Monday, November 25, 2019

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood, a review

I have a confession.

I was not a fan of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. As a kid, I enjoyed the land of Make-Believe. I especially liked the puppets. There were times when Mister Rogers would do teaching or build something, and that would fascinate me. I always preferred Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. When my kids began to watch television, they didn’t seem to be drawn to the Neighborhood, so I didn’t have to change my opinion.

When Fred Rogers died, there began a process that many are calling secular canonization. Mister Rogers became larger than his television persona and viewership. People began to extol the wonders of what he meant to them. The last decade has seen the popular attraction to Mister Rogers grow to a level greater than public television gave him access to.

Two movies have been released in just over a year’s time span that highlight the quality and character of Fred Rogers. The first was the biographical film Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This year sees the release of a slightly different perspective on Mister Rogers.

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood is a fantastical reimagining of an Esquire magazine cover feature of Fred Rogers by Tom Junod. The article becomes the central storytelling piece of the movie. The vehicle for storytelling is an episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. And we see all of it from the perspective of the stand-in character, Lloyd Vogel, who replaces Junod.

Since this is set up as an episode of Mister Rogers' neighborhood, complete with rebuilt sets and its own miniature version of Philadelphia and New York City for transitions, we learn from the very beginning of the movie what the message is. We learn that Lloyd needs to learn about forgiveness and reconciliation. Someone has hurt Lloyd very badly. We get to ride along with Lloyd as he learns valuable lessons about himself, his anger, and his relationships.

This movie has been described as just what our culture as a whole needs right now. It is the elephant in the room that everyone keeps describing, but no one wants to shoo it out. We are not very nice to each other. We hurt each other with our words as we express our beliefs and opinions. Kindness and civility have been consumed to drive the anonymity of social media assassination. Like Lloyd we live from incident to incident where we can uncover the “hidden truth” about how bad something is and expose it to the light of public scrutiny.

What the movie truly does is challenge us. It challenges us to be more like Mister Fred Rogers, a man who became the image we all perceive. A line from the movie that was a direct quote of Mrs. Joanne Rogers says that we shouldn’t call Mister Rogers or Fred a saint. In calling him a saint we are left with the impression that he is more than any of us could ever hope to be. He made himself into what we perceived. Every day he worked at who he was. The challenge we have to face in leaving this movie is: if we love who Mister Rogers was, then we can become like him.

I now find myself loving Mister Rogers. I didn’t want to jump onto the bandwagon of claiming that I have been a fan since I was a child. I didn’t want to say that something in his show was important to my childhood. And I really didn’t want to just grab the coattails of his canonization to say, “Hey! I like him, too.” Having seen the movie, and heard the challenge, I find myself wanting to emulate a little more of who he made himself to be. I want to find a way of bringing something of his life into my own. It isn’t that I want to be a reincarnation of him. There is no way I would ever be the quality of a person. If I can find just a little something through his life that could make me better, then I feel that he would think that was amazing.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Changing the Mind of God, part 1

I am currently working through a philosophical exercise with theological implications.

I was reading the book Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. If you are not familiar, the book is about relational boundaries between people to create healthy relationships. Chapter 13 of that book is called Boundaries and God. A few pages into that chapter, I read this idea:
...God does not want us to be passive in our relationship with him {sic} either. Sometimes, through dialogue, he changes his mind. We can influence him because ours is a real relationship of the kind Abraham had with God (Gen. 18:16-33). God said that he would destroy Sodom, yet Abraham talked him out of it if he could find ten righteous people.
Foregoing the example of  Abraham, I was intrigued by the idea that in the relationship God offers, we can influence God's decision-making process. Changing the mind of God sounds like it may be too good to be true. But could it be possible, I wondered.

I decided that the best place to seek out an authoritative answer would be the authority of the evangelical church - the Bible. What I found there sort of caused me to sit back and think. If we look up passages where it says explicitly that God's mind was changed or that there is an example of the mind of God being changed, there are actually a wide selection of passages.

The reason this was surprising is the theological framework that the authority of Tradition has built around the decision-making process of God. God is omniscient and omnipresent. That declaration of the Church establishes that God knows all and is present in all places and times. God is also transcendent above the finite and material existence of humanity. God's living room exists outside of time, space, and matter. When issues of God's mind come up, the Tradition of the Church points to these supports of God's identity. If we have a choice to make, or we have a need/want/desire and we bring that to God, then God is already fully aware of the outcome. God's mind does not need to change since God is aware of the outcome.

That is not what scripture supports.

But before I make that argument clearer, perhaps it would be fair to establish that the Bible records for us the witness that the mind of God does not change.

  • "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Num. 23:19 NAU)
  • "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Sam. 15:29 NAU)
  • The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek." (Ps. 110:4 NAU)
We see in these verses that writers in three styles (Law, History, Wisdom) of literature recognize that the mind of God will not change. First, because God is not human, God does not fall victim to the frailty of knowing and exclaiming something that must be undone. Second, the providence of God is built upon the steadfastness of God; that if God says it then it will come to pass. Third, the word of the LORD must stand as witness to God's nature. Once the word has gone out, God must act in that way.

Human beings are abundantly aware that we have to have the ability to change our minds. We cannot know all that there is to know. We build choices upon a lack of information. When we are confronted with new data, then we must change our minds in order to have a better outcome. We also know that when we make a choice, and we cannot change course, then we must accept the consequences and try to learn from that error and not make the same mistake down the road. God does not suffer from our limitations in this regard. God is complete in knowledge and wisdom, knowing and choosing the right course of action.

For many of us, we try to live by our word. When we speak something, we hope that our word will be enough to stand guarantee for our action or the quality of our character. But, as many of us have also not lived up to our word, we face a reality where a person's word means much less than it used to. God must be above our standard of keeping the word and following through. If God is not faithful to that, then our hopes of God's promises being fulfilled will come to naught.

What do we do, then, with the places in the Bible where it does seem to point to the ability of humans to influence the mind of God? Feel free to verify any of these you wish.

