If you follow my blogging, you may have noticed my recent absence from the blogosphere.  Following daily blogging through Lent 2018, I intended to continue blogging weekly.  But, a couple months back, I hit the proverbial “writer’s block,” and simply couldn’t think of anything worth blogging.  Or, perhaps, if I’m honest, I haven’t been in the right mental/emotional/spiritual “state” to write much worthy of public consumption.  Though I’ve opened my blog-site, attempting to write numerous times, words I was comfortable expressing just wouldn’t come.

Why?

As I’ve shared in previous blogs, the February 14th tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deeply affected me.  Though I’ve worked through most of my theological angst, I think, I’m still wrestling with thoughts, ideas, and questions I haven’t before.  I’ve never believed in easy answers.  But, my previous questions – ABOUT EVERYTHING – haven’t usually been this complicated.

Then there’s the daily news coming out of Washington D.C.  Though I’ve never been a fan of our current President, and doubted his competency for office from the start, I’m increasingly shocked and outraged by his words and actions, on a daily basis.  I don’t understand how he gets away with saying the things he says, and doing the things he does.  I’m especially shocked by how so many “Christians” are so quick to defend him, his words and his policies, and so quick to condemn those who question him.  In recent weeks, my shock has turned to anger.  Some days, my shock and anger gives way to doubt and despair.

Then there’s the state of the United Methodist Church – the denomination I serve.  For decades the UMC has been divided over issues related to human sexuality and how we relatedly understand, interpret, respect, and enforce Scripture.  Since 2016, a group called the “Commission on a Way Forward,” has sought to discern a way to keep the UMC united, and to find a “way” for us to avoid schism.  While I deeply respect many who served on the Commission, and appreciate their efforts, I’m deeply disappointed by the blunders and suspicion following their report to the Council of Bishops.  Though I’ve long believed in the biblical value of unity, as clearly espoused by Jesus, I’ve become increasingly doubtful – and sometimes despondent – that we’ll a find way to remain united.

I’m also wrestling with finding my prophetic voice.  As a pastor, I’ve mostly focused on “spiritual” things – church programming,  preaching, prayer, Bible study, “doing” missions – leaving prophetic speech to others.  Frankly, sometimes, I was just cowardly.  I’ve always respected prophets, but haven’t wanted to be one!  But, increasingly, I feel called to speak – for women, for immigrants, for people of color, for the LGBTQ community, for justice and fairness, for decency.  But, speaking out has consequences.  Learning how to deal with those consequences, without retaliation, is a test of patience and love.

And, I’m wrestling with the institutional Church.  There’s no secret the institutional Church in America is increasingly irrelevant and rapidly in decline.  I’m increasingly wondering how much the modern institutional Church has to do with the Church Jesus intended.  When I read the New Testament, I read about a family-like community, gathered around a living, risen Lord.  As diverse communities of mutual love, sharing, and service, they experienced the presence of the living Christ amongst them, and in each other.  Focused on the Lordship of Jesus, the early Church sought to be an alternative, radically-inclusive, counter-cultural society, equally welcoming and honoring men and women, rich and poor, young and old, saints and sinners, Jews and pagans, leaders and followers, converts and seekers.  In the early Church, lives were radically changed by the Holy Spirit.  The Church of the New Testament, as I read it, strived to love, in word and deed.  I don’t read about denominations, or institutional preservation, or building debt, or annual budgets, or advertising campaigns, or growth strategies, or music styles, or calendars, or church-management software, etc.  In the New Testament, I read far more about “being” the Church as a reflection of Jesus, and not so much about “doing” Church business.

In other words, during this blogging hiatus, I’ve been wrestling.  I’m still wrestling.

“How do we speak honestly, confidently, truthfully about who God is and what God does in this world of ugliness and violence?”

“What does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus?  What do we stand for?  Who do we stand for?  How?  What do we speak for, or against?”

“What does it mean to be the Church?  Who is the Church?

“What does it mean to hope, and what can we hope for?  Who, or what, do we entrust that hope?”

