Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Annual Conference- Guest Post by Rev. Mark Dicken

This week I will being headed to Annual Conference, where we will vote on delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference. Important Stuff! As we prepare for this task, I read these remarks from Pastor Mark Dicken:

"In the classic movie Casablanca, after Rick shoots Major Strasser, Captain Renault instructs his officers, “Round up the usual suspects.” Later this is embellished when Renault says: “Realizing the importance of this case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects.”

A few years ago, a member of the church to which I was appointed described the people at various fund-raising events in the community as “the usual suspects.” He was describing that community’s tendency to call on the same people for the same purpose for each civic and charitable effort.
I am concerned that The United Methodist Church in general and the Indiana Conference in particular is too prone to rounding up the usual suspects when it comes to leadership and decision-making, especially when it comes to electing delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conference.

Let me explain myself.

I have been a delegate to 2 General Conferences, the last in 2012 in Tampa, and 3 Jurisdictional Conferences. I left Tampa so disgusted and disheartened. We wasted millions of dollars and accomplished practically nothing. I realized generations of General Conference delegates, myself included, had created a Book of Discipline so complicated that common sense and sound faith had little place in our denomination that believes it can legislate itself into revival. I also realized that our denomination had become so polarized over the issues associated with human sexuality that the people at the poles were viewing everything through that single-issue lens and, therefore, were unwilling and unable to seek common ground with those on the other side on any issue lest they show vulnerability when the sexuality issues came up for a vote.
I’m pretty sure I smelled some backroom deals that resulted in subtle manipulation of the agenda. I firmly believed I saw complicity between some bishops serving as presiding officers and delegates who reveled in tying General Conference in procedural notes designed to let the air out of the basketball like the late Dean Smith’s 4-corner offense running out the clock.

I also noticed something else.

The leaders of these polar and polarizing groups were old – both those that claimed the mantle of evangelical renewal and those who wore the rainbow mantle of progressive inclusiveness. They had been fighting the fight since 1972. Not only were they battle-hardened, their offensive and defensive tactics were set in stone. The distrust level was palpable and lamentable.

And I no longer want to be any kind of a participant in such unholy conferencing.
I realize that The Methodist Church in which I was confirmed and The United Methodist Church in which I was ordained no longer exist – at least in terms of the church I thought I was committing my life and service to. My retirement is not imminent, but it is not all that distant either. In many respects I am a dinosaur up to my nostrils in the tar pit. I need to trust clergy and lay persons who will be leading the church in the next couple of decades to do just that.

So, I am not willing to serve as a delegate in 2016. If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.
I do, however, encourage my sisters and brothers in the Indiana Conference to resist rounding up the usual suspects to send to General Conference in Portland and Jurisdictional Conference in Peoria. Realizing the importance of the issues before these conferences, I encourage us to avoid rounding up double the usual number of suspects even.

I once promised a bishop that I would not advocate a system in which people would be urged to not vote for specific persons, so I will attempt to walk that line. In the spirit of encouragement, I encourage us to elect delegates who will have to live with the consequences of their decisions for the next 15-25 years. I encourage us to vote for lay and clergy delegates who are under 50 years of age. I encourage us to vote for delegates who have only been to one General or Jurisdictional Conference previously and, presumably, are not as jaded and cynical as veteran warhorses like me. I encourage us to be diligent in our voting all the way through the delegates to Jurisdictional Conference as the Indiana Conference will be getting a new bishop and, frankly, the episcopal talent pool in the North Central Jurisdiction is scarily shallow.

I implore those who are willing to serve as delegates to be clear about why they want to serve this way, what they see as the big issues facing our church and their ideas for addressing those issues. And, yes, for my younger clergy colleagues this means engaging in that process many of you label distasteful called “church politics.” You’ll need to get over this if you want to get in on the decision-making. Trust me, General and Jurisdictional Conferences are highly political processes which, at times, will have only a thin veneer of religion over them.

It is someone else’s turn.
I tried my best.
I am sorry my peers and I could not do better.
I will pray, politic and vote that others will do better in 2016 and beyond."

Thank you, Mark for looking in another direction this year. I hope we as a denomination can better hear the voices across the board. That is why I will do my best to help vote for "4 under 40." We need voices at all different levels to move forward. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Dog Hates Mother's Day

Henrietta isn’t quite herself today. She usually keeps up with our two boy dogs easily, but today she hung her head a little lower during the morning ritual. I think it might be because today is Mother’s Day.

See, Henrietta never knew her mother.  She was taken away when she was just a pup. She swore that she would do better when it was her turn. But, she was so young when the pups came. And then the storm came, and she got lost, unable to find her way back home. Her pups didn’t even have her until they were completely weaned. And now, she couldn’t have more pups even if she wanted to.  It’s a lot be reminded of on a rainy Mother’s Day.

That’s why I snuggled up with her this afternoon. I thanked her for cuddling with my kids when they are sick, with protecting them with vigilance when strangers come around, and playing with them in the sprinklers every summer. I thanked her for those times when I feel like a disappointment to my kids, and how she wags her tail and reminds me that I’m doing okay. I reminded her that her past life is in the past, and she has been found.  That each day, she can do something small for her new family. She sat with me as the rain came down, and she knew she would be safe.

And I gave her some cheese. And wished her a Happy Mother’s Day.