Satellites, I-Phones, Clay, and Us

I just got a call from a reporter for the United Methodist News Service wanting to interview me about the apparent defeat of the 23 Worldwide UMC Constitutional Amendments voted on by annual conferences. As I write this, it appears that they are going down to defeat by a 65-35% margin. As I said to the reporter, “This is a victory for connectionalism.”

Connectionalism isn’t just a UM hallmark. It is the way God made us. We have been created in God’s image to be interconnected. American Indians have long embraced this worldview. Reciprocity in all things means that four-leggeds, two-leggeds, winged creatures, fish, and all of creation co-exists. To live is to be in perpetual connection. Sure, there are cultural differences and God must embrace diversity or there wouldn’t be so many different types of creatures, colors, or clays. I say “clays” because I’m a potter – duh!
 
I have used clays like Standard 153, 114, locally dug and pugged earthenware, Loafer’s Glory, Little Loafer’s, B-Mix, a little bit of everything. I change every now and then, but I prefer the feel, bite, and color of Little Loafer’s the best. Anyway, we’re all clay – made from the dust. Adam literally means dirt. In our connectionalism we all belong at the table and our interdependence extends to our connection to every molecule of the planet, even the cosmos.
 
The 40th anniversary of humans on the moon reminds me of how Spaceship Earth is but a little slice of the heavens. Watching the stars last night in SC’s lowcountry and seeing a satellite zip by was God’s megaphone to me of interconnectedness. Watching fellow cabinet members during our retreat this week stay connected with the outside world through I-phones and Blackberries verified our connectedness, and the need for the satellite.
 
The rub, however, whether you’re parenting a teenager or an aging mother, is how much to stay connected without losing individuality. How can we make room for God’s gift of diversity while embracing the fact that every thing, every creature is made of the same cosmic dust? That is my challenge, our challenge – holding in tension the facts of distance and closeness without spinning apart or melting into an amalgam of enmeshment. Such is life, C’est la vie, n’est pas?

Annual Conference

Annual Conference is upon us and I hope we have part revival, part business, and all holy conferencing. I love Annual Conference! Now, of course, there are moments when things get tedious at best, and I’m on a short leash by being parliamentarian. As age progresses the restroom breaks become very much anticipated! I’ve thought about wearing sunglasses this year because the glare from the stage lights creates a haze after a day or so. I bet many people think the same thing about the glare off of my bald head.

This is an important conference for me. My middle child, Josh, is going to be commissioned Sunday night. That’s an incredible milestone on his way to ordination. He’s exhibiting such marvelous gifts for ministry at Bethel in Rock Hill. He and his wife Karen are a blessing in so many ways!
 
This conference is also important because of the Constitutional Amendments that we will be voting on on Monday. If you know me well, my passion with these surrounds the 23 worldwide UMC amendments. If they are passed we could see connectionalism go down the drain, and a regionalistic diocesan polity take over. Wesley’s words, “The world is my parish!” would be changed to “my neighborhood.” Sure, our neighborhood is our parish, but if we are to truly be global Christians, we cannot fragment who we are into regions that dispose of our unity.
 
I hope I don’t have to speak on this issue because parliamentarians are supposed to be impartial and not speak, or even vote by voice or show of hand. Nevertheless, this issue is too important to not speak. We’ll see. This isn’t about conservative or liberal – it’s about our ecclesiology; i.e., Connectionalism. I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out.
 
My favorite thing about Annual Conference is renewal of relationships. When one gives their life tothe ministry their church membership is literally transferred to the Annual Conference. It is my local church, and I love the fellowship with laity and clergy as we get to see each other, sing, hear good preaching, and make those all-important decisions that will shape our life together for years to come. See you Sunday!

No Where to Go!?

>I have been enjoying my time spent with each of the clergy in the Columbia District, doing whatever they want to do. We have been to the zoo, the State Museum, The Columbia Museum of Art, visiting the homeless, shut-ins, hospitals, taking communion to people, sitting in on church visioning, learning to make pottery, etc. It has been good.

On one trek, a pastor took me to Congaree Creek Park where clay has been dug for several hundred years. One of the more interesting things I have seen in all of the activities over the past several months of being on these outings with pastors was something I saw in the middle of the remants of the old clay mining operation. Sticking out from a huge tree were two railroad track irons about ten feet up. They were evidently used as part of a means to get the clay out of the nearby pit.
All kinds of metaphors have been coming to mind. First, they reminded me of my trip to Coventry Cathedral in England which was bombed by the Nazis in WWII. As the rubble of the cathedral was cleared in the chancel there were two burned beams that had fallen and made a cross. It is still viewed today as a sign of Christ’s sacrifice and the need for human forgiveness. Second, I thought of our denomination, especially as Constitutional Amendments will be voted on at this year’s Annual Conference. We’re at a crossroads. I don’t oppose the amendments on the worldwide nature of the UMC because of liberal or conservative reasons. I oppose them because they would switch us from Connectionalism to a pseudo-Presbyterian/Anglican regional understanding of who we are as a church. Regions would be able to adapt how we live out the Gospel with such division that we would be living a false advertising, “The UNITED Methodist Church.” We wouldn’t be united if these pass.
There are other crossroads that we face in life with the economy, jobs, day-to-day decisions. Those rail lines stuck up in a tree are useless. I don’t want our church to end up a dead sect, useless to God. We’re never exactly where we’re meant to be on this side of heaven, but, pray God, we’ve got to do more than be picked up by history as an appendage to a tree. We have to stay alive, grow in Christ, live the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, or… look at the picture.