Archives For Mercy Not Sacrifice

Guyton-bookMorgan has been hounding my ass for weeks for a review of his new book, How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity and I still have not done it. I’ve reviewed other books for other websites. I’ve written blog posts several times a week and composed sermons. But I haven’t been able to write a review of Morgan’s book. Since he sent me a galley of it this fall, his book became for me like the girlfriend you don’t know how to break up with because you don’t want to hurt her.

And by that, I don’t mean that his book sucks. It doesn’t.

I think it’s because I care for Morgan too much (and I respect him too much) to do a shitty job of it. I’ve had book reviewers block. And we have a history together that is more substantial than the rather spare amount of time we’ve spent together.

So it’s about time to do a quick review for you of Morgan’s book.

A handful of years ago I was asked by Beth Downs, the Ms McGonagall of the United Methodist Church, to lead a class on preaching to a group of ordination candidates. Of course, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing in the classroom anymore than I do in the pulpit but I said yes. My first session, attempting to be too clever by half, before opening with prayer I opened with a scripture reading. An auspicious one: Numbers 22. For all these earnest preachers of the word, who elbowing each other out of the way to impress members of the Board of Ministry, I offered a reading where an ass- a donkey- is able proclaim a word from the Lord.

I was met with confused, silent, stares. Except one- a nasally sort of chuckle. I looked over towards it: ‘Morgan?’ I asked ‘Is that you?’

I first Morgan Guyton when we were first years- not freshman- at the University of Virginia during a gathering of the First Year Fellowship, which was a college extension of Young Life’s para-church ministry. I’d only become a Christian maybe 18 months before coming to college and, having found the local Methodist churches ‘sleepy’ at best, I’d decided to check out First Year Fellowship. Initially, it seemed awesome. It was on campus. Everyone was my age,  looked like me, thought like me. It was led by a few charismatic older students armed with acetate overhead sheets, acoustic guitars, and Jesus in my pants praise songs.

In hindsight I can say that First Year Fellowship was a tribe of evangelical students of a particular Calvinistic strain but I did not have such categories at the time. I only knew after a few gatherings that I did not belong. The performance of my worship was not demonstrative enough. My certainty was short on such things as substitutionary atonement. My questions about unbelievers, my gay friends, and prayer were not welcomed. My pushback was push-backed. The Christianese slang and idioms felt ill-fitting on me. Having come to the faith in a United Methodist New Church Start, Woodlake UMC, a seeker sensitive church,  I was not prepared for Christians who took their beliefs seriously enough to stigmatize other Christians.

The usually unspoken exclusion I felt at First Year Fellowship eventually kick started a long running commentary in my head that I was not a good enough Christian which inexorably led to unproductive and even shaming attempts on my part to justify myself before God rather than rest in Christ’s justification of me.

What I know now was that I was a victim of a form of toxic Christianity. And it was, toxic. It made me feel physically ill. It made me ashamed, physically and emotionally, of who I thought I was as a Christian.

I met Morgan at that First Year Fellowship- at a fall retreat, actually, in which we all went skinny dipping, and Morgan sports a bear suit underneath his clothes so you can imagine that left an impression- and my first impression of Morgan was how I thought he’s so completely different from me but the two of us are completely different from this group. The thing we have in common is that we have nothing in common with this gathering of Christians. Neither of us belonged.

I count it is a source of pride that, though Morgan and I agree on very little or, rather, we disagree on much, he and I were the only two disqualified by the Young Life Organization from being leaders of First Year Fellowship. Given my experience, I’m not sure why I applied- whether it was masochism or infiltration. I was blackballed because I would not concede to my interviewer that his deformed and useless hand had been ordained by God for a higher purpose.

I’m not sure why Morgan was rejected, but I suspect it’s because, as a Christian, he can be hard to take. During First Year Fellowship gatherings, Morgan would frequently raise his hand and stand to share what Jesus had compelled him to do or say, or whom he was called to love, this week, or what he was wrestling with in the Spirit at present. Honestly, listening to Morgan in those moments was exhausting.

In other words, Morgan was the kind of guy that made you realize why people wanted to kill Jesus.

There’s only so much urgency of faith that sinners and almost Christians can tolerate before they respond with a cross.

If Morgan wears his heart for God on his sleeve, then there’s a piece of it on every page of his book, which is better understood by the title he originally gave to it Mercy Not Sacrifice, for Morgan’s refrain is the prophets’ own reminder that God does not desire the practices and gestures by which we try to ameliorate our situation vis a vis God rather God wants a beautiful, poured out life from us. In How Jesus Saves Us, Morgan uses his own story, revealing some of his own saddness, insecurities, and shame along the way, to expose the ways in which our piety and practices mask the very sorts of ideologies from which Jesus has already saved us.

