Sense of Direction

To find my way to the Methodist meeting, I have to go to the Baptist church.

For the past decade, Mississippi’s annual gathering of United Methodists has met in downtown Jackson at the convention complex. Since I grew up in Jackson, it’s easy to assume that I know my way around the city and could reach the meeting without any guidance.

Yet, there are two truths to consider:

  1. The convention complex did not exist when I was growing up.

  2. As a teenager, the only times I drove in downtown Jackson were to attend the youth group at First Baptist Church.

The first time I drove to the Annual Conference meeting, I used a GPS, which led me down the interstate to one-way streets I barely knew. I got easily turned around and confused when I would try to find my way home. I struggled to find my sense of direction, so I continued to depend on the GPS.

Then one day the GPS re-routed me to State Street, which runs north and south, parallel to the interstate. This was the road I had taken back and forth from First Baptist every Sunday and Wednesday evening for four years. Even the infamous Jackson potholes, a little deeper, were still in the same places on State Street. A strange sense of memory kicked in, and i instinctively knew when to slow down or swerve slightly to avoid their damage. When I reached First Baptist (whose buildings had doubled to take up the lot where I used to park!) I realized that I knew exactly where I was. I had a sense of the directions north, south, east, west. I followed the GPS to the convention complex and could finally see where I was in relation to the rest of the city. From that day on, I turned off the GPS, because I knew if I could reach the church of my teenage years, I could find my way to the Church of my calling.

Denominations so easily divide us in Christianity. Yes, I am grateful for the ways in which they meet different needs. I appreciate their articulations of different theologies. I also lament the ways those denominations become islands in monologue with themselves instead of in dialogue with others. Even ‘non-denominational’ churches have systems and language in place that are like a denomination.

Shortly after Annual Conference in Jackson earlier this month, I headed to Atlanta for my final Doctor of Ministry seminar. One of the reasons I wanted to attend Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology was that it was not a Methodist seminary. The majority of my classmates have been Baptist or non-denominational, and the school is diverse denominationally and theologically. Dialoguing outside of the Methodist lingo has given me a better sense of direction as a United Methodist pastor. How easily we seclude ourselves in one tradition to the point of missing out on how conversation with another could strengthen us!

Here is a challenge for the week ahead: let’s listen to a sermon or podcast by someone of a different tradition than ours. Not begrudgingly but with an open mind. Begin with the prayer, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Then truly listen not for what we want to hear but for what the Spirit is saying. Let us lay aside the spirit of criticism and take up the spirit of Christ. Who knows where we will find ourselves as we truly listen?

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian