A Methodist Requiem – A Review

RequiemI set out to read this book for two main reasons. First, the author had a major influence on me during my time in seminary at Duke Divinity School. I respected what he taught me then and looked forward to learning something new from him. Second, the subject matter of the book, the future of the People Called Methodists, especially in light of their current battles over how to deal with human sexuality is a subject that is on my mind a lot these days. The subtitle of the book, “Words of Hope and Resurrection for the Church”, piqued my interest even more since I too believe that the greatest need our denomination has at this moment in time is for an infusion of Hope.

I’m a coal country guy. I have lived in several areas of the the state of West Virginia but all of them have been effected in some ways by the changing nature of the coal business. My paternal grandfather was a railroader in the Central Mountains of WV and my maternal grandfather was a low seam coal minor in Northern WV. Although the generations that followed them managed to avoid the coal/railroad business – with the exception of one uncle who worked as a railroad dispatcher – there is something about the rise and fall of this industry that speaks well to the topic Lawrence addresses in his book. Although his focus is upon the Eastern Pennsylvania coal history, I couldn’t help but think of the hollows, mountains, and now broken down tipples that dot the landscape of Southern WV where I live and minister. It is also a very helpful starting place for the topic of “uncertainty” that truly underlies the writing of A Methodist Requiem. So many towns in these coal areas are recovering from the rape and pillage of an industry that does so much good when it is around but leaves less than what they have taken. In fact, they leave a vast swath of hopelessness that is now being filled by the growing problem of addiction and depression.

I am fortunate. I live in a town that refuses to be defined by “what has been.” The people of Princeton are looking for a new day. They are not victims of some outsider stealing their natural resource nor do they wish to hang on to someone’s invented “war on coal” so that they can be a victim. They are waiting for the Pheonix to rise from the ashes and bring a new day to their home. In this way, our town, and perhaps even our little part of the Methodist connection can connect with the words of Lawrence as he describes the need for a resurgence of the rite of Requiem, where all can face death unafraid and proclaim the new hope of Resurrection. I appreciate the setting of this book in that framework.

However, the stronger parts of this book can be found in Lawrence’s description of the history and entanglement of resources that exist in a global church such as the United Methodist Church. I learned new things as I read through his sections on how different part of the connection could be effected by possible schisms. I’m almost afraid to admit that I did not know that “local church” is a rather new nomenclature for United Methodism and one that points out just how much we are willing to grab hold of cultural definitions IF those definitions fit our desired outcomes. It saddens me to know that we are looking to greatly redefine the power of connectionalism that is found in the United Methodist movement for the cultural pablum of having the freedom for local church decisions on matters. The greater freedom is probably to found in celebrating a connection that exists with so much diversity that it hurts at times to be together because then we must acknowledge the need for the Cross of Christ to bring together such diverse people. Lawrence tackles this history and entanglement much more eloquently than I can in this review.

The greatest strength of this book is the theological work that Lawrence does in the final section of the book where he ties together the story of a “wandering Aramean” and the system work of a Jewish Rabbi. I don’t want to say too much here, but I will say that I have read and studied Edwin Friedman for decades now and the treatment Dr. William Lawrence gives to the idea of self differentiation, especially within a system s connected as the United Methodist Church should be is by far the best I have read.

If you are a United Methodist preparing for the reports from the Commission on the Way Forward and our Council of Bishops…If you are a United Methodist preparing yourself for the work that will take place at the Special General Conference in 2019…If you are a United Methodist wondering why we should even be talking about issues of sexuality at all…Hell, if you are a United Methodist, READ THIS BOOK. You will not be disappointed. You will find yourself awash in hope and ready to celebrate the new day about to come to our little corner of God’s Kingdom.

Thank you again, Dr. Lawrence, for sharing your wisdom. May I say to you the very words you shared with your classes and I share with my congregation each week:

Wherever you go, may God go with you;
Whatever you need, may God provide;
Whenever you stumble, may God lift you.
And when, at the end of your days, when you lay yourself down for the last time –
May God raise you up for all time.

I expect nothing less for the people called Methodist!

Definite Different Drumbeat – 2

Dubious

(Just a note first…I have been using my new ReMarkable tablet to write posts the past few days. Today,the tablet and I had, well, issues. Fortunately, I printed a draft and can type it in. Sorry…no handwriting to dig through today.)

Paul could feel the dubious looks and incredulous stares on the back of his neck as he hung up his placard and shovel in the same spot he’d been placing it for years. He placed his overcoat directly beside it, a coat he wore for protection from the elements of his small town who preferred to meet prophecy with thrown rotten eggs rather than repentance.

As he turned to meet the eyes of the Christian judge behind, he found that he had to lower his gaze a couple of feet. “Ah, one of Jackson’s boys.” he thought. Jackson had long got past the judgmental stage with Paul and even managed to overcome the usual awkwardness that remained. Jackson treated Paul as a fellow man. He liked Jackson because of that. Would his three boys turn out as well? Would this one that was staring at him now turn out to be cut from his father’s cloth? Who knew?

