Overstatement

Feb 13

A New Model for Discipleship

What would a new model for discipleship look like? Well, a new model would of course be faithful to the oldest model - that utilized by Jesus and his disciples. Here are some elements of a new/old model for discipleship that migh be helpful for us in the old-line church to consider:

1. Discipleship is about forging relationships
. A “disciple” is a student, which suggests that there is a teacher. Our ultimate teacher, of course, is Jesus himself, who called the first disciples. And the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples should be the model for discipleship in the church. We are first of all a community of disciples - which means we are in relationship with each other. And, of course, the fundamental word we use to describe the nature of this relationship is love. The basic instrument for defining our relationship to each other is the covenant.

2. Discipleship is integral to all that we do.
Discipleship is not a separate program. It is not limited to learning opportunities (an educational model) or to community outreach (a service model) or to committee membership (a bureaucratic model). Everything that we do as the church is a form of discipleship. So, when we gather as the church, we should be deepening our relationships with each other and God as we cultivate our discipleship by being the church.

3. Discipleship is a life-long journey. Though we affirm the idea of perfection in the Methodist tradition, we always remain disciples. People need ongoing opportunities to grow in their faith, and the church can provide a wide variety of ways that people can engage in discipleship based on where they are in their faith walk. One-size-fits-all approaches fail to acknowledge the various phases of life and the different needs of real people. 4. Discipleship is an open process. God calls us as we are. There are no requirements for starting on the journey of discipleship. Everyone is invited. God calls us all. A special focus should be placed on those who are entering the life of discipleship for the first time, and the church can be intentional in extending the invitation and creating entry points for those new to discipleship.

5. Discipleship is dynamic and engaged. Disciples gather in order to accomplish a goal or fulfill a purpose. Fellowship, learning, growing are all valid reasons for disciples to gather - but the reason should be clear and everyone should be committed to the purpose. Disciples support each other in their shared journey of discipleship in a loving relationship defined by covenant in order to discern and fulfill their calling. Maybe discipleship can be defined in other ways. Perhaps there are modifications to these ideas that you would suggest. But I think these five points serve as a good foundation for a discussion about what discipleship is and how we, as the church, might facilitate people in their response to God’s calling in their lives.

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Feb 10

Figuring out discipleship

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
- Luke 5: 10b
I wonder what happened to that idea. Somewhere along the way, the church stopped catching people. Or, I should say, the mainline protestant church in America stopped catching people.

The mission of the church, from the days when Jesus walked the earth to the present moment, has essentially been the same: make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is a clear, simple mission, and yet it seems so hard to rally the mainline church around this fundamental task. We have become overburdened with buildings we built to accommodate large congregations that only lasted for a season. We have invested in the nurture and care of the needs of our present congregation at the neglect of reaching out to a changing culture around us. We have encouraged our children to accelerate their careers and their futures while sacrificing their religious, ethical and moral development.

We need to rethink discipleship for a new time.

Discipleship can begin at any stage of life. For some, it begins at birth with baptism and a lifetime of growth and teaching in the church. But for many today, spiritual formation and faith development are agendas adopted later in life. The church is challenged to meet people where they are, recognizing that everyone is in a slightly different place. For some, the basics of faith - prayer, Bible study, worship - are alien concepts. For some, there is a hunger for a sophisticated approach to scripture. For some there is a need for a deepening spiritual awareness. Needless to say, no one pastor can provide all the needs around us. A comprehensive approach to discipleship will require the focused efforts of the entire congregation. Leaders will need to rise up who are willing and able to joyfully lead people through various stages of growth.

Discipleship is our business. It is the mandate Jesus gave the earliest disciples even as they themselves were being called into a life of discipleship. Our faith is worth sharing with a world that desperately needs the rich resources of our tradition, faithfully interpreted for a new time. As we look to the people of Greater Hartford, we are presented with an amazing challenge and a great responsibility. The gospel is ours to proclaim. As we extend the invitation we must match those who respond with an opportunity to grow that meets their needs.


Rev. Bryan Travis Hooper
Pastor
United Methodist Church of Hartford
http://umcofhartford.org/

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Dec 31

Testing

This is only a test.

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Nov 08

Car

image

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Oct 08

Church libraries…

Few places have collected more dust in recent years than that attic at the parsonage and the church library. This is true of my parsonage attic and our church library, but is also practically universally true of all parsonages and libraries. Dan Dick recently reflected on this reality across Methodism, and his thoughts inspired me to think about our library situation.

Another thing parsonage attics and libraries have in common: they are full of antiques. When I look through our library (right next to my office, on our neglected second floor) I don’t find many books written in the last year. In fact, I don’t find many books written in the last thirty years.

