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!”

Connectionalism in Flight


The United Methodist Church values diversity and celebrates each person’s contribution to the common good. We’re certainly not perfect, but we striving for it! I have heard of too many churches where the opposite is true. The wounded are shot and people major on the minuses. These churches have failed to be Fishers of People, as Christ has called us, and have instead become keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium.
Take the Columbia District and its laity and clergy. As your District Superintendent I am glad to tell you how wonderful you are. In a state where unemployment in some regions has topped 20%, we’ve been blessed by a semi-stable local economy, and we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing to others. As a Connectional church we pool our resources for the common good of the Kingdom. As of this writing the Columbia District giving to Connectional causes is nearly 97%! Your faithfulness is helping those who aren’t as able to help themselves right now. I thank you!
I hope, without thinking me insane, that you’ll agree that our District is thriving because you have mastered the art of emulating geese. Next fall watch the geese heading south for the winter and you’ll understand. Watch their “V” formation. It’s a wonder of nature that we can all benefit from. Science has discovered why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. No wonder then that Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier. Shared thrust will make a church really “fly!”
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation, to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. If church members have as much sense as a goose we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way that we are going. When the lead goose gets tired, the goose rotates back in the “V” and another goose flies point. It pays to take turns doing hard jobs – with people at church or with geese flying south.
The geese near the rear honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. We all know how much an encouraging word helps us when we’re tired. When a goose gets sick, or is wounded by a shot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow the lame goose down to help and protect him or her. They stay with the hurt goose until he or she is either able to fly, or until the goose’s death, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group. Maybe if people knew that we would stand by them like that in the church, they would push down the church walls to get in.
You see, all we have to do in order to keep attracting those who are missing to the church is to demonstrate to the world that we have as much sense as geese. That seems little enough price to pay to bring people to Christ and minister to one another. Even geese know that it works every time. Goose-life and United Methodism’s Connectionalism go hand in hand, and I celebrate it. Let’s keep up the good work. Let good honking abound!

Inauguration & Football

>Football and President Obama have a lot in common as I think of our motto, e pluribus unum, “Out of Many, One.” There are lots of players on the field and staff to coach those who dare to step on the gridiron. As a republic of citizenry we know all too well the country doesn’t fare well unless we pull together. The historic election of President Obama has taken a team effort to battle racism and naysayers. Tomorrow’s inauguration is a celebration of who we are as much as it who Obama is, but back to football as my main analogy-engine.

Now we know that the Steelers and the Cardinals will play in two weeks in the Super Bowl. George Will says that “Football combines the two worst things about America: It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Yeah, right, but I still love football. It has great analogies for life, especially those committee meetings. If we would all huddle up more often and get our heads together, wouldn’t the world be a better place? It takes teamwork to play successful football. Individual stars and goats are part of the action, but it’s ultimately a team sport.
So is life. I first heard my friend and fellow SC UM pastor, Dr. Ted Walter, use this story. A mule named “Jim” was being driven by his owner. It was just the one mule “Jim” who was hitched up to the wagon, when 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, even when it just God and us. That’s a pretty good team, by the way! What is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity but an affirmation of teamwork: One in Three and Three in One.
Life is better when we have relationships with others, work together, all pitch in, and accomplish things. In family life or any other communal atmosphere everything is a “we” thing. I like the Walt Disney Company attitude. If you work at Disney you’re not an employee, but a “cast member.” Each one of us is that important.
I had to decide how important it was last week for me to attend the meeting of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Episcopacy in Jackson, Mississippi. After all, a lot of our churchy meetings are usually same-old-same-old from start to finish. It was a long way to drive even at today’s lower gas prices to just “meet and greet” your fellow heads of delegations, but the only way to build camaraderie and fellowship that will get us through a quadrennium of supporting our jurisdiction, annual conferences, local churches, and bishops is to be present with each other. We covenanted to pray for each other and two of us were assigned as partners with bishops to pray and support one another. Lynn Powell from North Georgia and I were assigned Bishop Tim Whitaker from Florida. We want to do what it takes to develop real community.
Dr. Scott Peck of Road Less Traveled fame talks about building community by saying it happens though stages. The first stage is called “pseudo-community.” Pseudo-community is when you get together and there are hugs all around, chit-chat, hail-fellow-well-met surface falderal. It’s not real community, however, if it stays only on the surface. The next stage that does get at the hidden agendas and real needs is “chaos.” Chaos happens when we’re really honest with each other and get things out in the open. After chaos comes “emptiness,” a stage in real community building where people lay aside their own personal wishes for the larger good. The result is real community. Teamwork is a no-brainer for football, republics, presidents, and life!