Friday, April 27, 2012


"Off Kilter"  a bronze by Ana Duncan

off-kilter \-ˈkil-tər\

1: not in perfect balance : a bit askew
2: eccentric, unconventional 
off–kilter characters, an off–kilter approach

I come from a long line of Pennsylvania farmers.  My dad is the oldest son of the oldest son of the...well, you get the picture.  When the patriarch passed away the Coble family farm was passed down to the oldest son, only in my dad's case it went to his youngest brother.  And so, from the age of 11 or so, our family began the migration west - following a meandering path from farm to farm - from Illinois to Tennessee and ultimately to Iowa.

Coble Farm - the barn, circa 1803
rural Hershey, PA
My mom and dad and the 6 of us kids made the most of it, we had plenty of fun on our adventures exploring our amazing country. Everywhere we landed we became a part of a United Methodist Church.  My only youth group experience was in Illinois, when I was in Junior High.  My younger sister, Elizabeth, and I were confirmed at a small country church in Morris Chapel, Tn.  I think Jay was confirmed in Martin, Tn.  Mark, Stephanie and Glen in Wayland, Iowa.

the shop - likely the oldest structure
on the farm
Regardless of where we landed, home is always in Pennsylvania, we are a part of the family farm as much as it is part of us.

One mid-May when we lived in Martin, I had to come up with something for my dad's 49th birthday.  I wanted it to be special and so I remembered, from our time on the family farm, that every year on his birthday there was always a bouquet of Lilies of the Valley on the table.  I am not sure what he thought of his present - a pot full of Lilies of the Valley.  I'm not even sure if they were ever re-planted by the house, the family moved a few months later, but Lilies of the Valley still make me think of the family farm and the tiny cemetery on the corner of the farm back home in Pennsylvania.  

Lily of the Valley -
Trinity Waverly Parsonage
Imagine my surprise when I noticed Lilies of the Valley blooming at the parsonage last year, my first spring in Waverly, Ia.  I discovered them too late to pick a little bouquet and include them on the table.  Now that I know they are there I am able to keep an eye out for them - and thanks to the mild winter and early spring the Lilies of the Valley are already blooming this year.  The same thing with the Peonies (another sentimental favorite) they always seem to bloom during Annual Conference (early June) they're a full month ahead of schedule!

Fern Peonies
This year our mild winter and early spring has thrown everything here in Iowa off-kilter!  If I were to really pay attention, I am sure that I would notice other things that just aren't 'right'.

That's what I am hearing from the various voices at General Conference - although they aren't being nearly as subtle about it...from the CtA to IOT to reevaluating how we reach young people to how we engage with our sisters and brothers in the Central Conferences (outside of the USA), things just aren't 'right'.

It makes me wonder how many of us have a sentimental picture of the church and are overlooking the signs that things are off-kilter in our own backyards.  It is easy to maintain a status quo, but as one who has lived in a variety of cultures and contexts, we can't keep doing things the same old, same old - unless we're perfectly happy with the results we have thus aging population, less commitment to hands on missions and service, more passion over the style of music we sing than worshipping God...the list could go on and on.

I am probably the last generation that will have 'brand loyalty'.  We can't expect a generation that has unlimited access to news, music and information to be satisfied with anything less than our very best, and that means that all of those seminary classes that taught us to be a non-anxious presence may need to be set aside for a season.

I think its time to lift up the prophetic voices among laity and clergy alike and hear and see what they hear and see.  We need to team up those who have the gift of apostleship - strong leadership skills to forge into new directions and evangelism too for that matter - not door to door canvasing, but contextual engagement with our neighbors.

Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, said in his conversation with young clergy yesterday (and I paraphrase), 'the call to action proposals are not the silver bullet that will fix the church, ultimately, the old model that starts with evangelism and discipling in the church doesn't work any more... it has been turned on its head - at Church of the Resurrection we invite people to be a part of God's mission, somewhere along the way they rub shoulders with people who are followers of Christ, somewhere along the way they get invited to worship or a bible study and somewhere along the way they find that their lives have been transformed...they find that they need what the church and Christ has to offer and then we send them out to even more bold and courageous mission for Christ in the future.'  Click here to watch the Adam Hamilton interview.

Rather than retreat into our institutional strongholds I believe it's time to embrace 'off kilter' and see what we can learn from this season in our life.  It's time to be bold and courageous for the sake of God, not to save the United Methodist Church, but to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ,  Along the way, we may discover that God is trying to teach us something - if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

in Christ, together,

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