Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, May 15, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

I’ll call him Alvin, but that was not his name. I dreaded facing his parents. It had been a unanimous vote, so even if I had voted to continue their son in the process toward United Methodist ordination, he would have been dropped. But they were friends, genteel in the best sense of that word, and I knew they would be upset, because to them, their son could do no wrong, and we should make an exception for him, even though there was no way…

I did not agree with them that he could do no wrong, but I did agree that Alvin was an exemplary young man. I would have been glad to have him as a colleague. He had so many gifts and graces for ministry. But there was that thing about speaking in tongues…

Young people in college, or of college age, are often surprised by the force with which religious fervor takes them. The force is so strong, so overwhelming, that to control it, simplify it, they fixate on a particular belief or action. In belief, some theological doctrine like substitutionary atonement or dating the apocalypse [when the world will end]. In actions, examples are ritualistic Bible reading and praying, or speaking in tongues. [1]

Those of us on the District Committee on Ministry didn’t have much experience with glossolalia, but we had experience with inclusion. We didn’t want to keep Alvin out. We all agreed that it was perfectly okay that he speak in tongues himself. But he insisted that no one could really be a Christian if they did not speak in tongues, and he admitted proudly that as a pastor he would try to get everyone in his congregation to tongue speak.

That sort of specific requirement for everyone is just not the Methodist way. As our daughter, Katie, said when her Roman Catholic husband-to-be asked her what you have to do to be a Methodist, “Believe in God and have a 9x13 pan.” Christianity at its best is not specific, but it is inclusive.

The point of the tongue-speaking in the Pentecost story in Acts 2 is not that people spoke in unintelligible babble, but that they spoke the Gospel clearly in ways that people could understand, even when they didn’t know how. It’s a good message about evangelism. As I quoted St. Francis recently, “Spread the Gospel in every way you can. If necessary, use words.” Witness to the Good News, even if you don’t know how, because it is meant for everyone.

As with so many parts of the Bible, our young ministerial candidate had taken an event that was meant to make the Gospel available to everyone and used it to keep the Gospel away from all except those who responded to it as he did.

Just before we voted, I asked Alvin if he did not prefer to preach the Gospel clearly in ways that people could understand. He did not answer. Perhaps my words were not clear enough.


1] Young people in other faiths, such as Islam, have similar fixations, but I am not qualified to name either their theologies or their actions, except that in some circles—minor in numbers but major in impact—the action they choose to enter into intimacy with the like-minded but protect from intimacy that makes them vulnerable is violence.

[More tomorrow on why folks get fixated on a single issue.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

My book, THE STRANGE CALLING, is sort of a memoir, a collection of stories from my ministry. When I first felt I was being “called” by God to be a preacher, the ministry was known as “the high calling.” In my experience, it seemed more like a strange calling. You can get it from the publisher, Smyth&Helwys, or lots of places on the web, including Amazon, B&N, etc.

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