Rev. Laurie Haller, Grand Rapids District Superintendent and Delegation Chairperson, shares her experiences at General Conference
Tuesday, May 2, 2012
RIDING THE GENERAL CONFERENCE DRAGON BOAT
I’d never heard of dragon boats before. On the day before General Conference I took a walk along the water and saw a 45 foot boat filled with 20 young people paddling side by side in 10 rows. An extra person in the back of the dragon boat stood on a platform and steered while another person sat in the front facing the rowers and beat a drum. The steady rhythm of the drum was meant to keep the paddlers in synch with each other at the optimal stroke rate.
Dragon boat racing is a growing grassroots sport whose benefits far outweigh physical exercise. When 20 people of varying ages, athletic ability, and skill levels move together in the same direction, encouraging and helping each other maintain a common rhythm, the dragon boat glides effortlessly through the water.
The dragon boat of the 2012 General Conference is moving in many different directions at the moment. As I write this in the late morning, General Conference delegates are working together as a committee of the whole to consider a restructuring proposal after the General Administration Legislative Committee failed to make a recommendation to the plenary. A boat with 1,000 paddlers is a lot harder to steer than a boat with 80 paddlers, especially when few of us have had an opportunity to carefully examine the compromise proposal put together by an unofficial small group. We’re just trying to find our rhythm now.
The body’s will is that we make an effort to pass some sort of restructuring proposal. A compromise petition may not be perfect, but it will reflect our hope and determination to move our denomination forward. To go home without an enhanced structure relegates our denomination to 4 more years of the same when we cannot remain the same and thrive.
Was it coincidental that the theme of last night’s worship was “Ready for the Storm?” As we pondered Mark’s story of Jesus walking on the water to the disciples, who were cowering in fear in their dragon boat, we were reminded of stormy times in our personal lives as well as the impending storm coming in today’s plenary. A song in our new Worship and Song, expressed our collective anxiety as well as trust.
When the waves are crashing and my faith is drowning,
though I forget you, hold me, Lord.
When the cliffs are steepest and my hope is weakest,
Though I fail to trust you, hold me, Lord.
The waves seem to be crashing around our General Conference dragon boat as some of us hold on for dear life, some just try to row harder, some attempt to slay the perceived dragons around them, and others work to rearrange the seats so that the global presence of our church is felt at all levels of our denomination. Wherever we sit in the boat, however, the way forward is to ride the dragon rather than fight it. That’s what General Conference has chosen to do.
In Robert Wick’s book Riding the Dragon; 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times, he refers to the Zen Masters, who advise their students to ride the dragon in hard times rather than try to kill it or keep it in its cave. Rather than retreat, strike out, or withdraw, dare we see our dilemma as an opportunity, our apparent stalemate as possibility, and our fear as a sign of health? Margaret Mitchell has said, “Every problem has two handles. You can grab it by the handle of fear or the handle of hope.”
We faced an historic moment right before lunch as we approved an amended restructuring proposal. This new plan is not the more radical paradigm shift for which many delegates had hoped. But it’s a start.
The challenge before us is to focus on adaptive leadership, wise use of resources, and fostering excellence at all levels of The United Methodist Church. We will need to continue to hold ourselves accountable to exclusion and injustice, monitor our behavior, listen deeply, and speak truth gently as well as directly.
God will make a way when there seems to be no way. God will bring clarity out of chaos. Jesus will come to us as we strain against our paddles in the dragon boat, walking on the water of our doubt and uncertainty, and saying gently, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid. Ride the dragon boat. Engage the wind and the waves and the darkness, and you will find your future.”
“Jesus Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and tempestuous shoal.
Chart and compass come from thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
(used last night with permission, words by Edward Hopper, adapted by Chuck Bell)