Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Endless Debate on Human Sexuality

ALL afternoon we have dealt with the social principle statement on Human Sexuality in paragraph 161.g of the Discipline. Essentially the report out of committee removes the statement "we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching" that was put in the Discipline in 1972 and has essentially remained unchanged (though debated regularly) through all GC's since. The report out of committee states that we are not of one mind on this subject. A minority report reinstated the phrase.

I just now got the post for this morning up on the blog, but now we are going to finally vote, after endless motions, etc., to "perfect" both the majority and the minority reports. The minority report prevailed 394 to 293. Oops that vote was ruled invalid by a point of order. So now we are at it again. This time the minority report prevailed again 517-416. Now we have to vote on whether we approve the minority report, which now is the report, but essential the traditional phrase is retained because if it fails the present Discipline remains.

It is 5:14 Central time and the vote is being taken. By a vote of 501- to 417 we have a new statement. We are tired and people are on edge. May we find a way forward for there is yet much work for us to do and we will need some way of working together.

Wednesday Morning at GC

The conference has dealt with about 75% of the petitions. Most of that was done with consent Calendars. But nearly all those calendars (list of petitions with very little opposition) are completed. Now we take the remaining ones singularly. We have about 120 petitions to complete, and with the legislative time left, that gives us a max of 10 minutes per petition. Yea, like we will hold to that! The last days are going to be hectic.

Important items can be passed on consent calendar. One of the items done that way today was a change to our membership vows. Now we are to ask if people will serve Christ with their prayers, presence, gifts, service AND WITNESS (capitalized words were added). This petition was brought by the association of conference lay leaders.

Opening worship today was great, and not just because my girls were singing in the choir. The music was of great variety (including probably the first rap song every sung at GC) and the sermon by Bishop Violet Fisher was powerful. She spoke on the woman at the well (John 4) encouraging us to be aware of positions of privilege and to recognize how God opens grace to all. We have heard some excellent preaching at this conference.

Then we heard the report on Africa University. While there are calls for us to recognize and give support other United Methodist school in Africa, there obviously is still a lot of pride in AU, and there is a lot to be proud of with the school. It was good to hear the school is able to “survive” in the harsh economic and political climate of Zimbabwe. And it was good to be reminded how graduates from AU are serving throughout Africa.

Then we began the difficult work on petitions relating to homosexuality, etc. First, one from Ministry Legislative Com called for retaining our present Discipline language that prohibits ministers from performing civil unions. It passed. Then we passed a new resolution on homophobia. More is in store for the afternoon.

We had a moment of celebration before adjourning for lunch. It is the 100th anniversary of the United Methodist Men. Several statistics were given showing the important of men having a significance impact on the faith development of their families. They repeated that men can Make a Difference. I immediately thought of Trinity’s early Tuesday morning bible study where we call ourselves M.A.D.Men meaning “Men who Make A Difference.”

Tues Pictures and Process at GC

Tuesday was another long day of work at General Conference. The legislative process is tedious, pushing you to the edge of frustration with your brothers and sisters as there is always someone wanting to be recognized to ask a question or add an amendment.

Actually, that’s not so bad. What’s frustrating is when with a vote the conference expresses its “mind” on a matter, and then someone tries to do a “run-around” by changing a petition relating to the same subject. There have been times when we have “tinkered” with the legislation so much on the floor with amendments that you wonder if the petition will make any sense when it’s put in context in the Discipline.

Still, significant work gets done. We did approve yesterday the new mission statement, that I opposed. Now our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” My earlier post states why I thought it would be ambiguous and unhelpful. But, it won’t hurt us and there are bigger fish to fry.

The worship times, dinners, celebration moments, etc., that punctuate the proceedings keep us going. I don’t think we could do this without those frequent “change of pace” events. The picture is of the Higher Education Dinner. It is always an excellent event, good food and this time a choir made of students from a variety of our colleges and theological schools. Kelsey and I were fortunate to sit at the table with representatives of Africa University. The acting chancellor, Dr Fanual Tagwira, remembered me from a mission trip there in 2000! The picture is of Kelsey with Bishop Nhiwatiwa, episcopal leader of the Zimbabwa Annual Conferences.

Walking into the convention center yesterday morning there was a display, a reminder of the cost of war. Shoes, most of them army boots were set across the lawn. It was a powerful reminder that as we meet and debate, there are serious issues and conflicts across our world that need the church’s message and witness. We cannot afford to “do church” just to do church, but to bring the hope of Christ to our broken world.

The Hope for Africa Children’s Choir that blessed us the day before was back at the lunch break for those who were in the convention dining area. Such energy. Then when the president of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf, addressed us in the afternoon, they sang for her. Sirleaf's address was historic, the first leader of a country from the continent of Africa to address GC. She said, as a good politician would, “I am a United Methodist. I see my Bishop and my pastor here. And I am the product of U M education in Liberia. I feel very much at home here.”

