Jan 2004 – Why I am a United Methodist

I’m a Methodist mainly because I grew up in one Methodist family and then married into another one, but in addition to habit, several characteristics of the United Methodist Church keep me inclined to stay in it. It’s surprising when some responses to an issue of Connectionssay that they’re so glad someone is saying what I’m saying, yet other responses to the same issue say that what I’ve written shows that I’m not a Christian!

Feb 2004 – Prophetic voices in the wilderness

In The Unauthorized Bible, poet Gary Holthaus presents his beautifully expressed and appropriately disturbing vision of what the Bible might be like if it were written today. Jargon-and-platitude-filled statements by UMC bishop candidates make me wish for more challenging, self-critical  voices and fewer soothing, cheerleading voices in church leadership.

Mar 2004 – Dropping out, staying in

Deciding whether to drop out of the institutional church or stay in it can be hard when it seems to be more of a hindrance than a help for acting out one’s Christian commitment. In The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg says that churchgoing is Christians’ most important way of paying attention to God. But he feels that to serve this purpose, a congregation must stretch us as well as nourish us.

Apr 2004 – Covenants with God and each other

Hearing UMC clergy say that the covenant UMC members have with each other obliges us to stay in the UMC makes me wonder, “What covenant?” I’m not aware of having entered any. Some Christians see baptism as a covenant that God initiates, but I’ve never found that convincing. I wonder how the covenants described in the Bible relate to this.

May 2004 – Surviving through thick and thin

Using a metaphor from Celtic Christianity, in The Heart of Christianity Marcus Borg says the Christian life is about the Spirit of God opening our hearts in thin places—places where the nonmaterial layer of reality that is God intersects with the visible world of ordinary experience. Borg sees being a thin place as one of the main purposes of worship, though thin places can be anywhere. What should we do about worship practices that are thick places for us instead?

Borg sees being “born again” as dying to an old way of being and being born in a new way centered in the sacred—a process spoken of by all the world’s major religions. He distinguishes between the earlier vision of Christianity that emphasizes believing now for the sake of salvation later, and the emerging way that sees much of the Bible’s content as metaphorical. He acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can work through both of these ways.

June 2004 – Pebbles and steamrollers

Too often in the church, people with minority views feel like pebbles that have been crushed by the steamroller that is the majority. In a Harper’s article, Edward Hoagland reminds readers how important dissenting voices are for all institutions, even though early dissent is often fatal for the dissenters, as it was for Jesus.

July 2004 – Mainline or margins?

In Reclaiming the Church, John Cobb observes that we too often avoid the theological thinking that we need to be doing, because it can lead to controversy. As a result, our influence has become marginal. If the church is like a human body, is its brain missing? How can we encourage more thinking in local congregations rather than leaving it to universities to do for us?

In Methodist and Radical, Joerg Rieger, John Vincent, and other Methodist writers from around the world emphasize the need for the church to be at work on the margins of society.

Aug 2004 – Joining God on the margins

In Methodist and Radical, theologian Joerg Rieger points out that part of the power of the early Methodist movement came from its posing challenges that could come only from the margins, not from the center where most mainline U.S. church members now see themselves. Rieger calls observations like this “barbs in the heart” that we need to feel but that tend to make us angry. Would our churches’ influence be less marginal if they became more active on the margins of society?

Sept 2004 – Personal stories in the church

Telling our stories to each other brings us closer together. It may help us see how we need to take new, daring steps. Thus we need to provide ways for pastors and lay members to share their stories in the church.

Oct 2004 – Thinking about prayer

Different people pray in different ways. Some of the prayers that are part of worship services are more like sermons than prayers, or they portray God in unbelievable ways.

Nov 2004 – Seeing the Bible with open eyes

Like the Bible’s creation stories, many parts of the Bible reflect the culture from which they arose, rather than historical events. In the church we need to hear how the Bible originated and developed into its present form.

Dec 2004 – Which moral values?

Christians are very selective about which scriptures they use as the basis for their moral values. Some of the moral values most strongly emphasized by today’s Christians apparently weren’t mentioned by Jesus. Some even contradict what Jesus taught.