There’s a worship song that’s stuck in my head at the moment but in that frustrating way where it’s only one phrase, one part of the song running over and over again without letting me get to the rest of the song so I even know what it is. The phrase is “this is the people we are,” and it’s a sucker punch to me today because I am having a really, really hard time with the people we are.
I just finished my United Methodist Church Annual Conference, which is four days of 1,800 people bickering and worshiping and chatting and judging and connecting with each other. It’s a very weird space, to be honest, that is both outrageously holy and maddeningly horrible. It was less painful than last year and we passed a lot of pretty toothless legislation of how the conference would encourage churches to think about taking stands on some things. I don’t mind so much that that we aren’t forcing churches into action because I love that the UMC is trying to hold a lot of different opinions together; what I mind is this appearance of engaging things without being anything other than lukewarm.
Is this the people we are? Are we folks who value unity more than decisiveness? Because #TrueConfession: I am that person. If I decide that I like someone or some organization, I will fight like hell to keep it together even if I know that that isn’t the best course of action. (It takes an awful lot for me to like someone or something, so part of it is the invested time. I’m also hella allergic to change, which is hilarious considering my life pattern and my profession.) So will I avoid the conflict of saying we need to take a stand on this? Yep. For as long as I can.
To some degree, I think that’s a good trait. My being less inclined to force a decision means I get invited to a lot of different kinds of spaces that I might not otherwise be. It means people feel that I don’t judge when I listen (which is sort of true; some of that is that I have a better poker face than people think). It means that I will stay in a conversation or relationship for a while because it matters to me to preserve that even when I’m mad about it.
But for sure there’s a downside. My being less inclined to force a decision means I stay silent when I absolutely should not. It means I allow myself to be a bit of a doormat sometimes. It means I don’t call people on bullshit that is harmful and cruel.
One of the things that is hard to talk about in a post-modernist world (which is a fancy term that just means we are beyond the mindset that somebody termed “modernist” that characterized the last half of the 20th century) is the idea of Truth. One of the tenets of the post-modernist school of thought is that situation determines concept; if I’m from, say, Texas, I’m going to think about things like spacial relation and a relationship with Mexico differently than if I’m from Vermont. Or if I’m a white woman (which I am), I’m going to approach a text or event differently than if I’m a black man. And I can’t ever not be affected by that; if I’m a white woman from Texas, I can’t ever sidestep the way that shapes my thinking.
Unfortunately, this really easily becomes a conversation about whether or not there can be any idea or concept that is true across contexts. If my viewpoint can be changed by my outlook/situation/background, it will always be different than anyone else’s since no one else has the same combination of events and personality and such that I do. So can anything be capital T True? Some post-modernists would say no, all is relative.
I think that’s crap, and I think that’s how we get into spaces like this Annual Conference’s wishy-washy legislation and my general distaste for asking people (myself included) to declare where we stand on Hard Issues. It is not relative that children should not be starved or separated from their loved ones and traumatized. That’s bad. It just is. Why it’s bad can be relative; how it happens can be relative. But the idea of whether or not you should be able to harm children carries across every aspect of healthy humanity. Likewise, we shouldn’t be afraid of people simply because they look different than us. How that fear manifests is relative. Who that fear is about is relative. But simply looking at a person and fearing him/her without any other information at all is not a mark of healthy humanity.
So when we have legislation in the Church that talks about how the Church deals with sexuality, I get that it’s a firestorm because the how is murky depending on ideology and position. When we have legislation that deals with U.S. wars and the Church’s position in supporting or speaking against them, I get that people get heated. But when we have stuff that’s about whether we should speak against kids being put in cages and left alone, or whether it’s a bad idea to treat women as subhuman, and there’s debate on that? That’s crap. Those are absolutes. The value of a human being a human and not being harmed for simply being a human is a Truth.
Unless that is not the people we are. In which case, we need to really look at what kind of people we have actually become.