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 (oboediresite@gmail.com) 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 (cac.org), 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: oboediresite@gmail.com. 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
Expressions’

Other helpful resources to mention…
–Amplify Media (at the United Methodist Publishing House)
–BeUMC
–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.


https://churchanew.org/brueggemann/speak-truth-do-justice

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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….

Milieu

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.

Movement

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.

Message

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.

Mission

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 oboediresite@gmail.com.

“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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Along the Way: Surviving on Lies

In her acceptance speech of President Biden’s nomination to be the next Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson promised to uphold the rule of law and defend the Constitution. But it was not enough to curb the ire of rightwing politicians. Before serving a single day on the Court, she was vilified as being part of the progressive left’s “agenda to destroy America.” [1] On the day when true American history was made, the false history foisted on us by the imperialists was on full display.

This knee-jerk and bogus denouncement of Mrs. Jackson further exposes the feverish attempts of rightwing politicians to advance their dark-money agendas through caricature and falsehood, and their opposition to teaching history in a way that is truthful. [2] These extremist efforts are driven by their lust for power and their desperate attempts to prevent the exposure of their vileness. The draping of their degradation in faux Christianity and junk science reveals that their goal does not require them to be truthful or ethical.

“Othering” and “less thaning” are acceptable means of maligning people not like them. And in 29 states laws exist, and are being added, which undermine equality and dignity with respect to education, health care, athletics, housing, immigration, women’s rights, and voting rights. [3] Dr. Paul Farmer, renowned physician and anthropologist (who recently died), encapsulated the truth when he said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” [4] The radical right’s multi-faceted undermining of the human family is the essence of their sinfulness.
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We are experiencing Orwellian double speak, when rightwing allegations of upholding democracy and strengthening patriotism are actually attempts to undermine both. Their counterfeit claims that views other than theirs are Marxist and Socialist are flat-out wrong and a misuse of both words. Their lies spill over into religion where any who are not in line with Christian Nationalism are declared to be unbiblical, unorthodox, and unChristian. To be “of God” you have to be of them. Under cloaks of deception and hypocrisy , the radical right is using every means at its disposal to create a nation where oligarchy and supremacy defeat equality and the common good.

We like to tell ourselves that the radical right is a minority in this nation. The 2022 elections at all levels of our government will be a means to see whether or not this is so. In our system, the vote is still the voice, and that’s why the right’s attempts to make it harder for non-whites to vote is so telling…and evil. But then, if the only way you can stay in office is through deception, then trying to silence the voice of truth makes perfect sense.

And yet…”truth is marching on” as it always has and always will. Ketanji Brown Jackson is a most recent proof that this is so.

[1] Florida Senator Rick Scott’s “Eleven Point Plan to Rescue America” is the latest in-print illustration of the far-right agenda, and its scorched-earth denouncement of views other than their own. It remains to be seen if his plan will become the “normal” view of the Republican Party, but its existence shows this kind of thinking is alive and well in parts of our nation’s political vision and agenda.

[2] The series “Black History, Freedom, and Love” on Amazon Video features prominent black spokespersons who expose our nation’s sanitized history, and in doing so show why rightwing opposition to Critical Race Theory is “Exhibit A” of its white supremacist essence.

[3] The New Poor Peoples Campaign, led by William Barber II and Liz Theoharis, is a good source for staying informed and for engaging in nonviolent resistance. There are many others too.

[4] Quoted in “The Daily Good” e-letter, 2/26/22.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Full Humanity

From a theological standpoint it’s amazing that any Christian would limit the definition of gender to the body—that is, to our genital appearance at birth. Paul defined humanity as the convergence of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). [1] Two-thirds of his definition comprises what’s invisible. For Christians to make one-third of our humanity 100% definitive is obscurantist and deceptive.

But that’s what is happening in fundamentalist Christianity today, and it is rippling into politics, evidenced by sports’ bills in legislatures. Kentucky, for example, just passed a bill that “limits girls sports in middle and high school to children born as girls.” [2] The last four words are an exclusively physical definition of gender. And they are words given credence by fundamentalist Christians who reject the more-detailed understanding of humanity.

In the first century, if Paul could understand humanity as 66% invisible, it is odd and unfortunate that some 21st-century Christians do not. [3] Our understanding of humanity is exponentially fuller than it was in Paul’s day, including knowledge about the invisibility of our humanity (e.g. genetics and hormones) as having a role in defining who we are. That Paul affirmed this 2000 years ago, but fundamentalists do not do so today, is incredulous, and all the more so by the group of Christians who shout “we are the biblical ones” every chance they get.

The Bible (via Paul as well) tells us to teach “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Combining this admonition with his trifold view of humanity, Paul would tell us that sound doctrine with respect to our humanity must take invisible factors into account, not just visible ones. Good theology incorporates new learnings from multiple sources and matures in its “soundness” (i.e. its healthy, life-giving capacities, as the Greek word implies), offering light, life, and love to others. This means developing a sexual theology that accounts for gestational (genetic), presentational (physical), and post-birth (hormonal) development. [4] Bad theology (unsound doctrine) is frozen in a past that is no longer valid (and wrongly said to be definitive), and was not, in fact, affirmed by the first Christians. [5] Such contemporary unsound doctrine produces erroneous beliefs that can be means for harming others. Transgender sports-ban bills are only one example.

[1] This is a pivotal passage in the Wesleyan theology of sanctification, applied variously to life. With respect to sexuality, it shows us that the invisible and the visible combine to define what it means to be human.

[2] The Lexington-Herald Leader, 2/17/22. Florida passed a similar bill last June. And eighteen other states have enacted them as well, You can track legislative actions with respect to LGBTQ+ people at the Freedom for all Americans website. This group offers free emailed updates of political activity and other things that relate to the wellbeing of all people.

[3] The refusal to deal with the invisible aspects of of our humanity is being further deformed by another false allegation by fundamentalists–that a progressive inclusion of invisible (non-body) dimensions in sexual theology makes it Gnostic. This is a topic outside the focus of this post, but one that makes fundamentalist obscurantism even worse.

[4] This is a simplified summary of our human development, intended to show the invisible/visible dynamics in play over time to make us who we are. On my Oboedire website and in my book, ‘Holy Love’ I offer resources for exploring this in detail.

[5] As I have shown elsewhere in more detail, Jesus himself affirmed transgender people (eunuchs) in Matthew 19:12, further confirming God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah 56:3-5.

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Along the Way: A Telling False Allegation

Since the first of the month I have come across a book, a blog, and an article that reveal fundamentalist Christianity has identified yet another “enemy of the Gospel”—social justice. It’s a telling and false allegation.

I have seen periodic references to fundamentalists caricaturing “wokeness” (which includes a resistance to injustice) as a liberal attack on America and the Church, but its only in the past few weeks that I have come to connect the dots and recognize that “social justice” is a code phrase for a concerted opposition to progressive Christianity. The book, the blog, and the article have combined to reveal the bigger picture.

The book…..Owen Strachan has written ‘Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement Is Hijacking the Gospel — and the Way to Stop It’ (2021). Until recently, I did not know about him or his book. And to be fair, he is too extreme even for some fundamentalists. But he commands endorsement from numerous fundamentalists, including John MacArthur. Without question, Strachan is a leading voice in the movement that has flagged the social justice movement as heretical. And his views have forged an ideological path many others are following. For example, Jon Harris’ book, ‘Christianity and Social Justice: Religions in Conflict’ (2021) is of the same ilk. Strachan’s equation of the social justice movement with heresy and Harris’ allegation (even in the title of the book) that it is a false religion in conflict with Christianity are telling indicators. The views of these fundamentalists that social-justice advocates are in league with Satan is all you need to know, but it is a tip-of-the-iceberg indicator of a much more fully-developed way of thinking.

The blog…..Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, writes perjoratively with respect to social justice, citing it as evidence to allege the demise of the United Methodist Church, referring to its current state as a “tragedy.” In his blog posted on February 1st and entitled “The Next Methodism” (i.e. The Global Methodist Church) he alleges that “the rise of social sctivism” has resulted in the loss of the Wesleyan heritage in the UMC. [1] And when added to several other evidences of demise, he concluded that the UMC has lost its “very identity as a distinctive Christian movement.” While stopping just short of using heresy language, he essentially says the same thing in saying the UMC is no longer distinctively Christian.

The article….just two days ago, Bob Smietana, wrote an excellent exposé, “Woke war: How social justice and CRT became heresy for evangelicals” (Religion News Service, February 7, 2022). It is this article that alerted me to the concerted effort by fundamentalists to undermine mainline Christianity and using a firebrand critique of social justice to do so. If this post sets you on a discovery to check this out for yourself, begin with Smienta’s article. It sets the book and the blog in a larger, long-standing context.

Taken together, the book, the blog, and the article are a red herring and one that is an amazing denial of the social justice tradition which runs through Scripture and tradition. [2] It is beyond belief and beyond credibility that any Christian or group would make social justice a sign of heresy. There has always been a debate regarding the relationship between the “personal Gospel” and the “social Gospel,” but the resurgence of vitriol against social justice is another indication of how far into deception fundamentalists are willing to go to preserve their power.

