Posted in a public place by about a review of the new Superman movie. The review puts an emphasis on the Messiah themes and images from the film.
I think this is why I have never liked Superman. He is a Jesus figure who is not really like the Jesus I prefer at all. He’s the Jesus that most dominionist Christians want- bumbling around saving people but not really relating to people at all-an alien. The Jesus I prefer is more human (but still divine).
I’ve been trying recently to hear the way people talk about their faith. This caught my attention because of that.
My life is full of 30-minute delays: The times when 30 minutes after I have a conversation, I realize something important that I wish I had noticed or said in the moment.
I can’t provide many details of my last case. It involved a pastoral encounter. The summary is this: 30 minutes after it was over, I realized that my focus had been on earthly concerns and comfort rather than eternal issues. I’d dealt with clay jar concerns and neglected the treasure inside.
Pondering this, I was reminded of one of the pieces of John Wesley’s writings that sticks with me.
I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity!
These words have been on this blog since its creation. But how easily I forget them. How easy it is to treat people as just so many animals moving from birth to death. But they will live in eternity after this life is over. And as a pastor, it is my task to help guide them to a happy destiny. Salvation begins in this life, but extends forever.
This observation does not lead me to conclude I should be out screaming in the streets or even that I should press people in clumsy ways. But I do fear I am too often more interested in earthly comfort than eternal destiny.
Have I done what I can and should to make sure people I encounter do not drop into eternity unprepared? Do I act as if the last line of the Apostles Creed is actually true?
A pastor at the Church Leaders site writes about what he sees as the problems with “accountability groups.” In short, his critique is that they lack grace, often are poor environments for true conversation, do not achieve results, and can be easily gamed by those who want to avoid their true purpose.
His solution is to focus on grace, building each other up, distributed leadership, and establishing groups of various sizes for various tasks. The last item would include larger groups for more general accountability and smaller, more intimate groups for real deep sharing.
Is it just me, or does it sound like this fellow just described early Methodism?
William Birch is a Calvinist turned Arminian, a strong believer in biblical inerrancy, and man who, in his own words, struggles with same-sex attraction.
He has written a post on the last issue, but reflecting all three. I will return to it and read it again many times, I predict. Since I do not at the moment have a well-formed reaction to it, I simply link here for your reading.
Here’s an excellent post by Steve Manskar on holiness and inclusiveness.
Open hearts, open minds, and open doors become reality when congregations determine to build and support a culture of holiness centered in Jesus Christ and his mission in the world. Inclusiveness becomes genuine when hearts, minds and doors are open to grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms the world.
What do you apprehend to be more valuable than good sense, good nature, and good manners? All these are contained, and that in the highest degree, in what I mean by Christianity. Good sense (so called) is but a poor, dim shadow of what Christians call faith. Good nature is only a faint, distant resemblance of Christian charity. And good manners, if of the most finished kind that nature, assisted by art, can attain to, is but a dead picture of that holiness of conversation which is the image of God visibly expressed.
— John Wesley, “An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion”
In a seminary class, we’ve been reading a book about non-violent communication. I’m sure that is why the quote above caught me eye. Wesley refers to holiness of conversation as the image of God visibly expressed. All our talk with and to each other should reflect God’s image.
As reasonable as this sounds, though, I do wonder what it means exactly. If I take Scripture as an example, I do not have to go far to find examples of communication that are not warm and fuzzy. The Marshall Rosenberg book linked above describes non-violent communication as avoiding all evaluation and judgment. It says that when we make a request we should not demand compliance.
Clearly, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did not attend a workshop on Rosenberg’s principles. The apostle Paul and the prophets missed the seminar.
So, I wonder what Wesley meant by holy conversation. What does it mean to say the image of God is made visible in our talk with each other?
People do not come to church because they do not know anything about God.
This sentence was near the top of a scrap of paper I picked up off a table where it had been left. The point the author was making was that people who know nothing about God are unlikely to come to church. The task for laity, then, is not to invite people to church — not at first — but to praise God. Talk about God around people, and some of them will get curious.
You have to tell people about God before they are going to be interested in showing up at church to learn more.
As I carried around that scrap of paper today, I thought about the way we have so few qualms about behaving this way about most of the things in our life: TV shows, music, restaurants, funny cat pictures on Facebook, even political stories. People just won’t shut up about things they like, unless it is God.
As the people who sing “O for a thousand tongues to sing, my great redeemer’s praise” I wonder why we have so little to say?
Know then that the Lord your God isn’t giving you this excellent land for you to possess on account of your righteousness—because you are a stubborn people! (Deuteronomy 9:6, CEB)
It is not because we are righteous that God blesses us. He blesses us and calls us to covenant obedience in response to the blessing. God has loved us, so we are called to love God.
But some of those who heard these words had not been slaves in Egypt, right? They were children of the wilderness. They were raised on the humbling bread of the wilderness and the water from the flinty rocks. These were gifts, too, but they were gifts to discipline and humble the people.
When we say God blesses us, it does not mean he gives us a Cadillac. It may mean nothing more than the daily bread that sustains us until tomorrow. It may be the one lifted high that we look upon and are cured of the poison bite of the serpents.
God’s people are those who have learned to say “Praise be to God” for the gifts of Egypt, the gifts of the wilderness, and the gifts of the land.
Two posts this week again illustrate how divided or how diverse (depending on if you are a pessimist or an optimist) the United Methodist Church is when it comes to sexual ethics.
Roger Wolsey cheers on the growing assertiveness of progressive pastors who openly defy church rules.
Talbot Davis laments that exegeting the Bible can get you called names.
Kevin Watson extends his conversation about class meetings in the 21st century by offering some suggestions and cautions about online class meetings. The post includes his thinking on the best way to conduct such meetings, but his hesitation about going online is worthy of careful consideration before making the leap to online:
Before I sketch what I think would be the ideal way to organize an online class meeting, I want to make one qualification. One of the values of the class meeting is that it was a way to ensure that every person who was associated with “the people called Methodists” was connected to a community of people who were seeking to be saved from their sins and would watch over one another in love. A concern I always have when discussing online class meetings is that it will be a way for people to play it safe and join together with those they are already comfortable with, rather than risking inviting people around you to try something new. In early Methodism, the class meeting was one of the major pieces of the early Methodist movement. Better to start a class meeting in any form than not start one. But in my mind, it is even better to start one with people in your local church, to invite and encourage them to grow in their love and knowledge of God. I believe that a return to a form of small group practice like the class meeting is one of the best hopes for Wesleyan faith communities, but can only bring renewal to local churches to the extent that they are connected to local churches.
Check out the full post here.
I also have collected Kevin’s previous posts in the series on a page here.