Dispatches from Gen(eral) Ass(embly) 2017

Every now and then something happens that warrants a special post in addition to the usual first-of-the-month offerings. A few weeks ago, General Assembly happened, and NazToo’s own Patrick Taylor stepped up and answered the call for a NazToo blogger to cover the denomination’s largest gathering. But Patrick didn’t work alone. He assembled a crack team of NazToo reporters who sent back their dispatches from the front, which are presented here. This post, then, is divided into four sections.

  • An Introduction by Patrick Taylor
    • Rev. Patrick Taylor pastors in Aiken, SC, where he lives with his wife Carissa. Patrick graduated from TNU in 2010, and was a youth pastor on the Mid-South district for 5 years.
  • A General (Assembly) Journal by Hank Spaulding
    • Hank Spaulding is a doctoral student in Christian Ethics, and adjunct professor of Church history, who lives in Mount Vernon, Ohio with his family. He loves fried chicken, his favorite color is green like the green Power Ranger, and his  turn-ons are limited to his girlfriend and fellow NazToo member, Michaela Bruce.
  • A report on the NazToo Meetup by Keegan Osinski
    • A previous NazToo blogger, Keegan Osinski is a librarian and MTS student at Vanderbilt University. She grew up in Southern California and received her BA in Philosophy & Theology from Point Loma Nazarene University before moving to Nashville, where she now lives with her partner and two pugs and has cultivated an appreciation for biscuits and lightnin’ bugs. You can find more of her work at keeganosinski.com and follow her on Twitter @keegzzz.
  • And finally, “Home,” a poem by Jim Waters
    • Jim Waters has been Nazarene since grade school. He holds a BA in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Trevecca Nazarene University as well as a MA in Theology from the same institution. Most recently, he completed a Master of Theological Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville TN, and graduated first honors in the area Ethics. He has a wide variety of interests but mainly focuses his research at the intersections of Religion, Ideology, Difference, and Social Movement Theory.

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Pictured above: Carissa and Patrick Taylor, Hank Spaulding, Keegan Osiniski and Jim Waters.

                                                                                                                         

Introduction

Patrick Taylor

You don’t have to be familiar with the church of the Nazarene long before you pretty well know what to expect–General Assembly is no different. Certainly those of us comfortable with the moniker of being Nazarene “Too” expected the questionable merch being peddled on the exhibition floor–the “pastor’s wife” shirts, the LuLaRoe leggings, the next independent Christian movie, the crucified Jesus made of balloons. We expected at least one of the General Superintendents’ sermon would be a bit out of left field–and boy was it. And surely we expected many of the arguments from the assembly floor–the one that said assembly should be held every four years so we can eat desserts to win souls for Jesus, the one that said we shouldn’t have a statement on solidarity with the marginalized because some people might use that to, well, do what it says, and we definitely expected the what seemed like hundreds of instances where people wanted to speak but weren’t following the rules of order (seriously folks, come on).

What we didn’t expect, however, was how inspiring and encouraging General Assembly would be. At the heart of this crazy mess of people called Nazarenes is the church that saved, raised, and educated many of us, and this beautiful thing called church somehow took center-stage amidst it all. There is something to say about the fact that this General Assembly was so meaningful to many who undoubtedly went in at least as cynical as I was, flying into Indianapolis. By the time I flew out, I was that much more grateful for this ridiculous body of people I am proud to call my own.

                                                                                                                           

A General (Assembly) Journal

Hank Spaulding

 Tuesday June 20th

I arrived on Tuesday and found myself alone as soon as I arrived in Indianapolis, IN. My parents, whom I had come with that day, had another event to be at so I was on my own. I stayed in the Marriott next to the Convention center. The main reason to arrive this day is if you’re a person who needs to set up an exhibit or be in some important meeting.

I was not one of those people.

However, I kind of liked this. I got to wander around and look at stuff without a lot of people around. Everything was pretty bare the first day. Most of the booths were not set up and the displays were incomplete. At this point, the hall was less like the Gap where you’re constantly accosted by college information, investment opportunities, and new Christian movies. So it had its charm and I was free to roam as I pleased.

