It’s Hip To Be Square

hiptobesquare

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

frames1

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Death by GPS

img_0410
This week, I couldn’t recall the name of one of the streets in town.
It was Main Street.
Thinking about it, I realized that if you were to hand me a blank map of my small city, I would only be able to insert maybe six or seven street names.  If I had to tell someone how to get to my house using only the names of streets signs, I don’t know if I could do it!
What is going on with me?  I used to be really good at street names.  It’s as if my ability to match a name and a place has just shriveled up.  What gives?
And then the three-letter answer came to me:  GPS.
Global Positioning Satellites.  Somewhere up in the atmosphere there are lots of little contraptions orbiting the planet that, through my phone or my car, can tell me with pinpoint accuracy where I am, and where I’m going.  They do all that work for me. GPS has become such a part of my life that I’ve stopped paying attention to my surroundings.  Instead, I pay heed to the slightly British-accented woman’s voice telling me to “proceed to the route”.
Is it dangerous to rely too much on a GPS?  Turns out, it can be deadly.  I found this article from the Sacramento Bee, describing numerous cases of people following a malfunctioned or misread GPS out into Death Valley.  They became lost, didn’t know where to go, and in several cases perished because of it!
What if that’s me, minus the desert?  What if I’ve come to rely on the “eye in the sky” instead of my own vision, so much that my ability to see clearly has suffered from it?
Death by GPS is a real thing.  I wonder, what about death by Faith?  Placing so much faith into someone or something that you lose yourself.  I think it is possible.  I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to their own gifts and uniqueness, throwing their own agency away to the whims of God.
But God doesn’t work that way.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.  –Psalm 119:105
See?  God doesn’t carry us over the finish line.  God helps us see where to go.  I like what C.S. Lewis had to say on the subject:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
― C.S. Lewis
God doesn’t require faith at the cost of agency.  Both are meant to go together.  God shines like a lamp, like a light, like the sun, and with faith’s help, we chart a course for our lives.
God illuminates our world, and nudges us to move.
Where do we go?  God may have a few ideas about that.
But it’s up to us to read the (street) signs.
Have a great week,
Mitch

Life GPS

 

 

 

Your Word for 2018: THEOLOGY

snoopy

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)

i_love_theology_tshirt-300x300

Christians and Karma

chutesladders.gif

One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. –Proverbs 11:24-25

Ever say things like, “Well, you get what you deserve”, or “These are my past deeds coming back to haunt me”, or “I must have been really bad in a past life?”  I say this stuff, too, sometimes.

Maybe we would make good Hindus, or Buddhists.  Words like these reflect an ancient concept present in both of those religions, called Karma.

Karma is the idea that your good and bad deeds will reward or punish you in the life to come.    There’s something about the notion of Karma, with its multiple lifetimes and black-or-white morality that can be very alluring to us as Christians.

I’ll find myself playing the Karma game when things go wrong.  I’ll think, “I deserve to be punished like this.  I wasn’t faithful enough before.”   As if Karma somehow evens things out.  I’ve heard other people say, “There’s equal amounts of Good and Evil in the world, and this is just the Devil getting his due.”

This is all kind of a Westernized view of Karma.  The Hindu and Buddhist concepts are much more nuanced, I’m sure.  But when Christians think in terms of Karma, they run the risk of ignoring Christ, which is a shame, because Christ plays by far better rules:

  • Christ offers GraceEven when we don’t deserve it!
  • Christ offers Eternal Life present with God.
  • Christ offers Goodness that forever tips the scales against evil.
  • Christ offers Companionship when the road is hard,
    Second Chances when we mess up, and a
    Reason for Living that is so much more than simple spiritual accounting.

Even though there are passages, like the one from Proverbs, that can make it sound like the Bible is talking about Karma, ultimately they refer to a God who is an ever-present blessing to us, in good times and bad.  We believe that, because of God, the universe is fundamentally skewed towards Grace.

Instead of trying to win at life, as if it’s some cosmic game of Chutes and Ladders,  Christians are called to boldly take every step–even the hard ones, because their path is illuminated by the Light of Christ.

Personally, I think Karma is a pretty interesting idea.  I’ve even wondered about past lives and reincarnation from time to time.  Hinduism and Buddhism both have a great many things to offer and teach us.

But I’ve got no plans to change my colors and abandon Christianity.

Which means, I’m definitely not a…

d59ce44e6caf7323d2b5543598dcbe0e0a16814edb26cea13bfb56f9bc63f0fa

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reclaiming “Thoughts and Prayers”

OptipessTP.png

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  –James 2:14

In the last week, I’ve read several comments, cartoons, and editorials that were, in effect, bashing the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”.  I understand why.  Some people carelessly throw that phrase around during a tragedy.  The words seem empty, not followed up with action.

