Tag Archives: Analysis

James Petticrew ~ Praying for Compassion Collisions

As a Scot, I am sort of unique.  I don’t drink whiskey and have never played a round of golf. However, my golf-obsessed friends tell me that there is such a thing as a mulligan: the chance to take a shot again because you didn’t like the first one. So I wonder: who do we ask for a mulligan for 2020? I don’t know about you, but I would really like a do-over of this year.

Here in Switzerland, over the last few months of our COVID lockdown, I’ve found myself constantly saying things to myself like, “I wasn’t trained for this,” “I have never ministered like this before,” “people have never had to handle stuff like this before,” “how will they cope?” and “how on earth can I respond to that?”   

As if COVID hasn’t been difficult enough for our churches to handle and navigate, the death of George Floyd exposed racism to still be a malignant and yet callously mundane force in many cultures worldwide. Social media exploded with reactions, from righteous indignation, to a great deal of malicious misinformation, to some not-so-righteous responses from people who feel under attack (or let’s face it, who are just unrepentant racists in denial). A couple of U.S. pastors told me privately that they were glad that their churches have been on lockdown and not meeting face to face – because the face to face interaction most likely to happen between some congregants was angry confrontation. Months of lockdown anxiety and politically potent issues have made some of our congregations powder kegs of pent-up frustration and barely concealed anger.

So how do we respond to all that we have gone through and all we are facing right now in our churches and cultures?

How should we respond to all the hurts, anxiety, and anger with which people are emerging from lockdown?  

What should be our response as disciples of Jesus? Because if we are not responding first and foremost as disciples, we are in trouble, and heading for more.

Now I know we can be too eisegetical when it comes to Jesus’ culture – reading our contemporary situation back into his. Nevertheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the culture in which Jesus ministered was riven with sectarian divisiveness and filled with enormous amounts of real and pressing human need. It struck me recently while reading the Gospels that Jesus was often confronted by angry people and needy people. What Jesus faced in Judea 2,000 years ago must have felt somewhat like 2020 does to us in many ways. (Though I am sure Jesus is happy to be spared “Zoom fatigue” and the frustrations of low bandwidth.)

All of this fills my mind and prayers as lockdown in Switzerland eases and people begin to meet again, with appropriate masks and social distance.  Recently, a song and a text came together in Holy Spirit serendipity, giving my answer on how I should respond as a disciple, and how we as a church should respond as a community. As I hit play on a video incorporated in our online service, I heard the voice of the Spirit through the words of the song: “everyone needs compassion.”

Those who are struggling with the physical, emotional, and relational impact of COVID need compassion. The victims of racism need compassion – and justice. Even racists need our compassion, if we are serious about that enemy-loving stuff that Jesus seems to have been serious about. People with whom I differ on politics need compassion. I need compassion. The politicians who frustrate me and have a talent for pushing my buttons need compassion.

Just in case I hadn’t got the message, God followed up with a verse from the Gospel of Luke. I’ve been preaching a series called “Overflow,” about how God’s character overflows into our lives and then overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us. I chose the texts weeks before, and as I heard the song, that Sunday I was due to preach about overflowing with -compassion. “Show mercy and compassion for others, just as your heavenly Father overflows with mercy and compassion for all.” (Luke 6:36)

In that moment, I could see the message of Luke 6:36. I could see what it meant for myself, for the church I pastor, and may I tentatively suggest, for the whole Church of Jesus Christ at the moment. Faced with everything that is happening to us, in us and around us, we are to be people and communities of indiscriminate, overflowing compassion.

Two words from this verse jump out at me: “just as,” drawing a direct parallel between God’s treatment of me and my posture towards others. Jesus is telling us that God’s compassion needs to be experienced and expressed: experienced by us as his people and expressed to the people around us. Just as our heavenly Father overflows with indiscriminate compassion for all, we are to allow that compassion to overflow without restriction or discrimination to those around us.

 Is there anything that our world needs more right now than people and communities of overflowing, indiscriminate compassion?

I’m now praying for what I’m calling compassion collisions. I am praying that God will fill me, fill us as a church, until we are brimming full of his compassion, and that God would make us bump into people, spilling his compassion all over them through us.

Maybe you would join me in praying for compassion collisions?

What if we pray for Holy Spirit-orchestrated compassion collisions in our families, in our churches, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods? What if God’s antidote for the anger and need swirling around us right now is his compassion administered through us?

Featured image courtesy Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash.