I really enjoyed three booths:

1) NPH/Foundry: I love this booth because I love books. I don’t buy too many Nazarene books but I bought a few that I really wanted. This was probably the best haul of Nazarene books.

A Theology of Love 2nd Edition by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop: This book is one of the more famous books in Nazarene theology. It’s one of the only ones to get a second edition. I wanted this one because I really liked the first edition, though I have my reservations, and wanted this one because it has interpretive and contextual essays by Tom Noble, Scott Daniels, and Diane Leclerc.

Atonement and Salvation by Eric Vail: Eric is a friend, and this book is a beginning of series in theology. I think in a time when we struggle with a good doctrinal statement on Atonement this book is helpful.

A Plain Account of Christian Perfection by John Wesley Edited and Annotated Randy Maddox and Paul Chilcote: To my knowledge Maddox has never annotated a copy of A Plain Account. Love of Wesley and Maddox’s interpretation of Wesley is the reason for this purchase.

Embracing Exile by Scott Daniels with DVD: I really enjoy Scott Daniels work and wanted this for a possible study at my church. This is a outgrowth of the USA/Canada Nazarene theology conference. So it’s a really interesting conversation on exile and Christian practice.

The Cappadocian Mothers by Carla Sunberg: This is Carla’s dissertation. I have read her dissertation, but like this edition. It has an awesome forward by Tom Noble and is a really provocative study of the Mothers of Cappadocia. This is good for those looking for more information about the Cappadocian Mothers, Cappadocians, Deification soteriology, and the theology of the third and fourth centuries. Highly recommended.

Holy Trinity, Holy People by Tom Noble. Holiness theology is often dominated by reflections on personal experience. Noble’s book contextualizes holiness within the doctrine of the Trinity. I like this.

2) Love Wins: This was one of the main booths I wanted to see. Andy and his team are wonderful people who had to deal with a lot this week and confronted it with love and grace. I picked up a lot of material on this ministry. However, I did not win a mug. I got to shake Andy’s hand and meet his mother along with the rest of his staff.

I hate what Everett Piper said.

I hate that some in our church fundamentally reject this ministry.

I hate that we cannot see the victimization of people.

But this ministry is breaking barriers and I love that. All they have done is love, and I admit that I would struggle to love people who hate me. We can learn so much for Love Wins.

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3) Wesley Investment Foundation: Full confession, this was one of my favorites because I won a MacBook Pro. I also got free glasses cleaner which is one of those things I didn’t know I needed until I got it.

Anyway, not much else happened this day. But I did want to reflect on heading to dinner. I ran into a bunch of people on my way to dinner. I, like all good Christians that week, went to Chick Fil A, which is a short walk from the convention center. I ran into a former youth pastor, a current work colleague, and a college friend. These are people from three different periods of my life. I remember a post from somewhere in NazToo where Keegan wrote of her first desire to be Nazarene. I think she mentioned that a college professor knew a ton about all the Nazarene students because he was Nazarene. She desired entry into this community because it was beautiful to be so family-like. I agree. I talked to my youth pastor and his wife who I have not seen for 10 years just like he was my present day work colleague. I find this profound and wonderful. We are a family.

However, despite this being a family I realize there were people I didn’t want to see. I don’t know if that makes me less charitable, but I realize that it’s true. I spent the week avoiding a few people I didn’t want to see. Being a Nazarene isn’t all sunshine. Rather, it’s just like anything else. It’s good and bad. You take what you can get. So there were a lot of mixed emotions this first day.

Wednesday June 21st

The second day had lots of people attend. I spent this day just walking around the exhibit hall finding people to talk to. Most of the day I helped with the MVNU booth. It’s always fun to interact with current students and prospective students. I realize there is a lot of ministries and choices facing college students and soon-to-be college students. Here are a few examples represented in the exhibit hall:

1) Motorcycle ministry

2) Cowboy Ministry

3) Movie Ministry

4) T-Shirt Ministries

5) Shepherd’s Community (Based in Indy, check them out)

6) International Missions

7) One of several Nazarene Universities and Graduate Opportunities

8) Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

9) The Nazarene Sponsored Ministries

This is a list with a variety of opportunities. Most of these opportunities you can find out about online. Some I appreciate and others I have questions about. I think you can see the wide variety here. It’s very dizzying. I also think, with all the humility I can, that there is a disparity between the attention some ministries get. I think that Nazarene Compassionate Ministries got some really good attention. I acknowledge and appreciate that, but I think the efforts of those who serve the poor, which is not as marketable as a movie ministry, go unrecognized. Again, I say this with the utmost humility and sincerity. I know a lot of people involved in these ministries and they are good, well-intentioned people. I just point to the disparities between what gets promoted and what doesn’t.

