Saturday, June 17, 2006

Letter from the Birmingham Convention Center, 2

One's view of the assembly becomes quite myopic when the entire day is spent in the confines of a single committee -- especially when it is committee 8, on budgets and mission priorities. None of the hot-button issues are coming our way. Instead, we are reviewing the budget and mission plans of the reconstituted General Assembly Council. All of the concerns related to the recent downsizing of staff at Louisville come our way. It could be quite depressing what with all of the budget cuts and revenue loss, but it has been, instead, remarkably hope filled.
The tide turned from an attitude of scarcity to one of abundance on the first night of the assembly when an elder and businessman from Colorado stood before the entire assembly and told the story of how the church had been present for his grandmother when she was left widowed with seven children (don't quote me on the number of kids!), and how the church had been there for his family in his own childhood as well. It was a sweet story, gently told. All of us anticipated, I believe, that we were about to be told of a generous gift. I suspect we shared similar thoughts: "this guy is going to give the church six figures ... perhaps a million dollars."
I'm sure such news would have been received with great gladness, but when he quietly announced that, this fall, his foundation will provide a gift to the PC(USA) of $150 million there was an audible intake of breath and a moment of absolutely stunned silence.
That single gift, surely the largest such in the history of our church, electrified the assembly and, at least in my little committee, it left us with a sense of great hope. The attitude has been reinforced for us by the report of outgoing moderator, Rick Ufford-Chase (above). His passion, energy and enthusiasm for the church and its mission is positively viral.
Of course, none of that does anything to move us closer to peace with justice, unity with equality and purity with hospitality and radical welcome. Hearings on the report of the Peace, Unity, Purity Task Force began yesterday and went on well into the evening. I heard very little about it. Check the news for a broader perspective at this point. Likewise on ordination. The handful of mean-spirited marriage overtures were not recommended by the committee that heard them although the votes were closer in committee than progressives would like.
All of those issues, along with divestment concerns, will come before the entire assembly next week. Meanwhile, I go back to my quiet committee in a back corner of the convention center hoping that hope itself, renewed by generosity, might possibly open other hearts at this assembly when those issues come before us. Scarcity leads to fear -- the beginning of the path to the dark side, as my favorite theologian, Yoda, might say. Abundance, on the other hand, is an attitude the shapes the path of hope, faith and love. We shall see.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Letter from the Birmingham Convention Center, 1

I don't know how my friend Wayne Sherwood managed to give such wonderfully rich and detailed accounts of the 216th General Assembly on a daily basis. Wayne must not sleep. Hm ... vampire, perhaps? By the time the 217th General Assembly had elected the Rev. Joan S. Gray as moderator on the third ballot it was already past my bedtime.
The Rev. Deborah Block, the candidate supported by most progressives, finished second after leading on the first ballot -- although only 34 votes separated her from the fourth-place candidate the Rev. Kerry Carson, the most theologically conservative of the four candidates. He and the Rev. Tim Halverson, an avowed centrist, wound up with 20 votes on the final ballot out of 488 votes cast.
Gray's cause was no doubt helped by the fact that her book on Presbyterian polity is must-reading for candidates for ordination to ministry of word and sacrament these days. It certainly helped me get through the ordination exams back in the day.
It's way too soon to tell what her victory means about the tone and tenor of this assembly, but if it suggests anything it is that we are a moderate body.
Of course, Dr. King's great letter was addressed precisely to the moderate faith community, and he appealed to his brothers -- the eight Birmingham clergy named in the letter were all men -- to eschew their moderation in favor of a decisive commitment to justice. He noted that the inaction of the many good people of the South was more damaging to the cause of justice than the actions of the few people moved by hatred to acts of violence.
King said we are all tied together in an inescapable web of mutuality, a single garment of destiny. While he certainly meant to remind his readers of the common bonds of faith, he particularly aimed to underscore the bonds of humanity that brought him to Birmingham, for the injustice here was a threat to justice everywhere. The privileged and powerful are inextricably bound to the poor and powerless. Those at the center of power are bound to those on the margins. The Presbyterian Church is tied together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, but the question remains before us this week as to whether that tie that binds can be broadened to include those marginalized by the church today.
No time to spell check -- got to run to a committee meeting.
Grace and peace.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

For Sale ...

So, they're auctioning off Dr. King's Letter from the Birmingham Jail. I'm off to Birmingham tomorrow morning for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Injustice anywhere is still a threat to justice everywhere, and I suppose that's why I felt called to go to Birmingham this year in the slim hope that my GLBT sisters and brothers might find a measure of justice within the church and the broader culture. Sometimes the arc of the moral universerve bends too slowly toward justice. This is particularly difficult to accept when the church itself resists the bending arc. King understood that better than anyone, as he expressed so powerfully in the final third of his epistle. I'm not heading for the Birmingham Jail -- at least not planning any such thing! Rather, during these next few days, I'll post "Letters from the Birmingham Convention Center."

Monday, June 12, 2006

Be Afraid ...

Yesterday was "More Light" Sunday at my church. We marked our connection to the network of More Light Presbyterians working for the full inclusion in the life and leadership of church of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people of faith. You can tell by the picture that the foundations of Western Civilization are crumbling because of this. Be afraid. Be very afraid.