Posts Tagged ‘Progressive Theology’

A Broad Tent United Methodist Church?

October 11, 2016

I am a second generation Methodist/United Methodist clergy. My father, a United Methodist Elder, served in the Methodist/United Methodist Church for thirty three years. I was born into the Methodist/United Methodist church, was baptized in 1959 and confirmed and became a full member in 1972. My journey toward ordained ministry was similar to my father’s. I spent a good deal of time running the other way from my calling, finally entering the process toward ordination at the age of thirty-two. At this date I have been in pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church for twenty-four years. All this simply to say, I am a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist of fifty-seven years.

I share this writing as I watch our United Methodist Denomination continue to struggle to stay united and one. I wrote a blog sometime back about the United Methodist Church’s official position on same gender relationships, and while this date’s writing may take a gentler tone, I remain firm in my views on that position.

I write this day wondering about the future of the Broad Tent United Methodist Church under which I grew up. There are many, not unlike myself, who have used that language to speak to inquiring persons as they ask questions about our denomination, as well as long time members who are on the journey to better understand who and how we are in the church. Language that speaks to the truth that we are not a creedal church, language of a Broad Tent denomination where there is room for a breadth of conservative evangelical members as well as liberal progressive members. I have heard those words from conservative evangelical and liberal progressive lay persons, clergy, and bishops. We are a Theologically Broad Tent denomination.

That being said, this writing is about two primary and current topics in our denomination. One is the bishop’s commission being created to study our current disciplinary language regarding human sexuality and in particular our church’s position on same gender relationships. If we are indeed a church that is of open door, open heart, open mind…if we are indeed a church with a theologically Broad Tent of belief and practice, I am troubled by the apparent makeup of the commission. The makeup of the commission as of this date appears to be twenty-one clergy, eight of whom are bishops, and eight lay persons. Theologically speaking I do not know the makeup of the commission. However, to have an imbalance of clergy to laity seems to me to strike at the heart of who we are as a denomination. Our Annual Conferences and our General Conference work hard at equity and equal representation. Not to mention we are creating a commission to determine a recommendation about how the church will move forward in relation to our LGBTQ members, and though I do not know the orientation of any of the suggested commission members, our LGBTQ members are not mentioned and I would assume then, not included. An unfortunate exclusion and rejection once again with LGBTQ persons on the outside looking in having to wait for someone else to decide whether they are welcome or not. Such exclusion from the commission is unjust and not in keeping with a so-called Broad Tent denomination. It grieves me and I can only imagine the pain and anger my LGBTQ friends and colleagues feel.

My other concern with our long championed notion of a Broad Tent theological denomination is in regards to a recently formed group, The Wesleyan Covenant Association. I think it is wonderful for like-minded Christians to gather together to share ideas, theologies, purpose, mission, and worship. I do that on a regular basis. I am a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and my affiliation with this group feeds my heart and soul whenever we gather in prayer, worship, conversation, and brainstorming ideas. My concern rests with the portion of their covenant that would appear to nullify the Broad Tent denomination we have long claimed to be.

In referencing the bishop’s commission a portion of their statement includes the following: A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.

While I would agree with the beginning words that a plan should not compromise their principles and understanding of scripture, I would hope the same courtesy would be offered to those who embrace other understandings of Scripture which shape principles and practice. The portion of the statement that would allow for a Broad Tent, i.e. “local option” around ordination and marriage, as not acceptable, would indicate that no longer would we consider a Broad Tent understanding to be tenable. I pray this would not be the case. To lose this sense of a willingness to live in community, with Christians, United Methodists of all stripes; conservative evangelical, liberal progressive, straight and gay, to lose this community with a broad understanding of theology and practice grieves my heart and at least in my life and faith would diminish our denomination’s appeal and work in the world around us. I have served eight congregations in my twenty-four years of ministry and have cherished each and every one of those congregations, none of whose members all agreed with me, nor I with them one hundred percent. Still I am committed to the belief that diversity and a willingness to acknowledge difference and still work together participating with the Spirit in bringing the Kindom here within and among us is a gift and a grace of God.

