Holy Pockets of Grace #umcgc

As I came out of my subcommittee meeting in Faith and Order tonight, I felt like we were finally doing it. We were finally embodying what it meant to hear one another, to seek understanding, to seek God’s will, and to serve God in this capacity.

We were reminded by our vice chair at the start of the afternoon, as he read Psalm 23, that we serve a dual purpose.

We look to our Shepherd who guides and sustains us.

But we are also called in this role to Shepherd and lead the church.

My subcommittee took intentional time today to listen deeply, ask questions of context, and to bring scripture to bear on our conversation. We brainstormed. We were honest. We asked about the Holy Spirit. We didn’t let parliamentary rules interfere. I believe every person around the table in our group of 30, save one or two, spoke and shared.

In particular we looked today at Paragraph 304.3 under the qualifications for ordination. While paragraph two lays out the high standards of expectation for clergy persons, paragraph three specifically names that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” can’t be ordained.

So, not an easy topic.

But we did so with grace and faithfulness, recognizing that scripture speaks from a context to a context, and trying to help us stay united while at the same time not hindering the mission of the church and helping the church make disciples.

It was awesome.

I am also aware that our experience was extra ordinary. That other groups did not have such a holy and grace filled experience.

And I’m apprehensive, coming out of the bubble, about what comes next in our larger committee and the plenary. How on earth do you convey the spirit or translate our profound understanding of one another?

Keep praying, friends…

Representation

In various ways, the question of representation is present in our culture and in our conversations at General Conference this year.

In the midst of a contentious election season, the election of delegates to conventions represent the votes of the people often means a skewing of the actual vote tallies.  For example: Mr. Donald Trump has only won 37% of the popular vote, but 45% of the overall delegate count. (http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/despite-complaints-delegate-system-has-given-trump-22-percent-bonus-n553801).

I’m not an expert on party politics. I know the Democrats have super delegates that change the dynamics, and I’m not as familiar with the Republican allocation of delegates. Until Tuesday, many were counting on the delegate process to be a positive factor in the “Never Trump” contingent.

And yet, when we get to November, we will find ourselves again reminded that we are not a true democracy where every person has a vote. We are a representative democracy. We have a system (the Electoral College and our division of Congress) that protects the voices and interests of all by using both proportional (House of Representatives) and equal (Senate) representation.

Is it perfect? Probably not.

Is it equal? Nope.

image
From https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_College_(United_States)

But that’s actually the point.

I’m reminded of the graphic that shows the difference between equality and equity/justice.

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So, as we approach General Conference, I’m thinking about how to vote on legislation that proposes changes to our own delegate counts.

In a sense, we have tried to strike the same balance as the “Great Compromise” did in the US Congress. There are a minimum of delegates granted to every conference, no matter how small. The rest are divided proportionately. And that means our system shares the same kind of distribution inequality as the electoral college (according to # of people per delegate).

But that’s the point.

Our equitable system tries to protect the voice of our smaller regions. It tries to prevent the domination of the larger regions in our polity so that we can truly be a global church and hear from our neighbors far and wide. But it also creates room for proportionality so that we aren’t disenfranchising the voices of people either.

Maybe it’s a pretty good compromise.

Format Aside

I serve on the Rules of Order Committee for our Iowa Annual Conference.  These rules are basically the organizing and structural principles that guide our shared work and life together – both within our 3-4 day conference sessions and for the rest of the year.

We’ve been working hard to clarify and “clean up” the rules.  We had stuck a number of standing reports within our Rules of Order at one point that really didn’t belong. And now, we are working to examine which of the rules help us to live effectively into shared ministry together, and which are hindering us from the work before us.  A colleague on the committee shared with lament:  “it’s like we didn’t know how to trust each other, so we just wrote all of these rules instead.”

Maybe you are familiar with the feeling.  An employee leaves under bad circumstances, so you change the job description before hiring someone new… so that all of the previous person’s faults can be avoided.  Or one person oversteps an unwritten boundary and the entire system reacts by making a complex set of rules.

Rules are good.  They guide and shape our life together.  They provide the foundation or the framework upon which our homes and churches grow and flourish.  Done well, they provide just enough support and instruction to enable us to be creative and joyfully share in our work together and then they get out of the way.

