Christianity marked by not in how we agree

Reverend Ryan Kiblinger is a doctoral candidate for a PhD in the area of Christian catechism. He and I have known one another for a while now and we have come to engage in a handful of intellectual spats over the years. It is clear that am very much out of my intellectual league when I am in his presence. It is also clear that he and I do not agree on a number of what many might consider to be "critical aspects of what it means to be Christian". And, to be clear, every time I see him, I rejoice in our interactions and friendship. 

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After a heated bit of conversation at a meeting of laity and clergy around the area I live (this meeting is called "Annual Conference"), Ryan gave me a hug.

He and I spoke with one another and I thanked him for his kind words of support. Then Ryan said what I am not smart enough to come up with on my own and was the best part of my whole three day experience. To paraphrase Ryan:

Christianity marked by not in how we agree but how we disagree.

The best part of my annual conference experience was being affirmed by someone who I disagree with and being reminded once again that they will know we are Christians by our love.

Thank you Ryan

One Church Model as Yeast

The Nicene and Apostle's creed both have a line that affirms belief in the holy catholic church and if we read it too quickly then we overlook the mystery of that phrase. 

I was reminded not long ago in a meeting with church leaders the meanings of these words. 

  • holy - set apart 
  • catholic - throughout the whole
  • church - the body that comes together in order to be sent out

If the point of the church is to be sent out, then why would it come together to begin with? Some might even call this a paradox others might see this is really inefficient. If the point is to be sent out, then are we not going against the point when we come together? Many of us see the benefits of coming together in order to be sent out and are not hung up by this paradox. However, fewer of us are able to reconcile the paradox of something that is both set apart and throughout the whole. 

We like to think that we are able to hold two ideas in our heads at the same time and give them equal weight. We like to think that we do not privilege one side over the other. We like to think that we are able to hold the paradox, but more often than not we will place one position over the other. Despite our inability to hold paradoxes, we continue to try because we know that life is never one or the other, but full of contradictions and paradoxes. 

For instance, are you a parent or a child? What color is the dress? What do you hear? Maybe the most basic paradox - "this sentence is false."

The divisions in the church these days might be understood as our unwillingness to attempt to hold these tensions together. Some elevate the role of the church as holy (set apart and different) while others elevate the role of the church as catholic (though out the whole or sometimes understood as universal).

 Photo by  Drew Coffman  on  Unsplash

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

You may recall that Jesus attempted to address this paradox of being set apart and through out the whole by speaking of yeast. Yeast is different form the whole and yet in order for yeast to function it has to be through out the whole batch. 

The UMC faces a number of decisions in February 2019 around how to include LGBTQIA+ people in the church. It seems to me that the option that is most like the church as yeast is what is called the "One Church Model." This model gives the decision about ordination and marriage to the most local body able to make the decision. Conferences decide who they are going to ordain as it is now, pastors decide who they are going to marry as it is now, and churches decide what types of ceremonies are allowed on church property now.

If we allow the the decision of how to include LGBTQIA+ persons to be spread through out the whole of the church then, paradoxically and mysteriously, the yeast retains its holiness. It seems clear to me that if the status quo remains or if there is a dramatic change in the current stance, then we move closer to being holy OR catholic. 

This is one more reason why I believe the "One Church model" not only is in line with the creeds, but is in line with our historical and Wesleyan tradition of affirming the holy, catholic church.

The Absurd Leadership of Jesus

 Stated by Albert Einstein (not pictured)

Stated by Albert Einstein (not pictured)

Jesus is a unique person who did things differently. Christians identify Jesus as the perfect Love of God incarnate, so surely what he does is something we should imitate. The ever illusive search for best leadership practices leads some to consider if Jesus had any leadership practices that may be helpful. I am not the first to engage in this practice, there are many others who have done this. However, let me offer just a few leadership tactics from Jesus for your consideration.

  1. Communication is key. So, do not speak directly but speak in parables where your followers do not understand you. This way you can ensure maximum confusion and misunderstanding on what the mission of the cause is. 
  2. Get the right people on the bus. Be sure they will abandon and disavow ever being a part of the movement. 
  3. Put Judas in charge of the money. The person you may have the most reason to distrust and the one person who garners the most suspicion of the group, yes put that person in charge of the money.
  4. Build an organization around an idea that no one wants. Picking up your cross and following the Crucified One does not test well in focus groups.   
  5. Mentoring is invaluable. Be sure to locate the leader wearing camel's hair and eating locus by the river. Ask that one to mentor you.

The absurd leadership of Jesus is something not often discussed in leadership circles. But Jesus was not always the best leader by today's standards. If a leader today did much of what Jesus did then we may call into question the sanity of that leader. 

Jesus is much more complicated that just a list of "best practices," and to reduce Jesus to such a thing belittles the mission of his life, death and resurrection. Additionally, church leaders who look to Jesus for their leadership model may be on the wrong end of the institutional/organizational goals and values.

There are many leadership teachers out there who all teach a fine model of leadership: Jim Collins, Seth Godin, John C. Maxwell, Gretchen Rubin and whoever is currently on the best seller lists. All of these leadership styles sell because they are are reasonable and sensible. 

Jesus is absurd. Which may be why he has to call us.

Is Jesus Your Private Lord and Savior?

"Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?"

I was asked the question in college just about each week I attended the after-church-social-time at the coffee bar down the road from the church. I did not have much money and discovered that the evangelical church had money and would buy deserts in bulk. I participated in worship but then sat through the social time so I could take a few of these baked "meals" to go.

This important question is not one to scoff at. It is a question about your priorities, values and how you were living them out. If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior then that means that your priorities and values reflected those of Jesus. Christians think that the priorities and values of Jesus are very good and trust that the world is transformed when they are lived out. 

Too often when we think about this question of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, we (the Church) has failed to communicate what just that means. We have gotten lazy and just let the fringe define what this means. So let me be clear: accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is not a punch card to heaven. It is not the secret code or the earned merit to get access to the Grace of God. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is personal, it is not private. And therein lies the difference. 

 Photo by  Dayne Topkin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Jesus is not your private Lord and Savior. In fact, Jesus not not anyone's private Lord and Savior. Jesus does not do private. Jesus is very personal, but not private. 

Accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior means at the very least you are living with those you find abhorrent and frustrating. It means being committed to upholding the value of another person even if you are repulsed by them. Yes, we need to keep proper boundaries when there is abuse, but boundaries drawn to isolate ourselves from everyone so that we live "just me and Jesus" is a misunderstanding of boundaries. 

If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior than it means that you have given up the idea of exclusively practicing spirituality or religion on your own "private" time and "private" way. If your relationship with Jesus is private then you are treating him as your butler, not your Lord.