Watch Out For Possible Implosion

Looks like Tony is gearing up for this weekend at Aldersgate UMC. If you’re in the area, stop by to hear Tony preach at one of four services or at 6:15 pm on Sunday when he discusses why the UMC is the worst denomination in modern-day Christianity. More information about the weekend’s events can be found on the church’s website.

Watching Denominations Implode – by Tony Jones
It’s summertime, which means it’s the time for denominations to have their annual clusterf meetings.
The United Methodists already had theirs. At the 11th hour, a deal for new governance, allowing increased participation in denominational affairs for younger clergy, unraveled. They also reaffirmed their stance against gay clergy and gay marriage.
The Presbyterians are currently meeting (for 8 days — seriously, 8 days?!? — over the 4th of July(!)). They don’t seem to want young delegates, and the vice moderator resigned just a few days after her election, citing “pervasive, poisonous activity” in the PC(USA). You see, she solemnized the marriage between two women, in Washington, D.C., where that kind of thing is legal.
And now the Episcopalians have begun their meetings, and they’re arguing about the way that they come up with the budget. The same sex issues are on the agenda for later in the week. Steve Pankey has a valuable post on the generational divide that vexes his denomination, and I think the rest as well.
I’m watching all of this from afar, via the tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts of many dear friends — friends who are committed to these bureaucracies in spite of their sins. I don’t begrudge my friends their loyalties, and I take no joy in the inevitable in-fighting that these denominational meetings engender.
Honestly, I think it’s all pretty sad, and I know it really hurts many people involved. It also costs millions of dollars to have these meetings — money given by earnest church members. Money that could be spent on the mission of the gospel.

 

Read more of Tony’s blog here and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Civics (and I'm not talking about Hondas)

My little sister is working for RESULTS this summer as an intern in their D.C. office.  Aside from learning how pathetic wonderful our public transportation system is, she is also learning the day-to-day operations of a non-profit and also gaining insight for her post-college plans.  Goose (her nickname since she was 1 or 2) is blogging for RESULTS too.

My sister will be the first to admit that we have not always seen eye-to-eye on a variety of social and/or political topics.  However, I can say that we have always been able to have a respectful and meaningful dialogue to the point that she has opened my eyes beyond some of my preconceived political entrenchments.  Check out her first post about civics and how students today are receiving a disservice and have become complacent in their education.  Be sure to follow her throughout her journey in D.C. this summer!

Here is an excerpt from her first posting:

“Wondering where this complacency comes from, I think back to the last time that I learned about American government and realize it was in my 8th grade government class discussing the three branches of government and how elections work. As a rising senior in college, I find it shocking that my education in civics ended there.”

Youth Inaction: What Does Complacency Mean for the Future of Democracy?

Shaking Up The Church

As Aldersgate prepares to welcome Tony Jones to discuss some of the issues facing the United Methodist Church, I have been thinking more and more about denominations and how we have turned from our primary mission to one of self-preservation.   Are denominations still relevant in modern-day Christianity or have they run their course?  If they have run their course, will independent churches fill the void?

Personally, I do not think that denominations have run their course.  These organized groups of Christians still have the ability to spread the message of Jesus Christ and make new disciples.  However, changes need to be made to the overall focus of mainline denominations.  A shift from inward concern to an outward reaching focus is critical if denominations want to survive.  Our pastor discussed this a few weeks ago as Aldersgate is beginning to shift it’s focus outward.  If this was to happen, the decline that mainline denominations are experiencing might be avoided and the growth, which was experienced until the late 80s, could begin to occur again.

In order for these churches to experience growth and ensure institutional survival, churches must begin to become younger.  I do not mean new buildings with contemporary architecture.  I am referring to the welcoming of younger members and providing a ministry to them and ministry opportunities for them to participate in.  I have experienced a church who did not see the value of young adult members (unless they had small children) and a church who welcomes younger members.   It was the later which allowed me to begin the development of my faith and realize my calling to ministry.   Younger members do want a community to be a part of, regardless of what congregations preconceived notions are.  Not only does welcoming younger members allow for a more diverse congregation but it also has the potential to attract younger clergy to the denomination.

Denominations are not all bad, and even have strengths that independent churches could apply to ensure their own growth and success in ministry.

We have all seen the news stories featuring a pastor preaching outlandish messages from the pulpit.  For the most part these pastors work in independent churches where there is little accountability for the clergy.  Denominations, like the United Methodist Church, have institutional rules in place to ensure that clergy are preaching doctrine which is accepted by the denomination and also provide for judicial action to be taken for clergy who step beyond the line of what is appropriate from the pulpit.  The accountability that organized denominations provide is another asset which will help mainline denominations survive the modern-day decline of their congregations.

