The larger picture
I have difficulty not seeing life from a big picture point of view. While it’s true I can sometimes obsess about details til it drives me crazy, my go-to way of thinking is nearly always way down the road and from the top of a hill. I’m guessing it’s because of the place where I came of age.
Our farmstead initially had a two story wood-frame house, beside which was an orchard with cherry, apricot, and crabapple trees. And my favorite on the south side of a small rise of driveway up toward the house, a mulberry tree. I think it was grown on steroids of the right amount of sun and rain and blue skies because, in my memory, they were the biggest and sweetest berries I have ever tasted in my life, even to this day! I think picking them right off the tree and eating them likely made them taste better. Our driveway curved out of the farmstead toward the southwest, and during my teens in the spring, summer, and fall, I would walk out to the road. Our house was just down from the rise of the hill to the west, so cresting that hill I could see everything, at least that’s the way it felt. In every direction my sight was unimpeded in seeing land and trees that marked other farms and the dome of the sky. From out there it has always made sense to me that in biblical times folks thought there was a dome over the earth holding back the heavens. Some friends have made a little fun of me over the years, because I’ve said and I still believe to this day, that I could hear the earth turning as the sun went down in some of the most beautiful sunsets I can still catch glimpses of in my mind’s eye. Or maybe it’s my heart’s eye.
Perhaps maturing in wide open spaces defines one’s perspective. I could see the golden fields of grain dotting the landscape, could even see the heads of wheat filled for harvest in the teeth of a combine. The details were there, but in my mind, it is the whole picture that paints itself before me, less than the details.
Seeing the larger picture has its advantages and disadvantages as do all our limited human perspectives. It sometimes frustrates the living daylights out of me when I so want people to see and think from an expanded view. There are churches voting to disaffiliate from our denomination because they have been convinced that if they don’t, they will be “forced” to do “gay” weddings and accept having “gay” pastors. Sigh. No one is going to force anyone to do anything they do not feel, with integrity, that they can do. Staying United Methodist changes nothing. The likelihood is that the prohibitive language in the current Book of Discipline will be removed. It will NOT be replaced with language forcing anyone to do anything with which they are not comfortable. Period. If you never want gay weddings in your church, never want to do a gay wedding as a pastor, never want to recognize that love is love, you don’t have to. I feel sorry for the people you are missing knowing, and the value of every person made in the image of God just as God intended. But given all of that, nothing in your perspective, no details of anything to do with faithful same-gender relationships will be forced upon you. None. Zero. Nada. None.
Disaffiliation will mean that you no longer have the wider and historically proven depth of a denomination to support, sustain, hold you accountable, and offer direction in connection with other churches across the nation and yes, still, the world. There have been times in 35 years of ministry that I have received invitations to leave the denomination and move to a larger church in larger cities. One committee chair I talked to asked if I wouldn’t be happier not having to “pay dues” (we call them apportionments and/or mission shares). Wouldn’t I be happier not having primarily white male Bishops holding threat of my job over my head if I didn’t do what they said (not reeeeally been a fear too many times). Wouldn’t I be happier not having to be responsible to serve on Conference or District committees, but simply to be responsible to the people of this large and very well-funded church. To say I wasn’t tempted would be a lie.
But here’s what I know. Systems of accountability, larger connectional systems, more brains working on the same challenges in the world, being in a community of leaders is healthy, accountable, and limiting in mostly very healthy ways. Is that system fracturing right now? Yes. Does anybody in any particular place have a corner on a perfect and “right” answer about everything? Absolutely not. Is God with everyone making this journey? Without question.
Some days I long to go home to that farmstead. The house I grew up in is no longer there. The orchard has fallen into disrepair and is almost gone. The windbreak of trees yet remains, and the grasses of the prairie continue to encroach on lands no longer peopled – what I imagine someday will happen to all our human machinations of making our marks and setting our own inflexible boundaries. I can’t decide if God laughs or cries at our attempts to be gods. Probably a little of both depending on the day.
God’s desire and vision to have communities of faith will continue. We are dying a bit in order to be reborn. While that is nothing less than painful, the beauty of the vision yet remains. God is faithful, and finally there is no question for me from the inside out and the outside in, God’s will, WILL, be done.