On the Social Principles

Image result for umc social principlesI spent a lot of time memorizing the 1996 and 2000 Social Principles. I needed to bolster my arguments with my high school boyfriend — a conservative Baptist on the debate team. Every time he brought up a social issue, I would go search the United Methodist Social Principles. I learned back then that I needed to bookmark a lot of different pages and hand-write in the cross-references. (If you want to read about health, for example, you have to look here and here and here and here. It can be hard to find what you want!) 

While I never understood why the Social Principles were so disorganized, scattered, and repetitive, I accepted that this is the result of our piecemeal legislative process. I therefore expected that the proposed revision of the Social Principles, with its goal of becoming more succinct, globally relevant, and theologically grounded, would bring order to the chaos. Unfortunately, the proposed revision has made the scattered repetition even worse.

All United Methodists are invited to comment on the draft of the revised Social Principles. I encourage you to read through them and offer your feedback! I took about a week to reflect on the document and respond. The “this could take up to 20 minutes” caveat on the survey was way wrong for me! I’m sharing some of my thoughts, so that perhaps you can spend less than a week preparing your own responses 🙂

Overall, these Social Principles are an improvement over what we currently have — specifically in trying to move away from U.S.-centrism. But my biggest takeaway was around redundancy and repetition:

1. The irrelevance of a section called “The Global Community” (which overlaps with many previous categories — especially “The Political Community”) when one purpose of the revision is to make the entirety of the Social Principles globally relevant

2. Arbitrary structure dividing “The Nurturing Community” from “The Social Community” (resulting in frequent overlap and repetition between those categories) when the revision’s first purpose is to make the Social Principles more succinct

The effect of both points is that we repeatedly have statements on similar issues in two places rather than just one. And there are no cross-references between the two. Worse still, sometimes one statement is theologically grounded (the third stated goal of the revision) while the other one doesn’t mention God or faith at all. Combining and abridging the statements would help to ensure that every paragraph is grounded in God.

So, why is there so much repetition? Why are these sections divided? 

It’s simple: the underlying structure of the Social Principles was set up by U.S. white males in 1972. This was prior to second-wave feminism and post-colonialism. Granted, these two social movements were underway — but that did not mean that the Church was listening to them. Even today the Church does not take seriously the voices of women, people of color, and people outside of the U.S.

The initial Social Principles Study Commission, established in 1968, did include women, notably “Mrs. Ted F. Baun” as secretary. They invited people such as “Mrs. Sarah B. Adam,  Commission on Social Concerns, Monrovia, West Africa” to author papers. You can read their 1970 report here. But these moves toward inclusion did not change the dominant U.S. white male perspective. The effect was that we siloed women’s issues and global concerns. The social, political, and economic communities were the domain of U.S. men.

In the U.S. in 1968/1972, both church and society maintained a sharp distinction between the “private” and the “public.” In the UMC this became known as “The Nurturing Community” and “The Social Community.” This home/world distinction was a legacy of 19th century sex segregation: women belong at home and men belong at work. Poet Adrienne Rich summarizes this era as follows:

“By the end of the 1960s an autonomous movement of women was declaring that ‘the personal is political.‘ That statement was necessary because in other political movements of that decade the power relation of men to women, the question of women’s roles and men’s roles, had been dismissed — often contemptuously — as the sphere of personal life… Women were now talking about domination, not just in terms of economic exploitation, militarism, colonialism, imperialism, but within the family, in marriage, in child rearing… Breaking the mental barrier that separated private from public life felt in itself like an enormous surge toward liberation… Every aspect of her life was on the line. We began naming and acting on issues we had been told were trivial, unworthy of mention: rape by husbands or lovers; the boss’s hand groping the employee’s breast; the woman beaten in her home with no place to go… We pointed out that women’s unpaid work in the home is central to every economy…” (from “Blood, Bread, and Poetry”)

 

By the time I began debating with my high school boyfriend, that the personal is political (and its corollary: the personal is theological) had been explored in detail by womanist theologians, mujerista theologians, and feminist theologians. Boundaries were falling between “personal” and “public.” This showed in our Social Principles as topics began to be repeated in multiple sections. Gender norms, sexual exploitation, health and (dis)ability, and aging cannot be separated into discrete categories of “this is nurturing and this is social.” They are intrinsically tied! We cannot arbitrarily divide “The Nurturing Community” from “The Social Community.” These two sections need to be combined.