Big legislation in the evening as we debated and debated and finally passed the report of the Episcopacy Study Committee. The effect of the petition is to reduce the number of bishops by one in every jurisdiction, saving the church $14 million beginning in 2013. Carolyn Briscoe of our delegation was on that committee and did a great job representing the petition. Janet Forbes, chair of the legislative committee that brought the petition to the floor of the Conference, represented the effort to defeat the petition. After it passed they went to each other and hugged. It was a small act, unnoticed by nearly everyone, but I thought, “wow, that’s the way Christians struggle with differences.” I was proud of Kesley, gaining the microphone to ask a question about the legislation.

When we got back to the hotel, we had to take the service elevator to our floor. Then Secret Service agents kept us from going to our room. President Sirleaf was staying in the suite our floor. Lauren said the hotel desk had called the day before wanting the names of everyone in our room, not just my name. Guess we were all checked out by the government yesterday. You never know.

It is Wednesday morning. The worship that is beginning is fantastic and then we will hear the Africa University presentation. But there is tension in the air as we’ve heard that this is the day Soulforce tends to interrupt GC with a demonstration. I hope I can capture more os this morning in a later post.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Words, Order, and Sacrament

Wish I was more polished in my speaking. An amendment was on the floor today that would change a major re-working of the section of the Discipline that determines the membership on general boards and agencies. The legislation was a needed clarification of several different changes made in the last couple of general conferences.

A big change was to proportional representation for the jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction is to have basic representation, but then there are additional members (at large members). The guidelines of the petition before us said that those members of the agency would be apportioned to the jurisdictions based on the membership size of the jurisdictions. (In effect, the Southeastern Jurisdiction, the largest American jurisdiction, would have more members on the boards and agencies.) The amendment before us was to remove the proportional representation from the legislation.

One speaker said that proportional representation was not fair representation. I think it is. We had in the legislation the concept that every area has basic representation (like our US Senate) so that then the at-large members could be apportioned the way we do representation in the US House of Representatives. I spoke against the amendment.

Whether my speech helped or hurt, I do not know, but the amendment failed and the legislation was approved. I was pleased with the outcome, but as I sat in my chair afterwards, I realized there were many people who felt (even if the facts said otherwise) they would be “left out.” I wondered how I could have been more gracious to acknowledge this in speaking for my position.
Well, I know you just have to do the best you can do in these situations and then let it go. But I also know we have many sensitive issues still ahead of us and some of them carry strong emotional attachments. I know also we have to speak what we feel is right. So my prayer for myself, and for all of us: God, give us to speak words that are strong in understanding, mighty in truth, and soothing in grace, Amen.

On a more positive note, I stayed at the lunch break for the communion service, held in the center of the convention hall. It was renewing to break bread in that small group of fellow disciples from all over the world.

Come to the Lord's Table, all you who love him.
Come to the Lord's Table, confess your sin.
Come to the Lord's Table, be at peace.

Speed walking at GC

This is not a post about the health initiatives of GC. Its about how we work. It's like those times on the treadmill when you set the pace to where you are walking as fast as you can without jogging. General Conference deliberations are like that. Fast pace, but not not getting anyway.

That's the way it felt last last night as we worked throught the last of the petitions that have financial implications. Those we approved last night are now sent to the Gen Council on Finance and Administration, and then they will come back to us later in the week for approval or disapproval. The late session wore us out. I got to the hotel after midnight and just went right on to bed. Then it was up early for the Emory University breakfast (the Candler singers were Great!), and now back in session.

Couple of big petitions last night. We approved extending the age of retirement for bishops to age 68. That means we will likely approve extending the age of retirement for elders (to 72) when that comes before us. We also approved the UM Publishing House beginning a new hymnal. Adam Hamilton has a great post about this and says this will be the last printed hymnal we have, since in the future we will use something like iHymns for singing. He's probably right, but just think, such a move to music being controlled totally by the worship leaders, is another step of removing the worshippers from full participation. I learned to sing thumbing through a hymnal and it is sad to me to think of a day when that won't be possible.

The chair of the Supertendency Leg Committee just gave us a good laugh with the following poem:
Mary had a little lamb
It never became a sheep.
It followed her to General Conference
And died from lack of sleep.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tears of Hope

For the second time in just a few hours we have been moved to tears through a presentation to the Conference and at the same time were filled with hope. The Hope for Africa Children's Choir, all the way from Gula, Uganda, came to sing to us.

These children, about 22 in number, filled the room with joy, energy, and praise. Less than a year ago they were living in squalor in refugee camps. Through a church program, through Humble UMC, over 200 children were taken to their own "camp" or homes. A school was started and the music became a joyous part of their lives.

The South Georgia Conference paid for them to come sing at GC, and then they will go on tour singing and raising money for the mission. Changed lives! If our local churches could experience what we've experienced today in two presentation and see what a difference the United Methodist Church is making, we'd have no trouble raising money for missions!
(Blogging note: Thanks for all the comments. I'm glad these posts are helpful, as are your responses. I took video of the choir singing and if I can figure out how to get it uploaded I'll post it as well. Important votes all week are before us, so keep the prayers going up.)

The Advance

I have just been moved to tears through part of the presentation celebrating the Advance, one of our church’s mission arms. A woman from Bolivia spoke to us. She told of the weaving project the UMC helped her develop. When we arrived at Conf, each delegate received a cloth bag which had a section woven. They provided the weaving for those bags.

