Visions and Dreams

"Responsible change is a far more faithful pattern of obedience to Christ than the most devoted immobilism can ever be." - Albert Outler, "Visions and Dreams", sermon at the Uniting Service, April 23, 1968.

It's been a while since I've been able to write here in this space.  I haven't even had time to check in ... It's been a crazy summer.  I just finished the UM History/Doctrine/Polity block of classes at Perkins.  A pretty intensive run of course work, four hours a day, four days a week.  It was like moving to some foreign, Methodist country, learning a new language ... The Way of Salvation ... Boards and Committees ... MEC to MPC to MECS to EUB to UMC to ... to ... to ...

Am I supposed to have a mind like Christ Jesus?  Or John Wesley?    Board of Ordained Ministry here we come.

Annual Conference was in there.  An amazing full-time pastoring job was in there.  A grace-filled family that understood the level of data daddy was loading into his brain causing things around the house to just 'not compute' sometimes.  More on that particular facet the of craziness later.

It was a fascinating journey this summer.  I think I love our UMC a lot more than I did before.  I certainly understand it better.  Of all the things I read (and there was a ton, as you might expect), perhaps that most engaging and challenging read was Albert Outler's sermon at the the uniting service that created the United Methodist Church out of the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren in Dallas, TX on April 23, 1968.

Entitled "Visions and Dreams", Professor Outler made a few bold statements towards the future of the church, comparing this new (at the time) UMC to the new Christian church at Pentecost, not so much as there was a specifically brand-new thing beginning - but that it was time to start a brand-new way of doing ministry in Christ's church.  A call to be a church fully catholic, fully evangelical, fully reformed.

The meanings of the terms catholic and evangelical are well-known.  By catholic, Outler called for a fully 'inclusive' and 'open' church.  Dialogue in our church today suggests we aren't there yet.  The call to be evangelical was to be a church "radically Christ centered", to spread the word that the "Gospel is the good news that is God’s love that pardons, heals, and reconciles, God’s love that demands that we be fully human and opens up this possibility, for us, God’s love that can sanctify our memories and our hopes."

It's when Outler gets to being a church "truly reformed" that makes me pause and reflect.  He's not telling us to be Luther or Zwingli or Calvin.  He means something different and entirely relevant to us today:

A church truly reformed is one that is open, intentionally and on principle, to creative change of every sort (in teaching, discipline and administration) – not haphazard or reckless change but not timid and grudging either.

Ah, so a church that is truly reformed is completely open to being re-formed.  Get it?

With the debates going on in our church today over human sexuality this single statement calls me to wonder: do people think that the Church of Jesus Christ, the United Methodist Church in particular, has arrived?  That we are as a church body entirely sanctified as we are today?  That we are as inclusive as we need to be?  In Outler's time, the church was struggling through the real matters of desegregation.  It was stipulated in the union of the new church that the segregated African American central conference in the US would be dissolved into existing conferences.  That was a real struggle for the church that would mostly be done by 1972.  It actually wasn't until 1972 that any Book of Discipline had a statement on homosexuality.


This isn't to belittle either side of the debate in today's church.  I just think we have bigger fish to fry.  It's time to move towards the vision set back in 1968.  Can we still be a fully catholic, evangelical, and reformed UMC?

This week the lesson in worship will be on the often told encounter at Bethel between Jacob and God - in a dream.  A dream where God lays out the plan for Jacob and his descendants, a prosperous dream whereby all of the people of the world would be blessed by Jacob's descendants.  It's an awe-inspiring text, but it wouldn't be until Jacob would wrestle with God at Peniel (much later) that Jacob would accept God's plan for him and his family.  I just wonder, are we following God's dream for this church?

My Degree is Longer Than Your Degree!

Saturday, Leanne and I were at the Sunday School party for one of our young adult classes and struck up a conversation with another guy working on his second master's degree - another glutton for graduate school punishment like myself.  He's working on a second degree in engineering, myself on an Master of Divinity as required for ordination in the United Methodist Church.

We both struggled through a first fall semester of six semester hours while balancing full-time work and family time.  It's a tough - but meaningful - struggle.  It was a great conversation - but then it turned down an illuminating direction when we talked total hours of our degrees.

My friend asks, "How many hours is an MDiv?"
I say, "85."
He says, "Seriously?  Mine's only 36."

Kind of unbelievable, right?  The degree I'm attempting to attain, carries the same weight of "Master" and yet is more than twice as long.  It's a four year plan at Perkins if you're trucking at full-time, with the last year as an internship.  I'm lucky that with my previous MSM work I've come into the MDiv program with 24 hours of credit that counts towards my new calling.  But, geez, you guys.

