Needing A Do-Over
I have been dismayed by the “entitlement” mentality that stand is 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. On 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… – Rev. Dan Dick, “GC2016 – Day Three”, United Methodeviations, May 12, 2016
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. – Jay Voorhees, “Commentary: And Are We Yet Alive?”, United Methodist Reporter, May 12, 2016
But this is the one to whom I will look,
to the humble and contrite in spirit,
who trembles at my word. – Isaiah 66:2b
I had high hopes for this General Conference. I really did. After the disaster in Tampa in 2012, one would think everyone would be mindful of the need not just to do things differently, but to do them better. The sad fact is there seems to be even more anger and animosity among the delegates, even more distrust and disrespect, and pretty much none of the humility toward which the Bishop’s have been calling us each morning.
Which leads me to ponder something I thought about yesterday. I was speaking to someone about my impressions of General Conference so far, and the one thing that’s stuck out for me has been the gulf between what is powerful, Spirit-filled worship and the rancorous deliberations on the floor. There is much commentary in the Hebrew Scriptures on worship. Over and over again the message is clear: authentic worship is humility, an open and contrite heart. The prophets in particular deliver words that show Divine disgust at worship more concerned with outward devotion to ritual than with the inward Spirit of love for one another, a community gathered knowing they are sinners before a God both of love and justice, a God that desires Holy Community rather than liturgical exactness.
So after three powerful worship services so far, during which the presence of the Spirit was palpable, I have to wonder . . . who was really worshiping?
Which brings me to a radical thought rooted in sadness: I think General Conference needs to start all over again. Before anyone enters the main auditorium, rather than being prayed over, delegates should the prayer Jesus said on the Mount of Olives: Not my will, but yours be done. Rather than following Robert’s Rules of Order – endlessly exploitable by those who understand their confusing intricacies – our General Conference should follow different rules. Only speeches that build up the body should be allowed. Only words that seek to bridge gaps and heal divisions should be heard.
I am all for anger. I am all for the silenced to be heard. There is, however, a time and a place for everything, and the floor of General Conference is no more the right place for grandstanding than it should be the place for parliamentary maneuvering and sowing seeds of confusion and mistrust.
For all the glorious worship and music, for all the calls for humility, this General Conference is descending quickly in to a morass of mutual spite. If Dan Dick’s stories are true, this is spilling over in our dealings with those with whom we have no disagreements, those outside the circle of General Conference. We need a do-over and we need it NOW. For the sake of our church, its ministry, and how we might live together and serve together going forward.