Monday, June 30, 2008

motherhood, apple pie, and fishing

Last January 68 people gathered, mission workers from all over our church and coming also from our global mission partners, and unanimously approved a document for presentation to the Presbyterian Church (USA). It came to us at the General Assembly in San Jose, under the disguise of just another overture -- numbered 08-20. An open hearing was set for those who agreed or disagreed to speak to it, and no one signed up. Quite quickly the overture was presented and advocated. There were only a few questions for the presenters, the clearest being "this is motherhood and apple pie! Who wouldn't want it?" Everyone wants to do better mission. Someone else asked "what are the financial implications?" and hearing "almost nil" the vote was unanimous to accept it. And, the entire discussion was over.

Here is an excerpt of the text:
...we realize that God is calling us to new patterns of mission. The world has changed, and the majority of the world’s Christians are now in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The great growth and mission faithfulness of the Church outside the West invite us into a new posture. We must listen and learn to receive. We must also be open to new patterns of collaboration. These new patterns involve new cooperation and partnerships within the PC(USA).
and it looks like: Doing mission in the way of Jesus who humbled himself, showing the way of self-giving and self-emptying. (Philippians 2) and Striving in our mission to be aware of the context out of which we come, to respect the persons with whom we labor, and to honor the context in which they live. In an era of massive global inequalities we commit ourselves to be sensitive to and address the issues of power that result from our differences.

My beloved 08-20 passed without notice because nobody wanted to talk about the back-story. Experienced mission workers know it, but it's secret, because telling this back-story is opening a box of hostility and counter-stories, positive outweighing negative, and defensiveness and emotion.
The back-story is: last year 3 separate mission groups from America came in short succession to the same village in Guatemala and painted the same church over and over again. And this is not unique. The top-down, donation-driven model of mission is ridiculously ineffective. The church collectively spends millions of dollars per year to fly teenagers to the Global South for a few weeks, where they do sloppy paint jobs, gawk at the perceived "happiness" of poor people, and return with souvenirs and some vague gratitude, compassion, and commitment to the Christian faith. Meanwhile, a village that needed a well now has another fresh paint of paint on their school, lots of T-shirts and candy, and less respect for themselves than they ever had. This is the horrendous truth that goes on in widespread Christian practice, that no one will mention. I realize that many will jump on me for mentioning this, and I think even two years ago I would have disagreed with myself. It's harsh, because we who participate in such "mission trips" really do value the difference it makes in our own hearts.

If the great growth of the Church outside the West (in the non-western "Global South" to confuse us all) is going to invite us to a new posture we must kneel down and be humbled enough to realize our mistakes (which hurts, ouch). We must put aside our authoritarian, colonial, condescending model of doing mission, and get down and dirty, and not just for two weeks of a virtuous vacation.

We could... give someone a fish, and they'd eat it, and we'd feel good about ourselves, and this would end our interaction.
we could... teach them how to fish, and leave -- they'd keep eating after we left.
we could send them a packet of information and a fishing pole, and they'd fish, eat, and pass the information on.
or WE COULD learn how to fish, move across the world, sit down and fish with them, stay with them, and eat the fish together -- and it would be harder, but all of us would be transformed.

Mister Moderator, i move that we consider the last of these options.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A challenge!

Generational divide: we speak in different media. An older gentleman brought an objection to the floor saying that no one knew about a certain creed we were about to vote to adopt. He wants us young folks to discuss it for a while. He threw up his hands saying we should "talk about it, blog about it, text about it..." and while I don't think I'm quite about to write text messages to all my friends commending them to the study of a creedal statement, I thought I'd take up the challenge and blog about it.

The Social Creed for the Twenty-First Century ( ) is a strong statement of what the church needs to be in this century. The PC(USA) adopted it today by a 5-to-1 majority. Several of the items simply listed here were also resolved in more detailed overtures, against immigration injustices, against torture, for simpler lifestyles, pursuing carbon-neutrality, and committing ourselves to peace. What does it do? "Is there a way to measure its effectiveness?" is a common question, and Rahhel counter-questioned "is there a way to measure the effectiveness of FOLLOWING JESUS?" thus effectively mooting the point. The creed is a declaration of our interpretation of what God calls us to do as Christians. I am proud to say that my church (in majority) agrees that these are not just lofty ideals but are theological imperatives, and necessary interpretations of the signs of the times in light of the Biblical imperative to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God."

I BELIEVE that "love your neighbor" means "pay them well!"
that "Christ has set us free" means "abolish modern slavery!"
that "there is no longer jew or greek" means "fight racism!"
that "all may have life, and have it abundantly" means that we might have an abundant, organically overflowing earth full of biodiversity and beauty, love, harmony, health!
And I believe that "sell all you have and give it to the poor" means just what it says (gulp...)

did we just do that?