The sadness of their false allegation against social justice is that the fundamentalists reveal a truth in the midst of their opposition to it. Social justice is a threat to fundamentalist Christianity because in Scripture and tradition it exposes the places where injustice exists and how imperialism (political/religious collusion) perpetuates it.

In our day, social justice movements are exposing the evils of Christian Nationalism. [3] So it comes as no surprise that the fundamentalists don’t like it. Potentates have never liked prophets. Money changers in the temple do not like to have their tables overturned.

[1] Tennent’s allegation is amazing against the backdrop of the Wesleyan tradition’s emphasis on social holiness, and even more so coming from the president of Asbury Theological Seminary, that has stood within the holiness tradition since its founding in 1923, birthed out of Asbury College, itself a holiness school since 1890. Of course, Tennet alleges that the contemporary social justice movement does not reflect the holiness tradition or biblical Christianity. But that is a topic outside the intention of this post.

[2] Richard Foster’s book, ‘Streams of Living Water’ has an excellent chapter on the holiness tradition, and by way of application, his chapter shows how the UMC, in fact, is a Christian manifestation of it.

[3] Just a reminder that I have written multiple posts about this on Oboedire, particularly in these archived categories: Nonviolence and The Prophetic Task. You can also search Oboedire for references to Christian Nationalism in other posts.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: It’s About Hermeneutics

Sexual theology exists in the larger context of biblical revelation, inspiration, and authority. In relation to every topic, what we think about the Bible is the foundation upon which we stand to determine our current beliefs and practices. We call this hermeneutics and then go on to consider the progressive revelation that comes from it.

Conservatives allege that the biblical message is essentially completed. In their view, truth has been given to us in the Bible, and it is now fixed. “Progressive revelation” is acknowledged, but it’s accepted only if the new ideas reinforce the previously-revealed “orthodoxy.” New ideas that are different are rejected on the assertion that they contradict truth.

Trouble is, we now know that the nature of the Bible is not as fixed as conservatives would have us believe. James Kugel has gone into great detail about this, but sums it up by saying, “within the biblical period (roughly a thousand years long), things changed.” [2] Moreover, there is more change than conservatives admit in the ensuing two thousand years of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Cheryl Anderson documents this in her look at church history. [3] The fact is, Christians believe things today they did not previously believe. Progressive revelation in the Bible and in Church history allows for the discovery of new truths, and once we have them, we revise theology accordingly.

All this comes into play with respect to human sexuality. Failing to acknowledge the changes in Scripture and tradition, they make people believe that the truth about human sexuality is fixed, and the only “orthodox” (i.e. biblical) position is to accept and perpetuate the conservative interpretations. But the cat is out of the bag when change in the Bible and in history is acknowledged. The evolutionary pattern in general can be seen in terms of human sexuality as well. “Progressive revelation” turns out to include new truths, not just conforming to old ones.

Interestingly, conservatives have already accepted new truths about other things in both Scripture and history. Examples of changes in biblical exegesis (and the interpretations that emerge from it) include the nature of the universe, racial equality, marriage and divorce, women’s rights (including ordination), and earth care. The new truths have emerged as knowledge has increased, often through the findings of the sciences. Christian faith has evolved.

That conservatives are unwilling to apply the same pattern of “progressive revelation” (i.e. the discovery of new truths) to human sexuality exposes the inconsistency of their hermeneutic, to the point of obscurantism. Simply put, we know new things today about human sexuality. Not to incorporate the changes into theology is to hold theology captive to a past which no longer exists. And whenever theology ceases to develop, it becomes an old wineskin that can no longer hold God’s wine. But worse than that, when theology is held captive to a past that is no longer valid, it becomes an instrument for doing harm to those who should not be oppressed by beliefs which ought not to continue.

“For freedom, Christ has set you free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul meant freedom from the Judaisers who were holding people captive through a misunderstanding of the Law. Today, Paul’s words portray the freeing work of Christ from the conservatives who would hold us captive through their misunderstanding of human sexuality. And just as Paul said to the Judaisers, “things have changed”—so we now say to the conservatives, “things have changed.”

[1] James Kugel ‘The Great Shift’ (Mariner Books, 2018). loc 134. He looks at numerous examples of how the message of Scripture changed in the Bible itself.

[2] Cheryl Anderson, ‘Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies’ (Oxford University Press, 2009). She explores changes in church history on a range of subjects, including a look at the Church’s theology of human sexuality.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Resourcing the “All Means All” View

In the previous three posts I have shown that a progressive theology of human sexuality is faithful to the Bible, establishing itself in the biblical revelation of nonbinary reality, a Covenant ethic, and the affirmation of nonbinary human beings in that Covenant.

From this it moves on to the advocacy of full inclusion for all people in the society and the church. In society, this means enacting legislation that promotes the common good, proactively and protectively. In the church it means (among other things) offering marriage, the sacraments, and all ministries/offices to LGBTQ+ people. All means all. [1]

Progressive sexual theology is rooted in Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. From this soil it honors the Wesleyan ethic of “doing no harm” and “doing good” by means of a generous orthodoxy that is centered in love.

All this, of course, must be explored in depth The rest of this post is the list of resources I have compiled that will enable you to do so. [2] The list is also found on the home page icon, “LGBTQ+ Resources.”

In the blog section of Oboedire, you can find my archived posts related to my books ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ and ‘Holy Love’ in the “For the Bride” and “Holy Love” categories on the home page sidebar.

Beyond these links, the following list of resources makes the case for affirmation and full inclusion in all aspects of the society and Church. I am a United Methodist, so in section three, I have organized resources according to the categories found in the Wesleyan quadrilateral.

Places to Begin…

Kathy Baldock, ‘Walking the Bridgeless Canyon’

Jim Dant, ‘This I Know: A Simple Biblical Defense for LGBTQ Christians’

Steve Harper, ‘Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality’

Justin Lee, ‘Torn’

Matthew Vines, ‘God and the Gay Christian’

Next-Step Reads…

David Gushee, ‘Changing Our Minds,’ 3rd Edition

Karen Keen, ‘Scripture. Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships’

Dan Via’s section in ‘Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views’

Resources Linked to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral…

–Scripture

Mark Achtemeier, ‘The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage’

Robert Brawley, ed., ‘Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture’

James Brownson, ‘God, Gender, and Sexuality’

Richard Freeman & Shawna Dolansky. ‘The Bible Now’

Luke Timothy Johnson, ‘The Living Gospel’ (chapter 8)

Jennifer Knust, ‘Unprotected Texts’

William Loader, ‘Sexuality and the New Testament’

Dale Martin, ‘Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation’

Linda Patterson, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor: How the Bible is Misused to Condemn Homosexuality’

Walter Wink, ‘Homosexuality and the Bible’

–Tradition

Cheryl Anderson, ‘Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies’

Roland Betancourt, ‘Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Race, and Gender In the Middle Ages’

James Boswell, ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality’’

Leah DeVun, ‘ The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance:

K.J. Dover, ‘Greek Sexuality’

David Garrison, ‘Sexual Culture in Ancient Greece’

Judith Hallett, ‘Roman Sexualities’

Frank Mondimore, ‘A Natural History of Homosexuality’

Marilyn B. Skinner, ‘Sexuality in Greek and Roman Cultures,’ 2nd Edition

Craig Williams, ‘Roman Sexuality’

–Reason (Theology)

Megan Shanon DeFranza, ‘Sex Differences in Christian Theology’

Jack David Rogers, ‘Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality’

Robert Song, ‘Covenant and Calling’
Walter Wink, ed., ‘Homosexuality and Christian Faith’

–Reason (Science)

Jacques Balthazart, ‘The Biology of Homosexuality’

Iris Gottlieb, ‘Seeing Gender’

Jerold Greenberg, ‘’Exploring Dimensions of Human Sexuality’

Evelyn Killen, ‘Reflections on Gender and Science’

Justin Lehmiller, ‘The Psychology of Human Sexuality’

Simon.LeVay, ‘Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why,’ 2nd Edition

Michael Regele, ‘Science, Scripture, and Same-Sex Love’

Elizabeth Reis, ‘Bodies in Doubt’

Anne Sterling, ‘Myths of Gender’

–Experience

Amber Contorna: ‘Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians’

Susan Cottrell, ‘Radically Included’ and ‘Mom, I’m Gay’

Chris Glaser, ‘Coming Out as Sacrament’

Steve Harper, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’

Michelle Johns, ‘God, a Lesbian, and the Space in Between’

James Martin, ‘Building a Bridge’

Tim Otto, ‘Oriented to Love’

E.T. Sundby, ‘Calling the Rainbow Nation Home’

Mel White, ‘Stranger at the Gate’

Video Resources…

Rob Fuquay, ‘Faithful and Inclusive: The Bible, Sexuality. The United Methodist Church’ (available from Cokesbury)

Steve Harper, “Draw the Circle Wider: How I Changed My Mind” (available on YouTube @ “Steve Harper Methodist”)

Steve Harper, “A Hermeneutic of Love,” FUMC Orlando (available on YouTube @ “Steve Harper Methodist”)

Blog Sites…

Oboedire: series entitled “For the Bride” and “Holy Love—posts follow and expand on my books by the same title. Another category, “Sexuality: A Further Look” is an occasional, ongoing category.
http://www.oboedire.com