Finally, denominations also provide for financial accountability.  Meeting minutes are tracked, budgets are established, and rules are in place to ensure that proper accounting practices are being followed.  Most people like to know where their money is going, and if they know it is being used properly they might be willing to support the organization even more.  Congregations need to keep their books open to ensure not only that money is being used responsibly (no one wants to find out that the church is funding a private jet or luxury car for their pastor), but that those who want to give know that their gift will be used responsibly even before they make the gift.

I know that if denominations like the United Methodist Church begin to reach outward to people not previously reached by the church, welcome younger membership warmly, and strengthen their existing practices of accountability they will thrive and move beyond the current downward trend most mainline denominations are currently facing.

Joseph – According to Waskow

Rabbi Arthur Waskow‘s article, In the Dark: Joseph and His Brothers examines Joseph’s, son of Jacob, character.  Joseph was very ambitious and determined, “always moving ‘upward’ – in the scale of the community he seeks to dominate” (Waskow).  In all that Joseph did he would eventually become the leader.

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son.  Even when sold into slavery by his brothers, he became the head of Potiphar’s house.  After he is thrown in jail because of Potiphar’s wife’s advances, Joseph is appointed to oversee all of his fellow prisoners by the warden.  He eventually reaches the position of Supreme Overseer, as Pharaoh’s chief servant after he interprets a dream for the Pharaoh.

Waskow described Joseph as a “tzaddik”, a righteous man.  He gave examples of how Joseph is a tzaddik.  The first, Joseph refused Photiphar’s wife when she began to make her advances on him.  He was not willing to commit adultery.  Additionally, Joseph cares for his family, even after they sold him into slavery, and seeks to reconcile.  Waskow reminds us that many argue that because Joseph never addressed God he cannot be a tzaddik, but it is true that God never addressed Joseph.  Joseph teaches us it is possible to do the right thing, even when there are forces acting against us.

In Genesis 50:20 Joseph said, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (NRSV).  This statement by Joseph shows that he saw the bigger picture.  Even though adversity was given to him, beginning with his brothers, he was able to take this adversity and use it for good.

Tour de What?

On Saturday, Allison and I embarked on a cycling adventure like none other in D.C.  Tour de Fat is a cycling festival sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Co.  We braved the inefficiencies of the D.C. Metro and arrived at Yards Park in SE minutes prior to the parade beginning.  We were warmly greeted by a WABA volunteer, paid our $5 donation for registration and after a quick pee break we were in a parade.  In total the parade was just over 5 miles long.  The parade route headed east on M Street, continued onto the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail until we veered left into the RFK parking lot.

When we returned to Yards Park M.O.R.E. volunteers valeted our bikes and we off to enjoy the festival/carnival/circus.  Local food and cycling vendors were available along with New Belgium libations.  My favorite part, aside from the actual bike ride, was the coral of out of this world bicycles.  These bikes had been modified with new tires, gears, seat positions, and additional riders.  Some of the bikes were more difficult to ride than other, but they all provided entertainment for spectators.

The proceeds from the event  benefitted M.O.R.E., WABA, and Black Women Bike D.C.

Hopefully, the tour will be returning to D.C. next summer.

 

Laments

Photo Credit: Dave Stewart

Laments play a role and are a faithful response of the faithful to God and give the faithful the ability to express frustration or dissatisfaction, while at the same time express their faithfulness towards God. Even though the lament is filled with anguish it turns toward a proclamation of faith. Psalms 13, 22, and 83 are examples of laments.

Psalm 13: How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8 “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” 9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. 10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; 17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

Psalm 83:O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! 2 Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads. 3 They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect. 4 They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.” 5 They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant– 6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, 7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; 8 Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong-arm of the children of Lot. Selah 9 Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon, 10 who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground. 11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, 12 who said, “Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession.” 13 O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. 14 As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, 15 so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane. 16 Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD. 17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace. 18 Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

As a people of faith we have been told that “complaining” to God is not a faithful response, as if being honest with God about how feel in our current predicament is an unfaithful act. We have been taught to abandon our right to be upset with a situation and with God. The fact is that God can handle our honesty. It is not until that we can be completely honest with God that we will be completely honest with ourselves. Laments give us a language and opportunity to say, “I am not happy, yet I am still faithful”. Even though filled with anguish, we can turn to a proclamation of faith.

