Packing for the City of Roses, GC 2016, or Maybe it's About What You Leave Behind
Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 01:08AM
Joe Stobaugh

A disturbing amount of neckties…check. Suits & clergy collars…check. Funky socks (got to have some vibrancy somewhere amidst this sartorial sea of black!)…check. Horn, fresh reeds, mouthpiece, etc. (stoked to play some Brubeck with the great Dan Damon on Saturday, May 14th in worship)…check. Kala Brand Music Co. ukulele, pedalboard, sweet hat, etc.(still can’t believe we have 30 people coming to jam with @GraceAveUkes the last day of General Conference at lunch!)…check. Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions…check…

Rain Jacket…definite check!

Hope (and a massively notated and crossed-off checklist) that I’ve remembered everything at home and @GraceAvenueUMC so that no one has to do too much extra work in my absence…check.

A prayer-soaked attitude that God isn’t done with us Methodists yet, coupled with the hope that we will leave Portland in two weeks with a church that truly lives up to its advertising slogan of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”…check!

The time has come to pack for General Conference 2016: the plane is wheels up 12:25pm Monday. Packing for two weeks away, as a member of the North Texas Delegation and as a musician who will play a few times at GC, is complicated. How am I going to get all this stuff into a manageable arrangement? I remember having this same feeling when I played bass and soprano sax in the house band in 2012. What can I leave at home? What are the essentials?

Over the course of the last four years I’ve become a bit obsessed with traveling light: this recent obession may or may not have something to do with doing more gigs on the ukulele! Perhaps packing light is a good metaphor for all that is to come in Portland.

How can we travel lightly in heavy times?

Continuing my packing list, I’m packing conviction, hope, a passion for justice and inclusion and a healthy sense of humor, to be sure. I’m also packing my ears: the opportunity to listen to many people abounds. Perhaps wisdom may be found? I’m packing an open heart and a prayer that the Spirit will continue to open the church to new ways of being, of loving, of pursuing justice, of sharing the good news of the Reign of God in the world. I’m packing light because I hope to be able to fill up my bags on the way home with some hard-earned wisdom, hope and evidence of a changed church, and a deepened compassion for all of God’s people.

Thankfully, the aforementioned pieces will not count against my 50lbs. weight limit!

Maybe it’s what we choose to leave behind that really matters.

As Miles Davis, B.B. King, and so many other masters of improvisation were quick to point out, it’s about the notes you choose NOT to play…

I’m not going to pack a heart filled with judgement for anyone. I am not packing the need to demonize those who disagree with me. I’m not going to pack one of my favorite Gen-X indulgences: that easy and, at times, lazy cynicism that is so comforting. (I would love to promise I won’t be purchasing any for the return flight when I’m up there but it is a habit that has been three decades in the making.) I’m not bringing plans for finding time for a lot of sleep. And I’m not going to pack my (at times substantial) pride in my point-of-view. I wonder, if all of us traveling to Portland could steep ourselves in prayer, listening to one another’s stories, and humility, perhaps we could discern the movement of God’s Spirit among us, muster up the courage to find Jesus out in the world, and join in the work that he is already doing? I’m also going to leave at home that crushing feeling, that horribly heavy sensation, that nothing is going to happen in Portland. Yes, the UMC is a big ship and it takes time to turn a big ship but big ships ARE capable of turning, and in the right set of circumstances, big ships can turn quicker than we might be inclined to think.

It’s time for us to pack light, to be open to new movements, to humility, wisdom, kindness, and improvisation. God isn’t done with us yet!

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