UMC

Giving as a Discipline of Unlearning

The more I engage with the spiritual disciplines of my faith tradition, the more I am shown their pedagogy. Rather than teaching me things, the disciplines guide me to unlearn what I thought I knew.

For example, the discipline of giving financially to the work of God. I tend to be one who feels there will not be enough money in my life to meet my needs. So I am prone to withhold my giving because what if I need something and don’t have the money for it? Or what about saving for retirement? Shouldn’t I give as little as I can to ensure that I have enough saved for my golden years? Also, I am a better decider of how my money should be spent and so why should I trust another who will frivolously spend it?

Notice how much I think I “know” about how the world works in these basic assumptions.

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The discipline and practice of giving shows me I need to unlearn what I know. It is impossible to learn a new way until I unlearn the old way. As such the discipline of giving is not something that will teach me anything but will help me unlearn the old assumptions. This is why we say through giving God transforms us. It is not the giving that changes us, it is God that changes us as we go through the practice of giving. The discipline is not the destination, it is the bridge that can help us get to a different place.

As of late, many in my denomination are choosing to not give to the denomination because of how the church upholds or violates rules. I get it. Who would want to give to an organization that perpetuates what you feel is sin? What the practice of giving to the church has shown me is that I do not withhold my money to other organizations that perpetuate sin. Tech companies still gets my money, despite knowing work conditions are not good. I bought a “Trump brand” tie, knowing that there are ethical matters related to the president using the office for personal financial gain. I pay my taxes knowing that wars are waged with those monies. I shop on Amazon knowing that the discount I get comes at the cost of selling my data. I scroll through facebook knowing that they care less about connection then about the bottom line.

The discipline of giving has shown me that I am in great need to unlearn the false story I tell myself: I only give to organizations that I fully support.

The Church has her faults and I am a part of the organization. I confess and repent of my failings in the organization. However, it is revealed to me that if I am going to give my money to organizations that exploit and do damage in the world, then I can also give money to those organizations that are trying, but are not immune to fault, to repair the world. For all her faults, the Church is trying to repair the world. The Church educates and builds hospitals. When the private sector cannot see a profit in a problem the church steps in and tries to fill the need (it is churches that are housing people on the boarder, not businesses). The Church is involved in prisons and psychiatric wards. The Church is there when you are born to remind you that you are loved and there when you die to bless you as important.

I have so much to unlearn about what I “know” to be true. I give thanks for the spiritual disciplines that are a means to unlearn the false so that I might learn the Truth of God.

Tossing Jesus Off A Cliff

…And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The group is excited because they are anticipating that Jesus is going to not only do great things among them, but probably even going to give them a little extra. Like when you go to a restaurant and know the server and they tend to your table a little more than others and bring you a birthday dessert even though it is not your birthday. This town is looking to get the hook up, as the kids say.

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Jesus says that in fact God has a history of giving favors to people other than the chosen ones. Jesus cites two times when Elijah and Elisha both were sent not to the chosen people but to the foreigners.

The people around Jesus got super angry and move to give him the death of a heretic. All because Jesus reminded them that God is less interested in giving the “extra good stuff” to the chosen ones and more interested in integrating the ones that the people of God thought were downright unrepentant sinners.

Imagine a group of people agreeing that they are in the right, that Jesus should take care of them first, because he is one of them, and they are the majority. Jesus says he is not going to do that but go to the hated minorities. Perhaps people cry out, but we are the majority Jesus and we are the faithful ones! Jesus might have reminded them that they should be the first ones to understand why he is to go integrate the minority. Instead of seeing that grace compels us to move beyond what we identify as kosher or orthodox, they decided to drive Jesus off a cliff.

But that was a long time ago.

Theological Orientation of the UMC, great. Tell me about Samaria

This report has been making its way among the internet the past several days. The two main talking points are from the opening line of the report which reads:

The United Methodist Church is a big tent theologically, and people with conservative or traditional religious beliefs make up the largest group under that spreading canvas.”

This has been used to augment different arguments around the denomination about different positions. Conservatives/Traditionalists (C/T) argue that this is proof that there are more C/T and thus the church should move lightly if embracing anything that is progressive. Progressives/Liberals (P/L) say that this study also shows that we are a big tent and majorities are not always the measure of what God desires.

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Of course we forget that the average age of an United Methodist is 57 … and this was in 2014 (which was the latest that I could find in the time that I allowed myself to research this question). At the same time the clergy are getting older and there are fewer younger people in the pews and pulpits.

All I want to point out is that it is far more interesting (and relevant) to the future of the church to determine the theological orientation of non-members of the UMC.

Who really cares what the self reported theological orientation of those already in the Church is? If scripture has shown us anything it is that the theological orientations of the people of God are often wrong, misguided and susceptible to sin and corruption. One might imagine the people in the desert identifying as traditional as they desired to go back to Egypt. While others might have self identified as progressive as they melted down the gold to form their idol.

If the church of Jesus Christ is to go to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth”, then it is of greater interest to know what those in “Samaria” believe so that the Church can reach to “the ends of the earth.”

The Lack Of Unity Is A Feature Not A Bug

Photo by  Jachan DeVol  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jachan DeVol on Unsplash

What if the lack of unity is a feature not a bug?

The more I immerse myself in scripture, the more I come to see that the Church of Jesus Christ has always had a lack of unity. Read Corinthians or Romans. Perhaps the Jerusalem Council in Acts or the obvious lack of unity between Jesus and Judas or Jesus and Peter. The Church has always had a lack of unity.  

But why would a lack of unity be a feature and not a bug? Perhaps it is because the lack of unity in the Church means that the Church is bound together by something deeper than beliefs, doctrine, interpretation or anything else.

Imagine we were to create a Church that does have a lack of unity. Imagine a Church that has all the answers, that has all the questions properly ordered and the interpretations unquestionably clear. This Church would be unified on all matters and all thoughts. This Church would not need a savior.

Paradoxically, what holds the Church together is our collective lack.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a lack of unity because it has a unity in lack.

The thing that binds the Church together is the reality that we all have a lack. We all have fallen short, we have missed the mark. We lack the ability to save ourselves. We lack the knowledge of how to get out of the messes we make. We lack the foresight and the insight to see how far reaching our sin and mistakes are. The Church has gathered for two thousand years to declare, “We lack salvation, we repent, forgive us and heal us, O God!”

The lack of unity in the UMC is not a problem, it reminds me that we are always and all in need of the savior we call Christ. The Good News is tied up in the reality that the Church is a unity of lack.