The lady, Justo Sarazia Mamani, said, “All this I have done without an education. But because of our work, my three daughters have all graduated high school. They will finish their education and come back to be leaders in our community. Where I come from the people of the Methodist church are called good people, because they share what they have, and they help those in need. Thank you for helping us.”

Her words were so sincere and pure. You can’t help but be thankful for the work being done all over the world by brothers and sisters in ministry. Gloria a dios!

(Updated 4 hrs later with lady's name and pictures.)

Sunday at GC

Was it Sunday yesterday? We began the day with worship, just as we’ve done every day, but it was a long day of GC work just like all the other days. I know we had to shorten the length of GC for financial reasons, but I miss having Sunday for a day of visiting an area church and some time of renewal. My meeting day began at 7 AM and ended at 12 midnight.

What a day in the Ministry and Higher Ed Legislative committee. Some ground-breaking decisions were forwarded to the plenary session and now we’ll see what happens. The biggest perhaps was a petition to give qualifying Local Pastors the right to vote in General, Jurisdictional and Central Conference elections. The qualifying level would be completion of their educational requirements and completion of two years of service under appointment.

We voted to increase mandatory retirement from 70 to 72. We forwarded a change to the probationary membership (which we renamed to provisional membership) from 3 years to 2 years for provisional elders and provisional deacons.

We approved a measure that would make it easier for Bishops and the cabinet to exit ineffective pastors. In my opinion it didn’t not undermine “guaranteed appointments” as some were concerned about, but simply provided an avenue to address some problem pastors. We reaffirmed the prohibition on performing same sex unions with a 49-34 written ballot vote. A reporter showed up taking pictures as we voted on that one. Interestingly that’s the only issue he hung around for when we were dealing with some major changes for the church.

It looked to me that even without a lecture on inclusiveness our committee heard from many areas, international, lay and young adult. Probably the quietest were the lay women. I can remember seeing them at the mike only 3 or 4 times. However, the sense of working together as a team really developed in the committee today. Our chairperson did a great job fostering that. When we gathered at 8 PM (while everyone else was attending the “Night Under the Stars” areas entertainment event) she began the session by throwing out bags of candy and chocolates to us, then shooting us with a water gun/rifle reminding us to “remember our baptism.” It was great, alleviating the weariness and taking us into a long session with renewed vigor.

On a final note, someone took a picture of the two most astute, focused, globally minded, inclusive, and good looking delegates. We couldn’t get a hold of that picture, but here’s one of Kathy James and me during a break.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Too Much Inclusiveness? Oh my!

Being politically correct is a difficult thing, but we work hard at it as United Methodists. So let me warn you, this post is about my present frustration with our fanatical insistence on inclusivity, so it would not be PC sanctioned.

There are many people who for a variety of reasons observe the work of our Legislative Committees. Sometimes there is an overflow crowd. But once about 100 chairs are filled, that’s it. But our rules say that four seats are reserved for the PC monitors. Two monitors from the Commission on the Status and Role of Women and two from the Commission on Religion and Race record the proceedings in terms of what “type” of persons speaks and how much.

I have no problem with that, and neither do I mind a report from the Monitors, letting us know what they see. We want to be respectful of others and encourage full participation and such information helps us. But twice now, as we have begun our Legislative Com. sessions, the Monitor has then told us what we needed to do. We needed to have more laity talk. We should have more women (“except not clergy women because they’re doing fine”) talk. We need to have more of our international delegates talk, etc.

Why? Do we get pretty stars on our petitions if we achieve the undefined goals of full inclusiveness? Is the reason for the great expenditure of our time and money to report equal participation, or is it to primarily get the work done that we were sent here to do?

Let me explain a little. On our LC we are dealing with matters of ministry, ordination, conference relations of all categories of clergy, etc. To deal with some of the petitions, you have to have a good working knowledge of our rules regarding ministry (the 300 paragraphs of the Discipline), and how things work on the Board of Ministry.

We have several clergy members of our LC who have such experience, DS’s, former DS’s, BOM chairs and members, etc. There may be laity who have such knowledge as well, but the many times we have struggled over how a particular petition relates to the “whole picture,” it’s been a clergyperson who’s gone to the mike to explain. We have essentially been lectured not to do that. Why? Because it is apparently more important to be politically correct on our inclusiveness than to efficiently get our work done.

I was talking with one of our translators whose degree is in cultural relations. She said the international delegates have different cultural expectations for participation. We want them to speak and give their opinion. She said their attitude is, “If I am comfortable with my opinion, why should I give it to you?” Also, they cannot understand why we Americans are so ready to give our opinions without being asked.

She gave a few more reasons why, for cultural reasons, many of the international delegates do not wish to participate by speaking. And yet we’ve made it a high priority to not only provide everyone equal access, but to make everyone participate equally.

So, yes, I challenged the Chairperson on this. I did it quietly during a break. I informed her and our parliamentarian that our Rules of Organization do not allow non-LC members to speak to our group, unless they are speaking to the issues we are working on and the body has voted to allow them voice. According to our rules, the Monitors have no basis for speaking to us as a group. She was very agreeable and we’ll see what happens.

