Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Glorious Nature

Thoreau told me once:
"My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature, to know God's lurking places, to attend all the oratorios, the operas, in nature."

Usually when I bring this to mind I have a solemn moment with me and God and a tree or something, and a bit of Beethoven comes to mind.
But today's contemplation was definitely of the comic opera type - opera buffa. I am housesitting, dogsitting, goatsitting, beekeeping, chicken-tending for a friend of a friend. The house is great; it's a wonderful gig. The goat has two little kids about 3 weeks old. They climb on top of one another to try to be king of the mountain; they jump off of high things and stumble; they dare the dog to chase them.

Yes, God is like this too. It's not always about splendor and majesty. Sometimes God does not go disguised as stunningly powerful and timeless lakes and rocks and stuff, but would prefer to sneak up behind you and nibble on your boots and say PLAY WITH ME! And we do.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Future Church


Over at Patheos where I have contributed a few blogs, the mainline Protestants are all discussing the future of the Church. As part of that they asked me what a vibrant mainline church "would" look like... with an eye to the future, i think... but I choose to remain in the present. My answer is a church that is very much already in existence.

On the amazing HEART roadtrip with the Presbyterian Hunger Program last month, we visited Common Ground Church Community in North Lima OH (near Youngstown). The story, in a nutshell, is that they were a NCD (new church development) meeting as a "house church," owning no house nor land, and wanted to remain that way, but through a turn of events they ended up buying property. The property they bought, however, used to be a seedling nursery and mail-order seed company, so with their main building they also got greenhouses, fields, acres of forest, and a tractor. They turned all these into local mission projects, and learned to work the land. They now feed hungry people, train the uneducated in agricultural skills, wonder at creation, and call for a large-scale relocation from industrial agriculture to local and sustainable food systems. They get covered positively on local news too.
I fell rapidly in love with this church... and not just because of their hospitality. They welcomed us (weary travelers) enthusiastically, fed us well, provided a campfire and singalong for entertainment, and let us take over their sermon time in worship the next morning. They shared their story, walked us around their gardens, let us ramble in their woods (cross-country crutching, my new Special Olympics sport), shared their passion for the creative permaculture methods with which they are experimenting.
I like the way this story happened. They didn't get interested in local agriculture, make a strategic plan, and then achieve their dreams. They didn't do this. God did it to them, inflicted greenhouses upon them, dumped a challenge in their laps. They said the all-important "yes," of course, and with enthusiasm... but it seems they got caught up in God's dreams for the agricultural land so rapidly being abandoned in so many places. They took up the orphaned land and learned to be a blessing on and with and through it.

I came to realize, over the course of our roadtrip, that my interests in local, sustainable, and community-oriented agriculture are not necessarily going to be a burden that I would have to convince a congregation to take on. In fact this passion is part of a movement, and it even seems we might be bold enough to say it is part of the future of the church. I know my future in church needs to be mission, local mission, and I am thrilled to discover that it may not be horribly hard work, but in fact a blessing and a natural joy. I might not have to fight for it -- it might just grow.
I drew that picture on the last day of the roadtrip in reflection upon my dreams for the future. I believe that the Church of the future will increasingly look like Common Ground: the withdrawing to an alternative lifestyle, the healing and giving, and the engagement outward with the powers that be.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Agrarian Roadtrip

I have a backlog of blogs in my brain, some of which are in progress, others in extremely inchoate forms, BUT the good news is that others take up the slack. yay for community. So please, if you're interested in the agrarian roadtripping wonderfulness that was HEART, take a look at Bethel's latest post: http://presbyterian.typepad.com/foodandfaith/2010/07/agrarian-road-trip-part-six.html

and at the whole blog: http://presbyterian.typepad.com/foodandfaith

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ten random little things I LOVE about General Assembly #ga219

1) Courtesy. Madam Moderator. Mister Vice-Moderator. “Thank you, commissioner...” Formal scripts not read drily but with enthusiasm for our orderliness!

2) Working until an inhuman hour and then getting roped into drinks til the even-later-hours. Meeting members of my Presbytery without an agenda before us, or a standard by which they wait to approve or disapprove of me.

