I am part of a group of folks wondering if a liberation-oriented Methodist Church might rise from the ashes of a currently dysfunctional and soon to split United (sic) Methodist Church. I’ve been proposing an expansion of a central model of decision-making within the UMChurch called The Quadrilateral—using four perspectives to consider when discerning how to respond to life’s perplexing questions. Currently, the four are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience (with Scripture in the position of first among equals).

One might expect that the first quality in the development of followers of Jesus was their experience of his presence and teaching in their context of Roman occupation and oppression. He proposed a strategic response of community cohesion in the face of governance through violence and intimidation. Jesus eventually was murdered by the state and attempts made to disappear him.

As it turned out, turning his teaching against the sword was transformed into an army under the banner of the cross. At that point, institutionalism dismissed Experience in favor of Tradition. Delimited Scripture was still fluid, and both trustworthy people and liars can employ Reason.

Tradition held sway up to the point where the technology of printing made the Bible accessible to people in their native tongue. Scripture can be said to have supplanted Tradition, with Reason still usable by the institution. In some sense, Scripture held Experience even further away than did Tradition. Reason seemed to follow whoever happened to be in the ascendancy.

The packaging of Tradition, Scripture, and Reason (in whatever order) supports the development of a Trinitarian approach to monotheism. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” can also be ordered differently. What probably began as Tradition, the teaching of Father/Pope/Priest, was eventually reformed into a Scripture all about Jee-zus as first among equals. Spiritual Reason continued to float over the surface of the deep, doing its work as commanded.

In the UMChurch, one of its early modelers, John Wesley, returned to the Early Church emphasis upon Experience as a key component to institutional vitality. Experience played a large part in warm-hearted revival. It was also a source to be called upon regarding practical governance through small-groups. Partly through revivals of heart-warming Experience, Methodism became the largest denomination in the USofA.

Experience was also called on to function as a fulcrum for social change. This can be best be seen in John’s sermon, “On Slavery.” His usual sermons are laced with references to Scripture. Regarding slavery, Scripture was a barrier, not a source of liberation. Scripture has been widely and frequently cited to justify slavery. This goes back to a creation story based on the flood that has been interpreted as instituting slavery. It can be seen earlier in a dominating’ Adam over creation and woman. “On Slavery” focused on the violence experienced by slaves, not a biblical justification for such.

John’s anti-slavery sermon did not hold in the face of economic realities in the USofA. Eventually, the Methodist denomination split over slavery into Methodists North and Methodists South in the years prior to the US Civil War over slavery.

Experience has two faces – personal piety and social justice. Over time Experience has come to be defined by its personal piety – its “my” Experience that counts. In much the same way that Tradition was supplanted by Scripture, social justice that honors the Experience of “others” was squeezed out by heart-warming personal piety.

The presenting issue of the coming UMChurch split is human sexuality. An argument for oppression has come from a handful of Scripture verses, a limited citing of Tradition, an emphasis upon “my” Experience, and all tied together with Reason. This constellation brought  a very formidable and condemnatory word into UMChurch life, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian [doctrine] teaching.” This same set of values has been used to keep women in the kitchen and bedroom, blacks as incarcerated or wage slaves, and is breaking now on queer people to keep them in closets.

The social justice aspect of Experience has been reduced and no longer functions as a balance to excesses of its twin – personal piety. The reduction of a two-fold Experience to “my” Experience is leading to another schism.

With Experience not being able to stand against patriarchy, misogynism, racism, heteronormativity, ablism, and more that categorize people on the basis of one characteristic, it is time to rethink the function of a Quadrilateral that has not been able to function as a mechanism keeping us alert to the movement of a Living G*D.

Institutional power within the Church has a long record of literalism, enculturated norms, denial of scientific processes and results, and personal prejudice mobilized into social discrimination. These are used to batter anyone outside a current orthodoxy. Something is needed to help persons within an institution to hear the cry of the oppressed when the institution stuffs their ears with an echo-chamber of My Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience projected as The only Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

One proposal is to return to a pre-institutional moment where authority is located within a local setting. History suggests it is difficult to keep this from turning into a setup for tribal feuds and a cover for other power issues. Local control eventually attracts authoritarian leaders.

