On the way home from Lansing on Saturday afternoon, I became aware that my elbow was aching more than it has in the past several weeks. It seemed odd since I hadn’t done anything to aggravate the injury. Then I got it. My elbow was simply mirroring the state of my heart.
My heart aches that the West Michigan Conference was almost equally divided on the proposed creation of a new Great Lakes Annual Conference (363 yes, 376 no, 2 abstentions). My heart aches for those on MATT who spent thousands of hours dreaming, meeting, creating, writing and presenting. My heart aches for the Detroit Conference, which voted solidly for a new conference, only to be deeply disappointed that the merger won’t happen. My heart aches for those who desired merger but felt they could not approve the particular plan that was proposed. My heart aches in sympathy for all those who are hurting right now.
At the same time as my heart aches, my heart is at peace because I believe that the Holy Spirit was present in a mighty way in the Lansing Convention Center. I saw peace in the visuals gracing the worship area: the banner with the seashell, butterfly, and chalice and grapes; the flowing water of the fountain; the variety of breads and chalices representing the body of Christ. I experienced peace in the music:
“Sufficient is your arm alone, and our defense is sure.”
“Unrevealed until its season; something God alone can see.”
“I’ll never, no never, forsake.”
I felt peace in the benediction, “Best of all, God is with us.”
My heart is filled with love and gratitude. What joy there was being in the same room with almost 1,700 faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. It was like having my whole family together. Hugs, kisses, handshakes, introductions, words of grace, laughter and tears. All I could think was, “See how they love each other.” The passion I heard from everyone who spoke, the seriousness with which each delegate approached the day, and the respect with which we treated each other, is a sign that the Michigan area of the United Methodist Church is very much alive.
My heart is filled with hope. Our human structures will never be perfect, yet the way we organize ourselves can mold and form us for effective ministry. I am convinced that both the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences will learn, grow and change because of our experience on Saturday. As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 8, being shaped into the likeness of Christ, whether as individuals or as conferences, is an agonizing process. It’s like groaning in labor pains as we wait for redemption. Because Jesus is the head of the church, we can and will move on. God is not done with us yet!
My heart is filled with holy indifference. During my renewal leave 7 years ago, I discovered that the key to wholeness in my life is directly related to the degree of self-differentiation I am able to practice. For many years I over-functioned, believing that my self-worth was tied to how hard I worked and how invested I was in my local church. It took several months of solitude, painful self-examination and reflection to discover that I was burned out precisely because I could not separate myself from my ministry.
At the same time I began to learn from spiritual writers about “holy indifference,” which implies a detachment from anything which would separate us from seeking God. In the decision-making model of discernment, holy indifference is called “shedding”. We cannot be open to the movement of God until we completely let go of our wants and desires. Only by becoming indifferent to ourselves can we be faithful to the life that God has planned for us.
I came to Saturday with an attitude of holy indifference, seeking God’s will: nothing more, nothing less. To be honest, however, I’ve been forced to practice holy indifference continually over the past month. My elbow is healing nicely, and I’ve been able to start running again. However, I won’t be able to drive for another 4 weeks. It is utterly humbling and exhausting to rely on others for transportation. One day last week I had 5 different drivers! I’ve had no choice but to be patient, flexible, dependent and holy indifferent to my desire to be in control.
On Palm Sunday, I was feeling a bit down. As we were lying in bed early in the morning, Gary asked what I was thinking, and I said, “I’m feeling sorry for myself because today is such a wonderful Sunday, and I don’t have the privilege of leading worship anymore.” My self-pity was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t find a ride to the church I wanted to attend. So I walked a mile to a neighboring Episcopal Church, sat toward the back and tried to look anonymous.
Tears of grief began to flow when the priest read the Palm Sunday proclamation and the choir streamed down the aisles, waving their palm branches. I felt as if I were watching a parade and was simply a spectator. I remember thinking, “I don’t belong anywhere.” Imagine my utter surprise, then, when the ushers began inviting the entire congregation to join the procession. Staying in the pew was not an option. As I moved to the chancel and was given a palm, it finally dawned on me that I, too, was part of the parade. Only by shedding my resistance and letting go of self was I able to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”
My heart still aches today in spite of the peace, love, gratitude, hope and holy indifference that keep me practicing the presence of God. I ache because when one part of the body of Christ, hurts, we all hurt. But I also know that the ache is a necessary part of the healing process. My prayer is that, in the midst of the ache, we will stay in love with one another in both the West Michigan and Detroit Conferences. I pray that each one of us will know how vital we are to the health of the connection, for none of us can afford to be mere spectators in the drama of salvation.
I pray that we will allow God to lead us, Jesus to reshape us and the Holy Spirit to set us on fire once more as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I pray that we will release all of our personal agendas and seek God’s will for our conference. Most of all, I pray that prayer of holy indifference offered to us by John Wesley in his covenant service.
Lord, make me what you will.
I put myself fully into your hands:
Put me to doing, put me to suffering,
Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty,
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal. Amen.