Saturday, August 26, 2017

Listening Like Jesus ...

Many, if not most, of us are familiar with the Syro-Phoenician woman.
Her story appears twice in the Gospels, Mark and Matthew, and because they are a little different, I want to focus on Mark …

Mark 7: 24-30 (NIV)
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yes, I find it problematic that Jesus was arguably guilty of a less than pastoral response to the situation of this woman.  But at the end of the day, he listened. 

One of the great problems in our current world is that it is our normative practice to listen in order to reply rather than to truly understand.  Bonhoeffer writes:  “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Jesus listened the first time and gave a problematic, not particularly loving reply – he didn’t understand, it was momentarily outside his feasible solution space.  Did he think he did not owe this outcast a deeper debt of listening? 

But instead of castigating him as an unfeeling, moronic, anti-Syrian, anti-Phoenician, anti-Greek speaking misogynist, this unnamed heroine invited Jesus to expand his ministry horizon beyond.  In the words of Mark Miller, she invited him to “draw the circle wide, draw it wider still … ”

And Jesus did, Jesus did draw the circle wide, wider still … and instead of replying that she was a two time loser with non-Jew and non-man tattooed on her forehead, he actually listened to her and displayed God’s love, God’s Grace.  

Mark’s red letter words are a little different than Matthew’s.  Jesus says to the unnamed woman “For such a reply, you may go” it is her logos – which the NIV translates as reply – that got his attention. 

Logos is a word used over 300 times in the Greek bible.  Our most familiar rendering of it is from John 1 where we are told the word/logos was with God and the word/logos was God.  But here, the word/logos changes the very heart of God, through the human manifestation of God actually listening, in love, in Grace. 

"For such a word, you may go ..."

I have to wonder a little if the reason Jesus listened was at least in part due to the negative critique he had just given the disciples.  Jesus had just told the disciples that what pollutes one is not what is outside of us, but rather what is inside of us.
Mark 7: 20b:  He [Jesus] went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come— [fornication], theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Sounds like to me that this unnamed woman advised Jesus that his own words coming from deep inside Jesus were defiling him – here arguably arrogance. 

But instead of retreating into a world of privilege, Jesus, listened.  He didn’t attempt to come up with some clever, mind numbing, self serving, retaining the old position, reply.  Jesus listened, and then he complimented her for the word she spoke back to him and granted her wish. 

How often are we in the position of Jesus?  Invited to hear God’s word in a way that is new, exciting, and refreshing, and instead, we retreat into our own arrogance, our own hubris, and we endeavor to reply from our privilege? 

I love this interaction.  I love it. 

This non-person times two in Jesus world – woman, non-Jew – weighs the scales of the dialogue, and she gives back to Jesus what he had just given the disciples – a righteous critique. 

And Jesus after getting his answer righteously chewed up and given back to him, responds in Grace, reminding the woman that it was her word – her logos – her use of his words – her use of the logos that is Jesus – that won the day. 

If “Jesus wept” is the shortest passage most people can quote from the bible, I wonder if this might not be summarized as “Jesus listened.” 

I think the challenge for us in the Church is to be listeners like the second Jesus here in this Mark 7 passage.  We can retreat into tradition, history, and rules, just to name three things, ad nauseum (and yes there are an infinite number of retreats here) and engage in an enormous exercise in missing the point. 

The point of all of us being here today is to help deploy resources that make the basilea – kingdom, kin’dom, reign, pick the one that works for you -- of God just a little bigger, a little larger, a little more Jesus like, surely a little more Syro- Phoenician woman like.  I think many if not most of us can recite or at least paraphrase the United Methodist mission statement but we must stay focused on the why, how and where of our collective community task:  Our why echoes from John 3: 16 about why God gave us the gift of Jesus --  love – love for the world.  How we reflect that love is transformation (our what), and our where is the local church. 