  • The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. (Gen. 6:6 NAU)
  • "Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account." (Gen. 18:25-26 NAU)
  • He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." (Gen. 22:12 NAU)
  • So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exod. 32:14 NAU)
  • So the LORD said, "I have pardoned them according to your word; (Num. 14:20 NAU)
  • But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." (Num. 20:12 NAU)
  • When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. (Jdg. 2:18 NAU) See also Jdg 3:9, 15.
  • So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer. (Jdg. 10:16 NAU)
  • Then Samson called to the LORD and said, "O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes."
  •  29 Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.
  •  30 And Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. (Jdg. 16:28-30 NAU)
  • Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, 'I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever'; but now the LORD declares, 'Far be it from Me-- for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed. (1 Sam. 2:30 NAU)
  • "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands." And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the LORD all night. (1 Sam. 15:11 NAU)
  • Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel. (1 Sam. 15:35 NAU)
  • When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, "It is enough! Now relax your hand!" And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (2 Sam. 24:16 NAU)
  • And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now relax your hand." And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (1 Chr. 21:15 NAU)
  • What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies-- I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.  (Isa. 1:11-14 NAU)
  • But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. (Isa. 63:10 NAU)
  • At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.  (Jer. 18:7-10 NAU)
  • Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.' (Jer. 26:3 NAU)
  • Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you. (Jer. 26:13 NAU)
  • 'If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you. (Jer. 42:10 NAU)
  • Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? (Joel 2:14 NAU)
  • The LORD changed His mind about this. "It shall not be," said the LORD. (Amos 7:3 NAU)
  • The LORD changed His mind about this. "This too shall not be," said the Lord GOD. (Amos 7:6 NAU)
  • When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jon. 3:10 NAU)
  • Therefore He said that He would destroy them, Had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach before Him, To turn away His wrath from destroying them. (Ps. 106:23 NAU)
  • And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness. (Ps. 106:45 NAU)
  • And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs. But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once. (Matt. 15:26-28 NAU)
  • And He was saying to her, "Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs." And He said to her, "Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter. (Mk. 7:27-29 NAU)
  • "And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' "And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' "And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. 'For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'" (Lk. 14:21-24 NAU)
  • A voice came to him, "Get up, Peter, kill and eat!" But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." Again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." (Acts 10:13-15 NAU)
In sorting out the previous verses, I wanted to focus solely on the ones where God seems to make a course correction based on human influence. That may be direct intervention, such as the case of Abraham for Sodom or Moses for the Hebrews. It may also be passive as in the situation of the suffering of people and God's witness of that. There is a question whether the Jonah passage should be included since God's desire was for the people of Ninevah to repent, so in this case, they responded appropriately. But Jonah's position is that God is "went back on God's word" and showed compassion instead of divine wrath. 
He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. (Jon. 4:2 NAU)
The Acts verses regarding Peter's vision may also be questionable. This is included in the context of the overwhelming number of things that God previously declared unclean to eat (Leviticus 11:1-23) and the wider subject of what is unclean (Leviticus 11-15) in relation to the community. Peter rightly states that he would not be accountable to that list. God appears to make that list of unclean items contingent upon circumstances.

In the face of the number of verses that provide the possibility of changing the mind of God, it may seem easy to choose a position of affirming Cloud and Townsend's statement. I feel there may be more at work, though.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sermon Notes: How Free Are We

How Free Are We

Galatians 5:1,13-15

Chomping mad

Something really stuck with me in this verse as I was beginning to prepare for this
week’s sermon
There is a lot to chew on in this section
I had to really choke down some tough ideas
I really got my teeth into something that seems important, though
Verse 15 says, “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not
consumed by one another”
This phrase has seemed challenging to me in the past, but it never really
caught my attention
In the 61 “one another” passages of the NT, it is the most graphically negative
It also seems very difficult to grasp the imagery in the surrounding context
Paul is talking about freedom through Christ
Specifically, he addresses freedom from being slaves to the tradition of
In a broader sense, he is talking about the liberty we have to live
within the relationship with have with Christ
But Paul points out that we should not use our liberty from constraint to be
allowed to create a position of opportunity to be attacked 
Instead, we should fulfill the law of loving our neighbor as yourself by
serving one another
From verse 16 on, Paul speaks about our relationship with the Spirit and
how that impacts our lives
This whole subject of biting, devouring, and consuming one another really has a
weird connection to the surrounding passages
More importantly, what does that have to do with the freedom that we
have through Christ?
There is a lot of what I perceive to be wordplay going on in this part of Galatians
We don’t see as much of it in English, but it really pops out in the Greek
Words that have a double meaning, words that are similar sounding,
words that are paired up and related to each other
For example, the list of works of the flesh has a lot of this present
What Paul seems to be driving at in that list is that the works of the flesh
are a lack of public restraint, a lack of inner self-control, a rejection of
doctrine, and disruption of koinonia
But all of those words, and the bigger meaning Paul is driving at, fulfills
the image of biting, devouring, and consuming one another
Which is where the double meaning comes into play
Biting has another meaning - harming
Devouring’s other meaning is using up something
Consuming is another word for killing or destroying
When we read this verse with the second meanings, then the list of works
of the flesh becomes more serious - if you hurt and use up one another,
be careful you are not killed by one another
The works of the flesh are destructive to bodies, minds, hearts, and souls
To abide in those works is to slowly hurt one another, use up the life resources
that we have, and eventually lead to the destruction of our spiritual and
physical lives
Okay, that’s obvious, but what does that have to do with our freedom
through Christ?
Remember of prime importance that Paul is talking about freedom from the
constraint to suffer through circumcision as necessary for faith
He is also talking about living without constraints that would bind us under
a yoke of slavery
V17 tells us that we want to do the things of the flesh and the things of
the Spirit
They cancel each other out
The freedom that Christ delivers us to is a deliverance from the need to
want to do things that are destructive to one another
We can choose to live a life where the choices that we make will hurt,
use up, and destroy one another
We can also choose to live a different kind of life
Here is another wordplay
We can choose to not take up the yoke of slavery
We can do this by choosing to be slaves to one another in love
The way we choose to live a different kind of life is by electing to give up
slavery by becoming a slave
We choose to reject slavery to things that hurt one another in body, mind,
heart, and soul 
We choose to accept the slavery of fulfilling the law of loving our neighbor
as yourself by becoming a slave to them
That doesn’t mean becoming a household slave or becoming indentured
to them or sold into their care
It does mean that we are to take their lives and give them something to eat
instead of ourselves
Here is the last wordplay: the fruit of the Spirit is not the fruit we bear, it is the fruit
we feed
We are not to bite, devour, and consume one another
We are to give them something to bite, devour, and consume
In love, we bring joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control to them
We allow them to eat of what the Spirit bears into our lives
We feed them, as servants would feed their masters, in order that their
lives prosper
All of this may have been hard to swallow
Chew on this for a bit - we can continue to live a life where we are free to hurt
people, use them for our own ends, and leave them destroyed and wrecked
Or we can come into Christ and become a source of refreshment, joy, and life
for one another