To many people this rant may seem minor. But this situation is repeated over and over throughout the Conference. I think we have to offer participation to all and to conduct ourselves in a way that shows respect of persons and their opinions. But when we mandate it, despite practical needs or cultural differences, and place parity as our highest value in the process, we have erred just as bad. May God save us from ourselves.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Are We Who You Think We Are?

Walking to the convention center this morning I stopped to enjoy some of the festival spirit on Main Street. There was a Run For the Cure taking place and a large festival raising money for the cure of breast cancer. To that group we probably don't even exist.

Arriving at the Convention center I noticed that the Soulforce witnesses had arrived overnight. Also, I had heard yesterday that over 200 scholarships had been given to bring in young people for the weekend who would stand in witness for Reconciling Ministries events. Now every time we enter or leave the Center we will walk the "gauntlet of niceness and phamplets."

Worship this morning emphasized the renewal of our baptism. Bishop Bill Hutchison's message was full of humor, but was direct in saying, "we have been baptized into form, but not into power." Based on the passage of Nicodemus (John 3) he reminded us of the danger of having the form of righteousness but not the power thereof, that with our baptism of structure, we need the baptism from above of God's spirit. He asked, "Have we moved from the "my, my, my" state of baptism to the "yes, indeed" state of baptism?"

Then confirmation class members from the North Central Texas Annual Conference walked among the delegates sprinkling us with water, as a reminder of our baptism. It was a very nice moment of connection. Is this who we are?

Then came a copy of the local paper with their article that simply wrote about "sensitive issues" to be addressed, focusing mostly on the issues dealing with homosexuals in the church. There was nothing there about the large crowds for our worship, or the worldwide ministries celebrated in the opening ceremonies, or the Nothing but Nets focus, etc, etc. Is this all we are to the media, a big conflict or fight that people will read about?

Finally, and I'm writing this as I listen to the report, we've been hearing the Report on Rural Ministries, and Town and Country Ministries. Volunteers came in with banners of 2500 butterflies, representing 2500 Places of Hope in rural settings. Some were riding P.E.T.s (Personal Energy Transportation) arm powered carts which are designed for people who have lost mobility. Visit their website to see how you could donate one.

Following that there has been story after story of the impact of small membership churches on individual lives, producing leaders for the church. We heard (and saw) many stories of outreach ministries and renewed churches. One story was about the St. Thomas Charge in the Charleston District of South Carolina. Their choir was here to lead us in singing. Great moment! Are We who others think we are?

This part of the Body of Christ called Methodists is a multi-facted, multi-personality, multi-conflicted, multi-blessed, and multi-gifted body. And out of all this there is yet one body and one spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, and one God and Father who is over all and in all, thanks be to God!

Friday recap at GC

Oh, the fun of GC work. It is midnight on Friday as I write this, although I won’t post it until tomorrow when I can find some free wireless access. We finished up work in the sub-sub committee about 11. I caught the bus to the hotel, found some snacks to eat for supper and am settling down for a few minutes before bed. Friday night in a pretty cool city with a lot happening and all I can think about is getting some sleep.

Good worship and sermon this AM. The sermon was given in Portuguese by Bishop Joao Machado. He spoke about Paul writing the church in Galatia (Gal 5:7), “You were running the race so well, what happened?” And he said Paul could ask the same thing of the UMC. “We cannot say we are going to transform the world if we are not transformed ourselves.” “The world does not listen to us because it sees us speaking only with words, and not with actions.”

Another high point in our plenary time was the emphasis on Nothing But Nets, for Malaria day. We were challenged to give freely by placing at least $10, the price of one net, on the communion table at the center of the convention hall. I look forward to hearing tomorrow how much was received, since it seems all the delegates filed by and put an offering on the table.

We got into our Legislative Committees and organized into sub-committees. Then the sub-committees organized into sub, sub committees. The work all this afternoon and night has been in the smaller committee. I am in the sub-committee on the Local Pastor petitions and chair the sub sub committee to review about 25 petitions. Our sub committee has spent the day debating and considering the parameters of whether local pastors should have vote on certain matters, and why or why not. At this point it looks like the report that will go forward will recommend vote for constitutional matters and elections for those who have completed basic Course of Study, or its equivalent with two years of service to the Conference.

Another highlight of the day – lunch with several of the young adult delegates. If I didn’t have my girls here with me, it wouldn’t happen. But they made the connections and I was welcomed to join right in (might have something to do with me paying the check!). Anyway, the energy and interest in the church and the life of faith shared around the table was energizing. I know this is only the third GC where young people been present in any numbers, but I can’t imagine what it would be without them.

Could tell Kelsey was getting fatigued, so she missed her legislative meeting tonight in order to sleep and I will recommend she allow a reserve to sit in for her tomorrow morning. We still have a full week ahead of us, and I still have 15 petitions with me to get through sub-committees.

Friday, April 25, 2008

By the Morning's Light

Just read my post from late last night and I admit it's a bit cynical and I do seem to be harping about a lack of evangelical focus. True. I did bring issue that to the conference as seen in my post about the changing mission statement.

