Tuesday, January 5, 2016

By a Different Road

"And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road." (Matthew 2:12, NRSV)

On the eve of celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), I reflect on this verse that closes the story about the journey of the wisemen from the East. I've always been struck by how this verse is so appropriate for the beginning of a New Year.

A common practice during these early days of a New Year is the making of New Year's resolutions. These are promises we make primarily to ourselves but also to others, to make amends, clean up our act, take off on the right foot, change for the better, and start anew.

I love the musical definition of resolution: it is the "progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance." To resolve a chord is to move from clashing notes to harmony. Now, dissonance is defined as "the lack of agreement or consistency" between the beliefs one holds or between one's actions and one's beliefs. So when there is dissonance in one’s life, resolution is called for to move from inconsistency to harmony.

A survey done by the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology in December of 2012 showed that only 45% of Americans usually make New Year's Resolutions. 17% do it infrequently and 38% absolutely never make them. Of the people who do make resolutions, only 8% are successful in achieving them. 49% have infrequent success. Only 24% always fail in their resolutions. 75% of resolutions are kept through the first week; 71% past two week; 64% past one month; 46% past six months.

I could go on but I think we could see the trend… 

So why make them, we might ask, when we seem to be just setting ourselves up for failure when we do? A quick google search of tips on how to make good on New Year’s Resolutions, would give us an assortment of approaches and advices from various fields – medical, psychological, managerial, political. 

I’d like to offer a spiritual, faith-based voice to fulfilling the promises we make to ourselves every year. And it starts by realizing that making New Year’s Resolutions or even resolutions throughout the year is a call from God. We are called to make resolutions and go "by another road."

Consider the story of the Magi. Their experience of the Christ Child was so profound that it caused a dissonance, an inconsistency in their hearts, prompting them not to return to Herod but to go forth by another road.

Consider the dissonance in your own life as you begin this New Year. Consider the dissonance created by your everyday experience of Emmanuel, God with us, God with you. Perhaps God is calling us to pay attention to that "clashing of notes" in our lives and seek to resolve the inconsistency and move towards harmony.

What is that path, that thing, that place, that lifestyle, that habit, that attitude which you are being called not to return to anymore in this New Year?

In what areas of our lives are we being called individually as to take different roads?

In what ways are we being called corporately and communally as couples, families, churches and communities of faith to abandon former roads and follow new ones?

Or perhaps we are being called to blaze new trails...

We've heard it said that "change is painful but it is necessary." There will be many changes this year in our Alaska Conference: Pastoral moves; Leadership changes; Churches right-sizing and moving to the next stages in their life cycles; Transitions; New ventures. In many ways, these changes will be painful. But they are necessary. They are the different roads we are called to take.

The six things I brought forth at Annual Conference and again to every Church/Charge Conference (Engage, Welcome, Disciple, Risk, Call, Connect) call for a shift in our culture as United Methodists here in Alaska. These were born out of a dissonance I observed and discerned from our individual ministry settings as well as our life together as a conference. These changes, will be painful too. But they, too, are necessary. They are the different roads we are called to take into the future.

What new road is God calling you/us to take in this New Year? How will it be different from the road you/we took to get here? And are you/we willing to follow where the Spirit leads you/us into this New Year and beyond?

The good news is this, that Emmanuel, who gave us the will to do these things will be with us and give us the grace to fulfill them.

May God's "star of wonder, star of light...Guide us to thy perfect light!"

Your fellow disciple,

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