cross_and_flame_color_thumb_100“With the cross and flame we say that, as United Methodists, we believe God saves us through Jesus Christ and empowers us with the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world. That is what the symbol proclaims, and we are obliged to hold one another accountable for living this truly in our lives.” (umc.org/gcfa.org, Cross and Flame Declare Who We Are)

These words reflect the meaning of our United Methodist symbol, the cross and flame. They are remarkable and, I imagine, can be interpreted any way comfortable to the reader or believer or congregant. Though I am well acquainted with the symbol and have always loved the actual feeling it allows me, I have never considered what words  of description would make it come alive, what words would hold me personally accountable. When I add my baptismal vows as well as membership vows, I can see I am, and have been, woefully inadequate in my responses.

The last few days of news have added to so many local, national and international events of despair, one feels obliged to retreat. What a luxury that would be. Am doubting that would rise to meet the accountability required in this statement above.

For me, it started with the obvious…the reports of domestic terrorism under the guise of a response to the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. I remember those first reports identifying those who organized and would attend the rally as white nationalists and Neo-Nazi’s, white supremacists and protestors. Those who rallied as counter protesters were often described as “liberals.”

I have never liked the words liberal or conservative, frankly. They are such relative terms and never seem to fully or accurately articulate those they are often describing, regardless of subject. But, this time the word grabbed my very soul! What could possibly be construed as liberal about a  group of people who are trying to shine a light on hate, in all its forms,  its actions, its results? Really? Why wouldn’t that just be called “human”? And, from my personal view, why wouldn’t that be called “Christian”?

I can’t possibly add anything to the fine writing already out there about these events in Virginia. My skills are far too limited!  I very much respect what I have read (not so much seen) and appreciate the resources available to have some appreciation for what has happened and is happening. I can’t possibly understand, of course. The article reported in the New York Times by the students at the University of Virginia has been the best I have read, simply because they wrote from first hand experience in the event, they wrote with their hearts and they drew a picture so visual, I could barely finish. I tried to imagine the impact for their young lives. I have posted that article on my timeline on Facebook.

As is always the case with horrific events, which seem to grow in numbers by the day, I try to consider my own complicity. No, I was not there. No, I did not beat anyone, spew vitriol in their faces with words that should never be uttered, etc. But, how can I change my life, my actions, my prayers, my way of thinking to become all I say I am? All God wants me to be?  Am I living out a gospel that is clear and compelling? What do I/we do in our personal lives that becomes a part of the underlying issues we see played out day to day…even in Virginia? The kind of thinking that supports those behaviors did not happen overnight or in a vacuum.  Do we realize our lack of personal engagement becomes substructure and encourages desensitization because we are a part of a critical mass? Who do I/we know as the friend Jesus describes who looks differently, thinks differently, worships differently, has fewer resources or more, who has no voice that is heard, who needs more than a casserole or a check but needs me/us? To stay. Not drop off. Stay. How can we possibly entertain a world of peace, or even peace in our own community, when we do not know each other? These are, of course, not original thoughts but I reiterate them with fervor and passion that they be considered in serious ways that result in change. They require intellectual capital that is used for action.

Do we ask and demand leadership in our local pulpits that names and claims the issues, decries their results and offers specific agents for change in the way we do things? And, no, this is not political! This is gospel 101! It is clear our status quo is not resulting in any kind of best practice, much less providing God’s love through discipleship and engagement, personal relationships with all, not just a few. Do we continue “programs” but forget they are “ministries”? Are they open ended or do they have a goal that looks good on paper but doesn’t translate to new relationships, ongoing relationships? Does leadership challenge us and offer specific ways we might address the current events too often declared political when, in fact, they are Biblical? That cross also symbolizes death, Christ’s death on the cross, as well as love.  Are we dying?  Or are we loving? Do we have courageous leaders who will give us the tools to be courageous in the name of Christ? The Holy Spirit provides the way forward. Are we acting on that way?

Do we continue to enjoy visiting lovely classrooms in our city and county schools in areas of affluence, outfitted with the finest and supported (as they should be) by those with resources but vote against school lunches for our Title I schools? Does that make me/us complicit? I have never been without healthcare in my life, but I know and see and feel the pains of those who don’t. Not because they are lazy, the statistical prevailing reason most white Christians apply to the poor. (statistics from “What is wrong with white Christians?”, Religion News Service) but because they are the working poor that now includes many in the dwindling middle class? Is our language full of judgment for a world we don’t know by experience but feel comfortable to deny exists? Would that make me/us complicit? What can I do to change that? How can I/we help provide interim measures borne out of compassion? How do we specifically help Jesus’ friends become empowered and reach their God given potential in health and wellness, education, etc.? How do we value one another as equals? Real equals? Do we let them know Jesus loves them, the same way he loves us? Even that equality is not embraced by those who have never known love.

Do we accept our prayers need to include those who perpetrated the violence, those who participated and acted out of hatred? Where have we failed as a people, as a society, to produce people who obviously feel so oppressed and disenfranchised? I am not defending their actions in any way,  I am looking for resolutions for all to be people of Christ.

So, I refuse to be classified as a conservative or as a liberal. Have never identified with either. I want to be classified as a Christian who is human, who is trying hard to love, and failing as we all do, the way Christ modeled and mandated,  who doesn’t want to devalue people with entitlement that continues oppression but also knows the reality is we have to develop relationships and friendships that call for sharing (and identifying) our reciprocal gifts to make those verses in Corinthians true. We are all a part of the body of Christ. We all have a part to play for Christ to use us to transform the world. Where have I heard that before?!

So, I may not live in Charlottesville and can easily say evil was done by others. Not me. But I can’t say I am doing all I can to change the rhetoric, both in word and deed to see the world become a loving, peaceful place. Pie in the sky? Probably. Complex? Absolutely! Can I do my part? Not sure.

Self evaluation is often denied when it becomes uncomfortable.

Again:

“With the cross and flame we say that, as United Methodists, we believe God saves us through Jesus Christ and empowers us with the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the world. That is what the symbol proclaims, and we are obliged to hold one another accountable for living this truly in our lives.” (umc.org/gcfa.org, Cross and Flame Declare Who We Are)

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