3) The Witherspoon Society Dance. I do believe that John Calvin himself was in attendance. I wonder if he’d ever danced to Lady Gaga before?

4) Networkings of inspiration: randomly meeting people who come from AWESOME congregations and who give me hope for a fun future in pastoral ministry.

5) Worship songs before each plenary. Singing loud. Also, there was that time when all the bow-tie-d men on stage, Stated Clerk included, got up and shook whatever Jesus gave them to shake. In bowties.

6) Bowties.

7) Young Adult Advisory Delegates. Those who dared to break the conventions of appearance and formality, and to appear in tie-dye, bandana and barefoot like Jesus himself. Those who spoke trembling through shyness on something that Mattered to them. And of course those who led us in crazy energizer dances!!

8) Westminster Presbyterian Church’s hospitality. 2 blocks from the church, they had free (& high-caliber!) concerts every day, and lunches at reasonable cost, and free chair massages which my crutch-weary shoulders did surely appreciate.

9) National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen (NAPC) and their luncheon. I appreciated (1) being allowed to use my per-diem to pay for the luncheon, but more so (2) being in a room of ordained, affirmed & affirming women in pastoral leadership. I think it’s time to re-start that feminist reading group that has been hibernating at SFTS... PC(USA) may have been ordaining women since 1956, but even if it's old news, some of us will still take jobs in towns where an ordained woman has never preached, and besides which, we think differently than men do, and we need to ask each other if our heresies might actually make good sense.

10) OUR FANTASTIC MODERATORIAL TEAM!!! Follow them on facebook. They rock.

5 things I DON'T love about General Assembly #ga 219

1) Fighting the raging desire to be 18 places at once. Slightly better than 2 weeks ago at the US Social Forum, where I wanted to be a full 50 places at each hour of the day, but still a source of significant gnashing of teeth on my part.

2) Confronting the fact that collectively, we are a multibillionaire, and that it’s a drop in the bucket to spend a couple million on our grand Assembly.... when our Savior and Boss said “sell all you have and give it to the poor,” and while I’m looking for role models in the effort to take him seriously.

3) Polarization. 49-51% votes, winner take all. Winning. Losing. Knowing that some commissioners read speeches pre-written by advocacy groups (whether left or right).

4) Staying in fancy hotels. I may be channeling the spirit of my Quaker grandmother... who, when placed in a hospice facility for the final days of her life, though nearly blind, was able to see clearly enough to pronounce the chandeliers “too fancy” and petition for a less decorated room. Also, I’m reading Dorothy Day, who believed there was “always enough for one more if everyone takes a little less” – whether food at supper, or blankets on the floor.
Anyway, I oscillated rapidly between basking in luxury on my double bed with 347200 count cotton sheets, and questioning my beloved Church – did you really have to buy this for me?

5) Looking for healthy food. I wondered if one could get scurvy in a week. Actually, this will be a whole nother blog post. Upcoming.

Protests, Consensus, Community.

On Friday, 18 protesters entered the General Assembly hall, marched past some temporarily absent (volunteer) gatekeepers, held up signs, stood at the front of the hall, and sang while our moderator first led us in prayer and then called for a temporary recess. They remained, singing, until they were carefully arrested in a very orderly fashion -- they had informed the police of their plan in advance -- and taken out in handcuffs.
Their signs said: "prayer!" and a checklist: "Ordinations. Marriage. Pensions." referring to the 3 areas of discussion where LGBTQI issues were in play at the Assembly (ordination standards, the definition of marriage, and extending coverage to church employees' same-sex partners and the partners’ children). Two of this issues had already passed favorably to LGBTQI folks (ordination standards is once again, as in 2008, sent to the presbyteries for ratification, and the insurance is effective now)... so somehow I was not sure if they were protesting the 2/3 that had passed, or advocating for the 1/3 that had failed and not been revisited.