Thursday June 22nd

This was the day that most of my friends arrived and most of the people who were going to attend the assembly. Today was the first day of the worship gatherings at night.

Most of what I did during the day was the same as the day before walking around and finding people that I wanted to talk to. One conversation was of note.

I spoke with a member of my alma mater at their booth. He is a generation older than me. He is a great guy. We talked about the church, and while he was not a theologian I was greatly moved by what he had to say.

He mourns the church. Like some in his generation it is about change, but it is not just the millennials or new thoughts. He mourns our divisions. He mourns our ability to talk to each other. He, different from most, recognizes that the issue is not that generations fundamentally disagree, but that we have lost the ability to discuss. He understands the problem is not a millennial problem, but a problem of us all. There are a lot of issues facing the church. General Assembly shows us all that. He and I talked about serious and genuine conversation has to take place. Not for the sake of one group compromising all their positions into uniformity, nor should this be the price for entering the conversation. We agreed that the Church needs to be able to house distinct and drastic differences while maintain its love for one another under the things that we do agree upon. The disagreements we have, for the most part, are not doctrinal. We believe in the triune God, the incarnation and resurrection, and in holiness. We disagree about ministry, about sexual orientation, and gender identity among other things. The fundamentalist fear that if we don’t conform we die, must pass from our congregation. We concluded our conversation by discussing the Eucharist. It reminds me of Paul’s exhortations on the Body of Christ and the practice of the Lord’s supper respectively. The mutual affection in the community is required. Even on an issue such as the consumption of idol meat, the Pauline community chose to love each other and hold their differences in tension without harming or causing one another to stumble. There is a lot to unpack in this passage, but it is enough to say that for Paul a community can disagree as long as they do not harm one another and love each other in and through Christ. This is where we ended our conversation, and I think in that hope we remain.

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The real central event of Thursday was the worship service. Every four years the assembly is held in America. It is mostly in English, but they try a few minor moves toward doing services in other languages. However, it is hopelessly an English-led service.

The highlight was Gustavo Crocker’s sermon. I think that his preaching resonated with me on two levels:

1) He told a story about a pair of Nazarene churches that were able to reconnect a mother who had been trafficked to her children. This was, for Crocker, an example of a holiness people. The Nazarene Church has focused, almost exclusively, on personal pietism. However, holiness is inherently social. Crocker commented that the holiness people went where social workers dared not go and brought this family back together.

2) He mentioned that he could lose his passport and knock on the door of any Nazarene church and be taken care of. I think this is a beautiful part of our church.

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Friday June 23rd

I went to the mini-conference on worship on Friday. It was a great day. Here are the reflections I have:

1) The worship was great. It was led by Brannon Hancock, Rick James, Andrea Corzine Garcia, and others. It was just hymns. Nothing flashy, but so great.

2) Jesse Middendorf gave the first plenary address. Dr. Middendorf’s main point was that Good worship is measured as the difference between memory and nostalgia. This plagues the church. What prevents dialogue is a longing for a past that will never return. Christianity and Christ become an object of the past and not the God of the Scriptures and historic creeds. This is an issue.

3) The second plenary address was given by Dr. Brent Peterson. Dr. Peterson asked one question: How do you know what you are doing is Christian? This is a question of worship, but also of ethics. Dr. Peterson sees a connection between the two. Worship is about the affirmation that we are created to glorify God. The word for liturgy, which is so essential to any worship, simply means work. Worship is about work. Furthermore, the point that Dr. Peterson makes is that work of the sort that Christian worship draws us to is the work of freedom from fear. In his understanding, fear is a demon impacting our churches. One that can only be exorcised by proper worship of God. Worship invites humanity into the goodness of God, which is the authority out of which we act. Therefore, worship is the constant return to this goodness, the repentance of our failure to act out of this goodness, and a prayer to God asking for faithfulness and the affirmation that what we do is Christian.

