Am I the only one who is a little miffed at Jon Stewart’s portrayal of Methodists in last week’s coverage of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding? I know I was on vacation and out of the loop and I didn’t care nor watch any of the Clinton wedding coverage. I also know that United Methodist Communications folks probably have bigger fish to fry, but there’s a whole lot of people that watch Jon Stewart and although he’s a little whatever at times, he does usually speak some semblance of the truth. For the 18-35 year olds among us, many of us would choose to watch him, Colbert, or George Lopez than the news.
To see a clip from the episode I’m talking about check out this blog post from another United Methodist pastor. He even tells you exactly when to start watching. http://blog.hackingchristianity.net/2010/08/methodism-university-of-phoenix-of.html
If you don’t want to go to the site and see it for yourself here’s the gist – Jon Stewart says, “Being a Methodist is easy. It’s like the The University of Phoenix of religions: you just send them 50 bucks and click “I agree” and you are saved.” Again, I know this is Jon Stewart and taken with a grain of salt. Hello, I’m from the state of South Carolina. We’ve been giving him great material for years. But I still think this comment is bothersome.
Being a Methodist is easy.
I’m a campus minister and every summer and during preview days during the school year we as a collective group of campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) host a table with the other student activity groups and we sign up students for more information about the various ministries. It’s always hilarious to me how many students we get from particular denominations that actually emphasize this connection, how many students are looking nicely around and smiling and then they see our sign that says Campus Ministries and they don’t make eye contact, how many times we never see the student if the parent is the one who signed them up, and those that have already heard about our ministries from their home churches even before they got there. Now that is a study in and of itself. Inevitably when I leave these exchanges, I think boy, this grace thing that we United Methodists talk about all the time – that’s a tricky thing. I don’t know if it’s helping us or hurting us in the arena of discipleship.
Don’t get me wrong – I love grace. Heck my daughter Evy is Evy Grace. Without grace humanity would be up the creek with no paddle and not even a boat or creek to begin with. I LOVE the Wesleyan understanding of grace. Prevenient grace – God draws us to God’s self even before we know it; Justifying grace – We realize that God’s grace is not only abundant but sufficient for us – even on our most sinful and lost day; Sanctifying grace – God doesn’t leave us where we are in sin but walks with us on this journey of faith drawing us forth to living more and more like Christ. I get it. I love it. Seriously.
But dude, I think half of our people think because they have this grace thing down pat, than they’re all good to go and they forget that sanctifying part where we’re supposed to be growing more and more in the ways of Jesus. You’ve heard of cheap grace. I’ve never really liked that phrase because I don’t think grace is cheap – it came at a cost and one we didn’t have to pay. I may not like the phrase but I think we see the sentiment all around us and contrary to what Mr. Stewart may believe, living out a life of faith is not easy.
Maybe if we really believed the theology we say we do, the things that the Wesleys’ lifted up in their teaching, their music, their lives – maybe then it wouldn’t look so easy or watered down. I also argue that there are plenty of United Methodists and I know other Christians all over the world that are living out the Gospel with all of its radical, counter-cultural, transformational, and tenacious glory all over the place in all the ways they can, by all the means they can, as ever as long they can.
You don’t press the easy button and then suddenly become a Methodist. Now that would make a funny new UMC commercial – true. But it’s a balance. Grace comes to us freely and without merit. That in some ways is really easy. You just call on the name of Jesus and viola – it is that easy. A free gift – not earned, not based on gold stars we’re collecting on a sticker board in the sky. How many people do we see in the gospel accounts as they encounter Jesus and suddenly their eyes are opened and they realize he is Lord? That part – the ah hah – when we get it – is as easy as accepting it and knowing it. But the living it and breathing it and trusting it and stepping out in faith – that’s a process. That’s a lifetime. That’s a step by step, day by day.
So yes, Jon Stewart I think you are hilarious. Yes, you are right that there was way too much news coverage of the Clinton wedding. But yes you bothered me in your comments about our denomination. Then again, maybe we should be bothered. Maybe we should think about what we stand for. Maybe we should think about how we’re living out our faith and how we’re living out such a radical Gospel. Seriously, maybe that should be our new ad campaign. Ready or not? Easy or not? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a United Methodist? What do we actually stand for? Not just what we stand against a la Anne Rice’s rant, but what do we clear as a bell, beyond a shadow of a doubt, stand for?
I’m not going to go there with the Anne Rice thing at this point but for a response I really liked and thatresonated with me, here’s one by Karen Spears Zacharias. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/current-events/op-ed-blog/22453-an-open-letter-to-anne-rice