Wanted: Savior (Some Experience Required)

Ah, another Advent.  The pressing question is: are we ready?  Or maybe the pressing question is: do we even care?  Our United Methodist Church can’t seem to be bothered with preparing for a Savior; we are too busy focusing on divisive issues of morality grounded in abominable biblical misinterpretation and theological subversion.  When leadership is committed to drawing lines, defending agendas, and choosing sides, who has time for a Messiah?  And as independent conservative evangelical Christianity so completely redefined family values, orthodox scriptural witness, and acceptable, appropriate behavioral conduct, to accommodate Donald Trump, the once non-negotiable position of the religious right/Moral Majority turned religious integrity into a bad joke.  So, at a time when we need a Savior more desperately than ever, we are not merely indifferent, but apostate.

We are forsaking crucial things for less important things.  Our lived values are drifting further and further from our articulated values.  We have let human sexual orientation become a defining issue, with all sides confusing orthodoxy with heresy.  Rather than focusing our energies, resources and attention to the starving, the oppressed, those denied justice, mercy, and grace, we cannot seem to get our minds off of what others might be doing with their naughty bits.  I suspect God is not amused.  Serious biblical and theological reflection on issues of human sexuality should settle this complex issue in short order, but too many people in the church have allowed our hermeneutics to become lodged in premodern and primitive pre-Enlightenment cognitive models.  Friedrich Schleiermacher’s dire warning that philosophical theology would be displaced by historical and practical theologies has come true in spades.  Reason is tossed out the window as the deviate fringe of both extremes of our religious bell-curve become more and more dogmatic and doctrinaire.  As we look backwards to define our future, we have no patience for anything both progressive and inclusive.

We might allow a Messiah to be born again this year, but only if love is not part and parcel of his/her character or identity.  Tolerance for such infantile rhetoric as “God is love” will not be allowed.  We will deny any hint of unconditional love, universal grace, or open acceptance of a behavior that violates our modern morality.  We will use the Bible as a weapon to prove our positions based on “what it says”, but heaven help anyone who suggests that “what it means” (and what it meant, in context) is more important.  We don’t want to discern, know, or understand the will of God.  We simply want what we want, the way we want it.  And we will distort and bastardize holy scripture and solid theology to get our own way.

Oh, and we refuse to actually listen to one another.  We simply do not care what others think.  If no other message is received from our recent presidential campaigns, we should not forget that civil dialogue, dignity, grace, respect, and even facts, are no longer valued or allowed.  We will scream our position and then reject anyone who refuses to agree with us.  We will create gross perversions of authentic Christian spirituality structures, giving them noble sounding names, pretend they are faithful representations of the true church, but then take all of our problems with us, because we have deluded ourselves that our petty human intolerance is a reflection of the true will and wisdom of God.

Splitting another denomination over the “issue” of “homosexuality” will have incredibly destructive implications.  Our frantic efforts at institutional preservation miss the point.  God isn’t all that concerned with what organized religion debates and disagrees about.  If our Hebrew and Christian scriptures are at all accurate or valid, God is interested most in how we treat one another, especially those OUTSIDE our communion.  What we are doing to continue the saving work of Christ is more important that not engaging in proper sex.  And so, we are broken.  We are hostile and violent.  We are selfish and judgmental (myself included, folks — I am only human, and don’t exclude myself for a second…). We are lazy and don’t want to have to do the hard work God requires, so we will deflect, deny, and deal with lesser things.  We ignore the passages of scripture that demand the most from us, but hold fast to out-of-context proof-texts that allow us to be divisive, judgmental and petty.

Do we need a Savior?  Do we need a Messiah?  Yes, oh yes, but we really don’t want one — not if he/she is going to expect us to live up to our confession of faith.  If we have to honor the promises made for us at baptism and the promises we have made ourselves since then, well…, we will take a pass on the Messiah, thank you very much.  We will continue to filter a superficial reading of a poor English translation of God’s word and make it say exactly what we want it to.  We really can’t afford/tolerate the Son of God coming to mess things up.  God’s Son calls us to unity.  God’s Son calls us to justice.  God’s Son calls us to love, and to BE love.  For a denomination that is already a broken splinter of a larger shattered Protestant faith tradition, we might as well just break it again.  But, brothers and sisters, we can ill afford a Savior who heals and reconciles, who mends and unites, otherwise we won’t be able to demand our own way.  Who can get excited about Advent when it means we can’t get what we want for Christmas?