Ministries…

Canyonwalker Connections (Kathy Baldock)–multi-faceted ministry

FreedHearts (Susan Cottrell)–ministry to parents of LGBTQ+ parents

Human Rights Campaign –a broad-based LGBTQ advocacy group

Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist)

Redwood Spiritual Care (Karen Keen)

The Reformation Project (Matthew Vines)

Other Topics…

–Marriage

Phillip Cramer & William Harbison, ‘The Fight for Marriage’

Chris Glaser, ‘As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage’

Clare Hubert, ‘Towards a Theology of Same-Sex Marriage’

Karen Keen’s book, noted above

Scott McQueen, ‘Reasonable Doubt: A Case for LGBTQ Inclusion in the Institutions of Marriage and Church’

–Transgender People

Austin Hartke, ‘Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians’

–Resources for Parents of LGBTQ+ Children

Telaina Ericksen, ‘Unconditional—A Guide to Loving and upporting Your LGBTQ Child,’

Greg and Lynn McDonald, ‘Embracing the Journey: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Loving Your LGBTQ Child’

PFLAG resources

–Resources for Youth Ministry by Leigh Finke…
(1) ‘Queerfully and Wonderfully Made: A Guide for LGBTQ+ Christian Teens’

(2) ‘Welcoming and Affirming: A Guide to Supporting and Working with LGBTQ+ Christian Youth’
Fortunate Families (facebook page and website) is a rich resource for exploring nonbinary humanity.

In addition to these resources, there is a need to familiarize ourselves with the vocabulary for understanding sexuality and conversing about it. Here are some good links to help you do that…

(1) PFLAG “National Glossary of Terms” Excellent resources for matters related to transgender people.

(2) American Psychological Association, “Key Terms and Concepts in Understanding Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation Among Students.”

Revised: January 2022

[1] The affirmations of progressive theology not only extend to LGBTQ+ people but also to women, minority groups, immigrants, and other marginalized/oppressed people. Progressive theology resists all forms of nationalism, toxic masculinity, racism, and discrimination that perpetuate oligarchy and its manifold discriminations.

[2] This list reveals another false conservative allegation: that progressive theology is lightweight and lacking. In every respect, progressive theology has comparable scholarly substance and credibity to any other theological perspective.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Covenant Sexuality

In this post I continue writing about sexual ethics. Today, I focus on Covenant sexuality.

When I wrote ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ in 2014, I began my exploration of sexual morality with respect to covenant, both the biblical Covenant and our living of it today in ways that are both faithful to Scripture and fully-inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.[1] Shortly after the book came out, David Gushee emailed me, encouraging me for what I had written, and letting me know I was on the right track in developing sexual morality in relation to covenant. He told me he was soon to publish a book that would use the same hermeneutic. Four months later, his book ‘Changing Our Mind’ appeared. It’s now in its third edition, and has been of great help to me as I have studied covenant sexuality further.[2]

Covenant is the place to begin because it is the means God chose for establishing and maintaining holy love on the earth. It was time/culture specific in content and timeless/universal in its purpose. As Genesis 9 reveals, it was made with every living thing, not just people.

And as Isaiah 56:3-5 and Matthew 19:12 show (see post #2 in this series), it could be lived by all human beings, not just binary ones. Covenant is the lens through which we look to see sexuality that is good. The Covenant is the place to develop our sexual ethic.

With respect to morality, the Covenant provides the four pillars upon which we build our sexual ethic: sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. [3] They weave a strong four-strand cord that makes our sexuality healthy and holy.

Sacredness…the reminder that every person is made in the image of God, and as such must be honored. Lust is the antithesis of sacredness because it makes the other person an object to be used for our gratification. Sacredness is the soil of love.

Fidelity…the reminder that faithfulness is the way by which we honor one another in a sexual relationship. Infidelity violates trustworthiness. Fidelity is the bond of love.

Permanency…the reminder that our sexual relations are rooted in vows: “until death parts us.” Impermanence indicates non-commitment. [4] Permanency is the duration of love.

Monogamy…the reminder that our sexuality is singular not serial. This became the standard in the New Covenant. Monogamy is the concentration of love.

These four dimensions of Covenant define sexual righteousness. They are the standard for everyone. People of all sexualities can honor the Covenant, entering into relations that manifest sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. These four characteristics are also the universal standard for accountability. People of all sexualities can dishonor the Covenant, entering into relationships that violate sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy. Covenant sexuality is how we enact Paul’s words to “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

[1I remind you that Rob Fuquay has produced a multi-session video study entitled, ‘Faithful and Inclusive.’ It is available from Cokesbury (The United Methodist Publishing House).

[2] David P. Gushee, ‘Changing Our Mind’ 3rd edition (Read the Spirit Books, 2019).

[3] I look at these in chapter 2 of my book, ‘Holy Love’ (Abingdon Press, 2019).

[4] The Covenant principle of permanence does not preclude leaving a relationship that is toxic and harmful. Because love is at the heart of Covenant sexuality, when it is absent, the other three aspects disappear as well. The use of permanence in this post is in the context of an assumed love. Impermanence may be necessary to flee a relationship that has come to lack sacredness, fidelity, and monogamy. There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us to live in danger.

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Sexual Ethics


Another crucial dimension in looking beyond the conservative position on sexuality is in relation to morality. In the previous (first) post in this series, I spoke to the nature of sexuality as a nonbinary spectrum. In a nutshell, human nature is diverse in ways conservatives deny. In this post, I want to move diversity into the matter of sexual ethics. Humans are nonbinary. How then shall we live?

Listening recently to a podcast, I discovered that conservative Christians are taking a new approach in their relationships with LGBTQ+ people. Having been rightly called out for their harshness, negativity, and judgmentalism (which still exists in some Christian circles), a segment of Christians is now using the language of love with a “kinder and gentler” (as they see it) relationship with LGBTQ+ people. But it ends up at the same place: non-affirmation. It is moving the goalposts without changing the game.

The matter is complex, and even a longer post cannot fully address the matter. But to let the conservative shift go unexamined is to allow harm to continue to be done to LGBTQ+ people. The fact that the harm is “nicer” does not excuse it or change its nature and outcome.

This new position is a cooption of a theology of human sexuality often called “Side B.” [1] It is a position which began in the LGBTQ+ community itself as a middle way of describing the reality and validity of LGBTQ Christians by denying the extreme view them of being abominations, while embracing conservative Christianity’s rejection of the lifestyle. “Side B” accomplishes this by advocating a difference between nature and behavior. In short, “Side B” accepts LGBTQ+ personhood but says that living out the life is sinful. The emerging, revised conservative theology of human sexuality appears to be at or near a “Side B, but interprets it in two key ways that leave non-affirmation in place.

First, it perpetuates a binary view of creation as God’s design, which leaves anything other than male/female gender and heterosexual orientation to be a result of the fall. [2] No matter how “nice” the fundamentalists may appear to be, they view LGBTQ+ people as aberrations of God’s design and violators of God’s will when they enact their orientation.

Some who hold this view refer to LGBTQ+ people as “spoiled blueprints” of human sexuality. Another interpretation I have read is that LGBTQ+ people are violins out of tune. While these assessments are less harsh than viewing LGBTQ+ people as abominations, they nevertheless keep in place the idea that LGBTQ+ people are damaged goods, defective humans who must not be allowed to enact their inclinations, and if they choose to enact them, they must not be allowed to be ordained or (in some cases) be leaders in the church. Clearly you don’t build a house with “spoiled blueprints” or play an out-if tune violin. [3] Theologically, this means that LGBTQ+ sexuality is unacceptable if it is acted upon.

The primary problem with this view is that is not in the biblical text itself, but rather read into it.bAscI noted in my previous post, the first creation story in Genesis (1:1—2:4) describes nonbinary creation, which the sciences affirms. The pairs in the text are not literal “two’s” but rather an indication of spectrums within which are many different “kinds.” By holding to a binary creation view, fundamentalists are forced by their own thinking to ascribe to LGBTQ+ people some kind of abnormality that occurred in the fall.

And that leads to the second way the conservative position perpetuates non-affirmation: requiring lifelong celibacy of LGBTQ+ people. As a requirement for LGBTQ+ people, rather than a voluntary choice, lifelong celibacy reinforces the “abnormality” theology I noted in the first point. As used by the conservatives, it is another way of doing harm to LGBTQ+ people. [4]

Let me be clear: celibacy is an option for anyone, and there are heterosexual and LGBTQ+ people who choose it, and do so for a variety of reasons. For LGBTQ+ people It often has to do with being accepted (or remaining accepted) by Christians who are friends or family members. Sometimes the choice is an agreement (in some way) with the fundamentalist view that being LGBTQ+ is not in sync with God’s design. It is not my place to assess why any LGBTQ+ person adopts a “Side B” posture. I am not taking issue with celibacy as a voluntary lifestyle. In fact, I know straight and gay people who have chosen celibacy, and through their witness I understand it is a valid option.

But what I reject is making celibacy a requirement for LGBTQ+ people, and linking it with the assumption that it is the means for remaining in God’s favor. I reject this allegation because there is no biblical validation of the mandate. In fact, the opposite is the case in the Bible, and it comes through the book of Isaiah 56:3-5.

