Fifty And Fed Up.

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Is the world today the way you thought it would be back 10 or 20 years ago?

Mine isn’t.

In some ways, that’s for the better.  I didn’t think we’d have Iphones or Alexa or Impossible burgers.  I’m surprised that there’s great strides in the treatment of HIV, and that they’ve found a vaccine for Ebola.  I am daily grateful for Netflix, and the wonderful people of my church.  Not in that order.

But yesterday, my 50th birthday, had me feeling almost despondent.  Shut down.  Not the way I wanted to feel.

I let two crises get the best of me.

Crisis #1:  Impeachment proceedings.

I’ve not been able to watch the televised proceedings, and so instead I’ve relied on a Smartnews App on my phone, which I’ve since removed.  It shows headlines from 50+ news sources, both on the left and the right, and updates every 20 minutes or so.  I’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of time–hours every day– reading headlines and articles and refreshing and checking and fact-checking and on and on and on.

It’s gotten so ugly, the fighting and smearing. Such vitriol! Such careless throwing around of “facts”.  And remember when “can’t we just get along” didn’t elicit sneers?

I started thinking about civil war.  I started wondering if that’s where we’re headed.

Crisis #2:  Denominational Mayhem.

In the United Methodist Church, everything is up for grabs.  Once again, polarization has pushed people to one of two main sides, with little help for reconciliation.  Talk has veered from compromise to separation. Despite people’s best intentions, it would take some miraculous work at the 2020 General Conference to keep us together.

Once again, this threat of civil war looms large.

So when I woke up on my 50th birthday, it was into a world I had never expected.  A world where my country and my church both threaten destruction.  Funny, I’d always thought that by the age of 50 my maturity level would have finally caught up with that of my government and my church.   HA!

I want you to know I had a lovely birthday, for the most part.   But there were a few hours there when I dropped the ball.  I dropped my hope.  I felt like giving up.

And now you’re up to date.  I’m 50 and I’m fed up.

I want to tell you about how I got all my hope back…

But I haven’t. Still working on it.

I’m definitely a quart low in the hope department.  I look around the world with my pentagenerian eyes and see so many other things that seem broken. Sometimes it’s too much.

At 50, I thought I’d be able to fix anything.  I thought I’d feel accomplished and powerful.  I thought I’d have gained some supernatural trait called wisdom that could help my world stay Civil, without the threat of War.

My comfort today is Psalm 42, one of my favorites.  When I read these words I am reminded that I am not the first to feel this way.  Somebody else has wrestled with the same thing.  The refrain about hope,  in vs. 5 & 11, invites me to make that my refrain as well.

No witty punchline today.  I just invite you to read this Psalm and remember that the struggle is real, and that God is ever with us.

Psalm 42[a][b]

For the director of music. 

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One[d]
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Please Turn In Your Hymnals

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If everything falls apart in the United Methodist Church, and one side claims one of the flames, and the other side claims the other, I was wondering:

What do we do with the hymnal?  The United Methodist Hymnal that has been our guide in worship, at least for English speakers, since, what, 1989?  That’s 30 years of worship — is it now up in the air, too?

A lot’s changed in those 30 years.  Lots of American Methodists don’t even pull their hymnals out any more, grudgingly accepting the ease of words on the screen.  Many others have traded in the old standards for almost-as-old “contemporary” hymns.  There are new songs for new generations, and strangely enough, new music based on old standards.

Time has passed, but the hymnal has endured for a good long while, along with two other United Methodist hymnals, Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista (published in 1996) and Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal (published in 2000). (Wikipedia)

If the denomination splits, do we have to split up our hymnals, too?  How would that even work?

“You guys can have ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,’ but we get ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

or

“You can take Word and Table II, but we get to keep Baptismal Covenant I.”

Or maybe the Holy Spirit appears, with a list of hymns neither side gets to sing anymore, including:

“Oh Church of God, United” (547)
“Let Us Break Bread Together” (618)
“Help Us Accept Each Other” (560)
“In Christ There Is No East or West” (548)

I vote for none of the above options, of course.  I pray instead that the Holy Spirit guides us out of these treacherous waters with truth and justice.

As we struggle along, maybe we can find some common ground in the common songs of our tradition. Music has the power to amplify voices of hope and peace.

Who knows? If we’re loud enough, and bold enough, maybe God will hear

The Faith We Sing.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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1001 Way Forward Jokes (for Methodists)

Q:  Why were the moderate delegates in danger when a fire broke out?
A:  They hadn’t considered the Exit Plans.

Q:  How many General Conference 2019 delegates does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It depends on if a majority can turn the same direction.

