First United Methodist Church

Service Times

9am Contemporary | 11am Traditional

News & Devotions

Devotion: The Rings of a Tree

This has been one of those weeks when I could point to God’s fingerprints every hour, all throughout it. When I am open to listening and slow myself down long enough, I am constantly amazed by how God shows up and what I learn in the process. Since this time last week, I have flown to Tennessee where I watched my middle sister become a mommy for the first time and overcome every new parent obstacle with such grace. After coming home last Thursday, I reunited with my big kids and husband, who I missed terribly and then I had the chance to be back in worship with all of you. And then, on Sunday evening, I had the rare opportunity to sit at the feet of some amazing theologians who were here in Orlando at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church for THeoEd, where 6 presenters gave the talk of their lives for 20 minutes about the Christian faith and life.

As I continue to reflect on what I learned, the notes I took and what was stirred up for me, I wish to offer this from my time there learning from author and pastor, Brian McLaren. He started and ended his talk in the same way…”Include…Expand….Include…Expand”.

Brian McLaren shared how he had grown up Fundamentalist and how it wasn’t until he was in High School that he began to develop a Framework around how he understood faith and how it is lived out. My ears perked up because all throughout this sermon series on James, we have been talking about how faith is lived out in our head, heart and hands. Last week, you will recall that we prayed, sang and learned about Wisdom and Godly wisdom that is possessed, not just professed. And so as McLaren shared his story, I heard Wisdom whisper again.

What is Godly wisdom around including and expanding? What do we, as followers of Jesus include in our lives and expand upon? In order to do more expanding and more including, I would argue that some parts of our thought process must be revamped. Like spring cleaning, before I put anything new into closets, I have to take the old items that no longer fit, are no longer comfortable or have been stained and destroyed out and donate them. In much the same way, every year, wisdom whispers to us that which should be revamped or gotten rid of.

McLaren gives us this framework to measure how we are moving along on this journey of faith.

He says it is like the truck of a tree that starts with one ring, and then expands and includes the first ring but grows another ring outward and so on and so forth. There are four stages to this framework which I outlined below:

  1. Inner Ring of Simplicity- value and benefit (us or them, friend or enemy, black or white)
  2. Next Ring of Complexity- there is some validity to each approach, and these are different ways of approaching the world make us more flexible and curious. But the problem is that if you ask a lot of questions, your friends will say…why don’t you just shut up and stop asking so many questions and doubts
  3. Next Ring of Perplexity- critical thinking and relativism, feels like the floor is falling out from under you because you are questioning everything, and it is also referred to as the dark night of the soul.
  4. Last Ring Harmony- when I am able to look inside myself and accept all that I see as legitimate parts of myself, and this ring gives you permission that you can be right where you are now

As you read through the order of this framework, where would you find your faith at this current moment? Where would you say that the majority of the people of our church are located? And where would you like to be?

I loved that he used the image of the tree, because just like wisdom, it takes time to develop and grow. Trees also have deep roots and I hope we are developing followers of Jesus with deep roots whose tree stump is sturdy and serves as a safe place for the world to sit and contemplate.

This framework also helped me process why I struggle with the ways that some people talk about the Bible, faith, Christianity and social ethics. It could be that they are in a completely different ring than I find myself in and that’s okay. As long as I am finding a way to include and expand, not to cut off, cut down or avoid.

I pray that the words of Brian McLaren and my meditations from this week will challenge and encourage you as you look for which ring you may be living in during this season and how you might, with God’s help, grow towards including and expanding more.