My concern about “The World Community” is similar. If we carry a global perspective throughout the Social Principles, we should not need to label a handful of categories as specifically “global.”  When we name some sub-sections as “Global Health” or “Global Communication,” it implies that the previous sections on health and communication were not adequately global in scope. If so, we need to revise the previous sections to make them global.

Truly global perspectives throughout the Social Principles should make it irrelevant to separate one section out as The World Community. Fortunately, we now see this redundancy! In the revised Social Principles, there is substantial overlap between “The World Community” and “The Political Community.” Our revision is beginning to recognize that each country’s political community affects (and is affected by) the world community. Now we need to update our structure to better serve the improved content. 

Our Social Principles need a new structure for a new era. Therefore, I propose the following structure to help the Social Principles become more succinct and globally relevant:

1. THE COMMUNITY OF ALL CREATION

(Keep this proposed category and subheadings exactly the same)

Preface

Creation

Ecosystems: Air, Water, Land, and Plant and Animal Life

Wisdom, Science, and Technology

Climate Change

Sustainability

Environmental Justice

Food Systems

Space

2. LOVING COMMUNITIES
(combination of The Nurturing Community & The Social Community)

Preface [combining the Prefaces of The Nurturing Community & The Social Community]

Race, Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity [combining “Culture and Identity” and “Rights of Racial and Ethnic Communities”]

Gender [combining “Gender Equality,” “Rights of Persons of All… Gender Identities,” “Rights of Women and Girls,” “Rights of Men and Boys”]

Relationships [combining “Family,” “Marriage and Divorce,” “Children and Young People,” “Bullying,” “Sexual Exploitation and Violence”]

Human Sexuality [combining “Human Sexuality” and “Rights of Persons of All Sexual Orientations…”]  [this hopefully will be able to be combined with the above categories on Gender & Relationships, but for now what this section would contain is a big question mark] 

Diverse Abilities [combining “Full Inclusion of Differently-Abled Persons” and “Persons with Disabilities”]

Communication [combining “Media and Communication Technology” and “Global Communication” — which was originally from The World Community]

Health [combining “Right to Healthcare,” “Addictions and Substance Abuse,” “Medical and Genetic Experimentation,” “Organ Transplantation and Donation,” “Reproductive Health,” and “Global Health” — which was originally in The World Community]

End of Life [combining “Aging” and “Death and Dying” (not divided into A & B)]

3. COMMUNITIES OF JUSTICE & RIGHTEOUSNESS 

(could be called A JUST WORLD: POLITICAL & ECONOMIC COMMUNITIES)

Preface [combining the preface to The Political Community, The Economic Community, and The World Community]

[this next section combines The Political Community and The World Community]

Religion in Public Life [combining “Governments and the Church,” “Religious Freedom,” and “Rights of Religious Minorities” — originally in The Social Community]

Human Rights [combining “Basic Rights and Freedoms” and “Human Dignity, Rights, and Responsibilities”]

Government Responsibilities [combining “Government Responsibilities” and “Nations and Cultures”]

Migration [combining “Global Migration” and “Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees”–originally in The Social Community]

Justice, Law, and Civil Disobedience [combining “Justice and Law” and “Civil Disobedience”]

Restorative Justice and the Death Penalty [combining “Restorative Justice” and “Death Penalty”]

War and Peace [combining “War and Peace,” “Peacebuilding,” “Military Service,” and “National Power and Responsibility”]

[this next section brings in everything from The Economic Community]

[Economic] Equity

Systems of Production

Globalization

Trade and Investment

Agricultural Development

Labor and Employment

Poverty

Human Trafficking

Corruption, Graft and Bribery

Corporate and Social Responsibility

Gambling

This proposed restructure would substantially reduce the total number of sections — at which point it will be much easier to edit them even more succinctly. We won’t try to say the same thing over and over again in different places due to arbitrary category divisions. We won’t be tempted to pretend that what happens in one nation doesn’t affect the world (and vice versa). We won’t silo some issues off as affecting “the world” or “nurturing”; instead, our very structure will recognize that world concerns and at-home concerns are intricately connected with the environment, politics, and economics.

