Our General Conference has been full of metaphors of water. Storms, wind, rain, water, shoreline, sails, rope, salt, you name it – we’ve shared the image. And it has been extraordinarily powerful when those symbols have captured the moments we have experienced: healing, encouragement, etc.
But that metaphor is also difficult when you feel like the waves are going up and down and up and down and a storm is brewing and the waves get higher and higher. General Conference is like that. Highs and lows. It is an emotional roller coaster of worshipful moments that help you soar in praise of God and then lead you into deep lament and repentance. It is the political thrill of watching legislation you deeply care about get discussed and perfected and pass… and then the heartbreaking disappointment when the church fails to act, or muddles the process, or goes in a direction that you feel is not God’s will.
Someone described it as inducing its own special kind of PTSD. And perhaps I didn’t quite realize what they meant until I found myself literally holding my breath, arms out in prayer over the whole delegation, waiting for the seconds to count down as the vote was cast for the church restructuring. The plan was not, and is not, perfect. We tried to work on some amendments and managed to increase representation from the central conferences, but did not pass what I believed was an important amendment to retain the independence of GCORR and GCSRW. Those two agencies are now subsumed into a “committee on inclusiveness,” and the failure of the amendment was devastating for me.
What troubled me the most is that there were still so many perfections and corrections that needed to be made to the plan but we didn’t take the time to make them. The UMW board was changed without us realizing it. The numbers don’t quite add up right on other boards. There are errata everywhere. But lunch was coming up, and we went to the vote… with 20+ white cards waving in the air (the symbol for a question, amendment, point of order, etc.)
I’m not sure what the implications of our restructure will be yet. I fear that we have pushed our monitoring agencies to the side and they will not have the voice they need to have to keep us from letting racism, tribalism, or sexism exclude people from the table. In the conversations about the loss of guaranteed appointment, I have heard from so many who fear that because they are a woman or black or don’t speak with english as a first language, that they are now in danger… not because they are ineffective, but because they do not feel like they have respect or are seen with dignity as a person who truly has a calling and gifts and graces. I have been blessed in my personal experience not to have to carry that kind of fear, but I have heard their pain and it made me remember how truly these (former) commissions have been… not only in the U.S. but also across the globe… and how much work there still is to do.
Last night, we refused to deal with an amendment to the constitution that would add “gender” and “age” to the list of things we are to be inclusive around. But we couldn’t imagine the future with kingdom eyes and for the third general conference in a row, we did not pass the amendment. We actually referred it back to the commission that brought it to the body. It made my heart hurt. I wanted us to stand up and take that simple stand and we refused to do it. And then we worshipped and were invited into a liturgy that spoke of welcoming woman and man and all different kinds of people and it just about broke me.
Someone posted on twitter today: At least in worship I feel like a United Methodist. And yet, in that service, I felt like we couldn’t truly speak those words. We as a body had failed to live into those words only an hour before. The only thing that saved me was the jazzy blues lament… Lord, have mercy. It was only because we lamented and cried out and (at least for me) begged for forgiveness that I could ride the wave to the next high point and look out over all that we are and all we try to do and get some perspective.
I was reminded this afternoon that although the waves are tumultuous this week and what we do may or may not have far reaching implications… on Sunday, I will be back in my local church. And I’ll be in the water again… only this time the waters of baptism as I bless, anoint, and name the grace of God that is already pouring into the life of little Joselin. And right there is where I belong. Speaking love and grace. Nurturing life and discipleship. Refusing to give in to the waves of doubt and fear and confusion. Holding steady, knowing Jesus is at my side.