There is an answer to ‘why,’ right?

When you’re from a small rural county, you don’t expect to see CNN news trucks roll into town. Unless, of course, something bad has happened.

I grew up just a few miles down the road from Harrisburg. I moved away years ago, so for the past 24-plus hours, I’ve had the surreal experience of watching – from a distance – national media figures do live stand-ups in front of streets I’ve driven down thousands of times.

Truth be told, a more accurate portrayal of the total destruction is being played out on the Facebook pages of friends who live there. One poignant photo that’s being posted and reposted is from nearby Ridgway, which also took the brunt of the tornado. It’s an image of the town’s Catholic church, almost entirely demolished, save for the altar. Comments attached to the picture unanimously cite this as proof that “God is still in control,” because God kept the altar intact. They compare it to the Ground Zero cross, or the crucifix that stands amongst the rubble in Haiti.

And I struggle with the thought that one could overlook the loss of life and personal property and praise God for saving a church altar. Ultimately, a pile of stone.

I know I will always have a ways to go on my faith journey, but my recurring stumbling block is tragedy. (Needless to say, the story of Job isn’t one of my favorites.) It’s very hard for me to imagine myself crawling from the wreckage of my home, maybe learning neighbors have perished, knowing life will never be the same, and not heaving an angry and bewildered “Why??” at the sky.

I hope one day to know the answer to that question, but it sure would be nice if no one had to ask it at all.

A lesson in perspectives

It’s been a few weeks since a trip to Exploration 2011, and I still find myself with an unusual sense of excitement.

The energy of more than 600 young people gathered in St. Louis at the event designed to help them discern their calls to ministry was contagious, even for a terminal cynic like me.

Maybe it was the rousing worship services. Maybe it was interviewing person after person who was ready to get out there and “knock holes in the darkness.” (I’m pretty sure that was the most re-tweeted phrase of the weekend … and seemed like a good name for a blog!)

Yet, in the midst of the buzz was the acknowledgment that all is not rainbows and cotton candy for The United Methodist Church. Many mysterious and scary things lurk on the horizon.

Where I sit in General Agency Land, the morbid parlor game of church restructure is a constant. It’s not only the 800-pound gorilla in the office, it carpools home with us and even steals the covers at night. But talking to this group – those considering seminary, those already there, and those fresh out – they aren’t concerned about the uncertainties of what may happen to their church.

Bring it on, they say. Blow it up and start over.

Brian West, a student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio and months away from his elder commissioning, put it best: “The United Methodist Church is not essential to Christianity; the people of The United Methodist Church are essential to Christianity.”

You want to rate my effectiveness? Why wouldn’t I want to make sure I’m the best pastor I can be?

You want to do away with guaranteed appointments? Do you think I’m going into ministry for job security???

My nagging thought is how many young people have left similar events on fire about their ministry, only to have The Way We’ve Always Done Things extinguish that flame. In case you haven’t noticed, The Way We’ve Always Done Things has been chasing away members every year for quite some time.

These young folks do things differently. Sure, you may go to their church and hear “A Mighty Fortress,” but don’t be surprised if it’s set to a hip-hop beat. And, they take those two dirty words – “social justice” – pretty seriously. It’s not about politics; it’s about what they truly feel the gospel calls them to do.

But they are fiercely Wesleyan, and they embrace their Methodist heritage. They don’t want to bail in favor of the trendy nondenominational that meets in the basketball arena across town. These are people who are quite aware that they are part of a denomination that may be dying, but they are devoted United Methodists. They are running into a burning building armed with a garden hose, and they don’t care.

Keynote speaker Adam Hamilton asked us to imagine that 20 or 30 years from now, the church could look back and say, “It all changed in St. Louis with these young people.”

I like that idea.

Images from Exploration 2011

Attendees Urged to Take God’s Word to Their Generation

Technology and Social Media Add Layers to Exploration 2011

Florida Conference Focuses On Young Peoples’ Call

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