And I’m also acutely aware of the ability of rules to protect and defend the innocent, the marginalized, and the powerless.  Rules can keep us from running amok and forgetting to look around and see who we have neglected to create space for at the table.

But that comment from my colleague keeps sticking with me.  Too often, because of distrust, or instead of doing the hard work of learning how to trust or trying  to build trust, we just create new rules. We fill our churches, our institutions, our Discipline, with do’s and don’ts.

As I pour over the nearly 1500 pages of legislation brought to the General Conference, that comment keeps ringing out in the back of my mind.

Is this piece of legislation a symptom of our distrust of one another?  Or is it a tool that will help us work together towards God’s future?

Over and over, I ask these questions.

Will this addition or deletion help us be more faithful to the witness of God in our world today as the people called United Methodist?  Or are we simply adding or deleting a rule because we aren’t happy with what Mr. Smith said at the last Ad Council meeting?

Does this legislation lift up possibility of God calling us in a new way?  Or is it filled with fear that holds us back from living out God’s dream?

I don’t believe our work at General Conference 2016 is to legislate trust.  We can’t “whereas” and “therefore” our way out of our disagreements.  So I pray for the God of hope to fill our proceedings.  I pray for a Spirit of direction that will help us to create a framework for ministry that can reach every corner of this globe.  I pray that the Living Word would be heard afresh so that God’s vision for today might be heard a new.

home #gc2012

The processing of what exactly happened these past two weeks will take time.  My brain is still too full and jumbled to even begin to dig deep. 

But in response to some initial thoughts by the chair of our Iowa delegation, I started to think about some things that I am bringing home:

1) a reminder that we cannot legislate trust
2) the amazing experience of working together with people who are so different from myself and loving one another
3) knowing that all of the things we do… in the grand scheme of things what really matters is that people have a place at the table in our local communities. 
4) a desire to learn French
5) a deeper understanding of the process and the people who lead our church – and a recognition that we are all just people… people who care, who make mistakes, who put make-up on in bathrooms and drink coffee and say the wrong things and the right things, who deeply desire what is best for our church and yet might disagree on what that is.  It is humbling and inspiring and beautiful and messy.

it causes me to tremble…

Day two of our annual conference has completed.  We have voted on exactly 7 items of legislation. And we have celebrated and praised and prayed and remembered and sung and danced and ate and hugged and sat and walked and listened.

Some brief highlights for me so far:

  • “Hi, I’m Fred.”  Our “priest” for the conference introduced himself and welcomed us into a spirit of worshipful work and I truly have felt this particular time of conference has felt different because of it.
  • advocating for young adults at our legislative section and dreaming up possibilities for community college ministries
  • Rev. Doug Ruffle’s challenges to be a sign, a foretaste, and an instrument of the Kingdom of God…
  • crazy fast and delicious dinner at A Dong
  • even though clergy session was inhumanely long – it had a wonderful spirit to it as we gathered to worship (thanks clergy band!) and celebrate the ministry we share… and have good conversation about itinerancy
  • ordination!!!!!!  being surrounded by family and church members and friends, the weight of all of those hands upon me, the feeling of the bible underneath my fingers, singing with joy
  • the reminders throughout the day of the gift of the scriptures:  Bishop Kulah talking about Jesus expounding the scriptures; Barbara Lundblad’s take on radical love enfleshed in John’s gospel (love that bends down, that reaches beyond, that puts people before rules, that is here in this moment, that renews itself as soon as you think it has ended); Bishop Job sharing what a day, a year, a decade’s worth of living in the word can do for our lives; a friend’s amazing rendition of a song from the musical Philemon during prayer;
  • the Rethink Rock video
  • the voices of young adults who stood to speak out of love for what they care about on the floor.
  • sharing deeply with one another truths about things that have hurt us… so that we might give them over to God.
  • our conference artist’s work… and the poetic description of what God is sharing with us through it. The idea of being baptised into the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ being symbolized by a font filled with shards of glass… of chairs of hospitality inviting us to take our seat… the challenge that being radically hospitible brings… of the chair on the cross being an invocation – asking for God to enter our lives.