So... when they came in, I was on stage running Session Sync. You'll note from my previous entry that this was a challenging job because of the kind of neutrality it calls for. You can only imagine the unsettledness I felt when these folks entered. I had a bit of a "what is going to happen?" moment and a confused moment (who were they? left or right? do i agree with them? are they here with authorization, or trespassing?) but then as the moderator abruptly closed debate and advised us to stand in prayer, I got a very sinking feeling that I was in the wrong place – that maybe I was supposed to be on the floor with the radicals, not up in the institutional, status quo, center of power on stage. It didn't help that I was standing next to lawyers in suits who put on a bit of a secret service face. I was not ready to play that game.


you'll notice my institutional (& prayerful) presence in the upper left hand corner... (btw it feels SO wrong to know you're being photographed while you pray)

I do believe now, however, that I did not want to be in that group of protesters. The news clarified the details: the group, Soulforce, is an LGBTQI advocacy group standing in protest of our assembly's decision not to look at marriage questions. I support their goals 100%. But I do not like the method.

I'm liberal. If I'd had voice privileges I would have spoken on just about every issue in a leftward direction. If anyone with voice asked me to, I would've slipped them a carefully worded substitution motion or two (just kidding! so wrong!). I hate the idea of making up voting sheets ahead of time as the Layman did, checking off which way to vote on each issue, but if I were to make one up it would be easy -- take theirs and reverse it.
From this perspective I can easily count the Assembly up in terms of liberal gains and losses, votes and non-votes, 51% in my direction, or 51% to my enemies. But if we all do that, we're all losers. The intention behind GA is not to have a debate between two sides, winner take all. Commissioners and Advisory Delegates are instructed to come not as representatives of a demographic or constituency, but as spiritual people seeking the will of God. And this works, because you end up seeing people change their minds in committee and even in plenary. In communal process you see entrenched "sides" moving toward mutual forbearance, toward understanding, and even (!) toward consensus, where one is allowed to either actively agree with or passively "live with" the decisions made. I love it when I see conservatives moved thusly in a more liberal direction. LOVE IT.

I guess I got a taste of my own medicine. I had my liberal mind changed in a mildly more conservative direction. I would still NEVER vote for the measure they took on Thursday night -- to dismiss all pending items in the civil union/marriage debate and give the presbyteries and congregations 2 years to discuss the study papers created in that area -- because justice delayed is justice denied. But looking at it in retrospect, although I cannot in decent conscience actively agree with this decision, I can live with and hence submit to it. I can believe myself to be in "consensus" with the assembly whose conservative members cried out "too much! this is more than we can chew! Give us one task at a time!" I disagree, of course.... *I* think they should buck up and deal with the issues of justice. I think they're being ridiculous. But I hear pain in their voices, and I have not yet walked a mile in their shoes.

We have a lot of communal processing to do. In the next two years, congregations and presbyteries are supposed to discuss civil union and marriage, and vote on the Belhar confession, changes in ordination standards, and the New Form of Government. I know presbyteries will vote, but may not discuss. Some may as well submit their votes now -- they do not intend to have their minds changed. I know that many congregations will not even look at these, much less discuss. But in order to prevent our church from looking like our government (two entrenched opposing sides) we NEED more discussion, more communal process. I believe that the depth of our relational & communal processing might make or break our unity as a denomination. Minds are never going to be changed by 51% votes one way or the other. They were apparently not changed by Soulforce's protest. They will only be changed by relationships.
The question before us is whether we are a relational church or not - a church that knows and loves one another. We are in relationship, but a dysfunctional one where there's a lot of divorce talk... "I'll leave if XYZ..." I wonder if this dysfunctional relationship needs outside intervention as Soulforce tried to supply, or needs a vacation from our issues, (a tactic favored by conservatives -- but LGBTQI folks don't have the privilege of taking a break), or whether as an alternate tactic, we can ask God to somehow rekindle our love and commitment to one another. Like a 30-day “marriage mender” course, adapted to churches? =) The problem is, one side will ask "how can there be love where there is injustice?" and the other will want to love the "sinner," but cannot love the "sin"... but I want to believe that love can in fact break down those barriers. We cannot force love, but we can ask for it. I pray that this will be God's gift to those of us who stay in the denomination: that we will be afflicted (even against our own desires) with a holy compassion for those against whom we are currently entrenched. That the conversations shared over the next two years will enable us to re-engage with firmness and confidence, neither stalling nor forcing others to rush. This is MILES from where we are now... but we serve a great God. We can imagine, ask for, trust in, and act upon our best hopes and intentions.
conversation. compassion. a ferociously loyal, caring love. Too much to expect, yes -- but not too much to ask! PLEASE GOD - MAY IT BE SO.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Self-Segregation #ga219

