Know Who You Are

A classic poem by T.S. Eliot begins like this:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The Hollow Men talks about the difficulty of hope in a post WW1 world. It is a tragic poem and almost painful to read at times. He ends it with one of the most hopeless stanzas that has ever been written:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I have reflected time and time again on this blog and on our podcast how the only hope that I see for the United Methodist Church is the local church doing vital ministry in their local context. My fear is that the next three years will be one of pain and turmoil for the local church. My fear is that the burden of denominational politics will find its fight spreading to our local churches. My fear is that ideology is going to play out in a thousand battles across our seminaries, our boards and agencies, our annual conferences, and our local churches.

This is already happening! I know local churches that are now having these same battles. Members who are mad at other members. People who have went to church together their whole lives are now not speaking to one another. Alliances are being formed for the battles to be waged. Camps are coming together. Political groups are taking the place of congenial groups.

While we are busy fighting these battles we are not busy doing ministry. Every moment spent focusing on ideology is a moment not spent on why we are disciples of Jesus in the first place. Every single millisecond of thought given to these battles is a millisecond of thought not given to God’s work. Let me give you one example for your own Annual Conference. I would encourage you to look up the data in your AC. It takes looking at only two points of data in your conference journal.

  1. How many churches has your Annual Conference closed in the past 5 years?
  2. How many churches has your Annual Conference planted in the past 5 years?

My guess is the answer to number 1 is a lot, and the answer to number 2 is not many. Most consultants and church planters will tell you the stark truth. Annual Conferences need to plant 10 new churches a year just to maintain the current status of the denomination. TEN! This doesn’t even begin to address growth. While we spend the next few years battling my guess is more churches will close or leave or slowly die. The stark truth to that reality is that unless we do something now there will not be a United Methodist Church to fight over in the future.

My fear is that this is the way a once great denomination ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. Slowly fading away into irrelevance in a society that is increasingly looking elsewhere for meaning.

So what can be done? What can keep us from becoming hollow and ending with a whimper?

I have written on it before and I will continue to write about. It is the most important thing to really understand.

Identity.

We have lost sight of who we are and what we are meant to do. One of the youth who joined our church last year after a mission trip told her mom, “Mom, I am a Methodist.” I understood what she was saying. She is not Baptist or Catholic or Presbyterian or Pentecostal. She is Methodist. She claimed that identity as her own. She was proud to be a part of our church and loves her church family.

Our kid’s favorite movie right now is Moana. Moana is a great movie and it is all about identity. (The Lion King is very similar and is also about identity)

*Spoilers*

maxresdefaultMoana over the course of the movie has to discover who she is and why she was the one chosen to restore the world. She has to sail over the ocean and restore the heart to Te Fiti. There is one scene in the movie that gets me every time. Literally I cry every single time. The fire monster, Te Ka, is racing towards her after trying to destroy her with fire. Moana calmly walks towards Te Ka singing:

I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
I may have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

The fire monster, Te Ka, was Te Fiti the whole time. After Maui stole her heart she “forgot” who she was and what she was supposed to do. Her creation turned to destruction.  Every single time I see this scene I think we have forgotten who we are. Our creation has turned into destruction. We are quickly becoming Te Ka.

Te_Fiti_(Profile)That is why I refuse to engage in this battle anymore. I will not give it another mention on this blog or on social media. After the lead up to and the Judicial Council meetings, I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone. I refuse to engage in group arguments discussions over this. They do not add to the life of the church. They are not productive and they don’t help us find our identity. I don’t want to be Te Ka. I want to speak life. I am interested in creation more than destruction.

My prayer is that someone will come and restore the heart of Methodism and remind us of who we are. Who we REALLY are.

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:13-14 NLT

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