Paul raised his head a little bit to give a greeting to the young boy and was himself startled when an involuntary grunt escaped from his throat. The boy darted through the narthex door and into the sanctuary before Paul could even think of how to apologize.

Paul took his seat in the back pew of the Methodist Church, arranged his long hair and longer beard with a few strokes from his hand and prepared himself for the rituals and songs to come. He didn’t care for worship all that much in the Methodist tradition. But it was God’s house and the people in this sanctuary were polite. They might stare, but they didn’t ask him to leave his shovel at home. Most just ignored him and that was fine. They may well be damned for not heeding his shouldered message but they let him go on carrying it.

And yet the older man could not keep from stealing glances at the middle son of Jackson through the whole worship service. At first he thought it was the burning desire to apologize to the young man for he had indeed scared him. Soon, that desire faded and Paul recognized the boy for who he was, one of the silent ones. During his many walks through town Paul would be taunted by the cries of groups of kids – “Crazy Paul! Crazy Paul! Crazy Paul!” – but the silent ones may have been in the group, but never took up the cry. He doubted that this young boy would ever be brave enough to stand up to his friends but he was silent. Sometimes, silence was golden for Paul.

That didn’t settle his mind either and Paul still found himself looking at the boy from time to time.

Then it hit him.

Was it really a grunt that escaped from his throat? Or was it perhaps God speaking to the young man through Paul in a way only the boy would understand? Is that why he was frightened? Despite the many times Paul heard himself referred to as crazy, he knew he was completely lucid. He also knew that he didn’t understand half of what God did in this world and understood even less of what God didn’t do.

The boy would just not leave Paul’s mind so when the final hymn started, Paul decided to make an early exit. Reaching the narthex he donned his overcoat and shouldered his sign, the placard of prophecy plastered on a snow shovel – “THE END IS NEAR! REPENT!”. He walked out the door and allowed his ever present snow boots to smack the hot July pavement as he journeyed home for the day. With each step, instead of the listening for the cries of “Cra-zy Paul!” he allowed himself to whisper a prayer. “Jackson’s son…Jackson’s son…Jackson’s son.”

Peace!

Neophyte

Okay. This is new and different for me. I am using my new ReMarkable tablet to write and create posts, however, the best I can do right now is post a picture of what I create. Although I appreciate comments, you can hold them about my penmanship. It will take you longer to read, but that is what experiments are all about. I’ll figure this out or some gifted reader will give me a tip.

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Neophyte

Pray before you post…

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place
where he could be alone in prayer.
Mark 1:35 (CEB)

Okay, we live in an age of where connecting with one another is as easy as taking a phone out of your pocket. Because of that, and because of social media, I sometimes think I know more about what is going on in my children’s lives now than I did when they were living at home. I also know that the house is a bit more quiet than it used to me, however, I am almost certain that our two cats are attempting to make up for that by fighting more often and more loudly. At the same time, I realize that Pam and I have much more time to just sit, talk and reconnect.

I’ve been at this “empty nest” thing for over a year now and truthfully, it hasn’t been all that bad. I miss my girls…but we are still connected. I loved watching them grow up…but now I am so very proud of all that they are becoming as young adults that I hardly notice.

And then there’s that time that Pam and I have to just reconnect as a couple. That’s nice, to say the least. It’s also crucial to any relationship.

Jesus took time away from the crowds that needed his teaching and healing and tried to find a place where he could connect again with the Father. Jesus walked away from his responsibility of leading the disciples so that he could spend time with the Father in prayer. Jesus was fully human and fully God and yet, and yet, Jesus found it absolutely necessary to take time to be alone with God.

I wonder how many times we have said, “Oh, I’ll have time for that later…” or let interruptions (cue the fighting cats) get in the way of our time to spend with God the Father.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped greatly with more Christians taking more time to just pray. It would cut down tremendously on the amount of time they spend finding things that make them angry and give responses before thinking about how those responses look in light of the Kingdom of God.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped tremendously if more Christians would take more intentional time to stop “doing things” and just spend time in prayer. Perhaps there, they would reconnect with the very Creator of the Universe and realize that there is not one single person in the world today that this Creator does not love.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped if Christians spent more time alone – empty nesting it – with God. Their relationship with God would grow stronger. They would know God better and in the process they would know themselves better. When we work on our identity as it stands with God, there is much less chance that we would seem one way one moment and another way the next.

Over the past month, I watched the horror of white supremacy raise its ugly head again in Charlottesville. And then I watched as white privilege tried to explain it all away. And then I watched people engage in battles of words that tore apart even more of the wasting fabric of humanity that we have left in this world.

And there is only one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to take everyone I could and say, “Hey, do you think we could pray for a while? Just take some time and pray for a bit? You know, reconnect with God the Father, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit a while?”

The Son of God did it…I can’t think of any good excuse for us NOT to do so.