Combining paragraphs will also make the Social Principles more user-friendly. For example, our statements on gender would not be divided into “Gender Equality,” “Marriage & Divorce” and “Reproductive Health” in The Nurturing Community and “Rights of Women & Girls” and “Rights of Men & Boys” in The Social Community.

A side benefit is that “Human Sexuality” and “Rights of All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities” could be placed side-by-side in the same section. This would make General Conference legislative committees easier to navigate. (Ha.)

I’m interested in your own thoughts and reflections on this revision. But more importantly, I know that the General Board of Church and Society is interested in your feedback. So if you agree with me or not, go read the proposal and comment there!

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Nevertheless, she…

Image may contain: 4 people, including Diane Kenaston, people smiling, indoor“To say that God is not male or female is to deny the divinity of Jesus! It denies the Trinity!”

Not true. My theologically orthodox seminary professor husband and I both got up on our annual conference floor to explain the absurdity of this position:

The “scandal of particularity” is that God chose to be incarnated as a 1st-century Jewish Palestinian male —- but that does not mean that God is limited to a particular time, place, language, culture, religion, or gender. We don’t say “God is short with brown eyes” (although Jesus was likely short with brown eyes), so why are we insisting that the maleness of Jesus means that God as Three-in-One and One-in-Three is male? Affirming Jesus’ divinity means affirming that Jesus is simultaneously particularized and beyond particularity. 

But passionate speeches by St. Augustine nerds didn’t matter. Fear about the gender of God — and what “gender” means for humans — caused two constitutional amendments to fail to be ratified.

The United Methodist Young Clergy Women immediately sprang into action. We crowdsourced a letter to the church, which we invite United Methodist clergywomen of all ages and ministries to sign.


The letter’s highlights include:

“…The two constitutional amendments relating most closely to women and gender justice were not approved… We have pledged our lives to a denomination which, in response, will not affirm women in its constitution.

…Ambiguity over the word “gender” is part of why these amendments were voted down… However, to offer the clarity that some are seeking would mean abandoning our transgender and gender nonconforming United Methodists who have dealt with exponentially more discrimination in this denomination. We refuse to do this.

…We urge United Methodists to look first at problems of misogyny in our respective areas before pointing out the speck in the eye of any other place.

…We must repent of our unwillingness to allow the Holy Spirit to move us on toward perfection, even in this life.

…Since the formation of our denomination, United Methodists have repeatedly brought to the General Conference amendments supporting people regardless of sex or gender. Each one of these proposed amendments has failed.

Therefore, we urge every United Methodist in every Annual Conference to participate in stopping this cycle in 2020. To stop the cycle means teaching and preaching about the God who is beyond gender. We commend the free curricula offered by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW): “God of the Bible” and “Women Called to Ministry.”

We United Methodists have statements in both the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions that have passed by a majority vote at General Conference. Our inability to achieve equality in our Constitution is a sign that these resolutions have not been fully incorporated into our denomination.

We therefore challenge people to study, internalize, and act according to “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society” (2016 Book of Resolutions, ¶3442). This includes

  • listening to women, especially women of color;
  • refusing to tolerate sexual violence, harassment, or abuse;
  • engaging women in shaping and teaching church doctrine; and
  • evaluating progress in each context of dismantling institutional sexism…”

Read the whole letter here. 


Within just a few days, over 800 clergywomen have signed the letter, including clergywomen from every single conference in the United States and several from the Philippines. Please share this with the UM clergywomen you know, especially those outside of the United States

We have had many men ask if they can sign. Our response? Write your own letter. Speak up as men about gender justice. Teach and preach about the God beyond gender. Talk about how sexism and patriarchy are not just “women’s issues.” Humbly listen to women. Ask what we need from you. This is not women’s work that you get to sign on to. This is men’s work, too.  

News then broke that Amendment 1 had mistakenly included a line deleted by General Conference. That corrected amendment is now returning to the annual conferences for a re-vote.

We need to note that this new amendment does not:

  • address the gender of God
  • specify inclusion in worship, sacraments, or church governance
  • include ability, age, or marital status

These are important oversights.

