Unattached

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They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
–Colossians 2:19

I wrote a strange story, years ago, about a land called Umbillica.  In this world, umbilical cords were permanent.  Children remained attached to their mothers by very long strands of veins and arteries, connecting one generation to the next.

In this way, as many as five generations would travel and live together.  Families were literally bound to each other.  When a woman decided to marry, her new husband would disconnect from his clan, and tie on to his wife’s family.

This kind of connection was the only way the citizens of Umbillica knew how to live.  And in this world, there was really only one thing to fear:  Being unattached.

Being unattached? It only happened in the rare instances when a calamity wiped out the rest of one’s family, leaving a poor figure to walk the world alone.  Or, far more scandalously, it happened when an occasional clan member deliberately untethered themselves from their family, and scampered off into the night, never to be seen again.

There was nothing more taboo than to be unattached.

As the creator of this peculiar world, even I’m not sure why I set it up that way.  But can you imagine such a world?  Where familial attachments reign supreme, and untethered people feel ostracized?

Yeah, I can, too.  Sounds familiar.

Our society can project a subtler form of response to the unattached.  Sometimes we will pity people who are on their own, as if their lives must be sad and incomplete. Sometimes I suppose that’s true, but unattached people frequently find their own new clans to be a part of. New people to connect with.  And unattached people can find joy in their independence, adventure on the horizon, peace in solitude.

It’s important to remember that God’s grace is not just delivered in family-sized doses.   It comes to every person in every circumstance.  Maybe your family is healthy, or in shambles.  Maybe you’ve cut yourself off from your family because of conflict or abuse or dysfunction.  Maybe you can feel the tug of that umbilical cord…it’s just a very long one.   Whatever your attachment (or unattachment) issues are, know this:

God longs to connect with you.  Through other people, out in the world, through scripture, through your family, through the Holy Spirit, and a million other ways.

That’s the way the creator of this peculiar world set it up.

Don’t worry.  God is not stalking you, or trying to smother you.  God’s grace is not dependent on the number or strength of any of your connections, either.

And it comes (you’ll be happy to learn),

with no strings attached.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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It’s Hip To Be Square

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It’s not just some fad.  It’s not just a Huey Lewis song either.  But let me tell you…

Square is where it’s at.

Quadrilateral, actually.  A 4-sided box that contains a method for making sense of the world.  This is a United Methodist method, in fact, and one you can put to use immediately.

We call it the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”, although Dr. Albert Outler coined the term centuries after John Wesley’s time.  Outler studied Wesley extensively, and the Quadrilateral isn’t just what Wesley taught but what Wesley did.

It’s a method for strengthening your faith, based on four sources John Wesley drew upon time and again.  Here they are:

SOURCE #1:  Scripture.  This is the big one.  Scripture contains everything sufficient for us as believers, and so we look to it to inform our faith more than the others.  However, we Methodists want to confirm and enhance our understanding as we interpret the Word.  Which brings us to…

SOURCE #2.  Tradition.  For thousands of years now, people have written about God.  Speculated about Jesus.  Tried to interpret the work of the Holy Spirit.  Those writings form the basis of our tradition–and we use them to help us peel back the layers of scripture and yield new understanding.  Tradition can also refer to the activities of different faith groups — including our own — as they’ve passed down through the centuries.

SOURCE #3.  Reason.  Wesley was a strong proponent of logic, reason, and science.  God gave us these intricate minds — it’s only appropriate for us to use them as we try to wrestle with difficult subjects and complicated ideas.

SOURCE #4.  Experience.  This one’s kind of tricky, because experience can be so subjective from one person to the next.  It refers to the experience of the Holy Spirit within and around us–how it has warmed our hearts and confirmed our faith.

Maybe you knew all that and this was just a reminder.  Maybe you’ve never explored such ideas before.  Regardless, let me make it clear:  It’s hip to be square.

It’s incredibly cool to use these four sources to strengthen your faith!  People who embrace the Quadrilateral as part of their daily faith walk will find greater depth, greater balance, and greater meaning in their lives.

Now, you might have noticed — it’s actually possible for two people to use these sources and come out with entirely different notions!  One person could weigh out scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, and decide they are pro-life, and another could do the same thing and identify as pro-choice.   Your faith could point you against gay marriage, and your best friend could believe the opposite.  Faithful people can come to very different faith conclusions.

If we don’t all believe the same way, what good is the Quadrilateral in the first place?

Ah, but that’s the hippest part of the whole thing.   If we carefully, faithfully use these four sources — we may come to different conclusions, but we ARE believing the same way.  We’re holding fast to a process that produces Christians with integrity.

It doesn’t create complete agreement.  It creates creative people.  People who are willing to investigate and ask questions, to delve into the traditions of the church, to read scripture vigorously, and to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing.

If we can commit to doing all of that, then there is hope for us to learn and grow together.  (Wesley called that Christian Conferencing, a really cool concept for another day).

