A New Vision, A New Voice ~ The North Texas Conference
Greg Jones Gives a Mini-Course on Social Innovation
In 3 keynotes, he covers revitalizing Methodism, the Christianity surprise and holy friends.
By LINDA STALLARD JOHNSON
The Rev. Dr. Greg Jones gave what amounted to a mini-course in his three keynotes on social innovation in The United Methodist Church at the Annual Conference — fitting for the executive vice president and provost of Baylor University and former dean of Duke Divinity School.
Keynote 1: “The End Is Our Beginning”
In “The End Is Our Beginning,” Dr. Jones drew an analogy to The United Methodist Church from the early days of coast-to-coast commercial plane travel. A pilot, who had descended into fog over the Rockies, told his passengers he had good news and bad news. The bad news: They were lost. The good news: They were two hours ahead of schedule.
Methodists, he said, are lost as they turn inward in a time of rapid change and fight with each other over issues of the day. He quoted from Yuval Levin’s book The Fractured Republic on Western Culture, noting that it is applicable to the denomination. “His argument was not just that we have disagreements, we have two sides. He said actually we have a fracturing that is causing multiple forms of division.”
The church and other institutions trot out new strategies, reorganizations and leaders to reclaim ground, “as though we can fix it with techniques rather than reorientation to fundamental questions, rather than getting clear about where we’re headed and why.”
He compared the scenario to the Book of Numbers, better titled “In the Wilderness,” he said, to describe the Israelites’ struggles. Early on, the Israelites do “generic” whining about annoyances, but as their situation turns desperate, the complaints center on the basics no food, no bread, no water. And some want to turn back to Egypt, preferring the familiar despite facing suffering, slavery and oppression.
Similarly, present-day Methodists, and other groups, steer toward the familiar “even when it’s killing us.”
Dr. Jones then drew from the Ted Talk of Simon Sinek on what separates the great inventors and thinkers — they focus on the why. Steve Jobs was late to the MP3 movement of listening to music, but Apple’s iPod was “much clearer” on the purpose of music on electronic devices. The Wright Brothers were bicycle shop people but they beat out a Smithsonian-sponsored rival who got trapped in “what” and “how,” not the why of flight. Separating himself from other black preachers, Martin Luther King Jr. filled the Washington Mall in 1963 because he tapped into the “deeper sense of yearning, that sense of why.”
Dr. Jones then drew from the Ted Talk of Simon Sinek on what separates the great inventors and thinkers — they focus on the why. Steve Jobs was late to the MP3 movement of listening to music. But Apple’s iPod was “much clearer” on the purpose of music on electronic devices. The Wright Brothers were bicycle shop people but they beat out a Smithsonian-sponsored rival who got trapped in “what” and “how,” not the why of flight. Separating himself from other black preachers, Martin Luther King Jr. filled the Washington Mall in 1963 because he tapped into the “deeper sense of yearning, that sense of why.”
The Wesleyan tradition has been to dare to do what seems against the odds — start hospitals, found colleges, Dr. Jones said. “The trouble is we lost sight of our own best story,” he said.
The church may be wandering, but Dr. Jones said it can get back on course of the “Christianity surprise” by trusting the power of the holy spirit and breaking through.
Keynote 2: “Love Made Me an Inventor”
In his second keynote on Monday, Dr. Jones built on the Christianity surprise, culminating with the story of Maggie, who lived in the farthest reaches of Burundi in Africa. During civil war, she was tied to a chair and forced to watch a massacre by machete in her village. She was handed the severed head of her best friend.
Maggie refused to let the massacre and threats break her spirit. Left in charge of seven children — five whom her mother had been raising and two from her best friend, she told the children they were going to rebuild the village. Over the next 20 years, she practiced social innovation, including scraping up the money to buy the freedom of 25 more children and building houses for them.
She built a swimming pool over the massacre site. She wanted the children to swim so that they could have “their vision cleansed, like the waters of baptism, so they could see a future with the light of God rather than being traumatized by all the brokenness of the past.”
She grew crops and got involved in microfinance, with the boys fixing cars and the girls running a beauty salon. She saw the interconnections of the gospel. “She said her vision was shaped by the Book of Acts, by the transformation that would occur,” Dr. Jones said.
Over the 20 years, she built a school and a hospital and employed over 600 people, 450 of them “who came up through her village and her work.” She even built a movie theater, the second one in Burundi, through philanthropy and friends.
When asked how she accomplished so much, she told Dr. Jones, “Love made me an inventor.”
Keynote 3: “Forming Christians”
In his keynote Tuesday, June 6, 2017, Dr. Jones turned to “holy friends” and their importance in “Forming Christians.”
Holy friends do three things to hold Christians accountable, Dr. Jones said.
First, they “challenge the sins we’ve come to love.”
A familiar one: “I’m not a workaholic. I do the Lord’s work.”
Dr. Jones then told of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who strictly observed the Sabbath even during most intense part of the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Methodist leader Peter Story, who worked with the bishop, said that when Tutu was ready to get back to work, he came back more “settled and ordered.”
Second, holy friends “help us affirm gifts we’re afraid to claim.” Sometimes that means developing a gift if even the person resists the call, such as the CFO and church finance chair who was good with little children. His church friends — his holy friends — encouraged him to teach first-grade Sunday school, but he said, “Oh no, I’m a finance guy.” But he gave it a try and the church rejoiced as he came to life around the children and the children came to life around him.
Third, holy friends “help us dream dreams we otherwise wouldn’t have dreamed.” They put the pieces together for us and expand our imaginations, stretching us further than we could hope or imagine, Dr. Jones said.
“But it’s going to take a lifetime for holy friends to help unlearn sins, affirm gifts and dream dreams,” he said.
Sometimes world transformational events can result, he said.
In South Africa in the mid-1970s, a black teen, Tsietsi Mashinini, began attending an ordinary discipleship group at Central Methodist in Johannesburg. But for him, it meant he was surrounded by a circle of holy friends. The sin he loved was that he was of no value. Over the next year or so, the holy friends assured him that he was a beloved child of God. They affirmed a gift he didn’t see — that he was a charismatic leader. And they challenged him to dream his biggest dream, a free South Africa where color didn’t matter.
On June 16, 1976, he was one of five leaders of the March on Soweto, marking the beginning of the resistance to apartheid, Dr. Jones said. Today, the date is celebrated in South Africa much like July Fourth in the U.S.
“Social innovation,” Dr. Jones concluded, “happens when we recognize our purpose and our mission.”