As I reflect on our recent dialogue groups and “holy conversations” regarding the United Methodist Church (UMC) General Conference (with special thanks to Dr. Tim Bruster, Darcy Deupree, Carolyn Stephens, Bliss Dodd, my wife Rebekah Miles, and others), I can’t help but notice how UMC General Conference happens every four years and in the same year as our national political elections for the President of the United States.
And as I notice how some folks are dealing with their differences in the national elections, I hope and pray that we Methodists can do better with our conundrums that so easily become politically polarizing.
And as I hope and pray, I sense God may be inviting us to respond to these difficult times by learning more about that “better way” of compassion that is central to our faith.
If we accept God’s invitation, may we be deeply transformed and become living witnesses for others.
As I reflect on God’s invitation of new possibilities, I recall that the guidelines for healthy conversations recommended from the key leadership in the Worldwide United Methodist Church were modeled on those developed by Parker Palmer . . . who was also author of a recent book titled “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”
And as I reflect on how Parker Palmer has been an important mentor for me, I am reminded of another very important mentor of mine, Dr. Vincent Harding, and his wise words that also speak to our current situation.
Vincent Harding and his wife Rosemarie led one of the most meaningful classes I had while I was in seminary at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. This was a small, intimate class that I took 29 years ago right after (and because) a close friend had recently died unexpectedly. It was called “Healing of Persons, Healing of the Nation,” and Dr. Harding, who was a close friend of and speech writer for Dr. Martin Luther King, was more of a spiritual director than a seminary professor.
Almost two years ago, I learned that Vincent Harding died (May 19, 2014), and soon afterwards I learned that he had been part of a special “Civil Conversations Project” led by one of my favorite journalists, Krista Tippett of NPR’s “On Being.”
I can’t think of wiser words for our current challenges than these of my mentor Vincent Harding from an interview in early 2011. Here’s a quote from that, followed by a link to the whole interview with Vincent Harding as part of the Civil Conversations Project:
“. . . What we are really talking about is not how we can have more civil conversation, but in the context of our society, is how we can learn how to have a democratic conversation. That is what we need.
We are absolutely amateurs at this matter of building a democratic nation made up of many, many peoples, of many kinds, from many connections and convictions and from many experiences. And to know how, after all the pain that we have caused each other, how to carry on democratic conversation that in a sense invites us to hear each other’s best arguments and best contributions so that we can then figure out how do we put these things together to create a more perfect union.”
Here is the whole interview. I recommend it VERY highly!
Grace and peace as we move into this final Holy Week of the Lenten Journey.
P.S. We will have our church Labyrinth out for prayer walks on Good Friday in the Justin Building Gym from 3:00 – 7:00 pm. If you have never experienced this powerful way to open to God’s guiding presence, this will be a wonderful time to explore. And if you have experienced praying on the Labyrinth before, you know what a blessing it can be to have such focused prayer time as you move into these final High Holy Days of Lent.