Monday, June 4, 2007

I woke up this past Saturday morning with a leg cramp – a Charlie horse in my right calf. I know the pain will be with me for a few days. All this after spending a week at Annual Conference, the yearly meeting that United Methodist ministers and some lay members gather for. We worship together, make policy, pass resolutions and approve a budget for our work together.

My favorite parts of Annual Conference are seeing friends, some of who I only see at this annual event, and worship – especially the ordination service. For the past few years my son (who turns 24 this month) has also attended and I really enjoy having time with him. I serve as the parliamentarian for our conference and like that role, though it means I don’t get the opportunity to speak during debate (though that may not be the worst thing as I will note shortly). This year we elected delegates to the international gathering of United Methodists called General Conference, to be held in Fort Worth in 2008, and I was privileged to be elected. Thank you to those clergy colleagues who made that possible.

As the chair of one conference committee, I did have a chance to make a report, and I tried to begin with a little bit of humor. I read from an old United Methodist document about mission work to Swedes, Norwegians and other foreigners (and in Minnesota we have many of Swedish and Norwegian descent). I wanted to make a point about our need to reach out to whoever is in our neighborhood. Anyway, I said I better not say much about Swedes or Norwegians as then I might have to make a public apology for my remarks. I went too far. There had been an apology for a presentation made earlier in the conference, and at least one person thought I was treating that apology too lightly. I spoke with those who had made the previous apology, and they had not been offended. I also spoke with another clergy colleague who had expressed disappointment in my attempt at humor, and he let me have it – anger – both barrels. I had put myself in that place by my imprudent attempt at humor and had no one to blame by myself. I had created a leg cramp in the body of Christ and needed to hear from my hurting brother.

The Bible is full of wise words about words. “Fools are like leaky faucets, dripping nonsense” (Proverbs 15:2b, The Message). I was learning the truth of this again. “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” (James 3:5-6). The writer of James, who is so articulate about the power of the tongue, in that same chapter also speaks a truth I don’t much like to hear, but know only too well. “For all of us make many mistakes” (3:2). I had made one yet again.

But as my colleague's anger spilled out, its focus moved from my lame attempt at humor to something else. Earlier I had been the point person in explaining a policy of our Board of Ordained Ministry dealing with clergy who had given up their ministerial credentials when accused of sexual misconduct. That was not an easy place to be, but I had been the primary writer of the policy, though by no means the sole source the ideas it contained. In our statement we wrote that we felt it inappropriate for a clergy person who had left ministry under accusations of sexual misconduct to come before the clergy and make a public confession or public statement of apology. Those of us who worked on this policy came to that place with some difficulty, but I think it is where we needed to be. Would it be fair to a person who had been the other party in an incident of sexual misconduct to have the clergy person share their side of the story and ask forgiveness without hearing from the other person involved? Is there too great a risk in victimizing someone who has already been involved in an abuse of power by a clergy person were we to allow that clergy person to make a public apology? Those kind of questions loom large, and so we formulated the policy we formulated.

I realize that disagreement, too, causes pain in the body of Christ. These hard learned lessons are important right now as I prepare to be a part of the United Methodist General Conference in 2008. There will be disagreement, and therefore pain. We, as a part of the body of Christ, will experience leg cramps and headaches and muscle spasms because we will disagree about important issues. Some of this pain is unavoidable, until we are able to reach consensus on difficult issues – and I don’t see that happening within the next year. And while I hate to be the cause of pain for anyone, there will be times when I need to stand on principle and disagree with a sister and brother in Christ. And they will do the same.

How we disagree matters. We can minimize some of the inevitable pain by disagreeing in love rather than rancor. I will continue to work on that. It will also serve me well if I can watch how I try to be funny. Sometimes I need to let the laugh go by so as not to create more pain in the body of Christ. I am working on that as well.

Trying to be more like Jesus than Don Rickles,

With Faith and With Feathers,



Brent Olson said...

This is actually something I know something about, ever since I wrote a column making fun of the way the English eat mushy peas and received hate mail from as far away as Wales and New Zealand.

Saying something with humor can take the edge off a discussion, make it possible to enter into serious territory that you wouldn't have dared tred otherwise.

And, truthfully, if you manage to say something without offending anyone, odds are, you haven't said much at all.


David said...

Thanks for your encouraging words, Brent. It was really nice to see you and Robin last week.


Teri Tangen said...

David, I have also had the experience of "eating" my humor. Not only does humor take the edge off a discussion, as Brent mentioned, it can also help one deal with a difficult situation. The thing for one to learn is when is the appropriate time and place to interject with humor. I still reflect, with tears, on a time I interjected humor and afterwards I felt it was not appropriate nor helpful to the other person. I can only hope that I am forgiven and that I too can become more like Jesus - full of love and not afraid of difficult situations.

I enjoy your humor in your sermons. At times I look around to try to read the expressions of the faces of other. I do not know if all feel the same as I, however, probably the majority do. I feel humor is good for healing and for the soul. I pray your humor will attract others to participate more in the church. Thank you! Teri

ironic1 said...


While humor is often a dangerous comodity, I tend to err on the side of humor. Why? I find life and truth inherently funny. My best spiritual experiences are accompanied by laughter.

I happened to hear your report at AC and I did not think it lame, but I'm pretty hard to offend.

Lawrence (ironic1)

Michelle said...

I wondered where you were going with the leg cramp, but now I see. I too didn't hear the initial report as insensitive, but it was a hard day for some folks so that changes how things are heard.

I also appreciated your presentation of the policy at the clergy session. I would not feel comfortable in a situation where one colleague was publicly asking forgiveness for sexual misconduct. I don't think I am alone in that, either. It is unfortunate, but I think the BOM policy is thoughtful and compassionate.

Jeff Ozanne said...

First of all I am certainly someone to use humor too often to try and lighten the mood and so I appreciated your reflections on the danger of such well-intentioned actions. I also wanted to ditto what Michelle said about the policy report you made. I know how painful the process can be and the difficult in balancing all sides of such an issue and so I appreciate the thoughtfulness of everyone who worked on the committee.
Keep up the good work,
Jeff Ozanne