Thursday, April 09, 2009

I Am ... Human / Christian / Methodist / etc.

I am a baseball fan. I am a Kansas City Royals fan.

(After you are done snickering, please proceed.)

It is a metaphor, and therefore limited. This I know. However, it is possible for me to be both a baseball fan in general and a Kansas City Royals fan in particular. It is not the case that I am a baseball fan in general and I live that out by rooting for the Kansas City Royals.

And beyond that, I am a sports fan. I enjoy watching pretty much any sport, and participating in many. But again, it is not the case that I am a sports fan and I live that out as a baseball fan with my specific activity directed toward cheering for the Royals.

Okay, it is the season for baseball analogies to once more make appearances in sermons and articles all over the land. So I'm sorry for that. But this analogy is helpful for me in thinking about a couple of responses to my last post. Spencer Smith and Guy Williams each wrote complimentary ideas, in essence: My identity is in Christ and I live that out in the United Methodist denomination.

Guy wrote, "...that use of language must be reserved for the Church Universal and not for any particular expression of it." Scott wrote, "I see my identity in Christ, usually understood Wesleyan, but by no means UMC."

I understand their point. However, I do not see the question of identity as being mutually exclusive in that way. At the most basic level, I am a human being. To be semantically accurate to the fullest, we probably should limit our own personal "I AM" statements to that alone. Our "child of God"-ness is one of the few aspects of our identity that is not nurtured in life somehow or that we choose for ourselves.

And then when I say, "I am a Christian," I am not negating the previous statement in the slightest. But I am acknowledging that I am a Christian because I have chosen to be. I made that choice because of a number of factors: my family's influence, my personal experiences of Christ's grace, my desire to make the world a better place, and on and on and on.

However, when I say, "I am a Methodist," I am expressing (as truly as I know how) the way I feel about how I have chosen to live my faith. And I am negating neither of the previous affirmations in doing so. And I say I am a Methodist because of resonance. Sally's comment on the last post is beautiful. She describes a class of seminarians who realize together why they are Methodist. It resonates.

If you press and hold down the C above middle C on the piano such that it does not make a sound, then keep holding down and strike the C below middle C so that it does make a sound, the C above middle C vibrates, too, producing its own pitch. That is resonance. It is a sympathetic vibration, an otherwise passive entity responding to an external stimulus.

So, like the old Sunday School song says, "I am a C!" (Insert rim shot). I resonate Methodist. I am a Christian. And I am a human being. All three, all the time.

Flip it : All of us are human beings. A lot of us are Christian. And some of us are Methodist. Each of these statements is true without negating any of the others, also.

Although I have not written a direct response to the quesiton, "Why am I Methodist?" I wrote a post describing a "distinctly Methodist" congregation that pretty much sums up my answer, albeit from a different angle. Click here if you'd like to give it a read.

I hope the conversation about Methodist identity is one we continue for a while. I believe this conversation is critical to the health of our congregations, our denomination, and the church universal. All of which are simply means to center us on what is truly important: our reconciled relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the midst of the Holy Spirit.


Andy B. said...

Is it lame to write the first comment on your own post?

I've been really thinking about this since I posted it earlier and I'm arguing with myself about what it is that comprises identity. So help me out here. What is the realtionship between identity, behavior, free will, choices, nature/nurture, and so forth?

Adam Caldwell said...

Identity is wrapped up in relationship...simply put: We ARE...Because He IS.

Andy B. said...

I dig that Adam - resonance presumes relationship. The high C string on the piano wouldn't vibrate unless the lower C was struck.

Kory Wilcox said...

I think of our identity as a kind of 'ball of yarn' that unravels over the course of a lifetime... frays and cuts and lines and bends and mends... we can see, touch, and feel most of what's behind, yet only have a vague idea of what's to come, and all of this helps us determine who we "are," "should be," etc.

The fact that we are being knit into an infinite, cosmic, tie-dye Jesus blanket doesn't change our identity, per se, but it does change its residence. Our entire basis for identity is both literally IN the blanket and discernibly redefined as being IN THE BLANKET.

ie, I understand that my identity being in Christ is ultimate, but in the end, God's purpose for that is not to disestablish my humanity, but rather to properly establish the whole of it within His eternity.

Adam Caldwell said...


I agree...the only thing I would add would be that to be fully human is ONLY attainable through relationship with God. In other words, those who are unfortunately not in relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit aren't fully human. Their life is in disorder. Our humanity is defined by His divinity.

Our humanity is not subsumed into the Trinity. Rather, it flowers towards its proper telos.

Adam Caldwell said...

It amazes what does and doesn't generate conversation around here. I find this conversation central to our faith and ultimately central to who we are...I guess I just thought there would be a little more conversation on this one.

Kory Wilcox said...

"Our humanity is not subsumed into the Trinity. Rather, it flowers towards its proper telos."

Hmm. I'm not sure I believe that those are mutually exclusive motions! However, I see what you're saying. I had not intended to imply anything the completeness or incompleteness of our humanity; I was just trying to answer the identity question without writing a blog of my own. I suck at succinctness. :-)

guy m williams said...

Thanks for the follow-up, Andy. I would note that I did say (were the quotation expanded a little) that identity referring to denominational affiliation does apply in some important ways, but talking about one's identity as a Christian in reference to one's membership in the Church applies in the most robust ways only to the Church Universal.

I appreciate what you're up to here in using the term/concept "resonance." It's a way that I talk about faith matters frequently myself. I think that's because it seems to have an organic quality to it, something that refers to what is happening at the most intuitive level.

Perhaps the companion musical metaphor to resonance would be discord? Are there not aspects or expressions of United Methodism that we experience as discord? I know that for myself, I experience a mixture of deep resonance, but discord as well.

As to your question posed in the first comment, I wrestle with that myself. It is certainly about relationship. As an NT prof distinguished, we modern Westerners tend to operate according to (if also not confess), "I think, therefore I am" while the ancients tended to operate according to, "we are, therefore I am." Trying to think this way has been wonderfully helpful to formation in Christ, not to mention formation as son, brother, husband, father, friend, etc. I reflect some of this in point 1 of my "why I stay..." post (

Finally, I am a baseball fan; I am a Houston Astros fan. I feel you, brother.