“What does it mean for followers of Jesus to be ‘in’ the world, but not ‘of’ the world?”

About the time I wrote my last blog, I realized how many of my posts have a negative, critical tone.  Over the last year, as I’ve learned about being an Enneagram 9, I’ve become painfully aware of my passive aggressive tendencies (a common trait of 9s, who tend to avoid face-to-face conflict like a plague!) – an ugly trait I was previously blind to.  Blogging became a forum for saying those things I’ve struggled to say, and allowed to internally fester.  Blogging became a place to express frustration and anger I’ve suppressed.  While I stand by everything I’ve written, I don’t want to be passive aggressive in any aspect of my life.  My blogging ought to be a healthy and accurate reflection of who I am in the pulpit, standing in line at the grocery home, at home in my boxer shorts, or chatting over coffee at Starbucks.

Though I’m wrestling with loads of hard questions (for me) these days, I don’t claim to have many answers.  Though I don’t claim to be absolutely “right” about much of anything, I’m increasingly convinced that we are wrong about MANY things.  The litmus test for me is Jesus…

“What did he say?  How did he say it?”

“What did he do?  Why did he do it?”

“Why did he come?  Who did he come for?”

“How did he love?  Who did he love?”

“Who did he welcome and who did he turn away?”

“What does he expect of me?”

“Where is he now?  How do I find him?  How do I see him, and hear him?”

“What does he feel about the current state of the Church and the world?  How do I find out, and what do I do about it?”

What does he think about our current political and cultural divides?”

“If he returned today, what would he affirm and what would be condemn?”

I’m fully aware that you might have a different litmus test for right and wrong.  I’m fully aware that you may conclude different answers to my questions than I have or will.  But, here’s my challenge.  If you claim to believe in Jesus – and claim to follow him as Lord – make sure you actually do.  It may be a lot harder than you think.  Study what he said in the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount.  Rather than drawing your own conclusions about what is right and wrong, find out what Jesus said is right and wrong.  Before you take a stand, study what Jesus stood for.  Before you condemn or criticize, find out what Jesus condemned and criticized.  Imitate him, as authentically as you possibly can.  Until you’ve thoroughly read, studied, prayed, and meditated on the words, teachings, and actions of Jesus, assume you might be wrong.  There are no easy, simplistic answers with Jesus!  And, after fully submitting everything to Jesus and concluding you might be right, be humble enough to know you might still be wrong.

So, perhaps that explains my blogging silence.

Am I back?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Only time will tell.  If and when I do write – as with every other aspect of my life and ministry – I intend to do so as faithfully as I can to who I believe Jesus to be, and who I believe he is calling me to to be, and to say and do.  One thing I can guarantee – I won’t do it perfectly.  It’s hard to keep my flawed humanity out of Jesus’ way.  May I suggest the same is true for you?

 

 

11 thoughts on “Blogging silence, hard questions, passive aggression, and the Jesus-litmus test

  1. Vance, thank you for the thoughts in this last blog. I had been missing your blogs and today looked on the FL UMC site to see if there was something I’ve missed.

    I too am still suffering from the Douglas tragedy. I cannot imagine what those families are going through. I know teachers there will never be the same. Former students of mine are scarred according to their parents, children of my good friends have had panic attacks and cannot sleep.

    My former employer, the school Board has failed on so many levels and won’t admit it. We have an inept U.S. secretary of education who is heading a commission on school safety, but this commission will not be addressing guns! I’m very disturbed by the abundant allocation or little allocation of funds to MSD victims and families. (I have been very close to the family helping one of the widows and I know details that turn my stomach.)

    I grew up in the Nixon and Vietnam war era. I know political controversy. But nothing as divided as this. I am stunned on a daily, sometimes hourly basis by our president; his comments are beyond comprehension. So much that I have to bite my tongue or just stay away from those who think he’s doing great things. I can’t fathom how anyone can believe that.

