Curing Optic Rectosis

Back in 1996 I was elected to my first of 5 General Conferences of the United Methodist Church. Since then I’ve been on some very effective teams and some that weren’t. I was on the former General Council on Ministries for 4 years, The Connectional Table for 8 years, The Worldwide UMC Study Committee for 4 years, and now on the General Commission on Religion and Race for a four-year term. I’ve been on plenty of other teams in the global UMC including mission teams, pastoral teams, and am now in my eighth year of a Cabinet team. I also like to think of the Columbia District as a team. That’s been our motto: “Together We Can Do More!” and it has happened. I clearly remember the use of “team” back in 1996 as our Episcopal nominee, Ted Walter, gave his speech before the gathered delegates of the Southeastern Jurisdiction as we met in Denver, CO at General Conference.

He used a story to emphasize that he wanted to be a part of an Annual Conference’s team. The story went something like this: “A mule named ‘Jim’ was being driven by his owner. When everyone got on the wagon, the driver yelled ‘Giddyup, Jim. Giddyup, Sue. Giddyup, Sam. Giddyup, John. Giddyup, Joe.’ As the wagon started to move, one of the passengers said: ‘When Jim is the only one there, why did you call all those other names?’ The owner replied: ‘If Jim knew he was the only one pulling this wagon, he’d never budge an inch.’ It takes teamwork.”

Sometimes when I get optic rectosis, which is a nice way of saying I’ve been looking at life from a position a lot lower than a pat on the back, it helps to know the truth of 2 passages of Scripture that have a lot in common: I Corinthians 10:13 and I Peter 5:9-11. They have a lot in common, especially that God delivers and that we’re never alone when we think we’re the only one in the world going through this mess.

Listen to the commonalities between the passages. First, I Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up against it.” I Peter 5:9-11 says, “Resist him (the devil), standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

What I hear is that I’m not the only one who has ever been through this crud. There are plenty of other sojourners who walk a similar path, and in both passages we have a God who is faithful and strong and on our side! Now that’s a team!

“Team” is a simple word to describe the Trinitarian theology that I appreciate so much, although I’m a little taken aback at the words I’ve heard lately at the conclusion of prayers: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Didn’t Jesus say to pray in his name? What’s with this? Maybe I’m late to the game, but it’s no big deal, really. After all when you see one person of the Trinity, you see all three at work in that marvelous dance, distinct but indivisible, when Holy Perichoresis takes place.

“Perichoresis” is a word composed of two roots: peri which means around, and choresis from whence we get our word, to dance. In other words, God is always dancing around as a team, as the Trinity – always on the move, on the go, and at the ready – together! Better news for us is that when we feel alone facing life’s problems we should remember that we bear the Imago dei, the Image of God. Therefore, if God exists and works in the community that we call the Trinity how much more so should we lean upon one another when times are tough? We are vital members of a divine-human team that always wins!

Why do you think that “ER” was so popular on TV from 1994-2009, or “Bones” now? One reason is that emergencies or crisis management, require not solo players but team play, and we are enthralled and galvanized by the way in which a motivated team can take on a challenge. It’s not white knights, lone wolves or highflying eagles that solve crises. It’s team play. Can I dare say it’s the Trinity and the church!

So chunk your optic rectosis and hold your head up! You’ve got a lot of big-time H/help all around you! “Together We Can Do More!”

Passion Week and the Emergency Room

Ten Plagues? Lately it feels like it. If I counted back to Cindy’s mother’s death 18 months ago it seems like we’ve been through plenty. If frogs start falling from the sky I know we’re in trouble. Cindy’s mother died suddenly in August 2009 but we’re still settling up her estate and personal belongings. Narcie found out less than a year ago that she has a brain tumor. Cindy has had three surgeries since January, including one more last week. What I thought would be enough money in my Medical Reimbursement Account to last a year hasn’t lasted 3 months. My brother died suddenly on his birthday last August. In the last 3 weeks 2 grandchildren and 2 children have had strep throat. Now I have pneumonia, and I’m sure that I’m leaving something out.

Sure, there’s been plenty of good stuff, too. Cindy and I had our 35th wedding anniversary last December. Josh and Karen had their first child last week: Kaela Lynn McClendon. Being a District Superintendent is still a pleasure. Working with friends to help the UMC be a stronger church globally and locally has been a blessing, too. Teaching UM History at Lutheran Seminary has been a joy. Good with bad, bad with good – C’est la vie, right? Life is this tension between good news and bad. I guess I’m a little gun-shy right now, but what I’ve been lately calling “a prolonged anxiety” is real. The scary thing is that I’ve been so blessed. There are some people who go through this kind of stuff their entire lives, so why should I be different?

So why should I think that I’m too special to get caught in life’s cross-hairs? Jesus’ Holy Week was utterly awful and he was/is Special with a capital “S.” How easy it is for us Christians to think that we should be exempt from life’s junk. How easy it is to think that people get what they deserve. Jesus’ suffering during Holy Week clears up that falsehood because thinking people get what they deserve is a lie! Premillenialists may hope for a “Beam-Me-Up, Scottie!” rapture, but the early church’s view of the rapture with one woman left at a handmill and the other taken sounds more like Roman soldiers capturing one and leaving one behind to me. It’s not about an easy escape route! Look at early church history’s facts. On average, the early church had 5,000 martyrs a day for 300 straight years. Doesn’t sound like an easy life, not even close, and certainly doesn’t jive with my utopian “God will protect me and reward me” selfcenteredness.

Truth be told, none us get what we truly deserve. We deserve every bad thing imaginable. Go to your local Emergency Rooms and you’ll find the proof. Being in an ER is not a great experience unless you really have a penchant for studying people or might be a masochist. Cindy and I were there for 9 hours before it was decided that she needed to be admitted. Without sounding too much like a doubter concerning how much of the imago dei is left in people, I have to say that there were times in Cindy’s ordeal that I pondered whether if I were somehow able to die for the sins of the whole world, would I – in the context of who and what I saw in the ER? Frankly, Cindy was the only person there who would have been worth it from my vantage point. I was tired, frustrated, bothered by the drama taking place around me, and wasn’t in any mood for the sheer raunchiness and apparent lack of any manners in the people around us in the waiting room. There wasn’t enough security for the menagerie including me. It was a human zoo and I was one of the animals.

And Passion Week kept smacking my brain. Sitting in the ER with Cindy writhing in pain put some perspective on the incarnation and upcoming Passion Week for me. Theoretically I knew that Jesus died for every one of the people gathered in the ER and would have done it even if it had been just one, and not just Cindy, but how much Jesus loves us has never hit me this profoundly before. Humanity is fickle, sinful, and yet God loves us! He became incarnate in Jesus and took our sins upon himself. Thinking about all this I have to admit that I’m still more than a little jaded by the whole ordeal, but I think it got my attention in good ways. If God loves us so much in spite of who we are and how we act, then I better start seeing our human commonality more than spending my time dividing the sheep from the goats.We’re all made in God’s image, however marred we all are.

Before I start judging the idiocy of the Palm Sunday crowd and preach about how they turned on Jesus by Good Friday, I can look in the mirror and see the same fickleness. By God’s grace and love I can look in the same mirror and see the faces of every person from that ER. Everyone is included in Jesus’ passion. Lord, help me to open my eyes and see that your Passion is for all of us, not one soul left out.