Don’t wait! It’s your turn…

CrossOver reflection for Week 29 • Beginning June 23, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 42

Patrick Scriven

Brian McLaren’s chapter this week (42 – Spirit of Love: Loving God) starts with a reminder of how church people can often be a barrier to our neighbors who might need God’s love the most.

McLaren writes: “Hot-headed religious extremists, lukewarm religious bureaucrats, and cold-hearted religious critics alike have turned the word God into a name for something ugly, small, boring, elitist, wacky, corrupt, or violent—the very opposite of what it should mean.”

McLaren’s words reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called UnChristian by David Kinnamon which included a list of the various negative impressions that younger people had of Christianity. While the book had its flaws, its naming of these negative impressions—hypocritical, too focused on conversions, homophobic, sheltered, too political, judgmental—resonated for many.

At this moment in the life of The United Methodist Church, we are not making great strides in convincing young people that these impressions are all that wrong. As a leader or member of a local church, you may be having a better go of it—I hope that is the case—but I have little doubt that these barriers to God’s love remain in far too many places. 

As I was reflecting on this chapter, I was drawn to think that we sometimes neglect to consider our personal responsibility to share God’s love especially because of our denominational conflict. It’s easy to act as if this task is external to us; to imagine that if we just resolved what should or should not be in the Book of Discipline, everything else would sort itself out.

Such a perspective fails to give agency where it is due. We, you and me, are called to take the love of Christ out into the world even if there is no church to support (or hinder) those efforts. Indeed, we are often best positioned for that task.

Every day, we interact with, bump into, and otherwise impact dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. Some of these interactions are intentional, significant, and lengthy. Others are less significant, at least to us. Many of these people have no regular interaction with a functional (or dysfunctional) church.

Each of these interactions is important. Each is an opportunity to share God’s love.

Now I’m not suggesting that we turn these interactions into some grand evangelistic moment. Quite the contrary, doing so might sound exactly the wrong message in many situations (see “too focused on conversions” from Kinnamon’s list). But each interaction is an opportunity to pay forward the love, generosity, and grace we have received, even before we knew we needed them, and certainly before we earned them.

Imagine with me for a moment. That person bagging your groceries may have just lost a someone cherished by them; or maybe they are struggling with addiction. The smile, thank you, and acknowledgment of their presence might be just the thing that helps them to get through that day.

That jerk that just cut me off in traffic? That same person might be a single parent heading to their second job unsure how they are going to pay all of their bills this month. Did my obscene gesture express God’s love adequately?

I don’t mean to suggest that the big things don’t matter; they do. Just don’t wait for your denomination, or local church, to perfect its witness before you tend to your own. And thank God that you don’t need to form a committee, or a majority, before you can respond to God’s calling to share your belovedness with the world!

Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.

Comments (6)

  • Our Wallace/Burke UMC is a Lay-Led Congregation. A young man from Moses Lake, WA is on a Mission trip with his Evangelical Church. He was looking for a church and was referred to “the church on the corner with the colored windows”. We used the Group Study from the Upper Room “now is the Time” . We were both blessed in the sharing as well as the treats he was taking home to his Mission Group to share the treats and the discussion.

  • Well spoken.. I’m really loving what you wrote about being active in ministry now and not waiting until the church gets it right (how I understood it)… Blessings and peace. Robin Franklin PDX Hughes Memorial.

  • Patrick,

    This was beautiful. I read it after I had just come back from taking my dog to the groomer to have her nails clipped. My dog, Lilah, is a four year-old Labrador retriever mix that I rescued from a shelter in Texas where she had lived for a year. I’ve had her for a little less than a year. She totally freaked out at the groomers, and I was mad and embarrassed at her behavior. Then I got her home and read your blog. I was reminded that I don’t have a clue as to what my dog went through her first four years to make her so anxious around strangers. I am going to spend some quality time with her today.

    I hope I can treat other people with at least as much compassion and love as I treat my dog.

    • Greater NW Communications

      Though we may find more advanced ways to hide it, I don’t imagine many of us are all that different from your dog. The wounds we carry make it difficult for us to trust and more likely to wound, even if we are more sophisticated in the ways we do so. Thanks for reading and prayers for patience.

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