Edges: Where the wild things are

by | Feb 18, 2024

When I’m working on a platform, I’m careful not to work too close to the edges. The higher the platform, the greater the danger. The smaller the surface, the larger the risk of stepping off an edge.

Living on the edge, the margins, is an uncomfortable dwelling place. You may see relief only a few feet away, but it may as well be miles. You feel pressure pushing you closer to the edge already uncomfortably nearby.

There are a lot of edges in life to watch out for, and most of us are feeling dangerously close. It’s an election year. And our House of Representatives seem completely dysfunctional. I think it’s time to “clean house” in our legislative branch.

Many United Methodist church goers feel like the edges are too close for some of our traditional beliefs and theological positions.

Asbury Theological Seminary President Timothy C. Tennent, in a September 2022 blog post, argued that many United Methodist congregations were “pushed to the edge” by churches progressively interpreting scripture in ways that, in their view, are inconsistent with published denominational doctrine.

A reporter from ABC News asked a couple of our Flint-area UM pastors to offer insights into the departure of churches from our conference. Thousands of churches across the country voted to disaffiliate with the United Methodist denomination, primarily over theological disagreements. The more visibly public dispute involves the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Amna Nawaz, in a PBS story this past December, reported that over 7,000 churches voted to disaffiliate since 2019. Apparently, there were a lot of folks too close to edges they didn’t want to be near.

Let’s be clear. United Methodist doctrine, historically, demonstrates flex. The Book of Discipline, which reads a lot like a legal document, spells out a process for interpreting scripture using the text, tradition, experience and reason. And most theologians realize that experience weighs heavily on how we individually read scripture.

We come to the bible as individuals, created in the image of God and shaped by the world. And the closer the world pushes us towards the edges, the greater the likelihood we’re a bit misshaped by world standards.

The Book of Revelations, in particular, with its bizarre imaginary, invites a wide diversity of interpretations.

John begins Revelations letting his readers know the Spirit was influencing his thoughts and actions. Sent to the Island of Patmos for sharing the gospel, John was experiencing his own edges. So his circumstances provided empathy for his colleagues facing pressure to conform to the world around them.

Welcome to the first episode of our Lenten Series Revelations. Over the next seven weeks, we’ll explore the strange and mysterious poetry revealed to John and chosen to conclude our holy scriptures. During our series, we’ll turn to Pastor Jeremy Duncan’s book titled Upside-Down Apocalypse, along with other sources, for guidance in navigating John’s symbols and references. We’ll look for the edges of reasonableness based on what we know about Jesus Christ from the gospels, in particular.

Don’t be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead.
Revelation 1:9-18

John wrote Revelations over two thousand years ago. It was a different time. Rome was the prevailing world power and led by a ruthless dictator demanding the respect that Christians reserve for Jesus Christ.

While it’s often challenging to see our current circumstances in ancient st ories, it’s all there. In the first century, the empire was Rome. Today, it’s Russia, China, the U.S. and their allies. Then it was Titus Flavius Domitian. Today it’s Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping. A generation earlier, it was Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

The genre of Revelations is apocalyptic. An apocalypse, in modern English, describes the end of the world, most often with special effects and storytelling that explore the edges of our imagination. However, this word in ancient Greek, the language of John, means simply the “uncovering of something hidden.” While Revelations was written, John’s aim was to make clear what was hidden.

Duncan explains that “while an apocalypse is an end—an end to one’s imagination, an end to a vision that is incomplete—it is also always the start of something new; a more authentic way to imagine our world.”

We expect scripture to reveal life-saving knowledge to us. We expect brilliance and wisdom radiating from the pages. And John doesn’t disappoint us. Led by the Spirit of God, his utilization of commonly used symbols and metaphors effectively illuminates that which Jesus revealed. God is in charge, not world leaders and empires.

“Heaven on earth” is God’s promise to humanity. “Peace on earth” is the gospel’s deliverable. Not the sort of peace that humans promise and cannot deliver. Rather, God promises an eternal peace.

Jesus Christ, among other things, expresses God’s love. Jesus is the logos of God. That is, Jesus is the idea behind the thing. Jesus is the beginning and the end. The alpha and omega. And, in Revelations, John reveals Jesus Christ.

I invite you to travel with us as we explore the edges of Revelations.

You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsburyChurch.org.

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy


Parts of our series was inspired by Jeremy Duncan. Upside-Down Apocalypse:grounding revelation in the gospel of peace. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2022.

Timothy Tennent. “Let our People Go: The Cry of Disaffiliating UMC Churches.” © Timothy Tennent, September 21, 2022. Retrieved from: link

Amna Nawaz and Adam Kemp. “Why thousands of congregations are leaving the United Methodist Church.” © PBD, Dec 27, 2023. Retrieved from: link

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