I hold our United Methodist Denomination in The Light of prayer and the Spirit every day, all of us, because I still believe in the hope and grace of the theologically Broad Tent denomination in which I was raised and in which I serve. We are all in this together, at least that is my hope and prayer. Perhaps in 2018 we will see how it all turns out. I pray there is still a place for all of us, for my more conservative evangelical friends and colleagues, a place for me, a place for my LGBTQ friends and colleagues, a place for inclusion and grace. I pray.

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little

It’s a Broad Tent

July 31, 2014

It was a huge, sprawling, and beautiful apricot tree in the backyard of the parsonage at the church I was serving at the time. This particular year it was loaded with blossoms, so much so that one just needed to pass by the house or open a window to be enveloped in the intoxicating fragrance of apricot blossoms. It was absolutely beautiful.

As a result the tree produced more fruit than I had ever seen on the tree in the years we had lived there. I even announced at church one morning for people to please come and help themselves as the branches were beginning to bend clear to the ground under the heavy burden of fruit. Unfortunately we did not respond quickly enough. One morning I stepped out the side door of the parsonage to see the weighted down and burdened tree split right down the middle, through the very center of the trunk, clear to the soil. It was a sad sight to see this once tall and fruitful tree sprawled out on the ground with no hope of repair.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and pondering in preparation for our Love in Action Great Plains Reconciling Ministries Network Conference scheduled to begin this coming Friday evening. There are a lot of blogs, theories, scenarios, and “ways” out there regarding our current conflict in the United Methodist Church around how we are in ministry with, or not, our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered friends, brothers, and sisters, and members.

Before I continue on I want to be upfront and honest about where I am in regards to theology and perspective regarding inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our United Methodist Church. I am what one may consider a progressive Christian and work for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church including marriage, membership, ordination, and service. I want to name that because even though as much as I try to consider the current conversation with a balanced eye, I am biased; I believe we are all biased even at our best attempts not to be.

My struggle, and the reason I felt moved to write about this again, anyone who follows my blog even semi-regularly knows I have written about LGBTQ inclusion often, is my perception of the blogs and theories that I see being put forth.

It seems to me, in my experience, those with what would be considered the more progressive view point have been willing to live in this tension of conflicted Disciplinary language ever since the restrictive language was placed over forty years ago, at least have been willing to live in that tension until recently. Recently, in a movement known as Biblical Obedience and others, there have been those who have participated in ecclesial disobedience in order to live out faithfully their call and ministry, not only individuals but conferences and even a whole jurisdiction. There have been some consequences, albeit according to some not near enough consequences.

 
Recently, and I attribute that to our upcoming General Conference in 2016, there has been much talk and publication about the pros and cons of a split in the UMC. Some groups are suggesting an amicable separation and others are less amicable; some are saying schism is not the way, and still others have been trying to strike a balance between the two.

As I read though, and I admit I am sure I have not read all blogs, publications, proposals, etc., there is for me a striking difference between those who would consider themselves progressive, supporting the removal of the restrictive language regarding LGBTQ persons in our Discipline, and those who are conservative, supporting the current restrictive language in our Discipline.

It has appeared to me that those who claim the progressive, full inclusion perspective are not promoting a split or schism but rather would rather find a way to live together with our differences, and those who would claim the conservative, supporting the current Disciplinary language have proposed split either by their leaving or inviting the more progressive churches and clergy to leave.

The conversation can be seen as burdensome and divisive and when the focus becomes on those who can stay and those who can leave and before we know it this once fruit laden denomination may find itself sprawled out on the ground with no hope of repair.

That being said I realize there are probably numerous variations of this observation, I have no doubt there are those who are progressive that would just rather split and there are those who are conservative who would rather find a way to stay together. I am simply expressing the majority of what I have read and listened.