The church is built upon the desires of the Spirit to show restraint in public and
be humbled in self, it is built around the doctrine that binds us and it thrives in
the spirit of koinonia among us

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sermon notes: Pigs, Demons, and Tombs - Oh My!

Pigs, Demons, and Tombs, Oh My
Luke 8:26-39

The out of context kingdom
Jesus felt compelled to leave his comfort zone to bring the kingdom to people who didn’t receive it
Jesus began his mission with “the kingdom of God is near”
He then began to take this message from one end of the Jewish countryside to the other
One day, he decides to go across the Lake of Gennesaret and lands in the region of the Gadarenes
For us, this story doesn’t really spark much interest in quickly reading through - Jesus does his thing by casting out some demons
On a closer examination, there are some clear signs that Jesus left his comfort zone here
First - the Gedarenes were Gentiles - they raised pigs
Second - the first place Jesus enters is a cemetery of Gentiles
Third - in the cemetery, there is a person who is running around threatening people while naked
Jesus casts a multitude of demons out of the man
We know that the demons flock into the pigs and the pigs jump off into the water and die
The man is restored to sanity and puts some clothes on
Jesus appears to have done the work of the kingdom of God
But a crowd of people gathers to confront him and, in tones similar to the demons, rebuke Jesus and tell him to leave
Jesus was out of his context when he does the kingdom’s work
It is Gentile territory so they may not be as aware of the background of the Kingdom of God, the ministry of Jesus, or Jewish promises of a Messiah
Jesus is standing among the tombs of their ancestors, performing weird acts that most of them have not witnessed, but Jesus seems just as crazy as the demon-possessed man
Jesus has cost someone a livelihood - those pigs represented economic value as well as a way of life
The kingdom message that Jesus wants to proclaim is completely ignored
Yet Jesus still felt it necessary to go to a place “opposite Galilee”, completely alien to his ministry, and do what he does
Jesus went out of the familiar to a place of discomfort to bring the message of the Kingdom, no matter how receptive the audience

The single positive result
Jesus returned to Galilee and continued on his ministry mission, seemingly unshaken
How would you like to be the man that Jesus had restored?
The man wants to accompany Jesus, even into places he was unfamiliar with
Jesus tells the man to do one simple thing - tell people about what God has done for him
Jesus offers the man one job - tell people like himself about God even though the man didn’t know much about God
He was likely a Gentile unfamiliar with the Jewish writings of scripture
The man had been isolated by the community and forced into seclusion so he may be a little socially awkward
The only thing he needed to do was go back to his own people and tell them about the difference in his life
The church is a comfortable place for Christians
I talk a lot about getting out of our comfort zones and doing the work of the Kingdom
This passage should remind us that our work of the kingdom is only one job
We are supposed to tell others about how much God has done for us
It doesn’t require a seminary education or memorizing loads of scripture
It doesn’t require knowing all of the answers or being the most polished speaker
All it requires is going about the places we are familiar, seeing people we are neighbors with, and just simply telling them what God has done for us
Jesus has already walked into the uncomfortable places
He brought his message to the Gentiles
He also did the work of breaking the power of sin and giving us freedom in going to the cross
He also did the work of defeating death by going into the grave
He also did the work of restoring a broken relationship with God for us by being raised from the grave
He has already gone to the limits of stepping outside of his comfort zone for us

All he has asked us to do is tell other people, who we already know, about how much God has done for us

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Path to Christan

Sermon notes for Father's Day, June 16, 2019

Path to Christian Fatherhood
1 John 2:12-14

Father of a different sort
Being a Christian father is not so much about raising children in your household
Being a Christian father is about training the children in Christ to mature
That includes our household children, but also the members of the body of Christ who come into the faith
The writer of 1 John addresses three age groups: children, young men, and fathers
There are two words for children that both imply immature people
The word for young men is pointing to people in the prime of their lives
The word for fathers addresses those who have matured
Since there can be inferred that there were women involved in this community of faith, we can deduce that children, prime of lifers, and fathers addresses males and females
But it doesn’t address these groups in terms of age - it is faith development
For the community that the writer is addressing, the body of believers is broken into 3 (or 4) phases of faith development
Children represent those who are immature in the faith, who haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront the world on their own, and they only know the basics
The prime of lifers are individuals who have studied and proven the faith, they are equipped to face difficulties and conflicts they encounter, and they are strong enough to overcome
The fathers have a faith that has come into assurance, they have a deeper understanding of truth, and they have proven themselves in their witness so they are able to teach the children and guide the prime of lifers

The family of Christ
The church still can be broken into these three phases of development
There are still children among us
Not those of childhood age but those of childhood faith
They need to thrive spiritually
They need to develop in Christ
They need to know the basics of the faith (Heb 6:1-2; 1 John 3; Rom 12:9-21; 1 Pt 3:15-16)
There are still prime of lifers
There is no young adult or middle age in this category
These are individuals who study the Word of God hard
They welcome tests of faith to grow mighty
They know how to deal with conflicts that arise in faith and community and they deal with them (Rom 13-15; Gal 5:13-6:10; James; 1 John 4-5)
Then there are the fathers who exist in the church
We don’t look to age to determine who a father of faith is in a church
Fathers have experienced and lived in the assurance of the faith - they know God personally
Fathers seek a deeper understanding of God through Christ and attend to developing their relationship daily
Fathers use their experience, assurance, understanding, and relationship to serve others in the church
They teach the children what they need to thrive and develop, providing the basics of the faith
They guide those in the prime of their life as examples of what can be accomplished when you study the Word, accept tests of faith, walk mighty in the Lord through conflicts that arise
Eph 4; Timothy and Titus; 1 Peter 5; 1 John 1-2