Aaron Perry ~ Desire and Duty in Everyday Life: The Narrative of Ethics

C.S. Lewis argued that before writing a story, two elements must be considered: desire and duty. The story begins with the Author’s desire. Something captures the author that he or she needs to get out. Before the writing process begins, however, the story should be considered for its value as well. So consider the would-be storywriter from two angles: the Author and the Person. The would-be writer as a Person must answer not only, “Do I want to write this?” but also, “Should the story be written?” The story can only emerge if the writer has a desire, and the story should only be written if it contributes to the benefit of humankind (duty). Both desire and duty are necessary for this free action to be rightfully taken.

Much popular ethical reflection still begins with desire: what does the “Author” of one’s own life want? However, the check or restriction on one’s desire is almost never the “Person’s” duty. Instead, desire is checked only by how one’s desire impacts the desires of another. The result is a spirit of permissiveness as long as one’s desires do not hinder another’s desires.

But duty still sneaks into the conversation. Think about how often you hear people say that they “owe it to themselves” or need to “be true to themselves” or “deserve to get my rights.” These phrases communicate something important about ethical deliberation. The individual cannot be swallowed up by the community entirely; however, without an objective reality (whether family, community, the Divine, a friend), duty crumples into a simple reaffirmation of subjective desire. Duty to oneself – “I owe it to myself” – is moral language repurposed to express individual desire. In effect, we become our own standards of right and wrong: your moral duty is to identify and fulfill your desire. 

In postmodernity, a common move has been to find others with similar desires. Intentionally or not, one may then ground the pursuit of one’s own desire as duty to this community. In this way, desire is carefully hidden in the name of duty for one’s community. In case this feels abstract, consider how the mindset has impacted political communities. The postmodern political move has been to galvanize these communities linked by desire, using the underlying fear of tyranny from those who are “not like us” or whose desires are different. It’s not a phobia: human beings do master and control one another on big and small scales. The final result is communities of desire with self-justifying duty against other communities of desire with self-justifying duty. This complexity then requires a political solution who breaks in from beyond. Hail the political hero who is “not an insider,” who is “just like one of us.”

In contrast to this kind of politics, the Christian narrative teaches that there is no true outsider except for Jesus: the one whose life truly reveals ourselves and whose life truly reveals God; the one who so truly reveals because he is both God and human. In him, desire and duty are unified: his duty to the Father is his desire, and his desire to please the Father through the power of the Spirit drives his faithfulness to his duty.

Here the Christian community, especially in the local church, provides a correcting and prophetic word to other political allegiances. The unity of the church doesn’t come from shared desires with other members: the unity of the church is in its leader. There is membership not in what is owed to ourselves, but in what is owed to Christ because we are now in him. The local church provides an all too flesh-and-blood community that puts us in covenant relationship to other people in Christ not simply in the abstract, but concretely to the man or woman in the seat next to us at our small group or in worship. The politics of allegiance in the church is not simply of desire, but of duty to one another—the actual person—in Christ.

The Christian story, in the form of this community, does not merely affirm that Jesus is the Savior, but that through Christ we will be conformed to his image, too: our lives, from the inside out, will be remade, and any split between desire and duty perfectly healed.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Terrible Precipice of Knowing: Black Holes, Enlightenment, and the Divine

There is a moment you stand on the brink, or the brink stands on you. The inexorable draw pulls you in, like gravity, like the current; at the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction – before you can say what it is you’ve seen.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

In the quest to see the truth, what if you are blinded? Is a blind woman happy who has lost her sight in order to bear witness to the Beatific vision? Would terrorist Saul have chosen blindness and disorientation to see Christ, or did Christ need to blind Saul temporarily so that he would perceive properly?

Today is an odd moment in human history; scientists have collaborated across continents, in multiple time zones, to set up equipment on the world’s mountains so that humanity can use plastic, metal, and glass tools that fit in your pocket or sit on your desk to communicate with each other almost instantaneously and see images of a black hole. Computing isn’t identical to information and information isn’t identical to knowledge, but today you can pull out a piece of equipment, use a high-powered search engine, type the words, “black hole photo,” and see the results of decades of hard work. Just 150 years ago people learned of the death of their loved one in the U.S. Civil War by checking the newspaper or receiving a letter from the dead person’s friend. It could take weeks, months. Now a mystery in our galaxy is viewable on the rechargeable machine in your pocket.