Q:  Is such an important, crucial moment in the life of our church a joking matter?
A:  You bet your modified connectional one church simple backside it is!

Let me explain.

On September 11, 2002, one year after the terrible attacks in New York and the Pentagon, I sat in the sanctuary at Manhattan, KS FUMC.  We hosted a community worship service, and there was a full sanctuary of people of different backgrounds and religions.

Right at one of the most solemn moments, I heard something from across the room.  Laughter.  A woman was laughing.  It took me a few moments to realize it, but it was something I’d studied in seminary:  Holy Laughter.  Folks from some more Pentecostal churches believe that, much like speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit could lead people to laugh.

Well, the folks around me were not impressed, nor was I.  It seemed crass and out of place, especially on such a dark occasion.

But since then, the idea has stuck with me.  Holy Laughter.   Is such a Spirit-led thing possible?  I kind of hope so.

I may not believe in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or spirit-fueled utterances, but I believe in the holy power of laughing.   I would consider it high up in my list of spiritual gifts.   Every sermon, every wedding, ever funeral — I aim to include some laughter, because I’ve seen what it can do.

Now, there’s good laughter and bad laughter.   I try not to be crude, or divisive.  I’ve made my share of jokes that cut another person down — I’m ashamed of those.  But I find that laughter can open up lines of communication that once were closed.  Laughter can heal anxiety like nobody’s business.  Laughter, if truly used according to the Spirit, can awaken hope, relief, and yes…a Way Forward.

Hard as I try, I’m not much of a prophet.  I have strong beliefs but I prefer to be a shepherd to my flock, guiding them as they grow in faith.   I struggle with anxiety and uncertainty as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that nobody is served by an excess of fear and panic.

And so, as our delegates head to Saint Louis for this momentous occasion, what I have to offer is a counter-intuitive suggestion:  Laugh a lot next week.   Find the humor in moments big and small.  Laugh with people from different places and different positions.  Not divisive or crass humor, and maybe not when it’s clearly uncalled for — but embrace the kind of Spirit led humor that can lighten a room and clear a way.

Even if you’re only laughing on the inside, if you feel the nudge, let er rip.

Grace, Peace, and Blessings!

Have a great week,

Mitch Todd

My style of humor is more spontaneous, so these riddles fall more into the Laffy Taffy realm of bad.  Enjoy.

Q:  What do you get when your denomination is reduced to a single location?
A:  The One Church Plant

Q: Why does the Connectional Plan have trouble meeting people?
A:  It’s Complicated.

Q: If Jesus showed up in St Louis, where would he sit?
A: Enterprise Center.  Bruins vs. Blues.

Q:  How many Bishops does it take to change a denomination?
A: That’s not their job.  (But if you get desperate you could ask)

Q: If there’s a schism, who gets the cross and flame?
A.  Jesus gets the cross.  The Spirit gets the flame.  And God gets a headache.

(That’s 8 down, and 993 to go.  You write the rest.)

 

 

Breaking Disciples

broken-church

We’re supposed to be Making Disciples.

God help us if we’re Breaking them.

  • I serve a church of 500 members.  Our worship attendance is about 200.  Where are those other 300?  Did we not reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Is our message Broken?
  • It’s a good, active church.  Visitors come, but few join.  Why not?  Is my preaching lousy?  Is our discipleship process flawed?  Is the church Broken?
  • My denomination, the United Methodist Church, is struggling.  Our future is up in the air, with questions and votes and conflicts that seem impossible to solve.  What about the active, faithful folks who have committed their time, talents, and treasures to the Church?  What will happen to those who try to ride out the storm?  Will their will be Broken?

Wow, that’s a lot of brokenness. Active disciples becoming disillusioned.  Unchurched folks seeing no reason to commit.  Inactive members who may experience God, but not in our sanctuaries.

Is it possible that we are breaking disciples at a faster rate than we’re making them?

Sort of a Great Decommission.

I’ll admit, there are times I despair and throw up my hands at the seeming futility of it all.  Do you?  Remember, this is not a pastor issue, it’s a disciple issue.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ must find a way to keep going.  To keep trying.  To keep faithful, even when it’s hard.

Hear these words from Hebrews.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  –Hebrews 12:11.

Ah yes, how could I forget?  We who are disciples are supposed to practice discipline.  We’re supposed to persevere.  To strive.   Making disciples is not an easy thing to do, especially when our culture and our own institutions seem at times to be working against the very thing we’re called to do. Especially when WE are just as broken as anyone else.  We must steadfastly believe that the harvest is coming.

