The first day of General Conference is in many ways enchanting; old acquaintances renewed, new acquaintances made - and David and I were very intentional about embracing opportunities to meet new folks (difficult for an introvert like me). That included people who were not like me: not just black folks or folks from the Pacific Northwest, but people who spoke different languages and come from radically different cultures. The language of Jesus certainly binds us together, but our differences made for some very humorous and challenging conversations.
This evening, one of the reports about future General Conferences was the possibility of having a General Conference outside the United States (possibly 12 years from now). It got me to thinking - what if the shoe was on the other foot? What if *I* were a delegate in another country? What if *I* were the one who needed a translator? Traveling abroad is disorienting (at least to me) - and I bet it is to others as well.
What it has enforced in me is a need not just to adjust so that those from other countries might understand me better, but to adjust so that those who are from my OWN country - those who don't know the language of Jesus - might understand better, too. We have never lived in an age where the tools of communication were as available as they are now. But without relationships, and the willingness to foster them, the tools are just gadgets.
Fostering relationships, especially with cultures radically different than our own, will force us to deal with differences that might challenge our notions about inclusivity and justice - and we American United Methodists might have to face the fact that we might not be as truly inclusive as we claim to be. The task for us is this: can we value our differences? Can we yield to love and grace? Can we sacrifice our comfort and wishes? The truth is, our worth and value comes from being God's children, not by what others might think or say. I suspect we may have to learn to quit trying to force everyone else to agree with us (or me). We might also find our differences really aren't as big as we think they are.
Perfect love casts out fear. Maybe a good way to open a General Conference would be to spend two days in spiritual renewal, growth, and direction - together, not apart. Without being clear about the direction God is leading us, we might take any path to get to anywhere, instead of where God is leading us to be.
Your agape love is far beyond what we can comprehend.
You love us when we are lovable and unlovable.
When we are busy making distinctions in others, you call all of us "beloved."
As we approach the work of your Kingdom this day,
may we be less about using rules and be more willing to live under your rule.
May our fears of the unknown be replaced with the willingness to embrace change:
Change of hearts,
Change of will,
Change of order,
Change of souls.
We know we are far from perfect, but that you are far from being finished with us, too.
Replace our need to be right with our need to be faithful,
and find us faithful, O God.
In Jesus' name. Amen.