And yet, I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, again crowdsourced by the United Methodist Young Clergy Women:

“The news of this re-vote means that we United Methodists have a rare opportunity to right an injustice. While this doesn’t erase the painful message sent by the first vote, the United Methodist Church has the opportunity to send a new message. We urge those who voted against Amendment I to listen to women and learn why it matters to them that God made them in the Divine image. We also urge all disappointed by the original vote to remember that Amendment I failed by a margin of fewer than one hundred votes. In light of this, we urge all clergy and lay members to vote at your respective Annual Conferences. Your vote matters. Show up. Vote. Affirm that God has created each gender equal in God’s image. 

Maybe someday we’ll be able to affirm in our founding documents that the God who is beyond gender has made people of all genders in God’s image.

And maybe someday we will assert that marital status, gender, ability, and age (along with race, color, national origin, and economic condition) are not barriers to participation in the life, worship, and governance of the church.

Until then, nevertheless, we persist.

 

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Hope in the Mountains

The UMC Family blog has been dormant for half a quadrennium! As we gear up for General Conference 2019 (and a 2018 annual conference revote on a constitutional amendment — which I will post on shortly), I (Diane) discovered a draft blog post, which I had never published. But I want to publish it now:

Dad, you are my model for ministry, and I pray for a double-portion of your humble, hope-filled spirit. Thank you.

We deliberately didn’t post through annual/jurisdictional conference of 2016. The Northeastern Jurisdiction has strict rules against any form of episcopacy campaigning— rules which we whole-heartedly support. I think it helps people to focus on how God is moving through the jurisdiction. My father, Joe Kenaston, was discerned by the West Virginia Annual Conference as their episcopal candidate in the NEJ. After he prayerfully withdrew, I had little to say — except to quote my father’s withdrawal speech:

I have great hope for this church. I live in one of the most impoverished areas in the United States of America. And yet the people of southern West Virginia–with the ravages of the flood, with the economic devastation that has happened in our state–the people have hope. The theme for our district in southern West Virginia and for my ministry has been ‘Hope in the Mountains.’ And I believe that there is hope not only in the mountains but also in our jurisdiction, and in The United Methodist Church, if all of us will lift our eyes up to hills from whence cometh our help. Our help cometh in the name of the Lord. 

Holy ContradictionsNow, as I read those words in 2018, I reflect on how easy it is for me to lose hope for our denomination. I even published an essay in Holy Contradictions about how perhaps our calling is to the cross: to die as a denomination, trusting that God will resurrect new life in a Christian church that is bigger than one mainline Protestant expression of it.

It is people like my parents who remind me to temper my cynicism about the present — what feels like impending denominational death — with hope for the future.

Back to summer 2016. During a conference season that risked being all about Dad, we were ecstatic that my mother was surprised by the Susanna Wesley award. She brings her disciplined love to all that she does, as a mother and as a disciple.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.42.34 AM

(You may enjoy reading this interview with my mom about General Conference).

As we prepare for 2019 and beyond, I invite you to pray this Wesleyan covenant prayer which means so much to our whole family:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

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Hope for the Church

Though she’s not an official part of the Kenaston family, below is the most recent blog by Maria Niechwiadowicz, Connor’s girlfriend and fellow missionary.

Taking the Call

The end of May brought a final family reunion for the Global Mission Fellow class of 2014-2016. Upon the end of General Conference in downtown Portland, we bused out to the serene haven that is A.Collins Retreat Center. Isolated in the midst of Oregon forest and under the warm hospitality of retreat staff, we were able to reflect, laugh, and be in community.

I have often described this family with positive words, unable to fully convey the unique love that has formed among us, but after attending a week of General Conference and then two weeks of our End-Term event, I now know what I am most proud of.

General Conference brought much dissent, emotions, and negative talk within the United Methodist Church. Tensions were high, decisions were made (and not made) to disappoint some and discourage others. Some left the Conference disheartened or even angry at the Church…

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A Model for the Global Church

Check out the most recent blogs by Connor about the Global Church:

https://thebookoffellows.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/a-model-for-the-global-church/

and here:

https://ckenaston.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/what-is-the-global-church/

 

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What is the “Global Church”?

Recent post by Connor!

