Here is a story Andrew Root shares in his Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness.
A bible scholar meets a young man who claims to have a deep love for Jesus. They talked for some time about his commitment, about matters of faith, and the Bible. When Sunday worship came up, though, the young man explained he rarely went to worship. Compared to the adrenaline he felt from working out (he was a bodybuilder), he said Sunday worship was just too boring.
“I thought you loved Jesus,” the professor observed.”
” I do, I really do” the young man answered.
“Do you think you’d be willing to die for him?” asked the scholar.
The young man’s enthusiasm was lessened. Still, he replied, “Yes; yes, I think I would. I would die for Jesus.”
“So, let me get this straight,” he said, “you’re willing to die for Jesus, but not be bored for Jesus?”
As many as three times a week, I am tempted to argue with my kids. But in that particular setting, I know it won’t do any good. It would be to start an argument I cannot win.
We try always to eat dinner together as a family, even if I have an evening meeting. Then, when I do have a meeting, and I get ready to leave, nobody is happy. I would rather stay home; they would rather I stay home.
Sometimes one of them says something like
You’re always gone at meetings. You never stay home with us.
I know this isn’t true. I am home at least a couple of nights a week! And, what’s more, I know parents who aren’t able to come home for dinner with their families as often as I do. And I know parents who simply don’t come home, even if they are able.
But when my kids say those things, I don’t respond with reasons, or justification, or by attempting to prove to them that I am doing better than some parents. None of those things would help. None of those are arguments I could win.
Instead, I hug them again, tell them I love them, and encourage them to “make good choices” while I am gone. I think they understand when I have to go to a meeting, and I think I understand how they feel.
I am very sure arguing won’t make it any better. In fact, taking up a case against their wanting their dad to stay home would actually work against me. I don’t want to convince them that I should be going to meetings, and I especially don’t want to convince them that they shouldn’t miss me.
So I accept their love and offer mine in return. Which is probably almost always better than arguing.
I remember saying this at least once: “It’s not you; it’s me.” Like you might expect, I said this, at least in part, with the intent that the person with whom I was breaking up not to take it personally.
Like every relationship, though, the actual truth would probably have been more “it’s some you, and some me.
I thought of this about a week ago, as reactions and reverberations to The United Methodist Church’s 2019 General Conference started to flow. Then I realized that I had done a good bit of blame placing of my own. I almost became a Facebook Troll of a fellow UM Clergyperson! I typed out and all-but-hit “send” several times. In fact, if I were confronted with everything I did actually post or tweet, I might find a few that I would now undo.
It was in that process of self reflection that the phrase, “It’s not me; it’s you” came to mind. This time, though, it was with this reference point. The ‘analysis’ and reactions to #GC2019 all seemed to share this one characteristic: The problem was, is, will be, with some “other;” the other side, my opponents, etc.
In other words, most of the early reflections on General Conference 2019 were
It’s not me; it’s you.
Which really just shows how easily we tend to get caught up casting blame away from ourselves.
What if some of the “It’s not me; it’s you” that has been going around within United Methodism for more than 30 years met up with a larger dose of “It’s not you; it’s me”?
What have I been doing or saying; what has my “side” been doing or saying that contributes to our inability, as Christian brothers and sisters, to find a way toward the future to which God is calling us?
As long as the other is the problem, we will not find a satisfactory solution.
A funny thing happened on the way to a memorial service. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but a granddaughter of the deceased said, “well, it’s not written in stone….” In that moment, I made a connection that seemed so obvious I was at once wanting to think more about it and also wondering how I hadn’t thought of it before.
The idiom “written in stone” obviously refers to something written permanently; unchangeable.
The most obvious and best known example of which is, of course, the 10 Commandments. Think Charlton Heston or Mel Brooks, but we’ve all got imagery in our minds now, right? Those commandments were etched in stone. Literally carved. Permanent.
The 10 Commandments seem to be the go-to source for law and rightness. We’ve fought over putting them up on courthouse lawns and teaching them in public schools. Some people want you to think they are the foundation for western law.
All of this came flooding to me as we walked toward the sanctuary for the memorial service. All this was inspired by the simple phrase “written in stone.”
And then, just a split second later, I also realized this: Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was.
He didn’t cite any of those 10.
Jesus went to Deuteronomy 6:5, which says
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. (CEB)
and that wasn’t enough. He wasn’t going for 10, though. He added this, from Leviticus 19, saying this one “is like it:
you must love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, CEB)
So, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he didn’t go to something that was written in stone.
I am still wrestling with what this means, but I really felt I had to share it with you.
There’s not much future for CRT televisions, as evidenced by this sight on the curb this morning as I drove by. And it’s not even so much that the television was put on the curb. What really struck me is that I doubt anyone will want it enough to pick it up.
Which was clearly the owner’s intention. They left the remote on top of the tv!
Since I welcome insight from just about anywhere, and since I am caught up in prayer and concern for The United Methodist Church and #GC2019, I saw this tv with remote, sitting on a curb, as a metaphor.
I just wish I knew exactly what it was a metaphor for.
Once upon a time this kind of television was worth something. Now, you literally can’t give it away by leaving it on the curb.
I just did something I need to do more often, but I’m not sure I picked the best time to start.
I was told a caller wanted to talk to me as Senior Pastor. This person had called for financial assistance and not gotten the answer they wanted.
Our church receives multiple calls everyday for financial assistance. We do not offer financial assistance, but do help people find other sources.
The caller wanted me to agree that the other staff person hadn’t responded to them in an appropriate way.
I try to tell people things they want to hear. If it were up to me, I would never say anything that hurt anyone’s feelings.
But that’s my personality; it is not what I am called to. I want to continue to do my best to consider the feelings and reactions of others, but Jesus’ example that I want to follow, that I am called (and ordained) to follow, is to be willing to say things that need to be said, as much as is possible, in ways they will be heard.
I don’t think I was heard. Because, in fact, I was hung up on.
As soon as I heard the dial tone I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong time NOT to say what I knew the other person wanted to hear.
But I don’t think so.