    I’m choosing to focus on change and the youth. Looking at the future is the only way to keep my mind sane. Thank you for speaking out. Thank you for listening/reading my rant. (George listens to me carry on more now that I’m retired. You may have given him a short reprieve.)

    I’m sure you will hear from those who oppose your thoughts. I know Jesus would not suggest we separate children from parents or we speak in such horrid derogatory tones to others.

    Peace and blessings, Cathy Sent from my iPhone

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad to have been able to read your blog today. I’ve missed your voice, your thoughts and struggles. I love your human-ness… It’s very difficult to try to put into words the emotions of ‘this world’. Thank you for letting us share in your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Vance,
    An awesome UMC preacher I had back in Indiana once told me…”If you plan on coming to our church with the hope of finding all the answer’s to your questions about Jesus, God or your faith…..Don’t expect to find them here…BUT if you come and join us on our journey as a body of believer’s….then maybe…just maybe we will ALL be able to find the answer’s that we are searching for in our hearts and souls!”

    I find these words so prophetic in my own life right now personally….you see sometimes we all make opinions about communal and national and world issues about how we would act or react if we were faced with some of this emotional tough to make choices. But I have found that when I recently in my life ….have been personally confronted with issues that I thought that I had already mentally, spiritually and emotionally resolved how I would act and respond……all of a sudden when confronted face to face with the REALITY of the moment in time of the actual event…i changed my actions, my attitude and and my thought 180 degrees in the blink of an eye! I have found myself asking Why? How in the world could this have possibly happened after I have given much time and thought and contemplation to this matter or issue at hand.

    In the end it has come to my humble opinion that I (like many of us) can be real easy being an ‘arm chair quarterback’ or ‘wise sage’ with these tough topics….responding …”I would….’ “I could….” “I should…” but when coming face to face with another human being who is hurting or insulting you or your beliefs or your opinions…….pause take a minute to stop your ‘auto-pilot’ and think like you said….”what would Jesus do?” or “How would Jesus handle this situation?”….I know that over the years these have become cliche’s and catch phrases that we as Christians have said almost automatically….but do we REALLY stop for 5 seconds and think about what it must feel like or be like to be in the other persons shoes or to be walking their journey?
    The walk to Emmaus is the answer that I have found works for me. I stop whatever it is I am doing and truly listen to the illegal immigrant ( i speak Spanish as well as German and sign American Sign Language)
    I put MY life on hold and listen to the other person!!! The amazing thing that I find during these encounters is that I am more blessed than the person I hope and pray that God is using me to bless. We live in a hurting world and people just want someone….anyone …to just shut up and listen to what they have to say that is on their heart.

    We as a society and world have lost the arts of communicating and listening to one another….all you see and hear nowadays…are people trying to talk to one another only for the talk to turn into a raising of voice one over the other…until it almost sounds like a shouting match! It is all about ME and my way……we have forgotten that we are so much stronger together through our divirsity and differences and we need to stop allowing other people, the media…and institutions for trying to imprint their viewpoints or philosophies into our hearts and mind…God gave us free will….now let us go out into the world and use that free will to show others how awesome and loving our God and creator is!

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  4. Man, I miss you Vance! You’ve articulated everything I’ve been grappling with as of late. I’m trying to resist despair and figure out my place in what seems like (hopefully) a groundswell of reclaiming the Gospel in America. I truly believe you are where you are for such a time as this, and that your unique voice and capacity for thinking deeply, loving authentically, and living in the tension are what is needed in this moment. Grace and peace to you, from a fellow 9 ✌️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Welcome back, Vance; it’s good to hear from you! I won’t attempt to address all of the questions and feelings you’ve posted but for one: “I’m also wrestling with finding my prophetic voice.” Your sermon this past Sunday was one of the clearest and inspiring messages I’ve heard from you calling us to recognize who Jesus is. A prophetic voice has many possible manifestations, and you are indeed speaking God’s truth to us at least on Sunday mornings. I don’t think you could be struggling with so many questions if you weren’t so aligned with God’s truth, and I am grateful and thankful for that.

    Liked by 1 person

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