The General Conference of the United Methodist Church convened in Tampa last week. I’m not one of the 988 delegates who have descended on Florida to do the work of our church, nor of the 4,000 hosts, bishops, pages, translators and myriad lobbyists there to help. My participation is limited to following the proceedings from 1,000 miles away.
Still, my emotions have been all over the place. And judging from Twitter and Facebook, this roller coaster of highs and lows is almost universal among those who are there. The stakes feel high this year, higher than usual.
Our oldest son was baptized when he was six. For two years before that he’d been asking questions about who God was and praying prayers of his own making. So his mother and I set him upon the road of discipleship.
“What will survive of us is love,” writes Philip Larkin in his remarkably unsentimental poem “An Arundel Tomb.” He is reflecting on the recumbent stone effigy over the grave of a couple buried long ago in an ancient church.
Maybe we should take a step further, however, and say that love is that which not only “survives” but also rises, or is raised, from any and every grave. This is especially important to bear in mind in the face of all the threats to love, those powers and forces that try to bury it.
One of the most interesting shifts in Christian theology after the Shoah was in how the adjective Jewish was used. In the patristic era, to call someone’s work Jewish was to insult it: the work was too fleshly or legalistic. Since the Shoah, to call someone’s work Jewish is to praise it as appropriately this-worldly, concerned with the ordinary stuff of life, embodied.
The first thing that struck me about First Presbyterian Church in Dallas was not the imposing building where one of my longtime heroes, John Anderson, once served as senior pastor. No, the first thing that grabbed my attention that day was the church sign: "Justice is love distributed."
Although Jesus is called teacher in the Gospel of Mark, that Gospel includes little of the teachings of Jesus. His parables confound his listeners rather than leading to greater understanding. Jesus’ teaching in Mark is performative, says Brian Blount; Jesus taught by the way he lived. He doesn’t teach love as a concept, he acts it out by touching lepers and allowing diseased people to touch him, engaging women as equals, associating with the marginalized, and breaking laws that don’t promote human well-being. If we want to teach the reign of God as Jesus taught it, then we need to craft a curriculum that does more than inform (Interpretation, April).