What are we doing here?

May 13, 2016
Rukang Chikomb, a delegate from the North-West Katanga annual conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaks to General Conference. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS

So, how do you feel about technology? Most days, I am a fan. Love my smartphone. Texting is a great invention to stay connected with people. Using images and videos and screens can add a lot to worship. So this year at General Conference, they are trying to use technology to manage the debate and conversation at General Conference. If someone wants to speak to an item, they enter their name into the iPad on the table, and they go into an electronic queue for the presiding bishop to call on.

The problem is the technology is not flexible enough to keep up with moves of the debate. People enter their name to speak on a item, and all of a sudden, you have an amendment, and now you need a new queue but there is no way to do that without clearing out the old queue. And that is presuming that the iPad at your table is working! So dealing with the technology has actually clogged the process, to the point where one delegate stood and simply asked, “What are we doing here?”

I keep wondering what John Wesley would be thinking about all this. I doubt he ever envisioned the legislative process in the way it is unfolding. And yet, John was an early adopter of technology. He was willing to use whatever means possible to spread the word about Jesus Christ. Whether it was having his brother Charles write new words to current music to teach theology or creating a publishing house to fund his ministry and publish his writings or going to the masses to preach in the field, if it could help him reach one more, he was not afraid to try it.

I am glad we are willing to be technologically innovative, but sometimes the simple way works a whole lot better. Instead of emailing, step away from your desk and walk down the hall and have that conversation with a coworker. Instead of seeing the world through the camera of your smartphone and posts on Facebook, put the phone down and just soak in the beauty of nature.

Technology should serve us, not the other way around. I applaud the effort at General Conference, but it might be time to let people simply line up at a microphone and get called on there instead of managing the conversation through an electronic list.  

When you can answer well the question “What are we doing here?” then you are better able to discern what means will help us accomplish that, and you will know when something is working or not, and when it is time to find a better way. That could well be a metaphor for this entire General Conference.

Do we have a clear and shared understanding of what we are doing here? I am not so sure about that. We have many agendas. And that is what is making this General Conference so muddy and clogged in its process.

Make it so simple and clear, O God, that we cannot mistake your word and desire for us, and may we abandon anything and everything that does not lead to life and your purposes for us!

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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