4) I attended the seminar with Pastor Tara Beth Leach and Marcos Canales. Their topic was missional worship. Their church has gone through some major transition in the last decade, and they, as a church, have asked serious questions about what kind of worship helps assist in their transition back into their community. Marcos provided what I thought was the most profound insight of the entire conference, namely his reflection on white privilege against missional worship. In his experience, discourses of safety and national security dominate our worship leading to the muting of the church to other people. This is how the community around the Church can change without notice or care of the church itself. He reflected on how white normativity dominates the church. So, for example, white English-speaking Christians expect the General Assembly to be in English. He asked what kind of church would we have to be in order for English speakers to sit through a service and, for the most part, try and guess what is going on. Until this happens we will lack the compassion to truly come together. White normativity, colonization of the Church must be healed and worship is the means.

Friday, I also went to the NazToo meet up. It was probably one of my favorite times. I met some people I have only met online. It was such a great time of fellowship. Also, it made me feel like maybe I am not alone in the church, which may be the whole point of NazToo. (Read more about the NazToo meetup in Keegan Osinski’s subsequent entry)

Monday June 26th – Thursday June 29th

I want to reflect on the two General Superintendents elected and certain resolutions rather than each day.

The two general superintendents were great choices. I speak only as a White American here so I fully embrace that this is not the experience of the whole world. Based on the last presidential election where fanaticism and fear won the day, where racism, suspicion of individuals from other nations, and sexism became not only popular, but deemed virtuous, I was thrilled by the Church here. I was afraid the climate by the American representatives would impact the elections. They did not. I am not sure the make-up of the whole General Assembly but I know there are a ton of USA/Canada delegates. I know that Americans are not the only ones voted in, but I was still afraid.

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JUD-813 Entire Sanctification

I think this should have been treated in the same manner as CA 701. There should have been a paper delivered explaining the theology and study of this article. Luckily it got referred. Hopefully when it is brought back it will have more care. I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Wesley operating in the Church and we are reaping that now.

CA-701 Human Sexuality

Very well-done resolution. I appreciate the attention and care was taken in writing it, but also to present a theology paper on the floor that describes the position in detail. I think more of this needs to happen.

I think this is much better than what we had previously. As a colleague of mine said, this takes us farther than we have ever been on this issue, and it is the job of the next generation to take it further.

JUD-831 The Lord’s Supper

This is a rewrite of a ritual and affirmation that I very much appreciated. This for the first time affirms real presence in the sacrament. I also think it is fascinating that this went through without conflict.

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LA-411 Electronic & Multi-Site Meetings

Strangely controversial. I think it is funny that real-presence went through without a question, but electronic voting took an hour of debate and was referred. My non-Nazarene friends even heard about this one through Twitter. All in all if this is where our controversy is known then I will take it.

CA-724-Gender Identity

This had the potential to be a disaster. It was contradictory and poorly phrased. I think that it, like human sexuality, should have been presented in a committee with a paper consulting a wide variety of scholars in various fields. I think it was just not given enough attention. Hopefully it will receive that at the next GA.

CA-700 Human Freedom

I was happy to see this one go through. It is well written and affirms our position against all forms of slavery. As a holiness people this is essential.

CA-704a Discrimination

Just like CA-700 I was glad to see this pass. Really globally we do not struggle with these. We, as holiness folk, do not support slavery and racism/sexism. It was so great to see this pass.

Overall, I enjoyed the debates. I wanted more to get passed but I recognize it’s not all about what I want. I do detect, and I hope this isn’t indicative of what we can expect in the future, that if people want to subvert a resolution and not deal with the argument then they appeal to two issues, namely international representation and translation. The people who would often appeal to these lines of defense were American. For example, a delegate from America stood up in protest of CA-701 citing international representation in order to vote it down. This was not unusual. Now these protests really were not about international representation, because if they were then we would have unanimously voted to meet for GA every 5 years. Americans really only care about the global nature of the church when it does not threaten our position of power. This form of protest worked a few times but didn’t others. I hope it is not a trend.

