The Tinker Toy Model

The following is part of a reflection that I wrote for a class in Personal and Social Ethics that I am taking at Emory University…

The three dimensional matrix demonstrated by the “tinker toy” model has certainly given me pause as I try to establish where I fit within the matrix.  From a political perspective, as shown on the vertical plane, I self identify to the far left.  On the vertical plane of denominational hierarchy, I am a local pastor, treasurer of the district ministers association, and a member of the Board of Buildings and Locations.  That places me not quite at the bottom, but on the lower end of the spectrum.  The third axis to determine where I fit in the modern to postmodern spectrum is the most difficult one for me to figure out.  I tend to be highly skeptical of what is perceived to be truth and certainty.  My BS meter is pretty sensitive and I prize authenticity above correctness.  I tend to search for grey amidst a worldview that seemingly demands black or white answers.  However, I do hold fast to the idea of an Ultimate Truth that is found in Christ and Christ’s revelation of the God of creation.  So, I guess that I will place my self somewhat to the postmodern side of the plane.

The rub in all of this self-identification, though, is that these points are not fixed.  They change as my life experience changes, as I become aware of new facts, as I interact with others, believers and non-believers alike, and they can change in response to specific situations at specific points of time.  They can also change depending upon where I happen to be in my understanding of God, my relationship to God, and my relationship to God’s people.  Does this make me “wishy-washy” in my views?  No, I believe that it makes me human and that it makes me true to myself and not just some arbitrary sets of rules and regulations that offer no flexibility and through which there is no place for grace.

Within the denomination, I shun the activism at both ends of the spectrum as I try to hold fast to the middle ground.  I believe that we do the Gospel a disservice when we are so dogmatic and rigid in our positions that we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with people who are made in the image of God.  In a blog post that I read this week, Dr David F. Watson of United Theological Seminary questioned whether we were living in a time of “cultural cold war” in our nation and in the church as well.[1]  As the polarization becomes more pronounced, it is my hope that the voices of moderation, of which I feel I am one, would not be drowned out.

In light of Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” I believe that it is incumbent upon us to strive for the via media in all things.  We should hold fast to the values that strike at the heart of Christianity, but we should let grace abound and “think and let think” on those things that do not.  I admire Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter’s attempt at General Conference 2012 to amend the stance on homosexuality as stated in the Discipline to admit that we United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue and on others.  I despair that we cannot agree that we are in disagreement on these issues.  Dean Snyder, senior pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, used to have a blog entitled “Untied Methodist.”  Unfortunately, I believe that we are becoming more untied than united.  With that in mind, I do wonder, if a split were to occur, what would this liberal, evangelical do and where would I go?  Would I stay with a more conservative church as a liberal voice in a place that would probably respect my status as a local pastor?  Or, would I choose to be a moderate to conservative voice in a more liberal church that would probably discount my calling as a local pastor?  Not an easy place to be.  So, I will continue to love God, love neighbor, and proclaim the Gospel as best I can.  I can do no other.

[1] Watson, David F., “A ‘Cold War’ in the Church?” at, accessed 7/27/13

My experience at the new Cokesbury

Today I needed to purchase the texts for my upcoming class on the New Testament so I turned to the internet and, the online presence of the soon-to-be-closed Cokesbury bookstores.  According to leadership at UMPH (the United Methodist Publishing House), is poised to compete with Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  Well Neil (Alexander, President and Publisher at UMPH), I hate to break the news to you, but if my experience today was any indication, you just need to go ahead and shutter the whole works right now.  I would imagine that the property at UMPH headquarters in Nashville, with its proximity to the new convention center, would make a pretty penny for the UMC if we were to sell it in the current market.

The class that I am taking is COS311-New Testament I at United Theological Seminary.  The text books are all common and respected titles.  At, I could only find 4 of the titles.  I could only locate 2 of those tiles by their ISBN.  I did not have this problem at Barnes & Noble or at Amazon.  At both of the commercial sites I was easily able to find all of the texts by ISBN without fail.  To top it off, the cost of the 4 books that I could locate at came to $133.88 before tax.  The cost at Barnes & Noble was $110.75 and the cost at Amazon was $110.72, both before taxes.  Plus, I would get free shipping at all but Cokesbury.  Needless to say, did not get my business.

What can we expect in the future?  If my experience today is any indication, I don’t really hold out much hope that there is much of a future for Cokesbury.  And when the lights are turned off, I have to wonder just what kind of future there will be for Wesleyan theology without a voice.  And that is the biggest disappointment of all.