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.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

On Church: Episode 31, Clergy and Doubt

In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about what happens when clergy lose faith--and about the intersection of faith and doubt.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

On Church: Episode 30, On Booze

In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about the unique relationship between the church and alcohol, including the history of alcohol in church and the problems alcohol can cause in church and in life. Pour yourself a virgin (Mary) mojito and have a listen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On Church: Episode 29, Jesus Was a Refugee

In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about the refugee crisis and the church's response.

Monday, January 30, 2017

On Church: Episode 28, Cult of Personality

In this episode of the podcast, Dalton and Matt talk about the cult of personality that so often arises around pastors. So often, celebrity pastors encounter spectacular falls--but all clergy are susceptible to falling from grace. How can we avoid temptation and survive in ministry? We tell some stories and offer some advice.

Jesus at the Door (a guest post from Matt Lacey)

Jesus at the door.

It is as if the Red Sea not only swallowed up Pharaoh but the Jews he was chasing as well, in order to keep those on the other side of the sea safe.

The United States will no longer allow refugees from 7 countries to enter its borders for sanctuary (unless you have friends in high places)*.

The story (and plight) of all refugees is the story and the plight of the people called Israel, as well as Jesus and his followers.

'But that was so long ago, and the world has changed so much. ISIS would kill Jesus if he were alive today.'

It is ignorance and/or apathy not to see a direct line between the story of the people of Israel and refugees today. Suffering is suffering. Persecution is persecution.

'But ISIS are killing Jews and Christians!'

Rome killed Christians. Egyptians killed Jews. Axis powers killed Jews. America has killed

'But they weren't trying to bomb and create terror on a mass scale.'

They, arguably, did far worse in many cases: torturing their victims and making them suffer publicly as an example to others.

'But it is Muslims we must look out for; letting them in isn't worth the risk'.

More Americans have died at the hands of Christian terrorists on US soil since 9/11. No Syrian has ever killed an American on US soil.

'We have to defend ourselves.'

Fair enough, but just know you are throwing Baby Jesus out with the bath water.

Trump says he is making an exception for persecuted Christians from these countries. But when you isolate groups of people, saying: 'this one can come, this one cannot', you have shown the world that you no longer consider the story of the Gospel a priority.

Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Iraq. The US is shutting its doors to those who are victims of some of the worse violence on this earth today. But it really doesn't matter what countries are mentioned in this executive order, because when you keep out those suffering and persecuted from any country, you also keep out Christ.

*Trumps executive order makes a provision for the State Department and other branches of the government to make exceptions as they see fit. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

On Church: Episode 27, THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH

Happy New Year, everybody! In this episode, Matt and Dalton talk about the future of the church. What will it look like? How will we do church in the coming years? We look into the crystal ball and speculate.