The origin story of Hacking Christianity’s United Methodist focus and engagement.
“The One To Beat”
The Olympics 2016 are on, and the phrase I keep hearing is that an Olympian is “the one to beat“: the competition leader, the one who will either sit at the highest level at the awards ceremony, or be toppled from their throne before the end of the day.
When humans enter into a competitive, crowded arena, such as sports, hobbies, or work, they inevitably look to the exemplars. To the people who have excelled in that arena and area of life. We study them because we want to be like them or surpass them. They are idolized, and surpassing our idols on some level becomes a drive for us.
What happened for the Olympians happened for me, in a much less physical way, on this blog.
This blog “Hacking Christianity” passed 8 years of active blogging this past March. In our origins, I had several people I idolized as doing what I wanted to do. There were two idols in the niche area of United Methodism, both of which were very formative in our eight years of blogging and social media engagement, and they are important to name today.
Methodist Inspiration #1
The first inspiration to become a progressive Methodist outlet was a blog named Methodist Thinker.
Methodist Thinker operated from 2008 to the end of 2012 by Joseph Slife, a layperson in North Georgia who now produces a podcast in North Carolina. While it was active, Methodist Thinker had monster long blogs and original research, with facts and figures that were quite overwhelming to the average reader. I appreciated such details, data, and reporting. However, his conservative commentary and analysis rubbed me the wrong way, given I am a progressive in The UMC.
So I started to look further: Who does this kind of deep detail work circa 2008? I couldn’t easily find progressive voices active online, so I said “why not me?” While we never directly interacted online, flipping through MT’s archives, it’s easy to see the parallels between these two sites and yet the stark difference there is in interpretation.
Methodist Thinker has been dormant since the end of 2012. Slife is no longer even a member of The United Methodist Church…but continued to “helpfully” tweet conservative commentary on The UMC from his Twitter account from 2012 until last month.
Methodist Inspiration #2
The second inspiration came from an exchange with Rev. Andrew Thompson, whose blog at the time was called Gen-X Rising.
I had barely been blogging a month when I opened my regular blog reads and saw Thompson had a post where he was concerned about the mission statement of a United Methodist seminary not having Jesus or God in the statement:
A friend alerted me to changes that have been made recently to the mission statement of Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, CA. Claremont is a seminary of the United Methodist Church, which means that it is one of the 13 official UM seminaries responsible for training UM clergy.
So imagine my surprise when I read the mission statement and saw that there is no reference to God, Jesus Christ, or the United Methodist Church itself…now maybe I’m overreacting. But it seems to me that a United Methodist seminary ought to at least be able to identify itself as rooted in the monotheistic tradition (let alone the Christian faith itself).
In response, I found all 13 seminaries’ (and Asbury’s) mission statements and scored them on a Jesus buzzword scale, poking fun at such a sentiment. It took a bit of effort to find all the mission statement, but the “scoring by Jesus buzzword” mechanic made it worth it. Asbury Theological Seminary actually landed at the bottom of such a list, to my immense personal satisfaction.
Andrew took it in good fun, but another blogger said in response a fateful sentence: “No fair! A blogger who does the work!”
And the light came on: so often in the blogosphere, folks opine away or blog their daily thoughts without delving deep into issues. There was a lot of noise out there, especially in religious commentary. There was a niche available for bloggers who *do the work*, similar to investigative journalists (or my secular idol, 538) who dive into the data because they geek out over that sort of work.
Andrew has since self-named his blog and only posted in October, December, and July this past year.
Methodist Mission Statement
So from those two inspirations came our blogs’ United Methodist mission: to do the work of original research and to share informed progressive commentary on The United Methodist Church.
And here we are, eight years later.
Idols are not appropriate for a Christian. Our heart and inspiration should be set on God and not on the approval of humanity. To consider myself in competition with anyone is to introduce sin into my heart of comparison-thinking and envy.
And yet when we look back, we can see clearly that it often is the very people we idolize or idealize that drive us to be something more or, hopefully, to be the person we believe God wants us to be.
By offering this blog and social media engagement, I’ve been able to do what brings me joy and I hope some minor inspiration to others across Methodism and faith discussions online. The journey may have been sparked by the people I idolized, but they did not serve as stumbling blocks for my journey as I delved into how to be “me” online.
Thanks for reading and engaging for these eight years. I’ll be continuing to be who you know me to be for the next eight years…and beyond.
Who are your idols? And are they dragging you down by comparison thinking? Or are they spurring you, like the Olympians, to something more?
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