Monday, April 30, 2012


We interrupt this renewal leave for just a few minutes of reflection.

[in-trak-tuh-buh l]
- adjective
1.not easily controlled or directed; not docile or manageable; stubborn; obstinate: an intractable disposition.
2.(of things) hard to shape or work with: an intractable metal.
3.hard to treat, relieve, or cure: the intractable pain in his leg.- noun intractable person.

I've observed the proceedings in Tampa these past days.

I've done so only through the words of those there, some of whom I know well and hold with deepest respect and affection, as well as others I know who are there for whom respect and affection are not the first thoughts that rise up in me ( it's my spirit work to do on that front, I admit freely).

I've not watched it online. I've not needed to. There are enough of you out there doing it for me - commenting and linking by the hour it seems. Right, Dad?

Some thoughts going into the home stretch (an apt image given the Derby is coming, and soon).

What we are seeing in Tampa is the product of a system so entrenched, so intractable that even if the winds of Pentecost were to blow through the place we'd be inclined to complain that it's interrupting the ever so important work we've come to do.

In a time when the world moves fast and systems and structures must adapt to be relevant, we continually demonstrate that ours is incapable. It's not entirely our fault. As my friend Sky recently commented, we've reaped what we've sown. And yes, I knew exactly what he meant.

Place incapability alongside unwillingness, and you've a deadly duo.

And let's be clear, we are unwilling.

We are unwilling to change. On a personal level, we understand how hard that is. How do you like when you are told you need to change? Get your back up a bit? Now imagine that feeling on steroids and wrapped in religious rhetoric. There you go.

Why are we unwilling? Why are we incapable?

A word first about the latter. Ours was a system from its inception that had built in protections from dramatic change. It's baked into the cake. There's some wisdom in that, no doubt. But we've met change slowly and often after the ship has sailed.

Historically, we've displayed capacity to adapt to social change more quickly than systemic change, but that has not always been the case. The Social Creed of 1908 was a masterwork of its time reflecting the influences of the Social Gospel and the emergence of industry's effect on people. Read it. It still holds up.

But we've not always been so bold.

We equivocated on slavery. We were embarrassingly slow on women in ministry and then patted ourselves on the back for how forward thinking we were. We change only after the issue is no longer prophetic in witness, just a sad commentary on why it takes us so long to do the God thing.

Systemic change though is another thing altogether. It's a tough one. Once established, systems seem to live on held together with the glue of arrogance that the world must adapt to the realities of its existence, not the other way round.

Unwilling? You bet. What we're seeing in Tampa is a global delegation who arrived convinced on certain questions. There is no room for the Spirit to move if you're already locked in on how you'll vote on certain questions based on the constituencies who have you in their back pocket.

There's nothing wrong with differing perspectives seeking to get theirs to you in advance. I signed the Common Witness statement. I did it because the Church is wrong and needs to change.  I did it because this is not an issue, these are people, people I know, people I love, people whose faithfulness to Christ often places into judgment my own.  I, I know it is the more faithful response to the call of God than what we're currently observing, but beyond showing support, my signature doesn't mean anything.

What does have meaning is the willingness of those gathered to stop acting like Congress whose members have been sufficiently lobbied (with all that entails) who find it their sole mission to placate the gods of the special interests that put them there, and act more like disciples of Jesus Christ whose measure of faithfulness is whether or not we are following him.

Consider, we purport to be carriers of Good News that liberates, and yet we behave as if we don't need it.  It's hard to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world when you're not open to being transformed.

We need to stop acting like we've arrived, and act more like people willing to follow wherever that leads us.

But that takes faith. And courage.

And when our intractability so supersedes our faith it then reveals our highest doesn't matter how well we wrap them in religious speak, when our priorities and our votes persistently protect the ways we want and how we want them....the truth is before us.

The inability and unwillingness to adopt change of any kind - be it in structure, authority, or true inclusion have nothing to do with God and everything to do with a system impotent to reform itself.

Biblically speaking, think of it as hearts hardened, or the lack of power shown in the face of unbelief.

Absent substantive reform we've two options remaining---revolution, from a split (not likely because even that takes courage), or cascade collapse from the inside out as a result of a system that values its survival over faithfulness.

Nothing is more arrogant than thinking that the Realm of God can't come into being in its fullness unless The United Methodist Church is there. And while no one would say it quite that way in Tampa, we're acting like it's etched in stone.

Unless we show we've the capacity to move, to follow, to exercise faith it may just be etched in stone.

A tombstone.

But that may not be so bad.  What's this Easter thing about?

I've got two more weeks---I'm out.

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