Do you get it?  Those four sources form a STREngth that cannot be ignored.  The more people choose to be this deliberate and methodical, the stronger we become as God’s family, even when we don’t always agree.

So spread the word.  It’s hip to be square.  Let’s make this precious process popular…

Until everybody’s doing it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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My Way

Frank Sinatra My way

“Alexa, play the Frank Sinatra station.”

Alexa’s my Amazon speaker-thingy.  You just tell it what you want to hear, and it provides the soundtrack for your life! This morning, I felt like some old standards.  This is what I got:

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

Listening, I thought to myself, “this is such a good song.  An old classic.  Well written, and ole Blue Eyes really knows how to belt it out.”

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

The words to the song, I just looked them up, were written by Paul Anka.  But the philosophy of life clearly belongs to that of the Chairman of the Board.

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

The song is about a man, near the end of his life, looking back with pride. Every time life got tough, he made his own uncompromising decisions.  He did it “My Way”.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

It was at this point that I decided to write this devotion.  Did you notice that this song is seriously missing something? There’s no leaning on God.  No leaning on others.  There’s no collaboration, no love.  There’s only a man standing tall.

And you know what?  That’s not enough.

I know lots of people who have graduated from the Frank Sinatra school of hard knocks.  They learned to keep their own interests front and center.  They learned not to trust others or accept much help.  They learned to be strong and determined and single-minded.  They aim to be King of the Hill, A-Number One, and they aim to do it “My Way”. But they don’t learn to trust in God’s way, and that means missing out on the greatest experience of life.

It’s a tricky thing, putting your faith in God’s hands, especially when the world keeps telling you to go it alone.  Even long-term Christians can struggle with this.

I went hunting for “my way” quotes from scripture.  Here are 4 that I found from the Psalms:

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  –Psalm 18:32

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. –Psalm 119:59

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. –Psalm 139:3

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.   –Psalm 142:3

Apparently there’s room for both “My Way” and God’s Way.   That balance between God’s sovereignty and Human agency is a mysterious one — humans have been asking about that theological question since day one.  I’m apt to think that we can be strong people of integrity who are guided in our steps, hearts, and minds by a loving God.  We can have it both ways.

When I get to the point in my life when I say, “And now the end is near…” I hope I sing a very different song about my life.  One filled with lots of harmony and inspiration and love, one that reminds me that if I keep God in my life…

I’ll never walk alone.

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

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Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

Well, it could be.

I know several folks who choose a word as their theme for each year.  I’ve done it myself.  One year my word was “Discipline”.  I know others who’ve chosen words like  “Happiness” or “Deliberateness”.  It’s kind of a nice substitute to the seldom-kept New Year’s Resolution.

May I suggest the word THEOLOGY as your word for this next year?  I think I’m going to make it mine.  It’s probably not the first word that might occur to you as an underlying theme for your life for the next 360+ days, but here’s why I think it should be:

1. WE NEED SMARTER CHRISTIANS.

I swear I’m not impugning your Christian IQ!  But as I’ve looked around this year, I’ve seen instance after instance of Christians who either don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it.  People claim deep seeded values and practices based on their faith, but they don’t have the understanding that goes with it!  Theology is the deliberate work of understanding God, God’s people, and God’s creation.

2.  WE NEED A ROAD MAP FOR OUR ROAD MAP.

To be effective in ministry, we’ve got to know where we should be going and what we should be doing.  That’s what the Bible is for, right?  Absolutely, but there is so much history, translation, literary criticism, and deep symbolism involved that we need a road map to help us read our road map.  Theology helps us understand the Bible with more clarity, depth and meaning.

3.  WE NEED AN INFORMED ETHIC.

Christians, at our worst, spout values and morals with little thought to the ethical system behind them.  Jesus taught an ethic of service, acceptance, obedience, and action that calls for deeper refection than many of us give.  The more we study God, the stronger a foundation we have to launch our work in the world.

4.  WE NEED MYSTERY.

I think the worst Christians are know-it-alls.  As if every question has been answered, and every shadow has been illuminated. Not so!  The greatest theologians in history published volumes and volumes of their systematic theologies, but that did not mean they’ve “solved” theology.  There’s always more to understand about God.  There are theological concepts, problems, and approaches that you and I have never pondered.  These mysteries give a robustness to our faith, and challenge us as believers!

5.  WE NEED THEOLOGY IN OUR DEVOTION.

After writing these devotions for some fifteen + years, I look back at my writings and see too many of them summed up with a simple “God is Love” punchline.  While I suppose my faith could be summarized in those three words, there is so much more to say.  To that end, I plan to engage a deeper level of theology in my work going forward.  I want to share more study of this learning, direction, ethic, and mystery in my life and my work. 

How about you?  No matter what Word you pick (or don’t pick) for 2018, you can choose to be resolute in your journey to know God, God’s people, and God’s creation. 

Remember, the only qualification for being a Theologian… 

is being a Curious Christian.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(If you’re interested in a place to start, here’s a bit of United Methodist theology:  A Few Methodist Basics)

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