Just as ‘homosexual’ used to be the one-word description for non-heterosexuality, in biblical times the single word was ‘eunuch.’ Eunuchs were nonbinary human beings, who in their physicality and identity were not strictly males or females. [5] God’s affirmation of them in Isaiah is a blockbuster biblical revelation, and one totally ignored by non-affirming Christians. The message is so powerful, I want to print the verses right in this blog …

“Don’t let the eunuch say, ‘I am a dry tree.’ The Lord says, ‘To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.” (Common English Bible)

In this passage the abnormality (“dry tree”) of nonbinary humans is rejected. In fact, nonbinary people can keep the sabbath and do God’s will, just like anyone else. But there’s more. The standard for morality is the covenant, not secondary human mandates [6]. And there’s even more: nonbinary people are honored (monuments) and given a name (stature) better than binary people (“sons and daughters”). The New Living Translation communicates it clearly, “My blessings are also for the eunuchs. They are as much mine as anyone else” (Isaiah 56:3).

This passage puts an end to the discrimination (by active or passive means) of people. In short, it teaches us that LGBTQ+ people are not post-fall aberrations, and they are not required to practice lifelong celibacy. They are fully human, and are fully loved and affirmed by God. They should be so viewed and treated as such in the Church, with full access to all its sacraments and ministries. The fact that the conservative sexual theology fails to do this shows that their ‘kinder, gentler” relationships with LGBTQ+ people only moves the goalposts, while keeping the same game in play.

There is a sexual ethic beyond the one being espoused by conservatives. It’s a morality found in the Covenant. I will focus on this in my next post. [7]

[1] “Side A” theology is alleged to be non-traditional Christianity, which bases its affirmation of LGBTQ+ people on culture, not Scripture. This is, however, a straw-man allegation that does survive careful analysis in relation to Scripture and Christian history. Nevertheless, because it has been advocated in such a strong truth/falsehood context, some LGBTQ+ Christians have mediated a “Side B” interpretation that avoids the acceptance of villification but leaves a conservative interpretation of controversial passages largely in place. “Side A & B’ views are further explored in David Gushee’s books, ‘Changing Our Mind’ (chapter 6) and ‘Kingdom Ethics’ (chapter 14).

[2] The fundamentalist position collapses when the nonbinary nature of creation is recognized and understood to be taught in Genesis 1. I write more about this in my book, ‘Holy Love.’ The book not only looks at the biblical text, it also includes references and readings from the sciences that show the nonbinary reality of creation…and human beings. David Gushee explores nonbinary sexuality in chapter 12 of his book, ‘Kingdom Ethics.’

[3] Do not miss the subtle implication of these images. They leave open the matter of restoring someone to their “proper” (heteronormative) humanity and behavior. Spoiled blueprints can be corrected, and out-of-tune violins can be retuned. The term “conversion therapy” is largely out of favor, even among conservatives. But the idea that “sexual brokenness” (variously illustrated, but including nonbinarism) can be fixed/healed is alive and well in conservative sexual theology, further evidencing that they continue to believe that anything other than binary humanity and behavior is unacceptable.

[4] In her book, ‘Heavy Burdens’ (Brazos Press, 2021), Bridget Eileen Rivera devotes a chapter to the ways the imposition of lifelong celibacy harms LGBTQ+ people, and how it is a double standard with respect to morality and ethics. David Gushee looks at lifelong celibacy in chapter 14 of his book, ‘Kingdom Ethics,’ concluding (as do I and others) that it is a voluntary decision, and when it is viewed as a requirement (for anyone) it is an ecclesial imposition, not a biblical teaching.

[5] Megan Shannon DeFranza’s book, ‘Sex Differences in Christian Theology’ studies this in detail, showing that in relation to contemporary knowledge, eunuchs would more likely be intersex and transgender persons. David Gushee looks at sexual differentiations in chapter 12 of his book, ‘Kingdim Ethics.’

[6] Covenant sexual morality includes sacredness, fidelity, monogamy, and permanency. People of all genders, identities, and orientations can honor the Covenant. I write more about this in ‘Holy Love.’

[7] Even though I have referenced it above, I want to remind you again that David Gushee’s book (co-authored with Glen Stassen, ‘Kingdom Ethics’ 2nd Edition (Eernmans, 2016) looks at the ethics of sexuality in detail in chapters 12 and 14. He also explores it in his book, ‘Changing Our Mind’ 3rd Edition (2017).

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Sacred Spectrum

I have written previously here on Oboedire as an advocate for LGBTQ+ people. The “For the Bride’ and “Holy Love” series have expanded on my two related books. I had not planned to resume writing about human sexuality, but recent escalations of LGBTQ+ misinformation and discrimination in the society and church have revived the need to provide information beyond what non-affirming people are saying and teaching. [1] This is the first of occasional posts (using the theme above) that will continue my thoughts as an ally.

I begin with one of the very important facts which conservatives ignore and/or deny: creation is nonbinary. Sexuality is a sacred spectrum. [2]

Conservatives continue to deny that it is, clinging tightly to a binary view and acting as if it is the only valid (biblical) one. They vigorously present binary sexuality as justification for dividing the nation and the church with respect to human sexuality. [3] At the least, this is obscurantism. At the worst, it is deception.

The fact is (as the cited references in footnote #2 show), sexuality is a complicated and developmental phenomenon. To define it as one’s biological sex shown at birth fails the test of scrutiny. [4] We now understand that our sexuality is the combination of complex interactions that occur genetically, physically, and hormonally—during gestation, at birth, and for years afterward. The result is a spectrum of sexes, genders, identities, and orientations. To allege a male-female heteronormativity (with non-affirming implications in the church for marriage, ordination, and in some cases holding leadership positions) is no longer an adequate way to describe sexuality. Sexuality is a spectrum.

[1] As I write this, I am aware of specific escalations in two denominations, one being my own: The United Methodist Church. Heather Hahn has written an excellent overview article in UM News, “Debate About Church Future Heats Up” (January 26, 2022). This escalation is taking place in society, particularly with respect to transgender people.

[2] Here are some resources you can use to show the advance of the sciences in revealing the nonbinary nature of sexuality, a view which I say in my book ‘Holy Love’ is taught in the first creation story in Genesis: (a) Michael Regele, ‘Science, Scripture, and Same-Sex Love’ (Abingdon Press, 2014), (b) Claire Ainsworth, “Sex Redefined: The Idea of 2 Sexes Is Overly Simplistic: Biologists now think there is a larger spectrum than just binary female and male” (Nature Magazine, October 22, 2018), (c) “US proposal for defining gender has no basis in science: A move to classify people on the basis of anatomy or genetics should be abandoned.” (Editorial in Nature Magazine, October 30, 2018), and (d) Lisa Brusman, “Sex Isn’t Binary, and we should stop acting like it is” (Massive Science June 14, 2019).

[3] One way conservatives vigorously defend their position is to allege (albeit falsely) that nonbinarism is one of the signs of “sexual brokenness” in our day. This is a major position taken in a recently-published paper entitled, “”Sexual Holiness, Wholeness, and Brokenness” that a task force in the Wesleyan Covenant Association produced in December 2021 as a recommendation to the WCA global gathering in May, to formally adopt a binary position, with a list of suggested implementations in the soon-to-be-established Global Methodist Church (which already exists in principle as WCA documents and gatherings make clear).

[4] The link between sexuality and “biological sex’ is a major one for conservative Christians. The WCA report referenced in footnote #3 bases much of its position on this linkage.

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Along The Way: Looking Through the Windshield

The spiritual life is a journey, and we proceed by looking ahead through the windshield, not staring at the rearview mirror. With my “New Awakening” series ending last week, I continue looking into 2022, but without any new series for now. I will use the “Along the Way” theme to write occasional posts.

I fully expect 2022 to be tumultuous, and from the vantage point of spiritual formation, we must stand on the good foundation and build our spiritual house on it. I am resuming my “Heart Sounds” podcast to say more about this. You can follow it on my personal Facebook page or the Spotify platform.

Most of all, I see the universal Christ (Richard Rohr), excarnate and incarnate (as E. Stanley Jones put it)—the cosmic Christ (Matthew Fox) who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), and I intend (in the words of Teresa of Avila) to cling closely to Christ and hold everything else loosely. I continue to grow my life in Christ in relation to the ideas of those named above, along with Jurgen Moltmann, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Ilia Delio—to name a few.

Second, I see the need to embrace Wisdom. Walter Brueggemann, Cynthia Bourgeault, and J. Philip Newell are my recent guides, helping me see that while we are advancing in knowledge, we are not becoming wise. We must seek Wisdom, for it (not knowledge) is the aim of life in Christ, who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Embracing Wisdom is living increasingly as a mystic-prophet (Matthew Fox) in the never-ending rhythm of contemplation and action.

Third, I see the necessity of maintaining vigil. The deformative dynamics of Christian Nationalism will intensify in this election, and their “no Gospel” message will continue to erode justice and the pursuit of the common good. The need to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) will increase in 2022. I will read the good daily reports from Matthew Fox, Heather Cox Richardson, and others to remain informed and guided.

I invite you now to join with me in the pursuit of these visions. I join you in the continuing prayer for the new Awakening, and for our willingness to remain instruments of God’s peace in its advancement.