"Stretch Out Your Hand"

While numbers of United Methodists have gradually decreased over the last few decades, the denomination outside the US (what the UMC calls “Central Conferences”) has grown rapidly. These statistics lead many United Methodists to call us a “global church.” In many senses, this is true. For one, General Conference now has 40% of its delegates come from Central Conferences. That means that there are at least six translators doing simultaneous interpreting in every session (and breakout session) of General Conference! Many of the church’s ministries (like the Global Mission Fellows program!) are global in nature, embracing a ministry with* and “from everywhere, to everywhere” model for ministry.

However, while the UMC may be more global than most denominations, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that there’s plenty of room to grow. There are indeed Methodists all over the world, but only a small number of them are actually United Methodists…

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THEREFORE GO from the OTHER SIDE

2016-05-18

(The picture is of the backside of the screen – sometimes Joe’s view as a marshal)

 

I have cried and I have prayed. I have hugged friends in heart-broken agony. I have sighed with relief and then worried about what is coming. Ah…General Conference. You are a stress test.

I have felt the Holy Spirit moving throughout and then felt that we had turned our back on that prompting. And then had to be convinced that the spirit could indeed move again.

And, Friday came and I said goodbye to the Commission on the General Conference. What an amazing experience it has been to have chaired this incredible group. It’s just hitting me that I may never see some of these people again – ever here in this world. It’s easiest just to avoid the goodbyes, but sometimes you can’t. Goodbye, dear friends; Goodbye, people that have served with me. If I didn’t hug you today, here is my hug.

But for now, here are some of the ways that General Conference tested my stress level.

Friday, we tried to work through 78 pieces of legislation. Just for the record, in 2012 we left 71 pieces which were never acted upon. We got below that number this year. But we tried parliamentary maneuvering to save time which took more time than just acting would have. These things are very frustrating. And then we did a very bad thing by requiring that all legislation be considered in committee and acted upon by the GC in the future. Wow. Just Wow. I wanted to try to amend that one to insert the language (not considered by committee in the last two GCs, but supported overwhelmingly at the end of 2012 by adding it to a report and not the Discipline. Oops.) that all petitions must have the support of some body within the church. There should be some vetting prior to arriving in the lap of the petitions secretary. But no vetting was acceptable – and yet we are going to consider every petition! Again – Wow. Just. Wow. They have no idea what we have done to our volunteers and future General Conferences. My apologies to all (even though I voted NO!!!)

Accusations that a bishop is telegraphing how to vote with his fingers. Seriously – this one was bizarre. (However, years ago in my very first Annual Conference as secretary, I was accused – anonymously on an evaluation sheet – of telegraphing the votes before they were announced. I think I must have been smiling at Joe occasionally – but it had nothing to do with votes and more to do with being in the secretary’s chair for the first time and really appreciating his support.) Similarly the bishop may have been fiddling with his fingers but I seriously doubt he had time to worry about signaling votes. As I said, it was really bizarre.

But while on the subject of bishops presiding: This one isn’t a direct quote, but the way I heard what some of the bishops were saying: “Yeah – I was wrong and possibly totally messed up that vote, but we can’t fix it now.” This does not bring me comfort.

Not that the bishops haven’t had plenty to put up. We started early with challenges to the bishop used in political ways (uh…remember that Rule 44 which was part of the original rules report that passed by majority had to get a super majority because someone pulled it out of the original rules and then challenged the bishop when she said it should be treated as the other rules). Later challenges were ugly and then people fussed when they were ignored. What part of “Christian Conferencing” is this? I need to remind myself that we actually chose numerous times NOT to Christian conference – first by rejecting Rule 44 and then by not considering that we do this as a part of General Conference. (Thanks to leadership on the Conferences Legislative Committee – this was never brought to the floor. I wasn’t there to hear the discussion and I can’t decide if I’m glad about not being there or not. I might have had some influence or I may have just been miserable.) If not for the leadership of the bishops – through prayer, gentle pleading and occasionally just good presiding – I’m not sure we could have done much resembling Christian Conferencing. Best “hot tip” from Bishop Sally Dick trying to respond to delegates frustrated that we were moving too slow: “You could just not come to the microphone.”

We got very tired of Points of Order that weren’t about any rule and Points of Information that were speeches in favor or against. And it had to be explained that “Point of Information” actually means you’re asking a question – not answering one that you think someone should have asked.

