I love the church! But I love my little tribe more.

Nancy Gibbs gave a wonderful speech which was adapted for TIME magazine titled How we Deserted Common Ground. The piece is directed to journalists but is worth reading because she is a very good writer and her insights are always helpful.

In Gibbs' article she cites Yale Law professor Dan Kahan who said, "What people 'believe' about global warming doesn't' reflect what they know, it expresses who they are." Clearly this is not limited to global warming. To make the case, Gibbs also cites a southern Democratic Senator who said the debate over gun control is "about who you are and who you aren't." 

When we are more concerned about our personal brand, our ratings, number of likes, and retweets, every issue is not about the issue but a proxy discussion for how we desire to be seen. It stands to reason that the debates in the United Methodist Church are also about "who you are and who you aren't." 

And therein lies the difficulty of the situation we are in. We are so insecure of who we are in Christ that we have to constantly define ourselves as something else. "We are orthodox Wesleyan." "We are the prophetic voices of God." We are arguing with others in order to show them who we are, all the while unaware that who we really feel we need to convince is is our own tribe.

A large reason we continue to be entrenched is because if we give the impression that we are not 100% with our tribe then we risk our tribe abandoning us. And hell hath no fury as a tribe who eats their own for not being pure enough for the tribe. So in order to avoid being cannibalized by our own tribe, we take steps to prove our tribal devotion which moves us farther away other non-tribe members. 

This is why we all have words and ideas that we don't like to use. Conservatives do not like to identify themselves as social justice advocates (even though they they are) because even as they believe in social justice they don't want to give the impression they are liberal. And Liberals don't want to talk about how they are orthodox (even thought they are) because to do so means they could give the impression they are conservative. 

Much of the arguing in the church that divides us farther apart is rooted in efforts to convince our own tribe of who we are. And there is no greater devotion to the little tribe than being willing to break the larger Church for the sake of the little tribe.


Language Monopoly

This is not unique to the UMC, however the church has a number of monopolies on language. I am not saying that the UMC has a monopoly on, say, language about grace or love. I am saying that within the UMC there are groups that have a monopoly on language such that it will cost an outsider something if you use language held by a monopoly.

There are some words that are used by the right and some words that are used by the left and if you are on the right and you use words held by the left monopoly then it will cost you something. And vise versa, leftists use the right's language with an awareness of the cost. Monopolies are effective in using their language to be sure, but what makes them each a monopoly is how the words are loaded. You know you are dabbling in the language held by a monopoly when you want to use it but then have to say what you are not saying. For instance, Progressives shy away from talking about Satan. So when a progressive is desires to use that word, there is often an apology that goes with it, "Satan is alive in the world. And when I say Satan I don't mean a personified being with horns or demons he controls. I mean..." 

For a silly example, at General conference there was a vote to be taken, it was not an important vote (from what I can recall from my notes it was a procedural vote). When these votes came up for action, it was allowed by the rules to use raise placards. Delegates were each given three placards, one red, one green one yellow. These colors were used in previous conferences to signal different action, however the 2016 conference had electronic devices to handle that action. So rather than waiving a yellow placard, you just punched into a computer tablet at the table your ID number and "point of order". The three colored placards were not needed, however this was the tradition and this is what tables had for this vote.

Except one table. 

One table did not have green cards and prior to the vote a gentleman ran to a microphone and signaled to the presiding bishop for attention. When called upon, the man stated that his table did not have green placards for this procedural vote. The Bishop stated that when she calls for a vote using the placards, and color will do. You could even use white paper if you needed to. The man sat down and the Bishop stated that the vote was about to take place and, just to be clear she said to get a placard of any color. To hammer the point across she said, "we will have a rainbow vote."

There was an audible gasp from the observing area where I was seated at the time. 

You may be thinking what was the gasp about? It was because a monopolized word was invoked without the apology/clarification. Calling anything "rainbow" is colored with a particular hue. While the bishop was clarifying the color of the placard does not matter only that you have one to vote, the word "rainbow" fired off all sorts of associations. 

Rev. Mary Spradlin, Rev. Rob Renfro and me. Three people, three different theological perspectives.

Rev. Mary Spradlin, Rev. Rob Renfro and me. Three people, three different theological perspectives.

This is a benign example, however this is not the only example. At one of the more dire moments of the Conference there was an accusation made on the floor that a bishop was signaling to others how to vote by "discreetly" holding up one or two fingers while holding the microphone. This accusation was not founded on anything other than in subcommittee there were people who would accused of signaling delegates how to vote with the same signals. I don't know and heavily doubt if these accusations have any merit to them, but it does serve as an example that even non-verbals can be monopolized by a camp and even if used without intent it can be costly. In this case the left monopolized hand gestures to mean only "this is how you vote." It could not mean anything else.

The General Conference had about a dozen languages being translated in real time. While the Church literally does not speak the same language the Church also metaphorically does not speak the same language. 

Within their monopoly, conservatives have words like: Orthodoxy, Biblical, authority, moral, traditional, schism, under attack, liberty, Good News, the faithful, etc. Liberals have the monopoly on words like: LGBTQ, prophetic, justice, protest, rainbow, love your neighbor, love prevails, reconciling, Orthopraxy, etc. 

The reason this matters is that if we desire to be a church that wants to better understand our neighbor and world, if we want to be a church that is interested to heal where there is division then I believe one of the first things we can do is adopt one another's language in order to break up the language monopolies. Conservatives need to use more unity and reconciliation language, Progressives need to use more victory and salvation language. 

Monopolies are unhealthy for an economy and for the people.

They can kill a church.

Preach from scars not wounds

So far in 2015 there have been 353 mass shootings in the United States (see Mass Shooting Tracker). That about 1.05 mass shootings per day. 

This Sunday, many preachers are going to feel compelled to address the shootings this past week in California and Georgia. Many directly addressed the shootings in Paris a few weeks ago. And, assuming this mass shooting thing is not going away, many more preachers may feel compelled to address future tragedies.

If there is one thing that I have learned as a preacher and communicator of the Gospel it is the value and necessity to preach from our scars and not wounds. 

Wounds are open and still healing. They are fresh and raw. They may still be bleeding and often put a person in a situation where they may be in shock or irrational. It is not the time to preach the message of Christ because you, as the preacher, are not in a good place to receive the Holy Spirit. The pain of the wound can be so overpowering that the preacher's own voice becomes the dominate voice in the sermon rather than the voice of the Holy Spirit. If you are a preacher and you are preaching from your wounds, you may be doing more harm than Good. 

But more than that, feeling like we need to preach from the raw wounds also may be an expression of a lack of faith. Lack of faith that there will be more or better time to address these hurts. When Jesus was on the cross and wounded, he did not at that time talk about the resurrection or the power of the work of God. He cried out. He bled. He died. He did not teach or proclaim. He trusted that there would be a more and a better time to address the injustices of the moment. 

Which is why, in part, when Christ appeared to the disciples he showed them his scars. He was able then to address the problems and the pain of the world, but only after the bleeding stopped. This was the more and better time to teach the disciples about how to live in light of death and resurrection. 

Preaching from our scars and not our wounds is not limited to preachers but all interpersonal relationships. When you find yourself wounded it is very difficult to help usher in reconciliation. Tend to the wounds and when there is a scar that protects the wound, then speak to the hurt.