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New Awakening: Get On Board

God’s new Awakening comes with the invitation for us to be part of it, serving as co-creators with God in the advancement of it. But that’s not easy, foolproof, or without risk. We cannot wait until we are in the whirlwind to decide how to live in it. Similarly, we must “incline our hearts to the Lord” (Joshua 24:23).

First, we must decide resolutely. Being instruments of God’s peace is intentional. We decide to ‘do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). We set the GPS of our soul before we begin the journey. As Matthew Fox puts it, we do the inner work so that we can perform the outer acts. We become mystics so we can be prophets.

Among other things this means that love (agapé) is the core of our theology, with the Sermon on the Mount, the two great commandments, Paul’s love chapter, the fruit of the Spirit, and John’s first letter defining what love means. To this we bring the Old Testament’s teaching about steadfast love (hesed) to bear in the practice of justice (fairness, equity, inclusion, the common good) and mercy (grace, forgiveness, and compassion) for all. [1] We do this in the name of Christ who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11) and is at work to reconcile everyone and everything to God (Ephesians 19-10).

Second, we select our engagement prayerfully. Richard Foster was the first person to show me the importance of this. He shared with me how he came to realize that God is doing more good things than we can imagine—too many for us to be part of. Discernment is essential. [2] Richard pointed me toward the devotional classic by Thomas Kelly, ‘A Testament of Devotion,’ where I mined a mother-load of insights about selectivity in spiritual formation. I recognized the necessity and wisdom of doing a few things well.

In recent years that principle has led to my focus on LGBTQ+ people and the harm they are severely experiencing today. But for you, God’s call is to ”ask, seek, and knock” and allow the Spirit to give you your “marching orders” (E Stanley Jones’ term for discernment) in relation to being an instrument of God’s peace in the new Awakening. As we say in the Wesleyan Covenant Service, “Christ has many services to be done.”

Third, advocate personally. There is no such thing as secret discipleship. Following Jesus in the new Awakening means “going public” relative to the things in which you most deeply believe and seek to live out. It is in this aspect of getting on board where we face opposition, and it is the aspect many come to and turn back from becoming engaged allies and advocates.

In being servants in God’s new Awakening, we eventually have to decide if our primary desire is to be liked or to be faithful. If it is to be faithful, personal advocacy becomes our mission, and we then go on to learn how to do that in a spirit of love and with nonviolent resistance.

Fourth, invest locally. The things we feel called to be involved in almost always have local groups and ministries already engaged. They need our encouragement, participation, and financial support. The New Awakening is incarnational, with the Word becoming flesh in and through us to do justice, live kindness, and walk humbly with God nearby. Spirituality and locality are woven together into a tapestry of compassion and justice. We should be cognizant and contributive to new-awakening ministries and agencies close to home.

Finally, support globally. We cannot go everywhere, but we can connect with global efforts which promote the common good. We should design our financial stewardship to become ongoing donors to particular ministries, and add to that giving to specific needs which arise unexpectedly.

Writing about this, I remembered a song from the new Awakening we call the civil rights movement. In 1965, the Impressions sang the hit-song, “People Get Ready.” It’s the way I want to end this series. The lyrics are for us right now as we see and become part of God’s new Awakening,

“People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

So people get ready, for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all, among those loved the most.

There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Whom would hurt all mankind, just to save his own,
believe me now,
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place, against the kingdom’s throne.

So people get ready there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”[3]

[1] The renewal of love for all people is running through the new Awakening. I recommend two books for seeing and connecting with it. Thomas Oord’s book, ‘God’s Pluriform Love’ and Valerie Kaur’s book, ‘See No Stranger.’
[2] Because of Foster’s and Kelly’s testimony to the importance of discernment, I studied it, practiced it, and wrote about it in my book, ‘Walking in the Light.’
[3] “People Get Ready” (1965), written by Curtis Mayfield.

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Along the Way: Faith–Reality or Reality TV?

Faith exists in the context of closed-system or open-system thinking. [1] Both systems use the term “progressive revelation” but they mean different things by it.

Closed-system thinking believes progress occurs only in relation to already-established “orthodoxies” (variously defined by respective groups), and that we remain faithful only as we affirm the doctrines, statements of faith, etc. that have been created by the group.

Closed-system thinking idealizes/idolizes “past” revelatory events, accepting or rejecting new things relative to them. Truth is in place, and it can be known with certainty. “Progress” can occur, but only within established beliefs and practices. Venturing beyond the already-drawn map is to go where “there be dragons.”

When I think of closed-system thinking, I remember the movie “The Truman Show.”  Without knowing it, Truman Burbank is growing up in an elaborately designed TV town (Seahaven), where he has everything he needs. Christof has created it all and directs the show. It is only when Truman pokes a hole in the horizon while sailing that he realizes there is more reality than he has been exposed to.

Christof has to admit that there is more, but he tries to convince Truman that Seahaven is the only world he needs. Fortunately, Truman follows his intuition rather than the television setting, and ends up living a larger and more authentic life than he would ever have if he had stayed in Seahaven. He chooses Reality over reality tv.

“The Truman Show” is a contemporary cinemagraphic depiction of closed-system thinking, and it goes even further to expose it in its religious manifestations. Christof (Christ-off, a knock-off Christ) personifies the illusion of closed-system thinking, and even when his lie is exposed, he continues to allege that while the reality-tv world is not everything, it’s “all you need”—it’s “one-stop shopping” in all things God. To think otherwise, Christof asserts, is to move away from Truth and head down “the slippery slope” of infidelity.

But there is another way: open-system thinking. Truman characterizes it. He chooses Reality over reality tv. Open-system thinking believes progress can occur through things never considered before. It believes there are genuinely new things. It takes its cue from the cosmos and its micro and macro revelations, where new things are coming into being all the time.

The model for this, and the encourager of open-system thinking is Christ, who wanted his followers to have “eyes to see” (Mark 8:18), and that included experiences of seeing things they had never seen before (Mark 2:12). Ilia Delio describes this as being a seer, “The seer sees something that does not yet exist; knows something is seeking to exist; and acts to make something exist in a new way.” [2]

When I think of open-system thinking, I remember Jesus’ baptism, which we celebrated this past Sunday. In closed-system thinking, ritual cleansing had to be done in Jerusalem by authorized religious personnel. Jesus chose instead to be baptized in the desert by John the Baptist, and even though it was not a “real baptism” in the closed system, it was enough to evoke the voice of God the descent of the Spirit (Luke 2:21-22).

From Jesus’ baptism, we learn an important thing about open-system thinking. It is not revolutionary thinking, but rather subversive thinking. It is not out to destroy the system, but to transform it. Jesus followed the custom, but did it in a new way. He continued to go to the synagogue, but set it in the context of a new mission.(Luke 4:18-19). He honored the Temple, but overthrew the corrupt buying and selling going on in it (Matthew 21:12-13). Open-system faith does not deny the past, but neither does it does make it definitive henceforth and forevermore. It rejects obscurantism. As a kingdom-of-God way of thinking, open-system faith brings forth treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52).

Open-system faith does not “progress” out of doctrines and dogmas, but from eternal principles which precede them. In the Christian tradition, the cardinal principle is love, described in the two great commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), and manifested as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Open-system faith does not destroy the law, it fulfills it (Matthew 5:17). It does this by proclaiming the kingdom of God rather than the “kingdoms of this world” (civic and religious imperialism), and by producing new wineskins to hold God’s wine, while journeying into the new creation.

Open-system faith does not emerge from group documents, but from the God-given desire to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8), and with a particular concern for “the poor” (Psalm 41:1)—the anawim (whom Jesus called “the least of these”)…anyone and everyone treated as less-than, marginalized and excluded, and harmed by oppressive attitudes and actions perpetrated by closed-system thinkers.

Open-system faith is congruent with creation, which is itself “in progress” with new worlds coming into existence. It is in sync with the new creation in which the old passes away so that the new can come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Open-system faith seeks Reality, and for that reason it cannot settle for or rest in the “reality tv” faith that closed-systems create and try to convince us is the real thing.

[1] I am grateful for Thomas Oord and the pioneering work he is doing in “Open and Relational Theology.” Find out more at c4ort.com.

[2] ‘The Heart of the Matter’ email, 1/11/21.

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New Awakening: Manifestations

The preceding posts in this series have identified signs that we are in a time of new Awakening. But the signs do not stand alone. They give rise to manifestations of the awakening by those who are responding to God’s call to be lights to the world and instruments of God’s peace. Today, I want to name some of the ways people are advancing the new Awakening. [1]

First, there are multiple movements manifesting the new Awakening. In fact, history reveals that awakenings are advanced by movements before (and often more than) they are in institutions. The early Methodist movement is an example, and it is the one I know the most about. From the early Methodists I have learned that awakenings are group experiences.

In relation to the new Awakening today, the one I know most about is the New Monasticism. [2] But there many other movements manifesting new-awakening visions and practices. I think quickly of The Poor People’s Campaign, the Pace e Bene nonviolent ministry, and Red Letter Christians.Second, the new Awakening is manifested by institutes (often related to movements) which educate people to live and serve in the new things God is doing. The School for Conversion is an example of an educational ministry connected to the new monasticism. In addition the Renovaré Institute, Apprentice Institute, Willard Institute, CAC Living School, and the Academy for Spiritual Formation are helping people fulfill God’s call to train themselves in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).

