Saturday, May 24, 2014

A few thoughts on Aldersgate Day and sharing stories

So, today is Aldersgate Day, that wonderful day each year when I get to see which of my Facebook friends are really, truly Methodist nerds.

For those of you who aren't in the know (or who have, you know, lives and stuff), Aldersgate Day is like a Methodist mini-holy day, also known as "Heart Strangely Warmed" Day. Here's Methodist founder John Wesley's journal entry from May 24, 1738:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a [Moravian] society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Huzzah! Heart strangely warmed! Conversion experience! Revival! Methodism begins!

Here is what I love about Aldersgate Day.

While the experience at Aldersgate Street more than 275 years ago is often referred to as a conversion experience for Wesley, at the time he was not only already a Christian, but already an ordained Anglican priest. He had already gone on mission to the colonies, had truly mucked things up, and had returned feeling despondent and doubtful. What happened at Aldersgate wasn't a conversion to a different religion, it was a re-conversion (a re-"turning"). A realization that all of the things that he had read and learned and preached about might actually apply to him. That God really, actually, loved him and wanted to get up to something rather revolutionary in his messy life of faith and doubt.

I love that. It's a bit of a counter-narrative. It's not a checked box. It's not a repudiation of everything that came before, nor does it turn everything after into just telling that one story over and over and trying to get other people to have exactly the same experience. It's just a moment in time when the whole story came into focus. John Wesley would not have appreciated the sort of obsessive focus on a singular, personal salvation experience that has become so emphasized in much of USAmerican Christianity. This is, after all, the man who wrote against the concept of "holy solitaries," saying: "The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness."

I guess what I'm saying is, I like Aldersgate Day not because of that one day, but because of what it says about every other day. Every other part of the story. And not just my story. But my part in the whole grand story of God's love. And of all the ways that we totally don't get it. And then those times when, suddenly, it comes into focus. And we realize that God is up to some amazing things. Bridging separation. Healing brokenness. Challenging alienation and shame. Getting all up in the face of oppressive power. Inspiring. Resurrecting.

And we're invited along for the ride.

So: next time some wandering proselytizer asks you, "Have you been saved?" Or, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" Maybe you should say:

"Got an hour or two? I've got a story to tell you."

I'd love to hear yours.

Whether today is an Aldersgate Day sort of day for you, or whether it's one of those "lost in the fog" sort of days, or whether it's one of those "I suck at talking to women [or whoever] and then I deny them communion which is sort of a no-no and then I leave the colonies in disgrace and almost die in a storm" sort of days, it's part of your story. And whether you realize it today or not, God loves you. Even you.

Even me.

Even us.
Painted wall in the common area of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Hawaii.

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