Black holes are mesmerizing, terrifying, and little understood. Using math, calculations, formulas, equations, scientists guess. What appears to be true is that, in a way, light itself can be sucked down the drain and condensed into a tiny, heavy ball with extraordinary gravitational pull. (Note: this is an inaccurate description of a complex reality by someone who is not a scientist.) What science fiction writers like to play with is the moment – the event horizon – in which light or matter (or a fictional character) can no longer escape the gravitational pull.

You still have time you still have time you still have time it’s too late.

Who can rescue you from knowledge that will be your undoing? No rescue craft can hover at the event horizon, lowering a rope to you.

How can knowledge burn but set you free? There is a knowing that singes you to breaking point, then propels you forward.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Light, we are told, cannot escape the power of a black hole.

Perhaps not.

Or at least, perhaps not for a long, long time, until that condensed matter explodes outward – propelling, igniting, cascading.

Jesus swallowed up the darkness that appeared to swallow him. The darkness came close; the darkness thought that Jesus Christ stood on the event horizon, and fell in.

On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 25:7-8

What is Holy Week about? It is about Jesus letting himself be drawn into a black hole. It is about the sky going dark, the earth shaking. It is about hours of eerie silence – hours and hours. It is about hope vanishing in the blink of an eye.

It is about a black hole quivering. It is about a black hole beginning to get smaller. It is about the Light of the World swallowing the heavy darkness with such inescapable draw that the darkness cannot escape. It is about the Light of the World entering a hole of black darkness and absorbing it from the inside.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Standing on the brink, looking into the abyss, Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate stood.

The inexorable draw pulls you in, like gravity, like the current; at the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction – before you can say what it is you’ve seen.

What does it feel like to betray the Light? Judas held that knowledge. So too did Pilate. And it swallowed them whole as they were consumed by the ever-hungry darkness.

Standing on the brink, looking into the abyss, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and other women stood, peering into an open, empty, echoing tomb. Comprehension failed them. Lightning-colored beings shouted nearby from an eternity away. Fight or flight kicked in. Hope is deadly, and they did not want to die.

At the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction.

Had Light escaped the darkness?

What does it feel like to witness the Light? Mary and Joanna held that knowledge. So too did Magdalene. And it swallowed them whole as they were consumed by the ever-lifegiving Light.

It is not the brink that is the problem; it is not the cliff’s edge, the event horizon; it’s whether you’re jumping into darkness or into Light. Holy Week brings us to the brink, reminds us of what it feels like to peer over the edge into humanity’s bent toward self-destruction, pushes us toward letting go of all safety railings as we free-fall into the Light of the World.

Featured image courtesy Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/National Science Foundation.

Priscilla Hammond ~ Remembering: Weigh Well and Consider

Before people used Enneagram types or extroversion temperaments to describe themselves, personalities were described using ancient medical terms: sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric. Maybe you’ve seen the words used as nouns or used descriptively about a person.

Sanguines are social butterflies. They can carry on a conversation with anyone, anytime. They’ve never met a stranger, because they’re friends as soon as they’ve met. Sanguines love to tell stories, and those stories are usually embellished and may seem to their melancholy listeners to be purposefully exaggerated to make them more exciting. But they aren’t intentionally grandstanding. That’s just how they remember it. The Apostle Peter had a sanguine personality (is there ever a time in the Gospels when he wasn’t talking or in the middle of the action?).

Sometimes we misremember the past – or perhaps put an interpretive lens over it, like the child in a poignant scene of the movie Inside Out, realizing that many of her happy memories were originally sad times that she remembered differently. We often remember things better than they actually were. We want things to be like they were in the “good old days.”

There were times when the disciples probably misremembered their faith like that. Peter probably loved to tell stories remembering the time when Jesus asked them to get a coin out of a fish’s mouth to pay their taxes. Good times, Peter, good times. We laughed and laughed about that one!

The memories weren’t always good, though. There was another time that Peter remembered. Mark recorded it this way: “Immediately a rooster crowed a second time and Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, ‘Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ And he began to weep.”

The word remember in this verse is the kind of remembering that includes the act of weighing well and considering. This isn’t a remembering a funny story moment. It’s not an embellished telling of the good old days. This is a remembrance of grief; a recollection of shame; a calling to mind the weight of sin.

If we do not consider and weigh well the mistakes that we have made, we cannot learn and grow. In change management studies, this is referred to as double-loop learning. Single-loop learning solves a problem. The problem may recur, but we can alleviate the effects of the problem for now. Double-loop learning seeks the cause of the problem. “Solving problems is important. But if learning is to persist, managers and employees must also look inward. They need to reflect critically on their own behavior, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act” (Argyris, 1991, p. 100).

