There are few times in my life when I am literally at a loss for words (and these usually involved a loss by my beloved Alabama Crimson Tide--hence, why it is few and far between for me to be silent). Yet on Tuesday evening in the Plano Center at the conclusion of the North Texas Annual Conference, I, like hundreds of other delegates sat in silence as Bishop Earl Bledsoe rescinded his announcement of retirement circulated only several days earlier. But a quick review of the blogosphere, Facebook, emails, tweets, and the like made it clear that there ain’t that many people sitting in silence anymore, and for that I truly am sad. You see like my colleague Rebekah Miles, who admonished her United Methodist polity class to remain silent and OFF Facebook, I think there is something to the idea that there are many times in which our words can only cause more problems. The North Texas Annual Conference is in litigation for a number of civil issues and personnel issues being bantered around by individuals who are a) unqualified to speak on behalf of the NTUMC or b) those who can cast or reframe the participants in these cases can have a significant impact on those outcomes.
Do I have opinions about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened they way it did on Tuesday evening? Of course, I do. Do I affirm the right of colleagues, Laity, and Leaders to have their own--of course I do. But the question I have to ask myself and I would ask them at this point is: to what end do our words serve to edify the body of Christ at this crucial time in our COMMUNAL lives together? I know, I know, what an absolutely pious card to play. How dare I bring Jesus and the Body of Christ into the biggest gossipfest to hit the South Central Jurisdiction and United Methodism since...ok since General Conference but still that’s a long time to go with out defaming another member of the clergy family, a sitting Bishop, or United Methodism in general.
No doubt you are saying, Come on Maria, why not pick apart like other’s the Bishop’s statement that he is going to “fight like the devil”? How about the fact that the very people who tried sought to end his career, gave performances worthy of Richard Burton portraying Mark Antony as they proclaimed his worthiness and excellence in what they believed would be his swan song--surely you need to rant about this, girlfriend?! What about your fellow bloggers who have called their Bishop arrogant and others who have called their fellow clergy racists? That demands a response!
Just so you know, I really want to respond. Badly. But you want to know what is keeping me in check right now? It is the fact that just 7 hours before Annual Conference began on Sunday, I stood before over 300 laypeople and explained the importance of Wesley’s rules of holy conversation and how they should guide our conversation as Christians especially in times of decision and crisis.
For the last 8 weeks, people have been throwing Holy Conferencing around like a baseball at a Texas Rangers ball game-- so much it is sickening. Let's face it, in the Methodist lexicon , it is a sacred word but in the Methodist reality, especially at our conferences, it is a forgotten principle. Oh, it is a great word to use when we can use it to sound all pious from the dais; when we want to prompt delegates to stop disagreeing with the recommendations we are trying to put forward or when we are trying to show that know something about Wesley’s thought;but when it comes to living them out when we have a disagreement with each other--we are more likely to act like Snookie and the crew from Jersey Shore with parliamentarian rules than we are like a people called Methodist.
What does it look like to enact a couple of these principles? Let's start slow because doing all 8 might be a shock to the system:
- The next time you want to demonize the Bishop or his detractors, how about remembering that each one of them are children of God (no matter how badly you want to throw them out of the family--by the way it might be useful to keep in mind that you and I just got in on a pass called Grace).
- Before you decide whose side you are on or why everything someone else says is wrong, how about remembering the importance of listening to their words to understand how they came to their position whether you agree with it or not.
- The next time you are trying to assign a motive to why those who wanted Bishop Bledsoe out or why he spoke out the way he did, why not honor the sacred principle of choosing not to defame someone or at the very least misrepresenting what they said or didn’t say? Because after all when you misrepresent what someone says, it is called LYING--whether you change one word or twelve.
- And before you and your clergy crew gather for coffee or adult beverages to trash anyone involved in this tragic yet significant situation, why not bow your head for a moment of collective prayer before you open you mouth to say a word about anyone(the bartender will understand, they see it all the time)?
- How about rather than having your Church just randomly pray about this situation, why not work through Bishop Sally Dyck's wonderful devotional on Holy Conversations and let the Holy Spirit convict and edify as appropriate. Here is a link to this great lesson: https://minnesotaumc.org/assets/uploads/documents/Holy_Conferencing_Study_Guide_2012.pdf
By the way you wanna know why we don’t like these principles or use them when we are in crisis? Because as human beings we desire to know, we desire to speak, and sadly we are a people who like to slow down to see the train wreck rather than to get out of the car and bind the wounds of those who were injured by it.
This is not the original blog I wanted to post. Boy, did I lay some folks out in the first draft. Man, I called them out, I called them names--the words Pharisees, Brood of Vipers, and Children of Satan made it 55 times into the very first paragraph. Dang nab it (a good Alabama term) that John Wesley and Holy Spirit got in my way...I’ve got to stop listening to them if I ever want to succeed ;)