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.