While America Fell Apart, the UMC Came Together

Here are the highlights from a CNN article talking about historic events happening in one year:

North Korea made overtures to war. Americans disputed the legitimacy of a war. Civil Rights abuses included key leaders being killed. The globe was pulled together by new technologies. Athletes protested during national anthems. Human sexuality was on the forefront of cultural changes. Humans expanded their capacity for space exploration.

Of course that article is entitled, "Eight Unforgettable Ways 1968 Made History".

It has been said there are many parallels to America today and America in 1968. Part of the overall feel between then and now is the feeling that everything is all falling apart. The wheels have come off. There is too much upheaval and unrest and we are not sure how long the lid can hold down the inevitable doom. 

I was not alive in 1968, so I trust the media, institutions, and individuals who tell the stories of that time. I trust that it was a "wheels off" time. I trust that this year may very well feel like 1968. I also trust that everyone I have spoken with says that while today fells like 1968, 1968 was much worse. Which is why I want to point out how, in 1968, the United Methodist Church did something so radical it was a statement for the ages. 

The same year that America was falling apart, the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church.

While America was fractured and ripped apart by a number of things (a polarizing president, U.S. stance with U.S.S.R. (Russia), liberals and conservatives, "law and order" and civil rights, etc...) the church stood in the middle of all that division and Unified. 

Today we are in a time that feels just as divisive and polarizing in the USA. I wonder if my beloved UMC will look to her past and see how she bore witness to Christ in coming together while the "world fell apart." The courage of the 1968 Saints that created the UMC, those who decided to stand together in the face of pressure to divide, is the same courage I hope for in the 2017 Saints of the Church. 

History (AKA - our children) has its eye on us.

Time, Sin, Archery and 2017

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain have the workers from their toil? - Ecclesiastes 3

When I read this scripture, I am reminded once again of the difference in the way we talk about time. Perhaps you have heard of two types of time: Kronos and Kairos.

Kronos is sequential time -- the time you can tell on your watch or when reading a clock. It is the hour and minute of the moment. (As an interesting side-note, Kronos was the Greek God who ate all of his children.)

Kairos is season time -- this comes from the idea in archery of knowing just that right moment to release the arrow.

Perhaps it is worth pondering that the word “sin”, like the word Kairos, also has roots in archery. Whereas Kairos means the right time to release the arrow, sin means to miss the mark on the target.

Christianity understands that we are not great at always hitting the mark. No matter how much we try, we are just not going to be able to hit the mark every time. Rather than trying to teach you how to be a better archer or a better person (like the self-help industry is focused on), Christianity teaches us how to accept the reality that we are just not going to hit the mark very much at all. In fact, there may be times we miss the mark so badly that we do harm to ourselves or others.

If I have learned anything from the year 2016, it is that we have seen what it looks like to have a season of all of us missing the mark with little grace or forgiveness from others. 

My prayer for 2017 is not that we would be better at "hitting the mark" - we are all human and are all going to mess up. It is my prayer that we might have a season that extends the grace and forgiveness that has been absent.

May the Kronos of 2017 include Kairos of us sharing grace and forgiveness.

Bronze, Silver and Golden Rules (pt. 2)

The last post suggested that there are inefficiencies in the “Golden Rule” when presented as either, “Do not treat others the way you would not have them treat you” or “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.” These are not “bad” presentations of the rule, but rather only these formats are self-centered versions of the rule.

In an attempt to distinguish these presentations of the rule I called them “Bronze” and “Silver” rules. Again, this is not that the Bronze or Silver rules are “bad,” only that there may be a more compassionate way of living that is embodied in a different presentation of the “Golden Rule.”

Perhaps the presentation of the “Golden Rule” that has been the most helpful to me these past months is: Treat others as they wish to be treated.

Right away you will notice this presentation of the “Golden Rule” it puts the other person at the center of concern. Continuing the last post’s example, I enjoy conflictual conversation but not everyone does. If I lived by this presentation of the Golden Rule, then the way that I engage in conversation will change. Living by this “Golden Rule” would require at least two things: 1) listening to the other person and, 2) setting my own self aside.

Framing the Golden Rule as treating others as they wish to be treated requires that I am listening to the other person in such a way that I learn the way the other person desires to be treated. Thus, some people desire to have conversation that is far more agreeable or less intense than I might desire. Learning about the other person is one of the drivers to develop compassion and empathy.

Secondly, living this presentation of the Golden Rule means that I would have to set my own self aside for the sake of another. Or in the language of Christianity: I would have to die to self. Dying to self is what Christians call “the way of the cross.” The way of the cross, dying to self, is the way of transformation and resurrection.

The reality is, Bronze, Silver or Gold Rules are all worthy to strive for. The goal of the Golden Rule, regardless the way it was presented to you, is to lead us all into deeper relationship with God, others, and self. If the Golden Rule you are following is not leading you into deeper relationships, it may be time to consider how to modify the rule to include greater listening and humility.

Bronze rule – Do not treat others the way you would not have them treat you   

Silver rule – Treat others the way you would have them treat you

Golden rule – treat others as they wish to be treated