This might be kind of a problem, so I've taken it upon myself to check out how many course hours other Master's Degrees take.  I decided to look at SMU, as that's where I currently attend.  Let's see how things stack up:
  • Master of Divinity (Perkins School of Theology, SMU) - 85 hours
  • Master of Sacred Music (Perkins School of Theology, SMU) - 48 hours
  • Juris Doctorate (Dedman School of Law, SMU) - 87 hours - but you technically have a doctorate in the end
  • MBA (Cox School of Business, SMU) - 61 hours
  • MS in Computer Science (Lyle School of Engineering, SMU) - 24 hours (w/dissertation, or 30 hours without)
  • Master of Education (Simmons School of Education, SMU) - 36-42 hours (depending on certifications)
  • MM in Choral Conducting (Meadows School of the Arts, SMU) - 30 hours (I'd be about a semester away from this one if I chose to go back)

The JD from the law school is the only one that takes more course work, but in the end (as noted), you have the equivalent of a Master and Doctorate degree (at least that's my understanding).  The only other one that comes close is the MBA from Cox School of Business is 61 hours at my count, which is actually twice as long as some - but the ROI is ridiculous, and it's rated in the top 25 business schools in the country.  If you do it right, on average, the MBA from Cox pays for itself in 3.4 years (according to their brochure, which I'm not inclined to argue with - it's a STELLAR program).

So what does all this mean?  United Methodists heap a whole lot of work on their potential pastors.  This isn't new news, but it's important to point out.  And it's not as if looking at the curriculum it's easy to decide what should be taken out.

Could it also be, however, that we expect pastors to be professionals at too many disciplines when they graduate?  Theologians.  Human resources management.  Counseling.  Community activism.  Accounting.  Non-prophet business management.  Even, theatre and music for many.  The list goes on.  And many pastors with solo appointments have to be able to handle all of this depending on how well a church can be staffed, and the qualifications of the laity.

I do however, have a proposal, that would shorten the degree and give a pastor more practical experience.

Put them in the local church.  Not an internship that pays little (that you technically pay for), but a job.

I'm currently serving as a full-time Licensed Local Pastor, focusing on Communication, Young Adult Ministries, and preaching every week at our contemporary service.  I'll admit that I'm choosing this path, I don't have to.  But, I love my work.  I love to work.  And I'm having a ton of fun at this appointment.  I'm learning the practical side of pastoring (just as I had for the previous eight years as a Worship Minister), under the tutelage of great mentor pastors, staff, and laity.  But I also have several friends that are managing seminary while being out on the fringe with solo appointments to churches and Wesley Foundations.

I think it should count towards my MDiv.  I think applying the work I'm doing in seminary in real-time on the job is invaluable.  I think at least having the option to work in an appropriate ministry setting should go towards the course load of a Master of Divinity.  Doing things at this rate, will take years - or all of my summers and winters with the falls and springs.  A path I've chosen, yes, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a better way to work full-time in ministry and get the education needed to become and Elder-in-full-connection.  After all, if I chose to say an LLP, I wouldn't have to do any of this.  Much less job security, to be sure, but just think about that.

So, why shouldn't it count?

The Unity of the Church

I'm in the thick of my first week's reading for my first semester of Christian Heritage.  I'm really digging these readings going back to just after the Book of Acts.  Getting a glimpse at our early church fathers and mothers, many of them on the road to martyrdom, is fascinating.  Just reading the scripture quotations alone in the writings of Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, and Cyprian is enough to bless me to be where I am today.

I'm currently reading Cyprian's The Unity of the Church, a treatise on what binds us together as the church.  Cyprian (c. 200 - 258) was the elected Bishop of Carthage for the last ten years or so of his life until his death as a martyr, during a time of much persecution of Christians.  While there's a lot to be said of his life, a driving force in his writing and ministry was keeping the unity in the church and encouraging followers to hold on during a time of trial to the love of God.  So much so, that he was apparently against granting mercy to those who would leave the church for fear of persecution and then ask to return when things got easier ... His ministry wasn't without controversy and he had a knack for strong words.

Here's a bit from Unity, regarding the Holy Spirit, the beauty of doves, and what to do with wolves in the church:
 Therefore also the Holy Spirit came as a dove, a simple and joyous creature, not bitter with gall, not cruel in its bite, not violent with the rending of its claws, loving human dwellings, knowing the association of one home; when they have young, bringing forth their young together; when they fly abroad, remaining in their flights by the side of one another, spending their life in mutual intercourse, acknowledging the concord of peace with the kiss of the beak, in all things fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the simplicity that ought to be known in the Church, this is the charity that ought to be attained, that so the love of the brotherhood may imitate the doves, that their gentleness and meekness may be like the lambs and sheep. What does the fierceness of wolves do in the Christian breast? What the savageness of dogs, and the deadly venom of serpents, and the sanguinary cruelty of wild beasts? We are to be congratulated when such as these are separated from the Church, lest they should lay waste the doves and sheep of Christ with their cruel and envenomed contagion. Bitterness cannot consist and be associated with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clearness, battle with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with springs, storm with tranquility. Let none think that the good can depart from the Church. The wind does not carry away the wheat, nor does the hurricane uproot the tree that is based on a solid root. The light straws are tossed about by the tempest, the feeble trees are overthrown by the onset of the whirlwind. The Apostle John execrates and severely assails these, when he says, “They went forth from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, surely they would have continued with us."
It's just kind of interesting, our God is a God that will go after the lost sheep, but what to do with those that just leave?  What do with those that are just angry?  How would we be called to stand by one another if we lived in a country that persecuted Christians?   Hmmm ...