Move from Christian privileges, rights to responsibilities

Singers at Munger Place UMC interfaith prayer and action vigil on immigration.

Musicians lead during the "Prayer, Renewal and Action on Immigration" interfaith vigil held in 2009 at Munger Place UMC. (UMNS photo by Gail E. Atwater)

When I was growing up, my parents would regularly remind me that much of what I liked to do and have in life was not a right but a privilege. This meant that I should not expect to be able to watch TV whenever I want, rather it was something that was allowed at times when it did not conflict with my other responsibilities.

Being a Christian is full of responsibilities. One should not expect unlimited access to the church building or to the pastor just because one is a member of the congregation or even because one gives a large sum of money to the local church.

Munger Place UMC in Dallas says, “membership is not about what you get, but what you give. It is not about privileges, but about responsibilities” (quoted in “Kitchen Groups–Not About Cooking,” by Steven Manskar, Romans 12, No. 118).

Being a Christian means being a disciple, living selflessly as led by Christ, loving God and neighbor, studying Scripture, and actively listening to how the Spirit calls today. A Christian cannot be concerned with one’s own entitlement.

This does not mean that a Christian ignores one’s own needs, whereas there is a difference between the needs of all persons and a belief that one is entitled to something that others do not enjoy. The selfless disciple is focused on loving God and neighbor, putting the needs of others first.

I started attending Hillcrest UMC a few years ago because I saw the passion whereby so many people gave of their time and resources to care for others in need, regardless of whether they knew those persons. I saw a level of commitment that I desired to have in my own life.

I hope that others will join me this Lent to gather in conversation about how we can live a life of discipleship, disciplining ourselves to live out the responsibilities of Christ-like love. It is good to be a member of the church, but now we need to challenge ourselves to set aside what we thought were our own personal rights and privileges and focus instead on the responsibility to follow the calling of the Holy Spirit.

What responsibilities of a disciple will you focus on this Lent?

Where’s the prophet from your community?

CEB Blog Tour: Live the Bible“The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from your fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 (CEB)

I was struck by the Common English Bible’s use of the word “community” in this lectionary passage for this coming Sunday. It makes me think about the community I live in and serve amongst.

Where may God be calling forth a prophet from among my community today? How would I know when there is a prophet in our midst?

Keep reading, and we hear God say, “I’ll put my words in his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him” (vs. 18b). God’s word will be on the lips of the prophet.

I hope I will keep my ears open to whom is speaking the word of God in my community today. I hope you will too.

This post is written as a part of the CEB blog tour. I received a complimentary copy of the Common English Bible for my participation. You may receive a copy as well by commenting below. One person will be selected at random of all those who comment by 7 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 31. Sorry, but only U.S. addresses are eligible for the complimentary CEB.

What is the foundation for multicultural worship?

A diverse group of young United Methodists.

How do we welcome into our worshiping community the growing numbers of young people with cultural backgrounds different from our own? (A UMNS photo by Shalom Agtarap)

Last week I suggested having a monthly worship time utilizing the gifts of all the diverse peoples in a community. What would that look like and how would it come about?

First, one needs a team of people to guide this that would include many persons from the various parts of the community one seeks to reach. A good place to start would be the leadership teams of the various existing worshiping congregations in the community. The people on the new team need to be committed to the idea of being God’s community together, utilizing the shared gifts of all.

My vision is not of rotating which cultural group is taking lead. It is not to be worship in the Hispanic tradition one month, an Asian tradition the next, and the Euro-American tradition the third month. Rather, multiple traditions, and even languages, need to be woven together so that all God’s people celebrate the glory of God’s creation.

Sure, there will need to be some variation month to month to engage the different traditions in each part of the service, but care must still be taken that all parts connect to the whole as in any typical worship service. The primary purpose of this time is not to highlight the many cultures, but to worship God. If combining specific items becomes a detriment to worship, then please end that particular combination.

There are reasons worship has remained segregated for many years even as the United States has become more diverse and integrated.  Nevertheless, I believe we can find a way to worship together. We must explore that possibility through attempts at putting it into practice. A monthly service, separate from normal worship times would allow for the building of a multicultural worshiping community without disrupting already existing experiences.

How do you build worship for the new community?

Multicultural Choir

A multicultural choir sings at a United Methodist event in 2008. (A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert)

One of my main concerns for the church is building a community of diverse peoples. This has been a concern of mine from childhood when one of my favorite songs said “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” I have wanted to bring all of God’s precious children together, but have struggled to envision how to bring that about.

Recently, I read about “Women’s Worship” and a Children First worship time. One common suggestion was to create a monthly worship service addressed around the needs of the specific community. Could this be a way to begin a worship time intended for an audience of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds?

First off, let me say that I am not trying to segregate the worshiping community. Ethnically and culturally, we are already highly segregated in worship. Even the congregation where I currently worship, which prides itself on its diversity, finds itself segregated from Hispanic and Asian worshiping communities that use its facilities. I am looking for a way to bring people together.

