It’s been making the rounds on Twitter but I couldn’t begin to tell you where it actually is located. It’s understandable, however, why some on the internet have dubbed it the “Church of the Confused Chicken,” for clearly there is a poultry-like prominence to its profile.
With all apologies to the members of that particular congregation, however– though what on earth was the architect thinking?--I hope its recent appearance is not an ominous sign concerning our own denomination as we begin our quadrennial assembly this week in Portland, Oregon. For clearly we would seem to be in a fairly high stakes game of “chicken” as well when it comes to how we are going to learn to live together while holding to some vastly disparate views.
The presenting issues are complicated ones, of course, for when you deal with something so essential as religious beliefs about life they are seldom all that simple. Homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, immigration, the Middle East–you name it and we’ll probably talk about it at the General Conference, along with a host of other internal matters such as how to best organize, the tenure of bishops, and whether or not United Methodist pastors should have a kind of genuine job security that virtually no else in our society still has today. (Perhaps you can guess my take on that one.)
In turn, the forces on all sides have already begun to gather in Portland where some 864 delegates from around the world will be met at the airport by sign-wielding demonstrators, with far more waiting at the convention center. Indeed, some who object to our current stance on same-sex matters have already announced that their strategy will be to disrupt and derail wherever possible, believing they will not be able to prevail in the voting for the church to change its current position.
What might happen, however, if everyone could simply agree that while civil–or more correctly ecclesial–disobedience is appropriate at times, downright civil war is not. For no matter how deeply some may wish to align themselves with one stance or another, ultimately the deepest self-identification must be that we are all children of God and as such, we have an obligation to treat one another as genuine sisters and brothers.
As one of those 864 delegates, thus, I hope to take my cue from Peter Marshall who once offered the following suggestion in one of the prayers he gave as the chaplain of the U.S. Senate long ago:
“Our Father, I think of all the pain and heartache, the tears and sorrow, the greed and cruelty unloosed around the world. Help me to be an instrument of Thine to alleviate the pain, by this day: returning good for evil, returning soft answers for sharp criticisms, being polite when I receive rudeness, being understanding when I am confronted by ignorance and stupidity.
“So may I, in gentleness and love, check the hasty answer, choke back the unkind retort, and thus short-circuit some of the bitterness and unkindness that has overflowed Thy world. I ask this in the name of Jesus, who alone can give me the grace so to act. Amen.”
And that’s a prayer even Chicken Little should be able to get behind.
(Author’s note: For the next two weeks my blog will center around what is happening in Portland at what I believe may be one of the most momentous conferences in the history of our church. My apologies for those not interested in the United Methodist Church–please feel free to check out for a while if you like while we try to figure it out in Portland.)