I’ve no doubt that Morgan’s book will be life-giving because his oddness in a way all those years ago helped to save me from the self-loathing that self-justification inevitably begets. He was part of God’s antidote for me of the toxic Christianity which had infected my newly chosen faith.

If prophets are not welcome in their hometowns, it’s understandable that we’d be uncomfortable at times with them in our pulpits. I’m not sure I possess the truthfulness, spiritual energy, or courage of my conviction to ever want to be a part of Morgan’s congregation (and I mean that as the highest compliment), but I’m grateful that Morgan is a leader in my Church with a capital C and that though this book his voice will afflict many with the right kind of nightmares.

Buy the book here.

rp_GC2016-logo-color-hi-res-1024x550.jpgWith Rev. Tom Berlin.

See, what fledgling United Methodist centric podcast serves you like we do?

Morgan Guyton, part of our Crackers and Grape Juice triumvirate, crashed General Conference in Portland, Oregon this week. General Conference is the event wherein Methodist delegates from around the globe gather every four years to indict one another’s intractable views on homosexuality.

In this special edition podcast, Morgan sat down with Rev. Tom Berlin, one of the Virginia Church’s candidates for bishop, to talk about Rule 44, Homosexuality, and whether it’s time for progressive pastors to start a new Wesleyan denomination.

It’s bare bones, no pithy intro, no Clay Mottley lead-in music, but the content is worth your patience and time.

Be on the lookout later this week or early next for our recent episode with Church Proctologist and author of Did God Kill Jesus? Tony Jones.

Download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here.

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Defiance_Logo_Tv_ShowMy friend Morgan Guyton points out: ‘when Paul uses the term haeretikos in Titus 3:10 that gets translated into our term “heretic,” the problem with the person he’s describing is not the incorrectness of his views, but his divisiveness.

Ironically, the greatest heretic-hunters are usually themselves the greatest heretics if we are using the word the way that the apostle Paul used it.’

The same point Morgan makes from Paul can be made by way of St Thomas Aquinas.

St Thomas AquinasAs I’ve been hammering here on the blog lately, Aquinas’ central thesis in his Summa Theologica is that the God who reveals himself in the Burning Bush (‘I Am He Who Is’) is not a god among the gods of the world. God is not an object within the material universe. God is not a kind (Thomas uses the word ‘genus’) of being alongside other beings like you or me.

God is the Source of Being. It’s because of God that anything from quarks to quacking ducks is at all. It’s because of God that there are somethings instead Nothing.

Everything that is is because of God, and that includes everything that happens, all our thoughts and deeds and decisions exist because of God.

A song relies upon the singer to keep it in being; likewise, God is the cause of all things in every moment.

As Hebert McCabe elaborates on Thomas:

“It is quite a thought that if you choose to break the law of God by cruelty or indifference to suffering, it is the Lord who is keeping you in existence while you are doing this, from second to second.

To think you are defying the Lord is the ultimate absurdity and contradiction, for you only exist, you only are because of God.

This self-delusion, the delusion that you can stand over against God, that you are not a creature- this is what sin is.”

It’s worth repeating in case you skipped past the quote: to think you can defy God, who is at every moment the cause of your being at all, is the definition of sin. images

It’s to deny a creature-hood which entails God’s constant sustaining. It’s to imagine we’re something more than creatures- to imagine we’re gods, free and independent of God except when we call upon the great cosmic butler.

And when see ourselves as already more than creatures, we forget the meaning of salvation: that God aims to take us beyond our creature-hood in the Son and through the Spirit into the life of the Trinity.

If imagining that we can defy God is the most basic and thus the most absurd of all sins, then ironically…

it’s those of us who obsessively point out other people’s sins- those people we perceive to be defying God- who are the worst sinners of all.

We look at people and refuse to see them for what they are: creatures held in being by God at every moment- every moment- of their lives.

In other words, Thomas simply points out what we learn from the Elder Brother’s refusal to join the Father’s Feast (Luke 15).

Sin = Refusal of Grace.

We’re gathering this Thursday night for another installment of Pub Theology.

Our special guest will be Morgan Guyton whose Mercy Not Sacrifice blog was recently voted in the Top Ten of Christian Blogs.

photoA friend from college, Morgan’s a progressive Christian who was raised as a conservative evangelical and brings both perspectives to issues of culture, theology and faith.

He’s currently working on his first book, Mercy Not Sacrifice, in which he critiques and offers alternatives to the ‘getting saved’ Christianity of evangelicalism. We’ll be talking about his book and you’ll get a chance to give him feedback on his ideas as he’s in the draft stage.

Join us Thursday Night at 7:00 at Fionas Irish Pub in Kingstowne.

Click here for directions.