When did it happen?
Was it after a meeting?
Was it in the middle of a worship service?
Maybe it was the impact of reading John the Baptizer’s sermon on Isaiah.
Perhaps it was all, none, or some of each. I do know this. It has finally happened.
What is it?
I must let go of the cookie cutter, pre-fabricated, one size fits all, Americanized, deodorized, and sanitized Christianity I’ve been pushing as the Gospel. I live in a denominational culture (and society) which increasingly expects Jesus’ values to be synonymous with those who are outraged at red cups, the placement of nativity scenes, gay marriage, health care, and admitting Syrian refugees. There is an expectation that I will echo those sentiments and mirror the beliefs being placed onto Jesus’ blank conscience. I can no longer meet these expectations. I will not put the words of presidential candidates or cultural commentators into Jesus’ mouth. I will no longer be an American Christian who preaches the American Jesus.
As emphatic as I am, I need to be clear:
I am not a heretic.
I am a Christian. I am also an American. The two are not synonymous. They are not the same. My Christianity doesn’t automatically demand my allegiance to any political movement, party, or cause.
I am obedient to God. I am a radical monotheist.
The Bible is an entire book; not a few flawed scriptures to be exploited for personal or political gain.
I believe in Jesus.
I believe in what neither the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed bother to mention: love. The love of God is as powerful as it is inexplicable.
Jesus isn’t uniquely American, one size fits all, clean, Christian, or Methodist. I’m tired of publicly pretending otherwise. Jesus is Jesus. He may be a Syrian Muslim refugee one day. He may be a homeless veteran the next day. He is both things at all times. You can’t pin Jesus down.
When we try to put God in a box of our own creation, God leaves the box. Inside, we will find a distorted version of ourselves. This distortion is man-made god which hates what we hate, loves what we loves, and is not God. It is an idol, a false God.
We’ve made Jesus an outsider in his own church. As such, many of the people we need to reach and welcome into the body of Christ have been marginalized by the church and become outsiders by the Americanization of the Gospel. For example, we’ve made discriminating against gay and lesbian Christians a theological and bureaucratic art form. Cloaked in the language of administrative compromise, we’ve convinced ourselves the soft bigotry of fake love is justified because our strangely warmed hearts are in the right place.
I’m letting go of the security of being an insider so I can better embrace the outsiders.
I’m letting go of explaining why God loves, blesses, and anoints some persons and not others. God loves everyone without condition.
I’m letting go of trying to make Jesus culturally acceptable for American congregations. He is who he is. Jesus is from Roman Palestine. He is Jewish. He is brown skinned and dirt poor.
I’m letting go of the fear underlying the United Methodist apportionment system, America’s immigration system, our national defense system, and so many areas of our lives.
I’m letting go of the hammers being handed me. I’m tired of being told I’m only effective if I’m hitting things.
What I’ve said here will make people angry. They will read my words and see themselves in what I’ve written. Others may feel attacked. I’m not attacking anyone. If you find my words disturbing, I would ask you to examine your own conscience. You can join me. You don’t have to hold on any longer. Once you’ve let go and your hands are free, imagine what we could pick up. The broken lives and shattered souls, discarded among the ruins of our perpetual Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays wait to be mended.
I am happy to have shared this time with you.
Blessings for Advent