I grew up in the Southern Baptist church. I went to church every Sunday. I spent time with my Southern Baptist grandfather praying with the sick, visiting homes, and reading the Bible. I professed my faith and was baptized at 12 (the age of accountability); I went on mission trips and choir tours. I went camping and know every Baptist retreat center in a 6 state radius. But somewhere around college I lost the faith. I really begin to question whether my faith was just all heart (emotion). The big question for me was whether I was a Christian or if I was just going through the motions of Christianity. After I got married, my wife told me we had to go to church, but I was still skeptical. How could I know if my faith was real? (Much later I would discover John Wesley wrestled with the same question). We joined The United Methodist Church mainly because she worked at one.
It was in The United Methodist Church that I finally found a place that balanced a rich tradition in the past with a look toward the future. I found a place that held things in the tension of the cross. I found a place where all four spiritual types were held in balance: heart (passionate, evangelistic, Emmaus, Cursillo), head (theologically deep, intellectually stimulating), kingdom (social justice, outreach, missions, VIM, UMW, UMCOR), and mystic (sacramental, The Upper Room). I believe this is unique to our denomination.
Someone once told me that The United Methodist Church is where Roman Catholic people go when they marry a Baptist. Maybe this is more true than we fully understand. Yes, the UMC has been compared to the University of Phoenix when it comes to beliefs, but I don’t think this is because we have too many expressions of faith or people who join the church from other denominations. I think that we get labeled as the church where you can believe anything because we have forgotten our core basics.
We’ve lost our roux!
In Louisiana, we make a dish called gumbo. It comes in different types: seafood, shrimp, chicken and sausage. The main ingredients are always the same: roux (your base of flour and oil–the binder ingredient), the trinity (celery, onions, green peppers), and rice. Even though the main ingredients are always the same, every gumbo I have tasted is slightly different. Some folks use okra, while others think that okra is one of the seven deadly sins. In one area of the state, folks add potato salad (I picked up this habit while I was serving a church so now I do to), while other areas of the state are purist and only use rice. My wife substitutes carrots instead of green peppers for the trinity, so she would probably be labeled a heretic in the state. Gumbo recipes are prized possessions that are handed down through the generations. One of the first thing that families teach their children in Louisiana is how to make the roux because before you make the gumbo, you have to make the roux.
Maybe instead of theological hodgepodge, we are theological gumbo.
Maybe the conversations we have had up till now in the UMC have all been about the extra flavors. What if the real conversation we need to have is about our roux? If this is the case in The United Methodist Church today, then our first and primary objective is not to work out our extra flavors, but to rediscover our main ingredients. What is our roux (binder)? What are our common core theological values and doctrines as United Methodists? Who is our Holy Trinity? Can we agree upon the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit? What is our rice? What are our identifiers that make us United Methodists?
I am wondering what would happen if we spent more time recovering our main ingredients. What would we do if we could remember what it is that makes The United Methodist Church so great?