Saturday, February 24, 2018

A New Podcast for a New Season

I have not blogged much about the awesome appointment I received in June of 2017, partly because that new appointment has kept me busy, and partly because I believe you need to experience something before you analyze it. Now that things are settling out a bit in the new appointment--you can learn a bit more here--I hope to use this space to talk about what we are learning about church partnerships in the 21st century, particularly when those partnerships are formed from something other than small-membership churches. While the experiment has certainly had its fits and starts, we are still learning, which is exciting, and we are growing together in a time in which the Church simply can't afford more division; culture is divided enough.

This way of doing church has also allowed us the opportunity to experiment, and I want to share one such experiment with you. In the season of Lent, the clergy of the Greater Decatur Churches--those of us serving North Decatur and Decatur First United Methodist Churches--have put together a podcast that we are encouraging the churches to engage. Each week, a new episode is released which previews the scripture for the coming Sunday and features conversation (and even occasional light disagreement!) that we hope models how the church is called to be in conversation and live together.

You can listen to the podcast at this website, listen via Stitcher here, or subscribe to the iTunes feed at this link. The preview episode is embedded below.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Take Me To Church

I will confess that ever since its release, I have had a negative reaction to the lyrics of Hozier's hit song, "Take Me to Church." While I appreciate the social commentary related to the church's exclusion of LGBTQ people, I just can't get behind the conflation of religion and sex:
"She tells me 'worship in the bedroom.'
The only heaven I'll be sent to
Is when I'm alone with you."
Maybe I'm old-fashioned. It just strikes me as a little sacrilegious, is all. And it isn't terribly innovative.

That said, there's this video of Hozier performing the song at a concert in Paris that makes me cry every single time I watch it. He starts singing the song, and as he approaches the chorus, well, this happens:

I am not 100% sure why I cry when I watch this video. I don't think it is the subject matter, per se, though the fact that the song is a commentary on church seems an important detail. I suppose this is a powerful video for me because of the emotion involved, because the artists is so genuinely moved, because the radical generosity of the choir, because of the surprise.

This is how God works in our lives, isn't it? It is precisely when I am ready to give up on God that God shows up--every single time, though never in the way I was expecting. And it is because of that surprise that I am so moved by the power of God's love, because again and again, God takes my own despair and transforms it into capital-H Hope.

It is the surprise, I think, that moves me. Surprise, like the surprise that Mary sings about in the Magnificat:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has looked with favor on his humble servant.
It is the surprise of the cross, that the son of God would be executed as a common criminal, that while in his final hours and despite his great pain he would forgive the one being executed beside him, that he would forgive all of us. It is the surprise that befell Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, upon arriving at Jesus's tomb, only to find it empty. It is the surprise that despite our own best efforts, nothing--nothing--can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ.

It is the surprise so evident in the face of the artist, that a choir would, in fact, take him to church. There is power in that kind of witness. You watch that sort of holy mischief, that sort of radical generosity, and you're liable to want to be a part of something like that. You may find yourself saying, without a hint of irony, "Good God, let me give you my life."

That’s church.

Friday, September 8, 2017

On Church: Episode 35, Disaster Response or "PLEASE DON'T GO TO FLORIDA UNTIL YOU ARE INVITED"

In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about the church's work in disaster response, particularly the best way to respond to disasters so that we don't end up getting in the way.

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Church: Episode 34, The Denomination and Me

In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about the relationship between the denomination and the local church, and they try to answer the question of just how much to talk about denominational issues at the local church level.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Church: Episode 33, Stuff They Didn't Teach Us in Seminary

In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about stuff that pops up in the day to day of ministry, but isn't usually included in seminary curriculum.

Monday, May 22, 2017

On Church: Episode 32, Complaints Department

In this episode, Dalton and Matt talk about the clergy complaint process in the United Methodist Church, including recent developments in the Judicial Council that affect the entire denomination. This one's super nerdy, but honestly so are the previous 31.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The seeds of innovation in the United Methodist Church

I've just returned from New Church Leadership "New Pathways" training in the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. If that language means nothing to you, suffice it to say that I spent the week with church planters and those setting out to do new ministry in new ways (including this project and these fine teammates). As part of this training, we spent time learning the principles of "design thinking" from the talented team at We Are Curio.

Church planting and revitalization is innovative work; that is, one must innovate in order to be successful. The challenge for the church is that "innovation" is not a word we have traditionally held in high esteem. Martin Luther was excommunicated. John Wesley was frequently chased from town. Jesus was summarily executed. Innovation is not always welcomed in our two thousand year old institution.

What is more, in recent denominational conversation and fretting about the state of the United Methodist Church, there is a prevailing sentiment that our great diversity--currently stretching us to the edge of elasticity--is preventing us from innovating. If we could just rid ourselves of those narrow-minded conservatives or those apostate liberals, we would be free to be faithful to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, which just so happens to look an awful lot like whatever I happen to believe. Our churches could grow, our ministries could flourish, and our churches could find new ways to reach out to new people, if only ________ stopped holding us back.

In other words, I keep hearing, our present tension prevents innovation.

Contrast this conventional wisdom with a remark from Jason Demeo, CEO of We Are Curio, on the first day of New Pathways training. While Demeo has served as a pastor in another denomination, he joked that he may secretly be a Methodist because of the ways he values diversity. "I love the United Methodist Church," he said, "because of its great theological diversity. Within that diversity are the seeds of innovation."

A core principle of design thinking is that there is great wisdom in diversity, provided that diversity is allowed to speak, experiment, fail, and try again. As we discussed, one of the core principles of the (wildly successful) design team at Apple is to "ignore all the reasons something shouldn't be possible." This kind of bold, innovating thinking requires dissent, diverging opinions, openness to new ways of doing. You do not come up with the iPhone--and a consistently improving series of successive iterations--in a room full of people who either think the same way or are afraid to do things in a new ways. Remember Apple's famous slogan: "Think Different."

The key to nurturing those seeds of innovation--already present in the United Methodist Church--is not to crack down on diversity, nor to bifurcate the denomination, nor to say, as Henry II said of Thomas Becket, "will no one rid me of [these] troublesome priest[s]?"

The key to nurturing the seeds of innovation in the United Methodist Church is to find ways to unlock that diversity, allow it to speak, experiment, fail, and try again. To be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we ought not be cracking down on theological diversity. We ought to be celebrating it, as we celebrate the savior whose very body is expressed most completely in diversity.