Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Midwives & General Conference

O God, they begged you for help when they were in trouble,
   when your discipline was so heavy
   they could barely whisper a prayer.
Like a woman having a baby,
   writhing in distress, screaming her pain
   as the baby is being born,
That's how we were because of you, O God.
   We were pregnant full-term.
We writhed in labor but bore no baby.
   We gave birth to wind.
Nothing came of our labor.
   We produced nothing living.
   We couldn't save the world.
                    - Isaiah 26:16-18  The Message

It's probably just me...or maybe it's just here in Anchorage...but it seems as if we're in the midst of some kind of baby boom.  One of the churches I serve is blessed with several newborns with some still on the way.  It seems as if everywhere I go, I see pregnant women!  What's going on?

It might be a real boom - or, more precisely, a Boomer echo, since most of these pregnant women would be children of the Baby Boom generation.  Or, it might be that I am experiencing that psychological phenomena of a heightened optical awareness of certain things around me because they align with what I'm experiencing personally.  My wife and I once purchased a certain red auto because we were sure it was the only one like it for miles around.  We saw at least a dozen of them in the following week.  More to the point, perhaps the reason I seem to notice more pregnant women is because our older daughter is now carrying our first grandchild.  You see, all of that was just an excuse to tell you I'm going to be a grampa for the the first time.

However, there is a reason for the Isaiah 26 quote at the beginning of this blog.  Whether there really is a baby boom or my awareness is just a projection of my life on the world around me, I have been reflecting a lot on the birthing process in recent days.  Wait...I already know that any man foolish enough to opine too much about the birthing process deserves whatever grief he gets from spouses, mothers, sisters, daughters, female colleagues and co-workers, and pretty much any woman who has given birth or soon will.  I fully embrace the ancient notion that the reason God decided men could not give birth is because our pain threshold is entirely too low to endure it.  I have nothing but awe and respect for all women who have given birth and immeasurably more so for those who choose to do it a second time or more.

My reflection has more to do with my election to the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  General Conference is a quadrennial meeting gathering laity and clergy from around the world to discern, discuss and enact the rules and structures that will shape the future of the church.  For most of the last 40 years, General Conference sessions have made news through their discerning and fussing over many of the socio-political hot topics of the day: abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, war, economic justice, et al.

In contrast, the 2008 General Conference spent much time and energy around issues of structure and, by its action, ensured the conversation would continue in 2012.  That's not to say the topics that made headlines in previous years were totally ignored.  They weren't.  But, as an interested observer, it seemed to me that they were overshadowed by the institutional concerns for a sustainable structure for the future.

In one of the many pre-General Conference online articles/blogs I've read, one metaphor has caught my attention.  Of course, I'm never prescient enough to record who wrote what...but here's a rough estimate: We're living in a time when our denomination is experiencing the labor pains of birthing the church of the future, which will be much different than the church of the past.

If true, and I believe it is, one question emerges: What role will the 2012 General Conference play in the birthing process?  One choice is for the Conference to see itself as a collective midwife - coaching, coaxing, encouraging and comforting during this time of emerging new life.  Or, another choice is to continue the role most bureaucracies play when confronted with significant change and/or downsizing; that is as the stereotypical expectant father of the 50's and 60's - not in the birthing room but pacing nervously in the waiting room, nearly panicked by the immensity of the meaning and impact of new life.  Even more, all the energy spent by this father is so removed from the actual birthing process that it affects neither the pains of birth or the new life waiting to emerge.  This nervous pacing only reveals a combination of helplessness and fear concerning the ramifications of all changes new life brings to any family or institution.

So, to borrow Isaiah's metaphor, we will either engage the process by coaching, coaxing and encouraging or, by continued rhetorical pacing, we will give birth to the wind of our own words alone.  My continuing prayer for myself and all General Conference delegates: Give us the courage to be midwives.  Amen.

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