Years ago, an automobile dealership’s advertising punch line was, “The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'” As in, “Should we give a big discount on these vehicles? The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'”
I’ve thought about that line as United Methodists move deeper into the “disaffiliation” process. It has been personally painful to watch it unfold, but Phyllis Tickle’s wise observation has been helpful. She said this era of deep change in our culture and all religions will be like the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s–the faith and the planet will emerge stronger as various groups go their separate ways.
The Lester Memorial UMC in Oneonta has worked out a relatively amicable divorce, where a sizable contingent of those not desiring to disaffiliate are forming a new congregation. In a large city, those wishing to stay with the denomination, but find themselves in a group where the majority want to leave, can easily join another UMC that intends to remain. In a small community like Oneonta, it takes more creativity.
Our monthly meeting, pre-pandemic, was for lunch and discussion. Now, we meet for 60 minutes via Zoom. Yesterday’s 20 attendees came from Alabama, North Carolina (2), Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas (the home of yesterday’s presenter).
The group began many years ago as an informal gathering of laity and clergy, skewed toward older adults. Yesterday, one attendee was 92, one was 91. We have a strong 80s contingent. We’re living into our somewhat whimsical name, the Elders.
The largest group by vocation is clergy, mostly United Methodists, but yesterday’s group included two Baptists and an Episcopalian. Present were educators, engineers, counselors, a psychiatrist, an attorney, a financial advisor, and a military retiree.
We’re exploring the privilege and challenge of rapid technological change. How can we collaborate from our various disciplines for a healthier, more humane planet? I’ll share more in coming posts. Click the link below for a brief book review.
The “oasis” theme has captured my imagination during this final week of Advent, so this week I’ll share some ideas, insights and reflections about oasis. It’s a worthy model, or paradigm for a community of faith, for a nation, and for planet earth.
I embraced the United Methodist version of Christianity in high school. I chose this “tribe” because I became part of a congregation that was an oasis of racial brotherhood/sisterhood in a desert of segregation known as Alabama.
Since 1970, I’ve been part of several gracious, beautiful faith communities in Alabama and Tennessee–blessed by engaging, thoughtful souls seeking to be faithful to the best tenets of the Christian faith. I now realize that I became comfortable with (and contributed to) a homogenized culture in an increasingly diverse world.
Since 2020, I’ve been part of a congregation that ten years ago made a commitment to be an “open place for all.” This oasis has broadened my cultural horizons and deepened my biblical faith. Two words leapt out from yesterday’s affirmation of faith:
We believe that creation is inextricably linked. We belong to one another in an undeniable way. We are bone of bone and flesh of flesh, life breathed into dust. We believe that God invites us to live into that truth to love without abandon, to see the good in one another, to trust that all belong to God. We know that this life of connection is easier said than done, which is why we gather in this space week after week, generation after generation, to be reminded: We see God in each other. This we believe. Amen.
On October 30, I taught a Sunday School class of old friends at a congregations I served from 1991-2005. Some of them were wearing “Independent Strong” buttons to generate support for a November 13 vote to disaffiliate from our denomination.
I’ve known these friends well for 31 years. No one–not one of them–intended for their button to send this message, but nevertheless it was the message I heard from each person wearing a button: “I don’t need you.” It is true, of course. They’ve never needed me in a dependency kind of way.
This non-dependency is as it should be and they will be fine without me. I wish them well in their independence, and they disaffiliate with my blessing. Their buttons have prompted within me this question: When have I sent an unintentional “I don’t need you” message to someone?
When have my words, actions or body language discounted or dismissed anyone? Was it their gender, age, physical appearance, skin color, political affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality or faith? Was it intentional? I hope not. But, the message is the same whether intentional or unintentional.
Sometimes, an “I don’t need you” message is intentional. Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said she didn’t need the vote of supporters of the late Arizonan John McCain, claiming her GOP primary win “drove a stake through the heart of the McCain machine.” This may have won the race for her opponent in the general election, democrat Katie Hobbs.
If you find yourself in a late-life crisis and think you’d like to criss-cross the continent towing a camper, I’m available for a pro-bono reality therapy consultation. We’re compiling a travel journal of things to do (or not do) next time. In Pennsylvania we learned to consult Siri but not depend on Siri for directions.
We learned this valuable lesson In northern Pennsylvania, specifically 41.8234° N, 75.1138° W, on Kellams Bridge Road, which spans the Delaware River that separates the Keystone State from New York. We programmed the map app to avoid Interstate Highways. Sometimes, Siri interpreted this as desiring to be a Daniel Boone trail-blazer. We were directed to Kellams Bridge Road. The road was narrow, winding, not entirely paved, with tree limbs dangling from power lines and nowhere to turn around. After more than a few minutes of amazement, concern and (finally) self-doubt, we came face-to-face with…
Kellams Bridge, one-lane, 384-feet long, was originally built in 1890 and updated in 1936. The 8’0″ clearance sign was troubling. Our camper is 7’8″ high. We inched along and made it past the beam on the Pennsylvania side. As we approached the Empire State side, we saw an immediate steep incline and a railroad track. In retrospect, it may not be as steep as I remember and the track may not be as close as I remember, but I envisioned the camper getting stuck with the car sitting on the railroad track.
The Delaware River is scenic. Kellams Bridge was (literally) breath-taking. Whew!