In the midst of tragedy, loss, hardship, or violence, practicing double loop learning helps us to remember how we got where we are, how to weigh well the fundamental issues that are preventing change, and how to consider the ways our behavior must change to impact future outcomes.

Often we only think of applying this to ourselves. Like Peter, we weep. Later, as individuals, we must move on. But double-loop learning applies to social ills as well. The sins of the past are being revisited on generations. As a society, we need to weigh well and consider past mistakes we have made. We must look inward and then change our behavior in acknowledgement that our intentional or unintentional acts contribute to the problems that arise.

Lately, flags have been at half-staff more than not. With each tragic event, there is a call to change laws or pursue justice for the individuals lost. That solves an immediate problem, but double-loop learning requires more than weeping and moving on. We need to practice the kind of remembrance that weighs well and considers the power of God to change us and what can happen if we engage with that Power to change the future. Peter remembered more than the good times. He remembered more deeply, weighing his decision in light of Jesus’ prediction. The consideration of his mistakes led to repentance, which allowed him to change his future. Today, we don’t remember Peter as the washout; we remember him as the Rock.

When we look at the tragedy around us, we can practice double-loop learning and weigh well our responsibility for the tragedy as well as our responsibility to effect change. An example is David, who considered and weighed well his shortcomings, and his reflections can help us to see the double-loop learning pattern. Like David (Psalm 30), we dig deeper and seek out our flawed assumptions. When we consider why we do what we do, we can ask God for help and God will heal us. This reflection and healing process led David from despair to gratitude, and can do the same for us. If we then act out of that gratitude, as we give thanks to his holy name, he will show his favor. He can turn our mourning into dancing, gird us with gladness, and return thankfulness to our hearts and minds as we work together to turn this very day into the “good old days” about which we long to tell stories.



Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/1991/05/teaching-smart-people-how-to-learn

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Courage to Be: Conferencing and the Kingdom of God

While United Methodists spend a great deal of time, money, and energy attempting to shape potential outcomes of the specially called 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, it is quite possible that the conference most potently rocking the Kingdom of God already took place in St. Louis over the summer.

The fate of the United Methodist denomination is not unimportant; but perhaps neither is it as vital as we sometimes think; after all, the connection is only about 50 years old and is only one expression of global Wesleyan Methodism. No, the fate of the universal church does not hang on the continued existence of the United Methodist Church, as I’ve written elsewhere. And on this website, we feature contributors from a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations. Certainly, the UMC has value – I mean ecclesial value, not just net worth, which bears pointing out in days when talks of formal separation are occurring.

But the Kingdom of God is far more expansive than any one denomination or tradition.

And one might well wonder if a modest St. Louis conference last July is the first ripple of an expansive, if demanding, movement. The leadership of the Revoice Conference represented several Christian traditions, Protestant and Catholic, Episcopalian. Over 400 people were present, and thankfully, Revoice leaders made plenary and pre-conference sessions available – for free, and thank you for that, conference organizers – on YouTube.

As the official website states, “The annual Revoice Conference is a gathering designed to encourage and support gay, lesbian, same-sex attracted, and other gender or sexual minority Christians who adhere to traditional Christian teaching about gender, marriage, and sexuality. General sessions offer opportunities to worship together with other likeminded Christians, and workshops cover a variety of topics, aiming to encourage and support gender and sexual minorities in their efforts to live faithfully before God. We also offer workshops for straight family members, friends, pastors, and other faith leaders, helping them to understand the challenges that gender and sexual minority Christians face in their faith communities and society at large and equipping them to respond with gospel-centered compassion.”

In our current cultural moment, reaction was swift from all different directions; critiques were levied at organizers, either because they were promoting celibacy, or because they chose to use phrases like “gay Christian.” In this sense, rhetorically they couldn’t win. In another sense, when one watches the plenary sessions, it’s clear that in a deep, profound, cosmic sense, they couldn’t lose. Such is the nature of chosen sacrifice. At the time, Twitter went into overdrive, and allies cropped up in figures like Southern Baptist professor and writer Karen Swallow Prior, who, despite having recently been hit by a bus – by a bus – took to the organizers’ defense.

After watching the three general sessions, here’s what I came away with:

Humility. The sweet spirit and bold courage of each presenter was evident. Each had the courage to be…well, to be. To be themselves, in their own skin, with their own stories, in the context of a great and loving God of transformation. I was humbled, watching these siblings in Christ who knew critics of all stripes were ready and waiting to dismantle their very personal testimonies and communal convictions.

