the same distinction when he wrote, “We aren’t fighting against human enemies, but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). This is essentially the description of a ‘wicked person’ according to Scripture—someone overtaken by evil (as a virus overtakes our bodies) causing that person to think, speak, and act under its influence.

The ego is where evil launches its attack, entering a person with the promise of power and authority (the final temptation of satan to Jesus), and usually with an accompanying ethnocentrism so that a person speaks and acts as a representative of a group already persuaded it is “of God.”

To challenge evil is to see it for what it is, and to recognize how anyone can fall prey to its spell.

That gives rise to the second question, “How do we call something evil without being judgmental?” Many of us ask this question and feel its tension.

Responding to this question means putting two things on the table. First, Jesus used the word ‘evil,’ (36 references in the gospels), so there must be times when it is appropriate to use it. He also said, “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1), so there must be a way to say “this is evil” without being judgmental.

Jesus’ own words give us the basis for addressing the second question. The Greek word for judgment is krino, a word that means making necessary distinctions. It is also an act that can be true or false. In Matthew 7:1-7, Jesus described false judgment—erroneous distinctions that arise from arrogance that only looks at others and ignores ourselves.

William Mounce describes Jesus’ meaning as the false judgment which arises from self-righteousness and hypocrisy (e.g. the Pharisee’s prayer, “God, I thank you I am not like those other people” in Luke 18:11). [2]

How do we know when this attitude and its ensuing false judgment is occurring? Here are several indicators…

(1) When the love of neighbor is violated. When attitudes and actions extinguish the Golden Rule and uproot the fruit of the Spirit. Evil demeans, discriminates, divides, and deprives.

(2) When justice is not done. When equity, fairness, inclusion, and the common good are not advocated and advanced. [3] Evil oppresses, engages in “othering” and exists by obscurantism.

(3) When the church is complicit. Peter said that God’s judgment begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Evil makes God’s wineskins brittle and leaky so that they must be identified and replaced. Philip Yancey has called this ecclesial evil the “vanishing of grace.” [4] He names this as the evangelical church’s sin to be identified and resisted.

When things like this are occurring, evil must be called out.

And that brings us to the third question, “What is the Christian way for doing this?” With Jesus as our model, we can move forward in resisting evil with confidence we are doing the right thing. I see these qualities in his life that provide us with guidance…

(1) Keep vigil over our heart. This is where we must begin. Jesus did this in the ways he resisted satan’s temptations and in his refusal to internalize people’s praise. We do it by praying Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

(2) Stay real. Jesus said we must pray “deliver us from evil.” There is evil, and we must resist it. This is the paradox of spirituality—we overcome evil with good by addressing it, not avoiding it. Richard Rohr sums it up: “We can only limit and contain evil by naming it fully and correctly.” [4] There are times when silence is not golden and being nice is not Christian. This was Jesus’ prophetic ministry, and if we are faithful to him, there are situations in which it must be ours too.

(3) Act redemptively. This means overcoming evil with good. It includes making new wineskins of love, justice, and ecclesiology (see above) that honor and incarnate the spirit of Jesus, whose cruciform life (laying down his life for his friends) meant standing against the principalities and powers harming God’s “little ones” (anawim). We know we are acting redemptively when we make Jesus’ mission (Luke 4:18-19) our own with an “all means all” mindset and intention (Colossians 3:11).

We are living in a time, both in the society and church when theodicy is eroding the foundations. It is a time when God is calling us to “Just say evil,” so that justice can roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos.5:24).

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?’ (CAC Publications, 2019).

[2] William Mounce, ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006), 371.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ (Westminster John Knox, 2010).

[4] Philip Yancey, ‘Vanishing Grace’ (Zondervan, 2014).

[5] Rohr, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?” p. 61. He goes into detail about living this paradox in his book cited above, particularly in the chapters “A Way Out and Through” and “How to Survive and Even Thrive.”

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