When Washington Plays Havoc With Your Values – Contending With Difficulties

In January of 1780, Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams wrote to her son John Quincy Adams, who would later become the sixth  US president, “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed . . . The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties . . . Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

I learned a new word recently, “Awfulizing.” A person engaged in “Awfulizing” assumes the worst case scenario will come true in any situation. “Awfulizers,” can only see the potential hazard ahead and prepare themselves for a disaster. I think I’ve been doing a good bit of “Awfulizing” myself in recent weeks.

I have watched unfolding events in Washington with despair. Every time I’ve seen regulations cut that would protect consumers, the environment or the work place -I’ve set off on a case of “Awfulizing.” I’ve agonized over the House version of the health care bill. Each time, I have assumed the worst that can happen will happen. That was before the past weeks in Washington, where there has been a media circus revolving around connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, resignations and the timing of firings. While all of this is going on, the concerns and needs of ordinary people are put aside in the midst of the latest scandal talk.

I read an article a few weeks ago where a person likened today’s period of “Isn’t this awful” thinking to the experience of England in the Blitz. During an eight-month period, from the fall of 1940 to late spring of 1941, England was bombed almost daily. While many people in England are bemoaning *Brexit the writer pointed out, that any fallout from Brexit could not compare to what people endured as they lived through the Blitz in London. The writer then added, nor does it compare to the height of World War II when almost every family in the United States had one or more family members deployed in the war effort.

What I’ve been forgetting in all of my “Awfulizing” is that, while I don’t like much of what is happening in Washington these days, God is still God. God still works through God’s people for good. God is a God of justice. When God works in the hearts, minds and souls’ of God’s people, truth rises to the surface. There is “Awfulizing” and there is action. God always calls us to move from looking at the problems in our world to working on positive solutions. The choice is really ours. Where does God need us today? Is it “Awfulizing” or is it to start working for solutions?

*Brexit -The decision in 2016 by popular vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The decision impacts everything from trade and students attending colleges outside of the UK, to international banking.

Echo Chambers in the Church

The problem we have in communicating with each other is that so many of us live in echo chambers. We choose friends who think like us and believe what we believe. We listen to and read the media which reinforces our world view. Sometimes, in order to simply ignore what other people believe, we avoid the subjects we disagree on. We often do that so no one gets upset. It may make peace for the moment, but it sure is hard to understand where another person is coming from, when we never talk about the subjects we disagree about.

The trouble with echo chambers is that the echo only responds with what we have already said. “Hello” shouted into a canyon may return multiple times – but it doesn’t challenge our thoughts, beliefs or values. It gives no opinion other than our own. It doesn’t cause us to do that walk in “another person’s shoes” that can be so enlightening. Instead it only reinforces what we already believe.

My denomination, The United Methodist Church, has spent the entire period of my ministry trying to come up with common language that all of us can live with related to the GLBT community. We agonize over whether clergy will be allowed to marry gay and lesbian couples. We put language in our church rule book, The Discipline, that disallows any person in a homosexual relationship from serving as clergy in our Conferences. Since my ordination in 1985, many denominations have come to terms with a changing world view on sexuality as genetic factors have been linked to sexual orientation. Others, like my own, are frozen in a different time span. What makes it even more difficult is that the United Methodist Church has a growing number of members in Africa, where in some countries, homosexuality is not only frowned on, but outlawed. A church that has positive statements related to the issue can also be outlawed in those countries.

Some days, I am completely frustrated with my denominations inability to find a way where we can all live together. Yet, I realize that what is frustrating for me, is incredibly painful for my colleagues in ministry whose sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters are among those who feel the sting of rejection by the church. As do our members in local churches who carry that same sting of rejection for themselves or their cherished family members.

Many of us would just like all references to homosexuality taken out of the Discipline, allowing each Conference (Local body giving oversight in a certain area) to make decisions about these matters. Others are terrified of that direction. Last year, in 2016, my denomination almost reached the point of splitting. My bishop is asking all of the clergy in my Conference to pray for an upcoming meeting of Clergy in looking for a way forward – a way to move beyond our impasse.

Of one thing I am sure . . . if there were easy answers, we would have found them already. In preparation for our upcoming meeting, our bishop has asked us to spend time meditating and Journaling around the first chapter in the book of Acts. It is that point when Jesus leaves his disciples, asking them to remain in Jerusalem. He promises that they will receive power as the Holy Spirit comes upon them. I think what my denomination needs, what my church needs,  is that in our listening and praying, we open ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit. In doing so, God may just give us the wisdom to move beyond our entrenched positions. God might surprise us by taking our divided house and making us whole.

John Wesley’s “Aha” Moment on Aldersgate Street

We call them “Aha” moments, where an insight, a truth or an awareness touches us in a way that has never happened to us before. The same words we have heard for years suddenly hit us in a uniquely different way. John Wesley had one of those moments on May 24, 1738.   People of the Wesleyan heritage continue to celebrate the day as Aldersgate’s Day. For Wesley, the  founder of Methodism, it was a life changing experience . . One that would influence him for the rest of his life. He writes in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

John Wesley carried a heavy burden when he headed to Aldersgate Street that night. He had returned to England after a short time as a missionary in the Georgia Colonies. Feeling the sting of failure and defeat,   he was painfully aware of the mistakes he had made and the attitude which got him sent home by the governor of the colony. The night of May 24th, 1738 Wesley  left home with a heavy spirit.  He returned with a joy in God’s compassionate love.  That transcendent moment became foundational in John Wesley’s life. Before he was only saying the words of faith, now they came alive. Before he knew about faith, after he experienced the presence of the living God. Before he believed with his intellect, forever after he would believe with his heart.

