Saturday, July 07, 2012

United Methodists, What Do We Want?

I've been engaging in discussions with some fellow United Methodists, most of whom are clergy.  In the midst of these discussions I've found some interesting trends.  For example, the following video, obviously entitled "Rethinking Church", is part of a marketing campaign for our denomination.

Several folks have made it clear they do not like this video.

Because the word "Jesus" doesn't appear in it.

I scratch my head in wonder at that.  The entire video is soaked in the peculiarly Wesleyan understanding that our faith in Jesus leads us out in to the world.  It offers the hardly controversial idea that the world outside our church's doors is quite tired of our words.  If our faith in Jesus really means anything, it should lead us to the same places Jesus went.  If our faith in Jesus really means anything, anyone walking through our doors, even drunken sluts with guns, should find themselves welcomes with open arms.

What would saying the word "Jesus" mean if we fail to demonstrate these most basic realities?  In fact, mentioning Jesus might well turn off the ears of those who need to see and feel and hear our life of faith in action, precisely because the Jesus the world outside our doors knows is a bigot who hates gays, wants us to have no fun, in particular no fun sex, doesn't like dirty words, doesn't want us to learn about things like evolution, and seems the peculiar protector of NFL quarterbacks and politicians.

I, for one, love this video.  It is in the best of our tradition, speaking and showing a world that needs to know of God's particular love for us how we people called United Methodists live this out.  It is a video that offers the Gospel in a way that cuts through the conflicting claims of all those voices who would make of Jesus a fetish for whatever social, political, or religious ideology they idolize.

So, I ask again: What do we people called Methodists want?  Do we want to be just another voice in the religious marketplace?  Do we want to hear the demand that we represent our identity rather than mouth religious or social or political platitudes?  Do we want to respond in love and care and, yes with grace, to a world that still needs our particular witness to the God whose love knows no bounds?

I would suggest, for a moment, that we might consider the possibility that Jesus' presence is thoroughly represented in the faces and hands and feet of all the people in this commercial.  That is what it means to be the Church - the Body of Christ.  In our rush to be "faithful" to a word, we've forgotten what it means to be faithful to the call from the person who bears that name.  Give up the word-fetish, and get busy being the Body of the Living Christ.

I was just finishing up when a friend on FB linked to this.
Conversely, those arguing against Christian theism today have followed Pascal’s formula well. They begin by showing their audience that your God is blood-thirsty, arbitrary, and gains pleasure from the eternal conscious torment of large swaths of humanity to bring himself “glory”. Second, they have shown that Christian Theism is not attractive for it makes human beings into well-documented lunatics who start wars in the name of their god, who are irrational and condemnatory, and whose political preferences will destroy human freedom. And finally they put forth bland, non-curious, easily refutable arguments for the truth of Materialism (because unfortunately for them, those are the only kinds of arguments available for Materialism)—but by this point such arguments seem worthy and are easily swallowed.
Because, again, the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.
One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).
While not a big fan of apologetics, I do believe this piece highlights a central reality we refuse to face: All our talk about God, especially the God of Jesus, leads directly to the kinds of nonsense peddled by folks like Harris.  If we worry overmuch about what words are in our commercials, we lose sight that we need to demonstrate what it means to live as a disciple.  That's what's going to get folks curious enough to wonder if there might be, as St. Paul said, a more perfect way.

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