Saturday, May 10, 2014

Triage and Priority

Triage: 1a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors

b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care

2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success 
To this date, the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life was to leave a little boy who was in need of medical treatment. It was January 19, 1999, and I was a firefighter/medical responder who was "first-in" in the Charles Latham subdivision, just down the road from the church I was serving in Jackson, Tennessee. It was flattened by the same weather events that decimated Mother Liberty CME and hosts of other buildings, homes, and lives. The first person I treated was Logan, a young boy just a little younger than my daughter was at the time. A quick examination told me he had a serious head injury. He needed medical attention. I wanted to stay with him, hold his hand for being so brave, and wait for more help to arrive to transport him to a hospital. But I couldn't - he was breathing and alive. There was a whole subdivision of people that we had not seen yet - and who might be in worse medical condition. We had to leave. It was a very long night, and after all of what happened the rest of the night I knew I had made the right decision. It still didn't make it easy. Triage is hard. People matter.

I believe the UMC finds itself in this position in this season: the most divisive issue - at least in the news, Judicial Council docket, Connectional Table (our visioning body and steward of resources to carry out vision, mission, and ministry), and blogosphere - is homosexuality and same-sex weddings. It's about people - and people matter. This is an important matter worthy of thought, prayer, and action.

Unfortunately, this issue seems to be replacing the mission of the UMC: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, which goes on to say "...that local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs." It is something that I hope and pray all UM's agree upon.

If we were fulfilling our primary mission, we could devote significant time, resources, and visioning towards finding a faithful and healing manner to deal with other things that are important and significant, including the matter at hand in GLTBQ matters. However, in this season - we are not fulfilling our primary mission. We are closing churches. We are losing membership. We are losing our influence on the society in which we are to be influencing. In just about every way measurable and immeasurable, we are not fulfilling our UMC's mission, which is the Great Commission - something we are fairly sure that Jesus did say. To be sure, Rome is burning - perhaps slowly - but slow fires unquenched still result in a structure burning down.

Some will say that the structure needs to burn down. Before we are too quick to decide upon such, I think we sometimes forget what the "structure" of the UMC does: serves as a steward to itinerancy to insure the gifts of women and people of color are valued; owns and influences hundred's of hospitals, universities and colleges; and hold title to, and more importantly responsibility to, every local church in their bounds. That's not primarily about buildings - that's about missional outposts and local faith communities doing the primary work of the Gospel: to make disciples of Jesus to transform the world. Everything else is secondary. Important to be sure, but secondary. In this very difficult season, we HAVE to devote our resources, our visioning, our efforts into discipleship and mission. Very little of what we are saying - much less doing - at a General Church level, at national news levels, in the blogosphere, gives the outside world any indication that we are intent about making disciples. What we are saying to the world is that we are ready for schism over an issue that has nothing to do with our mission.

Over the past two years, the district I serve has visioned and birthed something we call, "Generative Leadership Academy." We thought that "Reproductive Leadership Academy" lacked some finesse and delicateness, but the thought was the same: to make disciples and leaders who would then go and replicate such. Over four weekends during a year we take participants through basic Christian and Wesleyan tenets: the role of grace, discipleship, the Three Simple Rules, piety, mission, evangelism. In two years, 280 laity have attended, and I have seen a hunger like never before in folks who are eager to be faithful in their discipleship. Fruit is being born as people are eager to do the hard but rewarding work of discipleship, relationships, and loving people who embrace hopelessness. But it involves our allowing ourselves to be transformed, of choosing who and what we will serve first - for we cannot serve two masters. 

Triage is hard - it involves decisions that involve the lives of people - hurting people. It is to assign resources and efforts that will have the greatest effect on the greatest number of people. There is a hurting world that needs our efforts at proclaiming Christ as Savior of the world more than they need our infighting about issues that no General Conference will ever be able to fix and that the larger world largely observes as a train wreck rather than something substantive. 

The last priority in triage is "morgue." In my opinion this is where the name calling needs to be categorized and sent. Words we use matter. Calling brothers and sisters homophobes, relativists, zealots, and other such terms get us nowhere, are dishonest, and profit us nothing. Inciting words aren't helpful either. Labeling folks as progressive, orthodox, evangelical, and conservative, and making it "us/they" or "not part of our family" is against every intent of spirit of covenant. So any of us "signing on" to anything other than the vows of being United Methodist and living out our Mission and Great Commission probably needs to think twice - especially when it comes to schism. 

We have absolutely no business talking schism when we aren't even trying to make the main thing the main thing, while people outside the UMC are starving from lack of love and hope because we aren't sharing with them God's grace and wonderful news that they are loved. We are squandering what God has gifted us with, from the highest level of the Church to the smallest local church community. 

To find what divides us is easy. To do what God commands us is hard.


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