Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Worship Language Matters

I enjoy all kinds of worship.  I really do.  But I do not easily say or sing some of the language we use in worship.  For example, I prefer to use language to describe God as non-male.  I believe that God is much deeper than gender.  The Bible was written by men in a culture when women were subjugated and often oppressed by men.  No one would say today in the UMC that women should keep silent in church.  And so I often translate and say "God" when a unison prayer mentions "Him."  But I feel more connected with God and the church when I don't have to do the work of translation.

In worship I cannot sing the blood hymns because I don't believe Jesus had to die in order to satisfy God's need for a sacrifice.  The point is that the language we use to talk about our faith matters.  It teaches.  This can be a problem when I really like the melody of a song or hymn.  I think most of us go along and sing the words without much thought because we like the tune.

This happens in many of our praise services.  People listen to Christian radio and music leaders like to sing in worship the songs they hear on the radio.  The issue I am raising is that some of the language of these songs are teaching concepts that are not receiving a full measure of our study and discernment.

I would simply encourage us all to pay attention to the language of our faith.  It would be good to do some spiritual and biblical digging to see what concepts we are promoting when we talk, sing, and pray our faith.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Bible and Sexuality

It is clear to me that the current ongoing debate over homosexuality is more about the authority of the Bible than sexual orientation.  Those who still feel strongly that homosexuality is sinful point to Paul and the Old Testament scriptures.  To those who feel this way I have a question.  If you believe this way simply because it is written in these scriptures, do you feel the same way with regards to all other teachings?  There are not many United Methodists who believe women should be silent in church.  Why don't we hear anyone railing against gluttony, yet the Old Testament warns against it.

From my perspective this debate about whether UM pastors can officiate gay weddings or if gay people can marry needs to be about how we view scripture.  Furthermore, I observe that most Christians already give more authority to certain parts of scripture than others.  I certainly do.  I give more weight to the words and actions of Jesus than obscure admonitions in Leviticus.  For me the authority of scripture does not rest in the words themselves.  They are just words on a page.  But they have power to shape and transform my life when I insert myself into the scripture, when I see myself in the biblical story.  The power comes when I bring my humbled spirit to the narrative that God speaks to me and changes me!

We United Methodists are guided not only by scripture, but by tradition, reason, and experience.  For me this principle really does help me discern truth in our complex world today.  Obedience to scripture needs to be checked and balanced by tradition, reason, and experience.

So my two cents is that this debate needs to be re-framed because it is not about sexuality, but about the authority of the Bible.

Grace and peace,

Monday, November 11, 2013

Visit to North Pole

This is not a post about Santa.  It is about my visit to New Hope Methodist/Presbyterian Church in North Pole, Alaska, last weekend.  My friend and colleague, Rev. Curt Karns, executive with the Yukon Presbytery, and I were on the same plane to Fairbanks.  We try to show up together at our union churches.  It helps that we have been friends for over 20 years so our union churches appreciate our ecumenical connections. 

It is possible that this congregation is like yours...struggling with how to be an attractional church in a culture that is not easily attracted to church programs and buildings.  One woman talked about their way of being church as the "New Hope way."  It was a confession of sorts as they struggle to face their reality and contemplate change. 

The "New Hope way" is not unique to New Hope church.  I have witnessed the same phenomenon in other congregations across Alaska.  There is almost a sense of pride in the voices of some of our leaders when they talk about how they have done church for many years.  It is as if new people have to demonstrate that they can swim against the current and navigate obstacles to prove themselves worthy to be members of the club. 

I could see the bulbs light up as Curt and I talked with them about ways to be Church in new ways:  moving beyond welcoming to becoming an inviting church; giving from our abundance, not our scarcity; helping others in North Pole, not to get butts in the pews, but simply to share God's grace; taking an honest look at our worship practices and how they appear to new people. 

Curt and I left New Hope feeling hopeful.  Trent and Linda Baggett are doing great work as interim pastors.  They have much promise for a bright future.  The bottom line is that this is God's work and our work is to imagine what God can do, cooperate as fully as possible, and retool ourselves as we move forward.

Grace Always,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Alaska Leadership Solution?

Most Alaska Conference lay and clergy leaders know that we are facing a pastoral leadership dilemma.  Eight of our 28 churches were served by full time pastors four years ago.  Due to cut backs from GBGM, membership decline, and an up and down economy, these churches are now served by pastors willing to work part time.  Most are retired which means we face a long term problem.  Let me share with you a development that just may work in Alaska.

Pastor Janice Carlton of Kenai and North Star UMC has 10-12 lay adults who want more training as leaders.  In September Janice and Marti Slater, retired pastor in Kenai, attended the Certified Lay Minister (CLM) training in Washington.  I arranged for this training to be videotaped.  Janice and Marti plan to use the video to teach these classes on various aspects of pastoral ministry to the dozen adults.

I've asked our Professional Ministries Unit to look at the curriculum and certify some of these adults as CLM's.  They will be available as a resource in their churches.  But wait, there's more!  The Book of Discipline gives the authority to bishops to appoint CLM's to pastor local churches.  This could be a possible solution to providing leadership to our churches served by part time pastors.  Churches are being asked to consider raising up their own pastors!

I shared this idea with the people at Community UMC in Nome.  They are very enthusiastic about it.  It is no surprise that Nome has a strong contingent of lay speakers (Lay Servants as they are called now). 

So keep this in mind as pastors and lay leaders ponder how to strengthen your leadership base.  It just could be a great solution to our leadership issue in Alaska.

Grace Always,