Impressed & Depressed

Tampa Convention Center — they get an A+ for hospitality and organization.  They are ready for the hoard of United Methodists.  And the UMC is ready as well.  It is impossible not to be impressed by the pageantry and preparation.  But it is also a little depressing.  I just walked through the Cokesbury and General Agency display areas.  As always, the dog and pony show has been upgraded to elephant and stallion levels.  You cannot believe the mountains of crap that have been produced and stamped with the General Conference logo.  Stewardship be damned.  This is a marketing event, a media circus.

One of the General Agency staff people commented, “A few years ago it was tables and chairs, but now it’s like, ‘If you’re going to get rid of us, we want you to know about everything we do.”  And it shows.  This looks and feels a lot more like a trade show than a religious gathering.  BIG displays, BIG ideas, and BIG money have been lavished on this GC.  Be careful not to ask where the money came from to pay for all this — just consume and enjoy, sipping your water from the official GC2012 water bottle, while resting in your GC2012 hoodie sweatshirt, while leafing through your commemorative GC2012 CEV Bible…  And we justify all this how?

I know, I know, get over myself.  Why do I have to spoil everything?  Could I be any more of a buzz kill?  Did I come here just looking for things to be unhappy about?  You know, I get tired of it myself sometimes.  I want to enter into our denominational celebrations and feel elation and joy.  But it is just my nature to resist and resent the circus-like aspects.  I hunger for authentic opportunities to celebrate the faith with my brothers and sisters.  I cannot wait for the worship and learning opportunities to commence.  But all the consumeristic, self-serving, promotional/trivial junk leaves me cold.

At a time where our credibility and relevancy are front-burner concerns, I wonder if we do ourselves more harm than good investing our time, energy and money in a conference that provides and promotes the same-old, same-old?  Truly, this is a spiritual stewardship issue, and I personally cannot proudly defend the way my church is using its money.  Extravagance and waste are in evidence everywhere I look.  I want to believe we are better than this.  (Yeah, I know, lighten up…)

There is a real integrity in making the mission of the UMC our General Conference theme, but we must guard this integrity by what we say and do.  So far, our restructuring proposals are not proposals for effective disciple-making that equips, empowers and enables our churches and conferences to transform the world; they are all institutional preservation proposals that will allow us to survive for another generation.  If we can somehow shift our attention from maintenance to mission and to truly explore the implications of a church committed to discipleship instead of numbers, this could be a pivotal General Conference.  But like me personally, collectively we need to get over ourselves, and understand this is big, important stuff we are dealing with.  This is more than hats and T-shirts, magnets and coffee-mugs; this is life and death, eternal life big, and we need to act like it.  The world doesn’t need us, it needs God, and we are only relevant and pertinent to the extent that we provide a bridge between God and God’s creation.  The world — and the church — doesn’t need all this “stuff.”  It needs to focus on relationships that help us to become “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”

19 replies

  1. oy vey — mountains of crap — any similarity to the moneychanger tables in the Temple? — and if all that wasn’t enought the metaphoric exposition on the 7 deadly sins
    give me a week or so to digest all of this (not the crap LOL)

  2. I attended a clergy convocation in February of this year and it had as the keynote speaker Wayne Muller. He is a wonderful speaker and was encouraging us to take sabboth time in order to reset and clear the clutter of our busy lives. He gave us a short exposition about how the Bible’s 7 deadly sins had become installed as the new American Standards.
    “We’re #1” (pride) “Sex Sells” (lust) “All You Can Eat” (gluttony) and the rest.. We are on the road to perdition and there are no brakes for us to stop ourselves.
    Peace of the Lord be with you all..

  3. I am here, too, and my impression of the General Agency displays was that they were actually smaller than in Fort Worth. Not as much of the flyers/brochures type paper, nor as many give-aways. Though I will admit that it was 4 years ago and I have slept since then. I don’t mind the large Cokesbury display. I like seeing all the new things in person although (confession time!) I looked at several of the books and downloaded them on my Kindle. Seeing some of the new studies and curriculum and having people there who actually knew what was in them was very helpful.

    Also, I like being able to purchase things with the UMC logo on them. Against all odds, I am still happy to be a visible United Methodist. I bought a tumbler and a notebook and will probably get a t-shirt at some point.

    I expect to be inspired by opening worship and frustrated by some of what happens on the floor and in the votes. But overall, I am here because I am praying for a work of the Holy Spirit. Who knows, maybe even United Methodists can have a Pentecost!

    • Let me go ahead and respond to the prayer room — it is fantastic. We have spiritual direction centers, places to remember baptism and the abundance of bread and cup, walk the labyrynth, commune with saints, sit and reflect — and there are ample tissues to meet every need! This is one of the most innovative uses of pipe and drape to transform a space I have seen. It is great that we have such a designated space to focus and center. You have done a marvelous job. I hope people venture far enough to find you, if they have not already.

  4. I’m not even there and I can see it, thanks for this reminder and good word about the imperative of being missional not just in our individual charges but as a denomination…it is our first love and it seems too often we’ve forgotten her name.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s