By Todd Burris

General Conference Lay Delegate

“Anything made by man will break.”

These were the wise words of Mr. Jemison. I can’t say that he was wrong, but at the time all I wanted to know was why the air conditioner wasn’t working. I wish he hadn’t been so prophetic when it came to the heat and air in our office. Mr. Jemison retired years ago but every time something stops working I still hear his voice reminding me, “Anything made by man will break.”

A few years ago, a large tree in front of Conway First UMC died. A chainsaw artist was brought in to carve a shepherd out of the base of the tree. The artist carved the shepherd holding a sheep with “I will never let go” engraved on the base. Many people worked hard to preserve the carving. Special oils and varnishes were used. Then one day, I drove up and saw the shepherd laying on its back, still clutching the sheep. No matter how many layers of varnish we put on the outside, we simply couldn’t stop the rot and deterioration happening on the inside.

I was asked to write this article about what the Bible means to me. To me, the Bible is a love story or at least a collection of love stories. In nearly every chapter, there is a story of prophets and disciples showing their love for God and each other. In fact, Jesus tells us this in Matthew 22 when asked, “what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He says to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:40 CEB)

Hymn #408, The Gift of Love, has long been my favorite hymn. The lyrics are from 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a great reminder that, regardless of our personal achievements, unless our motivation is love, we are nothing more than a clanging gong or clashing cymbal. Even if I did everything right by the letter of the law, but I did not do so out of love for God and neighbor, then I am nothing.

I keep hearing over and over again that our denomination is broken. Mr. Jemison tried to warn me. I want to fix it. As a delegate to General Conference, I feel like I’ve been charged with fixing it. But all we seem to do is add more layers of varnish. Let’s be clear, God’s church is not broken. Our denominational structure and self-governance are what needs to be fixed and it won’t be fixed with the clanging gongs of resolutions or the clashing cymbals of petitions and amendments because our love story is not about this church. It’s about God and each other.

In reality, it’s not the denomination I’m trying to save – it’s me. Or rather, it’s about my love story. Do I love my church because of the many lives it impacts on a daily basis or do I love my church because it’s simply what I know? Do I love the Lord my God with all my heart and soul or do I go to church because that’s what is expected?

I strive to be better and I’m inspired by those around me. We all struggle with the inner decay of envy and greed. We long for power and relevance sometimes at the expense of others as these are the traits that are rewarded in this life. It is the love that we share in Christ Jesus that binds us together, so I find comfort in knowing that the Shepherd will never let go and I pray that my words are not just another noisy gong.