Our library used to be well maintained. The books there represent a respectable collection – for 1970. But since then, the library has been in decline (with a few efforts at reform along the way). I can only think of one or two times over the last few years that anyone has asked to use our library, as a library. Now it is a place for the occasional meeting and the collection of dust.

Dan’s observations describe our situation well:

Church libraries are odd little repositories for an eclectic and uncritical assemblage of writings and ideas. Many churches do little or nothing with their libraries, and in fact in about one-in-ten the last new title was added sometime in the late 1970s (usually by Billy Graham or Robert Schuller). Only about one-in-three church libraries I visit is “active” in the sense of people actually borrowing and returning books, new titles being added regularly, and some kind of organization and display of featured titles employed.

Growing up, we used to joke that Methodists were Baptist that read books. I wonder if we could still make that claim. Given the shaky state of libraries in Hartford generally, I wonder if anyone reads books in our community. It seems to me that a well run, well staffed, technologically savvy library would be a great tool – not only for our congregation to grow in faith, but for our community as a whole. Is it possible that in an urban context, a well run library could be a mission project?

Reading is a great joy of my life. It is also a source of power. Reading makes us larger than we were. Reading invites us to grow, to learn, to be amused, to laugh, and to expand our understanding of others. As libraries are being quickly transformed by technology, perhaps now is a time to revisit our library, and ask how it might serve the needs of our community.

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Sep 24

Social Justice?

"Social justice" is one of those buzz words that we preachers give a lot of credence too. Almost all of us look up to the great champions of social justice throughout history, from Martin Luther to his namesake King. I too have a long-standing interest in social justice going back to my seminary training and interest in liberation theology. Liberation theology was the first theology to really make sense to me. It took experience seriously, and demanded that our actions take as much precedence as our words. Liberation theology was radically relevant and it called for a kind of Christianity that was boldly engaged with the social ills of our world.

I still remain committed to “social justice,” but I’ve become increasingly leery of the term. More and more I question the clarity by which liberation theologians tend to see their causes. I wonder how “just” any cause can really be. It seems to me that most of our social ills are more complex than they may first appear. It is not easy to say what is “just.” Even more, I question the value of a commitment to an abstracted concept of “justice.” I find myself inclined to be committed to certain communities of people, to want to advocate on their behalf, to want to join with them in their quest for their own version of justice. At the same time, I’m less and less interested in “causes” however just they may seem.

In thinking about justice, this passage from Luke 18 has begun to shape me:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” 

What a strange brand of justice Jesus imagines. In this vision, justice comes to those who advocate relentlessly on behalf of their interests, who refuse rejection and failure no matter how many times it comes. Justice is not about who is “right”. Justice is about who works harder for it. Justice comes to the one who is willing to offer their whole selves in the interest of their justice. It does not depend on the judge. It depends on all of us.

I can’t help but think about our own political moment in light of this passage. What has happened to the health care debate in this country? Did advocates for real reform think that the “rightness” of their cause would prevail, simply because it is right? Did advocates of the status quo advocate more strongly and more passionately for their cause? Sadly, this kind of justice (perhaps the only kind?) is always brokered on the backs of the poor and the marginalized. The widow in Jesus’s story represents such people. Yet more and more their voices are excluded from our public discourse. Those of us who express a concern for the poor out of our Christian commitments will have to keep bothering the powers that be if we wish to see real change. Bothering them endlessly. Bothering them relentlessly. Bothering them with passion, commitment, energy. Things won’t change just because they should. Someone has to start bothering the comfortable people in power.

Hmm. I guess some of that liberation theology stuff still stuck after all.

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Social Justice?

"Social justice" is one of those buzz words that we preachers give a lot of credence too. Almost all of us look up to the great champions of social justice throughout history, from Martin Luther to his namesake King. I too have a long-standing interest in social justice going back to my seminary training and interest in liberation theology. Liberation theology was the first theology to really make sense to me. It took experience seriously, and demanded that our actions take as much precedence as our words. Liberation theology was radically relevant and it called for a kind of Christianity that was boldly engaged with the social ills of our world.

I still remain committed to “social justice,” but I’ve become increasingly leery of the term. More and more I question the clarity by which liberation theologians tend to see their causes. I wonder how “just” any cause can really be. It seems to me that most of our social ills are more complex than they may first appear. It is not easy to say what is “just.” Even more, I question the value of a commitment to an abstracted concept of “justice.” I find myself inclined to be committed to certain communities of people, to want to advocate on their behalf, to want to join with them in their quest for their own version of justice. At the same time, I’m less and less interested in “causes” however just they may seem.

