Praise God from whom all blessings flow… But who deserves such blessing? The poor? Immigrants (especially those illegal ones!)? The sick (who can’t afford health care)? Anyone who disagrees with me on any of my core beliefs? There is a weird paradox at work when it comes to our views on who should be blessed by God. Those believing blessings are for all get labeled liberal, generally of the bleeding-heart variety. Those believing that blessings are a reward for right belief in behavior are horrified at the idea that from those who have much, much will be expected. We have even aligned our political postures and polemics around such differences of opinion. And should such conversations have financial implications — watch out. Many who have no problem with bread for the poor are fine as long as it isn’t their bread we’re talking about. Yet, when we speak in the broadest, most abstract terms, most people wish everyone in the world could know peace, justice, comfort, and security. Where does it all break down?
I want to posit a simple theory. I believe the root of all our problems is selfishness, but selfishness is a symptom, not a cause. The root of selfishness is fear, grounded in a scarcity mentality that says “I am in jeopardy of not having enough.” This subconscious driver indicates a fundamental lack of trust and is the antithesis of faith. Hence, our paradoxology — our gratitude for all God provides, our insatiable hunger for more, and our competitive fear of giving what we have to others. This leads us into a grinding judgmentalism of who is deserving and who is not — a basic “us/them” paradigm that requires we justify ourselves as good and others as inferior. We’ve done it with rich and poor, male and female, peachy and bronze skin color, educated and uneducated; heck, we’ll do it with anyone who threatens to make us share what we have with them.
The disconnect is simply this: what we say we believe and what we believe are NOT the same thing. We say we believe that God is love, that God is good, that God will provide, that all we need is faith. But what we see with our eyes are innocent victims of hate and violence, rampant evil and greed, scarcity, famine, disease, cynicism, selfishness and media pundits untouched by divine retribution. True tests of faith, one and all. Why doesn’t God do something? If God wants everyone blessed, why doesn’t God provide MORE?
This is our grievous misunderstanding. The process by which God provides is in place. That process is us. Our current problems are not those of quantity, but distribution. We don’t lack resources, we simply lack love, faith, compassion, and trust. We bow before the god of fear at the expense of trusting the God of love. It feels safer and more comfortable to take care of ourselves than to perhaps give aid or comfort to someone we don’t know, like, trust, or agree with.
And this is why our church is in the state it is in. At least for United Methodists, we lost our way when we jumped the mission and social justice ship for the church growth cruiser. We denied our core identity (read the 100 paragraphs in the 2008 Book of Discipline — YES, including the Social Principles. Then see if you can hunt up a copy of the 2008 Book of Resolutions. While not a codifier of individual beliefs, these documents do define what it means to be “United Methodist,” — though, because we stopped teaching these things in our churches, most people don’t know that this is what the UMC is all about…) and drifted off course to look more and more like independent, non-denominational, congregational churches and less and less like a connectional church committed to being Christ for the world. Oops.
What is interesting to me is that much that is labeled “liberal” today was “moderate” to “conservative” in the first half of the twentieth century. The bulk of our budgets pre-World War II went to fund missions, our Ladies Aid Societies/Women’s Society for Christian Service/Epworth Leagues, etc. were defined by their mission activities. We were leaders in temperance, social reform, feeding the hungry, giving comfort and care to the sick, educating the underprivileged, protecting the innocent, and helping dispossessed and displaced persons to find a home in America. Anyone opposing any of these things would have found it very uncomfortable being Methodist, United Brethren, or a member of the Evangelical Association. Why are these things topics of such hot debate today? Refer to paragraph 2 above… We have lost our vision for transforming culture and world, and instead are shaped by them. Give praise to God from whom all blessings flow… to us who deserve them. Amen.