Ash Wednesday: between play-acting and being

February 22, 2012

You non-Methodists out there probably know that we Wesleyan Christians are about as middle-of-the-road—doctrinally and temperamentally—as a group of Christians can be. We don’t stick out in the ecumenical crowd. We blend in. The most theologically eccentric doctrine that we share is the belief that by the power of the Holy Spirit it is possible, if extremely unlikely, for us to be “perfected in love” in this lifetime. This is another way of saying that we can become “entirely sanctified.”

Even a couple of years ago, when I was ordained, I stood before the bishop and said that I “expected to be perfected in this lifetime.”

I hope I wasn’t lying. But it’s something to aim for, right? It’s better to aim for perfection and miss, because at least you’d be closer to the target than if you aimed for something closer to average.

Regardless, this is a hard doctrine. But you know what’s even harder for me right now? That the United Methodist Church settles for ordaining ministers who are so far from perfect—like me, for instance.

I’m half-kidding. But this blog post is about the half of me that isn’t kidding. As I’ve been grieving the loss of my mom this past week, I’m reminded of an experience many years ago at the church I pastored while I was in seminary. I received a phone message one night from a parishioner whose wife’s grandmother died. He asked if I would “remember her in [my] prayers.”

O.K., pastors… be honest. You know how prayers can sometimes fall between the cracks, right? I was preoccupied at the time with papers and books and exams, and ugh… I dropped the ball. When I got the message, I should have let my life be interrupted for a moment in order to call this woman who was hurting. Instead, a couple of days passed before I finally called her.

By then, the damage was done. She was angry and hurt that her pastor didn’t care enough to reach out to her in her time of need. I felt defensive. I offered excuses. She told me she was leaving the church. While I’m not a fan of parishioners leaving churches—churches ought to be so much bigger than their pastors—I now appreciate more fully where she was coming from.

After all, even in that situation, I was less concerned about her pain and more about her perception of me as pastor.

Can you believe it? What threshold of personal tragedy would she have had to cross for me to set aside whatever I was doing and reach out to her in love? Would she have had to lose a parent, a spouse, a child? God forbid!

I realize that the vast majority of us Christians are on a spectrum between play-acting and becoming what God wants us to be. We fake it ’til we make it. But I’m tired of faking. I want to repent of faking. I want to repent of worrying about being perceived as compassionate and actually being a compassionate person.

How do I do that?

This question is a pretty good prayer for the Lenten season, which begins today.

One Response to “Ash Wednesday: between play-acting and being”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Good post, Brent. I was, however, “enlightened” to learn of the “entirely sanctified” doctrine. I am not sure I can entirely go with that. “If a man says he is without sin, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 1:something. I agree that being sanctified is a worthy goal which we should be, and are called to be, seeking after full time, but I don’t really think it is actually possible that we will get “all the way there” in this lifetime.


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