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) just, a few minutes ago, with NO riots and NO hubbub -- decently, and in order -- voted to delete the famous G-6.0106b from our book of order, thus removing an impediment to ordination for those who do not live "singly in chastity, or in fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman" and replacing it with some less-specific words about uprightness and about the authority of the local ordaining body to discern such matters.
End effect: it now is sent out to the nation-wide church by local presbytery, and if ratified, GLBTQ folk who have SEX (there's the elephant) outside of the traditional strictures of marriage are henceforth PERMITTED (or, not prohibited) to be ordained and to serve as ministers and elders in the church.

I was watching from the classroom, but as they voted to vote (procedural insanity) I jumped up and ran to the plenary hall. I stood in the back as the motion to end debate was passed, and as the advisory votes came in on the main motion, and as we clenched our hands and gritted our teeth and heard our hearts beating...
The vote was 380 to 325 in favor of deleting this clause. As Bruce declared it so a controlled shudder of celebration rippled through the room. Winners are not supposed to rub it in the face of losers, or else we are all losers -- so we don't clap or yell or dance immediately until the business is finished and we adjourn. But I saw an amazing surge of upward energy, especially in one rainbow-festooned row, energy expressed and stifled -- it rushed up in a couple of victory-type fists, and pulled down as people buried their heads in each others' shoulders and muffled their joy in rainbow scarves and hugged silently during the remaining 10 minutes of business.

Now I wish that I'd been wearing rainbow from the beginning... I would have felt more a part of the rejoicing group. But I also am glad about my anonymity. It is important to be able to have dinner with someone of a radically different view, and it helps that cause if you don't have the name of the lobby group you support on your name tag. It is an important discipline to offer yourself to others not as a collection of connections and bumper stickers, but as an integrated, interesting, unique person and Child of God.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have heard that there is an elephant in the room...

but outside the room there is a tiger.
In here we may be running in circles around sex... we are re-translating the Heidelberg Catechism and receiving Peace, Unity, and Purity reports, skirting carefully around the issue of homosexuality, using polite euphemisms, reviewing ordination standards, defining marriage, and closing loopholes... but outside you may run into a group of non-presbyterians who are telling us all that we are ALL going to hell, and we'll roast there. frizzle. fry.
The protesters hold signs saying "jesus saves us from hell," "warning! perverts, repent!" and "homo sex destroys national security" among others (i kid you not) and although I was not present for these remarks, one was reported to be singing "jesus hates you, this I know." Someone tried to engage me in conversation with the line "it's not LOVE to tell your homosexual brothers and sisters that everything is all right! it's not LOVE to just send them off to hell! All you presbyterians are going to be held accountable for them!" and I didn't bite the bullet.... when another tried the words "homosexual marriage is the reason that California is on fire right now" I couldn't leave that unanswered, and entered a ten-minute exercise in futility, trying to inquire if there were any OTHER sins that could be implicated. Entering the plenary hall, I heard the stated clerk formally request that we not engage in argument with the protesters, or allow the hostilities to escalate, and I was humbled by the realization that I had succumbed to that temptation -- and that my efforts had been useless.

Sex might be a big, scary elephant, but the room isn't that big, and we're all in it together. In fact, I think it'd be hard for the elephant to kick anyone, as we're crowding and constricting it from every side. Outside, on the plaza, there are no walls, and no limit, and no rules unless the police are standing by. The tiger is free to sink his teeth in with "do you pray like that when you have your gay sex? God doesn't listen to your prayers!" and to slash out at every rainbow-scarved target that walks by.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to be in plenary hall with you, and let's appreciate our elephant.


I'm at the PCUSA general assembly and there are lots of old people around.
Good old-people (and biblical geek) quotes:
"I was so mad, I could've spit nickels!"
"well, it basically depends on whose ox is being gored."
"thats really a sticky wicket."
"as the Bible says, where two are three are gathered, there will be 4 opinions."

new word: scuttlebutt. noun, informal: rumor, gossip. Good word, huh?!

"So, he can tell you what all the scuttlebutt is on the blogs and what-have-you..."

in session

Hi, people.
I decided to make a public blog, because I want my voice to be heard, but I'm kind of paranoid about publishing everything. So I'll try to keep things professional. This does not need to "out" anyone on any controversial issues they might not want outed. Most importantly, I will curb my sarcasm, so that we can discuss controversy kindly. Let's be online friends. Yay for the internets!
love, Talitha