Category Archives: methodism

through the glass dimly …

church oneIt’s been a tough ten days for United Methodists across the globe. What … you haven’t heard? You mean you haven’t been glued to the live-streaming drama taking place out in Portland, Oregon, known as General Conference? Who needs Jerry Springer when you can watch a bunch of Methodists vocally duking it out over the issue of human sexuality … again.

In case you’re not familiar with Methodism and its way of governing our global church body, here’s the short version:  Every four years representatives gather to hash out perspectives and proposals pertaining to our Book of Discipline (aka “rules” for living/doing life as a Methodist). There is merit to the gathering, if for nothing more than to communally gather as one to worship God, the ultimate tie that binds us.

But we are not “one” as Methodists. We are split, especially on the issue of human sexuality. Current language in the Discipline states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” (You can read the full statement here).

And while many other issues are dealt with at the General Conference level, it is this one issue that takes center stage every time (at least during my lifetime). So here we are, a church divided on the issue; there are passionate, well-spoken and well-meaning folks on both sides of this debate. Many of them I call my friends. But this issue is dividing us as a church, not uniting us. And as it stands now, my heart tells me a split of some sort is on the horizon. All proposals/discussions on this particular issue were tabled this go around. The 864 delegates who arrived in Portland from around the globe to have passionate discourse on this important issue weren’t allowed much of a forum in which to do so. Instead (through a series of very convoluted events that I can’t wrap my head around), the delegates voted to allow the bishops to form a committee to do further research on how this might all look for us going forward. It was a narrow victory – 23 votes.

Who wins? Hard to say. All I can say is that I feel terribly sad and defeated today. I thought this would be the year (and the time) when Methodists would finally have some closure on this issue, one way or the other. At least then, I could more easily make my decision about whether or not I wanted to remain denominationally connected to the United Methodist Church. I have a lot of skin-in-the-game. It’s not easy for me to walk away. I’ve been a Methodist all of my life; my husband is a Methodist pastor, my daddy as well. I grew up running the hallways of Asbury Theological Seminary, soul-shaped by the sacred echoes of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. My theological roots are tightly tethered therein.

So today I’m wondering how we got to where we are and, really, how much longer I can hold on. I’m tired of the fighting and the harsh words between the two camps. Even more so, I’m tired of the feelings I’m feeling – the anger, the disappointment, the trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all. My attempts at loving my brothers and sisters on the other side of the fence often fail and that, alone, feels terrible. I want to love well. I want to honor God with all my heart, soul, and might, but I’m not sure I know how to do that in the Methodist church anymore.

I stand in agreement with the current language in our Discipline, and I am disliked because of it … by those in the world and even, by some who call themselves my brothers and sisters in Christ. But hatred and harsh words aren’t enough to make me jump the fence to the other side for the sake of peace; instead, it leads me toward isolation – to the safety net of home where I am loved and where nobody is pressuring me to re-think and re-shape my convictions.

But I will not retreat to silence, because that’s not what God is after in me. He has called me to be a living witness to the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I am not the woman I used to be; God’s love and his holy correction have changed me. I’ve been born again, not in the flesh but, higher still, in the Spirit. He has given me a sound mind, a loving heart, and every now and again, a little strength to get some kingdom work accomplished. Whether I will continue to do so as a Methodist remains unseen. I am tethered, only, temporarily to my denomination. Thanks be to God, however, I am tethered, always, eternally to him.

He is where I will run. He is where I will stay. Thanks be to God, He is where I will end. In the meantime, (and in the words of John Wesley)

“Lord, let me not live to be useless.”

Even so, loosen me from my Methodism, Lord, to use me for your kingdom. Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey,

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Circuit-riding Faith …

Wilmore, KY, at the corner of N. Lexington and Jessamine Station
Wilmore, KY – at the corner of N. Lexington and Jessamine Station

 

She reads to me about his life, this man named Francis Asbury.

Do you know of him? I do. I’d better. Why?

Well, I’m the daughter of a Methodist preacher. I’m married to one as well.

I grew up in Wilmore, KY, home to Asbury College and Asbury Seminary. I graduated from the former and ran the halls of the latter during my growing up years, cutting a path between my professor, daddy’s office and my registrar, momma’s office. In a later season, I’d have an office of my own in that hallowed institution. Francis Asbury was, in part, one of the reasons behind my being raised where I was raised … being reared how I was reared.

I am a Methodist. I don’t make much of it here at the blog, because I’m a Christian before I’m a Methodist, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess those denominational lines run pretty deep within me. So when my daughter was assigned another book report (she’s a fan of Christian biographies recently reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, and William Booth), I hand selected this one for her. Perhaps it is time she knows something of her spiritual roots.

Francis Asbury was one of the first circuit riding preachers in America. Sent here by John Wesley in 1771, Francis (a.k.a. Frank) spent the next forty-five years riding the circuit amongst the burgeoning Methodist societies and preaching the kingdom of God. He averaged 6,000 miles a year on horseback (a lifetime total of over 270,000 miles) and delivered over 15,500 sermons. His first night in America he chronicled his thoughts in his journal:

“ … When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. But I felt my mind open to the people and my tongue loosed to speak. I feel that God is here and find plenty of all we need.” (Benge, Francis Asbury: Circuit Rider, 2013, p. 53)

From whence he came was England into an America convinced of their need to cut ties with their mother-country. Francis tried to delicately step his way through the growing controversy between the colonies and England, governing his thoughts, words, and deeds by his desire to spread the Gospel and grow the church. However, because of their ties to the Church of England, circuit-riding preachers were often met with suspicion by colonists who tagged them as Loyalists. Many circuit riders abandoned their posts – some into hiding, some sailing back to England. By late 1777, Francis and another preacher named George Shadford were the last two, English-born Methodist circuit riders in America. Again, from Francis’s journal:

“Three thousand miles from home—my friends have left me—I am considered by some as an enemy of the country—every day liable to be seized by violence, and abused. This is just a trifle to suffer for Christ, and the salvation of souls. Lord, stand by me!” (ibid, p. 98)

The Lord did stand by Francis. He must have. I am (in small measure) living proof. And although my daughter and I have yet to finish this biography, I know how it ends … at least for now. God’s Word is alive in my heart and, just this morning, I meditated on that Word while listening to the words of my preacher-husband standing behind his Methodist pulpit. My mother did the same, listening to my daddy who stood behind his own pulpit. My in-laws the same. My sons? Well, they were in the pews of their own Methodist congregation. This is who we are. Christians first. Methodists second, and by the grace of God, saved to the uttermost.

I don’t know if Francis Asbury understands the influence he’s had on the spiritual landscape of America, but if he could look down from his heavenly post today and catch a glimpse of what his forty-five years and 270,000 miles’ worth of riding has birthed, he would know that his faith—his witness and his willingness—was no trifling matter. His faith was an eternal matter, one that continues to reap kingdom dividends some 250 years after he first glimpsed the American shore.

May it be so for each one of us. May our faith—the witness and willingness of our hearts—be no trifling matter. May it, instead, last eternally as we travel our circuits and spread the love and life of Jesus wherever we go.

Ride on, Christians, and leave a holy trail of Jesus behind you as you go. Someday we’ll all look back on these lives that we’ve lived and be amazed by how our paths of grace have changed the landscape of humanity. What a privilege to share this traveling ministry with you. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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