I grew up in The United Methodist Church. My grandfather was a Methodist pastor; my great-uncle is a retired District Superintendent from the UMC. My parents raised me in the local UMC going to Sunday School and UMYF
Well, there was that brief stint in a Presbyterian church. But it was when we first moved to a new state and a new town, and I was only 5. And that’s where I first began to learn about music. So it’s ok
What I’m saying is that I’m basically a dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist. I love Annual Conference. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral has been essential to my theological education. I know which churches merged in 1968 to add the “United” to the “Methodist.” I drank the Kool-Aid
And so it may be no wonder that I’m a Christian. It may be no wonder that I ended up leading a church in beautiful San Diego as a pastor. It may be no wonder that I ended up with an office filled with theological books and Bibles (though the bobble-heads and Rubik’s Cubes may be somewhat of a question mark).
As it turns out, the journey wasn’t all that simple. It wasn’t all that easy. And I’ve found that the answers to deep questions are never as easy as my talking Jesus doll makes them out.
And it’s easy to make fun and call it all “magical thinking.” Many do. Some of my extended family members do. Some of my friends do. After all, who could believe in an invisible all-powerful all-knowing deity that still lets trains explode and buildings collapse and storms ravage and babies have cancer and people kill each other?
To me it seems to be easier to look at all the terrible things that happen and let myself fall into hopelessness and despair. And yes, maybe there’s some hope in a few people, and maybe a few people try to make the world a better place. And surely there’s value in taking on some personal responsibility rather than leaving it to the invisible far-away one. Even with a small glimmer of hope and the urging toward personal responsibility, it’s easier to assume that the very existence of all this bad stuff must rule out a “magical god” who lets it all happen when this “god” is supposed to be good and powerful.
And do you know how this sounds to me when I boil it down? It sounds a little bit like resignation, like an understanding that the bad always overpowers the good. It sounds a little bit like giving up.
And that’s not me. I’m an optimist. In fact, I use the term “terminal optimist.” I always look for the good, even when it’s hard to find. Even when it seems dark and hopeless and meaningless, I choose to look for the good.
And you know what I’ve figured out? When I look for God, I find God. In the bright sparks in the middle of darkness; in the flickers of hope; in the unbelievable accomplishments of people who won’t be held back or held down; in the seemingly random miracles that seem to happen way more often than the random horribleness.
I believe in a God who is both far away and close, a God who continues to call on humanity to participate in the ongoing act of creation. I believe in a God who speaks continuously, in whispers and shouts, in Sunday morning sermons and on the pop & rock & rap radio stations. In still small voices and in strange warmings of the heart.
And sometimes we don’t hear. Sometimes we’re too focused on ourselves, an inherent narcissism. Nobody’s perfect. And so we do hurtful things to ourselves and to others. We overeat, we prioritize profit over safety, we speak words of fear and hate and even turn them into violence, we neglect, we bully, we kill.
And God continues to speak. God continues to create. God continues to make the universe into a new place.
I believe in a God who is ultimately good and ultimately responsive, who calls humanity to do good and selfless things for each other, and who continues to lead us – if we’ll follow.
So I choose to follow. I choose to believe.
Could I be wrong? Sure. But I don’t think so. I’m too optimistic.
Bob Rhodes is the pastor of Pacific Beach UMC in San Diego. His love for Annual Conference is something that is very foreign to me, but to each his own. You can follow Bob on twitter and his Facebook page. Also, check out Bob’s writing on his blog: bobrhodes.org