So, let me also say that it WAS good to see the Report of the Council on Bishops address our issues of division in a positive way, offering a focus beyond ourselves. I may have felt that it was overly positive in the claims that we can transform the world, but as they suggested, who knows what we might accomplish if we were to work together, faithful to God, who is always faithful to us.

And by offering the litany of measurable objectives for 2012 they tried to make it more than "pie in the sky" platitudes. If we only do 10-20% of what they challenge us with, we might begin to see some changes that are significant in our membership vitality and growth.
I'll have to be careful about posting late and tired. And that will be true for a lot of things these conference days. The pace is fast, there's really no place to rest during the day, and so all of the delegates have to call on emotional reserves to focus and to act with civility and a positive attitude. In truth, it will be the prayers of many people that will carry us through.
By the way, the pictures are of Bass Performance Hall, and Kelsey and Lauren in front of the Convention Center with our Bishop, Mary Virginia Taylor, and her husband, Rusty Taylor.

Speeches and Committees

All morning we heard addresses that told us the way forward, with the 3 Simple Rules, the 7 pathways (to somewhere), and the four mission emphases. We were basically told that if we could stop the internal focus and the bickering among ourselves then we had the resources to actually transform our world. It made me start thinking in terms of "Team Methodist" again. We just need to get on with the business of making a difference in our world.

No one ever really crossed the line to say we would actually make disciples of Jesus Christ, at least not until Lyn Powell gave the Laity address after lunch. But several got close. For instance, Bishop Felton May (of all people) did say, "A distracted denomination, unfocused, will not succeed in making disciples of Jesus Christ." Also, there was a stirring litany of goals for 2012, measurable goals for the four emphases. One spoke to a certain number of new churches , half in ethnic communities, but none spoke to the number of new disciples for Jesus Christ.

Most of the proposed goals dealt with making a measurable difference in our world, addressing poverty, injustice and disease. For example, we applauded the Global Board of Missions decision to send out 50 new missionaries -who were described as medical missionaries to address poverty diseases. That's great, and can and will make a real difference in our world. But I wonder if it will be OK for these missionaries to tell the people about Jesus and actually be evangelistic as well. No one wants to say that, it seems. But if we don't offer Christ, how are we as the Church any different than a relief agency, or the Peace Corps?

Some of the videos shared about particular and different UM ministries with the poor were wonderful and made you proud. After awhile it was just too much information. However, we were revived with the Young People's address, the first one ever. It was done by a team of youth who alternated speaking back and forth: Matt Lockett, Rebecca Farnum, Kira Volkova (Russian), Andrew Craig, Jason Rathrod, and Rev. Annie Rigo. Very well done and reminded us from a youth perspective that they want to be involved in changing our world for the better.

At lunch I grabbed a few shots of people and unusual buildings. If I was smart I'd post them on Flickr or something. But instead here's just a couple.

In the afternoon we began our legislative committees. We elected officers and broke for supper. Returning after supper we were to create sub-committees and elect chairpersons. The first order of business in the Higher Education and Ministry Legislative Committee was dealing with the recommendation from the 2004-2008 Ministry Study Committee to refer all petitions relating to ordination and changes in status be referred to a new study committee that would report to the 2012 HE&M Legislative Committee. After several speeches we defeated that petition, meaning our Leg Com will have a lot of petitions to deal with. But that's OK. We need to begin working on them now and not just postpone to a future legislative group.
We have a group of seminary students in the observer section who are the Spotted Owls. (see pic). They are there to remind us to do something to help increase the number of young clergy, or else they will become an endangered species in the UM Church, just like spotted owls.
I am on the sub com dealing with Local Pastors. That should keep us busy. All in all a good day, long (we didn't finish until 11 PM) but good. Still the hard work is ahead of us.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Future with Hope

General Conference 2008 began last night with a great worship service. The music reflected the variety of our traditions and really added a lot to the worship experience. Mark Miller is simply great leading the music. Bishop Huie's sermon was very good, basically about strong hope versus wimpy hope. And we shared communion. At points the worship was very moving emotionally.

Then we had a business session to organize the conference and adopt the governing rules of GC. That took some time. I closed my eyes as I sat in my chair, so tired, but then was jolted alert when I heard my daughter Kelsey's voice over the speaker system. She was at the mike to raise a question about the rules and make a correction. That's my girl - no hesitation to get up in front of everyone and speak up. Don't know why I every worry about either of them.

Then we had a presentation for sensitivity training. I don't know why since we had just as a body agreed to use expressions like "did not pass" or "was not approved" instead of the word "defeated" when a motion failed. Why? Because "defeated" has too much of a sense of military conquest associated with it. We are more sensitive than a Gillette super shaver.

Anyway, the real work had gotten underway today, with the Bishop's address, followed by the Young People's address, and so forth. The wheels are rolling and I just pray we don't let them come off! Keep us in prayers.

