The Parable of the Rubber Chickens

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By Patrick Scriven

I ran into this video a couple of months ago and it made me immediately think about The United Methodist Church. Somehow, this serious looking young man is able to squeeze recognizable music out of a single rubber chicken. But very soon, as more chicken tracks are overlayed (ha), the joyful noise starts to come ever closer to enjoyable. Take a few seconds to listen and come on back…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reviewing some of the key moments leading up to next month’s special called session of General Conference. Even though I attempted to follow each item closely as it was happening, looking back I’m left in awe at the complexity, and sometimes lost in the details. It is no surprise then that some pastors are dreading the task of trying to explain this all to their congregations. (Need help? Check out the resources at: greaternw.org/gc2019)

While our United Methodist story has taken many, many turns since 2016, some things remain the same. Despite the faithful efforts of the Commission on the Way Forward to develop and proffer solutions grounded in a deeply relational approach, many of us hold onto the same positions we did in 2016 and consider it a virtue. Instead of a serious consideration of possibilities that are mindful of the rich complexity of our global church, some continue to declare that unity is impossible, on anything but their terms.

While next month’s General Conference has the potential to greatly impact the inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings in the life of The United Methodist Church, the proposals offered have more to do with the special session’s other named purpose, unity. Whether that unity appears attainable, or a seemingly impossible goal, largely depends on how you choose to define it.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” He continued on a few sentences later to define love as “patient, kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”

Paul’s words were in my head as I listened to those chickens, and I hope they are in the hearts of the delegates to the General Conference in February. Love, not perfect knowledge or doctrine, is the only essential element needed to preserve unity in Christ’s Church. Love, not uniformity, makes it possible for the Spirit to orchestrate our dissonant voices into a polyphonous harmony.

May God find us ready to be instruments, humble enough to accept our small part, and loving enough to listen for beauty amidst the noise beyond our comprehension. And let us, this once, be inspired by chickens…


Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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