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Life flows on

Coffee mug and Bible. Quiet life.

In this month’s, Joyful Journey, Bishop David Bard suggests that the “ordinary time” of summer reminds everyone that life and ministry go on.

BISHOP DAVID BARD
Michigan Area

On June 6, United Methodist theologian, Schubert Ogden died. He was 91. Ogden taught for many years at Southern Methodist University (SMU) where he was also a long-time director of the Graduate Program in Religious Studies. I first “met” Schubert Ogden when I was inquiring about doctoral programs while serving my first pastoral appointment in the far reaches of northern Minnesota. He responded clearly and graciously to my inquiry, telling me that while he could not guarantee admission, my academic work in college and seminary made me a good candidate for their program. I applied, was accepted, and eventually earned my Ph. D. from SMU.

While there, I engaged with Dr. Ogden in graduate seminars and worked on an independent study with him in philosophical theology. One other graduate student and I read with Dr. Ogden works by Paul Tillich and Charles Hartshorne, both theologians with whom Ogden had worked. I experienced first-hand Ogden’s reputation for deep thinking and for challenging students to think as deeply and clearly as he did. Upon his retirement from SMU, students of Shubert Ogden established the Schubert Ogden Fellowship for academic excellence in theology, and I was absolutely delighted and deeply honored to be its first recipient.

Three days later, on June 9, my uncle, Albert Bard, died at age 79. My uncle Albert, my dad’s brother, grew up in a family with significant struggles. His father, my grandfather, had troubling issues with alcohol. In spite of the difficulties, my uncle Albert worked his way through college and then attended the Naval Officer Candidate School. He went on to serve 24 years in the Navy, including service in Vietnam, at the Pentagon, and as the commanding officer of his own ship. When I was a boy, I remember receiving a letter from him with Vietnamese currency. When I was heading for college, my uncle Albert encouraged me. When we lived in Dallas, he came through the area a couple of times and took my family for dinner at a nice restaurant.

Both of these men touched my life in important ways. Both helped expand my horizons, widen my view of the world. From Duluth, Minnesota, my uncle Albert ended up in places like Vietnam, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Schubert Ogden has studied with and thought with some of the great theologians of the twentieth century and developed his own deeply-thought, clearly-articulated theological position.He helped me feel more deeply and clearly, and in studying with him, I could say I was able to study with a significant theologian of the twentieth century.

Expanding horizons. Deepening thought. Widening our world. Cultivating curiosity. I think the church is supposed to be about this as well. Some of you have heard me quote Patrick Henry’s book The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Once upon a time the term “Christian” meant wider horizons, a larger heart, minds set free, room to move around. Curiosity, imagination, exploration, adventure are not preliminary to Christian identity, a kind of booster rocket to be jettisoned when spiritual orbit is achieved. They are part of the payload. I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

This remains a difficult and challenging time to be the church, and it is an especially trying time to be The United Methodist Church. Certainly, you’ve heard me say that over and over again. Even so, life goes on. People whose lives have touched ours in ways that helped us learn and grow die, and we go on, remembering and celebrating their lives. Birthdays and anniversaries come and go. We celebrate, and we mourn. We laugh, and we cry. We walk to get someplace, and sometimes just to walk. We listen to music and maybe dance. We pick up a book sometimes to learn and sometimes just to get caught up in a good story. Sometimes both at once. In all things, we seek to follow Jesus Christ, to grow in love and godliness, to be people whose lives so bear witness to the love of God in this world that those to whom love is a stranger might find in us, generous friends.

Life goes on. Ministry goes on. Even amid our difficulties and arguments, worship happens regularly. Churches are holding Vacation Bible Schools. You are evaluating this past program year and thinking about the next one. Children are being baptized, couples are being married, loved ones are being celebrated and mourned. Hungry people are being fed. Addicted people come together to offer support for sobriety.

In one version of the liturgical/church calendar, this time after Pentecost is called “ordinary time.” Ordinary time, a time to remember that life goes on, that ministry goes on. Even when there are difficulties and crises, there is also always ordinary time.

Don’t get so caught up in crisis that you miss moments, moments when your horizons might be broadened, your imagination expanded, your curiosity cultivated, your thinking deepened, your faith strengthened, your heart enlarged.

Don’t get so caught up in denominational debates about the structure of the church and new Methodisms that ministry is neglected.

Ordinary time. Life goes on. Gifts of God’s grace. Thanks be to God.  

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