Warm Fuzzies & Cold Pricklies in the UMC: Real Love, Original Sin, and Grace
One of the most profound memories of my childhood comes from about second grade. What is that? About 8 or 9 years old? For me, that would have made it right around 1975. My second grade class began to use the language ‘warm fuzzies and cold pricklies.’ We used the language to describe our behavior in regards to how we treated each other. When you were nice to someone, or said something positive, that was being a warm fuzzy. But when you were mean, or said something negative, then that was being a cold prickly. Most of us naturally wanted to be warm fuzzies and not cold pricklies. This had an immense impact on me; as you can see, I’m still thinking about it thirty-four years later. I recently researched the phrase and discovered that it was much more than just an individual teacher’s attempt at encouraging good behavior. It was actually an entire psychological method called, Transactional Analysis. There was even a children’s book by the title “The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale” by Claude Steiner, a prominent psychologist of the day.
I wonder if much of what plagues the United Methodist Church today is a misreading of the warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. Now, don’t skip out on me here, let’s keep moving. I know it’s nowhere near that simple. But I do wonder if those of us raised in the culture of Transactional Analysis, have actually been led to see the world and our relationship to each other in these overly simplified, and often mistaken, categories. This might explain why we only acknowledge the loving statement as one that overflows with the sentimentality of warm fuzzies. And we interpret any statement that doesn’t immediately make us feel warm and fuzzy inside as a statement of hate. I wonder if these categories haven’t led us to misunderstand the very nature of love itself. Possibly, real love isn’t about how someone else’s behavior makes us feel good about ourselves. Rather, real love may be what we would label a cold prickly. The harsh statement, the statement that doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves, might actually be the statement of real love. I think about this because earlier in my ministry I had the opportunity to lead a ministry of recovery. It became evident that the strongest statements of love were often confrontational, rooted in accountability, expressed in intervention; and were almost always interpreted as hatred or betrayal. In my second grade class then, real love would have been interpreted as a cold prickly and not a warm fuzzy. However, real love is not just some nice words and warm feelings of acceptance. real love is difficult; it is hard work; real love confronts, real love speaks truth, real love calls people to a better way even when they see no need of it themselves.
This misunderstanding of real love isn’t our only challenge. We also downplay the nature of original sin, and thoroughly misunderstand the purpose of grace. In our attempt to not be calvinist we have downplayed original sin. After all, we Methodists are a nice people (others are as well), and we are more than a little uncomfortable with the phrase ‘Total Moral Depravity.’ We don’t like to think of ourselves that way, it’s not our theological perspective, it’s one of the classic five points of calvinism and not really a part of our theology, right? We would be a little wrong to indulge that thought, and we would do well to remember that even in our Wesleyan-Arminian perspective we are considered to be deeply marred by sin. Our very nature has been corrupted by original sin. This is why I’m continually puzzled by some of the arguments before us as Methodists. This misunderstanding of our perspective on original sin leads to an assumption that the condition of our birth is the intended condition of our creation. We reject the notion that at birth we are marred by sin and therefore we unwittingly accept the notion that all conditions present at our birth must therefore be intended by God. And, if they are intended by God, and there is no such thing as original sin, then all conditions present at birth are by necessity ‘good.’ This argument is problematic, we are not calvinists. There is no teaching, to my knowledge, within the Wesleyan-Arminian perspective that would affirm that all conditions present at birth are intended by God. Think about it a moment, what does it say about the character and nature of God if all conditions present at our birth are intended by God? What kind of God would that lead us to believe in? I have some friends that are expecting their first child in a few weeks, if the child can make it that long. You see, if they can make it just a few more weeks then the child will be big enough to go straight from the delivery room to the operating room for heart surgery. And, what about children born with cancer? Or other diseases? Or … well you get the point. There are a whole host of conditions present at birth that God never intended for us to have, yet, in God’s love and mercy He walks with us through these trials and situations. Not every condition present at our birth is intended by God. The conditions of our birth might be the very conditions most in need of grace.
Grace, however is also a process we tend to misunderstand. We like to think of grace as acceptance and unconditional love, and we often think of grace as ‘God’s unmerited favor.’ Grace is certainly not less than that, but it is most surely more than that. Grace is far more than a theological equivalent of a warm fuzzy. Grace is a process of transformation. It is through the very grace of God that we are transformed from the conditions of our birth to the intended condition of our creation. It is our understanding of Prevenient-Justifying-Sanctifying Grace that leads to Entire Sanctification and Christian Perfection that is at the core of our theological perspective. We are not bound to the conditions of our birth. Through the transforming nature and process of God’s grace we are perfected and made holy. Through this grace we are given all we need for holy living. We are transformed. We are made new. And the inclinations present at our birth do not define who are or who we will become through the life of grace.
Yes, for so many of us in the United Methodist Church, we have allowed ourselves to embrace the sentimentality of a ‘warm fuzzy/cold prickly’ perspective and have missed the great news of our deeper theological perspective. Real love often appears as the harsh confrontational word that calls us out of the conditions of our birth and into a life of transformational grace.
Praying for you UMC!
Grace and Peace,