Deep sadness. The conference was organized wisely around three hubs: praise, lament, and hope. This ordering makes sense, I think, for participants. For viewers who are straight, I think I’d recommend watching in the order of hope, praise, and lament: we need to sit a while with lament and not hurry through it. I was grieved, and I think you will be too, as I listened to testimony of lament – and it is powerful testimony.

Hope. Not everyone will agree with the theological beliefs that ground this conference. But I was encouraged to see that in a cultural moment where so much seems defined by polar opposition, here something grows that is unique, different, and beautiful. It does not particularly fit one mold, because it seeks to follow Christ as best it knows how, and following Christ means you simply can’t be pigeonholed.

Much of the work of this conference is based on the thinking and writing of New Testament scholar and Anglican celibate gay Christian Dr. Wesley Hill, who has authored a couple of books on the subject and has a website here. His excellent discussion topics frequently have the sting of intellectually honest analysis; he has a high view of scripture; he believes in the great tradition of the church; he has experienced mistreatment from within the church. There is a great deal here that will strike to the heart either of progressive or conservative readers.

The Spiritual Friendship website, which features multiple contributors, gives space for ongoing discussion about Christian community, friendship that is robust or even as I would describe it (I don’t know if he would) covenantal, service, and hospitality. Because as unique as this venture may sound to 21st century Western ears, in fact, there is a rich tradition of Christians choosing to live celibate lives and to serve others and the church through that. So too are there meaningful examples throughout Scripture and church history of deep friendships that sustain us in our need for human relationship.

What the Revoice Conference has given us, in part, is a potent call to receive the leadership of this ecumenical group of Christians who are wrestling through theology, philosophy, Scripture, and tradition as they exercise the courage to be. For a long time, straight Christians have spoken to topics of human sexuality. We are not in the wrong to do so. However, through gatherings like Revoice, the Holy Spirit is asking us if we are ready to listen and learn from the spiritual depth of our Christian siblings who are leading intentional, deliberate, and sacrificial lives.



Note from the Editor: The featured image is part of a work of art entitled, “A Friend of Solitary Trees” by Shitao, dated 1698.

Omar Al-Rikabi ~ The Stuff of Life

Note from the Editor: Enjoy this…fascinating sermon from Rev. Omar Al-Rikabi.

In a first for Wesleyan Accent, we recommend listening for ages 13 and up or at parental discretion.






Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Dear Millenials, I Was You Once

Dear Millenials,

I was you once.

People wanted to know what I thought. They wanted to know what I wanted to buy. They wanted to hear what I was looking for in a spouse, in a career – in a faith group. They talked about me in the news, they studied me to see which way I was likely to turn, they taught older people in churches about me: how to attract me, keep me, and prepare me to take over.

They were glorious days.

It was 2003.

I was the future of The Church, and The Church was going to crumble without me. (And I wasn’t even male!) Books were written by the cartload about Generation Y and the Emerging Church. What was emerging? Everyone wanted to know. No one knew exactly what, philosophically, postmodernism was (or wasn’t), or how, culturally, it would play out. The new Millenium was still pretty shiny, not long out of its box, and some trends were emerging. Trends were emerging, and they needed to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Would Die, and We Would Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

These were the days of corduroy and pseudo-bowling shoes, of iPods and the war in Iraq, of Gilmore Girls and emo music. The internet was still new-ish, a high school student named LeBron James was ready to join the NBA, the iPhone wouldn’t come out for several more years, Ellen DeGeneres was launching a new talk show after lying low for several years following the firestorm of her public coming out in 1997, and Mark Zuckerberg was still on good terms with the Winklevoss twins, though not for long.

The world was changing and the message was clear: adapt or die! We’d all seen You’ve Got Mail. We knew that print was dead and everything could now be done online. We knew that church services needed to be rich and multi-sensory, with dim lighting or mysterious incense or immersive participation. We knew that authentic expression of our emotions was important. It was time for conventional wisdom to be overturned. Generation Y was tired of The Church doing it wrong and squandering wasted opportunities.

From about 2003 to 2010, books kept churning out on Generation Y and the Emerging Church.

You see, we knew.

Except of course we only knew a little. The internet was going to be everything – but now, Amazon has brick-and-mortar stores. Immersive sensory worship was going to replace shiny fake productions – but now autistic people find immersive sensory worship intolerable. We thought we were authentic; but scandals lurked, hidden in our hip worship environments.

But it gets worse. It’s not just that we were only partially right – or perhaps, that we were right, but with limited perspective.

No, it got worse. You see, you came along. And the problem isn’t that Millenials are a problem. The problem is that you were the new us.