5 replies

  1. Three thoughts in response:

    1. What else can you expect from a church whose spectrum of theology and other understandings is mind boggling; reality is, collectively The United Methodist Church has absolutely no clue who it is and what it believes. Somewhere I read that the church in America has become unintelligible to the rest of the world because it has become unintelligible to the people who are in it: Welcome to The Unintelligible Methodist Church that has far exceeded John Wesley’s fear that Methodism would become the form of religion without the power. During the four years I spent a lot of time monitoring a myriad of UM voices, I have visualized the church in different ways: After GC2012, it was a gianormous square raft with umpteen oars lining the sides; each oar is paddling the best it knows how. In the months leading up to GC2016 and all the pleading for unity, the church became cats with their tails tied together. Sometime since then the UMC has become a large, non-descript gray space because its contradictory beliefs cancel each other out.

    2. The fact I voted for Trump does not define who I am as a Christian; my hope is in something greater than earthly politics. It is high time for the church in America to understand that it is not the government’s job to legislate the kingdom of God into existence here on earth; it is the church’s job to instill it in individuals. In his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace”, Philip Yancy explains how, when it comes to transformation, the grace of God packs a much more powerful punch than graceless legislation. John Wesley learned the same thing: When Methodism originally changed the world, it was not because of a social justice agenda, it was because John Wesley created a space where people were transformed into the truly human persons God had in mind at the time of creation–before humanity decided to take control of the situation.

    3. Finally, I will be spending my third Advent with “Not Yet Christmas: It’s Time for Advent” by J. D. Walt; it can be purchased from seedbed.com. I highly recommend it; it is unlike any other Advent material I have ever encountered. Here is an excerpt from the preface:

    “Instead of quibbling over saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’, let’s recover what it means to celebrate Holy Days. Instead of our cheesy slogans about the ‘Reason for the Season’, let’s just do the season. Let’s joyfully embrace the fact that we will do Advent in the midst of a culture that loves Christmas but doesn’t really understand it. But let’s not be mad about it. We do not live in a Christian culture. We live in an American culture. Our privileged responsibility is to be real Christians in this particular culture. We need not be against this culture anymore than we need to baptize it. Jesus is not competing with Santa…What this culture most needs from the church is real Christians. That is what Advent is designed to do. Advent lifts our hearts to a future of unparalleled possibility and beckons us to awaken from the predictable certainty that our lives have become. Advent rings in a new year, offering Christians once more the chance to begin again. Let us together set our feet on the path of pilgrimage, the way of purposeful wandering…When the church reclaims Advent, the culture will behold Christmas.”

  2. Wow! i’d been missing your blog, Dan. i’m hoping you have a progression in mind for this Advent(ure) leading to Christmass….

    For now, what might congregations and other units of church life do to “listen to one another” in order to see if “we” can get any glimpse of the grace and unity we sometimes speak of?

    Over past weeks i’ve been thinking about gratitude as a value that might offer a viewpoint on life that would help me re-focus on God and God’s grace rather than on my self-centeredness and consequent lack of grace.

  3. Again Dan, you speak the words of my heart. I see glimpses of my guilt and tremble in fear. How do I reverse my lack of desire to hear others when I can’t bear to hear what the may say? Perhaps I am misguided to view the election as a referendum on womanhood. There’s Hillary’s glass ceiling, but there’s also women viewed as powerless playthings for a man’s roving and unrepentent hands. I remain horrified. I can’t bear to hear anyone’s excuse for voting for Trump.

    • Joanne, so clearly put into words of how most of us feel…. I know I have been extremely distracted and have obviously taken my eye off the ONE who has the LAST and only vote that will EVER count

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