Cindy Gregorson on faith and life

Posts tagged ‘United Methodist’

What Is the Will of God?

So did you hear the news?  The Judicial Council ruled Plan UMC as unconstitutional at 4pm today.  Everything the General Conference spent the last 10 days working on regarding restructuring was sent to the Judicial Council and they came back and said it was in conflict with the constitution of the United Methodist Church, and it was not salvageable in its present form to move forward.  As I write this the General Conference is working late into the night to figure out how to adjust what they did and what they left undone in order to have something for us to live under for the next four years.  What is curious to me is the statement one delegate made.  In debating and deciding whether to refer this PlanUMC to the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table to be fixed and brought back to the General Council 2016, she asked, did the General Conference not notice that the Holy Spirit showed up at 4pm and took our breath away.  God spoke.  We got it wrong.

I have often prayed, God if this decision is of you, let it succeed, and if it is not, let it fail .  There is something more than human hearts and hands at work, and if whatever a church body votes on ultimately has fruit, I believe it is because the Holy Spirit gives it life.  I never presume to fully know the mind of God, and I never presume something getting a majority vote of a body of Christians is the will of God either.  We can get it wrong.  But neither is the judicial council God.  Just because the proposed plan violated some of the principles of our constitution does not mean it was outside the will of God.  Our constitution in the Book of Discipline is also a human document.  God could well be calling us into a new form of church that is radically different from our heritage and therefore would not fit neatly into our constitution.  Is that possible?

Now for the sake of full disclosure, I was not a great fan of PlanUMC.  It did not address adequately the depth of change I believe we need to make as a church.  So I am not advocating for its return.  But neither am I advocating for our current form of church structure.  It too has it challenges and limitations.  General Conference today alone proves that!!

If you ask me what I think is the will of God for the United Methodist Church, I would have to say that I don’t believe God cares much about our structure.  I think what God cares about is are we carrying out the mission: preaching good news, announcing pardon to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, setting the burdened and battered free, and announcing, “This is God’s year to act!” (Luke 4).  And however we organize ourselves to embody that mission and accomplish that mission is up to us.  There are lots of ways to get it done.  Some will be more effective than others.  Some will value certain things over others.  There is more than one right answer to the question of do we have a structure that embodies our Christian values and allows us to focus on and accomplish the mission?

One of the things I have learned about the will of God is I rarely see it or know it before I act.  I try to listen to the nudges of God.  I steep myself in the scriptures to seek to live my life in accordances to those practices and principles.  And then with my best intentions, information and yes, intuition, I act.  Sometimes I act and way opens easily.  Sometimes I act and doors close.  Does that mean one way is of God and another is not?  Perhaps, or perhaps not.  Usually, I only discover that in hindsight.  It is in the fruits that I know if God was really in that or not.  Did the love and grace of God grow in me and in the world as I moved in that direction?  If so, no matter how easy or challenging it was, it was most likely of God.

And that is why I found the delegate’s statement so curious.  Yes, the judicial council action, coming as it did, was a red flag to our structure and plans and a sign to pay attention.  But was it God telling us we were wrong?  That is moving us into dangerous ground.  Faithful and committed Christians have been working hard all week to listen to and follow God’s leading.  One vote or action does not trump another as more of God or less of God.  Where God is in all of this remains to be seen.  For it is by our fruits that we shall be known…when the decisions of General Conference are said and done and the Book of Discipline 2012 is published and we begin to live it out, if it increases our love of God and neighbor, and the United Methodist Church is more faithfully and fruitfully engaged in the mission of God, then and only then we will know whether we got it right or not.  And even then, it will not be right for all time, but for now, was it enough to allow us to take the next step?  Because that is how I have learned God works as well.  We don’t get the whole game plan, the entire road map.  God wants us to rely on God, not simply on our own insight and understanding.  So we take a step, and we see.  And we learn from that step, and we recalibrate and take another. Always listening, searching, discerning, but not waiting until we have it all figured out perfectly, all absolutely right  We can never fully know if it is of God or not until we go.  And that is what is most important…that we go.  The mission awaits…and that I do know is what God wants and wills for you and for me and for the world!

A Way of Life

General Conference Day Two

In the laity address, one of the speakers talked about his personal health transformation.  He is a doctor and he said that his patients did not take him seriously about his advice on diet and exercise as they saw that he was not living it himself.  But once he lost the weight and totally remade his health habits, he noted that his patients began asking him what he was doing.  He didn’t need to preach, just embody the change for change to happen.

I can relate to that.  I underwent my own health transformation, losing 75 pounds, and maintaining my healthy way of life for close to two years now.  What has surprised me the most is how many people have told me that I have been an inspiration to them and they started on their own journey as well.  Now, I have not kept my story a secrett, but neither was I preaching to everyone I meet about why they need to exercise and practice portion control.  The visible changes in my life spoke for itself.