We noticed “Hallowed Ground” signs on the highway. A bit of research led to the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area,” from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. The 180-mile long and 75-mile wide area contains many historic sites, with numerous events throughout the year.
I gravitate toward all things historic, but we didn’t stop at Gettysburg on this trip. Many years ago I stood where Pickett’s Charge began and looked across the broad field toward the Union line. Lee and everyone involved later agreed it was a bad idea. I put myself in the place of those soldiers, and those who awaited them. I don’t need to go back there. Once was enough.
At Gettysburg, Lincoln said, “…we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have hallowed it far beyond our poor power to add or detract.” I get it, I feel the sacrifice, the honor and the tragedy, of battlegrounds. Yet, in a greater sense, all ground in the universe is hallowed, or holy.
Places in Ukraine where some Putin advisors want to target “low-yield” nuclear weapons are holy. War desecrates already holy ground, even as it illustrates valor, creates heroes and gives those who follow a sense of the holy. War’s desecration and the consecration of an ensuing peace provide the ultimate human paradox. It’s worth pondering.
A recent trip through southern Pennsylvania on the Lincoln Highway to Gettysburg was followed by some miles in Virginia on the Lee Highway to Appomattox. It was a peaceful, direct, one-day journey that took the survivors of Lee’s retreating army 20 months of more bloody battles. About 75 yards from Appomattox Court House, a modest room in a family’s residence was the site where Grant and Lee, each seated behind separate small tables, signed papers acknowledging the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The restored little village is part of a National Historic Park. A lone American flag is prominent on a pole at the entrance to the village. It’s a quiet, appropriate reminder that we are—at least officially–one nation. The little village reminds us that it was, and is, a costly oneness. Each day news events remind us that our oneness is still a work in progress, a unity yet to be fully realized 157 years after the surrender documents were inked. The park at Appomattox is a simple, somber witness to hope rising from the ashes of war.
A sign greets travelers that Appomattox County is “where our nation was reunited.” A more accurate statement would be, “Where our nation’s reunification began.” Big ideals, by their nature, are always works in progress, as in “liberty and justice for all.” But I wouldn’t change the sign that welcomes travelers. Leave it as it is, a reminder that though we’re an incomplete, unfinished project, something really important happened there. Our nation was reunited, even as we continue to discover the potential of a truly united nation.
The guys in my weekly “Fullness of Love” group kept quoting Heather Cox Richardson. I can be slow on the uptake, but when someone, or more than one, repeatedly suggests a resource, I eventually think, “I need to check out that person, website, blog, book, or periodical.”
After Richard Rohr, HCR is my second read of the day. She’s a resource that keeps me grounded in the best traditions of American democracy. Authoritarians, insurrections and wars don’t just happen. They have antecedents. Heather Cox Richardson helps me connect the dots.
Her August 27. 2022 letter began: In a speech Thursday night, President Joe Biden called out today’s MAGA Republicans for threatening “our personal rights and economic security…. They’re a threat to our very democracy.” Then, she provided a history lesson for context, a story I’d never heard, which began:
Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it. …
I gained a new perspective yesterday about memory loss when I took my aunt for a post-surgery exam. We had multiple conversations about family members. She spoke about her mom in the present tense and minutes later talked about her mom’s funeral. My aunt has lost the relativity of time but maybe she’s gaining something the ancients described as a narrowing of the “veil” that separates the living from the departed. On a 2011 study trip to Ireland, our guide took us to some “thin” places.
I experienced a powerful continuity in my aunt’s 91-year-old brain. She thought the doctor’s office was on the college campus she and her sister Grace attended. In that moment, the medical facility provided an atmosphere for her to express the meaning of their relationship, which transcends time and space. Details become more dim, but the reality of her formative relationships remains essentially the same. In the big scheme of things, isn’t essence more important than details?
Yesterday’s excursion reminded me of my friend Stephen’s recent comment that artificial intelligence pales in comparison with the human brain. From a paper by Jiawei Zhang: On average, the human brain contains about 100 billion neurons and many more neuoglia which serve and support the neurons. Each neuron may be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synapses. Maybe our synapses mature in ways we youngsters cannot yet appreciate.
Could a brain that appears impaired operate in a different plane, look at reality from a different perspective, on a wavelength we can’t quite grasp. Two years ago, while sleeping in my aunt’s guest bedroom, she knocked on the door and said, “Midge, are you in there?” Midge (1924-2007) was her sister and my mother. We talked for a few minutes and I suggested that she may have been dreaming about Midge. The ancients viewed dreams as windows for peering through the thin “veil.”
Autura Eason-Williams was a wise colleague in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference. Her ability to make each person feel important was driven by her belief that everyone is a unique part of creation. She was a faithful, effective leader and friend who was graced with infectious laughter.
On Monday, her life ended tragically during an apparent carjacking in front of her home in metro Memphis that led to charges against a 15-year old and a 16-year old.
Yesterday, help came to me through words from Catherine de Hueck Doherty via “Standing Still,” a meditation by Richard Rohr, which contextualized the meaning of Autura’s life:
True silence is the speech of lovers …. a key to the immense and flaming heart of God …. in the … creative, fruitful, loving silence of final union with the Beloved…. This silence, then, will break forth in a charity that overflows in the service of the neighbor without counting the cost…. Hospitality will be deep and real, for a silent heart is a loving heart, and a loving heart is a hospice to the world.