The Need for Disagreement

With a group of United Methodist pastors saying that differences in the church cannot be reconciled, I think it needs to be said that not all differences need to be reconciled.  Difference and dissension can be good things.  They can lead to truth.

I have been reading David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.  As I read Halberstam’s understanding of how the United States became involved in Vietnam, one striking theme is the desire by key government officials to stop dissent.  The military and political leaders actively squashed most voices who opposed ever increasing military and political involvement in Vietnam.  People were promoted for saying what the elites wanted to hear, not what needed to be said.

Quashing of dissent led to many negative consequences.  Truth was lost/ignored in the decision making process.  Quality leaders were burned by those in power and their expertise was consequently driven out of public service.  The country became more and more involved in Vietnam without really weighing what that meant.  Politicians and military leaders made decisions and then future conversations/reports/subsequent decisions were made to conform to the direction the previous decision’s desired.

The call for schism (no matter how pleasant we make it sound by using words like amicable separation) is a call to quash dissent.  We are basically saying that we no longer want to be in relationships with those who disagree with us.  Their voices are no longer welcome in our presence.  Homogeneity is our mantra.  Actions that make us pause and discern have become a burden.

Schism when wrapped with a bow and gilded with flowery language might sound good.  There are people in the church who are unhappy with what others are doing in the church.  It is a painful time to be United Methodists.  There are alternatives to schism.

As God’s people we could choose to live in tension.  Wrestle with our differences.  Experience the blessings and hurts similar to what Jacob experienced at Jabbok.  Live with many questions.  Wait until God’s will becomes clear.  Learn to love those we disagree with.  Turn the other cheek when others act in ways that hurt us.

We could also choose schism.  Drive out those who disagree with us.  Live in certainty of our own rightness.  Make the people of God choose sides.  Frame those who oppose us in the most demeaning ways.  Practice instant gratification instead of patiently waiting on God’s timing.

When we drive out the dissenters, when we are surrounded by people who all agree with us (at least initially), will we be closer to the truth of God?  The apostle Paul said that we can only see dimly now.  Paul tells the church that in the midst of conflict we should choose the most excellent way of love as our way of being.  Will we see clearer when no one offers an alternate view?  Is schism choosing love?

Some might argue that choosing schism is an act of love.  They might contend the Spirit would want us to do this.  A call for schism is basically saying some of us are on God’s side, some of us are not, and we no longer want to be in association with those who are on the wrong side.

Who is on the Spirit’s side though?  Is the desire for schism from our sinful nature or from the Spirit at work in our lives?  After reading Galatians 5, can we say it is sin or the Spirit that puts in the heart of some the call for schism?  A call for schism in the life of the church comes from a questionable place.

Will our differences be worked out in the short term?  No.  The truth is that they do not have to be.  We can be the church and disagree with each other.  Anyone who draws a line in the sand has only much power as we give the person.  My suggestion is that embrace disagreement and unity instead of agreement and disunity.

Disagreement and dissension can be positive forces in the life of the church.  If we choose healthy ways to resolve our conflict and practice good communication, we can live in tension.  We can show grace in our hurts.  The United Methodist church could model for the world what it means to act in love even in the midst of disagreement.  With patience, time, and by the grace of God, we might ultimately discern a course of action that we all can agree is from God. In the meantime, we could focus on our love of Christ and our purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

4407332660_0949634cf1_mI Told You To Take Out the Trash! ©2010 Copyright Jill Clardy. Licensed Under Creative Commons.

Memorial Day Prayers 2014

I was asked to pray at our village’s Memorial Day service on May 26, 2014.  Here are two prayers that I wrote for the occasion.

Invocation – Almighty and everlasting God,

Once again we gather to remember those who have died in our country’s battles.  On this day we are reminded of the high cost of war.  With awe, humility, pain, and pride, we invoke their memories.  O God, we implore you to be with us in this time of remembering.

Help us to not make light of their deaths.  Let us not forget the pain, suffering, and horror of war.  Remind us once again the ultimate price many of our fellow citizens have paid in our nations wars.  Ensure that we do not take their deaths lightly.

As the memories of their sacrifices touch our hearts, Empower us not to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, keep the cost ever present in our minds.  As we remember those who have died, give us the strength to work for peace.  Help us to work for a future that the prophets envisioned, where swords will be turned into plowshares and war will not be taught any more.   Give the leaders of our country wisdom as they make life and death decisions in using our military forces.  Protect our soldiers all around the world.  Let us not take their willingness to serve and die for our country lightly.  May your blessing be on all those who seek to serve a cause higher then themselves.

We pray all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Benediction – 

May we go forth with remembering those who have died defending our country.  May their memory inspire us to serve a cause higher then ourselves.  May we work for peace in this world.  May the blessing of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you all now and forever, Amen.

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How can I keep from Singing?

Today, on my sermon blog, I posted the last sermon from my sermon series “How can I keep from Singing?”  The title for the sermon series comes from one of my favorite hymns “My Life Flows On – How Can I keep from Singing.”  I started the series in mid-September and finished in November.

The sermon series was my attempt to wrestle with a subject that is at the heart of what I think is wrong with many United Methodist churches in the United States today.  When I started full time ministry, it was clear that leadership was being lifted up as the solution to our perceived problems as a church.  With books, conferences, speakers all preaching the good news of leadership I got the impression that the leaders in my annual conference saw our perceived problems stemming from a lack of leadership.

Books, conferences, and speakers somehow would give us the solution.  Perhaps if we had the “right knowledge,” or started doing the “right things,” we could reverse the perceived trends of decline.  At first this made sense.  It offered a comforting way of looking at the problems that I perceived existed in the church.  This way of thinking gave me a sense of control and power.  If I know and do the right things, my leadership could save the church.  With so many pastors talking about how they grew local churches and how they turned things around, I had hope.

Overtime though I started to feel uncomfortable with our understanding of leadership in the church.  This narrative of leadership did not seem all that biblical or reality based.  Churches that looked vital when their prized leaders were in power, looked less vital once they had new leaders.  I started to wonder if the problem was more existential.  Instead of worrying about issues of knowing and doing, should we be more worried about being?

I think that our fundamental problem as United Methodists in the United States is that we are not being who God calls us to be.  We too often think of our faith in terms of having the right knowledge or doing the right things.  The early Methodists pursued holiness, we pursue numbers in the guise of discipleship and transforming the world.

Talking about being is hard.  It is philosophical.  We rarely make it the topic of conversation.  For a long time, I struggled with how could I preach on the subject.  How do you make something so abstract, and yet intensely personal, and make it relatable in the context of a sermon?

At church camp this summer, I read Leonard Sweet’s book The Greatest Story Never and an idea for a sermon series started to take shape.  His book gave a framework to explore being that might be understandable in the context of a sermon series.  I decided to use the language and ideas of music and singing to talk about being who God calls us to be.

As I reflect on the sermon series, I am not sure I hit all the right notes.  It is really hard to talk about being without also talking about doing.  In many ways, doing stems from being, but parsing that out is hard.  Whether the sermon series accomplished what I had hoped, I do feel like it would be more helpful to focus on being who God calls us to be as a church than to focus on leadership.

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how can i keep from singing?” ©2006 Copyright Emily Hoyer.  Licensed Under Creative Commons.