I do not believe schism is the Way. As one who embraces the more progressive theology and stance that we should remove the restrictive language and make open our Discipline to fully include in all aspects of our church regardless of sexual orientation or identity, I believe, to quote a colleague of mine, “there is room under the broad tent of United Methodism for all of us,” and I am not going anywhere. It would appear to me that the loudest of the voices I read and hear from the more conservative of our UM church do not hold such a view and do not believe our “tent” to be broad enough. I believe such a stance is lamentable and the wrong direction for this church I love. I believe there is room for us if we are willing open our hands and honor that notion of Wesley that our hearts are not that dissimilar, we have hearts made for love, love of God and love of one another. Perhaps it is too little too late, perhaps, or perhaps we find a way to live together with our differences where all … gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered; better yet simply all God’s children can find welcome, inclusion, appreciation, and live their faith fulfilling calls to ministry in the church on all sides of the table. May it be so. May it be soon.

Prayer

August 27, 2012

Simeon has a camel that he loves. It is a furry one that was once stuffed with filling before he proceeded to disembowel it. But he continues to play with it; the camel is his favorite toy. It has lasted a long time for a cloth toy as it is going on somewhere over 2 years now since I gave it to him out of my camel collection.
One of his favorite activities is to bring it to us expecting us to throw it. Often it is covered in, well he has been chewing on it for some time before bringing it so you can use your own imagination. He lays it in our lap and watches us expectantly for the toss, intent on our response. One might liken it to a prayer as he lays his offering in my lap and the look on his face prays, “Play?”

Studies have suggested that dogs are sight and sound stimulated. In other words they are great at out of sight out of mind. Part of me hopes that while I am away at work he thinks of me during the day. But from what I have read the truth is probably “out of sight out of mind.” He probably doesn’t think a lot about me until he hears the truck pull in the driveway. His “prayers,” if you will are focused on his immediate need and his awareness is determined by his ability to “see” that which is providing his need at the time.

I am pondering this morning, or perhaps in the light of the upcoming New Fall Sermon Series of “Be Faith,” and the first sermon on “Be Connected, Prayer and Contemplation” I should say I am contemplating this morning. In terms of my friend Simeon our “seeing” or “thinking” about God in bodily form “reaching down,” for lack of a better descriptor and intervening, or waiting to be “called upon” can be problematic for how we understand the image of God let alone our understanding of prayer.

One of the hindrances for many when considering the image of God is the continued thought and image of an anthropomorphic God who is up there, out there, over there, somewhere disconnected from creation, creature, and humanity who must be called upon, or down, or over, in order to act and then intervene. We need to move to an understanding of God as truly Presence, Spirit, like being immersed in a great ocean of the Spirit, everything, everyone buoyed in the Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being, within and without. A Spirit of Presence who is not only other, but simply “is.” A Spirit that connects us together so that when we are aware and mindful every act, every thought, every word, and movement is a prayer, is a part of God, and participates with that Spirit in and where the Spirit is already at work; creating, embracing, speaking, loving, and present in and through us. A Spirit who permeates all, understood in many ways, but the same Spirit, the same God, the same Divine Presence. A constant reminder we are all in this together, we are all responsible for creation, and as Mother Teresa said, “We all belong to one another.”

I will continue to trust that Simeon is awake to my presence when I am there and probably not so much when I am not. I will continue to practice mindfulness and awakening to the presence of the Spirit in whom I know we all exist within like the very air we breathe.

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church.
Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Remembering Easter

April 2, 2012

I think I mentioned some time back I was working on a personal journey writing, an extended journaling perhaps or a memoir. It is a personal writing and perhaps book bound if I ever get to that point, a reflective journey through my life and experience and how I have come to understand this path to the progressive theology and life I know and embrace.

I was writing a section on my experience of the days we lost my older brother to a tragic football accident when I was thirteen. The thing that struck me most about recalling those days was what I could not remember. There were huge gaps in my own memory only filled in by what I remember my family telling me about the days immediately preceding his death and the days directly following. I thought of all the memories I have of Chris and the things we did together, good memories and bad. We were typical brothers getting along with many good and fond memories as well as “fighting like brothers,” as my grandpa used to say.

