So here I sit in the hotel on the eve of the 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference. And I feel homeless. Spiritually homeless. I love God. I love people. I love my local congregation. I love the story of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. And I love the people within this institution, but I’m fatigued of the institution itself. I’ve been in big churches and little churches and suburban churches and city churches and mainline churches and definitely not mainline churches. I feel like I’ve seen it all, and in all of it there are good faithful people, but after 22 years, here I sit on the eve of the most important Annual Conference of my career, and I feel like I did when I was 11; a spiritual wanderer looking for a home.
This week Methodists in Minnesota will gather to talk about “what kind of conference we want to be.” In the wake of our global governing body passing the “Traditional Plan” passing last February (look it up, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m too fatigued to explain it), it’s the right and a necessary conversation to have. But, and I’m just being brutally honest here, what if I just don’t want any of it anymore?
I’m trying to be negative, and I say that because that’s not an unreasonable charge when it comes to me. But I’m sitting here, after 22 years of full-time ministry and on the eve of my 10th Annual Conference, and I feel homeless. I don’t know where I belong. I’m too liberal for the conservatives, I’m too something for the liberals, I’m too opinionated for the centrists, I’m too Methodist for the mavericks, I’m not Methodist enough for the loyalists, I’m too traditional for the contemporary folk, I’m too loosey-goosey for the traditional folk, and, well, I’m tired. And I don’t know where to go. I don’t know “What kind of conference I want us to be.”
The truth is, what I witnessed following The UMC’s General Conference soured me on the institutional church. It’s too much. Too big. Too convoluted for me. I long for a simple and authentic community of people connected in our practice of Christian spirituality. Doctrine, polity, constitutions, preambles, growth strategies, benchmarks, metrics, holy orders, ordination processes, TPS reports… all of these suck the life for ministry out of me. I understand their value, but I also don’t. And I am tired.
As I look around my local community, I see people who are also tired. They’re tired from trying to make ends meet, they’re tired from navigating the ugly and polarized socio-political discourse in our culture today, they’re tired from trying to do all the things you’re “supposed” to do to raise your kids “right”, they’re tired from the parents reinforcing the pressures of culture on them, they’re tired from navigating massive institutional systems in their office 50 hours a week, they’re tired from feeling decentered in this rat race paced culture, they’re tired from their grief after a loss, they’re tired from any number of things.
What nobody needs right now is a religion of any kind that says, “hey, come over here. we’re gonna fix the world.” We need to be inspired, but this kind of talk, when it’s walked out into action seems merely to breed another kind of anxious busy-ness that quite honestly, is not inspiring but expiring.
Our denomination’s current mission statement (one I’ve embraced) seeks to “transform the world”. And in our efforts to craft and vision new expressions of Methodism, there is this same kind of “bigness” within it, that is well intended and maybe even right and holy, but where I feel homeless is that it all exhausts me. I’m tired of a kind of arrogance that can exist in all forms of Christianity, regardless of where it falls on the theological or political spectrum, that says “we are the answer”. This faith that is supposed to be life-giving is, in its current American forms (I can’t speak for the Church in other nations), leaves me exhausted. And I’m pretty certain there’s data showing the same for our congregants.
As I look at the trajectory of UMC expressions rising up, I get tired. I’ve been doing the “change the world” thing for 20+ years, and, if I’m honest, I’m done. I keep coming back to those beautifully paradoxical words Jesus said: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The implications of this are many and varied, but I wonder what it could mean for the institutionalized church. What if we need to die to the idea that we are the answer? What if we need to die to the idea that the world is ours to transform? What if Jesus is saying to us, “give up on trying to be the next big thing. just be.”
Maybe the place the church finds real life is not in calling people to be “world changers” through our structures and systems, but it finds real life in dying those delusions of grandeur and simply moving to help people find a Creator-centered, Jesus-shaped, Spirit-led center in their life. What if the “God-sized dreams” we all should be dreaming are actually simple and small?
So maybe I’m not spiritually homeless. Maybe I’m institutionally homeless. Not sure what the implications of it are, but maybe it’s ok.