Commentary: And are we yet alive?

Over the past couple of days we’ve spent some time ruminating on the continued lack of trust present at the 2016 General Conference. Of course, this lack of trust isn’t new. In fact, some have argued that Portland delegates have simply picked up where the Tampa delegates left off. The major issues are the same — the United Methodist teachings on human sexuality, the structure of the UMC, and what it means to be a global church. The debate on term episcopacy and guaranteed appointment continues as well. It’s all wrapped up in a ball of mistrust between conservatives and liberals, those from the U.S. North and West and those from the South, and those who believe that scriptural interpretation is fixed and unchanging versus those who believe that the Bible is a living document that is always open for reinterpretation.

That is simply where we are today . . . and I fear that Christ’s prayer for the unity of the church in John 17 is becoming less and less of a reality for the people called United Methodist. Maybe the Spirit will show up and we’ll figure out how to love one another again, or maybe the irreconcilable differences are too great ane we’ll end up in “family court” arguing over who gets to keep the Beemer and who has to drive the mini-van.

What I worry about, however, is whether we have any ability to call ourselves Christian in the wake of how we treat one another. Granted, we have valid differences and our passion for our beliefs can lead us to use language and maintain a tone that is somewhat divorced from the call to gentleness, patience, and kindness mentioned in the scriptures. I understand passion, and often say things that I later regret, so I get that sometimes our words get away from us.

The bigger concern for me is the sense of entitlement held by several who think that their position, their office, or even their election as a delegate grants them a status beyond that of “sinner in need of God’s grace.” Humility seems to be less valued than certainty and that often misunderstood quality known as “leadership.” In the face of self-importance, God’s command of love often gets trampled.

My friend Dan Dick reminded me of that in his reflection on today’s events at General Conference. I was struck especially by a particular paragraph:

I still hold the we are the living Word, the scripture that is being constantly written by God.  The Spirit of God is the author-ity, and we are in a constant process of working out our shared and collective salvation, hopefully with fear and trembling.  In watching behaviors, I am not so sure.  I have been dismayed by the “entitlement” mentality that stands in stark contrast to the humility we were invited to yesterday.  I am watching my brothers and sisters speak angrily and horribly to wait-staff, hotel-staff, convention center staff, and even to one another.  At a restaurant, a “gentleman” reduced his server to tears and at the top of his voice screamed, “No way you get a tip!”  Today, a booth scheduled to open at 7:30 had the audacity to not open until 7:38.  People took their annoyance out on the poor volunteers working the booth.  One person spat, “I am much too important to be made waiting this long.” And another muttered abut the “stupid assholes” who couldn’t tell time.  I wish these were the only two incidents I could name, but they are examples of multiple encounters I have seen in the past two days.  What a witness to the world about United Methodists…

In Dan’s reflection, my heart breaks. We are, after all, in a city not especially known for having positive feelings toward traditional religion. Portland is a place where the solstice festivals are more widely attended than church on Sunday morning. In coming to this city we are given the opportunity to represent the heart of Christ to the people of Portland . . . and if Dan’s stories are any example, we are thoroughly blowing it, not because we’re giving Christians a bad name, but because we are very simply not living out the requirements of discipleship to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors in the same way that we want to be loved. Most important, we are not loving one another — which is after all, according to John’s gospel, the ultimate sign of our identity in the world.

Why is it that we can’t believe that love is sufficient? Why is it that we minimize love in our pursuit of power? How come we can’t all recognize that we are witnessing to the world by what we do here?

Have we allowed the form of our religion to trump the substance of our faith?

What we do here is important. As an ordained elder, I take great interest in the decisions that will very likely affect both the course of my ministry AND the course of my life over the next several years. Issues like restructuring directly affect people I love and am in ministry with. I want the best for this church which took me in and loved me into God’s Kingdom.

But as important as our work is, if we have not love, it isn’t worth a hill of beans.

If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.

Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Those who have ears, let them hear.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and MethoBlog.com. Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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8 Comments on "Commentary: And are we yet alive?"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Albert HAHN
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We the people called United Methodists are facing difficult challenges. Many are neglected, disappointed, rejected and wounded. In a time like this, it is natural for us to be less gracious toward one another and even to ourselves. Yet, I pray that we will summon as much grace as we can, even as (or especially as) we fail to shine Christ’s light. While I do not doubt Dan Dick’s disappointments at some (or many) delegates are real, I pray that we will do all we can to delay our judgement on each other and ourselves. Questions like “why can’t we… Read more »
keith
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Why do we keep fighting ? No hearts or minds are or will be changed. This is gut level stuff, all the meetings and demonstrations will not help. Prayer does not seem to be working. Is Methodism expecting a miracle. I believe in miracles , but do not include them in my plan. Lets just privatize the retirement system, give all the churches their property, divide the swag and depart as frienemies. Some years ago we paid a consulting firm for a big reorganization plan, that went into the round file. If we had spent that money on a separation… Read more »
Richard F Hicks
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When the hymn in the headline was written it was relevant. It is no longer relevant. And, it is disrespectful to use in today’s context. The young Methodist preachers who rode horseback into and through the wilderness live short, rough and tumble lives. The question in the lyric was relevant then because many of those young circuit riders would die in the saddle or on their appointed circuit. Today we fat, cushioned, air conditioned Methodist place our fat butts and guts in cars and maybe preach once a week – inside. As my wife says, “If you’re not preaching at… Read more »
Pat Stroman
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I believe you have defined a form of death. That makes the hymn as relevant as it was in circuit rider times. Spiritual death is as deadly to the church as physical death.

Earl
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RE: hymn relevance, with respect, your norm is not normative for most pastors. Many preach twice on Sunday AM, again in the afternoon and again that evening. Further, they do not simply ride from one preaching engagement to another. They have to do work that no horse riding circuit rider ever did, work for which those early pastors were not equipped, etc. And, unlike those riders of yesteryear, these pastors cannot simply put a problem congregation/issue in their rear view mirror until next four to six weeks later. They engage with their congregations in a local context 25 hours a… Read more »
James Wlung
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Our chickens are coming home to roost, and the initial wave are merely scouts for a wave that will blot out the sun.

David Reinholz
Guest

Perhaps the Church would be served by limiting how many times a person (clergy or lay) can serve as a delegate to GC. How can we address the issue of “entitlement”? Thoughts?

Pat Stroman
Guest

It is not significantly different from the chaos that was GC in Portland in 1976 or the 7 other times I was a delegate. The bureaucracy see that the majority of delegates are members of the boards and agencies. The rule 44 was a classic example of “preserve the bureaucracy. The major difference that I have seen is the computerization. In 1976, we dealt with over 8,000 petitions in paper form. The oppositions are better organized and positions are hardened.

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