Yesterday a seemingly innocuous overture came up.... appearing as only 3 lines in the committee report. It asked for the creation of a new non-geographic presbytery in the Synod of the South Atlantic. Generally our governance is a series of groupings: many congregations (in an area) make up a presbytery. Many presbyteries (in a larger area) make up a Synod. All the synods gather to create General Assembly. But sometimes within a synod there will exist a non-geographic presbytery, such as the Hanmi presbytery (Korean-speaking).
This overture was to create a new Korean-speaking presbytery in the South Atlantic Synod. It would allow them to conduct all business in Korean. The Korean congregations made this request, and without much controversy it was accepted -- unanimously at the synod level, and 43-2 for it at the GA committee level. It looked like a shoe-in (shoo-in? definitely not a shewin).
However, when this recommendation to approve the creation of the new presbytery came before the assembly, a few young female Korean pastors stood up to speak against it. Their contentions were that Korean-language presbyteries segregate and insulate themselves, cutting their actions off from local accountability, and that they nurture dangerous cultural attitudes that prevent women from serving in ordained positions and shush (if not silence) the voices of all but older men.
The assembly, having heard vibrant speeches to this effect (as well as opposition) voted 514-125 to deny the creation of such a new presbytery. And I rejoice in it. I don't want the Korean congregations leaving us alone -- i want to keep our presbyteries multiracial. But I recognize that rejecting this overture takes us way less than halfway there. It is one thing to say to a group "please don't leave," and another entirely to say "be welcome here." To truly address the relationships between Korean-speaking and English-speaking churches, we must work away from self-segregation and toward INTENTIONAL integration.

Concrete ideas toward this end?
(A) Provide translation at all presbytery meetings, into Korean, Spanish, or any other actively used languages. Practice the radical idea that it is a person's RIGHT to participate in their native or preferred language.
(I wonder if any presbytery that already does this would consider sending an overture to this effect to GA220?)

(B) Practice cultural engagement. Taste some kimchee. Get curious about the strangers in your midst. Coax them, by your love and invitation, out of self-segregation.

(C) White people. this is to you. Get off your cultural supremacy horse. Everything does not need to be done according to our tradition. At my seminary luncheon, a Korean staffperson insisted we all stand to recognize our president. I rolled my eyes at this mandatory deference, and a friend hissed under her breath at me: "you are SO white!" In Korea you cannot deny such honor to a person of high rank. And sometimes even if we are in America, we out of love and respect for another choose to participate in their cultural norms. We volutarily give up the privilege we have of always feeling comfortable -- of being an "insider" -- because in Christ there is no worldly rank or status. We need to willingly give up our dominant status (do you have dominant status? think about it), and to serve one another as Christ did. May it be so.

Poker Face

On our first day of training, we student assistants were given staff name tags, ID cards to give us platform access, REALLY attractive blue smocks, and instructions: we may not accessorize these symbols with pins, scarves, or T-shirts from any advocacy groups. As representatives of the GA we must appear neutral. Difficult as this is, I understand, and I now appreciate what it does socially -- conservatives don't IMMEdIATELY look at me askance.
Last night my job was to run pc-biz Session Sync, a computer program that allows commissioners and observers alike to be updated on the business before us in real time. To do this I was seated ON STAGE (!) and sans smock, to be in plain view of the assembly. I sat there through assembly actions on Arizona's SB 1070, on our marriage/civil union taskforce's report, and through the completion of unfinished business on G-6.0106b's ordination standards. Being of plain view, of course, my neutrality was of even heavier importance. No raised fists (as i could do backstage), no jumping for joy or consternation (as it may be), not even a sympathetic nod or visible gasp. I watched our moderators. They poker-faced it. They do have opinions, i know, but their sole job is to facilitate the conversation. They cannot sway it.

