Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Decision Time for the United Methodist Church

Today marks the start of General Conference of the UMC in Tampa.  One of the hallmarks of Methodism is holy conferencing where lay and clergy gather to discuss, debate, and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in our world.  We have this model in the local church with church or charge conferences.  Once a year the annual conference gathers.  In Alaska ours will meet in Anchorage May 25-26.  There are Jurisdictional Conferences that meet every four years to elect bishops.  And there is General Conference which basically consists of 500 lay and 500 clergy delegates elected by their home conferences. Four years ago I was honored to be at General Conference.  It was an amazing experience, the highlight being the worship.  The African Children's Choir was the highlight of all the worship times. These orphaned children were taken in by a United Methodist school where they found the song God desires to put in the heart of every child on earth.  Here is a video clip from of the choir at that General Conference.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogXJZmlz_W4

Please join me in praying for our delegation: Peter, Jo Anne, Lonnie, Ev, and Jim, and for everyone to be able to discern God's leading for our church.   Other Alaskans attending include Steven Maga, Lupe Saafi, and Susan Smalley.  To follow the General Conference process including live streaming go to http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1353935/k.85E4/General_Conference_2012__The_United_Methodist_Church.htm

 Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Familiarity Breeds Contempt?

Those of us who live and serve in Alaska in the United Methodist Church experience seasons of wanting to be somewhere else.  The myth of greener grass should be translated in Alaska to the "myth of grass anywhere."  Yes, we do get tired of all the snow and ice, especially in Anchorage where we set a new record with over 133" of snow.  There is at least 3 feet of it piled in my yard.  

One of the reasons we enjoy hosting family and friends in Alaska is that we get the opportunity to look at our homeland with fresh eyes.  There is some truth to the old saying that "familiarity breeds contempt."  The more acquainted one becomes with a person or a place, the more one knows about his or her shortcomings and, hence, the easier it is to dislike that person or place.  

Sometimes I look at Alaska and confess to a bit of contempt for this place especially when the cold never seems to loosen its grip.  Last week I spent a night at our cabin in Willow and had a conversation with God about this.  It's almost funny but the mere fact of talking about my feelings about the never ending snow helped me to see with fresh eyes.  As I thought about what it would be like to live in a place without this beauty I was suddenly filled with gratitude to God for the gift of being in this great land.  

Perhaps we experience this same reality with God.  Can our familiarity with God ever lead to a contempt or at least indifference?  I think the answer lies somewhere in the spiritual process of looking at God with fresh eyes.  We do not know everything there is to know about God.  Thank God for mystery!  Like Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, "we see now through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face."  

God help us all to see the mystery and the reality of God in fresh ways.  The result will always be a heart filled with gratitude.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Different Ways to Relate to God

Recently I led a men's retreat at Hope and introduced Corinne Ware's book on Spiritual Temperament.  The best thing about her book is the notion that we are all wired to relate to God differently.  Religious people have long tried to mold people into a particular way of being spiritual.  Mainliners want to think deeply about God.  Evangelicals want to feel God's presence.  Mystics want people to shut up in the presence of God.  And Crusaders want to take their faith into the social sphere and work for justice.

Once we discover our particular path or wiring we can free ourselves from the guilt of trying to be something we are not.  We all still need to experience the fullness of God from perspectives that don't appear to be natural.  But knowing our preference can free us to dive deeper as we plumb the depths of God.

Grace Always,

Monday, April 2, 2012

Election Eve Thoughts

Last week I was struck by the irony that in Anchorage many pastors and church leaders marched side by side in one of the many “Choose Respect” marches across Alaska.  Here we are in this photo.  And yet we are divided on another social issue about whether gay, lesbian, and transgender people should have the same rights as heterosexuals. 

I find it fascinating that many Christians define their Christianity with a long list of “must believes” like the virgin birth, bodily resurrection of Christ, inerrant view of the Bible, rejection of homosexuality and abortion, and so on.  Maybe one of the big reasons people think the church version of Christianity is irrelevant is because they really like Jesus’ list.  They get it.  Love God.  Love your neighbor. 

Today Anchorage voters will decide on Proposition 5 which seeks to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity.  Those who oppose this are not arguing the merits of legal protection, but are claiming it is the slippery slope that will lead to large fines and pastors being thrown in jail.  Fear, distortion, and distraction.

Why can’t we trust Jesus’ list?  It’s not that hard to define.  I guess it’s just hard to actually do it.

Grace Always,