Laments can be communal or individual. They provide comfort while wrestling with events that occur within our faith journey. This is evident in the work by Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again. Kyung wrote about the fight Asian women face in a male-dominated society. She wrote, “To be human for Asian women is to struggle” (Kyung, 39). There are two was to deal with the struggle, also referred to as Han: to accept it or to reject it (Kyung, 42). It is through their own han that Asian women begin to learn about themselves which through their ability to lament gives them knowledge of God (Kyung, 52).

Laments are a personal and communal expression of grief and frustration with God while offering blessing and praise to God Through laments, it is possible to be completely honest with our creator and remain faithful. The lament allows believers to strengthen their faith by giving their burdens back to their creator with praise.

Scholar In Residence

The UMC has been on a steady decline in recent years, congregations are getting smaller and not attracting younger members.  The 2012 General Conference attempted to answer the question, how will the denomination survive in the 21st century.  During the month of June Aldersgate is heading back to the roots of Christianity and examining how the early church can advise the modern-day Methodist congregation.

Following the June sermon series, ecclesiologist (a proctologist for the church) Tony Jones will be joining Aldersgate United Methodist Church as their scholar in residence on July 7 & 8.  At each service (Saturday at 5:30pm, and Sunday at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:15am) Tony will be preaching on the Didache.  In addition, Tony  will be working with the lay leadership, staff, and congregation to identify the roles and responsibilities each group has in moving the church forward.   For more information or to RSVP for the Sunday dinner please visit the church’s website.

Part-time Monk

I am not quite sure what my fixation on monks is lately.  My last post was about an interview of trappist monks and now here we are on a more secular monk.  Now I am moving on to another kind of monk.  On March 9th, 2011,  J. Wilson began a fasting during the period of Lent.  He did not take the route that many Christians take of removing a few insignificant things from their lives.  Wilson survived for 46 days on a doppelbock style beer and water, four beers a day during the week and five beers a day on the weekend. The title for his journey was “Diary of a Part-Time Monk“.  He followed the recipe that 17th century monks of Neudeck ob der Au used during their Lenten fasts.  The brew was referred to as “liquid bread”.  The introspective reflection that Wilson had hoped to occur during the fast was interrupted by a flood of media requests.  Wilson eventually had to begin another fast from the media.  25.5 pounds later, Wilson learned the difference between the wants and needs we fill our daily lives with.  He used the experience to refine himself similarly to how monks used the fasts to become more aware of their imperfections.  Wilson published a book about the experience which is available from a variety of online retailers.

Trappist Monks

My sister-in-law sent me an article about the day-to-day lives of trappist monks who still follow the edict given by St. Benedict of silence.  I am fascinated with the monastic life.  These men live in community with one another, depending on one another for the continuation of the community along with the development of their spiritual life.  They use their silence to devote more attention to the task at hand along.  The monks who were interviewed were very frank with their statements on living in the community and the struggles they deal with on a daily basis.

“I can’t pretend that I’m always a nice guy, always patient, always calm and receptive. I have to admit that I can be abrupt, cold to offenders, or would often prefer efficiency to the messiness of other people’s moods” – Father ‘B’

Monastic communities have changed immensely since their began in the third century.  These communities offer a look at how individuals can come together with a common goal of deeper spirituality and offer service to the community around them.  For those of you are in the Northern Virginia area there is a trappist monastery in Berryville, VA. The Holy Cross Abbey is open to visitors from 3:30am (you read that right) until 8:00pm M-F and again on Sundays.

Would all the first time visitors please stand?

Anyone who has ever been to a new church has experienced the awkwardness of being the new person.  In smaller churches visitors stand out like a sore-thumb and in larger churches they are swallowed up in the crowd and rarely noticed.  Rev. Micheli shared his experience at a church in Georgia where he did not exactly receive the welcome he had expected this past Sunday.  With denominational churches on the decline congregations are beginning to focus efforts on hospitality committees to teach their congregations how to be nice.  Is it really the pastor’s role to teach people (mostly adults) how to be nice to a stranger?  If you have a visitor in your home do you treat them the same way you treat a visitor at your church?   You only have one opportunity to make a good impression with a visitor and according to the Lewis Center, most visitors have already made up their mind about coming back to your church before worship even begins.  The Lewis Center recently shared “Five Must-Know Facts About First Time Guests” which explains just how first time visitors feel and what congregations can do to be more welcoming and hopefully turn more visitors into members.