Methodist blogs have become the new tabloids. I’m sorry for adding my one other one to the Enquirer frenzy. I promise I will not post pictures of celebrity bishop-babies (whatever those are). I do however want to address some things that came out of my ‘Why Church?’ post last week. (Have I mentioned I’m not particularly fond of writing blogs?) I told you I’ve mourned and cried for and over the church — Archbishop Oscar Romero said that “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” I doubt I’m entirely done crying; as long as you and I are part of the Church she will be imperfect, and as long as pride exists there will be division (I don’t think it a coincidence that Jesus prayed for our unity in the final hours of his life). Yet there are rumors of hope to which I hold onto stubbornly.
Last week’s post received some interesting comments. Most folks who commented to me resonated with the heaviness in their own hearts, and some shared their fears with me. Others had not even thought of some of these things. One comment I read expressed a broken heart over the deception of young, new leaders like me — that one was my favorite. For the record, I promise you that God (through friends and other) calls me out on things almost on a daily basis, but no, I am not perfect.
A note from a young man who is soon to begin his studies at Duke Divinity School, in response to my blog:
“…I am having a hard time trying to capture how I feel as an up and coming pastor in the UMC. I get the sense that very soon I’ll have to make a very explicit proclamation (one way or the other) regarding homosexuality, and it be forced to be this “you’re either with us or against us” sort of proposition. That is my fear, I don’t truly know how likely it is.”
I write because I’m inspired by the third way that Jesus exemplifies and that Steve Harper talks about seeking, in his book For the Sake of the Bride. I struggled (sometimes bitterly) with my approach and understanding of Scripture for a decade, and I still feel like an elementary school student at times. I sympathize with the seemingly silent, middle majority. I ache for the private messages that express fear. I simultaneously respond strongly to issues of injustice, so I seek a different route, but not an easy one. Thus far in my life, struggling with things has been one of the biggest forms of growth. Struggling is good! (And not fun!)
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Life Together‘ — a short book I think all Church-people (not the building kind of church, by the way) should read… more than once. Here’s a quote from the book that I’ve been pondering for a while now:
“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and with ourselves…. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.”
This reminds me that living in community is not supposed to be easy; it’s always been hard. Jesus’ words of loving our enemies have always been scandalous and challenging. Relationships are hard stuff. This is why a third way is difficult and scary — one where we don’t choose sides, one without ‘us’ and ‘them’ language — one that leads to self-sacrifice and a cross. Admittedly this whole issue of schism seems somewhat overwhelming to us ‘little people,’ but I’m encouraged and encourage all to continue to impact our small circles of influence.
Finally, I love the Bernard de Clairvaux quote: “Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.” It has struck me differently this past week, however. As I hear proclamations from on high that entirely dismiss reason and experience I cringe. Don’t call yourself a prophet unless you have dirt under your nails, if you haven’t grabbed a hoe lately and sweat through your shirt. Don’t proclaim to me if you’re not heartbroken over contention, as you probably don’t deserve to be called a prophet. If I see that you too struggle, that will be compelling. That sounds an awful lot to me like Pharisaic tendencies that pray, “The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” May love and humility reign.
O God, we are one with you.
You have made us one with you.
You have taught us that if we are open to one another, you dwell in us.
Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts.
Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection.
O God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept you, and we thank you, and we adore you, and we love you with our whole being, because our being is your being, our spirit is rooted in your spirit.
Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes you present in the world, and which makes you witness to the ultimate reality that is love.
Love has overcome. Love is victorious.