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 recognitions 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? 

It’s Not Trendy, but Fasting Could Save the Church

Disclaimer. I’m not the most disciplined person, just ask my wife who has been tasked by the Almighty to block every unnecessary tech purchase I can imagine. Still, I am still shocked by the relative dearth of resources for so fundamental a spiritual practice as fasting. With the exception of what amounts to a name drop on some denominational websites and a blip here or there in the Christian media, fasting is persona non grata in much of our conversations and resourcing on faith today.

While fasting may not be widespread in contemporary Christian culture, the practice has deep roots in the Judeo Christian tradition we have received.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, fasted two days a week as a young man and continued the practice, in a moderated way, into his later years. He considered fasting an act of piety and went so far as to describe it as “a means which God himself has ordained.”

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.