Archive - July, 2017

Summer Reading ©

I returned from summer vacation on July 25th toting a stack of books that I had taken with me on our travels east to see the grandchildren (along with their parents).  In packing a few weeks before, Jolynn had raised her eyes at me and querulously asked, “Do you really think you will read all of those?”  After 40 years, 11 months, and 9 days of marriage, I have learned how to read some of her body language.  Skepticism streamed out of her mouth and drenched her expression.  I was defiant.

In my defense, I did do a lot of reading while on vacation. I read Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, Ferry (as in the boat we traveled on to get to the Isle of Mull and Iona not winged creatures in the woods), Peg the Little Sheepdog, The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby (Simon’s baby brother – grandchild number 4 – is due in late September or early October), The Wheels on the Truck Go ‘Round and ‘Round (about 15 times) and others of like ilk.  Additionally, I did get to do some of the reading I planned on; just not as much as I had hoped for.

I manage to read:

The Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith by Steve Harper
Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas Ricks
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Drehr (actually this was an audio book listened to while driving East)
About half of Methodism: Empire of the Spirit by David Hempton (I am continuing to read it and expect to be done soon.)

Some of my other summer readings (along with some fun ScFi mind-candy) include:

Unity In Mission: A Bond of Peace for the Sake of Love by Bishop C. Andrew Doyle
Bishop Doyle is the Episcopal Bishop the Houston Diocese.  He writes on how his diocese stayed in unity focused on the mission of the church despite divisions over the same issues that the United Methodist Church is currently dealing with.  The Council of Bishops has asked that all Bishops read this book.  I am currently about ¼ of the way through this significant book.

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by The Arbinger Institute
“The Arbinger Institute is a global training and consulting firm that specializes in organizational transformation and conflict resolution.”  In conjunction with the work of The Commission on the Way Forward, the Council of Bishops has asked that all bishops read this book as well.

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership for Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger
Using the metaphor of the Voyage of Discovery in the Lewis and Clark expedition, this book pulls together in a delightfully readable many of the insights of modern leadership and systems theory joining them with Christian values and faithfulness.  It is being read by a number of Cabinets in the South Central Jurisdiction (we will probably join them in reading it).  I am about 40 pages into it and recommend it highly (so far).

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World by Bob Johansen
Rev. Ray Bailey, an elder in the Central Texas Conference and retired Brigadier General (Deputy Chief of Staff of the Chaplains Corp in the Army), now serving as Associate General Secretary for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) gifted me with a copy of this book which he highly recommends.  I trust his judgment and look forward to digging into it.  I also noted in my reading that Todd Bolsinger in Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership for Uncharted Territory draws quotes from this book.

Learning Theology with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall
This book is a companion to the outstanding Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures series (some 27 volumes) of which Hall served as Associate Editor.  I am reading this book with a number of young clergy in the CTC out of a conviction that for us to move forward into the future faithfully we must recover out theological core.  It is a deep long-term personal project.

Against the Tide:  The Story of Adomnan of Iona by Warren Bardsley
I began this delightful book on the Isle of Iona.  It chronicles the work of one of the great missionary saints and bishops of Celtic Christianity.  Hopefully, I’ll finish it before summer is over!

So, what are you reading this summer?  If we are called to worship God with our heart and mind, how are you feeding your mind? Summer is a great time for catching up on reading!

Oh, wait a minute, my list is incomplete!  A friend, who is a member of a different Protestant denomination, sent me a copy of Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia.  We are going to read it and compare notes about our learnings, the two of us from different Protestant Denominations, from one of the America’s leading Roman Catholic thinkers.  It looks fascinating.

There is more I want to read but like a kid surveying an overladen culinary banquet, I think my appetite is bigger that my allotted reading time!  Meanwhile, where did I place Nessie the Loch Ness Monster?  I am sure I have a picture of her (that is Nessie) somewhere….






Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way #6

A Movement of the Holy Spirit

Professor David Hempton opens his marvelous history of the Methodist movement (Methodism: Empire of the Spirit) with the recounting of an incident which took place at Oxford University in the early 1880s.  Hugh Price Hughes, the leading Methodist scholar of his day, challenged Professor Mark Pattison, the distinguished scholar and Rector (think Dean) of Lincoln College, Oxford University, who was chairing the meeting, as to why there was no mention of John Wesley in Pattison’s lengthy essay “Tendencies of Religious Thought in England, 1688 – 1750.”  Furthermore, Pattison had relegated Methodism to “somewhere near the opposite pole of reasonable religion” (David Hempton, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit, p. 1).

Hugh Price Hughes, the great Methodist scholar, suggested that John Wesley was “one of the ‘greatest sons’ of the university.”  Irritated Pattison dismissed Methodism & Wesley as not worth consideration as a “reasonable religion.”

In truth Methodism as promulgated by John Wesley was always a head and heart religious understanding of the Christian faith.  Wesley believed deeply in the active providence of God in human life.  There were clear elements of what we might call charismatic.  Again Hempton’s reflections are insightful:  “Generally speaking Wesley accepted the epithet ‘enthusiast’ if it was meant as a rough synonym for a vigorous and earnest faith, but strenuously repudiated it if it was intended as a synonym for false claims to divine inspiration. . . . The rub of the matter was that Wesley accepted as a general proposition that God regularly and strikingly intervened in the created order to advance his purposes and protect his servants, whereas most of his critics did not in the same way”  (David Hempton, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit, p. 35). Not without reason Henry Rack, well on a century after Pattison and Hughes contentious interchange, would label John Wesley a “reasonable enthusiast.”

As Methodism in America grew in size and social respectability the “enthusiastic” side of the faith was gradually pushed to the edges.  This week I dipped my toe in the water of an important but often ignored segment of Methodism, namely our charismatic or renewal elements.  I stepped beyond my comfort zone to attend an Aldersgate Renewal Ministries (ARM) gathering in Lexington, Kentucky.  ARM initially grew out of the Board of Discipleship and eventually spun off as a para-church organization loosely attached to The United Methodist Church.  While I did not witness any speaking in tongues, I did encounter a deep sense of the active movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  People were “slain in the Spirit.”  Prayer, praise and worship were ecstatic and moving with dancing and banners accompanying healing and testimony of healing miracles.

Many know that my own conversion came out of the Quakers.  My greater comfort zone is sitting in silence and praying in quiet.  I have been a part of a group at Taize where I was deeply moved by the worship and felt a deep sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence.  Similarly I have twice been to Iona (most recently in May) where the liturgy conveys the greatness and presence of God.  Charismatic worship, however much it moves us beyond our comfort zone, must be added to the list.  I do not pretend to understand all of this, but I do believe the Holy Spirit moving in each.  (Please note, there is a danger in each form.  One of the speeches at Aldersgate contained strong elements of prosperity gospel which must be rejected as a heretical version of the gospel.). The faithful church of Jesus Christ needs all three of these different forms as well as others.

I noted some key elements to the ARM gathering that particularly impressed me.

1.  They are sold out on a Trinitarian theology and especially lift up Christ as King.
2.   They take sin and the Devil with great seriousness.
3.   Holiness as an active pursuit and ministry of Methodists is real. (The rest of the UMC could learn much from them here.  There is a strong sense of personal and social justice going together!)
4.   God acts supernaturally — that is beyond nature. (I attended a number of excellent workshops that challenged the vapid and tired Unitarian version of Methodism that infects too many of our churches.)
5.   They believe in personal, Holy Spirit inspired transformation and in the renewal of the church.
6.   They pray without ceasing; deep earnest prayer!
7.   They praise with passion – ardent heartfelt enthusiasm.

We have much to learn and relearn from this branch of the Methodist family.  It is well past time to lay down exaggerated fears (while still appropriately policing the abuses) and be more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is at work in our midst.  This too is a part of our recovering and reclaiming of the Wesleyan Way.