IMG_0951

So, our plenary action was not a highlight of Conference, but there were good moments. The youth reading their statement of unity warmed my soul. Worship in many languages and incredible music were uplifting. Coming to the Maxline stop from the hotel each morning (at 6 am!) and seeing folks heading with me to meetings allowed me to meet people I might not have otherwise seen. Dinners with friends. I had the tremendous blessing of rarely being anywhere where I didn’t know someone. That is a contrast to my first General Conference where I knew virtually no one outside our conference.

The West Virginia delegation were committed and active, and “Group Me” messages made me smile. The prayers sent out by the conference each day were a wonderful reminder of our connectedness – as was emailing the DCA to Bishop Grove and his daily words of support.

We had two times of sharing – one in our legislative committee and one at our table – that were surprisingly good. The table one wasn’t very well directed but those of us who know how to do that kind of thing stepped up and people were more open to sharing why they felt the way they did than I expected.

And I loved all the people who knew me as “Diane’s mom” and “Connor’s mom.” The connections are amazing. And the young people (and not so young people) are awesome.

So, what’s next? I need to reflect when my brain is not so fogged from lack of sleep. My initial reaction to Wednesday’s vote to accept the Bishop’s plan was one of cautious hope. We did not destroy the church THIS time. I had never allowed myself to think that splitting might be the best thing until the debate and defeat of a motion by Adam Hamilton to follow the bishops’ plan. But the agony of that moment was intense and I began to think that holding a divided church together might not be the best thing.

Will the talk be effective? I don’t know. I didn’t hear a lot of give from either of the extremes at this conference. But here lies my hope and my fear. What the bishops are trying to do is the same that the Commission envisioned: let the middle ground have a voice. There are a lot of us that love the church and see it as much more than the things that divide us (not to in any way imply that those on the extremes don’t love the church.) But, my fear is that we are losing the middle because of the extremes. We are being forced to choose sides by the way we vote. Nuance (and conversation, apparently) are to be feared because they might drive us from our truly heart-felt position.

So, while I hope that the conversations the bishops will lead will allow us to reach a place where we don’t use the Bible and the Discipline as a weapon; where we can rise above the culture and challenge those who try to motivate people by finding a common enemy; where we truly look for the image of God in each person in our path, our record of doing this isn’t great. And we will still have to come back to this place (General Conference – not necessarily Portland) and take votes which will create winners and losers. I’m pretty sure that’s not the way Christ intended for the Kingdom to look. I do hope the process will prove me wrong. There are things that we can not do, but God is Able (blatant plug for the song commissioned for GC and distributed to all the delegates).

I’m headed home – back where churches will gather on Sunday and sermons will be preached. There will be baptisms. There will be new faith commitments. There will be new disciples created for the transformation of the world (Fortunately, the challenge to our mission statement was successfully overcome!). There will be mission events and there will be chances to look outside our walls. And there will be some squabbles over the color of the new carpet and who didn’t clean up after themselves. Church life goes on.

I’m exhausted (6 hours of sleep most nights ending with 3 last night.) I could probably sleep for days – but won’t. Life is waiting. I’m grateful for a God who doesn’t need sleep. A God who doesn’t need points of order. A God who doesn’t need us to be perfect – though we United Methodists know it doesn’t hurt to try. God is able. And I will rest on that.

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200 Brookwood Ln, Beckley, WV, United States

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Mirror….Mirror….

The lighting for the mirror in the bathroom of our hotel (which has been “home” for the last 12 days) is not good. Well, let me take that back. It depends on what you want to see whether or not it is good. It’s dim – so even when you’re really tired, you look ok. It’s kind of uplifting – until you look in a mirror where the light is better. Then you see the blemishes that others are seeing when you are in the light.

I had been thinking about this idea of inaccurate reflections as I read some things that folks are experiencing at General Conference. How do we want to look – and are we content to look in a bad mirror to see ourselves in that way? Are we willing to pretend that we are making disciples for Jesus Christ when we aren’t acting like people who love each other? Can we speak cruelly to other people and still see ourselves as looking good? Can we pass legislation that hurts people and still see ourselves smiling? Can we waste time arguing about how we shouldn’t be wasting time, and still view ourselves as flawless?

There is a mirror being held up to us here at the General Conference. Which image of the church will we choose? Sometimes it’s important to look at the real image we are projecting and not the one which we think looks good.

