So apparently there is some stuff going on with the Methodist church these days about a possible division and blah blah barf politicklishness. 

Hi there, 10% of the people who started reading who actually made it past that first sentence.

Here’s a fun fact about me: I am staunchly anti-ism-ist.

You guys. There are probably eighty million different opinions and perspectives on all of these different things – What exactly do these scriptures say about women’s roles in church? What exactly is the connotation in this particular passage in the Greek about homosexuality? How many milliliters of water need to touch a person’s physical body for the Holy Spirit to recognize their baptism? Pre-millennial, post-millennial? Contemporary or traditional? Flip flops or head coverings? 9:30 or 11:00?

But guess what? There are some things that are PRETTY DADGUM CLEAR.

Such as, oh I don’t know, be one as Christ and the Father are one, (repeated about eighty times in John 17 just for one example) so that people outside the church won’t look at us and shake their heads and go “you know what? Forget that. What a mess.” We are more famous, right now, for arguing over things than we are for showing love and justice to the poor and the lost. I do honestly believe that every single time we as a church divide about anything, the name that we carry loses credibility. I believe it.

Such as, oh I don’t know, Feed the hungry, Clothe the naked, Invite in the homeless, or else when you get to the gates of Heaven, I will say that I do not know you. That one I believe is quite clear (Matt 25).

Such as, oh I don’t know, Go therefore (off your couch) and make disciples of all nations.  

To be honest with you, I think that some of us in the church are very likely going to stand in front of God some day and be pretty embarrassed about how much time we spent in direct defiance of a straightforward command to be unified and to submit to each other – arguing about politics or obscure Old Testament passages – as orphans languish in streets and group homes, and little girls in brothels. 

The only time I can remember Jesus drawing lines in the sand was when he was telling the religious uprighteous to check theyself befo they wreck theyself (mild paraphrase of John 8).

Maybe he did draw a line in the sand that day, with himself (the one person ever with no sin) on one side, and the churchy front-pew-sitters standing on the exact same side as the adulteress, where they belong. With the choir member, and the pimp, and the addict, and the pastor, and the terrorist, and the foster mom, and everyone else in all of humanity, except Christ himself. And then maybe he wiped away even that line in the sand, and said hey you guys, quit it with the lines in the sand.

I have said this before. Basically as far as The Church goes, the further you get from people sitting around a table together breaking bread, the less I want to do with it. The more you get into -isms and -ationalists, the more my eyes glaze over because it’s either stick my fingers in my ears and go “lalala,” or fight a mad case of the stabbies.

Do we need to be educated and chew on the issues that people face as they work out their salvation? Absolutely. But what if, when we disagree with a brother or sister, we invite them into our home, to sit at our table, we nourish and energize their bodies with food we made with our own hands, we commit to listen more than we talk, and we work through it together? We don’t Publish and Repost and Publicly Align ourselves, making sure that we separate ourselves from the people who disagree with us so that we can continue to build up the case for our own Rightness at all costs.

But, you say, we have to know whether or not we will allow a bishop to assign a homosexual pastor to our congregation.

Okay, as I always say in my Sunday School class, here’s where my crazy starts to show.

As I said, I believe in brothers and sisters breaking bread together. I don’t remember bishops in the New Testament. I don’t remember conferences, or denominations. I don’t remember enormous gatherings meeting together week after week for years and decades at a time in a big building (not since the days where God had one single place where he lived, which days are decidedly over), trying to keep getting bigger and bigger. 

Omg, is she, like, a church-anarchist? Or something? But churches would fly off the rails without some kind of accountability…structure…

I wonder about the way that our churches work, in this age, in this country. I wonder if we don’t sometimes hire a super dynamic speaker, who starts to yell at just the right point, who tells great stories with a chuckly punchline [brick]. If we don’t sometimes spend a few grand on great lighting to make sure people understand what they’re supposed to feel when they’re supposed to feel it [brick]. If we don’t sometimes make sure to budget for the top notch musicians so that people will be duly impressed at our ability to approximate professional pop music [brick]. If we don’t get the most colorful, media-savvy, Nick-toons-esque children’s curriculum to compete with other places people might choose to stick their kids [brick]. If we don’t aim to put on a show each week that’s worth the price of admission [brick]. Create bureaucratic structures that keep everyone in line and dictate which side we stand on particular issues, and make sure to dissociate ourselves at the right times from the “wrong” people [brick].