A church needs to be able to identify those who are children, prime of lifers, and fathers or mothers in the faith
The phases of development still exist, but we don’t consciously address the divisions
In order to be a healthy, mighty, and faith assured church, we need to know who fills these roles, equip them for their separate levels appropriately, and prepare them to develop to the next level in the right time
Children - you have heard the basics, now continue to thrive and develop in Christ
Prime of lifers - you are the driving force of the kingdom of God, study its mission and gifts and go out to build God’s kingdom here in this church and in the world
Fathers and mothers - we need you to be our teachers and guides for the younger in faith; they need to hear of your struggles and tests, how you overcame the conflicts of doubt or in relationships with others; they need to see your assurance of faith intimately so they can know a deep and abiding relationship with God through Christ is real

May all of us not be afraid of where we are in the development of our faith and of growing to the next level as this is the will of our heavenly father for our lives in him

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Review: City of Mist Core Book

This review is based upon the electronic version and was provided in exchange for a fair review from Modiphius Games, the distributor.

This is a beast of a book; even in electronic format. You are in for 500+ pages of information about this noir related, supernatural-themed game system. City of Mist relies on a system of play similar to FATE, using Tags instead of Aspects. It may not be fair to the intention of the artists, but I found myself drawn into a FATE mindset as I read this. That doesn’t mean City of Mist is dependent on FATE. It just feels like a close relative to the system.

There were some features of the game that I found really engaging. The use of television shows or comic book series was helpful to frame how the designers envisioned the game design, character design, and gameplay. I think the explanation of designing cases would be helpful beyond City of Mist. Anyone in any game system who wants to design a complex plot could use the chapters on writing the case background for their own story. There is a plot of potential for in-depth plots with interesting branches if the right MC is involved.

I originally was interested in this because of the use of our myths, legends, and fairy tales. The underlying character base for players are those creatures, characters, and archetypes that we find in classical stories and myths. Relying on qualities or features of those archetypes allows players to create characters that bring myth into a reality that we may be more accustomed. This game does not rely on typical fantasy realms but uses the grittier setting of modern realities. Putting Jack (Jacqueline) from Jack and the Beanstalk into a 1930’s era noir urban setting will challenge the imagination. It also unlocks some great potential for story development.

The simplified dice and power system makes dice rolling an easier entry level. Instead of stats to keep track of, the player only has to justify how Tags contribute to positives or negatives to a dice roll. Many who are intimidated by multi-sided dice or stat+modifier+proficiency may find this a more comfortable beginning game.

This is also a team-centric system. This really does require a group of players to work together to move the story forward. The team (“Crew”) becomes a character itself. The way this is written, this will provide for every player to contribute their unique qualities to unfolding the plot. It also provides some excellent “release valves” for absent players. In many game systems, the story relies on consistency. As long as the episodes are self-contained, City of Mist allows for absent players while giving them an opportunity to still be included in the ongoing storyline.

I do find that the system requires a little more of a learning curve for players who are established in other systems. The language of the system seems a little too required. It takes some getting used to talking about the game without using the language of the mechanics. The underlying terms of Mist, Mythos, Logos are all used throughout character creation. Yet, the game requires that the characters do not know about these mechanics and should avoid using those terms during an in-game conversation. That may be a little too restrictive for most hardcore players who like to get into the mechanics of the systems they play.

I did not connect really well with the mystery element of the game very well. It seemed that there was a lot of “uncomfortable unknown” to deal with in playing. Maybe that is intentional to the design. It may make the players more curious to pursue the answers. I felt that it may be more of a hurdle to progress than bait to pursue the end.

Neither of these elements are game breakers. I feel they require the MC (game master) to prepare the players for something engaging. This system requires preparation and knowledge of the overarching plot. This does not feel like a one-shot or pickup game, like many of the FATE-based worlds you could play. This is clearly a world that relies on the ongoing story in order to hook players. Basing my opinion on reading this book, It would be best suited for a group who loves to play longer story arcs in a complex, unfolding plot.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tasting the fruit of the corrupted tree

I am sitting here, pondering if I should even bother writing this. There really isn't much use in this space anymore. You who have decided to stick it out with me, I truly appreciate it. I write for myself most of the time. I recognize now that my opinion and voice really don't have any impact on my family, the churches I serve, the denomination, or the world. It sounds pompous to think that I feel like I could make an impact beyond the sphere of my little world that exists in my head. It is my ambition, though, to make a difference. I write this, knowing that it won't produce anything other than the combining of atoms in what we have come to know as cyberspace.

Next week, the Oklahoma Annual Conference will convene to prepare itself for the ministry of the coming year. For the first time in a while, I will not be going for the entirety of the event. I will only attend one day. There are a number of reasons why I won't attend. One of those is the degree of stress that United Methodists are currently under.

We are at the edge of a shattering point. There are too many forces being applied for the denomination to remain whole. There are too many voices calling for a division of the denomination. I just can't go and be in the midst of that stress. We are voting on delegates to attend General Conference next year where the debate will continue to be waged over how LGBTQIA+ persons should be included within the polity of our denomination. The effort to guard the tradition or guarantee the transformation of polity will be high pitched. I can't be in that kind of environment right now.

The thought that has been troubling me lately is something that I hear quite often in the context of discussing becoming a church of full inclusion. Opponents to that move claim that, in becoming a church of full inclusion, we are merely accepting the culture of the world into the church. By accepting LGBTQIA+ persons, we are losing our distinct nature as the Church. The significant problem with that idea is that we have already lost our distinct nature. We have welcomed culture into the church with open arms, danced the night away in a tight embrace, and have fallen into bed with the cultural lovers clutch.

For a number of years, I have diagnosed the United Methodist Churches political factionalism. I have identified at least 4 groups within the media who have been pulling the church in opposite directions. There is no real middle ground in the UMC anymore. Everyone is a member of a caucus. If you aren't an intentional member of a caucus, then you are assumed to be in one by the other caucuses that exist.