Another proposal, to add a 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th commandment or authority, has a no better-projected outcome. Tradition, Scripture, and Reason can each be subverted and used to sabotage the others. Experience has come to be associated with Personal Experience, and it might be suggested to add another category for Social Experience. One candidate is “Empathy.”

Empathy is not exempt from being subverted. There are already too many arguments that poverty is good for people as it challenges them to get out of it by simply getting a job. This is bolstered with the theory that if they stay stuck, it must be because of some inherent, less-than-human, characteristic that keeps them from joining the military or economic system of the day.

Whether getting rid of frail systems of authority by tossing them out or refining them further, a reflective pause is needed as another group of people is railroaded out of the community. How do we keep “others” as an intentional part of conversation and decision-making when the “my” aspect of experience keeps trumping anything but itself?

If not something like adding Empathy, is there any expectation but to repeat our current limiting of one another until we only have walls between us?

Sentiment Index

While reading about an attempt to develop and market pandemic insurance to businesses and reinsurance companies, I was introduced to a term that has a substantial effect on both coverage and cost—“sentiment index.” In addition to the actual product, the sentiment index factors into sales.

In its most basic form, the sentiment in question is: fear. The greater the fear of a pandemic, the narrower the policy can be written, and the greater the price can be set. The greater the fear, the more receptive will be the client.

I am first struck by the euphemism of “sentiment” to mask the particular of “fear.” Upon first hearing of sentiment, the song popularized by Doris Day came to my ear—Sentimental Journey. This sentiment was a yearning for home after being astray or away for a while. Sentiment leans toward a mushy, romanticized, nostalgic sentimentality—an emotional idealism.

Fear carries a sharpness that is hidden by a soft sentiment—the result: advantage insurer.

It turned out that a 500-year event is eminently dismissible. There is little fear that will lead to an investment in protection from some distant possibility when the immediate fear regards a next quarter’s bottom line.

Because insurers need information, they were quick to note the Wuhan spike in pulmonary distress and pulled the offer of pandemic insurance. At that point, there were no monies built up through premiums to use for any payout. You can read about this at https://www.wired.com/story/nathan-wolfe-global-economic-fallout-pandemic-insurance/.

At question is what sentiment is behind my decision-making. And yours?

Go Irenically

Go irenically among the restless legged
yearning to sleep free
of a dogged journey westward
unable to stop
at any next nearer shore
but insist on diving
and kicking beyond the surf
through doldrums
through rogue waves
tsunamis and cyclones

go irenically among the restless minded
yearning to sleep free
of every wind that blows
through unprotected dreams
rising when consciousness thins
but insist on finding
and extrapolating beyond tomorrow
adding factors
adding algorithms
possibilities and disasters

go irenically among the restless
yearning to sleep free
kneed jerks come anxieties rise
in good season and ill
one quiet breath then two
solves nothing great or small
in this or any season
desiring is desiring
tendencies are tendencies
blessed be and amen

This Hard Thing

Carrie Newcomer: You Can Do This Hard Thing

given: without counting one-by-one
find out how many pears there are
if there are three groups of pears
with 14 pears in one group
26 in another group
and 49 in the final group
write the numbers of each group
lined up over each other
and draw a line under them

add the numbers of the right column
write down the resulting farthest right digit
below the line
if there is a number left
write it above the next column to the left

add to any number you carried over
from the right column
the remaining numbers in this column
write the result
to the left of the last number
of the right column

hooray pears added
you can do this hard thing
and then we’ll un-add
until you can do that hard thing

and then we’ll speed-add
yes you can do that hard thing
as well as speed-un-add

then it will be your turn
to take this as far as you can
and it will be your turn
to teach me more than maths logic
O show me the world
through another’s eye
I want to do this hard thing
and to do it with you

So Much Winning

“So much winning,” is a mantra of an id-driven top-dog. Were they alone in their ravening, it would be sad. As they merely express the desire of every desirer, it is maddening.

There is no antidote and so I write not of a mafioso don, but as one tempted by every breath to store up nine more against an unimaginable time when each breath comes faster and briefer, using up the largest of reserves.

“So much winning,” hooks the fantasies of every lottery play, ladder climber, underling, and outcast—not to mention every middler and reasonably well-off.