Taylor Trama and Travels to GC

WE MADE IT, but not without some adventure. Lauren, Kelsey and I left out once Kelsey got out of school, drove for 13 hours and finally crashed for a few hours in a hotel in Shreveport, LA. The next morning Lauren drove while I made phone calls to check on our room, etc. Good thing I did. They had given our room away at the Embassy! So here we were 3 hours outside of Fort Worth with no where to stay and several thousand people flooding into the city! Thank goodness for cell phones and Lauren's blackberry.

We called and called - every hotel booked. We finally secured a room 14 miles out of town. And then I kept trying the majors. One final call to the Worthington Renaissance downtown paid off and "Ernest" gave me a confirmation number. Ernest is my new superhero. The Worthington is where GC is housing all the bishops and international guests, and vagabonds like us.

We arrived about 12:30, but they wouldn't let us check in until 2:30. Afraid that the room would "disappear" I just sat in the lobby until the rooms were ready. Talk about a feeling of relief when the young lady put those room keys in my hand!

Kelsey and I actually made it to our 3:00 meetings. She went to the orientation for delegates under the age of 30. There were about 100 people in the room. But she said when they had the youth stand (those under age 18) there were only a dozen.
The convention center is just 7 blocks down the street from our hotel and is very spacious. So looks like we are set for the next 10 days.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Save us a place at GC

Delegates are descending on Fort Worth and I hope my hotel holds my room for me. Because my daughter has missed so much school this semester with sickness, I decided I would let her attend today and leave immediately once school is out. That means a 13 hour drive in basically 23 hours if we are to arrive in the time for the Youth Delegate Orientation on Wednesday. Let's just hope Interstate 20 traffic moves smoothly the whole way.

With all the talk about being more inclusive of youth at this GC, it is still tough to take them out of school for 9 days. Fortunately Kesley has an understanding principal who won't count the days as official absences, if she keeps her classwork up. Then she has to come right back and take the SATs and her History AP test. Ask her and she'll tell you she wants what we do in Fort Worth to be significant for our church.

Everyone needs a place at the table, and great efforts have gone into this Gen Conf to see that everyone does have a place. But the primary issues awaiting us aren't really about having places at the table, but being able to control what happens at the table.

Will we spend most of our time debating and maneuvering to determine who gets to control what? (Rather than fighting over who gets to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom, we prefer to fight over who gets to sit in his seat until he comes back).

Seems to me that the first business of being a disciple is learning to follow. Can we demonstrate to the world that we can be the kind of disciples of Jesus Christ who are so intend on following him faithfully that we deal with our differences with respect, humility, and charity? We have to learn to be good disciples if we ever intend to really make disciples for Christ. I pray for God's Spirit for these days, for myself and all of us. And I pray for safety on the road.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

General conference Prognostications

After a week of blog silence, I’ve decided to venture from my burrow and make predictions about General Conference. I warn you that in the March Madness Bracketology I only got 36 of 63 correct, and that that event portends to be mild compared to 992 delegates and guests having their say in Fort Worth. So here’s some of the news out of Forth Worth over the next two weeks.

Global Church and Regionalism.
The charismatic leadership of Scott Jones will convince the delegates that the Council on Bishops should be trusted with this pig in a poke and approve the Constitutional changes which might/could/should lead to Regional Conferences. Both liberals and conservatives will expect this major restructuring to aid their cause and so will combine forces for its passage, especially after the specter is raised by the Robbins and Wulf petitions of more radical implementation. A quadrennial commission will be created with each jurisdiction appointing 4 members (inclusive of all ethnic groups), the Council on Bishops appointing 3 members and selecting one of their own as the chair, and each of the Boards and Commissions and official Caucuses, along with the Connectional Table sending two members.

Judicial Council Elections.
Despite an organized effort, the Confessing Movement will fail in its attempt to have Keith Boyette and Mary Daffin re-elected. Too much fall out from JC Decision 1032 (pastor’s authority in determining church membership). However, the CM will succeed in placing three new conservative faces on the council (of five total elected), most likely Jon Enns, Gloria Brooks and Raymond Mutombo.

Progressives will feel confident of victory as the report out of the legislative committee includes the statement “we confess we are of divided minds (as opposed to open minds?) on the subject of homosexuality...” However, in the general session the statement is struck and the stances on homosexuality, same-sex unions, and self-avowed practicing ministers essentially remains the same, but with a slightly wider margin of passage 64 -36%. An orchestrated demonstration will disrupt proceedings and unfortunately turn bitter. No arrests like Cleveland, but Conference will have to recess for decorum to be restored.

Ministry Study
Although the Majority Report of the Study Commission called for four more years, four more years, four more years…., the minority will succeed in getting several issues to the floor this year. Never ready to postpone what we can add to the present confusion, the following non-systematic changes will be made.
A) Full Deacons will be given sacramental rights, whether they want them or not. B) Sacramental privilege for Local Pastors will be limited to pastors who have completed Basic Course of Study or completed a two day worshop on the Sacraments (as part of or in additional to Licensing School). C) Moving ordination early in the process (at completion of seminary, for instance) and separating it from conference membership, will be defeated. D) Residency will change from three years back to two years. E) Full time Local Pastors will receive voting rights for General conference elections after completion of Basic Course of Study plus two years of additional service. F) "Guaranteed appointments" will be changed by making the requirement to prove "appointability" a responsibility of the pastor. And G) another Study commission will be approved for four more years.