In our listening, are we the first Jesus, ready to see things the way they had always been seen, or the second Jesus, new, creative, fresh, drawn from the very words of God.  The choice is our – how do we listen? 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Monday, July 24, 2017

United but not Untied

Recently, my wife and I went to the Turks and Caicos to reaffirm the wedding vows of two friends. Great people.  

That Sunday morning, most of the community gathered from across the United States was Roman Catholic, so that was where we went ... the local RC Church.  

The experience was transcendent.  The music had a local flavor but used ancient words.  The liturgy was powerful and the sermon orthodox.  The gathered community was multi-cultural and young. I was strongly touched by the remembrance of what God has done mixed liberally with our anticipation of what God is yet to do, making our now a special, worshipful, grateful, place. 

Following communion, the priest invited those who could not take communion to come forward and receive a blessing.  About 25% of those present came forward ... 

People don't have a tattoo that says "I am divorced" but I wonder if that wasn't a significant element of this sub-community, that was still seeking the blessing of the church? I felt like I was witnessing beauty.  

This observation led me to wonder how is it that Jesuits and Franciscans can get along? It intrigues me that Catholicism can at times be so both/and rather than always either/or. I am mindful RC can be either/or, just not always.  

Catholicism can truly be quite orthodox in what it tolerates (or doesn’t), but at the same time, seek a big tent approach on many things.  

I wondered then if the second most famous quote that John Wesley never said might potentially apply: 'In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, charity.'

Elements of our community seem in a rush to declare schism the reality and that we should proceed as such. I do get it.

While I get it, I not so sure I agree with what I get. I vote slow down, please.  

What if we instead tried to reach some agreement (I didn’t say consensus for a reason) about what we agree on – and define these as elements of unity, granting liberty on those issues we did not declare to be essential. 

Baptism of former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS is the preferred term at least in Utah, preferred over Mormons) might be a United non-essential, that would be quite essential to the UMC in Deseret (the name for the LDS footprint in the West).  For me, what does the person receiving the LDS baptism think of the theology behind the action words of ‘baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’?  I am not saying it IS a non-essential, just it might be.  Deseret is probably Utah, Southern Idaho, Western Wyoming and Colorado, Northern Arizona and Eastern Nevada and there it would be an essential, but for the national “United” church, I think ‘meh’ might be the general reaction to this issue.  At least to most members of most non-Deseret touched conferences, I suspect. Trust me, for the United church to essentially say 'the baptism of your parents, grandparents, and other relatives is not a Christian baptism [our current position]' may make sense to some, but it is problematic in the extreme in Deseret.

I intentionally chose a regional issue rather than a national one, so we could potentially see one such issue through different lenses.  
What if our #nextmethodism/#dreamumc modeled an organization of local churches within (still) regional conferences who had a common set of non-essential values.  We are United on essentials, but on what has been agreed to be non-essential, we are not.  We are in effect, on non-essentials, Untied. 

We could then I think evolve into a system where certain national and international boards and committees are united between the two untied elements.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief comes to mind, but maybe the board that manages our health and benefits?  I would hope that we could hold United that which provides hospitals in Africa.  The United Methodist Church says this is an important essential of who we are and we are going to fund this.  I think the fewer illustrations I offer here, the better the dialogue will go.  A lot of hobby horses out there for sure. 

I probably don’t get it, but is the potential loss of our ability to link the needs of the world with the passion of our hearts a risk we wish to take over doctrinal issues of tradition and scripture?  I think most of us, if not nearly all of us, can agree that Jesus called on us to reach out to those in need and hear in their voice, their needs, and their calls for justice.

Can’t we find a way to stay United on the essentials and agree to a Grace-filled state of being Untied over the non-essentials? 

If we want to find solutions, I think we can.  I confess often, I hear voices that are uninterested in finding solutions.  Show me where I am mistaken. 

