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Caseythoughts I spent three days last week at the United Methodist Annual Conference. As its name implies, it is a yearly get-together required by Methodist rules to convene and discuss matters affecting a Methodist 'conference' (which is a geographic designation as well) which in our case is 900 United Methodist churches in upstate New York excluding NYC.

More than 1500 people gathered at Onondaga Community College and hashed out (in some cases, anyway) differences of opinion on matters ranging from budgets, allocations, spiritual directions for the coming year, political divisions and issues, as well as ongoing controversies. I will not address the most pressing and divisive issue facing the United Methodists in this column (national media will soon enough take on this task), and it should be noted that this issue has the potential to permanently divide Methodists, and if schism results, the media will dive into it like carrion. My words will be like snowflakes in the crossfire if and when that happens. And, thus, with that feeling of painful division of opinion and issue in mind, I begin another idealistic ramble.

My thoughts are centered on Saturday morning of the conference, for many attendees (and this was my fourth annual conference) the worship service is the most inspirational. It is conducted by the youth, those ranging from about twelve or so to their very early twenties, about thirty young men and women (in a way, children, don't you know) of varied backgrounds and ethnicity, rural and urban, speaking and singing earnestly and confidently as only youth can speak and emote, with short vignettes of faith, of peaceful co-existence, some tearful stories, some joyful stories. Old, cynical, worldly me is brought to tears as I watch and immerse myself in the spectacle of song and sermon, faith and hope, these child/adults expressing as much hope in their thirty or so hearts as probably exists in the 1500 or more adult spectator/participants. The joy bursting forth from that stage at eight o'clock on Saturday morning was immeasurable, and incredible.

While observing this quietly from my preferred seat 'way in the back' of the auditorium, my thoughts also went to Parkland High School in Florida, and so many other locales of violence in schools and churches in America, and later in the day I realized that Parkland was getting ready to graduate its senior class, with attendant media using it's pain as backdrop for the national media weekend newscasts. A few thoughts on this contrast:

Where is the media to broadcast and spread the word about the faith, hope and joy of the young people at our annual conference and other positive venues? They, too, experience the pain and disappointment of youth and human frailty, the fears and busted expectations, the threat of violence in their own rural and urban schools and churches, yet choose to express faith, hope and love in song and spirit, sermon as well as example, on stage for the world to see and join. Where's the media coverage for this?

But it is a much better media show (read: circus macabre) to show angry, politically minded teens who would prefer to speak forcefully (yes, albeit from the heart, as my generation did) of political action, marches on capitols, and threats to overturn and overcome anyone in politics (and others?) who do not hew to their point of view (regardless of their sincerity which I am willing to acknowledge). The political 'solution', in otherwords. Yes, the teens on national television and social media are angry and afraid, but so often, too, are the kids who took the stage in Syracuse last Saturday morning, and the differences are stark, and clear: the media coverage of Parkland and other tragedies exacerbate the divided nature of their parents' world and politics, and even the children are now divided, while the quiet ones of faith hope and love hold out their arms in openness, gently, while the media pokes and prods and goads the loudness, the angry, and those who are learning that political posturing gets the 'ink' and the cameras, while a more spiritual and heart-felt message is ignored.

But, if I may add one other piece to this (call it a non sequitur if you wish, but I think not). This past weekend's Financial Times carried a small, almost unnoticed piece on the German state of Bavaria that put a new law into effect. It requires 'crosses to be hung in entrances of all public buildings'. Bavaria's Prime Minister, Marcus Soder, said it was 'an affirmation of our cultural and historical, as well as our spiritual values'.

Although this is not the first time the Bavarian law has attempted this, the effort gained impetus from the recent influx of almost a million refugees into Germany, many from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, stoking the ire of many Germans and raising the stature and voting power of the AfD party (Alternative for Germany) with anti-immigrant slogans and demagoguery, quite right of the political 'center'.

The German Bishop's Conference called the law a 'provocation', which had sown 'division, unrest and conflict'. The Green party stated it was 'abusing the cross... deliberately mixing religion and politics'. Fifty six percent of Bavarians polled favored the law, thirty eight percent against.

Here is the law, basically verbatim: '...cross should be hung, in a visible place, in the entrance hall of every office building as an expression of Bavaria's social and cultural identity.' It affects all ministries, police stations and courts, but is 'non-binding' on museums, opera houses and theaters. Most schools already have crosses displayed voluntarily, by the way.

It strikes me that this law (not the symbol of the cross) is, realistically, the virtual division between the two social ideals that encompass much of the western world today as we face violence, war, factionalism, hurts, anger, even the divisions which threaten to divide mainline denominations in the world of organized religion. The same valley that separates the two expressions of high schoolers: both on stage this weekend, but one 'side' speaking and singing of hope, spirituality and love, while its opposite (yin/yang?) speaks of politics and political 'solutions'. America wrestles with violence (sectarian, religious, terrorist) as Germany does, and both countries lean to conjuring up new laws and old politics to heal what can really only be healed by something much bigger and stronger than the inanity and worthlessness of political arguments, ad nauseum. As someone wiser than many of us once said, we cannot solve problems with the same brain that created those problems. The thinking that created that problem seems not capable of coming up with solution, at least not in the same old patterns we have become accustomed to, and the thinking that our young ones have a tendency to rightly reject so forcefully.

The 'new thinking' does not find answers in religious symbols hung over our government doors (or static displays in front of courthouses) which only seem to aggravate tension, a psychic poke in the eye, so to speak, well meaning, we assume, that the expression of religious symbol may be... Nor does new thinking exist in marches, or laws, or even confrontation which so often degenerates into the same 'old thinking' and recrimination, and shouting, and worse. This 'new thinking' (as expressed by the teens in Syracuse, and so many thousands of hopeful teens across the country) appears to be ages old, a millennia of understanding by young and old, historically verifiable, gained by young and old, every color and creed; that is, standing up on a stage, in front of the world, but sans media exposure, and expressing age-old truths. Faith, hope and love will stand, and withstand, all the negativity, pain and violence that the world is throwing at us, and at our youth.

These young people on stage at the Methodist conference were not talking religion, per se, for religion is not really their message. These young people put spirituality and love at the top of their 'bucket list', and prove to us, as Wayne Dyer put it (rest his soul) "There is a spiritual solution to every problem". Not in specific religions (for religions are also divided by the same old laborious and tortured thinking and feelings, potential schisms and divisions), not in laws or court decisions, but personal, deeply felt decisions based on a faith, a hope, and a love that transcends all of those things which divide us... those kids on stage exemplified this. Listening to our hearts about truths that we know, in our hearts, to be true, and that transcend much of the distrust which threaten us, and the young people on stages and in classrooms around our world. I realized I had to choose between hope and despair that morning. I went with the kids on stage in Syracuse: I chose hope, as they did, and do.

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