What keeps getting missed by “winning” is that its very intent is sabotaged by its premise that winning is self-sustaining—a perpetual boot-strap pulling. Winning cannot continue to claim a central spot in a raison d’être, for it carries an even larger limit of some equal but opposite loss. I cannot win as much if you are also winning some.

This limit means that “so much winning” is false advertising when applied to any group of people or even a whole economy. “Winning” is a corporate lie, for it doesn’t even work in a work-a-day world of an individual. Every advancement requires each previous stage of growth as the ground from which it can spring.

Winning means nothing without a background of loss. A background of loss is a constant threat to a win. The more the drive to win, the larger grows a resistance.

If we are not caught in the machinations of someone else’s yearning for a win, we can’t seem to get out of our own way. How maddening that winning, as a cover of whining, goes on and on. After all these generations, we are back to the beginnings of stories about beginnings without a clue of how to write a story without a motif of winning running through it.

One hint, maybe, is to translate “winning” as “violence.” I expect that seeing something as it is will help. And you?


perceiving character
goes deeper
than counting ways

an underlying unpredictability
emerges erupts
and slips back

good ol’ ambiguity
loosens our grip
on defined sins

evermore more
than we’ve ever been
creation inhales

breath is held
in appreciation
before release

now I see
who I may be
and become

now we see
who ye may be
and become

now we see
who we may be
and become

Make to Let

I recommend an artistic reflection on Race presented by two singer/songwriters in the Folk tradition—Reggie Harris (Black) and Greg Greenway (White). They both grew up in Richmond, VA, and had different early experiences. Their paths finally crossed 30 years ago, and their on-going friendship has had included an on-going conversation about Race. They have turned their long-years of conversation into a story and music concert on Race. Deeper than the Skin is available on CD.

Their travel to a museum near New Orleans that witnesses to the disparity between a plantation’s enslaved owner and the imprisoned owned brought an experience in an old chapel built by freed slaves to finally have a place from which to gather and honor those who died. This one story is worth the price of the whole CD. I cannot adequately summarize it and simply commend it to you. May you someday see the artwork referred to through your imagination as you listen to the story or travel after the current quarantine.

It is easier to pass on another point of appreciation. I am acquainted with the old spiritual about letting “my little light shine.” They sang a line I hadn’t heard before:

not going to make it shine
just going to let it shine

It is very tempting to “make” my light shine brighter than any other. Higher and brighter, lighting the way—that’s my light!

This refusal to “make” contrasts with my light standing beside other lights and partnering with them that there may be a generalized brighter light shining outward. This is an important transition between “my” light and any future “our” light. The “our” is not so much constructed into a particular season of shared light, as it is a found, shared experience holistically engaged.


On the Public Radio program, “A Way with Words,” it was suggested that when aliens come to visit, they may well describe humans as “The Classifiers.” This is different from our assessment of ourselves as “The Wise.”

Folks who listen to only one aspect of how they want to be known will soon enough be telling generation-long lies about their wisdom and greatness. It turns out that one needs to be a sap if they are going to glorify themselves as sapient. Wisdom without doubt and questions regarding what is known and not known is not wisdom. At best, it is a closed-loop feedback system that falls prey to the old rubric of GIGO (garbage in; garbage out). To change the image to genetics—no new bloodline leads to homozygosity, an expression of unhealthy recessive genes.

It is this tendency to classify that leads to rapacious colonialism molesting the Land and Indigenous Peoples. When uncomfortable in the presence of difference and easily tripped up by unacknowledged entitlement to the best, we begin to classify each and every Neighb*r. Wealth is one such classification. Race is another. We are so very good at classifying; we can even do it on the basis of “one drop of blood.”

When classifications begin to multiply, Wealth mates with Race, and soon their offspring carry a Supremacist look upon their face. Well split hairs of difference lead to a whole class of people who have lost their hair or had it harvested into ropes to hang their donors.

If we don’t wise up about how others see us, it won’t just be our sapience that we lose, but we’ll so finely classify everything until all is finer than dust. With ourselves as the apple of our own eye, the fruit of a tree of knowledge will bring wisdom full circle—from dust you have come; to dust, you shall return.