Tabloids love the celebrity break-up: Jennifer, Brad and Angelina, say. The bottom-feeders of the journalistic world offer us “candid” photos, breathless “reporting” of all the latest rumors and “expert” commentary on the speculation and gossip. How long the rags will run with this already exhausted story depends, I suspect, on sales.
It would be too easy to blame the tabloids, specifically, and the media more generally, for the atmosphere of acrimony and divisiveness we are forced to breathe on even the simplest trip to the grocery or drugstore. Oh, to buy a bag of frozen limas, or get a bottle of aspirin, without the bombardment of banner headlines announcing another custody battle or war of words between former lovers or spouses or members of the boy band! (“Make that two bottles of Tylenol, please.”)
I am disgusted by such stuff; but I am also complicit. I do not inhale, but I scan the headlines. There is something deep in me—and my only excuse is that there seems also to be something deep in the race—that loves a good catfight. We may not like to be in conflict ourselves but we seem to delight in it otherwise.
And what is it in us that needs this kind of contentiousness? What is it in us that tolerates this stuff, even in the church?
I have been thinking in recent days about poor Corinth. There were big problems in that little congregation—lots of cliques and clatter—and some of the worst related to the preachers who have served them. One group likes Paul, another likes Peter, yet another prefers Apollos (and at least a few of the folk say they don’t need preachers at all because they have Jesus!). One group or the other is so glad when this preacher arrives or that one leaves—but that is commentary only on them because Paul and Peter and Apollos (not to mention Jesus) have no enmity between or among themselves. They don’t double-date, of course. And they have been known to disagree about this or that. Still, they would each and all offer an “Amen” when Paul’s writes, “Is Christ divided? Who then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted. Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
The work of Christ is not a competition. There should be no fodder for the tabloids among us—and especially not among United Methodists, who advocate a connectional polity.
We Methodists believe that ministry is both unified and ongoing. Preachers pledge to go where they are sent; congregations pledge to receive those who are sent to them. Preachers do their best to build on what has gone before and help their successors to continue the work. Congregations do their best to bless each minister as they come and go, grateful for whatever gifts and graces God conveyed through them. Whether plowing, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, all those aspects are of a piece, just parts of God’s constant and continuing work.
Who then is Mike? Or JC? Or Patricia? Or Bob? Or Larry? Or Frank? Or Tom? Or Noel? We are servants, through whom you believed or will, as the Lord assigned to each.