That night, he knew with a certainty that whatever he had done wrong, whatever mistakes he had made, however foolish he might have been and even the hurt he had inflicted – were not greater than God’s love and forgiveness. God was telling him in that moment, that  he was forgiven. God’s love for him was real. This knowledge and assurance gave Wesley new courage to move beyond the limitations of yesterday and moved him out into the world. God was working in his life to bring renewal and hope to millions of people. From then on, he would face the world with courage hope and faith.

Throughout the centuries there have been men, women and children who have also  experienced the warmed heart . . . People of all ages and stations in life. The message of assuring grace is a reminder of our place in God’s heart. It is a source of strength and hope. God’s touch can turn a life around. It can make friends out of strangers  . . . it can guide us to God’s truth. Our one common awareness of God’s Spirit can transcend differences in theology, doctrine and belief.

John Wesley would ask people of other traditions, “Is  your heart right, as my heart is with yours? I ask no further question. If it is so, give me your hand. For opinions, or words, let us not destroy the work of God. Do you love and serve God? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship.” John Wesley was on to something. When we see each other as God’s beloved children – even those we disagree with, we can begin to transcend our differences and work together for good.

Susanna Wesley – A Mother For the Ages

Susanna Wesley, mother of *John & Charles, was an amazing woman. Born in England in 1669 her seventy three years were lived during a challenging time. Susanna bore some nineteen children in a period of nineteen years. Nine of those children died as infants—including two sets of twins. One baby was smothered by a maid. Another was crippled for life in a tragic accident. Yet, in spite of those losses, Susanna carried on. She was a tireless worker and teacher of her children. She encouraged other’s to teach their children to pray as soon as the child could speak and to reward their children for good behavior.    The story is told that  Susanna expected her children to learn the alphabet within a day’s time. All but one of her children learned to read by the age of five. That must have been the child it took two days to teach the alphabet to.

I’ve often wondered how she managed to do these things.  William Henry Fitchett describes the Wesley children as “a cluster of bright, vehement, argumentative boys and girls, living by a clean and high code, and on the plainest fare; but drilled to soft tones, to pretty formal courtesies; with learning as an ideal, duty as an atmosphere and fear of God as law.”  Every week, each child had an hour of Suzanna’s time, to learn and to talk about the spiritual side of life.

I get tired just thinking of all that this woman did. Yet as I look around me (including my daughters and daughter-in-law) I see examples of modern women, just as dedicated to their children as Susanna was to hers. With rare exceptions, mothers are a breed  who don’t  give up on their children. As a mom, you never stop being a mom. It doesn’t matter if your children are infants, young adults, or parents themselves.   A mother’s concern and prayers for her children never end.

Susanna Wesley had a deep spiritual side. Her husband Samuel was a pastor but it didn’t keep him from Debtor’s prison.  There were no safe guards for the poor and poverty was rampant in England.   Twice Samuel  was sent to prison for nonpayment of debts.   During those periods, Susanna opened her home for Bible Study. Word got back to Samuel that Susanna was bringing disgrace to the parsonage with her Bible Studies which were inappropriate for her, as a woman, to be leading. Samuel got upset and sent a message to stop immediately. Susanna Wesley answered him by reporting what good the meetings had done.   She pointed out that there were only two people who opposed them. Then she wrote, “If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt . . .  for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before  . . .  our Lord Jesus Christ.” Samuel had nothing more to say on the subject after that.

Susanna was one of those women I wish I had known personally. A woman of faith, a mother to the end and one courageous human being. May her numbers increase.

* John and Charles Wesley are the founders of the Methodist movement.  John was the greater evangelistic, while Charles was a prolific writer of hymns.  His more well known hymns include, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Come thou Long Expected Jesus,” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

Difficult Relationships and the Four Minute Rule

I was visiting in a home one day when the six-year-old granddaughter who lived with her grandparents arrived home from school. Her mother had died when she was only three. It was a hard time for the child. I had gotten to know the grandma and really liked her, which was why I was so surprised when I saw her interaction with her granddaughter. From the moment the girl opened the door, her grandma was on her case. There was one put-down after another for this little girl. Before she knew what was happening, she was sent to her room to stay there the rest of the afternoon. I know the grandma loved her, but it must have been hard for her granddaughter to sense that at all. The little girl is all grown up now. I hope she has found better ways to parent her own children.

I once read that the first four minutes of every encounter are the most important. In those first four minutes the questions: “Do you still care about me? Do you accept me? Am I important to you?” find an answer in our words and expressions. What we do in those four minutes sets the tone of the remainder of our time together. It takes that long to reassure ourselves and the other that our relationship is still OK. This is even more important when the one we are greeting is going through a period of grief, loss, or an otherwise difficult time.

It is essential that during those four minutes that words that are affirming and encouraging are said, to avoid giving the wrong message. When the first words to a child are, “Did you get your chores done?” or “Take off that good shirt.” Or the first words to a spouse are. “You never . . . All you ever do is . . . ” your relationship suffers. Each of us needs to know that we are loved. Each of us craves affirmation . . . what otherwise has to be said, can wait four minutes.

Take a look at those troubled relationships. How often do you begin an encounter with, “Why didn’t you . . . ?” or “How come you . . . ?” Or, “I don’t like the way you . . .”  How many times  does that strained relationship become even more strained as blaming words are dumped on someone else? Do your words or actions indicate that you care about that someone?   We can never change other people.  What we can do is change ourselves.

Try out the four minute rule. See what it does in some overly stressed  relationships.  The mark of any true Christian community or Christian family is seen in the love and respect members have for one another.  The Biblical book of Acts tells us that the early Christians were known by their caring relationships. It was said of them, “See how they love one another.”