April 1st, 2016

Setting out to transform the whole world may be overstated. Years ago, the idea that we should all “catch the Spirit” seemed a peculiarly anthropocentric way of talking about aligning ourselves with God’s initiatives and indwelling. Nevertheless, we yearn to devote our lives to prayer, love, worship, study, service, and witness for justice.

Yet we find it increasingly difficult to talk authentically with each other about important things. Often we embrace fiery polemics or cynical disdain, or we trivialize, stereotype, and ridicule contrary views about what to teach, how to teach, and what to do. We refer to each other with labels as though they sufficiently describe others’ experiences, intentions, struggles, and discernment.

We UMs ought not confirm that it’s inevitable when folks disagree that they should stubbornly move to their respective corners. The world that needs transforming already knows quite well how to accentuate division, alienation, and conflict.

Wesleyan theologian Randy Maddox observes that “differences of judgment among Methodists about matters of polity and doctrine are not a new phenomenon. But it is equally important to note that our tradition has also had present from the beginning a deep desire to find ways to preserve unity, shared affection, and shared mission.”

Why would we choose to mimic political and other disputes that misrepresent and disrespect those with different views and conclusions? Might United Methodists instead show the world alternative ways to engage in spirited discourse that is less about winning and more about joining our hearts with God’s as we search together for common ground?

This issue of Circuit Rider offers various perspectives answering the question “How is The UMC a witness and servant to the world?” What might happen if we read, pray about, and discuss these ideas in earnest? Can we put aside the predictable patterns of searching mostly for perspectives that confirm what we already think or dispute what we already know is wrong-headed? What if we make it our aim to discover at least one idea that is new and to diligently search for a sliver of common ground with someone who sees things from a different angle?

We aren’t pining for an easy peace that substitutes sentimentality for fidelity. If we adopt practices of curiosity, appreciation, tolerance, speaking truth, and expressing love in how we live with each other, the outcomes might be as eye-popping as testimonies about parting the Reed Sea or walking on water with Jesus. That’s a lot to expect. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if what sets apart the people called Methodists is a hunger, fulfilled by the Holy Spirit, to be transformed and transforming?

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