In thinking about justice, this passage from Luke 18 has begun to shape me:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” 

What a strange brand of justice Jesus imagines. In this vision, justice comes to those who advocate relentlessly on behalf of their interests, who refuse rejection and failure no matter how many times it comes. Justice is not about who is “right”. Justice is about who works harder for it. Justice comes to the one who is willing to offer their whole selves in the interest of their justice. It does not depend on the judge. It depends on all of us.

I can’t help but think about our own political moment in light of this passage. What has happened to the health care debate in this country? Did advocates for real reform think that the “rightness” of their cause would prevail, simply because it is right? Did advocates of the status quo advocate more strongly and more passionately for their cause? Sadly, this kind of justice (perhaps the only kind?) is always brokered on the backs of the poor and the marginalized. The widow in Jesus’s story represents such people. Yet more and more their voices are excluded from our public discourse. Those of us who express a concern for the poor out of our Christian commitments will have to keep bothering the powers that be if we wish to see real change. Bothering them endlessly. Bothering them relentlessly. Bothering them with passion, commitment, energy. Things won’t change just because they should. Someone has to start bothering the comfortable people in power.

Hmm. I guess some of that liberation theology stuff still stuck after all.

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Sep 01

Wrong

The death penalty is wrong. It is wrong simply because it is wrong to kill someone. It is wrong because it doesn’t deter violent crime. It is wrong because it doesn’t alleviate a victim’s grief or loss. And it’s wrong because this can happen:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/opinion/01herbert.html?ref=todayspaper

 Rev. Bryan Hooper
United Methodist Church of Hartford
http://umcofhartford.org/

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Aug 31

Health Care: Off Track

I remain dismayed at the current state of the health care reform debate.

I was particularly dismayed this morning while listening to an NPR report on Morning Edition. I realize that the report is covering the fringe, and not the mainstream. But I also realize that it is the fringe that has gotten this debate off track.

There is a legitimate debate to be had about how to extend health care to those without it, how to control costs effectively, how to ensure that people don’t go bankrupt because of health care costs, etc. Those are real problems that we as a nation should strive to overcome. And, as a vital democracy, we should have a real, honest, passionate debate about how to accomplish that. But we aren’t.

Instead, we are watching fear tactics and ignorance take over. One person in the report said “We don’t need a communist nation and that’s what Obama’s taking us to.” Huh? Is that helpful? Yet that is the exact irrational fear echoed in much of the conversation around health care reform. The comment isn’t even intended to be taken seriously, which is impossible. It is simply intended to derail the conversation and put fear in people.

Another recent invention of the far-right is the idea that Obama is going to further extend government powers by taking over the Internet. This assertion is based on a reactionary response to the 2009 Cybersecurity Act which gives the president power over the internet in the case of electronic warfare or other emergencies. I wonder where these people think the internet came from. Do they think that it was the result of innovation by creative entrepreneurs who boldly funded the project with venture capital? Even more amazing is that many of the people suddenly concerned about the president getting too much power gleefully endorsed President Bush’s rejection of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and instead decided that it was just fine for the government to listen in to our phone calls without any kind of real oversight at all. 

In other words, there is no rational discourse going on about health care. Instead, we are chatting away about Cybersecuirty. The sad thing is that at the end of this year, we might have a bill passed to protect our hard drives, but have done nothing to protect the millions of Americans with insufficient health care.

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Aug 27

Discerning my call

Exploration is a United Methodist event designed to help young people discern their call to ministry. A recent spate of bloggers posted their own personal stories of their calling, as a way of celebrating and supporting Exploration 2009, set for November. I thought I would join the effort.

Looking back now, after about 10 years of professional ministry, I have come to see my call confirmed. That’s not to say that I am perfect. I am more aware than most of my many shortcomings, and am rather intentional about trying to overcome my failings and play to my strengths. Having said that, I do not believe I would have as much joy in my life as I do if I were working in any other field. The job of the pastor is strange, difficult, complex. But it is also rewarding beyond words and money. I am grateful.

So, how did I come to this line of work? Here is what I wrote, officially, as I went through the ordination process:

One of my earliest experiences of God occurred in the United Methodist church in Texas where I was confirmed.  My father, no doubt influenced by Southern Baptists, believed strongly that I should choose my faith for myself so he did not have me baptized as an infant.  Thus, at the time of my confirmation, I was also going to be baptized.  And if memory serves, I was the only one in the rather larger confirmation class who had not received the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the moment well.  The church had around five or six clergy members on staff, and they all took part in the baptism.  They were all white men, and they all wore black robes.  Despite their general good humor, they were an intimidating group from my youthful perspective.  The intimidation was enhanced when they all closed around me and everything went black.  Their hands all covered me, some “magic” words were spoken, and water dripped down the side of my head.  Somewhere in all of the activity, I heard my name spoken.   It was an intense, strange, and somewhat spooky experience.  But it left me with one clear impression: something powerful and important happened.

