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!

A Needed Pause

Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life. After he said this, he breathed for the last time. Luke23:46

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Luke 20:22

This morning the church I call home (or not quite home, depending on the moment in time) is waking up to the first day after our General Conference adopted a statement from our Council of Bishops on a way forward in the midst of great division.

There is much that I could say about this way forward our General Conference has adopted. I could go into detail about the division in our denomination – a division that on the surface appears to be focused on different opinions regarding the treatment of people with non-heterosexual identities – but is really about the interpretation of Scripture and the role of tradition in the life of the church today. However, I don’t want to focus on what is separating us. I prefer to talk about what the General Conference has called us to do now.

In a word, they have called us to breathe.  blog-breath

Some call it kicking the can down the road. Others call it an opportunity. (Once again, the difference over how the tradition of the church works in our lives today…) I want to call it this: a time to entrust our lives to God and a time to receive anew the Holy Spirit. I see this in powerful ways in the two passages above and I have been meditating on those since early yesterday afternoon. There is power in a breath. There is much that can happen when we pause.

Yes, I know this time of pause will be painful for many. My friends who call for a more conservative view of Scripture and Tradition are in pain over the church refusing to take a clear stand. My friends who are more progressive in their views of Scripture and Tradition are hurting because our current way of being church includes hurting people who are beloved children of God. Some friends who are in the middle of either of these extremes are finding themselves in pain as well – torn between loyalty to colleagues, exhausted from looking for a way to come together, and just plain out of breath from all the fighting.

But I am thankful today that our General Conference did a “holy” thing. They called on our Bishops to give direction. They have taken up the cross and followed that direction.

It won’t be easy. We may have to learn anew how to put our trust completely in God’s hands. We may find ourselves receiving breath from another to give us what we need.

But I, look forward with HOPE to this pause…

#UMCGC