                                                                                                                                                

Black Sheep & Leavening: On the NazToo Meetup

Keegan Osinski 

Being a black sheep can be lonely. You don’t quite fit in–you couldn’t if you tried–you rub people the wrong way, you get looks and lectures and bless-your-hearts. But if enough black sheep are herded together, say in a brewpub in downtown Indianapolis, even for just a few hours, really cool things can happen.

Connection. Networking. Hugs. Laughter. Tears. Stories. Lament. Encouragement.

In The Four Loves, CS Lewis says that friendship begins with the expression, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” To have a part–however small–in facilitating friendships between people who have felt alone in the Church of the Nazarene has been my great privilege and pleasure. To get people in the same room and see what kind of explosive, holy magic can happen is my joy. The meetup for I’m Nazarene Too was an easy highlight of General Assembly. Getting to meet in the flesh people I’d only talked to online was so affirming, and watching people embrace each other for the first time as though it were a reunion was so sweet. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to create such a community permanently. How nice would it be for us all to just abscond to our own little commune where we could be the “normal” ones?

But maybe the lonely life of a black sheep serves a particular purpose. The leavening in the homogenous mass, making things bubble up and rise. A little goes a long way, and you don’t need all of it in one place to make a difference.

Being together was great, but I’m excited to think of all we could accomplish, each returning to our own flocks, emboldened by the knowledge that we aren’t alone, that we have support and encouragement and friends all over who know what it’s like to bring some, shall we say, “diversity” into a space. Getting together is like a reset. A big gulp of air before diving back into the water. A well-deserved furlough before returning to the field. Meetings like this give us strength to keep doing the work we’re called to, even if those at home don’t get us. And that’s a blessing that can keep us going until we meet again.

                                                                                                                                              

Home

Jim Waters

Every four years I go Home

There I pray with many people in many different tongues

I see friends and foes, family and strangers

I remember old-lovers, and reflect on faded friendships

And take pleasure in being among those who love me and my Home as much as I do

Yet, I feel anxious at Home

This House evokes in me a terrible ambivalence

I at once feel, threatened and welcomed

At once, embraced and tolerated

Simultaneously grown and small

Authoritative and without authority.

I find others who feel this way too

Queer brothers and sisters, who are loved and hated

Second cousins, twice removed who are now Methodists

Folks who aren’t quite sure why they even attended

And others who know that they have attended only to say good-bye

Home happens to us there, though

Gradually, we become at Home even

All of us dirty-dancing, cursing, back-masking, back slidden pastor’s kids

are made holy in this space

We are put in right relationship with our Home, simply by showing up, participating and finding one another

And that is the loveliest part of this Home-happening, I think:

If nothing else, coming Home makes this space our Home, too.

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Melissa Smith-Wass: A Beautiful Defeat?

This month’s guest writer is NazToo’s hardest-working admin, Melissa Smith Wass.  She has earned a BA in English, a BS in Philosophy/Theology (Indiana Wesleyan), an MATS in Christian Thought and History (NTS), and an MDiv (United). She starts a doctoral program in Theology at the University of Dayton in August. This November she and her husband Jeff will celebrate 27 years of marriage. They have five children, two grandchildren, two dogs, a cat, and a betta fish named St. Nicholas. She loves the smell of patchouli and dabbles in herbal medicine enough that her children call her a hippie witch.  And she still thinks Simon LeBon is one of the sexiest men alive (#DuranDuran4ever).

(June 30, 2017) This morning over coffee, my oldest daughter Ruthanne looked at my husband Jeff and said, “Guess what tomorrow is?” with barely contained excitement. And, folks, the answer is not Saturday or the holiday weekend or anything other than “. . . the start of the Tour de France.”

See, we’re not a normal white American middle class family. We’re professional cycling fans. Today, the decorations will go up, not for the 4th of July; no, it will be yellow, white, green, and polka dot buntings for le Tour. Our red, white, and blue comes in solid stripes and looks a lot more like the French flag than the American one. We have cheese and homemade baguettes (not so easy when they have to be gluten free!) and we have a subscription to an all-access cycling web service so we don’t miss a single minute.

Now, I know, you have to wonder what this has to do being a Nazarene, too. That is, if you kept reading past the part where I wrote “the Tour de France.” Well, my passion for professional cycling is an awful lot like my passion for the Church of the Nazarene. Let me try to explain.