If Catholicism can simultaneously embrace Jesuits and Franciscans, I wonder if we are not able to simultaneously embrace two sides which see the world on some issues, very differently  

Selah, Dennis

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Understanding our Nature

There is a story from Medieval times  ...

Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it's nature is to sting?"

"Because," the monk replied, "to save it is my nature."

I see myself in this story as both the scorpion and the monk.

For about half of my life in the military, it was my called nature to be a scorpion.  Leaders used my nature to sting people who messed with the policy views my corner of the military was putting forward.

Let's make no mistake about my effectiveness:  I was a very good scorpion.  My scorpion nature was recognized on the day of my retirement with a Legion of Merit, the second highest level of recognition for non-wartime competency.  For sure, it doesn't say 'we are recognizing Dennis for being a scorpion' but that is what it was for, pure and simple.

But I confess, I did not like that nature of myself that was called to be a scorpion.  On July 1st, 1994, I decided I was being called, invited perhaps, to have a different nature. The road from that day to this has not been easy, but it has by and large, been fruitful.

I am still working on the exact details of what it means for me to "save" are but at the end of the day, the nature of who I am is more about nurture and care, than stinging and pain.  I am still a work in progress here.  

I would hope that we can agree that our nature is not static, fixed and locked up for life. Isn't change what we expect to happen when we take part in spreading scriptural holiness across the land? Wesley saw it as this beautiful threefold fullness of Grace which is Prevenient (preceding bending our knee to God), Justifying (saying to God, 'Abba, Father') and then getting started on our life project of Sanctification ('thy will be done')? 

Paul is dealing with the basic nature of the church in Corinth when he discusses with them the idea of the "body of Christ" in 1st Corinthians 12.  The debate is about gifts and how those gifts fit into lifting up the body for its true purpose.  The issue is how this body works in totality, not in its individual parts. Our nature is to see ourselves as the most important but Paul is trying to bring this group of individualist focused leaders over to a more communitarian, common good, approach.  

I love sports, and Paul's 1st Corinthians 12 passage works in terms of sports -- baseball in particular -- but it also works in terms of music.  The church is an orchestra and the woodwinds are not more important than the strings. Yes, we could have an entire orchestra of woodwinds, but if we did, we wouldn't ask the other sections to show up for that piece of music.  The church is like an orchestra but not only in terms of instruments themselves, but also in terms of the need to listen to each other and to perform together.

Music performed by groups that is about 97% right, can still sound pretty bad.  

Music has a high expectation for suppression of the individual for the nature of team and community.  A man with perfect pitch who couldn't count, once told me that I was not singing an A flat in the right sequence, and while he was right, he was singing the right A flat at the wrong time. The right note at the wrong time, is the wrong note.  

I bring all of that up, just to explain that my nature is to focus on the group, the community, and trying to stay in harmony and on pitch at that time.  

My nature is also to endeavor to try and honor the community rather than the individual.  

Offering a team oriented thought to Paul's imagery from 1st Corinthians 12, a former left fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez, would do odd things during a game.  When asked why Manny was doing this, his manager, (now) Hall of Famer Joe Torre would say "it's just Manny being Manny."  

Paul is saying to the church in Corinth that 'Manny just being Manny' is not the way for us to be church.

If Paul were in the 21st Century, he would probably see by and large the nature of the US Congress in his dealing with nature in the church in Corinth.  I have heard Congress described as 535 Valedictorians who still think they are the smartest person in the room. 

To my way of hearing some of the current debate in the (almost) Untied Methodist Church, it is this "Manny being Manny" at one level (it's just who I am after all), meeting "I am the smartest person in the room."  And the meeting at times has collateral damage.  People -- logically I believe -- feel cutoff, estranged, and not welcome.  

