Cynicalamity (Why I Blog)

I got mine today — here are some excerpts from an email I received:

Why do you have to be so negative about everything?  If you hate the Methodist church so much, why don’t you just leave it?

Every article you write accuses the church of failing, of screwing up, of making mistakes, and of blowing it.  Do you really think you are so much smarter than everyone else that you know more about the church than the experts?  There is no way that we’re all doing as poorly as you think we do.

You are saying things about religion and the church that absolutely no one else is saying.  There is a good reason for that.  What you’re saying isn’t true.  We do know why we worship.  We do think communion is important.  We do pray and study the Bible.  And we do have “open hearts, open minds, open doors.”  I don’t know what churches you’re looking at, but the churches in my conference are doing just fine.

Ouch.  I find it interesting that someone who disagrees with me so completely has obviously read a lot of what I’ve written.  However, I thought I was doing something very different from what this passionate woman thinks I’m doing.

First, I write what I do, not because I hate the church, but because I love it.  I want The United Methodist Church to be great, and it breaks my heart when we miss any opportunity to honor and glorify God.  I have no greater desire than that our denomination become a beacon of hope for the world.  For that reason,

Second, I have dedicated the past five years of my life to studying, researching, and analyzing the practices of our church to see where we are strong and where we are weak.  I have tried to listen carefully to clergy and laity throughout our denomination and to report as thoughtfully and clearly as I can what I have heard.  I’m not accusing the church of not praying — I discovered that prayer is not a central practice of many leaders in our church.  I’ve never said the communion isn’t important — I discovered that many in our church don’t have a very good understanding of our communion practices.  I’m not criticizing the church for letting so many people leave the denomination — I have tried to understand and explain why they’re leaving. 

Third, I try not to just point out what is wrong, but also to suggest a variety of ways that we might do better.  These are not just my opinions (only) but reflect the attitudes and ideas of a wide variety of Christian leaders.  I don’t think I know more than other people, but I’m not willing to concede that I know that much less, or that what I know has no value.

Fourth, it is difficult not to come off negative when there are some significant things to feel negative about.  I, personally, do not believe that denominationally we are as open — of mind, heart, or door — as we need to be.  I do think we are focused on a lot of things of lesser importance (buildings, activities, staff, equipment) when things of great importance (broken people, broken lives, broken communities, and broken vows) fall through the cracks.  I do believe that no matter how good we are, we ought to be better.

It is not my intent to stand above the church as a judgmental cynic — spouting doom and gloom and criticizing our best efforts.  To the extent that I give that impression, I apologize.  What I do intend is to look at what is, understand and explain how it got this way, and seek new alternatives that move us into a new, and hopefully better, future.  Mostly, I just try to stir the pot — raising questions and offering challenges that will get people thinking (hopefully in positive ways).

We have real problems in The United Methodist Church, but we also have a God of immense power, who promises us a future and a hope.  There is nothing facing the church that God cannot see us through.  Our church has such great potential to do amazing good.  It is succeeding in wondrous ways in communities all across the world.  But it can be better… and it needs to be.  Pointing out what is wrong doesn’t mean I don’t care.  If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t say anything at all.

Categories: Personal Reflection

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5 replies

  1. Dan,

    Prophets don’t get Christmas cards. That post is a form of pursuit–sometimes we yearn for something important to us to be purely good, unequivocal, and to give us serenity. Sometimes we hope someone will tell us we are good, or doing well, and sometimes there is space between lament and grace. Thanks for living in the questions.

  2. I suspect part of the problem with the e-mailer POV vs. Dan’s is that she takes “doing just fine” as a good standard for Christian discipleship. I bet the people she knows at her church are engaged and active. They like their church and feel nourished by it.

    Every church – just about – has some members who are “running the race” and “taking up the cross” daily. If we look at them alone, we can see many good things. And there is certainly something to be said for looking for and building on strengths.

    But it can be like listening to the pretty music played by the band on the deck of the Titanic. If you don’t notice that all around it the water is rising, your picture might be badly mistaken.

    For my part, I have found Dan’s blog a real boon and source of wonderful insights and provocative thoughts. I hope he does not drop it when he moves to the land of cheese.

  3. I have only been reading your blog for a short time. As a Methodist, and and a new local pastor, I have agreed with you in part. There is many areas where the Church is a more a popular social club than the Body of Christ.

    However, I think the commentator has a point too.

    What may be missing are stories how it is being done differently somewhere. Somewhere there is a congregation that is acting like the Body of Christ. Not all of them are Methodists. That is okay. The Book of Discipline says that the United Methodist Church believes that it is part of a larger body of Christians, not the only body of Christians.

    So, most of us agree that we are not always walking a Christian path. So tell us about people of God who are. And if they are in Scripture even better.

    • Perhaps it’s my own outlook speaking, or the fact that sometimes in parish ministry you can become incredibly isolated and the forest is lost for the trees BUT I have found your blog very informative, very instructive and very helpful. Yes, there is a line of thought out there that says if we only highlight the positive then everything will be sunshine and puppies but I have never seen it work nor have I seen it bring about the deep renewal that is needed in so many of our churches. The things you are saying are not being said in isolation if one takes the time and makes the effort they will certainly find at least a whiff of them. And our church is failing in many ways; it is also doing great things. As the writer seems hold up her own church and conference as the new Jerusalem, I am struck with the reek of the same parochialism that diminishes the efforts of many more of us.
      Fact is if Jesus is anything he is a truth teller and taking stock of that I find the truth in your blog compelling–thankfully I am able to discern what applies to my context and what does not! I am sincerely hoping that in your new appointment you will be able to keep up this good work and I will miss it if you cannot.

  4. I pray your email-er’s Conference is as she believes it to be.

    I’ve found some great food for thought on your blog and intend on encouraging my parishioners to stop on by and read an article or two.

    BTW… “Equipped for Every Good Work” is being used in my District as part of an experiment to reclaim our Methodist heritage through the re-instituting of an early-Methodist-type society. Thank you for such a great resource.

    Peace, Jason

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