Reflecting on scripture and a classic rock song, Surf’s Up, Bishop David Bard invites everyone into God’s creative work in the world and in the church.
BISHOP DAVID BARD
Michigan Area United Methodist Church
What I did this summer. In June our daughter Sarah was married. I wrote a bit about that last month. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching The Gospel of Mark at the United Methodist Women Mission U. Thank you to all who were part of these classes. In one somewhat crazy 48 hours Julie and I met our daughter Beth in New York to attend a couple of Broadway plays. Julie and I were delighted that we navigated the trip from the airport into Manhattan through the subway and train system. Our only transportation issue was that we ended up flying from New York to Detroit through Fort Myers, Florida. Later in the summer, we helped our daughter Beth move some of her belongings from Duluth, Minnesota to Minneapolis, where she is beginning a new job. Though I turned 60 this summer, I’ve apparently not yet exhausted the role of Dad as U-Haul driver. I attended a meeting of the Commission on General Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. Julie and I were able to visit a couple of historical sites while there. Traveling to Lexington, we stopped in the hometown of the 1950s actor James Dean, and on our way back we spent a couple of days in Cincinnati – attended a Reds-Cubs baseball game, went to the Cincinnati Art Museum, and were powerfully moved by the Underground Railroad Freedom Museum. It was not lost on us that 400 years ago, the first enslaved Africans landed in what was to become the United States.
Along the way this summer, we managed to find several book stores and a couple of music shops. Half-Price Books is a national chain that buys and sells used books, music, and movies. Minneapolis, Lexington, and Cincinnati all have outlets. Julie browses for children’s books for her classroom, and I just browse. Among my summer treasures was a DVD of Brian Wilson performing Smile.
The history of Smile has a legendary status in rock music. Brian Wilson was a founding member of The Beach Boys. Smile was to be a follow-up to The Beach Boys famous 1966 album, Pet Sounds. The work was never completed and never released, though some versions of a few songs were, such as a song entitled “Surf’s Up.” In 2004, Brian Wilson, who had battled through some significant mental health issues, began performing Smile live. My DVD was of one of those concerts, and the performance of “Surf’s Up” is especially moving. It is a fabulous song, and the expression on Brian Wilson’s face when the song has ended is delightful. One can almost feel the joy that has come on the other side of pain and struggle. Surf’s up, mm-mm, mm-mm, mm-mm; Aboard a tidal wave; Come about hard and join; the young and often spring you gave; I heard the word; Wonderful thing; A children’s song.
Here is another image of water. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a vast waste, darkness covered the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.” (Genesis 1:1-2, Revised English Bible)
The image of water in Genesis 1 connotes chaos. We are entering another year in the life of the church, and it may be a year unlike any other. There is the chaos of uncertainty along with a certain darkness of conflict that has become acrimonious. General Conference 2020 will be a pivotal moment for The United Methodist Church. Will we be able to negotiate a new space between people in The United Methodist Church whose opposition to one another is hurtful and damaging to our witness? If decisions are made to restructure The United Methodist Church, what might that mean for the Michigan Conference and our local congregations?
The church exists in a world that has more than its share of chaos. In a book written ten years ago, the author described our world using the acronym, VUCA (Bob Johansen, Leaders Make the Future). VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, and it describes our world pretty well. Or take this sentence, from another author “this is surely where we find ourselves today, living inside a culture in flux (wherever we live) that is supporting neither us nor the planet terribly well.” (Dancing at the Edge, 21)
Tidal waves, chaotic waters, dark and stormy seas – our world and sometimes even the church. Listen again. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” (Isaiah 43:2a) “Jesus cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37b-38) God’s Spirit hovered and hovers over the chaotic waters. God is with us, continuing to create, continuing to refresh, continuing to enliven. At the heart of being the church, the community of Jesus is deepening our connection to the Spirit of God, this Spirit that continues to hover over the chaotic waters, the dark, stormy seas. When we deepen our connection to this hovering, ever-present Spirit of God, we find that chaotic waters can become living waters. We find that we can surf the tidal wave and hear the songs of God again.
So in this coming year when the swirl of chaos will be real, focus on being the church whose mission remains making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Let God’s hovering Spirit make a difference in your lives and in our churches so that we can make a difference in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. God continues God’s creative and re-creative work. God continues God’s healing work. God continues to bring life-giving form out of dark chaos. By grace, we are invited to join God in God’s work. Surf’s up.
I will be surfing with you on the joyful journey.