We hear a lot about unity and there are a lot of celebratory moments. Each of them by itself is great. I love this church and I love what we do, and I desperately want to celebrate. But the celebrations have a hollow ring when we are so divided. The image reflected is not accurate.

Overnight there were rumors of a breakup – a separation – a divorce – many different terms suggested. These proposals have been coming for a couple of years and would have been a bigger reality if the groups that wanted to leave could figure out how to take the money with them (Sadly). Now those who had been waiting for something to happen to make them stay at this GC, realized that the mood of this Conference was not going their way. So, they too joined the chorus of departure.

We woke up (at the usual 5:00 am) and had an email from Diane (where it was 7 am) shouting “Somebody tell me what is going on?” At that point she knew more than we did. She’d been reading social media. We’d been sleeping. So we read the reports. We read the denials. And then we proceeded as normal. We might be tired, but we can smile in the mirror and we don’t look so bad. Work has to happen – even if everything is feeling like chaos. And it’s a comfort to do work as normal.

Mid-morning Bishop Ough, new president of the Council of Bishops, presented a statement by the COB stating that the Council was recommending unity, and that the role of the bishop was to “preside” as we the delegates made decisions. By afternoon there were people begging the COB to lead and offer us some way forward. And apparently that is what they are doing tonight. I do not envy the task. And I’m not sure they’re up to it. But I am praying for them. We need help. We are stuck.

So, we will see what comes. I think today folks were begging for a clear mirror with good light. We need to see what we look like. We need to recognize flaws. We must see ourselves clearly. And then we must choose which image we want to make reality.

Grant us wisdom. Grant us courage – For the living of these days…

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777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR, United States

2016-05-17

Can good come from chaos?

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A Conversation with US2’s about Poverty and Race

On Saturday morning, Chelsea Spyres (one of my Global Mission Fellow prayer partners and one of my closest friends) co-delivered the Young People’s Address to General Conference. Chelsea is one of the most genuine and compassionate individuals I know, and I was proud that she was able to share her story with the rest of the General Conference. I was lucky enough to share a (significantly smaller!) stage with her later that afternoon as we had a conversation about our experience as Global Mission Fellow, US-2’s. You can check it out that conversation here:

Exciting programs like Generation Transformation are one of the reasons why I believe in connectionalism and think it’s important that it remains at the core of United Methodism. We can do so much more together than we can apart. If you’d like to donate to the GMF program you can do so via my Advance Number 3021973.

 

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A Chance to Vote

File_000 (8)Serving as a reserve delegate comes with both joys and challenges.

Joys: There’s less pressure! If I need to take an hour for my health (read: sanity), I can do that and not feel guilty about missing a vote or an opportunity to share my voice. This provides more time to share with friends, old and new, which has been my favorite part of General Conference thus far.

Challenges: I cannot vote or participate in discussions! It can be incredibly frustrating to be unable to share a point or perspective that hasn’t yet been voiced. Also, reserves never know when they’re going to get the chance to fill in for a delegate so you always have to be ready. Being a reserve is kind of like being an understudy in a musical–you may never get the chance to perform, but you still have to learn all the lines, music, and dances just in case!

Yesterday, I did finally get a chance to participate! One of the West Virginia lay persons (and a good friend of mine), decided she needed a break during yesterday’s morning session which meant that I was able to sit on the floor and even take two (unimportant) votes! Yes, I didn’t actually impact anything (honestly, the best part was really that delegates can plug in their computers/phones while reserves do not have plugs), but it still felt good to finally feel like I could participate.

And yet, while it can sometimes be frustrating not to be able to participate fully, I’m thankful. For one, I’m thankful for Erin’s generosity to forfeit her seat for a spell. Even more so however, I have appreciated the opportunity to be here for worship, prayer, and the opportunity to simply be in this space. Global Ministries talks about the need for those who rarely speak to “step forward” and those often speak to “step back.” I know this may not be a surprise, but I always have to remind myself “step back, step back, step back…” Not being allowed to talk has been good for me, and I’ve appreciated being forced to simply listen (even if it drives me crazy!) because it helps me to truly hear someone else’s perspective and opinion.

I hope that all involved (myself included) continue to give thanks for the blessings even in the midst of what can be a difficult process!

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