Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Does "Evangelical" Mean?

Recently, the Sojourners blog has been doing a series on the topic "What is an Evangelical?" I was particularly struck by the response by Lynne Hybels. She talks about encountering a difficult time in her life, and how she responded by reading about Jesus over and over again. She connects the Jesus of the pietists- those who emphasize a personal relationship with God- and the Jesus of the activists- those who emphasize social holiness. She writes:
At that point in my life I desperately needed to be welcomed, valued, understood, seen and forgiven. I desperately needed to sit in that Presence of ultimate and unconditional love. I needed to know -- and I still need to know, every day -- that I am loved despite my failures, tha I am loved for the uniqueness of my true self, and that I am loved as I sit quietly doing absolutely nothing to earn, or buy, or chase that love... Whenever I lean fully into the reality of my loneliness, my insecurity, my fear, or my brokenness, I find Jesus there loving me. That has become a Mystery I cannot live without.

In Jesus I also found a radical call to compassionate action in the world. At Jesus' first public appearance he said, "I have come to set the captives free and to preach good news to the poor." Then, through his teaching and life of servanthood, he slowly and methodically turned the values of the powerful Roman Empire upside down. He threw the moneychangers out of the temple because they were exploiting the poor. He said that when we feed the hungry or clothe the naked it's like we're doing it to him. He said to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. Jesus changed the rules and ushered in an upside-down Kingdom.
I couldn't have said it better myself. God is a God of love. As Jesus loves us, we are to love the world. We are to evangelize, literally to "be good newsing" in the world. What does it mean to "be good newsing?" Lynne showed us that it means to be aware of Jesus' love for us and to bring that love to the world. We are to bring about Christ's upside-down Kingdom. Amen, amen, and amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jesus and the Moneychangers in the Temple

In case you haven't noticed, I love getting news from the General United Methodist Church. One of my favorite ways to spend my lunch hour is to read the GBCS emails, which I did yesterday. Jim Winkler, the GBCS General Secretary, wrote about the Occupy Together movement currently sweeping the nation. The title of his essay was "Occupying the Temple."  He writes,

"The dream of upward mobility based on hard work appears to be slipping away for many. The system is gamed in favor of those with money and connections. When money buys political power and corruption is the norm, young people lose faith in democracy. A whole generation is losing faith. Occupy Wall Street is an example of the response. Those involved are creating a participatory democracy. It’s old fashioned people power. Like Jesus, they are occupying the temple of the moneychangers. If a nation's leaders won’t address an intractable problem, the people will."

What Winkler means by "occupying the temple of the moneychangers" is that the Occupy movement is going directly to today's temples- the financial districts of our cities. One thing I learned in seminary is that the temple (Jewish and pagan) were essentially banks. They were where people's money was kept safe, and a mini-market was inside, where people could buy things they needed, including animals for sacrifice. And the religious officials- pharisees and sadducees- were in charge. When Jesus went into the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers (Matt 21), that was a political action. When he said, " ‘It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers," he was saying, "Something is very wrong here!" That was an audacious thing to do when he was being watched by the religious officials!

a sign I saw recently at Occupy Boston
 photo is mine
That is what those who participate in Occupy movements around the country are doing. They are saying that something is very wrong. It's not fair that those at the top are hoarding all the resources while the rest of us suffer. It's not justice. And our God is a God of justice. If we are on the side of God, we are also on the side of those who are poor and suffering. When those who have power and authority are misusing that power, it's time to challenge the status quo. There is a time for everything, and even Jesus knew that there are appropriate times to challenge those in charge- when things aren't right. Jesus was being a rabble-rouser! And he did it because he cares about those in need.

Perhaps a little holy rabble rousing isn't beyond our purview as the people of God. Have you ever felt angry about something that wasn't right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The UMC Then and Now

Today I stumbled across the blog of Deborah Coble Wise, a UMC pastor in Iowa. She found an article written in 1969 about the Church of the future. In it, Rev. Ronald W. Tapp is interviewed about what the future of the institutional Church would be like. The writer reports,

Recently on a three month research assignment for analysis and planning, Dr. Tapp said in an interview that indications are that the organizational structures of churches "are not going to make it" to the end of the century." "The long-range prospects are good for essential Judeo-Christianity, but not for the institutions." he said.

Wow, that really describes what is going on in the UMC today. This article speaks to this particular moment in UMC history, because the Call to Action Report has just been published. This document was written by United Methodists who are trying to cope with the changes our church has been facing, especially its declining membership, and it proposes radical changes- some of which were well-received and some of which were not. Some of what Rev. Trapp predicts especially rings true:
- A re-enactment of the fundamentalist-liberal fight of 60 years ago...It already has resulted in a marked polarization of the church at all levels...the split may become irreparable.

-With Protestants and Roman Catholics "no longer in real dispute" over major doctrines, they will move increasingly toward "merger at practical levels" - between fundamental Protestants and fundamental Catholics and between liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics.

- Most institutional members will be 45 years old, and up.  "There will be a steady decrease in total membership...fewer youths will join the church." On the other hand, there will be "increasing interest in religion and Christianity" among college students and young adults but "they will continue to avoid the institutional church."

-The main theological shift will be away from doctrine of divine transcendence toward a "doctrine of panentheism," which holds that "God is in everything," in contrast from pantheism, which says "God is everything."
Whoa. All of those things actually happened, and they constitute our everyday reality right now. It's hard to believe sometimes that folks back then could never have conceived of these things, but on the other hand, a lot of UMC local churches today still behave as if it's 1969. They are denying the reality around them, or at least, refusing to participate in it.

Could there be a better way to deal with these new spiritual realities in our world than to refuse to participate? I think so. There must be a way to engage them while standing firm in the faith. And that, my friends, is the delicate balance of living a life of faith in our day and age. What do you do to keep your balance in your faith journey?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Occupy Movement: A Call to Repentance

This Saturday, I went to visit Occupy Boston with my friend, Brother Anthony, who was in town for the weekend. I have been following the formation of Occupy Boston since the first General Assembly a couple of weeks ago, but I had been following it online. I arrived just as the march of the day converged at the Federal Reserve building in downtown Boston's financial district. The patch of ground that OB is occupying is Dewey Square, which is in between that building and the Bank of America building. As soon as I arrived, I was introduced to the "people's mic," which is a procedure by which people can make speeches even if they don't have a permit to use a bullhorn. The speaker says a phrase, and then all the people around her/him repeat it loudly so that the whole crowd can hear. I also immediately spotted these young ladies holding a handmade sign:

photo is mine

I realized then that it was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and a time of repentance and making amends for one's sins against others. I thought that their sign really demonstrated... well, why they're demonstrating. They are upset that Wall Street bankers are getting away with theft against the American people, and they haven't been held accountable for their actions- actions that have impoverished millions of Americans and forced them to leave their homes.

I only took a quick tour of the camp, but right away I got the sense that folks were there for the long haul. They were about the business of building a movement. I will definitely have to return frequently. While I don't agree with, say, the anarchists or the socialists, I do agree with the main message of the movement- fairness and accountability. Equality. Democracy. No one knows where this movement is going, but I am excited to find out!

I hope you'll stick around for what I hope will become regular installments about the movement. I think we can all agree that we are all accountable to God for our actions. And that a nation that purports to believe in equality and ethics should hold wrongdoers accountable too. Our justice should become more and more like God's justice. It's time to start thinking about where we went wrong and what we can do to make things right. In a sense, it's time for a Yom Kippur for the whole nation.