Mission Statement.
The addition will pass, regrettably, after being truncated to “Our mission is to make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

The shocker. Organized efforts to limit the budget increase of General Boards and Agencies has an effect, and while there are no real reductions in their budgets, all additional funding requests are denied.

Book of Resolutions
We will pass resolutions on everything from the ethical treatment of chickens used in Grandma’s Chicken soup to the support of recycling copies of the 2000 and 2004 Book of Resolutions. However, this time the “whereas’s will not be printed.

The worship and singing will be great. The seats will be uncomfortable. The food will become tedious. The new friends will be a blessing. And the blogging will be uncontrollable!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Should we change Ordination?

One of the proposals before Gen. Conf. is to separate ordination from conference membership and to move it to the point where we now commission persons for ministry. The Study committee has asked for four more years to study this, but I believe that many of the things in their report will be dealt with at this GC.

The underlying desire for this and several other proposals is to streamline our process. It is the most cumbersome of any denomination, including the Roman Catholic (according to comments by some members of the Study Commission). Lovett Weems and Ann Michel report in their book, The Crisis of Younger Clergy, (2008) that the number of Elders under age 35 dropped from about 3200 to about 85o during the past 20 years. We must do something to reverse this.

So, help me out - what do you think? Some have asked, "If we ordain early, and then the person does not attain conf. membership for whatever reason, how do we 'un-ordain' them? Are we ready for a different understanding of ordination? Are there parallels to the way the Baptists ordain very early in local churches, leaving employment open ended?

I entered the UMC back in the days of the two ordination process, ordained first as a Deacon, then 2 years later as an Elder. We can't return to that process, but I do know that leaving seminary and going into my first full-time church apppointment as an ordained minister meant a lot to me, at a time when I was still uncertain whether I should be in parish ministry.

Any opinions or suggestions before the motions and votes start flying around at General Conference?

Daughter update

A couple of people have emailed me asking about my daughter. I remember I offered to give an update and haven't done so. She is better, but we don't know why. The joint pain does not seem to be continuous and she doesn't have the extended bouts of fatigue. She's been back in school. So all that is good.

We saw the specialist for JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis). Dr. Ruth says there is a strong possibility it isn't JRA (which is good), but she can't say for sure yet. So more blood tests have been run and it's back to the opthamalogist since the condition of the iris is a strong indicator. (Strange, isn't it?).

Dr. Ruth said Kelsey does have another condition I've never heard of, hypermobility of the joints. It can cause joint pain like she is having and could be the cause or part of the cause of what she's been dealing with.

So we continue to pray for healing. Friends who have been down this road have told us there are no quick and easy answers with JRA and similar conditions. Friends have also encouraged us with their love and prayers. And for that we are most grateful.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

UM Mission Confusion?

The mission of the United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” GC08 will consider changing that to add “for the transformation of the world” (¶120). While it has a nice sound to it, I’m not sure it is an improvement on what we have.

Some might argue that the addition changes “making disciples” from being our primary purpose to being a “means” or method by which we transform the world. In other words, it says our real goal is to transform our world, and that the reason to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is so that we can achieve that goal.

It’s definitely a “Methodist” statement, which means it is sufficiently ambiguous. It leaves wide open for interpretation “how” we are going to transform the world and what such transformation would look like. That’s the perfect scenario for any cause group to argue that their issue deserves priority attention since it is part of our “mission.”

My hunch is that our boards and agencies will see the two parts of the statement as having equal leverage and then choose which one to emphasize. And since the preponderance of the evidence so far indicates we either aren’t comfortable with “making disciples” (or don’t know how), then we’ll see more and more material on how we good Methodists can and should be transforming the world.

You would think that with all the extensive talk about our declining membership, everyone would want to be clearly focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. Of course, we don’t work to make disciples just to grow the church, but if we are making disciples, the church will end up growing. And if people become actual disciples of Jesus Christ and aren’t just names added to the rolls, then (as Paul beautifully says in Romans 12) they will be transformed, becoming people who transform the world.

Transformation of our sinful, broken, wayward world is important. Note that even in the Great Commission (Matthew 28) that after Jesus says “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he then says “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” If you get into the Word and apply his teachings, you will work to transform the world. That’s always been the Methodist way: warmed heart, accountability group immersed in scripture, and living the faith by “doing no harm, doing good, and attending all the ordinances of God.” (General Rules, ¶103)

The world transforming aspect of our mission is already expressed in the Discipline in ¶124: Our Mission in the World – God’s self-revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ summons the church to ministry in the world through witness by word and deed in light of the church’s mission…As servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer.

The new statement sounds more politically correct and is already being used by many of our church leaders, but will it serve us well?

Monday, April 7, 2008

No More Resolutions

Since there is a desire to hold down the cost of General Conference, why don't we eliminate the Book of Resolutions? No more resolutions on everything under the sun to take time to debate, and then print. I realize that a suggestion like this can bring charges of Methodist heresy upon me, but I wonder, would the BOR's absence make any difference in fulfilling our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ?

