Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Won't Save the United Methodist Church- And What Will

United Methodists of all ages throughout the Methoblogosphere are conversing about what is happening to our church and what we should do about it.
And some people think the church is merely changing.
  • Taylor thinks the rhetoric of dying is merely a function of how we feel about the church, and that we need leadership to help us adapt to change. 
  • Jeremy thinks that we are a church pregnant with possibilities and what we need is a midwife
Meanwhile, the Christian blogosphere in general is trying to process the most recent Pew Forum American Religious Identification study that shows that people in the US who claim no religious affiliation is rising. People whose religious affiliation is Agnostic, Atheist, and "None" (No Affiliation) now number 1 in 5 people in the US, which is a dramatic increase. People everywhere (Christian and non-Christian alike) are trying to figure out what this means for the future of the Church.
  • PBS did a video miniseries on it.
  • The New York Times covered it.
  • Newsweek wondered if this is The End of Christian America.
  • NPR also did a series on it called Losing Our Religion.
  • Sojourners has covered it extensively, including their profile of a None, and this article on skepticism. 
  • Some wondered if it has anything to do with the polarizing social issues debates the Church continues.
  • Matthew Myer Bolton analyzed the study and showed that perhaps it's not as alarming as we might think, and that we are still a very religious nation in Much Ado About Nones.
Where do we go from here? Is this survey simply announcing the most recent nail in the coffin for the UMC? Are we in trouble? Or are we facing a painful but important opportunity? I can tell you right now that I believe it's the latter. If you want to read another blog proclaiming gloom and doom for the UMC, you'd better come back halfway through Lent, because we are about to embark on a series on this topic here at the God Talk blog.
The main idea for our series, which has to do with food (hey, I'm Methodist, what did you expect?). We have choices to make in the coming years, and they're somewhat like nutritional choices. We can choose healthful, real food, which sometimes means we eat things we don't care for or think are boring. Or we can choose foods like low-calorie snacks, which are often marketed as delicious, diet-friendly ways to satisfy our cravings, but they have almost no nutritional value and they actually make us crave more food!

These "diet foods" are insidious because they trick us into thinking we are doing the right thing, but we are actually hurting ourselves in the long run. Likewise, certain ideas are circulating in the UMC today that sound good and healthy, but they are not. They are actually false proxies (more about that later) that take up our time and energy, and prevent us from having the conversation we really need to be having about the future of our church.

In the series that follows, we will look at things that are false proxies (low-cal snacks that take the place of real food) versus actual solutions (real food). I hope you'll come along with us as we take a look at:

Christian Fads [Low-Cal Snacks 01]
Worship Wars [Low-Cal Snacks 02]
Ideology Wars [Low-Cal Snacks 03]

Mission [Real Food 01]
Spiritual Formation [Real Food 02]
Worship [Real Food 03]

Each week, I'll examine what will not "save the church" (if we must call it that- also more on that later) and what has the potential to help us become the Church that God dreams we can be. I'll try to get my posts up on Thursday evenings, so you can enjoy them with your Friday morning coffee. See you next week!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pre-Series Potpurri

I've got a series brewing, folks, but I'm not ready to start it yet. We'll begin it next week. I hope you'll come along for the ride! In the meantime, here's a bunch of random stuff I've been reading recently:

A Heart for Peace via Sojourners
- Evangelicals reflect on the first Evangelical peacemaking conference
Recognizing the Importance of Good Health Throughout a Clergy Career by Susan Keaton
- a reflection on differences in health concerns between female and male pastors in the UMC
Big Beasts and Little Prophets: Activists Cooling Down the War Machine With Holy Water by Shane Claiborne
More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why? @ NPR
- a series of interviews with young people of various faiths regarding why religion no longer works for them
Grace for the Privileged Too? by Rachel Held Evans
- a meditation on confronting our privilege
Gandalf, Gollum, and the Death Penalty by Tobias Winwright
- Gandalf theologically illuminates a hot-button issue

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

An Epiphany Gift for You!

Thanks to #chsocm, I have just discovered how to create a playlist for my friends on YouTube. I made one with an Epiphany theme in honor of this new liturgical season. Enjoy!

Here's what's on it:
CeCe Winans - Do You Hear What I Hear?
CeeLo Green - Mary Did You Know
The Blenders - We Three Kings
Chanticleer - Everywhere I Go, Somebody Talkin' 'Bout Jesus

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wesley, Covenants, and Making All Things New

Last Sunday at CUMC, we said goodbye to 2012 and looked toward 2013 by praying John Wesley's covenant prayer. Each year at Harvard-Epworth, we do the same, and devote the entire first church service of the year to the Methodist tradition of the Wesleyan covenant service. Since I have traveled between Ashland and Cambridge this week, I will be praying Wesley's covenant prayer twice this year. It's a challenging prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

This is a difficult prayer to pray! A friend of mine doesn't like the Wesleyan covenant service and usually skips church on that Sunday. She feels that it's too difficult to genuinely pray it. The language certainly challenges the individualistic sensibilities of America today. We are so used to making our own choices in life; our self-determination gives us the illusion of being in control. It's disconcerting to think that we may not be completely in control of our own lives. We tend to push the notion out of our minds. Wesley's prayer, however, asks us to give God complete control. Some, like my friend, can't pray that prayer right now because they recognize that they will not, realistically, relinquish control to God. I'll admit that when I was a temporary worker in January 2011, I could not say the line, "Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee" because I needed a permanent job so badly. That's honest, and I respect my friend for choosing not to participate. She's doing it in good conscience.

But for those who are in a place that allows them to pray this prayer right now, I think it's an appropriate challenge. Can we really "yield all things" to God? To pray this is to step out in faith. The good news about this prayer is that it's a covenant. A covenant is a promise that goes two ways, which is why marriage is a covenant: it's a mutual promise. We commit our lives to God, and God covenants to be with us always.

Although we don't know what 2013 will bring, we know that God will see us through it all. That's why this prayer is an expression of faith as we look to the new year. How are you looking forward to spending 2013 with God?