When I began this blog at the start of the year, I set a few ground rules for myself.* Among them was the promise that I would stay “relentlessly positive.” I would not give into the temptation to say things that were biting or unfair, nor would I dwell on what is wrong with the world, whether my own or the larger one we share. Looking back over my earlier posts, I can see that I’ve failed occasionally, but succeeded a fair bit as well.
But a week out from Annual Conference, I can already see that my commitment to relentless positivity is in serious jeopardy.
Annual Conference, the yearly gathering of United Methodist leaders in Arkansas, has always made me anxious. Fresh out of seminary, I didn’t really understand what was going on. As I gained more experience, I began to see exactly what was happening at Conference and why—and that made me even more anxious. (I would explain, but that would be breaking my rule.)
This year, however, I vowed not to give in to negative thoughts about the futility that has defined recent Annual Conferences for me. Like my blog rule, I decided to be relentlessly positive.
Until I thought about it, and realized I was wrong.
I don’t mean that I shouldn’t try to be positive. I simply mean that it’s an inadequate marker of faithful leadership.
As structural changes have happened in our Conference, positivity has been elevated to the status of virtue. We are asked for declarations of solidarity and support, for courage as we face uncertainty together, and so on. When someone questions our conference’s direction or decisions, they are quickly labeled as negative-thinking malcontents who fear deep change. Those who are positive are lauded as examples of connectional camaraderie.
But to raise positivity to that level of regard inevitably downplays the value of honesty. We become a kingdom of liars, quick to praise the tailors while the emperor sits naked on his throne.
Still, I think it is possible to be positive in our outlook even as we are honest in our evaluations. Those of us who have remained in the UMC despite our collective frustration remain positive about our future, or at least about God’s work among us going forward.
If our best future is to be realized, however, it will require us to be faithful to the commandment of honesty, even when we speak unwelcome truth to the powers that be. Such speech is called prophetic, and it is vital to the health of the church.
So I have a new mantra: relentless and positive. I’ll keep believing in our future, with honesty as well as hope.
Onward and upward.
* Among my other “rules” was to write as little as possible about church. Blew that big time.