In 2006, the first year that Lance Armstrong was not at the Tour, the night before the race began, all the major contenders were dismissed by the governing body of cycling for suspected doping. Doping has always been a problem in cycling, ever since the Tour started in 1903. It’s like the dirty little secret that every fan wants to ignore. But it has hurt and scarred our sport. In 1967, British rider Tommy Simpson died of drug related causes while racing up Mont Ventoux. He fell off his bicycle and begged spectators to help him get back on. Remounting his bike, he cycled another 400 meters up the mountain until he became unconscious. His heart had basically exploded and doctors would later say that he was a dead man when he got back on his bike.

I guess I feel the same way sometimes about being in the Church of the Nazarene. Since 1908, we’ve ordained women. We’ve always ordained women. And, we’ve always let them serve wherever men didn’t want to. When my husband left ministry and the Nazarene church, he tried to convince me to do the same. He said, “Being a woman in ministry in the Church of the Nazarene is martyrdom and I don’t want to see you martyred.” But still I stay. I get back on my bike, I continue my education, I work to be a professor if I can’t be a pastor, and I know that, in some ways, I’m a dead man on a bike climbing a mountain.

This year, 2017, is an important year for the Church of the Nazarene and the Tour de France. In the CotN, we elected our second female General Superintendent in Rev. Dr. Carla Sunberg. A gifted and capable woman, Dr. Sunberg is a brilliant addition to the highest level of leadership in our denomination. With her years of experience and her educational background, in no way can Dr. Sunberg be mistaken as a token. 2017 is also the year that Pasadena Church of the Nazarene (one of the largest Nazarene churches in the United States) selected Rev. Tara Beth Leach as Senior Pastor. Again, this is not a token appointment, but a recognition of the hard work and God given gifts in a dedicated female pastor. But these two giant bright spots aren’t without a shadow. In her acceptance speech, Dr. Sunberg stated that her husband encouraged her into ministry when he told her that if she had been a boy, she would have been the minister in her family, like her father before her. At PasNaz, Rev. Leach was recalled from service to a sister denomination to pastor and faced a small campaign against her leadership before she ever arrived in California. She was ordained nearly simultaneously with the acceptance of her call to Pasadena because she had been employed in ministry outside the Church of the Nazarene, something many Nazarene women find they must do if they are going to be able to obtain needed pastoral experience. And this is like the Tour de France, friends, in that this year marks the return of the Tour to Germany, a country which refused to even show cycling on television in the years after the 2006 doping scandal, which saw their national champion, Jan Ullrich, tossed out of the race. This year the start is in Düsseldorf, Germany and one of the major contenders is Marcel Kittel, a 29 year old German who is one of the fastest cyclist in the world. Kittle explained how important this year’s race is to him and lamented that his parents weren’t able to watch his first Tour stage win in 2013, where he won a total of four stages and held the overall top spot for a couple days.

One last story to leave you with from the most epic cycling race in the world that begins today. For years now, the French have not had a serious contender for the overall champion in their national race. But what they have had are cyclists who animate the race, who strike out and win a stage or two, or race out in front of the group all day long–only to be caught in the final stretch when everyone is hoping he can hold on. And the most proficient of these French riders is Thomas Voeckler. He has held the overall lead, but never won it. He has won a stage near his hometown, on Bastille Day (the French 4th of July) in the national championship jersey. He has wrecked, climbed back on his bike, and finished the stage bleeding, only to miss the time cut-off and have to go home. And this is his final year, his final Tour. He retires after this race. Thomas Voeckler will attack on Bastille Day, July 14th. He will do everything in his power to win the stage. And the French…well…everyone, really, knows that it will be nearly impossible odds for this aging rider to once again win a stage. But you know what? The French don’t care. They want him to try and they even have a phrase for it: The beautiful defeat.

Even if Thomas Voeckler rides all day alone and is passed by every single rider in the race in the last kilometer, the French will celebrate his beautiful defeat. They will say that he made a gorgeous loss. As just a regular old woman in the Church of the Nazarene, I hope to do the same. I hope I can make a beautiful defeat and lose gloriously. And I hope you’re with me.