Youth pastors tossed their books about Generation Y into the trash, church leaders forgot about the Emerging Church, and front office workers started lining up conference speakers who could explain about the new generation we would all need: the Millenials. Generation Y turned 30, started buying infinity scarves at Target, and began to broadcast themselves in a million and one podcasts.

But these? These are the days of skinny jeans and mermaid hair, of Snapchat and protest marches, of Girls and Hamilton. Smartphones are still new-ish, LeBron has left Cleveland for the second time, virtual reality sets are popular Christmas gifts, the Obamas have retired from the White House, Ellen and Portia are a popular Hollywood couple, and Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard long behind to testify before Congress about how his social media platform could be hijacked by foreign interests to impact U.S. elections.

Now you are the future of The Church, and The Church is going to crumble without you, books are being written by the cartload about Millenials. What is emerging? Everyone wants to know, you see. No one knows exactly what will play out. Trends are emerging, and they need to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Will Die, and We Will Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Generation Y will meet you at the Starbucks in Target when no one talks about Millenials anymore. We’ll show you where the infinity scarves are. If that sounds cynical and snarky, I can point you to a number of books that will delve into Gen Y and our cynicism.

Millenials, I don’t think that publishers are to blame for the popularity of the unending cycle of demographic-expert-books that church leaders fall on in a piranha-like feeding frenzy. The emerging generations aren’t to blame, either. I didn’t ask to be studied and written about, and neither did Gen X, and neither have you, and whomever follows you.

No, North American Protestants are pretty obsessed with emerging youth culture. I could blame the Baby Boomers, but that seems like something they would do to their parents, and it’s probably part of my generational quirk to not want to do anything a Baby Boomer would do.

No, Millenials, it’s not your fault that church leaders will hang on your every word until you turn 30 and disappear as the next new generation comes along with its wisdom. And you know, some of your input will be really valuable. Some of it, I’m sorry to say, will turn out to be bunk, like the late 90’s trend of wearing JNCO jeans or pastel butterfly hair clips.

The solution I think, Millenials, is to ignore the somewhat condescending flattery – I wasn’t indispensable, and neither are you – and instead to receive the weighty gift of living in community. That may mean sitting in a church service not specifically designed for your preferences; it may mean adapting to someone else because a relationship with them is worth having, even if it’s framed in ways you don’t intuitively understand. It means families with young kids, and elderly widows. It means rural settings and pick-up trucks. It means single women in their 40’s and urban gardens. It means patience, and sacrifice. There is so much to be gained by listening: not hashtagging or snapchatting, just listening: listening to people is one of the best gifts any emerging generation can give.

In Youth is an Idolone pastor touches on some of these truths. She concludes by celebrating the gift of intergenerational, multigenerational living, writing,

 If you want your church to have the vitality and influence of young minds, young faith, young energy, and young joy, then invest in spiritually mature adults with a passion for pouring into young lives. Give spiritually mature adults a vision for seeing their age as a calling. In fact, I’d argue that this is the greatest gift of eldership: it is in shepherding the next generation. Elders must learn to listen and shape and young adults must be bold in seeking out older adults who can shape them.

You already know, Millenials, just how much we all need each other. If there’s anything that will just become more true in the next ten years of your life, it’s that. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you’re indispensable to any faith community. Because none of us is. But believe everyone who tells you that community is indispensable as part of the Christian faith. You and I aren’t always assets, our thoughts and feelings aren’t always reliable, and older people aren’t always liabilities, and their thoughts and feelings aren’t always unreliable.

The Church is always worth engaging in – but not because only you can save it.

I was you once…

And I really hope you’ll stick around after the dust settles and the next generation moves in. We need you – just not for the reasons we say. We need you, only – and completely – in the way that we need 65-year-old’s, and four-year-old’s, and 41-year-old’s.

We need you because we love you: not because of what you can do for us. So we’ll continue to need you after your moment in the spotlight has passed. Because we’ll continue to love you then, too.


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Narrative of Evil

Note from the Editor: At the time of original publication, Wesleyan Accent suspended its usual posting of a weekend sermon to reflect on the 2015 coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France.

Where haute couture fashion houses dominate and the Mona Lisa smiles, where the Notre Dame cathedral towers with long-held cultural memories of a famed hunchback and the Eiffel Tower beckons to retainer-wearing junior high tourists, where Rick and Ilsa looked out as the Nazis rolled in.

What is the true narrative of Paris, a very old city with a colorful history, the grand dame of Europe whose eyes twinkle as she alludes to youthful scandal?