Here is what I aspire for as it relates to  all focused on a constructive dialogue about a hopeful future i.e. #nextmethodism, #dreamumc, & #CurrentUnitedMethodism, is that we can alter the nature of our dialogue so that we can truly speak to each other.  I hope that we can speak to each other in such a way that opens space for dialogue, rather than closes it off.  Please know that my observation here is not restricted to "either side."  The nature of vitriol is not isolated to one side.  The other day, I took a generic invitation to be in dialogue on this topic to be totally sincere and welcoming; I replied; and felt welcomed.  Thank you.   

I personally have gotten to a place where I think retaliatory jousting with sharp spears is making all of us blind. At some point, the 'he started it' must give way to shared values within the social capital built up over time. The Common Good matters. Or at least it does to me.

We seem to be using the US Congress as the model for dialogue, rather than Paul/1st Corinthians 12. At some point, our using the US Congress as the model for how we are in dialogue needs to be rejected, discarded and called out for what it is: sinful. 

The UMC through all of these renewal efforts -- #nextmethodism, #dreamumc and remembering where we are #CurrentUnitedMethodism -- should model what we aspire to, not sink to increasingly lower and lower levels of snark and combativeness. 

As soon as somebody says 'but they started it, and besides that have you been reading how mean they are' dialogue leaves the room, and we move to monologue. In effect, they might be saying the right note here, without regard to time, is this offering [whatever it is], and I wonder if they understand the idea of the right note, at the wrong time, is still the wrong note? 

I am in. I want to be in this conversation. I was invited in by inference by Dr. David Watson, but I was also invited in by colleagues across the connection: "your voice needs to be present here." 

But I return to my confession at the start of this: 

I did not like that nature of myself that was called to be a scorpion. On July 1st, 1994, I decided I was being called, invited perhaps, to have a different nature. The road from that day to this has not been easy, but it has by and large, been fruitful. 

My purpose with this particular blog today is to frame the nature of how I hope we can converse, and what the nature will be that I will use in this conversation ... 

Peace be with you ... 

Selah, Dennis

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What are our Assumptions?

Assumptions matter.  They matter a great deal.
There was a story I heard years ago about a physicist, a chemist, and an economist who were stranded on a desert island with no tools and a can of food. The physicist and the chemist each devised an ingenious mechanism for getting the can open; the economist merely said, "Assume a can opener"!

David Watson in a recent blog comes to this idea by a different route.  He notes when he was obtaining his PhD part of what he learned in intellectual argumentation included the art of deconstruction:  “The most common and effective route [to deconstruct an argument] is to attack the assumptions upon which an argument rests. Once you destabilize its foundational assumptions, the argument itself tends to fall apart.”

For years, I was taught the way to examine any critical issue was to be sure you knew what the issue was (a clear definition of the problem), what do we know with certainty (the facts) and what do we have to factor into the calculus for which we are less certain (the assumptions).  Almost every broken mathematical model I was exposed to broke down because of the assumptions.  They were generally flawed.
Here is an assumption – my first - I make about #nextmethodism:  it will have elements of the past joined in the present in anticipation of what God is going to do in the future.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  We call it “the mystery of faith” for a reason.  But it is our faithful assumption.  And as we faithfully operate, those assumptions bear up under a rigorous deconstruction, as they have for two thousand years. 

