disciple

Deciding and Discerning Distinction

Photo by  Matt Seymour  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

In church world, we often do not make the distinction between deciding and discerning. For the most part we favor the word deciding over discernment - if we use that word at all.

To “decide” means to cut away. When we make a decision we cut away the options we do not want or like or deem less appealing. When we decide we tend to assign a judgement or an evaluation of that which we decided against. Once we decide, we consider our choice good and the thing we cut away as less than good or perhaps bad.

To “discern” means to to separate. Separating is value neutral. That is when we separate our laundry we are not saying that “darks” are good and “lights” are bad. We are just separating things into piles. Discerning is a value neutral process where we separate out that which is discovered.

Discernment is like panning in a river. We pull many things from the living waters and look and sort. We may think we are only looking for gold, but when we sort things out we may discover other beautiful things. These beautiful things may not be what was originally sought, however these beautiful things are retained. We do not call the other rocks “bad” or “unworthy.” We only sort in order to see clearly. If we assign some value to things as we sort, then we are not discerning we are deciding.

Discerning is non-threatening and requires patience. We tend to place a premium on having a decisive mind that we fail to appreciate the value, joy and faithfulness the discerning heart.

The #1 Obstacle To Discipleship Making

One of the underlying conditions of the UMC is that there are fewer and fewer people in the USA who attend a Christian worshiping community. It may even be said that if the UMC were not in decline then the current conversations about ministry with LGBTQIA persons would be much less hostile. Like in sports, if we felt like we were “winning” or being “successful” then we would not be too worried about many things we are worried about now (rightly or wrongly).

There are many reasons why we no longer attend worship in the numbers we once did and I do not have to belabor those points we hear all “know.” However, of all the reasons I have heard there is one that is perhaps the most subtle and perhaps the most nefarious: People are already disciples.

Word of Life Church founder and lead pastor Brian Zahnd recently said the number one obstacle to making disciples of Jesus Christ in America is people are already discipled as Americans.

Many of us as pastors are more willing to talk about the evils within racism than we are to talk about the evils within patriotism. Many preachers would rather preach on peace and the end of war-making than how it is our churches (and salaries) are wrapped up in the military complex machine that is the USA.

I can honestly say the number one reason that I fail at being a disciple of Jesus is because I have been and continue to be discipled by the American myths. The Church is the last best place that I know that can help provide a space for me to unlearn from my teacher in order to become like the Master.

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

The Key Difference Between a Cleanse and a Fast

If you are into cleanses then that is great, but do not confuse a cleanse with a fast. They are different.

Of course a cleanse is different from a fast in that many cleanses encourage taking in of some food or liquid and fasts generally do not. It is also true that there are some cleanses that call for fasting from food. I can list all the ways cleanses and fasts overlap or not, but beyond the superficialities, cleanses and fasts are fundamentally different in one way: what they embrace.

The promise of the cleanse is some combination of prolong life and/or health, greater energy, weight loss, better eating habits, etc. Be it the advice of Dr. Oz or any number of cleanses (liver, colon, juice, soup, coconut oil, sauna, etc.), there is a lot to be said for being more aware of what we are eating and how much of it we eat. There is nothing wrong to being healthy, and perhaps a cleanse is a good thing for all of us. However, the promise of the cleanse is that by practicing all these things you will stave off death for a little bit longer than you would otherwise. Cleanses embrace life.

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Conversely a fast is an intentional practice of limiting food for the purpose of coming face to face with your limitations and dependence upon others. It is purposefully entering into a state of limits in order to practice in order to be at peace with the limits of life. Fasts may have some physical discomfort but the intended discomfort of the fast is the discomfort we have with death. Thus the more we fast, the more we come to terms with our own deaths. Which is why fasts embrace death.

People are motivated to take on cleanses or fasts for a variety of reasons, and I am not in a position to dismiss these reasons. You may be a person who practice fasting and more power to you. However, if we embark on a fast that leads us to embrace life rather than embrace death, then we are really embarking on a cleanse by another name.