Last Saturday afternoon I picked up my wife Beka at DFW airport. She (and Dr. Tim Bruster) were part of the 864 delegates, plus many support staff and observers, who have been in Portland, Oregon, for the worldwide United Methodist General Conference. After almost two weeks away, she was delighted to be back home in Fort Worth . . . and thoroughly exhausted from the difficult work of dealing with conflict over issues that became deeply divisive. As has happened before, a deep and soulful trust had little room to grow and guide the body.
Early in the second week there was a long debate over how to best proceed through difficult issues. “Rule 44” was considered and debated as an option, in extremely contentious times, to break off into small groups of 12 to listen more deeply to differing views (instead of just react).
Look here for two blogs I wrote recently about this issue of reacting defensively or learning to listen and discern more deeply:
- In the long run, who we vote for may not be as important as who we are when we vote . . .
- We can all be “Rock Stars of Mindfulness”
Things got so difficult in a mire of the emotionally charged issue on sexuality that many came to feel that the only option was to vote to split the church . . . a path that likely would lead to a long, drawn-out, and painful divorce (multiplied with “devilish details” to the power of more than “seventy times seven” — Matthew 18:21-22).
What happened next? It depends on who you ask and when you ask them. After great struggle, the conference voted to look to the Council of Bishops.
Eventually they responded, in the words of Council president Bishop Bruce Ough, “We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead The United Methodist Church in a ‘pause for prayer’ — to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God’s will for the future.”
Cynically, some say that is just kicking the schism down the road and delaying the inevitable.
But, believe it or not, I see the possibility that it is the beginning of something much more. If we prayerfully respond instead of anxiously react, this could be signs of an amazing renewal movement . . . another Pentecost (which many consider as the “birth of the church”).
It will likely take longer than a two-year “prayerful pause” for a new Pentecost to grow any deep roots. But it can be an intentional shift in how we try to be faithful disciples. Can we, in the local church and in worldwide conferences, pause for prayer long enough to connect in the Spirit, pause for prayer to hear and tell stories of healing at the deeper level of our souls, and pause for prayer so we might become safe enough in small groups to discern the many and unique gifts (charisms) that are emerging through God’s grace as we grow as the Body of Christ?
Process matters. Left to our own will, we tend to construct Towers of deaf and Babel that divide us into angry, disconnected egos. But when we build sanctuaries that are “safe enough,” we can become vulnerable to speak honestly from the soul and hear at the deeper level of meaning and purpose.
In this time of Pentecost and “new birth,” perhaps we can give a fresh look at the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. When we look to the interplay between 1) scripture, 2) tradition, 3) reason, and 4) experience, perhaps we can discover that there is so much more to learn about that fourth part of “experience.”
In a way, our busy culture stunts our growth. All of us are just beginning to understand the depth and spiritual power of personal experience of compassion. As we allow ourselves to be more vulnerable like Jesus, open with compassion to the suffering of others, something in us breaks open. We can take on more of the “mind of Christ” and build bridges to connect others in true community. That could change not just the United Methodist Church, but we could become leaders in a better way for our country and the world.
What we need we have in our midst, if we listen to our own soul and the soul of others. The Wisdom of the Holy Spirit is just waiting for our attention.
Just now as I write the end of this entry, I discovered an article new to me in the website related to the Courage and Renewal Movement inspired by the writings of Parker Palmer.
It seems a fitting article to recommend for next steps right now.
It’s titled “A Call for Soul and Sanctuary in Corporate Leadership.”
How is it with your soul . . . ?
Grace and peace,