Being a very physically expressive person this was torture for me. I splurted a few tweets out to relieve some of the pressure, but mainly I tried to channel the Zen that our moderators appeared to convey. I like the challenge. And it will be so necessary for civil discourse. We do not applaud when our favorite overture is passed. We do not groan when it fails. We say silent prayers. Joy. Sorrow. Petition. Over it all, empathy.

We sang today to Christ:
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness;
No harshness hast thou, and no bitterness.
Lord, grant to us the grace we find in Thee
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

we're far away -- but in trust we pray -- let it be so.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

n-fog at #ga219 - yay acronyms =)

It is with great joy and dancing (would be cartwheels, if not for my crutches) that I announce the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA) voted 468-204-6 (69%-30%) to recommend we adopt a new Form of Government (n-FoG). I was excited about it at the 218th GA (2008) where it more narrowly squeaked by, and I kind of knew it would *pass* but I'm just overjoyed to see how very many people have gotten on board and envision it as a part of our future!

We Presbyterians have an enormous Book of Order, one part of which the n-FoG would replace, if it's ratified in the next year by 2/3 of our presbyteries. The BoO is larger & heavier than many Bibles, and in many cases harder to understand. It has been amended 300 times in not very many years (how many times has the US' constitution been amended? think about it). The new FoG will not bring our document down to the concise level of a constitution, but it reads MORE like a constitution and less like a manual of operations. Where the old FoG gave 27 responsibilites to presbyteries (G-11.0103), the new proposal says three things: Provide that the Word of God may be truly preached and heard; provide that the Sacraments may be rightly administered and received; and nurture the covenant community of the disciples of Christ. The same three calls are given to church, presbytery, General Assembly. Each is explained (for example "nurturing the community" for the presbytery includes ordaining, dismissing, and disciplining ministers) but it's all under a much more sensible (and to my ears, spiritual) rubric. Plus, it's all about mission, and so am I.
The stripping away of rules and regulations is hard for some people to stomach. I heard someone say that we would need to be "so much more alert" to the dangers of misuses and abuses. Yes. He was right. But maybe we'd also need to be more alert to one another, and to our faith, and to the church. We are risking some pain and struggle, but are we not also "risking" great benefits? Maybe we'd wake up and think about things instead of consulting a manual that tells us what to do next. The question asked might be "what would Jesus do?" instead of "well what does the BoO say we have to do?" While we can never quite govern a church based on a bracelet slogan, it would not hurt to have that question more active and alive, and if we need to break out of complacency and force ourselves to ask that question, I believe that the n-FoG will provide many options for such questioning.


If you want to geek out (btw i am getting SO in touch with my geeky side here...) take a look at the comparison of old FoG to new: http://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=3565

I'm cross-posting these blogs at http://www.patheos.com/community/mainlineportal/

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Race, Nationality, Immigration, Solidarity?

When assembling, the Presbyterians gather as a whole first for the selection of a moderator, but then they break into 18 groups and do business there. Starting tomorrow these committees will reassemble and present their findings to the assembly, but the decisions made in committee tend to heavily sway the decisions of the body as a whole.

Just two notable ones for today...
In the Middle East room, we appear ready to make strong statements against the continuance of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but less ready to adopt positions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many positions have been proposed and rejected, so we remain at a middle ground. An overture to call the Israeli occupation of Palestine "apartheid" was rejected as "too offensive" to many ears. In particular, we are charting an uncomfortable middle line with regards to Caterpillar and their involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict. For those who don't know, Caterpillar is a major supplier of the equipment used in demolishment work in Israeli settlements in Palestine. The committee recommends that we denounce Caterpillar's profit-making off such non-peaceful endeavors as settlement-building, BUT would not go so far as to recommend we divest from Caterpillar. The discussion mainly centered around what would be effective in terms of swaying Caterpillar's actions (i.e. if we keep our investments, we as share-holders can remain ethical conversation partners....?) and steered clear of language of solidarity. To me the pressing issue is that of solidarity -- that we should refuse to take profit from what hurts our far-away neighbors -- than of tactical engagement. To me it seems that our tactics so far have failed. The interesting thing is that the commissioners who opposed this overture, those who have more complexified connections due to Caterpillar being a major employer in their area, would actually prefer that we quietly divest and that we not denounce. As it is, we keep our money in the company while scolding them. I doubt it will be effective OR that it will seem to Palestinians that we are in solidarity.

