Spirit Alive: What's Next?


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

March 19, 2019

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Spring...A Time to Become Fully Alive in an Ever-Changing Context

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"

Rabbi Hillel the Elder

The English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller is said to be the first person to commit to print the words: "The darkest hour is just before the dawn." Friends, we have just experienced a dark time within the life of our beloved church, and there is still so much to think and talk about in relationship to our Post-General Conference reality...but let's start at the beginning...with ourselves...and with dawn.

The hymn "Let There Be Peace on Earth," puts things in proper perspective: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." But why stop there? The same could be said for kindness, justice, inclusion, civility, and love among other things. In fact, there are a lot of important matters that can start at a personal level.

One of the great lessons of General Conference is that, while others may choose exclusion or judgment or self-righteousness as their way ahead, this does not mean that I have to choose the same path for my way forward in life. Mohandas Gandhi was correct when he said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." One could say that there is no better time than now to consider ourselves agents of God's love.

Perhaps we've all been lulled to sleep thinking that we are to simply watch history happening around us rather than live and be a part of it...or do something about it.

In fact, this Post-General Conference time gives us the opportunity to return to three of the great spiritual questions that give us insight into the kind of individuals we want to be.

Here they are:

1. Who am I?

2. Why am I here?

3. How shall I live?

Three simple, but profound, questions that ultimately determine the outcome of one's life...and the connections that one makes with others along the way. Our responses to these questions will determine if peace...or justice or kindness...on earth will begin with me or not.

So...who are we....and what are we going to do now that the Special Session of General Conference has concluded?

1. It Begins with Perspective and How We See Things

According to the American Optometric Association: "Eye coordination is the ability of both eyes to work together as a team. Each of your eyes sees a slightly different image. Your brain, through a process called fusion, blends these two images into one three-dimensional picture. If your eyes are improperly aligned, seeing three-dimensional images may be difficult. Symptoms of poor eye coordination include double vision, headaches, eye and body fatigue, irritability, dizziness, and difficulty reading and concentrating....Eye coordination is a skill that must be developed."

The miracle of sight makes me think about how we approach and live in the world...It is only when we learn to put more than one perspective together that we are able to experience and enjoy the richness of a three-dimensional, complex world.  In other words, our so-called "normal" eyesight is always a combination of more than one perspective. And when we don't respect this reality, we lose significant peripheral vision...and narrow our view of others and the world.

But when both eyes are open, we experience the complexities and fullness that is around us...and this includes a variety of cultures and life expressions within our context....African-American, Hispanic, Tongan, Caucasian, Samoan, Korean, Native American...and on-and-on. It also means different sexual orientations and gender identities. We continue to have much to learn from and about each other.

However, this actually requires lots of practice, skill, and coordination in order to be accomplished. It is one of the miracles of God's creation.

And when thinking about this, I can't help but consider John Wesley's understanding of personal piety and social holiness..faith and social action...or what Wesley called "practical divinity." Wesley's understanding was more than theological dogma; it was a unique perspective on life. For him, balancing these two different views provided a fuller understanding of how to follow Jesus' Way and live wholistically in the world. Click here to learn more about Wesley's "coordination" of these two distinct, but essential, elements of the Christian faith that became known as the Wesleyan Methodist tradition.

The great Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez taught about the importance of eyesight in his marvelous song entitled, "Fabula de Los Tres Hermanos" (The Story of the Three Brothers). In this song, we learn about the journey of three different brothers, who are each trying to discover the world and establish themselves.

The song begins with the oldest brother venturing out into the world, wanting to be very careful and not make any mistakes....so he spends all his time looking at the ground in front of him as he walks. But by doing this, he isn't able to straighten up his neck, so he becomes a slave to this preoccupation of looking down at the ground. The lyrics of the song say, "The eye that doesn't look ahead doesn't help you get where you are going." And so this brother grew old trying to go far with his short vision.

The middle brother, didn't want to make any errors either. So he tried a different approach, fixing his eyes on the horizon. But in the process, he couldn't see the stones and holes in his path...and he kept tripping and falling along the way. So...he got old trying to go far, but never got there either because he only fixed his attention on the horizon.

And then there is the youngest brother, who didn't want to make the same mistakes of his two older brothers...so he tried a different approach altogether. Being the youngest brother in my family, when I first heard Rodriguez' song I assumed that this brother was going to get everything right, having learned from the errors of his older brothers.

So this brother heads out, focusing one eye on the horizon and the other eye on the ground. The song tells us that he traveled the farthest, but it also says that eyes that try to look at everything don't know what they are seeing, so they get confused....and this brother doesn't go as far as he could either. Clearly, no one person can see it all. 