The late Robert Webber addresses this in terms of worship – worship is bringing together into the now, a remembrance of what God has already done in the past, with an anticipation of what God will do in the future.  Scholarly articles may talk about this in terms of anamnesis (remembrance) and prolepsis (anticipation).  We ritually reenact this through Holy Communion – God has acted in the past, remember it, and God isn’t finished, be in a state of anticipation.  We then take the “mystery” and we use past tense, present tense, and future tense verbs to help us see the past and the future in terms of our now.  And Christ IS risen, is the central thematic statement upon which all of the variations in the symphony that is the church are developed.
Doing so faithfully, then calls us to a place where we examine ourselves against the plumb line that is God’s ancient word and are we then being faithful to God’s call, rather than culture’s call.
Allow me to offer a second assumption that I think need to be clearly stated:  we are supposed to be surrounded, and we are surrounded not by an enemy but rather by opportunity.
C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:  “Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”  Major Dick Winters in the HBO Mini-Series Band of Brothers understood this clearly when told that he and his unit are about to be surrounded at Bastogne in December, 1944.  “We’re paratroopers lieutenant, we’re supposed to be surrounded.”
My proposed assumption is that we recognize that we are supposed to be surrounded and we are supposed to be offering a counter cultural message.  Yes, both the Lewis and Winters illustration might lead one to believe I see those as outside of the church as “the enemy”.  I do not.  I frankly see them as an opportunity.
But here is the key:  Kent Ingram of Colorado Springs First writes of us often waxing nostalgically for the time church was culturally normative.  What if that maybe that time of heightened numbers and cultural acceptance was really and truthfully Egypt or Babylon.  How is this for a news flash:  Nostalgia is a Golden Calf.  So much of what we have attempted to do over the last decade (at least) has been driven by a flawed assumption that what once was, can be again.  I hear it as we need to get back to Egypt as fast as we can, life is hard out here in this wilderness.  Making bricks without straw wasn’t really that bad, was it?  I say yes, it really was, and if we decide to worship that Golden Calf, we will continue to decline.
If we can agree on that 'surrounded by opportunity' assumption, and it was an operative assumption for 18th Century English Wesleyans, then we can effectively cast aside what the world, however that is defined, thinks of us as a cultural value.
Watson offers another very valid assumption:  People are spiritually hungry, too. The problem is that they just don’t know it ….What they’re hungry for is Jesus.”  At some point, stuff doesn’t fill that ‘hole in our souls.’  It has been my experience in my seventeen years in ministry that Watson is right – people are spiritually hungry.  Wesley understood that.  Jesus understood that.  I pray we understand it in our communitarian futures.
Our past has given us keys for our future – scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  And let us be crystal clear, scripture is framed in part by tradition or we would be reading The Gospel of Thomas in our lectionary readings. 

I love serving this United Methodist Church.  I do so in tension over the fact what is United may become Untied.  That tension is driven by an assumed can opener.  There seems to be an unstated assumed can opener that many operate from as it relates to looking at #nextmethodism and that is that we can continue to do the things in the world that we are doing.  I hope that assumption is accurate.
Several years ago, I got used to watching news broadcasts from Liberia where the Ebola crisis was in full ravage mode.  Rarely, if ever, did the announcer make the point that the interview was being conducted outside of a hospital with a large cross and flame on it.  I watched with pride:  I knew.  We didn’t put those hospitals there to brag about it, we rather put those hospitals there because that was where the greatest need and our Grace filled hearts had a collision.  We answered that call.  Some assume a #nextmethodism can still do that.  I hope they are right.  Just as I am not sure the economist can opener can open any cans, I am not so sure that once untied, we can continue to provide hospitals in Africa beyond where the road runs out.  Among other things, that isn't my only assumed can opener.  
I heard a quote in the last few years that keeps resonating with me:  “Too often we listen in order to respond rather than to truly understand.”  I want to assume that in #nextmethodism, we will endeavor to truly understand.
Peace ..

Selah, Dennis  

Friday, June 09, 2017


Last night I was blessed to sit with people in pain following the pointless murder of two and the suicide of another. 

The Willow Creek LDS Stake, here in Sandy, Utah, hosted an hour of reflection and counseling following the murder/suicide near Brookwood Elementary School this past Tuesday. 

The speakers were diverse, and represented many points of view.  Mayor Tom Dolan and Police Chief Kevin Thacker spoke from the leadership of Sandy City.  Other speakers included voices from Canyons School District, the neighborhood itself, a social worker, and faith leaders.  The faith leaders were LDS, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and non-denominational. 