However, in another committee we seemed to make great strides toward a kind of solidarity. Social Justice Issues (B) recommends a resolution that we as a church refrain from having conferences or major events in states where our ethnic minority members are threatened by such measures as Arizona SB 1070. The text of this resolution can be seen at http://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=3587 ... After much discussion at a late hour (they were the last committee to adjourn), the tenor of the committee conversation shifted from "what is to the advantage of our hispanic brothers and sisters in Arizona" (some of whom, to be fair, in the short term would benefit from us having conferences there, because we bring money into the area, some of which they receive) to "are we a white church? or a multi-racial one?" Because if we are indeed multi-racial, SB 1070 targets us as a church, not "them" the others. So in this case we are choosing to throw our lot in with the victims of a policy we condemn. If only we were able to say "we are Palestinian, too" as easily as we can say "we are Hispanic, too," we would be able to make the same kind of stand. Would that all people of this earth could recognize their brother and sister in any human face, not only of their own race or nationality.

Virtuous Consumption?

I went looking briefly through the “global village” upstairs in the Exhibit hall. It's totally guilt-free shopping. The principle behind the gifts for sale is that instead of just throwing money at charitable endeavours, we can purchase items produced by organizations in partnership, to help them empower themselves and their community. Instead of dropping kids off at orphanages, women form cooperatives, create textiles, sell them to us, make money, put their own kids through school. Super. I love it. It’s important. The ancient charity model (literally giving money to the poor) is great when you’re in a face-to-face relationship with someone, and can negotiate the power problems you create by charity, but it begins to massively break down when there are miles, oceans, cultures, languages, and glossy magazine advertisements separating the donor from the recipient. Money is never given with truly “no strings attached,” and the longer those strings get, the more they get tangled in outside issues (moral judgments, cultural domination, international relations...) The alternate model of commercial empowerment isn’t string-free, but they are transactional strings only as long as the distance between the product and the price. It at least looks simpler and more helpful. I give money not with expectations of some poor person's gratitude, but with expectations of a tangible item in return.

All this to say, I support purchasing items from partner organizations. I was actually pretty excited about this global village, because I need a new bag, and I could get one there.
I was disappointed, however. You see, I was looking for a useful bag, and all they offered were pretty bags. They were a little on the flimsy side (I wouldn’t carry a computer in one) but most importantly, none had more than one or two pockets. I'm willing pay a higher price for a fairly made product, but not for a bag whose main value is in appearance, not function. And the transaction seems less than perfectly straightforward now. A line from one of the vendors explaining why the partnership was valuable: “they know how to sew, but they need to know what gringas will buy,” caused my heart to sink. Women who are perfectly skilled at creating useful items for home use are taking lessons in the school of creating flimsy, pretty things that white people will buy. They are feeding our addiction to consuming trivialities, and building for themselves a dangerous dependency on foreign buyers. If our fashion tastes change, they are left with useless product until someone transmits the valuable information of “what gringas will buy.”
So I’ll continue to use my ripped and fraying bag until I find (or make) one that is sturdy and serviceable. I wish I could participate in the “empowerment via consumerism” deal, and send a few of my dollars in the right direction, but as long as it’s marketing impractical and luxurious goods (if not outright luxuries) I have to step out and look for better things to do with my money, my purchases, and my fashion statements.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Habemus Mamam #GA219

When the Catholic council of superarchbishops or whatever it is gathers to choose a new pope, they sequester themselves in a room and send up a plume of white smoke when they come to a choice, and the word goes out: habemus papam! we have a pope! Presbyterians do much the same, minus the secrecy, plus electronic voting machines which do a little better than Florida's (but you have to do it slowly so the elderly get their votes in - the 8-second timer didn't go over so hot), plus about 3,000 more folks present, and tweets instead of white smoke, and, well, it's a she, so... habemus mamam?