I wonder if we aren’t building, with man-made bricks, little Babels all over this country that we believe will get us to Heaven. Each of these things are not bad. Please hear me in that. Much of these things are rightly called stewarding our gifts and talents. But believing that these are what makes the body of Christ – this is bad. 

I used to tell a story about when we went to Cambodia in 2010 to visit the brand new baby churches there. I remember thinking a ton about what to try to impart to them on our (very) short-term trip. The weight of this fact sunk in to me like it NEVER has here: Those churches MUST depend on two things, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. They have no conference. They have very little human accountability. They have no Sunday School curriculum or 87 libraries full of theological commentary in their language. They depend on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Do we trust in the Word of God and the Holy Spirit? Or do we trust in conferences, denominations, widely-known authors?

Really, guys. You are given a brief few decades on this earth. Will you spend them niggling and bickering over what who meant when they said what, about who should be in and who should be out? Or will you spend them following the inarguable, direct, clear, specific, oft repeated commands to bear with one another in love, to free the slaves and feed the hungry, to leave the 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost, to fill your banquet table with the widows, orphans, and foreigners? 

Can we discuss the tough issues over a meal, as our children play together in the backyard, with a glass of wine, trusting that we all together are striving for truth the best we know how, always considering that we just might be the one who is wrong, and then get up and kiss each other on the cheek and say “Come again soon, my brother”? Can we quit bolstering our opinions with lengthy internet editorials that assign 18-syllable words to our uber-specific stance on everything? Please?

In one of Jesus’ last prayers on earth, in John 17, he says, over and over again, let my people, my church, my body, be one as you (Father) and I are one. Make them have unity. Make them stick together and remember the point – ME. I erased the lines in the sand. I blew them up. I am anti-line. That is THE way that the world will know that you love them. I went to Zaccheus’s house. I touched the lepers. I invited the little children in. 

I, Abbey, am on the side of the communion of saints. The forgiveness of sins. You know the rest. As for all the other stuff – come on over, I’ll make fajitas, you bring the cookie dough, and we’ll talk.

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2 comments on “Anti-ism-ist
  1. Alan says:

    Jesus actually drew a few lines. One most notable, around marriage and, therefore by default, sexuality. There were two schools of thought in Jesus’ day about divorce, both dating back to about 100 years before Jesus. One held by Rabbi H and one by Rabbi S (don’t feel like trying to type the long names out every time). The Jewish community held both views as valid. Rabbi H believed that given human frailty and weakness, laws about divorce, and other moral laws should be pretty lenient. You could divorce for almost any reason. Rabbi S taught that divorce was a sin except for cases of infidelity or abuse or abandonment. Rabbi S was far more restrictive. But both views of this and all other moral laws were held as valid. The idea was that as long as the Jewish community was in this time of difficulty – a small nation in captivity trying to become the people God intended – the margins of the law could be stretched to accommodate behavior natural to human weakness. This was the way of Rabbi H. But when the Messianic age would come, then the way of Rabbi S would be put in place and a more rigorous commitment to the moral law would be expected. So Jesus gets asked by his disciples about divorce and says that “infidelity” (shorthand way of saying “Rabbi S’s standard”), is the view he sides with. The Messiah siding with the Rabbi whose view was the accepted view once the Messianic age had come. That’s a pretty clear line. Even his disciples were like, “Dude! Who can possibly live up to that?” Clearly, they had been following Rabbi H. It should be said that even in the Messianic age, Rabbi H’s view would still be accepted as valid, because the community knew that due toe effects of sin, not everyone would be able to follow Rabbi S. What they did not know was what kind of Messiah would come. The did not know that the true Messiah would free them from sin (not Rome) and give them the power of the Holy Spirit. So this is likely why they saw Rabbi H’s way as still valid even in the Messianic age. But we have been given more freedom and power in Christ than they could have imagined.

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