And then Rodriguez sings: "Oyeme esto y dime, dime lo que piensas tu?".... Listen to this and tell me what you think?

So what do you think?

Well...it is clear that there is more than one way to travel along the path of life. It is also true that what is right in front of us is important...and what is on the horizon is important as well. But, what is also clear is that no one way of seeing will get us as far as we could go if we traveled together and learned from each other. In short, understanding more than one perspective matters...and this happens best when we travel in community.

As we reflect on what happened at General Conference, I can't help but think that part of what we now face as a church has to do with our eyesight. What do we see before we venture off into the world in all its diversity...and how will our vision change who we are and how we behave?

Whatever happens next on our journey, we need to remember this simple fact: We need more than a single perspective, because we will go further if we learn to travel together and use the various abilities and insights of each person who is making the journey.

2. Do Not Let the Decisions of Others Dis-empower You from Being a Follower of the Way

The dust is still settling from General Conference...and while many things about what happened are deeply disturbing, something powerful and messy is also being born. In the midst of great pain, new life is emerging...and nothing can stop it.

Last week, after several days of discussion as Western Jurisdictional leaders and members of the WJ Mission Cabinet, we tried collectively to make sense of what happened in St. Louis, find words to describe how we felt about things....and make our way forward, as best we can following the Way of Jesus.

To learn more about what the bishops and other leaders in the Western Jurisdiction are saying, click here. But each one of us has a role to play in claiming the power needed to make the church a place where all can feel safe and welcome...and loved.

When I was at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Toronto in November, I heard a Buddhist monk speak about going to the border between North and South Korea...and as he looked across the river to the North, he felt compassion for the plight of the children living there. Then he said to us: "If a border prevents me from seeing and helping starving children, what good is the boundary?" He went on to say that he decided to create a program to assist starving children in that country.

This monk poses an interesting question: What does it take....a border, a legislative action, popular opinion...to stop you from seeing others as human beings? In our tradition, we might add...what would it take to dissuade us from connecting with others in ways that reflect God's love and Jesus' Way?

In this spirit, I would add...Are we willing to let the legislation that was passed at General Conference convince us not to love God and neighbor fully...and inclusively. For me, no such border nor boundary exists, which can prevent me from seeing my LGBTQ brothers and sisters...those of different cultures and races...those who are different from me...as children of God and companions on the faith journey.

Although I have never given birth to a child...I have been a witness to birth...and have participated in the birthing of new ideas and projects. Birthing is not easy. In fact, it has a messiness to it. But when it finally happens...we immediately rejoice and celebrate...we feel a sense of relief that the labor and pain are over...and our natural reaction is to praise God, because life has a new freshness to it!

There is no question that great pain and disappointment....anger and hurt still linger following the General Conference session, but...something new is also being born...and no boundary can prevent it from happening.

3. Choose...Don''t Just Let Things Happen...Stand Up and Do Something

Finally, as I think about General Conference, I am reminded of going to the Dutch Resistance Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago for the first time. This amazing museum tells a variety of stories about how people in that city responded to the German occupation in the 1930s and 40s. What is powerful about the experience is that when you first enter the museum, you are confronted with three words projected on the museum floor: Cooperate? Collaborate? Resist? It is a simple, but clear, way of inviting you into a situation that doesn't allow for indecision. So, what will you do? Cooperate...collaborate...or resist?

These are not easy decisions, but if we truly want to reflect a new expression of church that honors the various contexts in which we live...if we want to allow for differences of opinion among faithful people...if we want to continue to honor what it means to be one church....then we need to resist those attempts to codify and regulate the spirit that bind us together by rules rather than through relationships and connections.

And...yes, there are action requests...and strategies...and speeches to be made in the days ahead as well. But we also need to take these actions in ways that honor the new life that is bringing us together.

In fact, if we really want to make our way forward, we will need to remember how to share bread with each other. And as Martin Luther once said, "we are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread"...and in the process seeking spiritual nourishment from God and one another.

The notion of one beggar passing a piece of bread to another beggar is a powerful image and a central metaphor of our faith. It is more than an action. It is a way of relating to those around us. And...this way of connecting describes the basic, relational nature of the Christian faith. It also describes how faith-in-action constitutes a simple, humble act that can be shared among us...no matter our status or place in life.

The ongoing Table Talks 3.0 is one way to work on all three of these things together through conversation with others. If you would like to join a Table Talk, click here...and register.

 This post-General Conference season presents us with a number of difficult challenges as a church. But it also is a time of new opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to not let others determine our journey for us, and to work together to be the kind of inclusive, justice-seeking church that God would have us be.

Let us walk in the light of God's love,


Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.

Want to see all the videos that have been part of Spirit Alive? See them all on vimeo.com.


Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org