I envision a monthly service at a time separate from any current worship time. It would be a time to highlight the gifts of many in the community in ways that are not regularly done in the weekly worship services of any group. Yes, language barriers will need to be addressed. However, the purpose would be to worship God together with each other as the diverse people God made us to be. While we may not understand every single word spoken, we should be able to understand the love of God flowing through our neighbors.

It’s Time for a Multi-Party State

House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner (Photo: Andy Wiltrout. Some rights reserved.)

Alright! I have avoided much overtly political conversation on this blog to date, but the Federal government’s inability to work out a debt deal is driving me crazy. It is time for the different factions in Congress to split into their own parties. This is not to say that they cannot form coalitions to elect house-wide leadership or to pass bills. However, we need to free up the leadership and each parties’ membership to state their true alliances.

The main divide we see right now is between the House Speaker John Boehner-led Republican old guard and those most often cited as being backed by the Tea Party. It is time for the Tea Party to formally become a political party with its own members of Congress. This would make the lines between each group much more clear so that the various groups may focus on what is really important to them and their constituents.

Of course the real question here is whether the Tea Party is more powerful working through the Republican Party or separate from it. Boehner and the Republican old guard have the most to lose from a formal split with Tea Party backers. They would either have to give more power to the Tea Party in order to maintain a coalition or switch to working more closely with the Democrats. Even without a formal split, that’s what seems to be happening. Boehner’s trying to figure out whether he and the Republican Party have more to lose by bending more to Tea Party supporters or toward Democratic members. Republicans gained control of the House because of Tea Party support, but at least some Democrats are needed to get a deal into law.

I have been in support of a multi-party system for many years. I would love to see more choices throughout the political spectrum. I am tired of a one-on-one party fight, and now I’m tired of an internal party fight. Let’s break into a multi-party system, coming together where we have agreement and finding other partners when we don’t. The people of the United States deserve to know where their political leadership truly stands.

Toastmasters Brings Confidence as Speaker and Leader

Toastmasters InternationalOn July 1, I will become governor of Area 52 of Toastmasters District 63. Toastmasters International is an excellent organization that has guided many to greater confidence as speakers and leaders. Indeed, it has helped me greatly in overcoming my own nervousness and in finding a way to lead an organization to fulfill its mission.

I joined Toastmasters nearly four years ago, shortly after being laid off from my first full-time paid job, which I had held for five years. The economy was beginning to collapse, and I was anxious about my search for new employment. I was a certified Christian communicator and a clergy member of the United Methodist Church, but I was not confident in my own ability to communicate orally either in a job interview or a future place of employment.

For years my parents, both former Toastmasters, encouraged me to seek out a local Toastmasters club. However, it was the lack of employment and the advice of a career counselor that finally gave the kick that I desperately needed. Fortunately there was a Toastmasters club meeting just around the block from my home.

Upon joining Nashville Toastmasters, I quickly learned to listen carefully to what people where saying and doing when they are speaking or leading a meeting. The evaluation aspect of Toastmasters is one of the most powerful aspects of the program. Evaluation in Toastmasters is very supportive and encouraging while also addressing the areas that need work. We do pick a best speaker of each meeting, but it is more a time for encouragement than it is a time of putting one on a pedestal. Everyone who is a member of Toastmasters knows that we all came with something to learn. Therefore, we know that we were once that new person who struggles to get out a sentence without saying “um” ten times.

I listen now. I pause before speaking. I am much more able to facilitate a meeting without it turning into an argument. I am grateful for Toastmasters and am looking forward to this new year as Area Governor.

It’s Time to Build a Congregational Education Plan

Tree Branches

There are many parts that make up a full Christian education program.

I just spent this afternoon brainstorming with the minister of discipleship in my local congregation. We are in the process of developing a holistic program for spiritual formation to begin this fall. Already our spiritual formation team has determined six general areas that need to be covered: Scripture, beliefs, worship & sacraments, daily life, living mission and United Methodism. We believe that every member of our United Methodist congregation needs to develop an understanding of these six areas. Therefore, we need to make sure that our congregation regularly teaches each of these areas at some point during the year.

Ideally each Sunday school class will cover each area, as will the preaching, during the course of the year. The task of our discipleship team, minister and team chair (myself) is to determine other programs to supplement the preaching and Sunday school classes. Not every person is in a Sunday school class and not every class is as effective in addressing all six areas.

Today, we began our work by considering the person new to this congregation and perhaps new to faith. People in this context need a program that answers the question of who we are as Christians, as United Methodists and as members of this local congregation. The program will need to prepare persons to make a decision on whether to join the congregation and perhaps even to make a profession of faith.

Yes, there are plenty of resources that provide guidance for this type of program. We will likely tap several of them either for this initial course or at some other point in our calendar. However, our goal is to present the uniqueness of our congregational context while also paying attention to the needs of those who pass through our doors. In this manner, we will fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”