The Moderator of the 219th PC(USA) General Assembly (like pope for two years, minus the discretionary power, fancy garb, and infallibility) will be Cindy Bolbach, a lawyer, elder, and co-moderator of the New Form of Government (n-fog) taskforce.

The election was quite a deal. There were SIX candidates. SIX. Each was presented by a 5-minute speech, and spoke in person for 5 minutes. Some chose to tell stories, some to preach, some to share songs, poems, jokes... and some to lecture on their Theories of Everything (i do believe the phrase epistemological parochialism was used). I timed that, which was easy work, but the hard part was NOT to get to exercise that timer during the open debate & questions (90 long minutes). Cindy might have won because she was concise and didn't go on pastoral tangents, OR maybe because of her dry humor - when asked "what's at stake for the church if you are not elected moderator?" she kicked off her reply with "total chaos."

Our electoral process is a bit unique. We vote and re-vote until someone appears with a clear majority. Standing orders are not to drop anyone from the race (although if it had gone on longer it appears the assembly would have been ready with a 2/3 vote to overrule that procedure). The first round of votes had Cindy slightly ahead (near 30%) but all the other candidates were evenly matched. The Ecumenical Advisory Delegates' first advisory vote was split exactly evenly -- the six of them gave one vote per candidate. As voting went on (there were 4 rounds) she began to gain ground, as other votes shifted around to second choices -- or perhaps as the Spirit moved. We did ask for that to happen, didn't we? And we trust that it did.

cross-posting at Patheos

Friday, July 2, 2010

We Assemble #GA219


Nearly 3,000 Presbyterians have descended upon Minneapolis, with nametags flapping, outfitted in everything from suits to sloganed T-shirts, meandering like tourists around the convention center & associated hotels. We stick out like a circus. I watch us bumbling around and wonder -- what ARE we doing?

When we invest gadzooks of money into a week of imposed togetherness in some chosen city... one of the bluntest ways to put it is that we are taking our collective temperature. How hot are we on gay ordination this year? Because it comes up year after year, and a slow shift has been taking place. So every GA we test it -- is the church prepared to make a change, or has it not yet reached critical mass? And some of the issues change over time. The situation in Palestine has been worsening -- are people ready to get outraged? Of course we know that some are, and some aren't, but we get together to take a lot of votes and see where the median and majority lie.
....that hardly makes sense, though. That's a wickedly expensive poll -- I could administer one through surveymonkey.com for zero dollars, and have it done ten minutes ago.

To put it in a more positive light, we're struggling together for common ground. We gather from far-flung lands, states, schools and theologies, and try to affirm the things we can all agree on. Sometimes our minds get blessedly changed in the process, and sometimes it's just an exercise in holding on to the major things and letting go of the minors.

But most of all (though most invisibly) we come together to try to see Christ in the other, see God in our common work, and open our hearts to Spirit above, around, and among us all. We gather to seek transformation and inspiration together, and to hold one another accountable. We surround our communal impasses and ask God to make a way. We wait, quieten, listen, pray, read Scripture, and look up for the Spirit brooding over us - we try to get on that ride. Sometimes it sweeps us off our feet and sometimes our heels are stuck in and dragging, but God always shows up. May it be so this week at General Assembly!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

GENERAL ASSEMBLY #GA219

Hey folks,
I might have another blog or two in me regarding the awesome HEART trip, BUT the next item of business, closely approaching, is General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Minneapolis MN! I arrived way too early this morning, and God bless the Hilton for giving me early check-in before 7 AM. I proceeded to nap all morning, and finally ventured out to find a farmers' market not three blocks from the hotel! Orientation as an "assistant" begins today. Most of the assistants are doing gopher stuff. Me being on crutches, I suppose we'll find less running-around types of activities for me to be helpful with. And of course there's always helping folks with the online system pc-biz, which I am CLEARLY qualified to help with, because I navigated to the website already. Nevermind forgetting my password, and other failures of technology. Hopefully that'll get straightened out before I try to help others =)