  • Truthfully, I believe in what my church is doing.  Good, faithful stuff!  We may not be gaining the dividend of new or renewed believers that we would like, but these things don’t happen overnight. It’s a challenge, but we are trying to make more than we break.
  • And truthfully, I believe in what my denomination is doing.  Yes, there is so much uncertainty to wade through, but we continue to serve the homeless and helpless.  We continue to a be a voice for justice around the globe. We’re trying to make more than we break.

Rather than despair, I’ve decided I am going to double down on my own discipleship.  Inviting, connecting, loving, and sharing Good News.  Will you join me?

It’s a tough, fragile world, but remember this, fellow Follower:

Christ broke himself,

to fix us all.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Judy. Jan. Matraisa.

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There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

This week we learned that a constitutional amendment affirming equality for women in the United Methodist Church failed to pass.  Part of its slim rejection may have been because of a statement declaring God as neither female nor male.  Whatever the reason, important declarations about the value of women in our denomination risk being unaddressed.

In the face of such a bummer, here is my Hallelujah:

~~~

The first sermon I ever heard in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Judy, my mom.  She was a Presbyterian pastor serving Kipp Presbyterian and Gypsum United Methodist church, so this was our introduction to Methodism.  I already knew she was good.  Every sermon she preached was deep and spiritual and poetic. Her pastoral care was loving. Her doctoral work developed a process for discipleship for small churches.  Even as a rebellious teen I was learning from her.

Throughout her ministry, in a climate where women were not always accepted, she ministered with grace and grit. She’s retired now, but still preaching nearly every week, filling in at several churches in Northern Alabama.  She keeps growing as a preacher, but she also writes awesome novels, about a fictitious pastor, Suzanne, serving a variety of churches in Kansas in the 1980’s. Hallelujah.

~~~

One of the best sermons I ever heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a woman named Jan, my wife, who was serving at Bonner Springs United Methodist Church at the time.  Although she writes many enlightening and insightful sermons, for this sermon, she simply recited the Sermon on the Mount out of The Message.  She did it without notes, breathing to life this scripture I’d always loved, but never heard like this.

Today she is pursuing her PHD, working on the relationship between foreign born pastors and the congregations they serve in the Great Plains Annual Conference.  Along the way, she teaches sociology to hundreds of students at Emporia State University and Southwestern College.  Her classes on social problems and intimate relationships allow her to openly and honestly relate to students in a way not always available in the local church.  Hallelujah.

~~~

The most recent sermon I heard preached in a United Methodist Church was by a young woman named Matraisa.  A senior in high school.  6 months ago she approached me saying she’d like to preach.  This Sunday, we made that happen.  She stood before both services with a message about the Imago Dei, the image of God.  Her powerful words reminded us that God did not make a mistake in making us the way we are.

Matraisa is one of several youth group members who are considering a call to ministry. She and I are part of the praise band together. She has been to gatherings and national discerning events for young people.  She has been mentored by our wonderful youth director, Bri, and many others.  She’s the type that looks forward to annual conference each year.  She has hope for the future.  Hallelujah.

~~~

Now, consider this:

Judy, decades ago, was the first person to have mentioned the possibility of ministry to Jan.

Jan, over the past several years, has repeatedly encouraged Matraisa about the possibility of ministry.

Matraisa, just this Sunday,  modeled the possibility of ministry for the confirmation class who sat watching her preach.

Let the whole world know and believe what I have seen.  Women of faith have proclaimed the Good News in many ways down through the ages, and they surely will for generations to come.  You and I are so much the better for it.

Hallelujah.  Preach on.

Mitch

Sisters with a Purpose COLOR

 

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Sometimes I don’t have the right words to talk about something important.

So today, I’m inviting you to check out this website:

http://slaveryfootprint.org

This is a very cool interactive survey, produced in 2011, that will help you assess how many slaves work for you.

WHAT?!

That’s really what it does.  It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s effective.

There are more than 21 million slaves around the globe.  Some of them are in the sex industry, and some are in the labor industry, and whether we realize it or not, it’s very likely that some of what we have comes from their efforts.

It’s a terribly distressing thing to think about, I know.  But it’s a real thing, and it happens both in our communities, and around the globe.  We should be talking, praying, and acting out about this crisis.

After you’ve finished (or if you’ve previously taken the test) I encourage you to visit this page to read more about the United Methodist understanding and response to this crisis.  https://umc-gbcs.org/issues/human-trafficking

May we all find ways to reduce our slavery footprint, and may this terrible practice be brought to an end.

God, you, and I willing.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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