Note: I realize astute Methodist readers will say, "Isn't our mission to "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?" Although I've been hearing the new mission statement for several months now, officially, as in, according to the Book of Discipline, we have not yet changed it with the "transformation" addition. It is one of the petitions we will probably approve in Fort Worth. More on that later.

I know resolutions are important to express the "mind of the body." But the world doesn't pay any attention to what we are thinking, and honestly, neither do we. When some social issue is addressed, do you hear our Bishops and leaders quoting the BOR, or expressing their own opinion?

The 2004 Task Force on the BOR recommends to this GC that we print only the "call to action" or "statement of position" of a resolution and that that be limited to 200 words. The rational material would be part of the GC proceedings, but not published. That could reduce the size of the BOR and that concerns me.

My 2004 BOR has been very useful for me. For the first year it just sat on my shelf. Then I got a new computer monitor that needed to be raised about two inches for a proper viewing angle. The BOR fit perfectly under the base of the monitor. If we must produce a new one, could I request that the new one be required to remain the exact same thickness as the present one?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Revealing Clergy Appointments

Applause to Bishop Willimon. He had the clergy appointments of the North Alabama Conference posted on the conference web site just a couple of days after the cabinet finished making the appointments. You can see it here.

Rumors abound during the appointment season. Since pastors and churches are instructed, "Don't tell anyone" it becomes a game of "tell but don't tell." Pastors naturally want to know where their colleagues are moving, and with the guessing, a lot of mis-information gets passed around. I have to believe Willimon's move to put the list out there can only help to cut down the speculations and talk.

Leadership involves standing in public by your decisions. And to me, this shows leadership. What do you think?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Prayers for Zimbabwe

Today the election results are to be announced in Zimbabwe and the initial reports are that President Mugabe will be forced into a run-off. Who knows what might happen, since police have already raided the headquarters of Mugabe's opponent and western journalists have been taken into custody. I seriously doubt he will allow another vote. Pray for the people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, with wonderful friendly people. At least that was my experience of it during an UMVIM trip in 2001. At that time the "redistribution" of the large farm lands was taking place and people were nervous, but the economy hadn't yet fallen into serious trouble.

Now the world knows of the unlimited corruption, inflation, unemployment, and despair that the country faces. This once stable and prosperous country needs help, but since there are no oil reserves there, the interest of the US will probably be fleeting.

Lord, have mercy upon Mateus, Analdina, Shadreck, Winnet, Lovejoy, Philip, Shepherd, Mishack, and Lucia, upon their families, and their country men and women. May your righteousness and peace prevail over the greed and violence at hand. Restore their hope and heal their land. Amen.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Forgive and forget

Andy, at Enter the Rainbow, poses the question, “Does God forget stuff?” I started to write a comment on his blog, then realized I would write too much. So here’s a response to his post and especially his reference to Jeremiah 31:34 "I...will remember their sin no more."

Ah, the difficulty of language, especially when it is a translation from a vastly different culture. When we extract images of God from the context of the language we end up in theological quagmires. And this happens all the time in our preaching and teaching. The image of God “no longer remembering” makes sense in its original context. A quick check of the NIB (New Interpreter’s Bible) reveals the following context (summarized in my words).

The passage in question, Jer 31, is the only place in the Hebrew Scriptures where we hear of a “new covenant.” This new relationship with God calls for radical changes – the law will no longer have to be taught because it will then be “written on the heart.” The radical change of God’s people from disobedience to faithfulness in the new covenant is accompanied with a radical change in God’s attitude, from “remembering their sins” (Jer 14:20) to “no longer remembering their sins.” With God’s law emanating from the hearts, there is no need for God to “remember” sins for punishment, or the day of atonement.

Still, dealing with the abstract query, “Does God forgive and forget?” I think the answer hinges on what is meant by “forget.” If we mean “having no remembrance of” as in totally wiped out of the memory banks, I would have to think not – at least that wasn’t the opinion the psalmists had of God, who in various ways portray God as knowing all about us and all creation.

But “forget” can also mean the opposite of anamnesis (remembrance). Anamnesis is the way of remembering that brings the past into the present, such as a re-enactment, a drama, a story, or symbolic action. At the Eucharist, we reenact the Last Supper following Christ’s command to “Do this in anamnesis (remembrance) of me. If “forgive and forget” refers to the opposite of anamnesis, then the memory of the sin does not disappear, but God does not bring it forward to bear on the present or future. The sin is set aside, so to speak, because of God’s grace.

Why might this be important? Well, wouldn’t we all do better if we could forgive in this way? The memory of someone’s (or one’s own) sin is still there, but it is set aside, no longer bringing judgment, bias, shame, or reproach. It’s just there, in the past, where it will stay, and we are freed to live in the grace of forgiveness. And we are freed to offer that same forgiveness to others, as indeed we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive the sins of others.”

"Gotta Go" Ministry?

Came across a church that has developed a new way to get people to stop and see their church while meeting a basic human need everyone has. Talk about "need-oriented evangelism." And it really changes the job descriptions for the greeter ministy!