After General Conference in February, and the resulting Judicial Council ruling in April, I began to hear about the caucus groups gathering to prepare their election voting blocks. Everyone senses the tension of the church. In order to guard or guarantee a particular point of view, the political groups needed to hold strategy meetings. They wanted to pull as many of their like-minded individuals into conversations to ensure they could build a voting block substantial enough to elect representatives to their chosen point of view. Next week will be the climax of those conversations and strategic meetings.

That sounds exactly like the system of government party affiliations.

We are winding up for the great 2020 Presidential run. The Democrats have a full offensive and defensive and special team lined up to make a run for one office. The Democrats can't even all agree on the same platform. Some want to move toward a more progressive posture. Others feel that a moderate position can generate more support. The Republicans are backing an incumbent who they may also feel is incompetent. But safer with the idiot you know than the moron you don't.

In the United Methodist Church, we have the WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association) trying to establish the bulwark of tradition against the rising sentiment that full inclusion is the way of the future. You have the Progressive elements trying to convince the rest of the denomination that the Traditionalist plan that passed General Conference was intentionally harmful in content and in process. You have the Centrist groups who want to reform the church into a new model where the best of all of us as the UMC can survive in some form.

Where am I in all of this? It doesn't matter. My voice has no volume. I have nothing to contribute but more noise to the din of others who have a platform. I am staying home. This isn't my fight. I have resigned myself to the future that others will shape. Sadly, it is a future that looks just like the secular world. The United Methodist Church should probably stop and look at itself. It has become the thing that most people already fear.

We are just as politically splintered as the governmental parties. We are just as uncivil in the conversations that are happening (even if we just happen to open and close with prayer or use less caustic words in conversations) in the social media sphere. We are just as opposed to finding the common grounds as the selfish organizations and corporations who feel the need to protect their existence into the future.

I think the greatest thing that sticks out to me about the UMC looking like culture is that there an obvious lack of unity. The dominant theme of what the Church should be according to the New Testament is that we should be of one mind as in Christ. We should be reconciling and bringing one another to maturity together as a body. We should be united in the work of witness and changing lives. But that is hard to find in our denomination anymore.

Review of a book on sexuality and purity for young women

Review: Sex, Purity, and The Longings of a Girl’s Heart
Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal (Baker Books)

As a pastor who has worked with youth in middle school and high school for over 20 years, dealing with the subject of sex has been integral to a balanced approach of helping young people mature. And as a human being, I haven’t always been the greatest at communicating on the subject. I am always on the lookout for new material about youth and sexuality to expand my ability to guide young people.

Baker Books provided this review copy in exchange for a fair review. The focus of the book is fairly apparent. This book deals with sexuality and young females. I appreciate the forwardness of the authors in dealing with this area of sexuality. Many people find it difficult to be upfront about their sexuality, but it seems that the cultural history of “only naughty girls talk about sex” has limited the frank conversations that young women need.

The authors approach this subject from an evangelical worldview. There are many scriptural tie-ins. The discussion of sin and restoration through Jesus Christ is prominent. Many of the points are supported by a verse that directly relates to the subject. For those who share the evangelical worldview, this book will affirm dealing with young women from that point of view. For those who do not share the evangelical worldview, this book will not be as meaningful or helpful.

I found some solid points of agreement with the authors. They make the comment that lust is a human problem. I think this is something that we don’t deal with enough in talking with young people. It isn’t a male problem. It isn’t a Christian problem. It isn’t a teenage problem. Lust is something that is dealt with, usually poorly, by almost every person. Where the subject falls short is it does not deal with the reality that lust is a natural response. Lust is the emotional expression of our sexual drive. It is hormonal. It ties directly into our imaginations and our emotions. The authors emphasize lust as a problem. Lust is a problem when we allow the corrupting influence of sin (breaking a relationship with God and others) to corrupt our imagination and emotions.

I affirm their statement that intimacy is a deep need for all human beings. Intimacy is not a sexual need. Intimacy is a psychological, mental, emotional, and communal need. We are created for relationship with others. We have different levels of relational needs. Each person is different in the depth and breadth of those needs. Some people need a few people who know them very well. Others need a lot of people to know them well. All people have the need to be known and to know others deeply.

I also respect their emphasis on purity. This is an issue that has been abused in churches and religious communities and families. Purity has been used to teach that sex is a bad thing. Purity has been weaponized to enforce the mentality that a girl's worth is gauged by her purity. And purity has been aimed at a lifestyle of singleness. An authentically biblical understanding of purity is that it is the state of relationship that we have with God when we seek to do God’s will in our lives. Purity is gauged by God, not by standards established in a checklist.

I appreciate that the authors are dealing with a sensitive subject. They do not rely on graphic illustrations. They, instead, try to use illustrations that emphasize the struggles, pain, and brokenness that a faulty approach to sexuality have caused. They take this message into communities and deal frankly with the subject. This book is an extension of that ministry.

I will admit that I found some significant issues that I disagree with through the book. The first has to do with the four cultural lies they enumerate. They focus on identity, marriage, embracing open sexuality, and femininity. I agree with their cultural misunderstanding of femininity, but I feel that they misrepresent it when they do not deal with the empowerment of females. Femininity is not about exploiting the sexuality of a woman. It is about seeing the inherent value, strength, ability, and uniqueness of each woman and allowing a woman to be all that she can be in those.

The other lies that they focus on are minor issues of sexuality and purity. I felt that what was being presented is a less dynamic reinforcing of evangelical platform issues. Instead of sexual identity being Lie number one, there is no discussion of the separation of sex from the sense of wholeness of self. Sex is now considered a physical operation of the body. Women and men have learned that they can divide sex from emotional and connected relationships. The “one-night stand” is not a new thing. It has been cast in a new light thanks to hook-ups, friends with benefits, and social media apps such as Tinder.