In this context, we can see the contribution of theological education in the new Awakening as new degree programs aimed at transformational leadership are created in existing seminaries. Additionally, new schools have emerged (e.g. Northwind Theological Seminary, Neighborhood Seminary, and the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary) which seek to educate laity and clergy for re-formation ministries in ways that maintain quality but deliver the curriculum in ways that are non-traditional, accessible, and affordable.

Third, there are denominational manifestations of the new Awakening. Just as there was a Counter Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, there are mainline manifestations of renewal occurring today. I think immediately of the Fresh Expressions emphasis and the House-Church phenomenon. But even within existing boards, agencies, and publishing houses of denominations there are ministries and resources that are advancing the new Awakening. And the same holds true for the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity.

These manifestations (and many more) are further confirmations that we are in the midst of a new Awakening. The fact is, awakenings are validated by the multitude of means God uses to bring them to pass. The presence of manifestations all over the place is an indication that the new Awakening is happening.[1] I had originally planned to write a separate post about each manifestation, but that would mean making this series longer than I have the energy to make it. So, I will only write this one post and point to the manifestations I see most clearly. In the future, I will point to additional manifestations of the new Awakening on my Facebook page. I invite you to be in touch to tell me of any new-Awakening movements/ministries that you have found.

[2] I have written a book about it, ‘Fresh Wind Blowing.’ And among many others on the subject, I recommend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, ‘ New Monasticiam.’ In the book he provides an excellent overview of the movement, including twelve manifestations of it. The book, ‘Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals’ has been published to provide a worship resource for the new monasticism and the many communities which have spring up to incarnate it

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New Awakening: Re-Formation

Awakenings are re-formations. God waters things by the Spirit so that the dry clay of our existence can become pliable. A new creation emerges. Several factors converge to make the transformation possible.

First, realism. Father Richard Rohr’s 2021 theme for his daily meditations has been apocalypticism—an unveiling which simultaneously reveals the true condition of things while instilling hope that they can change for the better. Interestingly, Andrew Harvey’s December blog has been about the apocalyptic time in which we are living.

Jesus called it having eyes to see and ears to hear (Mark 8:18). In the Buddhist tradition it is called tonglen. It is receiving things as they are and allowing their reality to move us into compassion, what St. Francis described as becoming instruments of God’s peace. All the religious traditions teach the necessity of realism. For decades I have said it simply, “spirituality is reality.” There can be no awakening without realism because the absence of it makes the status quo normative (even untouchable), leaving the “kingdoms of this world” as idols to worship. [1] Realism puts an expiration date on the old wineskins and declares “today is the day of salvation” from them.

The second re-formative factor is recovery. That is, we discover the things which bring us together, and live by them to bring a new day into being. Recovery follows realism because after naming the toxins which divide us, we move to embrace the ingredients which unite us. This is not minimalism even though religious fundamentalist/nationalists would try to convince us that it is. But the truth is, recovery is “seeking the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1) and having found them, living by them.

In terms of the spiritual life in general, we seek to recover the Perennial Tradition—religion before religions. [1] In this tradition, religion recovers its fundamental meaning of bringing things back together and holding them together in a divine union which reflects and honors the essential oneness of everyone and everything. We are in a nonbinary, interconnected cosmos.

The second great commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” was Jesus’ way of teaching this (Matthew 22:39) Later on, Paul amplified the same idea by writing that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

In the Christian context, we seek to recover the universal Christ, who is all and in all (Colossians 3:11), the excarnate/cosmic Christ who is at work to unite all things in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1:9-10) so that as in Adam all died, in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The third factor is reconstruction. That is, we use the template created by the first two factors and set about the ongoing work of bringing the vision to pass through the grace and guidance of God. [3] We become co-laborers with God in what Richard Rohr has named “the practice of the better,” following the example of Christ who went about doing good. Christ, who is the wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) is our life (Colissians 3:4), and as we abide in him, we become (as Teresa of Avila put it) the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the world for the doing of good. Enlightened by Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12) we become lights to the world (Matthew 5:14).

We are living in a new awakening, confirmed by the sign of re-formation. As we end this year and enter a new one, let us pray that the three factors in re-formation will live in us and find expression through us.

[1] Although the fallen-world has manifold expressions, they are summed up in the classical three vices: money (materialism), sex (hedonism) and power (domination). These three converge in injustice: unfairness, inequity, exclusion, and a supremacy that undermines the common good.
[2] The main elements of the Perennial Tradition are these: (1) there is one God who created, redeems, and sustains all things, (2) God is Mystery, known through revelation, but never fully, (3) we hunger for a relationship with God and have the God-given capacity to have one, and (4) we find our fulfillment and joy in this relationship.
[3] The next round of posts in this series will focus on the manifestations which move the new Awakening from a vision into reality.

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New Awakening: Resiliency

Times of new Awakening are more like a sunrise than a lightning strike. They emerge rather than erupt. They occur through endurance. Resiliency is another sign that we are in a time of new Awakening. We see people all over the place who refuse to give up, give in, or give out. They are signs of a new Awakening by their tenacity.

I did not plan this post for the week leading up to Christmas, but it is easy to look at the birth of Christ in relation to resilience, both on the part of Mary and Joseph—and not only their resilience leading up to Jesus’ birth, but afterward as well. And it continued in Jesus’ life and ministry all the way to his ascension.

Resiliency is fidellity–the mark of obedience, the sign of endurance. Resilience is tenacity, the decision to “stay with the mess” [1] as the principalities and powers are vanquished by the Prince of Peace. Resiliency is incarnating the conviction that darkness cannot overcome light (John 1:5). Resilience is offering ourselves to God, praying to become lights to the world as we bear witness to Christ, the Light of the world.

Resiliency is also flexibility. It is the art of glancing off opposition and defeat, and moving toward the goal of overcoming evil with good by using a different plan and walking on another path. Most reformers are “Plan B” people. They do not idolize their initial thoughts, but rather see them as the soil from which unseen seeds of insight sprout and grow. New awakenings occur through trial and error, by believing that failure is not final.

And perhaps most of all, resilience is characterized by hope. The fallen-world system, complete with its preachers and politicians, will not have the final word. This is the hope that launches the Christian year—the belief that the birth of Jesus is the ultimate sign that God is with us, and that those who have sat in darkness will see a great light.

Hope is the keynote which enables us to sing, “We shall overcome….someday.” And adding, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.“

[1] This phrase is from Charlotte Beck. I read it without reference to a specific book of hers. I captured it because it reminded me of Dorothy Day and her resilience.

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New Awakening: Resistance

One of the best ways to know that we are in a new Awakening is through the sign of resistance. It is everywhere and on all sides.

The most intense resistance comes from those who have “sold their souls to the company store” (the “dirty rotten system” Dorothy Day), preferring darkness to light because their deeds are evil (John 3:20) and making the status quo a sacred cow. It is the most intense resistance because it is fueled by egotism/ethnocentrism with their insatiable desire to hold on to privilege and power.

At the extremes of fundamentalism/nationalism is the deification of its evils to include the justification of violence. That’s why much of the resistance we are seeing today is not understood as part of the new Awakening. But it is. When the “old passes away” as the new creation emerges (2 Corinthians 5:17), the gatekeepers and potentates of the fallen-world fortress are threatened. They resist.

In response to the advancement of sin there is resistance by righteousness. This is the prophetic resistance that calls out evil, calls for repentance, and calls forth hope. It is the resistance of justice, which advances fairness, equality, inclusion, and the common good—in opposition to injustice that seeks to preserve prejudice, disparity, exclusion, and privilege. Righteous resistance is often called nonviolent living, which is rooted in love (agapé) [1] along with the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. It operates with the vision of shalom (comprehensive wellness) fueling it. It is the light which John described as shining into the darkness (John 1:5).

The light is Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). Universal light. Light for all and in all (Colossians 3:11). The new Awakening is essentially and intensely Christological. Christlikeness is the summary of its appearance and its availability because the Christ who lives tells us we can live also (Jhn 14:19).

I came to see resistance as a sign of awakening while studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians in relation to writing my book, ‘Life in Christ.’ [2] The Judaisers (the religious nationalists) were opposing the Gospel that Paul was proclaiming and personifying. Because they were opposing God’s new awakening (and of all things, doing so “in the name of God”), Paul resisted them with the message of grace (vs. legalism), the reality of oneness (vs. divisiveness) the formation of faith (vs. “dead orthodoxy”), the experience of freedom (vs. bondage) and the fruit of the Spirit (vs. its opposites)—all summed up in his exhortation to “live by the Spirit” (vs. the flesh: egotism/ethnocentrism).

The biblical phrase for righteous resistance is “overcoming evil with good.” These are the ways Paul said we do this. Paul’s resistance of the Judaisers reached its peak in his call for the Galatians to be free—the freedom Christ came to give us (Galatians 5:1). To use Martin Luther King Jr’s phrase, the journey into a new Awakening is a “stride toward freedom.” [3] It is a march that will be resisted. But as King also said, it is a march on the path that bends toward justice. We are in a time of new Awakening, evidenced by the sign of resistance.