What is the true narrative of Paris, where St. Thomas Aquinas studied, wrote and taught? The same Paris that boiled with blood during the French Revolution? The same Paris overtaken by the Third Reich? The same Paris scourged by the Black Plague? The same Paris now in a state of emergency with enforced curfew marooned in a nation whose borders have had to clang shut.

The true narrative of Paris is the narrative of any individual – at moments glorious, fallible, heartbroken, and exquisite.

Like the true narrative of Baghdad.

Or Damascus.

Recently Canon Andrew White, “the vicar of Baghdad,” alluded to his chiaroscuro life. 

They were coming for him and his people. Friends were being killed or fleeing for their lives. So Andrew White did what he always does when faced with an enemy. “I invited the leaders of Isis [Islamic State] for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.”

This extraordinarily self-confident priest is best known as the vicar of Baghdad, leader of a church in the chaos outside the protected Green Zone. He made his offer last year as the terrorist forces threatened to take the city. Did he get a reply? 

“Isis said, ‘You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off.’ So I didn’t invite them again!” 

And he roars with laughter, despite believing that Islamic State has put a huge price on his head, apparently willing to pay $157m (£100m) to anyone who can kill this harmless-looking eccentric. Canon White was a doctor before he became a priest and could be one still, in his colourful bow-tie and double-breasted blazer with a pocket square spilling silk. But appearances are deceptive. 

For the last two decades, he has worked as a mediator in some of the deadliest disputes on Earth, in Israel and Palestine, Iraq and Nigeria. He has sat down to eat with terrorists, extremists, warlords and the sons of Saddam Hussein, with presidents and prime ministers. 

White has been shot at and kidnapped, and was once held captive in a room littered with other people’s severed fingers and toes, until he talked his way out of it. He is an Anglican priest but was raised a Pentecostal and has that church’s gift of the gab.

Canon Andrew has served as a voice from a region that we skim over in the headlines because it troubles us. But something that troubles you will eventually force its way into your consciousness, like a lump you want to ignore or the scrabbling of a mouse across the floor in the night.

Damascus, Baghdad, Paris.

What next? Miami, Atlanta, Boston? How might the narrative of more cities morph under the influence of evil? Paris is closer to the Western world than Damascus or Baghdad are in many ways. The American Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. French thinkers and writers have influenced intellectual development over the past few centuries. Our language is dotted with vocabulary we don’t think twice about because we don’t pronounce it in proper nasal fashion, but chaperone, restaurant, coup de grace – all these illustrate the invisible ties that stretch like cords across Atlantic waves. And so we sit up and take notice when Paris is beaten up and left bloodied on the roadside more than we do when Damascus and Baghdad are kidnapped and held for ransom.

Canon Andrew does not underestimate the strength of the evil that has been brutalizing Iraqis, Syrians, and now Parisians.

So what is to be done? “We must try and continue to keep the door open. We have to show that there is a willingness to engage. There are good Sunni leaders; they are not all evil like Isis.”

But surely there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn? He sighs, and answers slowly. “You are asking me how we can deal radically with Isis. The only answer is to radically destroy them. I don’t think we can do it by dropping bombs. We have got to bring about real change. It is a terrible thing to say as a priest. 

“You’re probably thinking, ‘So you’re telling me there should be war?’ Yes!” 

I am shocked by his answer, because this is a man who has risked his life many times to bring peace.

“It really hurts. I have tried so hard. I will do anything to save life and bring about tranquillity, and here I am forced by death and destruction to say there should be war.”

White had to be ordered to leave Baghdad at Christmas by his close friend the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby.

Evil is not the narrative of terror: terror is the narrative of evil. That which destroys for destruction’s sake; that which desecrates for desecration’s sake; that which relishes in inflicting suffering for suffering’s sake; that which forces death unannounced for death’s sake – this is the nature of evil.

And destroying for destruction’s sake, desecrating for desecration’s sake, inflicting suffering for suffering’s sake, forcing death for death’s sake – this leaves paralyzing fear in its wake, the kind of dry-mouthed, helpless terror that watches in vivid slow motion. This leaves night terror in its wake, thrashing in blankets from flashbacks. This leaves fear in its wake, the kind that bars windows and triple-checks locks, the kind that huddles in groups and squints in suspicion.

David wrote of this anguish in Psalm 22, and while it’s often read through the lens of the crucifixion of Christ, it also stands on its own, as his own distress:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me.