When they deal with the subject of marriage, they say that it is a covenant between a man and a woman. The authors do not deal with what a successful sexual marriage looks like. When I teach about sex, I refer back to the three revealed purposes of sex: procreation, recreation, and reconnection. Within the boundaries of marriage, all three purposes of sex are fulfilled. When we remove sex from marriage, the purposes are not as fulfilling. And when the three purposes are not fulfilled in marriage, there are issues that arise within the relationship. Instead of focusing on the gender of the marriage partners, perhaps sex and purity should focus on how it is to be fulfilled in a marriage.

Finally, the authors emphasize how culture has emphasized, “if it feels right, do it”. In light of the MeToo movement, the breaking of silence on decades of sexual harassment, and the use of sex as a tool for power imbalance, it may have been more useful to talk about how sex is a matter of “if it doesn’t feel right, stop it”.

My biggest concern about the book, though, is one that I have found in many evangelical “self-help” approaches. Consistently throughout the book, there is a strong conviction that through Jesus Christ, all things can be dealt with in right ways. What isn’t touched on in any convincing way is the necessity of community. This is a very “Jesus and me” focused approach to understanding sexuality and purity. Nowhere do the authors speak with any clear instruction of involvement with a strong group of people to help them in the walk with Christ. Occasionally they point the reader to find a “wise Christian woman” to talk to. Christ built a community of disciples to train and mentor. He sent them out in mission with partners. He reminded them of the need for two or more to be gathered to know his presence. There is no clear encouragement to be involved in any meaningful way in a youth or young adult or peer group, as well as deep involvement in a community of believers.

This really becomes an issue when dealing with the subject of temptation. The authors provide steps to avoid temptation. One of the most glaring things left off of this list is an accountability partner or group. There is no mention of finding a connection with someone who knows them intimately, including their struggles, and allowing that person or group to check in to see how they are doing with their maturity in their struggles. Accountability has long been a part of counseling males in this area of struggle. It is just as important for females.

Finally, I feel that there is a significant area of harm being done by not addressing the need to seek professional counseling in areas of addiction or sexual abuse. The subject of abuse was briefly touched on a couple of places. The final counsel is to, again, find a “wise Christian woman” to talk to about this. There is hope that weakly offered. There is not, however, a counsel to seek out someone who has helped others through the struggles of healing from sexual abuse. Due to issues that are now being identified as post-traumatic stress disorder, there is a clear need to seek out someone who can help navigate those wounds and paths to healing.

The authors do not deal with addiction in any meaningful way. Pornography has been shown to have the same biochemical markers in a body as narcotics or nicotine. Prolonged exposure to pornography has been linked with relational maturity. Sexual abuse has been connected to alcohol, drug, and other forms of physical harm addictions (cutting, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, suicide attempts). Addiction is a serious subject that needs to be addressed with young people.

I feel that the authors are trying to do good work. I feel that this book represents a fair attempt at trying to deal with a sensitive subject with an overlooked demographic. I feel that it doesn’t go deep enough to provide the full extent of help that young women need to be healthy sexual beings in a Christian world.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Unity in a post-apocalyptic hellscape

Review: Unity Core Rulebook by Zensara Studios

I received of the digital format of this book in exchange for a fair review by Modiphius Entertainment (distributor).

I love this book. I want to play in this world. I want to experience leading a group of people telling a story together through this system. Those were all of the thoughts that I had while I was reading the core rulebook. The world is fascinating blending of the fantastic and the technological. It reminded me somewhat of Numenera where the lines between magic and technology are not clear. The world mixes the divine and the mundane in a fascinating way. This is a world where gods can be brought down by mortals and mortals can have their world turned upside down by gods. This game makes it possible to play a wizard who manipulates magical forces from beyond the material plane or a bio-mechanical outcast who is part of a team that pilots a building sized mech.

The Unity game is a cooperative storytelling game using a role-playing format. The system relies on the the best story a player can contribute to the challenges they have been presented. The goal of playing together is to create amazing moments or game memories. In many role-playing games, moments or memories are created through circumstances that aren’t planned. Unity tries to bring players to moments with the intention of creating grand events. Why else would you have a world where gods can be killed and mechs can fight giant demons?

The setting is post-apocalyptic. In this case, the world was upset by a creator god. The world is ruined. Peace and cooperation between races is disrupted. A disease was unleashed upon one of the races that forces them into exile and survival in a hostile world as well as survival against a disease that wastes away the body. The world can be played as a fight for survival, an attempt to find or rebuild a society, or as a straightforward and traditional adventure system.

Character generation and game mechanics are a little outside of the standard d20 systems. It may be helpful to eventually see a gameplay video for visual learners to pick up the system. It doesn’t seem very complicated, though. A single read through was enough for me to sense that it would be easy to introduce to players.

The contents of this book are beautiful. The art is excellent quality. The writing is easy to read. It includes a mixture of descriptive text for the world, instruction for game play and character creation, and short fiction pieces to fill in the world. This is where I see another point of comparison to Numenera. Unlike that book, though, there aren’t any crosslinks in the text. I hope that at some point to see a clickable index or table of contents or crosslinked page references. And that is the biggest complaint I could find on the first examination of the book. Something may present itself later, but it would be insignificant to the quality of the contents.

There is one thing I would love to see come from this and that is an easy to distribute player book that provides enough information for character generation and basic gameplay. The free sampler that is currently available contains some of this information, but not enough to get new players onboard. I hope that Zensara has this in the pipeline.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Back to Barsoom

In exchange for a fair review, I received a review copy of the new role-playing game from Modiphius: John Carter of Mars.

Based on the Modiphius 2d20 rule system, John Carter of Mars is a pulp, science romance based upon the Edgar Rice Burrough's series of book. Most younger generations will probably know this better from the Disney movie that was released a few years ago. Long before that poorly welcomed movie, John Carter was one of the early pulp heroes. As a fan of the pulp action era, I was excited to get the opportunity to examine and review this product.

Upon receiving the copy (PDF version from DriveThruRPG), I quickly opened the file and flipped through. That doesn't sound nearly as heavenly as the old days of cracking open a new book and riffling through the pages to get the new book smell. It was still a lovely book. It is orientated to the landscape format. I found this a little disconcerting at first. I adapted to it as I continued to read and reread the book.

