This past Sunday, the priest at the Anglican Church we’ve been attending, gave us a “Liturgy Moment.” It’s a brief explanation of why we do something in the liturgy.
He spoke about “the gathering” which is sometimes a hymn. It is, he told us, a time to remember why we are coming to Church. At least that’s my recollection. I had a virus or something that mimicked depression and it knocked me down and out of regular operating procedure.
But I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.
My answer as to why I attend Church on Sunday morning has ranged widely over the years. I was afraid of going to hell. I needed community. I thought I absolutely had to.
At this season of my life, I go to be reminded that there is hope and good left in the world. I sit with clients who tell me the most heinous stories of abuse, molestation, rape, defilement, and addiction. They let me into their pain of their life, which has led them to sitting there in front of me. I have a great counselor face. I don’t let their pain show. Oh, there are times after they leave I have to shake it off.
But I have to go one and meet the next person, unassuming and non-judgmental.
After a week of this, I need to be reminded that there is something good, something hopeful, something divine in this life. My belief in God has been separate from my attendance in Church (yes, yes… I know), but in this season, it may be even closer than I realized.
This time of the year is rather difficult for many people. We have the holidays, especially in the US, bogged down in Halloween leftovers, pre-Valentine candy, and a mix of Turkey and reindeer. We do not get the time to truly enjoy the season.
The Church Calendar is not an arbitrary creation, but one that allows us to slow down and mark the time of the season by the life of the Church. We retell the life of Christ in our daily activities, pinned to seasons and tides. because some are not pegged to the Church Calendar, we skip right into Christmas where we are expected to be joyous and to spend lots of money on gifts for others. Maybe we should slow it down a bit.
Which is why I like Advent. Rather than Advent being a lag between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is a fast, a season of penance, a season of humble expectation. It is a time to remember the exile of Israel and toe tribulations of the Church. The People of God received the Messiah after centuries of exile and persecution. Yet, we skip the remembrance of that, a time when we could sit and dwell on life without hope, without a future, without freedom, into singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Why is Jesus expected – why is He longed for – if He was only here to be born?
I sit with people who struggle during this time of year because what blankets us is an expectation to be happy? Advent is the time we can be mournful, because there is no joy unless we have suffered loss.
So take the time to mourn and to be depressed. Find a Blue Christmas service to join. Sit. Listen. Be still.
This language strikes many Westerners, including Western Christians, as odd, irrelevant, or even superstitious. In ages past, people in the West understood themselves according to what philosopher Charles Taylor calls the “porous self.” They took for granted that the world was inhabited by spiritual beings, some good and some evil. They believed, moreover, that these spiritual beings exerted influence on their lives. Today, however, we have adopted a perspective Taylor calls the “buffered self.” We don’t see ourselves as subject to the influence of a spiritual world anymore. The emergence of the “buffered self” means that, while we may reject the “spiritual forces of wickedness” as a matter of ritual, we really can’t imagine what this rejection actually means for our lives.
It’s important to realize, however, that from a global perspective we in the West represent a minority report. Most people living today understand themselves as “porous” rather than “buffered.” Some Western intellectuals, moreover, are beginning to rediscover what it might mean to think of ourselves as susceptible to spiritual influences. Perhaps the buffered self is not the final word for Western Christians. Indeed, among Western Roman Catholics, exorcisms are on the rise.
I left the UMC in October of 2016. We attended for the remainder of the school year/church year (because churches close in May) but I did not take communion. For a variety of reasons I have detailed elsewhere, but namely because the UMC failed to hold any marks of a Church, either by Protestantism or the universal standards.
Recently, we have begun the search to find a new congregational home. It is difficult because I am still dealing with hurt over separating from the UMC — and the ongoing… uh…. issues.
Anyway, for the past few weeks, I have attended a local ACNA congregation. Thus far, the sermons have been thoroughly Wesleyan. Eucharist has been served. No church fights. No declining population. The Creeds without crossing fingers. I feel as if I can tolerate some large amount of differences, but when it comes down to it… I am a Creedal guy. I believe the Creeds for some pretty particular reasons.
Anyway, I am also doing some different type of work. Working as an Substance Use Therapist. Scott has maintained the blog for a while, by himself, but I’m back. I’ve updated the search issues, taken care of the 403 issues (I hope!) and will commit to writing at least one post every two weeks. I am going to try to get to writing more posts, but… I am mentally exhausted. Plus, I have a book to finish.
In regards to finding out home of faith, I will keep you informed along the way.
More than one person has asked me what it would take for the Wesleyan covenant Association to reach me and to have me join. To be truthful, I have mostly dodged the question, but it has been asked often enough that it deserves an answer, however unpopular it may be. I am going to address what it would take in a series of points, in no particular order, so that when asked in the future, I can simply refer people here, but also so that those who have asked get a well deserved answer. Going into this I want to admit freely that I am cynical of pretty much any UMC group like this no matter it’s theological “side”. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of a UMC advocacy group. I mention this so that it is known upfront, taken into account when reading, and perhaps it will illuminate some of my concerns somehow.