I am a preacher

My preaching class (“New Treasures from the Old Testament”) at ABSW last semester was taught by an amazing older man, honorably retired and serving as Pastor Emeritus (Pastor E for short), J.Alfred Smith Sr. His classroom manner was gentle and encouraging most of the time, but nearly every week we had a little fire put into us. We’d all stand up, make a fist for emphasis, and repeat after him:
I am a preacher!
I am a preacher!
I didn’t come to seminary to become a preacher!
God made me a preacher!
I came to seminary to become a better preacher!

This refrain runs in my head often, but it took on greater meaning during the HEART trip. I was kind of hoping to acquire a new identity, maybe an “I am a community organizer!” or an “I am a food justice advocate!” or even an “I am a farmer!” They are not mutually exclusive, of course, but the trip gently showed me that at the heart of it, though I love me some compost, I am a preacher.
We started of course (three weeks ago, though it feels like months) with Ellen Davis’ amazing Old Testament exegesis, which woke me up inside and inspired a sermon I gave in three different incarnations through the course of the trip, all well-received. And my experience at the USSF ended happily with an encounter with Ched Myers! He had collaborated on the creation of Tevyn East’s Leaps and Bounds (http://www.affordinghopeproject.com ) and was present for its performance. I owe that show a blog entry of its own, but suffice it to say it took the impending crises of population explosion and resource depletion and wrote them in Biblical terms, from creation onward to hope and resurrection. After that I participated in a Bible study Ched led on Sabbath Economy, and thrilled at his exegesis of Mark 9:43-48 in terms of our societal addictions to the things that are killing us, and his reading of the implicit “body” in that passage as the corporate and not the individual body. This is what I want to study! And preach on! And live! There is no doubt that Friday’s performance and Bible study meant more to me than any other of the other legitimately amazing workshops I had attended at the forum. So I’ve come to realize where my joy lies: speaking sacred, ancient text to troubled postmodern ears. And I can preach about community organizing, food justice, and farming – without struggling for expertise, status, and identity in each of those areas. I can be amateur in those, in the root sense of amateur, which is one who does it for love (latin amare).

Of course the next thing that comes to mind is... if I’m not called to be a farmer, maybe I can just marry a farmer and get some recreational raised veggie beds, restoring-of-creation, and strawberry feasts thrown in the bargain. Keep your eyes peeled on my behalf... =)

Growing Power!

Having concluded our HEART activities in Detroit, I headed to Chicago for a few days and from there on to Milwaukee to visit friends and hear good music at Summerfest! Yesterday Emu and I decided to do some MORE agrarian roadtripping, so we drove across town to Growing Power, Milwaukee’s only two acres of land zoned for agricultural use. On those two acres the organization (headed by Will Allen) manages to raise over 30,000 fish (perch and tilapia), copious amounts of salad greens and other veggies, ducks, chickens, goats, turkeys, and a LOT of red wriggler worms. They also raise farmers from age 7 on up, and raise funds for scholarships, and raise awareness of nutrition beyond that provided at the fast food joints nearby, and try out new and innovative methods of sustainable farming. The major operation there is an aquaponic interrelation of veggies and fish. Water is cycled through 10,000 gallon tanks, and pumped up into flats of watercress, sprouts, and salad greens. The plants (1) are fertilized by the fish waste, (2) filter and clean the water that returns to the fish, and (3) get harvested not only for human consumption but for the tilapia to eat.


Erin looking in




Fish on bottom, plants on top














Young learners and helpers

One worm, creating Growing Power’s most valuable crop: nutrient-rich soil!










Massive pile of compost, the foundation of growth: “it all starts here”


Burying a few rotten bananas acts as an aphrodisiac for the compost worms. Come back in a few days, it’ll be a snarl of breeding worms and new babies.



Mushroom operations (the mushrooms are still at spore stage, but they will grow on the logs and out of the hanging bags).