No Barsoom material would be credible if it wasn't accompanied by good artwork. There is a mix of quality on the art in the book. Some of the pieces are reminiscent of the memorable style of Boris Vallejo. Others are more simplified in quality. All evoke the strange world of Mars (or Barsoom as Burrough's inhabitants of the red planet have named it). The character sheets are exceptionally beautiful.
The included map (sadly in 4 pieces divided between front and back in the core rulebook) is also a lovely rendition of the planet.
The modified 2d20 system was new to me. The game requires the use of 20 sided and 6 sided dice. Using attributes of the player's character, you roll to achieve a success below the target number. This may be a little foreign to those who are accustomed to the Dungeons and Dragons system that makes higher numbers a success.

The system allows for more player input to action and outcomes. Turns are not limited to a simple time frame, but allow ample opportunity for the thing all role-playing gamers are famous for: vamping. You can say as much as you like during your turn. There is no more vague concept of acting in a nebulous understanding of time. This is simply your turn. And the narrator is just that, the one who narrates the setting and activity. Of course the narrator still must control the other characters in the game, but players have a lot of flexibility in how their behavior effects the environment or things acted upon. I love that aspect.

I felt that the game is a hybrid of traditional d20 format games and narrative style games, such as Fate. For me, it is seems to be a happy compromise.

The area I felt least competent in speaking to was the content of the world. I have read the first in the Mars books. I saw the movie. I am far from knowledgeable about the world, its main characters, or its overarching story. I contacted a friend who was more knowledgeable about the books (but less competent in the gaming arena). After our conversation, I feel that this represents the world of Barsoom quite adequately. Newcomers to the world may need a little catching up, but it wouldn't be too overwhelming for a new player to be dropped into a game.

One feature that may be a little unclear is which time frame is best played. This is really open to the narrator or the players comfort level. As a neophyte to Barsoom stories, I would default to the earliest represented era. There are three to choose from. The latest era, representing the later books, is considered the "modern" era. There are adequate side-notes to point out playstyle differences between the three.

I found a few typographical errors and print-type errors. Those could be artifacts in my pdf file, though. Overall, the quality of the images in my copy were expert level. I own a number of Modiphius products, and the quality is equal to those.

I am looking forward to expanding my John Carter collection with narrator screen and player resources. It may not be a familiar setting to some, but it is a rich fantasy world with a lot of potential for those who are willing to give it a try.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Fractured Quadrilateral

A Fractured Quadrilateral

In the previous piece, I wrote about the four identified sources of authority within the history of the Church of Christian faith. Experience, Tradition, Scripture, and Reason have all risen to be the primary source of authority for a faith community. In some cases, the rise of a new form of primary authority has created a conflict between faith communities. There have been obvious splits within the history of the Church over these points of difference.

I also alluded to John Wesley and the integration of all four sources into his work in the area of theology. The United Methodist Church took what John Wesley did and have found a unique identifying theological framework. In the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, our polity and doctrinal guide, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is described. It has become a reference point over the last 40 years that United Methodists could point to as something that we shared in common. Recent events lead me to believe that the common identification around the Quadrilateral is no longer feasible.

Many denominations within the American Protestant portion of Christianity have been struggling to find their way in the 21st Century. The greatest issue of struggle at the time of this writing is changing status regarding homosexuality and the broadening of gender or sexuality beyond binary norms of male and female. The American secular culture has been more embracing of homosexuality as a normative lifestyle. Sensitivity to non-binary gender or sexuality is increasing if still accompanied by confusion and ignorance. The American Church, though, is generally lagging behind the secular culture. The United Methodist Church is among that group.

There are reasons for this grounded in a Tradition, which in turn is based upon a particular application of Scripture, that has rejected homosexuality as a legitimate expression of God’s intended purpose for human sexuality. The Tradition of this has been grounded in passages of Scripture in the Old and New Testaments. The interpretation of those verses is defended with great passion as clear prohibitions from the Bible against homosexual choices.

There is a movement with the United Methodist Church, as well as other denominations, to change this state. The position of changing how the United Methodist Church is based upon the Experience of God’s presence within a person, regardless of gender identity or sexuality. This is supported with Scripture as well. It focuses on the overwhelming and mysterious capacity of God to love humanity and extend forgiveness and grace.

As I sit on the sidelines of the great debate swirling about the United Methodist Church, I listen. I listen to the arguments and I listen to how the arguers approach one another. I listen to the content and I listen to the intent. I listen for the source of authority being drawn upon and I listen to the source of authority that is being rejected. What I have heard I can only describe as the fracturing of the framework that has been the unique identifier of the United Methodist Church. Our current debate has broken the “fellowship of the Quadrilateral”.

I use that phrase with a little tongue in cheek. That sentence reflects a pivotal scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. A fellowship of diverse people has been banded together to undertake a great mission. That mission will transform the world. Before the fellowship can really get into the heart of its mission, a disagreement arises over how to best carry out the mission. The result of that disagreement is that the fellowship is broken. The band of compatriots becomes divided into three separate units that each goes its own way. One maintains the mission. One is completely sidetracked but accomplishes something great importance. One goes out to rally the people needed to push through the enemy’s forces. Unfortunately in the process of breaking the fellowship, one of the band lies dead.

I have to wonder what the United Methodist Church will look like in the coming years. I have been United Methodist all of my life. It is an identity I have chosen for myself, though. I am part of the fellowship of United Methodists who have been joined together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The current debate and disagreement we are experiencing is fracturing to the very soul of who we are. We are facing the reality that some of our fellowship will continue to pursue the mission of making disciples. Some will pursue something that is of importance. Some will rally others to the cause. Some will abandon the mission completely because their souls are too damaged. The reality that we are currently facing is that the one thing that has enabled us to come together and agree on what we do is no longer sufficient.

The Quadrilateral was never a superstructure that was embraced by everyone equally within the United Methodist Church. It was, however, a framework that allowed us to find some points of agreement. We may not all come to the same conclusion when we applied our understanding of it, but we could offer some begrudging respect that it was done “right”.

John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement within the Anglican church in 18th century England. As an Anglican priest, he was well acquainted with the Tradition of the Church of England. He was also very passionate about the Scriptures. Wesley’s exposure to the Moravians and the readings of the ancient Church writers provided him with a healthy respect of Experience in faith. He also applied Reason in his thinking, writing, planning, and formation of the Methodist movement. Through his writings, we see his use of all four of these sources of authority. They were not used with equal status, though.

