Tag Archives: Ephesians

A Graceless Apocalypse: Thoughts on “Slabtown” (The Walking Dead)

Beth in "Slabtown," courtesy IGN's excellent review.
Beth in “Slabtown,” courtesy IGN’s excellent review.

[Warning: serious spoilers below. You’ve been warned.]

“Everything costs something, right?”

Season 5, episode 4 of The Walking Dead takes a departure to catch us up on a character we haven’t seen in quite a while.  Last we saw Beth, she was carted off by mysterious forces in a vehicle sporting a white cross.  In last night’s episode, “Slabtown,” Beth wakes up in an unexpected place: a hospital, which we later learn is Grady Memorial in Atlanta.  In a throwback to the pilot episode, she awakens in a strange location unsure what has happened.   The woman in charge of the hospital, Dawn, sets the tone immediately.  Because we used our resources to save you, she says to Beth, “You owe us.”

Beth soon learns that the abandoned hospital is run by survivors who have been rescued (kidnapped? kidrescued?) and then repay their debt by working various tasks inside the hospital.  Outside is nothing but zombies walkers/biters/rotters, so even those at the top of the hierarchy are basically trapped.  But in this inhumane place, the male guards abuse the female workers, and those who want to leave are threatened.  Anyone who questions the system is reminded what it took to rescue them.  “Everything costs something, right?” as one character says.  Beth even refuses food at first because she realizes it will only run up her tab faster.

“Slabtown,” aside from being the kind of interesting, creepy, and suspenseful episode viewers have come to expect from The Walking Dead, also offers the perfect picture  of life without grace.  Everything costs.  Nothing is simply given.

Thanks be to God that the Divine Economy works differently.  With God, nothing is earned, all is given.  As Ephesians 2:8-9 (NRSV) says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

As Tim Keller points out in The Prodigal God (and the parable of the sower further suggests), our God is not stingy in doling out grace.  When we meet God, His first word is not “you owe me” but, like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son, “all that I have is already yours.”

Icon of Christ the Sower
Icon of Christ the Sower

My church recently started a weekly meal for the community; anyone who wants to come in for a meal gets fed, at no cost. When people ask us if they can pay, we tell them no, that there are other ways they can show gratitude if they wish but the meal is free.

We call this ministry Table of Grace, because the food, like God’s grace, is free of charge.  “Slabtown” gives us an excellent view of a world (or at least a half-operative apocalyptic hospital) that has forgotten grace.  Too often Christians, though, act exactly this way.  We only recruit new church members with “resources.”  We plant churches in wealthy neighborhoods and only befriend those who can enhance our status and help us reach our goals.  We ask our community to pay our bills (with incessant fundraisers) but never give anything back to our neighbors.  The temptation of mammon remains, and always will.

But followers of Jesus are at our best when we remember that God is not miserly with His grace.  Though we capitalist North Americans so often hate to receive for nothing, though it is antithetical to the world we live in, that is the Kingdom economy that we meet in the Bible.  Unlike the apocalypse-stricken Grady Memorial in Atlanta, the truth of the cosmos is an economy of grace.

That which matters most is free; God writes no bills, and we could not buy His love with any amount of money.  Thanks be to God.

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Better Together: Why the UMC Should Also #VoteNo

“…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:13, NRSV)

As I write this, the BBC and other outlets are projecting that Scotland will remain, as it has for three centuries, part of the United Kingdom.  The St. Andrew’s Cross will stay within the Union Jack.  Though long and sometimes bitter, the fight is over and the Scots chose union over division.  Can the UMC do the same?

There are parallels.  A union of different regions, dialects, and ideologies attempting to hold together despite serious differences; a disconnect between the resources provided by certain regions and their influence in the rest of the body politic;  a variety of promises made by those pushing for independence, the veracity of whose claims is spurious at best.  On the whole, the question is essentially the same: can a bunch of different kinds of people learn to live well together, or will they choose the easy option: autonomy?

Like the United Kingdom, the United Methodist Church is “better together.”  Yes, there are grave challenges that must be faced.  Much akin to the situation of the Scots, there exists a variety of groups within the big tent of the UMC whose particular values and languages make independence a tempting case.  But the easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same.

