Talking, Doing, and Making a Difference

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It’s hard to go through life feeling like your hands are tied. You see global problems and significant issues and want to act. But you can’t do anything. Your hands and feet are bound. If you could, you’d run to aid those who are suffering. You’d shout at the top of your lungs to draw attention to the cause of those you’re trying to help. That doesn’t work, either. When you open your mouth, you have no voice. The voice you do have is shouted down. No one can hear you or pays attention to your words. This is what I experience and feel when I watch the news. I see reports from Ukraine or the US/Mexico border and want to do something tangible to end the war and alleviate the rampant human suffering on display.

My first inclination is to pray. I have to admit I don’t know what to pray for, so I pray for an open-ended end to suffering, pain, and violence. Almost a year into Europe’s most significant land war since 1945 and after watching thousands of impoverished migrants who’ve walked for months across jungles to come to the United States, this seems like a paltry response, given the gravity of the respective situations. Here I sit, in my warm and comfortable home (office, church, etc.), muttering a few words after observing the misery of others and expecting the God of the cosmos to do something, anything, to alleviate the suffering strangers half a world away. I’m so tired of watching nothing happen, the evidence of war crimes becoming more apparent, and refugees not being welcomed into the United States of America. Recently, I’ve thought about my need to involve God in praying for the Ukrainian war or the migrants. I want the war to end and migrants to be welcomed not simply because I am a Christian or pastor but because it is the right and moral thing to do. People deserve to be treated well because of our shared humanity, not solely because a religious text instructs us to do so.

I guess, in some way, through my prayers, I’m trying to make myself feel better. At least I’ve done something, I’ll say to myself. I’m aware, I care, and I’m informed. I know God’s not unaware of the needs of the Ukrainians or the migrants, but somewhere deep down inside, I think my “seconding the motion” helps. Then again, who am I to tell God what God obviously already knows? Shouldn’t I be doing something rather than just talking about the problem?

Once I’ve said it, I feel like I’ve done something; I can check it off my list and then move on to the next item on my agenda. The thing is, here recently, I don’t feel better. I feel worse. I feel like I should be doing more. I feel like the more I pray, the worse the situation becomes. I see how overwhelmed the people trying to aid the migrants are with each passing day. I want to do something besides close my eyes and talk to God. I ask myself, “Where’s the middle ground between going to the Polish border or El Paso and sitting in Hillsborough and waiting for God to move on Vladimir Putin’s non-existent heart?” I don’t have an answer to that question. We’ve sent money to UMCOR. I’ve raised money and tried to help people on the border. If there is a blank, I’ve filled it in. All I know is this: our words aren’t cutting it.

What happens when Christmas is over and the willingness to be charitable fades? To borrow a phrase that’s popular at the moment, none of our altruism seems effective. The good we (collectively as Christians and as a denomination) do is all short-term, motivated by the emotions brought up by the Christmas holiday. We’ll keep praying and waiting on Vladimir Putin to do what Dr. Seuss allowed the Grinch to do-experience a change of heart. That’s the only way this stupid, vicious war will ever end.

–Richard Bryant

How Methodist Is Jesus

Boxes from which Jesus escaped

Jesus is a great Christ. In fact, he’s the best Christ.  However, I think he would be a horrible Methodist.  By today’s evangelical standards, Jesus wouldn’t be “church” leadership material. He’s a little squishy on the crucial theological issues of the day. Jesus doesn’t love the sinner and hate the sin. He loves unconditionally.  I’ve never seen Jesus forward a meme asking anyone to type “Amen”.  Truly, the man is not a distinction drawer. This would make some people uncomfortable.  People like his disciples.

Mark 9:38-41 illustrates how poorly Jesus would fit in with contemporary Methodists. The disciples have come to Jesus with a complaint. “We’ve seen others doing things in your name, people casting out demons. But here’s the thing, Jesus. We don’t know the guy. He doesn’t hang around with us. He seems to be someone who’s heard about you and is now off doing is own thing.” Speaking like keepers of the institutional flame, the disciples want to know why this man is doing Jesus-like things without going through an official board or a litmus test of theological orthodoxy.

Jesus’ answer gives him away. It tells me he wouldn’t be a “good” United Methodist. (Official Methodism has structures designed to limit people from operating outside the system.) Jesus says, “Don’t stop him.” Not only does Jesus want the disciples to refrain from hindering this man, he reminds them, “whoever isn’t against us is for us.” The apathetic masses, Jesus says, those millions who don’t go to church or do church differently are actually for us.

The disciples are wondering: How can those who are indifferent to us do any tangible good (for the kingdom) in the long run? People who aren’t against us may be for us, yet they don’t pay our apportionments. The disciples want to know how Jesus would report this at Charge Conference.  Jesus certainly isn’t a United Methodist.

No, Jesus doesn’t sound like a Christian, United Methodist, Evangelical, or anything else. He’s none of those things. Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ. He will not fit into the boxes we’ve built.  Thank God. That’s the way it should be. Now, more than ever, we need to work with people who are different from us and realize the guy working in Jesus’ name who makes us uncomfortable IS Jesus.

Richard Lowell Bryant