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.

More from Patience With God

Patience with God is a book by Thomas Halik is a book on my to read list as the result of hearing recent MockingCast episode. In this episode it was raised that a portion of Halik's thesis is that the difference between being a theist and an atheist is patience in relation to doubt. It is a misnomer to think that theists are people without doubts or that atheists do not believe in things they cannot explain. The atheist is not wrong in their doubt (many Christians define theology as "faith seeking understanding"), the difference is that the theist is willing to ensure doubt rather than resolve it.

I don't know how it is that God became human in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I don't know how it is that we are reconciled with God through the cross. I don't understand the nature of the Trinity nor do I understand many of the faith claims of Christianity.

What I do know is that I have a lot of respect for the atheists that I know. Their work to resolve doubt is noble. It is however been my lived experience that doubt can never fully be explained. With every new discovery there are new questions and doubts. Thus, the posture that I believe leads to a mature life is that of learning how to endure doubt.

I know that I do not have the knowledge how to endure doubt, I do not have the strength to endure doubt on my own. These are just two of the reasons that I am engaged in a faith community. A community that can help me endure doubt.

Practicing Faith, Hope and Love at the same time

Listening the to the great MockingCast the other day and one of the hosts (Scott Jones) made mention of a book by Thomas Halik entitled Patience with God. In the book, there is a quote from Adel Bestavros (who I have no idea who this is which is probably a clear indication that I don't know how to us Google). Bestavros said (I may be paraphrasing): "Patience with others is love, patience with self is hope and patience with God is faith." 

For the talk about how the church needs to preach practical sermons that connect people with what is in the Bible with their lives...

For all the marketing that goes on to ensure that small groups have the latest resource and accompanying video to discuss...

For all the concern that people don't go to church because it is irrelevant to daily life. 

For all the effort we put into thinking about what it means to live the spiritual life...

It all may come down to a discipline that we just don't want to practice - patience.

General Conference 2016 - Learning to breathe in a dust storm

Every four years the UMC gathers as a global body to have conversation and make decisions that will guide the UMC for the next four years. This body, called the General Conference, is the only body that can speak on behalf of the entire Church. It is this body that makes rules, clarifies doctrine and approves social principles that govern the UMC. It is composed of approximately 850 voting members of the UMC representing different communities from around the world. I have been elected by my conference to be a part of the delegation from our area. To be clear, I am the last reserve delegate. This means I have a place at the table, I will not be able to vote at General Conference unless the seven people elected before me are unable to vote. 

In preparation of the GC, delegates around the world have been given a copy of the book The Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions by Francis Asbury. One can image that since this book was shared, there is a possibility that the UMC may break apart over the issue of human sexuality. I may be naive, but while it is possible that individual churches may leave the UMC, I do not see the church splitting in half. 

By Mrcricket48 at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0

By Mrcricket48 at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0

Over the coming months, I wanted to take some time to share thoughts and insights into this process of the General Conference. I know these posts will not be applicable to most people but in case you are interested in these topics I hope they are helpful, informative and faithful. 

The first thing that I notice is that when GC2016 is talked about there is always a strong sense that it could be really crazy and wild. It is human nature to think that things will be the worst and conversation about the GC2016 is no different. There are different groups and coalitions and movements and thoughts that are all converging - as they do every four years. The metaphor that I continue to see is that the CG2016 if like a dust storm. The problem is that many people are trying to breathe while in the middle of the storm and it is killing them. So will you join me in efforts to invite people to step back. Breathe deeply. Pause and listen. May we remember that no issue is too great. Judaism continues to exist even after the genesis of Christianity. The Catholic Church continues to exist even after Luther. The Church will continue even after the issues of human sexuality have been argued.