My Spiritual Migration: 1
I was at a gathering of fellow clergy earlier this week when I stood up to make a statement concerning my thoughts on the current challenges we face as The United Methodist Church, mostly to do with inclusiveness. My words put into thought a couple things. First is when we are making major shifts in thinking the biggest issue is fear. A second was a new image that has come to me concerning the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” I will get to these in greater detail later. One of my colleagues came up to me afterward and made a statement that he thought I was more on the conservative side of theology. I responded with a question, “Is that because I came here from Texas?” His response neither confirmed or denied, but he indicated it probably had a little to do with it. I began to tell of the migration I have been on for the last several years. He asked if I had journaled about it, to which I replied I think I should blog about it. So here it is. I want to say that my intent in blogging this out is to help me think through the transformation I have gone through and hopefully inspire others to consider their long held beliefs to see if they still ring true.
I am not really sure when it all began to happen, but I noticed that my thinking on a number of subjects was less rigid than it used to be. Here is where to me, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral comes in. If you are not familiar with it the basics are this: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason are lenses we look at things through. There are various images I have seen over the years that try to rank the four lenses, usually Scripture getting the largest portion, and the other three much smaller boxes. The image I have been working on is more like the Wesleyan Tricycle. There are numerous parts to a tricycle, but the main parts are the frame, front tire, and rear tires. I said scripture is like the frame, connecting and holding everything together and in alignment. The front tire (and steering apparatus) is experience, and the two rear tires were tradition and reason. This image for me is still a work in progress, as there are times when Reason could be the front wheel, or at least maybe it is the frame and scripture the rear axle holding up the two wheels of tradition and the front is still experience. Anyway, over time and through many conversations and experiences I could not hold to the conservative beliefs I had previously embraced and taught.
As I began considering these newer ideas I found myself in a quandary. What would it look like if I believed and embraced these new thoughts? Can I back these up scripturally? What would people think if I began pushing away the old, firmly held beliefs for these newer thoughts? What would my District Superintendent think? Could I get fired over this? As you may be able to imagine the list of questions is rather long. As I began reasoning through these ideas I noticed a presence of fear. Maybe you have heard it said something like, “The Bible says it, that settles it!” Or put another way, “We can’t pick and choose which parts we like and only believe them.” Again, there are a number of ways this has been expressed. Fear comes in because we ask these questions. If I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, what do I do with the 9 or so verses that call it out as sin? What about eating pork? It is clearly a no-no in the Old Testament. The only verses that indicate it might be ok to eat pork are found in Acts 10, and the animals listed is very vague at best. Yet, right now as I am writing this I have a pork tenderloin on my smoker. What about shell fish? I love to eat crab, lobster, and shrimp but these are only a few among many other forbidden foods.
Is there a slippery slope we are afraid of falling off? Where is the edge so we make sure we stop before going too far? These are questions of fear. Yes, we need boundaries, but who sets them? Or what sets them? Is it my ability to interpret the Bible or The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline? Well, yes, these set some boundaries. Boundaries make us feel safe and secure. What happens when these boundaries that keep us safe create pain, hurt and anger to others? Do we look away? Do we call them out and make them feel worse? What is our model for interpreting these things? When I step out of the perfect world box and dare to enter into a relationship with real people who don’t fit in my box I often find myself in good company.
When I make the choice to step over the line I have to be discerning. This brings us back to the tricycle image. Is it reasonable that God would send someone to hell simply because they loved? Because they found an intimate relationship in every good measure the same (maybe even greater) than my love for my wife and wanted to live in that life with all the same benefits I have with my spouse? My fear is that you might reject me for thinking that way. Eventually, I realized when Jesus said there are two commandments, Love God and Love your neighbor, I had to decide what that looked like. Not that I have come to the final conclusion and therefore can set the boundary in new places, but that I found when we create boundaries we make God smaller and much more manageable.
Love these days is a charged word. It means so many things. I love my wife, hamburgers, steak, my phone, apps, energy drinks, dogs, cat, motorcycles and many more things, but believe me, there is a big difference in the way I love a good hamburger and the way I love my wife. The love God has for every human being, animal, bird, fish, tree, the earth and the universe is beyond my ability to grasp. It may be easier to think there couldn’t be a god with the brokenness of the world, but something inside us leads us to a power greater than this life. Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by the way you love each other.
May that be what we seek to do.