Our Connectional Game of Thrones

A couple of weeks before United Methodists gather in Portland, Oregon for their General Conference, the highly anticipated sixth season of Game of Thrones will debut on HBO. This will be the first season to leapfrog its source material, A Song of Ice and Fire, the popular fantasy series by George R. R. Martin. The second promotional trailer for this season, released just a week ago, already has 14 million views.

Game of Thrones logoWhile Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon, it is also very clearly intended for a mature audience. Even though the show’s fandom assuredly includes some Methodists, there have been moments throughout that have rightly given viewers, religious or not, pause.

Of course, the same might be said of the quadrennial meeting United Methodists call General Conference. Billed as a “global church gathering” accompanied with celebratory displays of worship and recognition of Connectional work, this meeting of the denomination’s “top legislative body” can also be a babelesque confusion of cultures, values, and theology. The $10.5 million price tag for this church gathering, given the elusiveness of substantive results, also gives many pause.

Mission Accomplished and a Savior that Knows Better

Does the image accompanying this post disturb you a little? I hope it does. The juxtaposition of this dubious image of American power with the work of Christ is intentional. Despite the misguided efforts of much of the modern Church, these things are like oil and water.

Holy Week provides us an opportunity to repent and cleanse a Church that has been unfaithful in its presentation of the Gospel and in its acclimation to a culture obsessed with celebrity, success, and power.

The Church has a Jessica Alba-sized Problem

Jessica Alba’s Honest Company has a problem. It’s a problem many churches can relate to.

Founded by Alba and Christopher Gavigan, Honest Co. has built its brand on the promise of delivering environmentally-friendly personal care items for the home. It has also effectively capitalized upon America’s fixation and trust in its celebrities and our tendency to believe that we can do social good by spending money on ourselves. In a few short years, this young company has minted a “$1.7 billion private evaluation” off of their promises and artful sales of simple products at a premium.

The Honest Co. has built a strong brand around doing what is right and being, for lack of a better word, honest. And that is why The Wall Street Journal’s expose revealing the use of sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) in their laundry detergent product is so damning.  This chemical, commonly found in the products of their reviled (by them) competitors, is defined by Honest Co. as a “known irritant,” and is clearly marked as a chemical their products are “Honestly Made Without.”

Independent studies commissioned by the WSJ to verify The Honesty Co. truthiness found SLS in their laundry detergent (the one product they tested) in amounts comparable to Tide.

So much for honesty…

Jesus or Trump. Who will you follow?

Donald Trump or Jesus Christ. Who should we follow?

  • One promises to make America great again; the other rejected the Satanic temptation to rule.
  • One promises a wall and false security; the other demands hospitality for the refugee and tells us to “fear not.”
  • One dismisses his competitors calling them “Losers”; the other calls us to love and respect our enemies.

And this list could go on and on.

No politician is perfect. And a vote for one is rarely an act of devotion. Our salvation is never to be found in a Democrat or a Republican.

Still, if a religious life is to have meaning, if faith is to have some purpose, it ought to drive us toward our better angels. Discipleship calls us to discern; it begs us to choose.

  • Where the evil one tempts us with “winning,” we are called to care for those who are losing.
  • In moments where fear rises, we follow faithfully in seeking hope.
  • When empire offers its faith promises, we resist knowing that our Kin(g)dom is not of this Earth.

Jesus or Trump. Who will you follow? 

Would Solomon Cut The United Methodist Church in Two?

If there was one biblical text I could recommend for people navigating deep church conflict, it would be I Kings 3:16-28. It is a familiar story often told to illustrate the wisdom of King Solomon. In it, the fabled King is approached by two women, identified as prostitutes, who share a home and each have a baby on the same day. One child dies causing the women to fight over the remaining baby boy, each claim this surviving child to be their own.

Solomon’s solution is both ingenious and memorable. After listening to the women argue back and forth, he calls for a sword and says, “Cut the living baby in two–give half to one and half to the other.” This leads to a revelation of the real mother as one woman clearly puts the child’s welfare first saying, “Give her the whole baby alive; don’t kill him!” The other woman also reveals herself, responding instead with “If I can’t have him, cut away!”

This story came to mind as I was anticipating the build-up to this year’s General Conference of The United Methodist Church. For decades now, the denomination has been in conflict over a number of topics with differences over human sexuality topping the list. The church gathers every four years to celebrate its work, set priorities, and consider any changes to its polity contained in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. The conversations and actions of the General Conference are both enriched and complicated by the reality that the denomination is increasingly a global one.

Homeless people are using this church as a campsite

“Outside the Church of the Assumption in Brooklyn Heights, two people have made their homes under garbage bags and blankets on the sanctuary’s steps, even amid opposition from parishioners.” – NYPost

The neighbors are upset to have homeless people in their neighborhoods. Parishioners are “very offended” more isn’t done to remove them from the sanctuary’s outdoor steps. According to the Post, a young couple visiting on Sunday offered the most concern, mentioning the cold and crime.

“New York has 57,838 adults and children living in city homeless shelters.” Another 3,000 to 4,000 live on the streets. Many other major cities, and smaller towns, are wrestling with the escalating challenge of displaced people in this so-called “Christian” nation.

Deck the Walls with Boughs of Holly…

People love walls.

This “Christmas card,” believed to be the work of British street artist Banksy, makes an uncomfortable point about life in the Holy Land today. The burst of conversations about Syrian refugees in recent months, and the obnoxious wall-building promises of politicians in the US, echoes that point. Our human fixation with physical barriers as a solution isn’t isolated to the Holy Land.

We’ll have our security, damn the consequences.

People have always put up walls. These walls aren’t always physical but they always have a cost. It’s not worth denying their popularity and utility; we live in a world that needs some walls. No one is served by a Pollyanna-ish denial of the world we live in.

Still, we should always consider the cost of the wall itself. Every wall demands something of the builder just as it impacts those on the outside.