I remember stories told by my mom and dad, my sister, and others who knew him well, even stories in my own mind that on one level or another I know are true and embellished. Sometimes it seems that the memory in my mind and the stories that have been shared over the years paints a picture of a perfect teenager at the age of fifteen when he died. Chris was an exceptionally talented young man, musically, athletically, and according to many of the stories I remember spiritually, and mature for his age. And at the same time I am very aware that he was fifteen, and there are no perfect fifteen year olds, in the sense of a model child who never did any wrong.

I am reminded of the cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” which is often true; I also believe absence can fuel memories that can seem larger than life. That occurs, at least in part, because I want to remember just the good stuff that happened, but Chris and I were close enough to know neither one of us were angels and there were times we participated in less than angelic behavior …together. At his death it was opportunity to place him on a pedestal which I believe, at least to my recollection, we as a family and his closest friends were more than willing to do. Not that the stories do not contain truth, but sometimes I think if he were to come back, even he would have a hard time filling all the shoes we have put on him.

I mention this part of my journey as it is what came to mind as I try to read once again for the first time the telling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As I ponder the stories we have sometimes I wonder about the telling and how time and fondness did and continues to have an effect on the telling. It is important to do the research to understand the time, place, social, and cultural environment the stories were written in as well as the original audience for whom the stories were written. Based on my own experience the stories cause me to wonder about the remembering of Jesus life years after his death finally being written down. Not that they do not contain truth, but how accurate they are and how much of them are statements of faith and life of the early community of believers as opposed to actual happenings, especially in terms of the resurrection story that we remember this next Sunday.

There are numerous resurrection stories and even more interpretations of the stories. There are those who believe the resurrection was a literal bodily resuscitation. There are those who believe Jesus did not really die but just appeared to have died. There are those who believe he was resurrected but it was a strange new body with special abilities. There are those who believe it was a spiritual resurrection and not bodily. Marcus Borg speaks of not a bodily resurrection but that the Disciples continued to experience the presence of Christ in a profound way. And those who look at the early followers as the body of Christ and this expression and community were raised up empowered by the Spirit.

Reading progressive theological language around the issue this statement appears most often, “Believe what you want about the resurrection, bodily, spiritually, presence, the community of faith, but how does it affect your life here and now, how does it shape your life and faith, does the story give you new life, what difference does it make in the way you treat your fellow human kind?”

I know the experience of my brother’s death and the remaining stories, be they entirely true or not, had and continues to have, a profound impact on who I am and on my own understanding of life, faith, and love, I know this is truth for me.

Here in lies the truth of the resurrection story in a progressive theological framework; does the story move you to love God and neighbor, does the story move you to act justly, kindly, and humbly?

I pray this week brings you hope in the midst of struggle, healing in the midst of brokenness, laughter and singing borne of joy, and moves you from death to life! Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Easter and New Life in and among us all!

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.
Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Holding You in the Light

January 16, 2012

I often wonder what it is that goes through Simeon’s mind when he gets those one of those looks on his face. It is an inquisitive one, depth of eyes, wrinkled brow, intent and focused on what it is he sees or wishes for. It happens when he sits at the front door watching through the window, it happens when one of us is eating and he parks himself at our feet, it happens when he and Hobbes the cat are about to have a bit of a wrestling match. I think of it as an resolved and hopeful look on his face. I wonder if it is the posture of prayer for a dog.

What is prayer? Is it an expression of hope, of focus, of request, petition, meditation, a posture of being in the Presence of the Divine? I suppose it is all of the above and more. I have come to think of prayer less in terms of vocalized wishes, requests, or petitions and more of a state of being. Understanding the Divine as that all embracing and encompassing Presence in which we live and move and have our being. In that sense prayer becomes not just words but rather connection, presence, in and with us in the midst of the Presence that connects us literally to and with the Divine and to and with one another.

