{Many Questions and Few Answers Along the Never-Finished Journey of Faith}

General Conference 400 Miles Away: The Art of Compromise

“I shall argue that strong men, conversely, know when to compromise and that all principles can be compromised to serve a greater principle.”

-Andrew Carnegie

Compromise might as well be a 4-letter word these days. Everyone accuses one another of compromising morals, compromising values, or compromising ideals in order to keep peace. It’s as though by compromising, we’re somehow willing to make a deal with the devil. We’d rather champion our personal goals and values. We think the “voice crying out in the wilderness” is much more appealing than a communal pursuit of any common good. Boy I sure hope that’s not the entire story of compromise.

When big issues arise and decisions need to be made by consensus, compromise is quite often the very best course of action. Sure, it might be nice if we lived in a totalitarian regime some days. That way, if you’re ideals lined up with those of the regime’s power, you were always on the “winning side.” But then again, in that scenario there’s quite often another side always being oppressed. Nonetheless, winning debates sure sound appealing.

As our delegates continue their gathering at General Conference in Tampa, FL my hope is for a spirit of compromise on the big issues we face. I know there might be some who would rather take their toys and go home if they don’t see the change they went to Tampa to bring about. But I hope we would remember that we’re Methodists. And it’s part of our Methodist DNA to gather together, and somehow, in the mayhem that ensues, look for signs of holy conferencing and live into them. What makes conferencing holy is the ability to find the will of God above our own personal wills. And that’s a lot harder than it may sound.

I remember a commencement address Stephen Colbert gave at Northwestern University. In it, he told the graduates that he would shy away from the classic graduation remarks like, “You are tomorrow’s leaders. Go and take the future that waits for you.” Colbert reminded them of a lesson he learned at the Second City Improv School in Chicago. “Actors cannot win scenes,” he said. The art of improv is discovered in how you treat your colleagues in the scene as the most important part present. You can’t hog a scene if good improv is to happen. It’s always about the whole group. If everyone treats one another as the most important character, then the scene¬†wins. The collaborative efforts of sharing yourself with others in such a way that the greatest goal is for the scene to win — in spite of our own personal desires to win — is how great improv happens.

I pray that delegates in Tampa hear the call for our scene as United Methodists to win in spite of our personal ambitions. Our life together as United Methodists will be made better when we discover the art of improv acting in community — the ideals of the communal life together always outweigh those personal ideals we might want to champion.

I don’t know if Andrew Carnegie or Stephen Colbert were United Methodists. But I sure hope they were…