Sunday Thoughts – 8/15 – The United Methodist Church

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I used to laugh at the United Methodist Church, when they first came out with that slogan. Just screamed liberal. Of course, you would have to have known me then – a Rush Limbaugh listening ditto head who believed that Democrats – all Democrats – was communists bent on destroying the sacred institutions of the United States of America, namely manhood and the military. I was the arch-conservative, and would have made some elements of the Tea Party seem link pinko-commies. I knew what this slogan meant. It was a call to disparage conservatism, um, Christianity, and invite the world into the Church house. Out were the morals and in was a constant stream of Mardi Gras nights. Of course, then, I was solidly apart of the only real Christianity around, the same, unchanged, since the line of the Apostles, who consequently, all spoke in a deep South accent. Odd, I know. Even Christ has a twang when He spoke in the Scriptures, which was KJV-1611 (not really, but that was what was said).

Over the past few years, and the more so during the past year and a bit, I’ve come to see my 32 years spent in that same Christian sect as something that was destructive. I’ve seen all manners of abuse glossed over, the Scripture shredded during proof-texting, cliques formed, hatred, gossip, and fear. People died, homes destroyed, and souls lost. Yes, I believed that the doctrine above all else was the only doctrine known to Christ and the Apostles and that all others were as wrong as we were right, unquestionably. It was… well, you know exactly what it was.

In June, my wife and I reached a breaking point in our relationship with God. You know, if you have read this blog for any amount of time, why we left our old congregation. To be honest, I laid awake at nights wondering how God was going to make it able for me to return without wondering why I wanted to. Guess what? He didn’t. Instead, for months, I was waging a war inside about measuring the fruits of the Spirit of not just the old congregation, but all those others that I had known of the like belief system, and what I’ve seen ‘in the world.’ No social gospel to speak of, no focus on anything but the pastor, no community, no love. Legalism, good; theology, bad. But, still, I held that God would rectify the situation and everything would be right again, and that a reformation of the church system in which I grew up in would help it find its course once more. It steadily got worse. And we, differently, reached a breaking point.

One Saturday afternoon, we have a very bad disagreement over something – not over the real issue – and then the real issue come front and center. My wife braved my wrath first and told me she was tired of the lifestyle, of waiting and holding on to nothing. She was stronger than me because she voiced her concerns and doubts. My first words weren’t the smoothest, and her return volley wasn’t the best, but after that, I knew that what I had been praying for, for some time, had just happened. A break, a sign, whatever you want to call it. I told her before she gave up on God (she didn’t know what she wanted, she said, but she didn’t want the misery which had accompanied our Christian walk thus far) we would try out different congregations until we found one which we could fit in. We spoke about the things we would look far – she wanted community involvement; I wanted a theological open area in which I could find my theological center. And secretly, I wanted a church which would enrich us and show my wife that serving Christ was not the intramural wrestling bouts which we had seen for the past eight years. My first thought was Christ Church, United Methodist.

Why? Because I had met the pastor once during my Community Organizing days and of the 600 or so which I’d met between here and southern Indiana, a few have stayed in my mind. I figured that since he had promised to support coal miners, he couldn’t be all that bad. Our first Sunday, we went to the 11am service and haven’t left yet. Today, we made a commitment to that congregation. Why? Because we have found what we where looking for. The name of Christ is lifted up, truly. Further, even with my ‘peculiar’ beliefs, I was accepted. The congregation is always doing something in the community, reflecting for me the earliest signs of the Christian community – that of living incarnationally in the world. We were accepted immediately, and started attending Sunday School, where I met one of the finest souls on the planet.

Now, I know that those who believe somewhat like me will be disappointed, and will begin to earnestly pray for me and my backsliding. No doubt, I’ll lose a few friends, over this, but if you are a member of my former sect, then look around at the carnage strewn about you and tell me that you still find the fruits of the Spirit in it. I have found sweet relief at Christ Church, and has my family. My children have loved it since the very first visit. My son, in a surprising move, came out of the first Sunday morning service wanting to return next Sunday. I have always had, truth be known, a certain affinity for Wesley and Methodism and although I am struggling with the idea of Sovereignty and Election, whether individual or corporate (this is my camp), I find in them the holiness which I believe is needed. Further, gone is the exclusionary modal of the old congregation and truly, a place with open hearts and minds. I do know, if case you are wondering, others of my peculiar system in the UMC… How can we walk together unless we agree – I agree in Christ; let us agree there.

This week, I am taking some time off of work and blogging. I have a two posts yet to post, but I’ve asked the moderators to keep an eye on the posts and comments, and of course, for the contributors to feel free to contribute. As a matter of fact, we may have two others… But, I need it. There is a danger in knowing too much and expecting justice to be done, only to watch while politicians whittle away every shred of decency deserved by the dead. So, I am taking time off to read, pray and retreat. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.

I’ll return, I hope, with several book reviews completed as well as maybe reading through Calvin’s Institutes. (But, don’t get your hopes up on me becoming a Calvinist. I am just too concerned with my soul…)

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13 Replies to “Sunday Thoughts – 8/15 – The United Methodist Church”

  1. well put, Joel. Love the commentary on Methodism. I grew up Methodist. Appreciate the ability in many UMC’s to find one’s theological center, and community involvement. Hope things work out well for your family. By the way, what was you former denominational affiliation? Sounded like Boston Church of Christ or Independent Baptist.

  2. As a United Methodist I am glad that you found a UM church that is truly ministering to you. United Methodism is actually quite diverse. Pastors and churches can run the full gamut of Liberal to Conservative, so it is really improper to characterize it with one catchall term.

  3. Have a good rest.

    I heard a sermon last Sunday about Election, from the first chapter of Ephesians. I’m still trying to grasp what was said, but the preacher said that everyone has the opportunity to be Elected, which is what I believe.

  4. Sounds like you’ve found a home and family, a community of faith which will give each of you what you need to grow in grace. As far as becoming a Calvinist is concerned – who cares? Such questions are peripheral to the central question of following Christ. You might find John Wesley’s sermon on “The Catholic Spirit” interesting.

  5. Thank you, Rev. Buglass. I agree, that many of those tough theological speculations are only peripheral, and I hearken back to Calvin himself when he said that the essentials are simple – God, Christ, Grace (paraphrase, of course). I’ll check out that sermon.

  6. “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” Obi-wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker In Star-Wars – A New Hope.

    Welcome to the UMC, Joel!

    My wife and I joined the UMC after a somewhat similar journey (for me). I grew up being taught that the UMC as well as all mainline Christian churches were the “Great Satan” and it took a good deal of personal study before I became convinced that it was the right place for me. Now I wouldn’t change it for the world.

    “Even Christ had a twang when He spoke”…love it!

  7. Great, now we can sing the same hymns together! The UMC is the big tent of protestant Christianity. It can accommodate high church, low church and charismatics, conservative evangelicals and universalists, process theologians, open theists, even the odd unitarian or two. It even has a place in the back pews for a non-theist like me (though I never advertise that fact). 😉

    As a theologian once said, they’re the most middle-of-the-road of the middle-of-the-road Christianity.

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