I liked that image I shared a couple weeks ago when speaking of God as a fish in water. The Presence like water surrounds, imbues, fills us outside and in and connects us to one another and literally the whole of the universe. In terms of personal prayer as I was doing research and reading for this coming Sunday’s theme and message I ran across an image that I resonate with coming from the Quaker tradition. Rather than telling someone they will “have you in my prayers,” they say “I will hold you in the light.” For our purposes in this current “Rethinking” series I like that image and as we continue on know that I hold each of us, our church, our community and world “in the light,” I will “hold you in the Presence,” “in my heart.”

Maybe on some simplistic level that is what I see in the eyes of Simeon, surrounds, imbues, fills us outside and in and connects us to one another and literally the whole of the universe. In terms of personal prayer as I was doing research and reading for this coming Sunday’s theme and message I ran across an image that I resonate with coming from the Quaker tradition. Rather than telling someone they will “have you in my prayers,” they say “I will hold you in the light.” For our purposes in this current “Rethinking” series I like that image and as we continue on know that I hold each of us, our church, our community and world “in the light,” I will “hold you in the Presence,” “in my heart.”

Maybe on some simplistic level that is what I see in the eyes of Simeon, yes his wish for an ear scratch, a dropped morsel, or a friend at the door, but maybe somewhere deep down that only the Presence can connect with he and all creation “holds us in the light” of love and peace. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we continue on the Way and consider and “Rethink Prayer.”

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.
Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

On the Edge of Great Things

December 19, 2011

Practically the first thing I do once I get to the church in the morning is start a pot of coffee in the parlor kitchen. There are rumors in the church not very many folks around like my coffee, I like it rather strong, it has been referred to as sludge among other names. But nonetheless, I do like my coffee first thing in the morning and the sooner the better.

I have developed a bad habit though here in the last several weeks. Rather than waiting for the pot to finish brewing I take my cup to the kitchen, carefully lean the coffee carafe back and slip my cup in under the stream of freshly brewed coffee. It is not generally a good practice because one always loses just a bit in the transfer, but a quick swipe with a towel cleans it up.

As I was sneaking my first cup this morning the Buddhist classes I had taken a month or so ago came to mine. The Teacher at the center spoke often about all the opportunities a day provides to practice patience. In the moment there I was unwilling to wait just a few minutes for my morning coffee. To make matters worse just as I removed the carafe and sat my cup so the stream of coffee could fill it, it was done. In this case I found myself impatient to the point of not waiting even a few seconds. I confess, patience does not seem to be my long suit in many situations.

Sitting here at my desk with my fresh coffee I am pondering patience, the Christmas Season, and our gracious Community of Faith here at College Hill. Let me first say what a blessing it is to be here in your midst as Pastor as well as one whom you read in this blog. TruDee and I have felt so welcomed and the community at College Hill fast became Home for us. Whether you are part of our Community of Faith or a follower of the blog and/or a follower on Facebook, thank you to each and every one of you for your care and your support over this last year and a half.

I also want to say that I believe things are very much moving in the right direction. There is so much positive energy around us and I believe the Spirit of grace, that Divine Presence is palpable among all of you as we move into the future. There are many challenges that still face us as a Progressive Christian voice, but we are facing each one as they arise and have persevered with grace and determination. I believe, with every ounce of who I am, we are on the verge of great things, just on the threshold of newness that will continue to carry us into a bright and wondrous future. It is not going to happen overnight, but I believe it is on the way, and I have to keep reminding myself to practice patience.

It is a good part of what this season in the church is all about, Advent, preparation for the coming of Christmas, Love born again among us, a light that dwells within each and draws us together into a brilliant light in our community and world. We are College Hill United Methodist Church, we are a Progressive Theological voice in our community and online, and we are Not Your Ordinary Church, and thanks be! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for who you are, for who we are and may each and every one of you have a Happy of Holiday and a Merry Christmas! Love to you!

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the family. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.