From sublime to banal. The whiplash that is General Conference was in full effect today.
Worship was transcendent. It was intimate and reflective, with capacious silences interspersed with scripture, liturgy, and prayer. I don’t know how the worship design team and the worship leaders made it possible for several thousand people to feel a personal connection to the worship experience, but they did. Sublime.
And then, an episcopal address from Bishop Greg Palmer. What can I possibly say? He said some things!
Things like, “there is grave danger in being overly self-reliant. We need to cultivate and practice a renewed God reliance. We have been so adequate, so able, so competent, and so successful for so long it may well be that we have only given lip service to trusting in the Lord. We didn’t mean to. It is a hazard that comes with the territory.”
He said things like, “I refuse to give in to discouragement and despair because the work of becoming the church we can be, of truly embodying beloved community is hard.”
He spoke profound truth. Sublime truth. Transcendent truth. I am humbled to think that this man’s hands were on my head, along with my Grandfather’s, my Father’s, Rev. Sarah Evans’ and Rev. Steve Campbell’s, as I was ordained in 2007 by Bishop Robert Schnase.
And then there is the ordinary sublime stuff. The stuff that is so hard to describe. It happens in between, in the hallways, in the passing conversations. There are smiles and laughter. There are handshakes and hugs.
There are friends introducing friends. Strangers connected by our common Methodist identity. There is an energy present that brings tears to my eyes. Literally. It is so, so good to be in close proximity to so many amazing people, sharing the same space, breathing the same air, singing the same songs together.
The best single word I can come up with is simply “sublime.”
And yet, there is the other stuff. Which, if you pinned me down on a single word, I would only be able to describe as “banal.” Vapid. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.
It is “Robert’s Rules of Order” run amok. We as a body seem to know more about the minutiae of parliamentary procedure than we do about making disciples of Jesus Christ, much less changing the world.
All due respect, the church is called to a higher standard than Robert’s Rules of Order.
I get it. We have to have some system by which to operate. I understand. We need some rules. Right.
But is this as good as we can do? Frankly, there is no room for trust in Robert’s Rules. Robert’s Rules were not written within a framework of trust and grace and love. In fact, Robert’s Rules were written to eliminate any need for trust whatsoever.
So we deliberate as a body, hardly able to agree about how it is we are going to be talking about the things we are supposed to be talking about, much less actually talking about those things. And sincere, well-intentioned people come to the microphones to say things that are not in the slightest bit helpful to the conversation. I would estimate that we could have gotten by, accomplished the same results, with less than one-third of the speeches from the floor that we had this morning.
It is banal. Utterly banal.
And the thing is, there is no in between. General Conference is either sublime or banal, never just kind of meh. And often times the sublime and the banal reside within moments of one another. Whiplash! It’s General Conference whiplash.
Those who have been to several of these things may be used to it by now, but since it’s my first one, I’m not. I have whiplash, and I think I need a massage.