[1] John Lewis, ‘Across That Bridge’ has an excellent chapter on the centrality of agapé in nonviolent resistance. His book, ‘Walking with the Wind’ is his memoir of the civil rights movement, which shows how love was lived in the midst of the crisis.

[2] Steve Harper, ‘Life in Christ: The Core of Intentional Spirituality’ (Abingdon Press, 2020).

[3] Martin Luther King Jr’s book., ‘Stride Toward Freedom’ shows how the civil rights movement was on the arc that bends toward justice, and was a march fueled and sustained by hope.

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New Awakening: Reignition

This sign of new Awakening occurs as we recognize the restlessness of our time and rethink what is making it so. We discover that things which should be happening, aren’t. Things which should be present are absent. Awareness of what ought to be, but is not, reignites a flame of intention akin to that of John the Baptist—we desire to make rough places smooth and crooked paths straight. Like John, reignition is the means of preparing the way of the Lord.

Reignition begins with discernment—with the recognition that God is doing a new thing, working to overcome evil with good. Reignition increases with imagination—with a vision/dream of the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. From imagination, there comes emergence—the exercise of will that commences a transformative process by which the old passes away so that the new creation can come.

When I think of this, Sts. Francis and Clare come immediately to mind. They ignited a restorative movement through discernment, imagination, and exercise of will. The prayer attributed to Francis sums up spiritual reignition,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

As Francis noted in the prayer, reignition is a “dying”—a moment in which we engage our hearts unto the Lord, deciding to live no longer for ourselves and for “the system,” but for God alone. In the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service, we put this intention into the words of prayer,

“I am no longer my own, but Yours.
Put me to what You will.
Rank me with whom You will.
Put me to doing.
Put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for You,
Or laid aside for You.
Exalted for You,
Or brought low for you.
Let me be full.
Let me be empty.
Let me have all things.
Let me have nothing.
I freely yield all things
To Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
I am Yours, and You are mine.
So be it.
And may this covenant which I have made on earth
Be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

When we pray prayers like these, the flame of love is reignited in our hearts, and we join those who have been, and are now, co-creators with God in the new Awakening.

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New Awakening: Rethinking

A sign that we are in a new Awakening is that more and more people are rethinking things. On multiple fronts, and in a variety of topics, status quos are no longer being allowed to remain sacred cows. Rethinking always accompanies awakening. Critical thinking punctures assumptions, creating holes where new light can get in. [1]

That’s why fallen-world people caricature rethinking (e g. “going down the slippery slope”) and reject those willing to engage in it. Rethinking threatens those who have turned ideas into idols. Rethinking is openness, and those who are closed do all they can to prevent it. Christians are not exempt, and sadly we are living in a time when some are preferring darkness to light (John 3:19) that turns into a toxic preservation of power and control.

Some years ago, a trustee of a large Christian school asked the president how far she could go in exploring ideas, and still be allowed to remain a trustee. The president said she was free to explore as much as she liked, but that she could only remain a trustee if she ended up where the school was. Disagreement was the unpardonable sin. And that is precisely why rethinking is denounced and stereotyped by those who have made their ideas the only acceptable definitions of truth and orthodoxy.

But history shows that every new Awakening includes rethinking. If it didn’t, nothing would ever change. Rethinking is a synonym for the word ‘repentance’—which means our willingness to look at life with an enlarged mind (metanoia), a mind that’s thinking beyond current reality—looking at life in a new way with the intention of changing and being an agent of change in the world.

Look at the re-formers today. [2] They are all people who have rethought things, and are prophetically inviting us to do so too. Like Jesus, they are voicing, “You have heard ….but I say to you…” in ways that call out evil, call for repentance, and call forth hope. Rethinking creates a “divine moment” which we call a tipping point. We are living in a time of rethinking (action that makes use of new data and sound doctrine) that signals we are in a new Awakening.

[1] ‘Critical thinking’ is a technical term. It does not mean negative thinking, but rather exploratory and penetrative thinking. Tom Chatfield’s book, ‘Critical Thinking’ not only describes it, it shows why it is so important, and guides readers in ways of practicing it.

[2] I am currently reading ‘The Reckless Way of Love’ excerpts from Dorothy Day’s writing, edited by Carolyn Kurtz (Plough Publishing, 2017). It is a reminder that rethinking always accompanies awakening. We see the same dynamic in people like Richard Rohr (“alternative orthodoxy”), Diana Butler-Bass (“Christianity after religion”), Brian McLaren (“a new kind of Christian”), Lisa Sharon Harper (“a very good gospel”), Steven Charleston (“ladder to the light”), David Gushee (“after evangelicalism”), Thomas Oord (“open and relational theology”) and Ilia Delio (“the emerging Christ”), to name a few.

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New Awakening: Restlessness

Today we begin a round of posts identifying signs that we are in a time of new Awakening. The previous posts, which compared our natural waking up each day to awakening spiritually, were meant to say, “When you are awake, you can see what’s going on.” It is what Jesus (and before him, Isaiah) was talking about when he taught that we must have “eyes to see” if we are to recognize that God is doing a new thing. Waking up enables us to see the signs of new Awakening.

The main sign that we are in a new Awakening is restlessness. Diana Butler-Bass reminds us that in history every awakening begins with a breakdown. [1] Walter Brueggemann calls it disorientation. [2] Richard Rohr describes it as disorder. [3] Psychologically and sociologically it is the experience of liminal space.[4] Paul Tournier used the trapeze-artist analogy, calling it the time “between the bars.” [5] Whatever we call it, a new Awakening is a time of restlessness.

But when we have eyes to see, we recognize that restlessness is the portal into renewal. Jesus compared it to a new birth (John 3:1-21). Paul used the same analogy, telling the Galatians that the formation of Christ in us occurs as labor pains (Galatians 4:19). Changing to a universal metaphor, he wrote to the Corinthians that an awakening (life “in Christ”) is a new creation—but one in which the old must pass away in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This should be no surprise to religious people. Taoists understand that “no way” comes before Way. Buddhists teach that suffering precedes enlightenment. Jews understand that darkness precedes light. Christians teach that death comes before resurrection. We say, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” but often without realizing this is a cosmic principle. And when we turn the words into a cliché, we fail to see that a new Awakening emerges from restlessness

All this is to say, an awakening is a paradox. It is when we think we are not in one that we actually are. Restlessness is the seminal sign that God is doing a new thing, that an awakening is underway. The breakdown is, in fact, a breakthrough. The old order of things is passing away, so that the kingdom of God can be more fully present on earth as it is in heaven.

Awakening is ignited by restlessness because it is the overcoming of evil with good. This does not happen without struggle. But it is the labor pain that leads to new birth.


[1] Diana Butler-Bass, “Awakening Now?” in her ‘The Cottage’ eletter, 8/17/20. Her book, ‘Christianity After Religion’ explores this in more detail. Similarly, Barbara Brown Taylor looks at the paradox of awakening in her books ‘Leaving Church’ and ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night.”

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘The Spirituality of the Psalms’

[3] Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’

[4] “Liminal Space,” Oneing Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, published by the Center for Action and Contemplation.

[5] Tournier uses this analogy in many of his writings. I first read about it in his book, ‘ThecMeaning of Persons.’

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New Awakening: A Precious Gift

In the opening round of posts I have compared our daily routine of waking up to a new day to the ways in which we become aware of the new Awakening in which we are living. I want to turn to writing about the signs that we are in such a time. But today I bring the opening round of posts to an end by noting that waking up to a new day is a precious gift.

I have learned this particularly from my African-American friends who so often include in their praying words like “Thank you God for waking me up this morning.” Their spirituality ignites gratitude, moving them to see that each new day is a gift filled with opportunity.

Writing these words has reminded me of the ancient Chinese story of the person who approached a sage with a bird in his hand. He asked the sage, “Is this bird alive or dead?” The sage replied, “The bird is as you wish it to be.”

I need to have this view. I too easily become “fallen-world focused,” awakening to a new day with a dull head and a troubled soul. In that spirit foreboding can easily eclipse faith, and I know better than to start my day facing in the wrong direction. Instead, I must train myself in godliness that forms me in gratitude, saying as I open my eyes, “Thank you God for waking me up this morning.”

Applying this to the new Awakening, I am learning from the saints (ancient and modern) that I must recognize the new Awakening as a precious gift. I must enter each new day of it with gratitude, and seize the opportunities to overcome evil with good.

Several years ago, Richard Rohr wrote that one of the formative phrases we need to live by is, “Yes, and…” [1]  That is, we acknowledge the realities we face (including the evil and challenges), but we do not stop there. We say, “and….” We say, “Nevertheless…” [2] It is in the “and” phase where we discern that the new Awakening includes God’s invitation to us to be instruments of God’s peace moving everyone and everything increasingly into the new creation. This contemplative action puts us in sync with the plan of God to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

So too, the new Awakening is alive or dead in us depending on how we see it, and how we intend to live in it. Those who choose to hate, exclude, and divide squeeze the life out of the bird. Those who love, include, and unite open their hand and let the bird take flight. It is what the hymn describes as “having done with lesser things.” [3] Waking up each day gives us the opportunity to do this. Recognizing we are in a time of new Awakening does too.