Wesley always maintained a heavy reliance upon the authority of Scripture. It was his primary source. He used it to define the boundaries of what Methodists were to be about. Many detractors of Wesley’s efforts criticized what he was doing. When Wesley found an example from the Bible, he defended his position with that support. If there was no prohibition or limitation from Scripture, Wesley found the defense to allow for the work he was doing. Everything Wesley was doing was passed through the filter of Scripture as his first and foremost authority.

How Wesley uses the other three sources of authority is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of the Quadrilateral. Experience, Tradition, and Reason could be considered on equal footing with each other. Wesley preached and maintained a belief that personal Experience within the corporate Experience was a reality. We can be saved and know it. We can be perfected in love toward God and toward all humanity in this life. We can know God’s assurance that we are indeed children of God. Wesley also held tightly to the importance of the authority of the Church down through the ages. The Tradition of the faith, even up to the Anglican Church he was trying to reform, was important enough to build a structure to maintain a healthy sense of accountability to rule and order. And Wesley could not separate anything he did from a rational, thoughtful, sometimes overly logical method.

When the Quadrilateral was conceived by Albert Outler, a Methodist historian, and theologian, he was trying to describe the possible process steps Wesley may have used to come to points of theology. Outler would later become frustrated to a degree with how his original concept was being used. That result he was frustrated with was the formation of the only unified theological point within the United Methodist Church. When the Quadrilateral was finally processed through the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (the only official decision-making body for United Methodism), it had become the only common point of connection between the many points along the theological spectrum within the United Methodist Church.

The great beauty of the United Methodist Church, in my mind, was that we could hold widely different theological points of view while still finding a common point of connection. To go anywhere in the world and find another United Methodist brought me a sense of comfort. It wasn’t that we may agree identically on an issue or a point of theology. It was that we could look at each other and find a single point of common reference. It was the greater picture of United Methodism, like an ancient stained glass image, that kept me positive about our future.

That future isn’t as positive in my mind. In fact, I don’t see a unified future of the United Methodist Church. The main reason is that the thing that we had in common cannot hold us together anymore. I feel that the Quadrilateral has been fractured. It no longer holds the same level of authority as a system of thinking that it once did. For me, the Quadrilateral was a three-legged stool. The seat was Scripture. It held the three legs together in structure and purpose. Whatever was “set” upon the stool had to rest upon Scripture. The legs of the stool were tied together at the top to Scripture, but also bound together along their lengths. They held each other in balance and tension. No leg would slide out or fold in because the other two legs held it in place.

As I look at the landscape of United Methodism, I see that different quarters of the UMC have shortened one of the legs. I believe that every side of the disagreement we are currently dealing with still rests everything upon the seat of Scripture. All sides tend to pull out the requisite verses when there turn to speak is presented. There is one side pointing to clear statements of prohibition against homosexuality. There is one side pointing out the clear acceptance and gracious nature of God. There is one side that is pointing out the unity and reconciliation requirements of a godly fellowship. Every side I have heard knows where their authority comes from first: Scripture.

What breaks my heart about this is that Scripture is being used as a weapon, not as a balm. The Good News of the Church has become a sword in the hands of opponents. Swipes and defenses are made with well-rehearsed chapter and verse. Dynamic flourishes can occasionally be drawn out that produce a clear mark of victory. Those are only undone by a counter-strike that hits in an opening. Scripture has been used like this for centuries and in numerous battles. Even the Councils of the early Church used Scripture in this way. Those battles were just as heartbreaking.

I have come to the point that Scripture no longer has any authority in the decision making process for me. I have heard all of the sides and find that all three are correct. The Bible says exactly what all three sides say it does. It is therefore a stalemate. Scripture cannot solve the problem we are in. It is not the way forward. If we continue to use Scripture in this manner, we only decrease the efficacy of the Good News for the lost. That brings us to the other three legs.

I think this is where the greatest fracture has occurred at this point. The support bars that held the legs together has been broken. We see this in the progressive move away from the Traditional Church. They point out the centuries of bias or the narrowing aspect of theological pursuit. The Tradition of the Church was built early out of the rejection of new ideas or contrary points of view. Many of those contrary points of view were based upon Experience of the those who were presenting the idea. The progressive side of the Church wants to tap into the personal Experience once again as the secondary level of authority. Personal Revelation, immanence of God’s presence, acceptance, and grace are all hallmarks of progressive theology. The major point they raise is that God can be Experienced by anyone in their personal connection with God.

The more traditionalist perspective rests strongly on Tradition. It wishes to hold to the established line of how the Church has responded. It believes that the faith that has been handed down through the centuries is God-ordained. It has been preserved from generation to generation because it is truth. It isn’t looking to maintain the recent traditions. It wants to continue in the standards and faith boundaries that have been clearly developed. Creedal statements, doctrinal boundaries, and accountability to a higher standard of personal transformation are the strong points held by traditionalists.

The one source of authority that should be holding everything in balance is teetering, on the brink of failure. Reason has been replaced with Emotion. People are passionate. People are angry or hurt. We are seeing fight or flight mentality projected into discussions. Reason would dictate that we set emotions aside and deal with points of fact. We hear, instead, accusations and generalizations. People use the weakest forms of argument to bolster their position. We turn away from the hard choices because we want resolution right now. I feel that Reason, which was a leg of the stool made from strong material, has been replaced with Emotion and it is bending to the point of breaking.

I’ve seen a few broken chairs in my life. I know what happens when the legs come loose and go out in different directions. Most often the individual legs stay in one piece. What breaks is the seat. If the legs don’t hold each other together in tension and balance, they go their own ways and the seat cracks along seams that are in the material. Or the legs break off right at the point where they are joined to the seat. That is where I feel we are headed.

The legs are disconnected from one another now. The cracks are already visible in the seat. We have one leg that is bending to the point of breaking. The Quadrilateral cannot hold us up any longer as a church. The fellowship of the Quadrilateral is broken. We can only hope that when we fall down, we can continue to pursue a worthy mission.