1. The WCA, as would be expected, has issued statements about what they believe about the Bible. Those statements can be found through their website. (https://wesleyancovenant.org/about-page/#1533314242168-c269fe11-86cb) I completely agree with their statement on Biblical authority, and also on their statement of faith introduction which reads: “We affirm classical Wesleyan doctrine and the historic faith, which the church has used to define the parameters of Christian teaching. Doctrine, properly understood, unifies the church and gives direction to its life. ” This is a beautiful and powerful statement. Other beliefs are listed, but there is nothing about how scripture is to be viewed. I understand that much of what is said alludes to what is known as infallibility, there is nothing that says so succinctly. The literal inerrant view of the Bible is a distinctly modern view of scripture (the last 100 years or so), that says the Bible contains no errors whatsoever. The history of this is easy to find, so I will not delve into it here. The infallible understanding of scripture affirms that the Bible is true in faith and practice, but does recognize that while it contains history, it is not a history book, and while it contains things scientific, it is not a science text. Yes, matters of faith and practice are trustworthy and true, without a doubt, but other items may not be.
What is the big deal you ask? Part of the big deal is history. What history has shown in, both within this denomination, and in the church catholic, is that when there are two competing views of scripture, there will inevitably be conflict, and often severe conflict. We are seeing this in the UMC now. Part of it is my step son. IF his pastor or Sunday school teacher is teaching from a modern literal inerrant view point, it creates potential conflict with what is being taught to him at home. I have already had to many instances of having to unteach what he has been taught at church. Sooner or later, this disagreement on how the Bible is to be viewed will bubble over into needless argument and disagreement. To reach me, the WCA needs to decide if the scriptures are literally inerrant, infallible, etc. There needs to be some understanding of how the Bible is to be viewed and at least some basic guidance on how it is to be best interpreted.
2. The WCA affirms the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of the EUB. This is good. What I think is needed is some attached commentary, much like Asbury and Coke did with the first MEC Discipline, that explains what they mean. Again, in the UMC right now, we have lots of people who affirm these two things. Many of those who affirm them have a drastically different understanding of what they actually mean. We need some clarity to avoid the same problems we have now going forward.
3. In looking at the WCA council, it appears that there are twenty six individuals there. Of that number, only five re not Reverends, Doctors, or Reverend Doctors. That is a concern to me. In a denomination that took over America on the back of it’s laity, I would have expected a more equal representation here. In the future, I think that I would need some assurances that the leadership will include a more equitable breakdown.
4. I am not paying a membership fee, nor am I accepting a grant that would forgive it, or another to pay it for me. This has been offered. The amount is $100. Whether you think that a lot, a little, or somewhere in between, I am not paying. My $100 gives me a vote, and the ability to come to conferences that I can not afford to go to anyway. It seems to me a problem that if the claim is that the WCA is the best expression of Wesleyan faith available, that it would be charged for. I have never had to pay to be a part of the faith, nor have I ever had to pay to have a voice. I am not starting now. There is no mandatory cost to be a part of the Wesleyan faith, so it seems to me there should not be a mandatory cost to be a part of it’s main proponent.
5. As a member, there are obligations. This is true of any group of course. As laity, I have issues with some of the obligations of membership. “2. Advocating for the WCA in their local church”. I will do no such thing. The local church I am a member of is entrusted, through our appointment system, to an amazing team of two pastors, and I will not advocate for anything that might even remotely damage their ministry in the local church. Should my pastors wish to do this, I trust that the Spirit has moved them to, but I will not. I will advocate Christ and Him crucified, the faith once and for all delivered, etc. but I will not, under any circumstances, advocate for any para-church group within my local church. I find that rather disrespectful to my pastors and the mission of the local church. “3. Spreading the word about the WCA to neighboring congregations, clergy, and laity, encouraging their participation as appropriate” Much as I would not do this in my own church, I will also not do it in another church for the same reasons. More than this, all individual members are asked to do this, including pastors. It would not take to long before I walked out of a church where my pastor was openly advocating for a para-church group on a regular basis. It would not take me long to leave. I have come to church to be a part of Christian fellowship, not to be recruited for a group outside.
6. This is the tough one, and one that there is likely not a hard and fast solution to. When I hear and read the words of many WCA members, I can not tell the difference in vitriol between them and Love Prevails or Reconcilling Ministries. The language is different of course, as are many of the theological issues, but I can not tell the difference. I want to be a part of something better, not something that is so anger and hate filled. I want to be a part of a church that is political, there is no choice really as we are a kingdom, but not partisan. The only government that we should be endorsing in a Royal Monarchy with Christ on the throne and us as co-heirs. I read people talking about immigration, for example, that seem incapable of actually viewing those fleeing here as human. I read posts on gun control that tell me that I am either a murderer, or hate God and America. I read posts that talk of LGBTQ individuals being the tools of Satan. There is no place for any of this. It is a symptom of our deep spiritual sickness, and frankly I am afraid that it is being built into the foundations of the WCA due to all the vitriolic rhetoric that we see. I don’t know how that is fixed. Maybe strong statements from leadership on issues as they arise not from an earthly kingdom standpoint, but from the standpoint of the only kingdom that matters? I don’t know. I only know that it is concerning.
There are some other things that I think would be beneficial for the WCA to do, but they do not rise to the level of something I actually have an issue with. These are the five main things that concern me and that keep me from the WCA. These, by and large, outline what the WCA needs to address to get to me. I am not saying that the WCA should. I believe that any organization has the right to set their boundaries and policies. I am not saying that the WCA can. I am unsure about how their internal structure works. I am not saying that the WCA will. I hope that those reading this take it into consideration of course, but I am not expecting change just because there are things I am uncomfortable with. The question has been asked often enough that it deserves an answer. That is all this is. Take it then as you will.