The Scots have voted to keep the ‘united’ in United Kingdom.  Hopefully the time and effort put in to pursuing independence will lead to conversation and reforms that will aid the Scottish residents in feeling more valued by their countrymen and more respected as a cultural and political body.  The hard choice may well pay off.

Back to the church: schism is not hard, it’s easy – whether it is of the “amicable” variety or not.  There is nothing particularly interesting or remarkable in entropy, destruction, and tearing down.  It’s as easy as gravity.

But unity, despite the odds and genuine differences, despite the barriers in language, history, culture?  That’s an adventure.  That’s “advanced citizenship,” as Michael Douglas’ President Shepherd once put it.  That’s unity-as-gift, gratefully received and hard fought to keep.  But the juice is worth the squeeze.

That’s the path the Scottish people have chosen.  Will we be so wise as 2016 approaches?

Boozin’ it up with Jesus

I ‘ve been preaching through Ephesians the last 7 weeks, going with the RCL’s secondary reading.  A few weeks back, part of my pericope was Ephesians 5:18, part of which reads, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.”  It is one of those places where the Bible is clear on drunkenness.  It was also quite convicting.

My background is fundamentalist and Southern, which means I was raised on the idea that alcohol is, in the words of Adam Sandler in The Waterboy, “The DEBIL!”  When I went to college, I realized quite simply that the people who insisted that drinking alcohol of any kind was “unchristian” were quite simply talking out of their anuses.   They didn’t drink because their parents didn’t, they claimed it was based on “the Bible” but could never account for why Jesus enjoyed wine so much that he provided a last round for everyone at  little soiree in Cana.
So I started to drink, once I turned 21.  And it was fun.  I partied with my friends…never did anything too stupid, never drank and drive, but I did enjoy partying to the point of intoxication.  This *maybe* even happened in seminary.  I know the dangers of alcoholism because my family is rife with it, but it’s never been a burden to me in that way.  I never drank when I felt bad or drank to get courage, but it was quite simply a way to enhance my enjoyment of good company.  Such days are over now, largely, though I enjoy my occasional glass of scotch or beer.

But the Bible Belt is, even though my church is not fundamentalist, essentially all Baptist.    Among many people in my pews and others around North Carolina, alcohol is still a touchy and sore subject.  I’m not sure how to account for it, because certainly (like abortion and the gay marriage issue) the Bible is not nearly as concerned as we are about booze.

The best I have surmised is that this sentiment is a leftover, a sort of long-term nuclear fallout, of the Temperance Movement.  Of course, the great irony of the temperance movement was that it took a word which meant ‘moderation’ and changed it to ‘abstinence’.

Most people around the world and throughout history have simply had alcoholic beverages as part of their everyday lives.  I was surprised to learn recently that even the Puritan settlers of the early New England colonies drank primarily homemade beer (and their children drank a diluted version of this).  The lack of clean water made this medically necessary.  How we got from that everyday, staple understanding of beer and wine to “alcohol is the devil” is interesting.  I would ask my Baptist seminary friends why their churches were so against alcohol and none of them could ever give me a real answer.  Even many of the more liberal ones that I know still did not drink alcohol.  This is all the more interesting because Baptists have no unified structure to declare a top-down policy on alcohol; this stance is simply assumed at all levels.

So, WWJD at a bar?  Would he sit in the corner with upturned nose as the heathens drank their Guinness and Cabernet and Johnnie Walker?  [Note: this image is modelled after my Campus Crusade friends’ actions throughout college]  Doubtful.  Wine is, after all, still preserved as part of the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.  Generally it is not things themselves which are evil, but their ill use.   As Ephesians points out, the problem is not the wine but the drunkenness.  The problem, usually, is not with the things themselves but with us, within our bent and twisted and ego-driven souls.  So, I contend that Jesus would probably have a beer with us (he touched lepers, after all)…but, in the immortal words of Cal Naughton Jr, I doubt he would ” get HAMMERED drunk.”