And there’s so much going on that demands action.   The need to stand up for justice, or donate to a relief effort, or write your congressperson is very real.  If we don’t do any of these kinds of things, the possibility of positive change becomes less likely.

I get it.  I see that urgent need as well.  But please, stop treating the notion of “Thoughts and Prayers” as if the words were pointless.  In the rush to condemn human apathy or criticize lip-service, a vital activity at the heart of Christianity is getting caught in the crossfire.

Thinking is NOT doing nothing.  In fact, we could all stand to do it a little more.  Critical thinking in a time of crisis can be hard to come by.  People are scared, numb, in survival mode.  Rash actions and words are not the answer.  God gave us minds, and wants us to use them.  When faced with a crisis, there are few things that can be more important than taking a deep breath, examining the situation, and sorting out our thoughts as clearly as possible.

Similarly, Praying is definitely NOT inaction. Prayer sets the foundation that makes sure future actions align with the Kingdom of God.  Prayer focusses one’s own spiritual energy, and joins with others pursuing common goals.  Prayer conveys our great needs to God, and invites us to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer opens us up to receive the improbable or seemingly impossible.

When a person of faith says, “My Thoughts and Prayers are with you”, it is not an empty phrase or a polite brush off.  It is a statement of alignment, with God and with neighbor.  It is a promise of attention and focus.  It is the promise of divine action, channeled in part through the believer.

Or at least, it can be.  Truly, that phrase has been dumbed-down and co-opted, but that’s not the way it is supposed to be used.  Rather than letting sacred activity be mislabeled as inactivity, let us put this false dichotomy to rest.

The work of the Christian in the world has internal and external components.  Thoughts and Prayers not without Action.  Faith not without Works.  All these words are to be taken with utmost seriousness.  Reverence, even.

Those are my Thoughts and Prayers.

Can I get an Amen?

Have a good week,

Mitch

POSITIVE-THOUGHTS-AND-PRAYER

 

 

 

 

 

Moses and Errin’

SONY DSC

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  –Exodus 4:10

When I’m trying to quiet down a group at church, I know exactly what to say:

“Would anybody like to close us with a prayer?”

–Instant Silence–

That scenario plays out time and again, in my current church and every other church I’ve ever served.  It doesn’t really stress me out too much. Many folks don’t feel comfortable sharing their faith out loud, in prayer or testimony. I’m used to it.

I will step in and do my priestly duty, offering up a prayer to close out a meeting, but I wonder:  Who’s fault is it that Christians today struggle so much with this?

Maybe it’s God’s fault.

Remember the call of Moses?  When Moses claims he’s “slow of speech and tongue”,  God lets him off the hook, and allows Aaron to do the public speaking instead.

By this time, I think Moses had just worn God down with all his “No’s” for why he was the wrong man for the job.  God even offered to train Moses in how to share his faith publically, but Moses was resistant.  So God relented.

It probably wasn’t what God intended, but generation after generation has been using this same “slow of speech and tongue” excuse to avoid communicating in faith and prayer. If Moses didn’t have to speak up, then neither should we, right?

Hmm.  That’s our mistake.  That’s less like Moses, and more like Errin’.  Maybe it’s our fault for taking the easy way out.  Or the church’s for seeing this as “the pastor’s job”.

The truth is, many folks really do want to share their faith — it’s just a matter of know-how, comfort, and practice.  Of making it a priority.

This Fall, I’m launching Faithsharing 101 classes at my church.  In 4 short weeks the goal is to help people feel more comfortable praying out loud, articulating why they’re a Christian, and even sharing some about their faith story with others.  This is not a class in evangelism or door-to-door witnessing.  It’s a class in finding the right words, and feeling good about sharing them.

Can this be done in 4 weeks?  I don’t know.  Maybe God was short on time with Moses and didn’t have a month to set him on the right path.  It will at least be a good start.

I think God wants all believers to be able to express themselves.  To offer a prayer in the midst of those who are gathered.  To spread Good News through words and stories.

It took some time, but God helped Moses eventually find his voice.  And Aaron found his role in this new community of Hebrews, too.  God assures us that there’s a place for all of us, and sends the Spirit to help us find our voices.

We just have to practice saying ‘Yes” when God calls us.

Now…

Would anybody be willing to close us in prayer?

Have a great week,

Mitch

moses_blessing_zoom - Copy