After that experience, I found God primarily in two places.  The first was community.  In the churches that I grew up in, God was present in the relationships that were formed, in the opportunities that the community of faith provided, and in the traditions of the church.  In the community of the church I learned the power of the sacrament of Holy Communion.  It was, and is, a mysterious experience, that cannot fully be reasoned.  But in communion I sense the love and grace of God, as well as a connection to the church universal.  In the community of the church, I also learned the power of scripture.  Secondly, I found God in nature.  The simplest mysteries of nature – a blooming flower or a gentle breeze - have always served to remind me of God’s presence. Recently, on a trip to Wyoming with my family, I witnessed a moose drinking from a stream.  Moose are large, majestic creatures, despite their comic-book face.  As I watched the moose drink water, occasionally gazing up at me, I saw God’s handiwork in this mighty living thing. 

The Bible is full of diverse images of God.  I strive to be open to the multiple expressions of God and to celebrate and appreciate a diverse array of images for the Divine.  The primary characteristic of God that stands our for me from the Bible is God’s nebulous quality.  God keeps shifting shape – from a burning bush (Exodus 3:2), to a stormy cloud (Exodus 24), to an eagle in the air (Deuteronomy 32:11), to a child in a manger (Luke 1:35).  God is always surprising me, appearing in unexpected ways – the voice of a friend, a stranger on the street, children at play, or in a poem or song.

The theological sources I generally draw on emphasize that God is found in the narratives of my life.  Just as Biblical stories reveal the nature of God to us, so the stories from our own experience illuminate the Divine.  Theologically, then, I try to tell my story – the story of my experiences – and in them find the God of my creation.  In terms of theological traditions, I am influenced by liberation theologies, which emphasize the experiences of the poor and the marginalized.  But I am also informed by postmodern sensibilities, which question objectivity and emphasize context.  Hence, my personal story serves as a primary influence in my theology.

Historical sources that are important to me include traditional United Methodist sources, such as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which I will discuss more below.  In addition, I have been influenced by Wesley’s sermons.  Two sermons have been particularly meaningful to my understanding of God.  The first is “The Almost Christian.”  This sermon affirms Wesley’s strong belief in faith as the only avenue to salvation.  I share this conviction with Wesley, and I find his articulation of this idea in this sermon particularly effective.  Secondly, “The Catholic Spirit” is a powerful sermon for me because in that sermon Wesley calls us to recognize our connection with others and challenges us to overcome our differences and divisions.  I think this sermon is vitally important for us as we continue to struggle with our disagreements in the United Methodist Church.

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Aug 25

I just discovered Posterous

Recently, I reevaluated my blogging patterns. Frankly, I was tired of having a blog but not really running a blog. I have come to believe that blog is a verb. And if you don’t keep at it and update it relatively frequently, at some point it is no longer a blog…it just blah.

So, I was trying to find a way to post to one place easily - even effortlessly if possible - and then have all the related things happen automagically - post the blog post in the right place, update twitter, assign tags, put photos up on facebook and flickr, etc. And I didn’t find anything that could really do that. Tumblr came close, but it was a bit of a pain to get it to work the way I wanted.

Then I found Posterous. This web service allows you to simply email almost anything to one address and then - presto - it does everything for you. It puts your videos online, tosses them over to youtube or vimeo or both, updates twitter, creates picasa or flickr image galleries, creates podcast friendly sounds posts, etc. It pushes your posts to other blog sites, so they are updated as well. And with various clever codes tossed into your emails, you can add tags and other meta-data. I hope you will be able to designate wordpress categories soon as I need that feature and I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

What’s more there is a handy iphone app that makes posting pictures from your phone a snap. All in all, a great tool and one that I am eager to use and watch develop. If you blog - check it out!

Posted via email from Bryan Hooper’s Posterous

Aug 05

More time to read…

This year, our new district superintendent sent me a note asking me (and my clergy colleagues, presumably) to put together a plan for “continuing education.” Formally, we clergy have always been asked to make such a plan, but seldom have we been asked to actually produce one. I took the request in stride and, among other things, came up with a list of books I intend to read over the next few months. Here is the list, if you are interested:

Bass, Dianna Butler. Christianity for the Rest of Us
Cladis, George. Leading the Team-Based Church
Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason
Long, Thomas. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian
Neff, Thomas J. and Citrin, James M. You’re in Charge. Now what?
Tillich, Paul. A History of Christian Thought
Tolan, Sandy. The Lemon Tree
Weems, Jr. Lovett H. Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture and Integrity

I’m sure I’ll toss in some science fiction as well, but these books represent several areas of interest for me and I think they will contribute to my pastoral skills. I also think they would be good books for anyone in ministry to read. As I knock them out, I’ll let you know what I think of them!