John Wesley had a theory as to why his Methodists were not as strong in their faith as they should have been by then given all the resources that he had made available to the movement. He pointed to Methodists’ allegiance to consumer culture as the primary evidence of the willfulness that kept his members from maturing in their faith. He noted this consumer conscientiousness as opposed to God-consciousness in a sermon written in the last decade of his ministry--
“The Methodists grow more and more self-indulgent, because they grow rich. . . . And it is an observation which admits of few exceptions, that nine in ten of these decreased in grace, in the same proportion as they increased in wealth. Indeed, according to the natural tendency of riches, we cannot expect it to be otherwise.”
Wesley’s cure for what ailed Methodism was the same three-fold money management rule that he had repeated throughout his ministry-- Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. Regrettably for Wesley, this advice was largely ignored just as it had been every other time he had offered it, and just as it would be the next time he repeated himself.
Current advances in psychology have provided church leaders with new insight into the unconscious drives that orient and habituate people towards short-term indulgence rather than long-term well-being whether it be in regard to physical health, intellectual development, emotional maturity, or spiritual growth. Unfortunately, these insights do not bring us any closer to a solution than did Wesley’s theories.
A blog can provide a space in which to theorize about the current state of things, to express dissatisfaction, and to offer advice. Like Wesley, some bloggers look for something or someone to blame. Plausible theories abound-- Greed is the problem. Laziness is the problem. Bad theology is the problem. Loss of tradition is the problem. et cetera. If the blogger’s suggestions are taken seriously, these root causes can be eliminated and the situation will improve. (That is the assumption, anyway.)
This is one way to manage discontent; it is not however, one that I have found particularly helpful or effective. Blaming feeds my attitude of moral outrage, which is never a healthy head-space for me to be in because it produces an inflated sense of self-righteousness. Theorizing fosters detachment, which results in my disengagement from the struggle to reform. Recommending ways that others can improve their performance never persuades anyone to change, which only increases my disappointment with the status quo.
For these reasons I do not follow this Wesleyan example, although I do take inspiration from a different section of the same sermon.
“I am distressed. I know not what to do. I see what I might have done once. I might have said peremptorily and expressly, ‘Here I am: I and my Bible. I will not, I dare not, vary from this book, either in great things or small. I have no power to dispense with one jot or tittle what is contained therein. I am determined to be a Bible Christian, not almost, but altogether. Who will meet me on this ground? Join me on this, or not at all.’ With regard to dress, in particular, I might have been as firm (and I now see it would have been far better) as either the people called Quakers, or the Moravian Brethren: -- I might have said, ‘This is our manner of dress, which we know is both scriptural and rational. If you join with us, you are to dress as we do; but you need not join us, unless you please.’ But, alas! The time is now past; and what I can do now, I cannot tell.”
Here Wesley confessed his regret over not having taken a stronger stand against materialism. He imagined that the method for countering its influence on the Methodists should have taken the form of a self-declaration-- “This is what I believe. This is what matters to me. This is the kind of Christian I want to be.” After bluntly staking out his position, he could then have softened his address and invited, “If you feel the same way I do, then join me and others like me.”
Unlike Wesley, church leaders are not in a position to point a member to the door for disagreeing with them. Yet, this lack of authority should not be used as an excuse for silence. Through blogging, leaders have the opportunity to create a space over which they do exercise control. Their blogs can be a space for self-analysis, theory turned inward, in order to discern one’s state of well-being or lack there of. In other words, do not blog in response to the question “why isn’t the Church as _________ as it should be?” but rather blog to find an answer to the question “why am I not as ___________ as I should be?”
I glean from Wesley’s writings four “Here I Am” statements that provide guidelines for blog post topics. Rather than using theory to analyze church problems, cast aspersions on others, and pontificate remedies for someone else to implement, these posts would be self-revelatory, confessional, and invitational.
I fear that Wesley’s sigh of regretful impotency will be the fate of all church leaders who wait until the end of their careers to state “Here I am.” Instead of remaining silently frustrated, we can use our blogs to stake out a position, think through what is and isn’t working for us in terms of our spiritual maturation, and thereby connect with others who are willing to report on their religious experiences.
The four “Here I Am” post topics give a blog a purpose and direction that will not attract a large readership. To compensate for the lack of followers, my hope is that writing about these four topics will sustain a process of personal faith development that is its own reward.