|“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” -Matthew 7:1-5 (The Message)
If we think back to February 1988 (I realize there are some who were not even imagined during that time, but travel back in your imagination), it was the day Michael Jackson released the song, Man in the Mirror. This was one of those songs that hit the airwaves as a social statement to speak to all that was going on around the world during that time. I remember learning the words to the song, and would belt out the chorus ever-so-loudly:
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could’ve been any clearer
If they wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change”
Being a self-absorbed pre-teen at the time, I did not understand the song’s meaning; it was just a cool song. However, now when I hear the song played occasionally, it arrests my attention and makes me take a deeper listen. As a person with some season-ness of life, I can resonate with the words because this song speaks, even 34 years later, that if we really want to make the world a better place, we must look at ourselves and make a change.
In hearing the song, it recalls for me the above-mentioned text from Matthew 7:1-5, particularly reading it from The Message. This reading is hard to digest because it is a gut-punch and a challenge for those who are “hearers and doers of the Word”, ouch! This reading has been resonating with me lately as the ongoing tensions rise in The United Methodist Church, and the host of misinformation circulating around about the state of The United Methodist Church.
I do not understand the rising tensions, because nothing has changed, and we all await the General Conference that will be convened in 2024 to see if change will happen in the UMC. We, who continue to claim The United Methodist Church as our faith home, can be confident in knowing that we are “founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.” Are we a perfect people? No…are we striving towards perfection? Absolutely!
Therefore, I would simply offer, before we continue to spread mistruths and create unnecessary fears, may we take a pause, reflect on Matthew 7:1-5, even play the Michael Jackson song, and begin to look at ourselves and the ways we are able to be the agents of change needed or even agents of truth during these ever-evolving times.
I would offer, before we are quick to hurl false claims or misguided perceptions, that we begin to ask ourselves these questions; perhaps as if looking in the mirror: Do I, as a member of The United Methodist Church (lay or clergy) fully follow The Book of Discipline, and everything in it? Do I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, fully follow Scripture, and everything in it? Do I always live my life like Jesus would be proud to identify me as one of his faithful disciples? I would suspect the answer is NO because we are human. So, if the answers are no for yourself, why do we not extend the same grace and understanding to others; particularly when we do not have a full context of the situation or the context for how decisions are made?
I believe that Jesus lived a life that called people into account, but he did it with love. I believe Jesus met people where they were, but also showed them a better way of living. I believe Jesus made community with those who were least, lost, and last, and yet he loved them to life…and did not condemn them because of their circumstances. I am not talking about refraining from calling out sin, but I would just ensure that when we call out the sins of others, we are continually examining our own sinful natures.
I pray that we individually will begin to examine ourselves so that we collectively live out God’s Grace and Christ’s Love, so that those who have not experienced grace or love, may find it in US. May we, as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, who are United Methodists…live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ!
In Faithful Service for Love of God and Neighbor,
Rev. Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright
Conference Superintendent serving Central and West Districts