So what I have learned about this process of transformation is that it is hard work and a daily discipline.  I got the sense as people asked me what I did to lose the weight, they were looking for some secret that would change everything for them.  I simply said I ate less and exercised more, and I did it as a way of life.  They seemed disappointed with my answer.  They already knew that, but for some reason, were not ready or able to commit to it.  There is no quick fix to transformation.  It is choosing to do different things and to do them everyday.  And that was my biggest aha as I moved into maintenance.  I could not go back to the way it was before.  I had to keep doing what I had done to lose the weight to keep it off.  I had to choose these habits for my life…which is why I was out running at 6am this morning even when we have 13 hour days here.

So here is the connection to General Conference.  We are hearing messages of needing to change, and how the disciples went to follow Jesus immediately.  And then we spent hours debating the rules of the general conference, only to finally adopt them as printed.  We are preaching one message, but our daily habits suggest that we really don’t have a desire to do things differently.  So how possiible is transformation really?

Insiders/Outsiders

General Conference Day One

I was struck by a irony during the opening worship for General Conference.  There we were, 3000 plus people of all ages, from many nations, speaking a variety of languages.  The worship leaders worked hard to create a worship service in which all those languages were heard and the many hued world we come from was made visible in our worship.  And yet, there was this distinct moment that it felt like to me as something of an insider and outsider worship and the liturgy couldn’t quite overcome it.

I was sitting high up in the bleachers watching people as they arrived and were getting seated.  Many greeted others with hugs and words of long lost friends seeing each other for the first time in mant years.  General Conference, it dawned on me, for many was like a large family reunion.  Many of these people have been at several general conferences or had connected in some other work in the general church, and one of the reasons people look forward to coming is to see those friends.

It was this moment though where it really caught me.  At one point the bishops, all robed in white, stood up en masse, processing to the front.  Now I have respect for the office of the bishop, but wow, it looked like the elect, the in group of the insiders taking the place of honor.  And as I looked down, I saw the chosen surrounded by blue curtains, where those of us without the right credentials must not pass, each wearing a blue prayer shawl, further setting them apart as special.  And then there was the rest of us.  It felt like we were spectators to  someone else’s party, someone else’s family reunion.

I understand the cost and challenges of space.  There may well not have been available a room where all 3000 could have sat together side by side, on one level, no platforms or curtains separating us.  But I have to tell you, space made a difference in that moment, and while the words were stating we were all welcome, we all were called by name by a loving God, the space was saying some of us were more important than others.

It got me to thinking, how else do we do that in the church, in our worship?  While we proclaim all are welcome, all are childen of God, do we unintentionally give a message this is really an insider gathering, and if you want to spectate you are can do that, but you are not fully one of us, and maybe if you work really, really hard, one day you too can be  one of the chosen, one of the elect?

The Power of Belief

I am reading  The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  it is a great read and provoking all sorts of thought for me.  One is do we believe that change is possible and things can get better for the church?   We have been hearing a story of malaise of the mainline church for so long, do we believe that story more than we do about the possiblity of God doing a new thing?  Are we so convinced that the U.S. is increasingly  a post-modern, post-Christian culture in which the church will continue to decline and be less and less relevant that we do not see any way for the church to have a new and different future?

What got me thinking about this was the idea that for a habit to permanently change, people had to believe that things could be better.  The book gives a couple of examples.  Alcoholics Anonymous is built on a process of teaching people new habits.  For many people it works.  But some, when they hit a crisis or stressor, return to old habits and fall of the wagon and others don’t.  What was the difference?  What researchers found was  the power of belief.  Those who believed in a higher power, had developed a capacity to believe.  And that translated to  other parts of their life.  They began to believe that they could cope with the stress  without alcohol.  They believed they could change.  “AA trains people to believe in something until they believe in the program and themselves.  It lets people practice believing that things will eventually get better, until things actually do.”

So what I am wondering: what do we believe?  I am off to General Conference next week…the global gathering of the United Methodist Church.  I have been known to be cynical about the ability of a 1000 people to legislate themselves toward a new future.  We know the church will not continue in this same form if we are going to be relevant to the world we find ourselves in.  But do we believe we can change?  We can post statistics weekly to a dashboard.  We can change our structure, which personally I think is long overdue and needed.  But none of those things will change us unless fundamentally we believe God is still alive and at work in the people and churches called United Methodist, and even though it will be different, our future can be even better than our past.

Ironically, we are in the belief business.  Of all people and organizations, we should be training people in how to believe…in God, in themselves, in the reality that transformation is possible and does in fact happen.  But in my conversations with clergy, with congregnants, with ordinary citizens…I don’t hear many people express much sense of believing the church can be on a different path than growing older, growing smaller  and growing more and more sidelined in our world.  So what is up with that?  And how do we start believing in a different story?