There is no shame in feeling fear, or sorrow, or terror. There is no shame in shaking with grief, and loss, and shock. There is no shame in finding your mind paralyzed, your heart numb, your eyes glazed. No, there is no shame in bolting awake in the dark night with your heart pounding.

But in the midst of fear, grief, paralysis, and panic, there remains a quiet, immovable promise – the kind of promise that doesn’t erase suffering, but buys it out and remodels it. This hushed promise of granite-like solidity transcends laughter, happiness, and joy. It includes hope but exists outside of your ability to hope. Truth exists outside of your ability to feel happiness.

David finishes his song like this:

All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

No one can obliterate the future. No one can obliterate your life so completely that it is irredeemable. This is the truth that was not burned up in the furnaces of death camps. It cannot be buried in a mass grave.  It can’t be executed at a concert or detonated at a soccer game.

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

Oh, the promise that trumps the narrative of evil. Oh, the promise that takes our sweaty palms in its hands.

We are not at the mercy of terrorists. They are at our mercy as we live in flesh and blood and bone the loving mercy of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel-God-With-Us, who was and is and is to come. As the orange-suited martyrs cried to Jesus on their sandy beach deathbeds, evil crumpled. They have no power over Jesus Christ, they have no power over the world to come, they have no power over your soul. 

And so today we do not pray first and foremost for safety – as if it could be achieved in this life anyway. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for boldness and courage. We pray for peace, for healing, for comfort, for hope. We pray for faithfulness, for wisdom, for vision. We pray for Spirit-led choices, for grace, for redemption. And we pray for those who blow themselves up, kill other people, threaten and bully, remembering the Apostle Paul, who, before he met Christ, harassed believers and breathed murderous threats against them.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

And root out the sneaking parts of my own soul that wish harm on others, flare up in anger, or belittle my valuable fellow humans. For we all stand in need of the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Kevin Murriel ~ Pressing through the Pain


Note: Today as we reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the state of our church and our nation today, we revisit these reflections from Dr. Kevin Murriel.

Follow the link below to hear Dr. Kevin Murriel, pastor of Cliftondale UMC, offer stirring thoughts and personal stories in the context of Bible study on recent events and being a Black pastor in America:

Pressing through the Pain

Featured illustration from “Elegie pour Martin Luther King” by Manessier, 1978.

Edgar Bazan ~ Shalom and the Character of the Kingdom of God

Read more from Rev. Edgar Bazan on transformative mission and the Kingdom of God here and here.

If there is one aspect of Jesus’ life that can help us gain insight into his mission, it is when he said: “My peace I [give] to you.” (Jn. 14:27) After his resurrection, this was a very particular way in which Jesus greeted the disciples: by saying “peace be with you.” Note John 20:21, when Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” This is a significant statement that helps us realize the nature of the mission of God here on earth.

This concept of peace has profound missional implications for learning what it means to witness the salvation brought by Jesus Christ and to bring life through his teachings—the essence of our Christian faith.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. This is the word we translate as peace in our language, but the meaning of this word is totally unlike our concept of peace. Our concept of peace is basically the absence of trouble, whereas Shalom means everything which contributes to the wellness of people’s lives. When the word Shalom is used as greeting it does not simply mean that you wish a person the absence of bad things, but it also means you wish them all possible good things.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” The end goal of God’s Shalom is to bring order to our lives and to align us not only with what we consider spiritual wellness but with everything that contributes to our well-being in every area of our lives to experience the fullness of life. Such is the power and aim of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and manifested in powerful ways. Every healing, every forgiven sin, every act of reconciliation, and every act of justice against evil oppressors is an act of Shalom, of leaving his peace with us.

The presence of God – Jesus’ bringing of his kingdom – brings forth actions of peace, healing, and salvation. This is how we know that God is active in our lives and ministries: if we are peacemakers in this way. (And this is not the same as pacifism that avoids conflict or struggle; rather, it happens as people seek justice through acts of redemption in the way Jesus did.) Opposition and persecution are to be expected when dealing with opposing forces against the kingdom of God, for the evil in this world abhors God’s Shalom.

The mission of God that the church has been entrusted to steward and carry on is for the “healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). This is an idea that is rooted in the Shalom of God. This is the hope the church ought to proclaim. In the midst of and in spite of the opposing evils of this world, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus and the manifestation of God’s kingdom is the light overpowering darkness, the healing overpowering death, and the Shalom overpowering condemnation.



Note from the Editor: The featured image is a work entitled, “Love and Peace,” by David Burliuk, an early 20th century Ukrainian/Russian artist.