Be careful what you pray for

It was my pastoral practice over many years to include the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal in worship on the first Sunday of each new year. I came to call it the “Most Dangerous Prayer.” It says:

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

The reason for the cautionary introduction is that, rather than imploring God to do what the person praying wants God to do for them or someone else, the person praying is imploring God to do whatever God’s will is for them and solemnly vowing to accept whatever that is as a matter of holy covenant. There were times when I had to remind myself of the fact that I had freely and knowingly prayed that prayer, especially when decisions of those appointed over me in our church hierarchy resulted in pain, dislocation and disagreement for me and my family, but that is another matter perhaps for another day.

Be careful what you pray for. God may just take you up on it.

I am a rules-follower. Perhaps it is due to my years in Scouting. This old Eagle Scout still does his best to live up to the Scout Oath and Law. Maybe it is also due to my years in law school and the practice of law. The law may be an ass at times, but it is still the law and should be obeyed unless and until it is changed. The United Methodist Church has its Book of Discipline which too often makes the Internal Revenue Code and the Code of Federal Regulations look simpler and easier to decipher, but if the Discipline said I as a pastor “shall” do something, I did it even if I thought it was not the thing to do and if it said I “shall not” do something, I did not do it even if I thought it was the thing to do.

I began to strongly identify with and advocate for what are identified as the “evangelical renewal” movements within The United Methodist Church early in my ministry because I saw them taking principled stands for sound orthodoxy in fidelity to the Scriptures, our Articles of Religion and obedience to the structures and strictures of our Book of Discipline. I believe each human being is not only a body, but also an immortal soul and I have always been driven by a passion to do all that I could to help souls experience lives now and forever in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. My liberal colleagues, in my opinion, were too focused on institutional preservation and societal transformation than in doing all they could do to first save eternal souls from an eternity in the absence of God and then working on society and the institution of the church.

Then came the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I was offended when some clergy solemnized same-sex weddings or commitment services. Not only were they not legally recognized at the time, they were expressly prohibited by our church law and, therefore, a serious violation of our covenant as clergy in a system that billed itself as connectional. They intentionally broke the rules. I applauded the results of church disciplinary proceedings that removed the credentials of some and decried others that gave what appeared to be a mere slap on the wrist to violators.

I played a reasonably significant role in organizing clergy and laity within our annual conference that believed as I did, resulting in a much more orthodox and evangelical delegation of voters to General Conference in order to stem the tide seeking to soften our denominational positions on marriage and ordination. Soon I found myself as a board member of one evangelical renewal organization and active in efforts to coordinate with other similarly minded groups within the denomination.

Then my oldest child came out.

I was floored. Like many parents I wondered what I had done or failed to do as a father to cause it. I realized this was a test of my faith. Would I be able to love her unconditionally while still loving the Lord without limitation as I understood both relationships? Could I advocate and work for what I firmly thought was biblical and theologically right without hurting my own child?

I believed and still believe in the power of prayer. So I prayed, “Lord, please change her or change me.” Every day. Day after day. Week after week, month after month, year after year. And God answered my prayers. It took a long time and the answer was not what I really wanted God to do when I started.

But my prayers were answered.

Like many parents, my daughter’s birth was an epiphany causing a young lawyer who thought himself to be a budding master of the universe to realize he was not. This led me back to the church after 10 years of self-imposed exile (which is another story for another day). Eventually this led to answering the call to ministry I had actively suppressed since age 14.

I and her mother taught her the faith, but we did not indoctrinate her. My daughter’s faith was deep and real. Now she was a young adult feeling abandoned and unwelcome by the church in which she had been baptized and confirmed.

It is difficult to fully or even partially describe what it was like to be torn between two loves – my love for the church and my love for my daughter. It took years to work itself out. Over time I became disillusioned with the evangelical renewal groups in The United Methodist Church. In my experience they more and more abandoned their emphasis on the faith inherited from the saints in favor of the cultural fight against “the gay agenda” and providing prayer support and religious veneer for a particular political party. It came to a head for me during what I call “The Train Wreck in Tampa,” the 2012 General Conference, when I realized its disciplined delegate voting bloc would not even endorse a modification of a particular portion of The Book of Discipline that would have admitted our denomination was not of one mind on the issues surrounding human sexuality.

I will have more to say as the days draw closer to the Called General Conference in St. Louis. For now, let me say I love my daughter even more deeply and fiercely. Her faith continues to inspire me. Her intelligence sometimes intimidates me. Her independence frequently frustrates me. She is happily married and, of all things, is a preacher’s wife to a wonderful woman.

Just not a United Methodist.

Old dog learning new trick

Long before the advent of social media, I shared a series of email opinions some would not incorrectly characterize as rants or screeds I titled “The Curmudgeon’s Corner.”

A curmudgeon is defined as a cranky, ill-tempered individual, often characterized as a grumpy old man, more than a little stubborn. While I am not the sort of neighbor who refuses to pass out candy to costumed children on Halloween or shoo away little ones who are on my lawn, confiscating balls that have landed on my side of the fence, the sobriquet largely fit.

For various reasons, the emailed Curmudgeon’s Corner faded away. A few years later I discovered Facebook and began to use it as my preferred platform (the initial 140 character limit of Twitter was too limiting). As I became more outspoken on political, social and moral issues, particularly after retirement from full-time local church ministry, some friends on the social media platform expressed strong negative opinions of my posted opinions, directly or implicitly stating they not only did not share my opinions, but believed a man of the cloth should not share them.

A much younger, social media savvy person recently suggested that I start a blog. My wife, The Beloved, had made a similar suggestion a few years ago. I have decided to follow his and her suggestions. It is time for this old dog to learn a new trick or two in the digital world.

If you were a recipient of “The Curmudgeon’s Corner” in the old days of group emails, you will probably wonder what happened to the curmudgeon you once knew. I’m still me, but I am not the me I was 20+ years ago nor the one who really did restrain his opinions while in the pulpit.

Whether you agree with me or not (and like most curmudgeons I tend to believe that those who agree are right and those who do not are misguided), I hope you will read them and at least accept that they are the words of a man who is reasonably intelligent and well-educated, a person of deep faith, passion and hope.