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘Yes, And’ (Franciscan Media, 2013).

[2] I write about the importance of “nevertheless” spirituality in my book, ‘Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense (Upper Room Books, 2007).

[3] “Rise Up O Men of God”

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New Awakening: A New Combination

When we wake up, we awaken to a new day. Each day is a combination of continuation and creativity. Morning, noon, and night continue as they have for billions of years, but they do so in a creative 24-hour period which has never existed before. The new Awakening we are experiencing in our time is comprised of the same blend.

Our day goes wrong if we separate continuation and creativity. Life goes wrong when we separate the two. In matters of faith it is easy to separate continuation and creativity. The loss of either one diminishes our ability to recognize and participate in the new Awakening.

Conservatives often fail to see creativity. The conservative error turns faith into “dead orthodoxy” (John Wesley’s term)–that is, a view which demands that the past be repeated/replicated in the present. The past is idolized.

Progressives can lose sight of continuation. The progressive error turns faith into “confusing relativism”– that is, a view which commends current reality to the disparagement of the past. The present is idolized.

The new Awakening avoids these errors through combination–through the conjoining of continuation and creativity [1]. Our model for this is Jesus, who said that he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). Continuation and creativity. The bridge that enabled the continuation of the law, but with creativity, was love. It is still the way “dead orthodoxy” becomes “living faith.” 

The combination of continuation and creativity follows the biblical pattern that Walter Bruggemann calls orientation, disorientation, reorientation. [2] Matthew Fox refers to it as rooting, uprooting, re-rooting. [3] Richard Rohr has recently written of it as “the Wisdom pattern”–order, disorder, reorder. [4] The combination of continuation and creativity is a challenging journey that does not take place when either aspect is denied.

Jesus summed it up in saying that wise people bring to life treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52). Paul preserved continuation and creativity in the term “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The combination of continuation and creativity in the new Awakening gives us the ability and courage to say what Jesus said six times in the Sermon on the Mount, “you have heard that it was said….but I say….”

New-awakening people personify the combination which enables us to live in the present with an appreciation of the past that does not demand a lock-step adherence to it, and with a creativity in the present that does not demean what people before us have believed. New Awakening people are formed by the Wisdom tradition, which holds the past and present in constructive tension. Jesus was a Wisdom teacher, and periods of awakening arise from his incarnation of and instruction about Wisdom. [5]

Awakening occurs when we become mystic-prophets. [6]  Mystics are deeply rooted in God. Prophets are courageously at work in re-rooting life so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. Mystic-prophets live in the in-between moment (the time of disorientation, uprooting, and disorder) leading people from darkness to light through a theology of hope. [7]

Jesus called this perspective having eyes that see and ears that hear (Mark 8:18). It is a metaphor that combines continuation (sight and sound) with creativity (God saying, “I am doing a new thing. Don’t you recognize it?”). The new Awakening is the work of God on the earth that preserves the foundations while building the new house–that is, living in ways that the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God and Christ (Romans 11:15). This vision gives us the means to see the transformation, and the will to become among those bringing it to pass.

[1] Matthew Fox calls this the “via creativa” and describes it in detail in his book, ‘Original Blessing.’

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘The Spirituality of the Psalms.’ In addition to the psalms, he shows how this pattern occurs elsewhere in the Bible.

[3] Matthew Fox, ‘Prayer.’ Chapter three

[4] Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’

[5] Cynthia Bourgeault, ‘The Wisdom Jesus.’

[6] Matthew Fox, ‘Prayer.’ Chapters four and five.

[7] Jurgen Moltmann, ‘A Theology of Hope’

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New Awakening: A New Perspective

Waking up gives us a new perspective. I went to bed in the dark, but I awaken in the light. Things look different. The movement from darkness to light is a primary metaphor in describing spiritual awakening. So much so that the Christian year begins with the announcement that the people living in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). The light is Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12).

Darkness is sin, but that is too vague to be of much help when it comes to a new Awakening. Every time God does a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) it is in relation to specific things. In Isaiah’s day it was imperialism—the fallen world’s collusion between politics and religion to preserve the powerful in their status and privilege, while fostering injustice and oppression. [1] Darkness is always specific.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) were in collusion with Herodians and Romans. The very people who should have known better had sold their souls in their thirst for power and notoriety. Jesus exposed their darkness, and the religious-political system crucified him. Darkness is always specific.

A new perspective is the God-given ability to recognize the fallen-world kingdoms, not only in the society, but also when they manifest themselves in religion. In our day we see them in such things as religious fundamentalism, Christian Nationalism, dualistic thinking, legalism, racism, classism, homophobia, gender inequality, economic disparity, partisanship, political demagoguery, sectarianism, violence, and the idolatry that makes the status quo a sacred cow. Darkness is always specific.

A new Awakening gives us perspective to see things as they are, not as the purveyors of darkness say that they are. Perspective is part of the new Awakening, because until you see things in the light, the fallen world looks like the kingdom of God, when the fact is, the fallen world is a “dirty rotten system” (Dorothy Day). Perspective is part of the new Awakening because it is only when we see Reality that we have the courage and the will to overcome evil with good.

[1] Walter Brueggemann writes about imperialism in nearly all his books. His book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ is an insightful look at imperialism and the means for overcoming it

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New Awakening: A New Resonance

I begin this post confessing that, given the perils we are facing these days, I am tempted to “cut to the chase” and write about the new Awakening in a direct and applied fashion. But I am resisting that temptation because I believe it is more important to provide a big-picture look before going into detail. Please bear with me as I do this.

The stakes are too high to rush ahead and run the risk of leaving important things unaddressed. The new Awakening is a many-splendored thing. We need to see the magnificent “forest” of it before we look at particular “trees.”

With the new consciousness (the last post) in our minds, we regain an awakening of resonance. When we wake up, we not only regain consciousness with this world, we experience our oneness with it. Awakening is a resonance with this essential singularity and union with everyone and everything.
Indigenous people have been aware of this much longer and more profoundly than many of us are. Sherri Mitchell writes of it in her book, ‘Sacred Instructions,’

“We all come into this world with a set of instructions. These instructions guide us toward our highest purpose. They lead us to the essential truths that live deep within us. This truth is encoded into our DNA. It is embedded in our genetic memory. It vibrates within us on a cellular level. Every element of life carries this vibration. Every living being has its own vibrational tone. When these tones are combined, they form the voice of creation. If we learn to listen closely, we can begin to hear that voice and allow it to guide our steps through life. Then we can begin to attune our daily actions with our higher purpose and become who we were meant to be.” [1]

Breathtaking insights from the sciences are confirming this. [2] We are one with everyone and everything. We share 98% of our DNA with primates, 35% with plants. We are part of a uni-verse. There is a recognizable resonance between and among all things. We are “in” all of life, and all of life is ‘in” us. Our Buddhist friends call it interbeing. Essential oneness is the story of our existence.

The creation stories in Genesis 1-2 bear witness to it. The heavens and the earth are the unified creation of God–two dimensions of one Reality. The “days” of creation are metaphors telling us that each act of creation is united to every other one in a larger “week.” Everyone and everything share an original goodness.

Jesus, as a Wisdom teacher, described interbeing in the second commandment, to love our neighbors…as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). In the contemplative tradition, “as” is more than a comparison with someone or something, it is a oneness with them. Paul communicated the same oneness when he wrote that we all live, move, and have our being in God (Acts 17:28), and that Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11)

John Donne described it poetically, that when the bell tolls, it tolls not only for others, but for us also. We are part of everyone and everything. Resonance. People whose faith includes the contemplative and intuitive, know this. Cosmic oneness lived out in everyday living is the heart of the mystical tradition. [3]

Far from being abstract, the new Awakening to resonance opens the way to the renewal we so desperately need today. Resonance exposes the evil of separatism, sectarianism, supremacy, and subjugation. It does so as Light—shining into the darkness of our night. God’s daylight is unity, community, and oneness.

Resonance overcomes evil with good. John described it this way, “The light shined into the darkness, and the darkness could not put it out” (John 1:5). And as we know, John understood that this light is Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). [4] When we awaken, we resonate with Life, we see our oneness with everyone and everything, and we receive the gift of the new day as a fresh invitation to live abundantly and in union with all God has made.

[1] Sherri Mitchell, ‘Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Spirit-Based Change,’ xix.
[2] Thomas Berry’s ‘The Sacred Universe’ is a good resource for seeing this. Scientists estimate that there may be a trillion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars–and all in a single, interactive cosmos.
[3] Richard Rohr, ‘The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See’…and Matthew Fox’s, ‘One River, Many Wells’ are excellent means to understand that the contemplative tradition is at the heart of Christianity, much older than the rationalist/informational definition of faith that today is alleged by some to be “true faith,” when it is only half of the story.
[4] E. Stanley Jones’ writings have (for more than fifty years) schooled me in recognizing, relating with, and responding to the cosmic Christ. More recently, Matthew Fox’s book, ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ,’ Jürgen Moltmann’s ‘The Way of Jesus Christ,’ Thich Nhat Han’s ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ,’ and Richard Rohr’s, ‘The Universal Christ’ have been especially helpful.

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