Note: I have a file of things that I have written that never made it to their original destination. Usually, these are impassioned defenses of something I believe, in which I find my own statements too strong. Every now and then, I will go through this file and read these things. In January, as I am reorganizing my files, I came across something I wrote that I wanted to share. The original context seems unimportant, and the statement, as it is here, speaks for itself.
I love the United Methodist Church. Certainly it’s possible that some catastrophe might force me to leave it. That would be a day of great sorrow for me and for M. Through it, I have come to know the grace of God. I have learned to respect the traditions of the church, the sacraments, and the sanctified life that we profess to seek. I have seen foreign countries, studied with some of the best biblical scholars in the world and seen the image of God in society’s outcasts, all because God worked on me through the UMC. I appreciate Methodism’s struggles with social justice issues—I believe that, for the most part, we are genuinely honest in our disagreements, I rejoice that it saw the truth with regard to women’s ordination, I love that we do not deny Holy Communion to anyone. I love that we have both homosexuals and bigots in our church, that both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush are United Methodists, that I can pastor 2 white congregations and a black one. I love that one of our mission agencies is across the street from the UN and another began as a Civil War orphanage (and I love that I have been in both). I love that we are in 125 countries and that we share our money. We are traditional and contemporary, liturgically diverse, conservative and liberal, backwards and innovative, stubborn and courageous, often cynical and often hopeful. We have some deep scars and, by God’s grace, we have overcome some terrible sins. There is a richness to the UMC that I cannot fathom leaving.
More likely than not, I’ll be one of those guys that always struggles with the call. Certainly, I am in a state of re-evaluating things, but I can see some clear demarcations. Reviewing this letter, I was struck by the certainty of it–I usually wallow in the gray areas of life. Maybe this is enough for me to know at least a few parameters for my future.
Better than that, I can look back on my life and state with certainty that my church has done well by me. Yes, my ordination process has been rocky–and I had to relive it this morning. But even then, the pain of that ordeal is tightly connected to the love I have for the church and the fact that I have experienced it at its best.
I know many cynics in the church. A UM missionary saw the cynicism too rampant in the church budding in me. He encouraged me to not “sour” on things so quickly and easily. “You’ve seen a lot and you’ll see a lot more,” he said to me. Those words must have meant a lot, because they have stuck with me for over a decade; and they were spoken with kind, tough love. So, I like to think of myself as a recovering cynic. I think that is the second thing that strikes about the statement quoted above: that I so clearly declare love for something important to me. Living in the accuracy of these words ought to melt away any lingering day-to-day disappointments I may have with the church.