Being a cause agent of faith
Since not all of you follow my personal social media, let me start with this: It’s Lent. And being a woman of faith, every Lent I feel called to set a practice for the 40 days leading to Easter. For a few years I have opted to participate in something called the #lentphotochallenge, which assigns an inspirational word to each day that you post a corresponding photo for. This year, yet again, I’m doing that, but also trying with some weeks to connect it to this blog.
So, since I misread last Sunday’s word and ended up flopping this Sunday’s post and last’s, I’ll be writing today on the word #test. Through some divine intervention, I’m sure, the timing for these is actually better given the mistake.
Today in church the pastor, Dr. Steve Lewis, spoke about suffering. Much of the Lent and Easter stories — Jesus’ trials and temptations by Satan for 40 days in the desert and his eventual crucifiction — have to do with suffering. Jesus suffered so that our sins would be forgiven. He did not, however, die that we would not suffer on Earth.
Dr. Lewis gave an anecdote today in which he had spoken to someone who asked essentially “Why believe in God if there is still suffering in the world?” as if to say “If there was a God, wouldn’t the world be a utopia?” Dr. Lewis countered by saying “If the world was a utopia, what reason would you have to believe in or call upon God?”
I feel like that is one of the true tests for many people of faith. We are often made to ponder how our actions toward others might change if we didn’t have the promise of an afterlife, didn’t believe and trust in a higher power, etc. In general, I believe it’s the test of a good person how they treat people when expecting nothing in return. Personally, I am not entirely sure of my fate after I die, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to help others. I try to do even the smallest things so I know I’ll succeed at helping, like keeping granola bars and water bottles in my car to hand to people on the street who just need food.
I don’t do it for me or for a gold star from God; I do it because I feel called to.
This circles back to Dr. Lewis’ sermon.
“How do we navigate suffering,” he said, if there are homeless people and starving people and people in strife everywhere? That becomes the question when you have faith, but are aware of plight.
Dr. Lewis twice refers to both us as human beings and to God as “cause agents.” God is the cause agent of everything. Everything happens by God’s will, whether it’s something we deem good or bad.
Through free will, people are cause agents themselves. We can help or hurt people with our actions. As Dr. Lewis noted, this means we can affect suffering in the world.
“God asks us to be participants and help do away with suffering,” he said. “And we’ve for a long time been cause agents of suffering (even in the church).”
For years, the scripture and churches’ disciplines have been used to exclude people based on race, gender, and even very recently, sexuality.
The United Methodist Church, of which I am a member, recently made international news when the General Conference of the denomination decided to adopt a plan, which disallows LGBTQIA from being ordained or married in the church.
(Here’s an article explaining some of that to reference if you like: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/26/us/united-methodists-vote.html.)
This has not always been the case in the UMC. The fact that the UMC, especially the Western Jurisdiction, which I live in, was accepting was one of the top three reasons I have stayed with the faith. I was confirmed in the church at the age of 12, not really thinking about the fact that accepting LGBTQIA was a big deal, and really fell in love with the church again in college when I was part of my first actively reconciling (accepting) congregation.
I myself have been a cause agent in the church on a smaller scale. I did outreach for the college campus ministry, participated in service projects and have always tried to be a resource to my given congregation in any way possible. It struck me today that the weekend before I came to my new church here in Oregon for the first time (Sunday, Feb. 24) I honestly wasn’t all that in the loop about the General Conference goingson. I knew the conference was happening, but had forgotten until that Monday, Feb. 25, when it was taking place. The Sunday before, still not realizing the timing, I wrote a piece for Bright Ideas, which talked about living in a Christ-like way. (https://www.millennialpinkonline.com/blog/my-faults-my-faith)
The next week (after months of planning to and never actualizing) I went to Gresham UMC for the first time.
I honestly haven’t attended a church service, other than sporadically when visiting my parents, in about three years. I feel as though that Sunday when I wrote my piece that God was calling me back in off the bench or something. I have never been one to think I have to go to church regularly to be well-rooted in my faith, but I do recognize that it has a positive impact on my life when I do. And, since I am so passionate about the UMC as I know and love it, I feel called to make my presence known. I support #onechurchforall, and to not get involved now would be careless on my part.
For the same reason that I vote and that I didn’t leave the country as many joked about doing when President Trump was elected, I won’t be leaving the United Methodist Church. What good would it do to take away one more voice for inclusion, when that message is already being drowned out by one of misunderstanding and hate?
“The body of Christ is not a place to exclude,” Dr. Lewis said.
So if the church will still have me, I plan to be a cause agent with those who support an inclusive faith.