There were some common themes. 
  • Grief is highly personal; it is not alike for any two people.  Not said, but I read an article yesterday that compared grief to snowflakes and fingerprints.  No two snowflakes or fingerprints are alike.  No grief situation is just like someone else’s.  Grief is highly personal. 
  • Be careful of bromides.  Trying to explain the unexplainable is risky.  Yes, we believe that there is a resurrection, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t emptiness in this world, at this time, due to this loss. 
The late Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, was quoted.  He related that his mother responded to scary news by telling him, 'Look for the helpers.'  There were truly many helpers there on Tuesday afternoon, and they are still there.

Paul speaks in Romans about how through God, all things can work for good.  It doesn’t even start to mean that God made this event happen, but how do we draw from this senseless act, good?  That was the question of Father John from Saint Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, ‘what do we expect the outcome of this to be?’

Let me offer a few: 
  • Celebrate what we have, when we have it.  I have offered several times that the sudden passing of my brother prompted me to suggest to many the need to tell those you love, that you do indeed love them. 
  • Those in law enforcement and fire protection take these kinds of things very seriously.  They ask ‘what could we have done better?’  Here, I think nothing.  Three are dead, and it is possible that without very prompt action by those first responders, two more might have died.  When you see people in law enforcement, tell them, in your own words, you appreciate their sacrifice and service. 
  • Communities are important to how we are buoyed up in hard times.  The Anglican priest Jon Donne said that ‘no man is an island’ but how many of us try and turn ourselves into islands?
  • Get to forgiveness.  If we are not careful, lack of forgiveness can diminish our very souls.  It can draw energy from us in our anger.  But, encourage others to safely, for the angry and the innocent, get to forgiveness along their path in their timetable.  Just as grief can be like a snowflake or a fingerprint, getting to forgiveness is not a cookie cutter we can pull out and magically produce healing.  The more senseless, the longer and harder it will be.    
God did not cause these murders and suicide.  But God can help us in our grief and emptiness.  

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Moving On

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14 (ESV)

On May 28th, during my sermon on Galatians 3, I posited “Paul is operating in the tension between already and not yet, remembrance and anticipation, [or] apathetic and aspiration."
Already and not yet suggests that God has already done a lot and that God is “not yet” finished.
Weekly, Roberta and I use this idea of “remembrance and anticipation” to help us create for you meaningful, thought provoking, challenging worship.  The idea plays off that already, not yet idea found in Paul. God has done a lot already: remember that. There is more that God is going to do: be in a state of eager anticipation.
Finally, we are presented with apathetic and aspiration. You might have on May 28th when I spoke to that, wondered where I was going to go with that idea.  The answer is I didn’t develop it. I said it to introduce the idea for use later. Now is a good time to develop that idea.
I mentioned during the service that national historic words were at times aspirational, meaning that we should hear them and strive to make them be. I see a “not yet” or an “anticipation” element to the idea of aspiration. But when I plug into the computer looking for the opposite of aspiration, I get apathetic as an option.   Other words appeared, but I chose apathetic, or perhaps, it chose me.
Apathetic is shown to be an adjective, a word that modifies a noun. It means showing no interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Synonyms are: uninterested, indifferent, unconcerned, unmoved, uninvolved, or disinterested.
In the theme article for this newsletter (now on page 1), Leigh Anne Duff wrote:  “Are we challenging ourselves to graduate to a more mature spiritual level? This might be a good time to look back at what you’ve learned and then look forward to the next step in your Christian walk.” Those words are inspirational, invitational, and aspirational. They invite a reflection to invite interest, difference making, concern, movement, involvement, and interest.

I have loved my five years here at Hilltop.  Loved it. I have truly felt that my gifts, and the church’s needs were well linked, well suited. My assignment was stabilization and I have tried to honor that. At the same time, I regularly try and co-create with God in the community called Hilltop, restlessness.

I am urging restlessness, but I am not hoping or praying for restlessness rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is too often its own Golden Calf. I frankly think one of the things wrong in our secular and religious worlds is treating the past in such hallowed terms.
God has already done a lot through Midvale and Hilltop church.  More is yet to be done.

