Life on the Pendulum

According to this informative article on Wikipedia (my go-to for all things definitive!), a pendulum, when pushed away from its natural resting point (or point of equilibrium), will swing back toward the equilibrium point.  Then, when it swings past the equilibrium point, it swings back again, in the opposite direction.  All of this swinging has one goal–to get the pendulum back to equilibrium.  That’s a gross oversimplification of what I am sure is a very complicated physical concept, but hey, was a communications major in college, so you get what you get.

I have often compared the life of the Church to a pendulum, but only recently have I come to realize the implications of that way of thinking.  I have observed that the Church (and churches) sometimes sway back and forth when it comes to theology, biblical interpretation, and politics.  Sometimes, the Church is “conservative” (for lack of a better term), and sometimes the Church is “liberal” (same).  Both are extremes, and both are far away from the point of ecclesial equilibrium.  This equilibrium point is what theologians call the via media.  My Anglican friends like to remind me over and over again that the via media is their rallying cry, so I would like to thank them for preserving the concept for the rest of us until we are ready to embrace it.  Via media is what some would call the “radical center,” the “middle way,” or the “third way”–neither “conservative” nor “liberal,” but centered somewhere in between.  It’s a frustrating place to be sometimes, but I think it might be the place where the Church in the 21st Century needs to be in order to survive, thrive, and show the world the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For many years, I have lived on the pendulum, swinging first one direction theologically, and then another.  When I first became a follower of Jesus (I’ve always been a Methodist, but have only been a disciple of Jesus since my mid-teens), I was in what you might call the “conservative” or “traditionalist” camp.  I had problems with the direction I perceived the world was taking, and I was dismayed that anyone might think it o.k. to allow people of certain “lifestyle choices” to be a part of the church.  The pendulum began to swing for me when one of my best friends came out as gay, and felt comfortable confiding in me about his orientation.  To be honest, I was probably already moving away from my traditionalist position at the time, which is probably why he felt o.k. telling me this particular piece of information.  Soon after this, and into my college and seminary years, I found myself deeply entrenched in the so-called “liberal” wing of Christianity.  I participated in marches, signed petitions, made statements on the floor of annual conference, and generally got myself in trouble with the higher-ups.  As a liberal Christian, I couldn’t understand how anyone could ever read the Bible to discriminate against LGBTQ persons, and I saw myself as part of a battle for the heart and soul of the Church.

Fast forward to 2014.  I’m leaving a lot out, but that will have to wait for another blog on another day.

Now, I find myself as a university chaplain, not just to the “conservative” or “liberal” Christians, but to all the students, faculty, and staff, even those who do not share my faith.  Talk about walking the via media!  As I have interacted with university community members from a variety of walks of life and faith traditions, I have found that while I still hold many of the same convictions I have had for many years, I cannot bear to alienate my more conservative friends, students, and colleagues.  Without them, the conversation is not complete, in my mind at least.  Rather than tearing apart the Church I love and serve, I desire to bring people of all stripes together, to find the place of equilibrium within our community, and to move forward together in faith.  For me, that equilibrium represents common ground.  Not agreement in all things, but common ground.  What we share is more powerful and unifying than anything that divides us.  What we share is a love of God, and the desire to help others know Jesus Christ alive in the world.  We may speak different dialects and with varying accents, but we all generally speak the same language.

In the last few days, I have become aware of something called The United Methodist Centrist Movement.  This movement, made up of clergy and laity primarily from the West Ohio Conference, has suggested a platform for a way forward in the church I love:

1.  Fiscal Responsibility

2.  Connectional Realignment

3.  Itinerancy Reform

4.  Mutual Respect

I encourage anyone who reads this blog to read the platform, and consider supporting it.

Is it perfect?  No

Will it remain unchanged between now and General Conference 2016?  Most certainly not.

Does it provide a place of conversation for the kind of change that is needed in The United Methodist Church?  Most assuredly yes.

I’m tired of life on the pendulum, continually swinging back and forth, searching for that which can only be found in the restful center.  The idea of having a spiritual center is paramount to the theological construct for my ministry, and the idea of a theological and political center for the Church is appealing to me.  I want to rest in the center, the point of equilibrium, at the heart of Jesus Christ, with all of my sisters and brothers (left, right, and center) with me.  Will you join us?

Rest in the Center of Peace,

David

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