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Friday, March 28, 2008

A Future with Hope

General Conference is approaching and will make many decisions that affect us all as United Methodists. The theme for General Conference is "A Future with Hope." Few United Methodists would argue that these aren't the easiest times for us. Those in various "corners" of the wide and sometimes thinly stretched "tent" of United Methodism may view General Conference and the United Methodist Church's future with anything but hope.

Yet hope is something we actively pursue through prayer and self-discipline. I would also say through our own confession and repentance of what we have contributed to what isn't right and good about our Church; self-discipline keeps us from trying to get others to confess and repent for what they have contributed to its decline!

I have hope for the future of United Methodism by keeping my eyes focused on our mission and working toward it: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I have hope when resisting cynicism and disparaging others. Holy conferencing is essential to a future of hope, especially at General Conference.

I have hope when I see new life bubbling up in the church in the midst of decline like a forest floor where new shoots come up and out of decaying stumps.

See my website article (www.minnesotaumc.org) under the bishop's corner for other reflections on General Conference and a future with hope.

What do you hope for in our future as United Methodists?

What is your hope for General Confernce?

WDYT

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rise up, O Men of God!

You may be surprised to see a heading like that from me: Rise up, O Men of God! But recently various religious pundits have been weighing in on the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (found at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports) which was just issued in late February. The report indicates that almost half of Americans have changed the faith or denomination of their childhood (I would be one of those) or choosing not to affiliate with a faith tradition at all (the "nones" as I call them). The study indicates that religion in the US is "diverse and fluid" as individuals "pick and choose religions that meet their needs."

I listen to a podcast called "Interfaith Voices" with Maureen Fiedler as host each week. Recently (March 6) she had James Twitchell on her show (http://www.interfaithradio.org/) who has written a book called, Shopping for God, and he reflected on this Pew Forum study, but focused on men in the big "spiritual brand shifting" of religion in the US. He said some pretty provocative things, not with an axe to grind (i.e. there is a "the feminization of the church" because we have a woman bishop, district superintendent and pastor) but from the perspective that it's just plain hard for men to be comfortable in church with no gender reference in terms of who is the pastor. In fact, he suggests it has more to do with the seating and the singing than who is leading worship.

Women, he says, want to go to church and take their children. Men don't want to go and want to be comfortable in cinema-type seats as opposed to pews; they don't like to sing in public, especially if they can't read music. He said (please don't blast me for his words!): "Men have to be coddled in order to go to church." I thought that was a bit over the top and a grand, sweeping generalization but he did say it!

Most importantly men need groups where they can talk about the Bible with each other, what it means to go through a divorce or what it's like to be misunderstood at work or how to be a father. Often Bible studies are both genders because we're trying so desperately just to get some warm bodies there. I wonder how many of our churches have men's groups. When are they? Are they well-received?

I also know that children are more likely to get the idea that religion is important if their dads are actively involved and if their families (mothers and/or fathers in this case) read the Bible and pray outside of church.

I was challenged by his emphasis on men in light of "spiritual brand switching" and the growing group of religiously unaffiliated.

WDYT