Looking at the past fondly with joyful remembrance is good. Our memory, for example, of the selfless service of the late Bill Tetrick is an important element of our past. At the same time, we need to be looking forward in anticipation to what God is yet to do with Hilltop. I never met Bill, but there is a positive restlessness with his widow Marilynn. I can’t imagine Bill would want us get “stuck” in nostalgia.
We aspire to be a place where all can belong, believe and become, but at times, aspiration is diminished by apathy.
Leigh Anne is ‘spot on’ in her article:  this might be a good time to ‘move on’ from the things that keep us locked into the already and remembrance and we thus forget to see the not yet with anticipation.
Apathy (understood to be synonymous with uninterested, indifferent, unconcerned, unmoved, uninvolved, or disinterested) needs to be replaced with aspiration:  both individually and in community.
I invite all at Hilltop to read, pray, study, and reflect on God’s call on your heart this summer.  I know for sure I am.
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Friday, March 31, 2017

Children's Ministry

Congregational Pledge 2 at Baptism of Children (from former Methodist Church) found on page 44 of United Methodist Hymnal (UMH):  With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ that these children, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
Communion Confession UMH page 12:  We have failed to be an obedient church … Free us for joyful obedience. 
Sacramental Importance

Baptism and Communion are our two sacraments. Other denominations have more, but United Methodists, just has these two. They are important statements. Both have community implications.
In infant baptism, we pledge to “so order our lives after the example of Christ” to help confirm and strengthen children. During that ritual, I often remind the congregation that we are making a community commitment to this child.
Communion without confession should be rare. Confession isn’t to shame us, but to offer a thought or seven about the example of Christ and an acknowledgement that we are works in progress, inspired by Christ. The ritual includes the idea that through Christ we are forgiven.
Joyful Obedience

I want to write to you freeing some of you to respond in joyful obedience.
We need adult participation in our Children’s Ministry. As a community, we are not being obedient to our baptismal covenant. We are not, as a community, so ordering our lives to establish, confirm and strengthen our children. We are limping along here in our fulfillment of our sacramental responsibility, when this ought to be a core strength.
The current situation is not new. When we look over the minutes of children’s ministry back to 2004, variations on this theme are revealed: we need more, reliable, and not stop gap temporarily patched on volunteers.
I have had more than one volunteer in this area urge us, sometimes quite strongly, that every family who has a child in Children’s Ministry should be told it is an expectation that they help in this ministry.  I frankly have resisted that because I think every situation is different, and I traditionally resist one size fits all, cookie cutter solutions. I know there are powerful volunteers in the areas of church music and scouting for example who have children in our Children’s Ministry program. Do I have to tell them to sacrifice their choice of using their spiritual gifts in music or scouting to devote time on Sunday morning? That is just one clear example; others abound. The covenant we entered into through baptism doesn’t say the parents will do this, it says the church will do this.  We sing:  “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”  The baptismal banners we hang are to remind us of our community commitment, not solely the parents commitment.  

Children's Church

We are declaring, briefly I hope, a pause in Children’s Church at the 10:30 service. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact one reached only after much discussion, prayer, anguish, and many invitations to the congregation. We are mindful that there is potentially an impact on evangelism and worship attendance, but we needed to make the failure here a shared failure and to stop limping along without a coherent or clear strategy for fixing this. I said in my April Newsletter that I am a person of hope, and I am.  But I am also pragmatic: I think we need to fail, in order to build the elements of success.
I have instructed Caitlin Collins, your staff member leading in the area of Children’s Ministries, to receive volunteers into Children’s Ministries within the current structure, and to examine over the summer the very framework of how we provide this service. At this point, I do not wish to entertain good ideas while trying to address a fundamental shortfall in volunteers. I am prepared to believe that a different model might be beneficial in the long term, but no model is going to work without volunteers.

Selah, Pastor Dennis