This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

GA220 + Day Seven (Friday)

 (Yes, Friday, not Thursday, was Day Seven.)      

            I decry this virulent epidemic of bow-ties.  Stop the madness, people!

            The morning, after the usual housekeeping details, was invested almost entirely in finishing the Middle East report.  This began with an attempt to reconsider the action taken the night before.
            I had been up until 1:30 with a group brainstorming about possible strategies to get divestment back before the Assembly.  Knowing what I know about Assemblies and about parliamentary procedure, I knew this to be a long-shot no matter what.  In the end we settled on four possible strategies, and let the friendly commissioners decide what to do.  Unfortunately, they chose to use all four in succession.  One of the approaches might possibly have worked.  But the full-court-press tactic merely tried the patience of the Assembly, and each initiative failed by margins wider than the last.
            After finally deciding that the Israeli policies in the occupied territories were not technically “Apartheid,” the Assembly finally voted to ask the Board of Pensions to find a way to relieve the consciences of those who did not want their pension dues going to support the non-Apartheid atrocities committed against Palestinians.  The Board tried to weasel out of this and were peremptorily told to do it anyway.
            Then we all got up and sang some upbeat hymns.  So it’s throw your neighbor under the bulldozer and sing about Jesus.
            The “Confession of 1967” talks about Jesus Christ as a “Palestinian Jew.”  Now we see these two essential elements of the Lord’s identity divided and cast as enemies.  But under the non-Apartheid regime in Israel-Palestine even Palestinian Jews are second or third- class citizens.  Non-Jewish Palestinians are treated like non-humans.  Jesus is a Palestinian Jew.  He identifies with the suffering of each of these groups.  In this case it Jesus’ Palestinian successors who now suffer most systematically and profoundly.  It is they who identify most with the Israelites in Egypt and the Jews in Babylon, and even with the Lord himself on the cross.  I don’t see how we can sing in this Assembly songs about Jesus while at the same time in effect giving him the finger by our participation in the oppression of people with whom he identifies.  Jesus is a Palestinian, for God’s sake.  I mean literally.
            On to same-sex marriage….

            The Assembly began by getting hung up on whether a motion may contradict the Constitution.  If this were true it would be impossible to amend the Constitution, since proposed changes would be ruled summarily out of order.  This reasoning was used yesterday by the chair when someone moved something in contradiction to the Trust Clause, one of the fattest of our sacred cows.  This concept was turned against the chair by some who said that since the Constitution only defines marriage as between a man and a woman, any attempt to change that standard is out of order.  This effort failed, but it left the august figures on the platform looking inconsistent and hypocritical.  Then they spent the rest of the first hour wrangling over assorted parliamentary nonsense.
            After three hours of debate the Assembly basically voted to do nothing.  Given the level of courage we have seen so far, and the allergy towards change, will this Assembly will no doubt pride itself in there being little evidence that this meeting ever happened?  Perhaps.
            Later in the evening attempts were made to roll back the changes from last year and reinsert sex language in the ordination standards.  These efforts also failed, showing that this was an Assembly committed to making no changes at all, progressive or conservative.  The theme here is inertia.
            However, it appears that the young people present, both Young Adult and Theological Student Advisory Delegates, were generally willing to make strong choices moving the church forward.  Since these are the folks who will inherit the denomination, we have reason to hope in the future.
            Another thing that gives me hope is this initiative to establish 1001 new worshiping communities.  Now, we’ve proclaimed initiatives before that went nowhere.  And this will not happen unless we loosen up a lot of our governance and even more of our way of thinking.  As I said earlier, we are designed to accomplish as little as possible.  But if we get out of our own, and the Holy Spirit’s way, this is something that could be done.  Note that the initiative is about “worshiping communities,” not necessarily “churches.”  A worshiping community can be more informal and (gasp!) spontaneous.  But we’re going to have to lose our mentality about turf, and not allow existing churches to obstruct new things by which they feel threatened.  And there’s a lot of fear out there.
            One of the texts that was preached on repeatedly at the Assembly, is Mark 2:1-12, the story of the paralytic who is healed when four of his neighbors lower him down through the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching.  The preaching had us identifying with the friends, or even the healed man.  It appears that a paralytic is a fitting image for this non-ambulatory Assembly, which was unable to stand up and get itself anywhere.  We find ourselves at that point where we are looking up at Jesus in hope.  We rely on the faith of others, forebears, advocates, courageous saints, prophets, people with enough gumption and commitment to demolish the very roof of the Lord’s house, and convey us into Jesus’ presence.  When we are healed it will be because of the faith of these others that Jesus sees and imputes to a church unable to walk on its own.
            Some of those others were there in the Assembly.  Some were testifying before committees about their work.  Some were present only in memory and spirit.  Some were watching at home.  And very many were barely aware of this big, expensive meeting in Pittsburgh.  But those are the blessed folks who carry the church into the saving presence of the Lord.
            I will not say the theme of the Assembly – “walk, run, soar” (from Isaiah 40:31) was ironic.  But it was a hope we still retain. 
            During the Assembly, in order to keep in some semblance of physical shape in all this sitting and eating (and enjoying some remarkably good beer), I took the stairs whenever I could.  Including up to the 9th floor of our hotel.  The first time I did this I am ashamed to say I had to stop on the 4th floor and gasp for breath.  Maybe that’s where we are as a denomination.  Out of shape, trying to climb higher, but needing to take a breather.  Maybe the Spirit was subtly at work strengthening hearts and limbs unaccustomed to strain.  (Not to disregard the people we manage to leave in suffering and despair while we’re taking our breather….)
            By Friday I could make the ascent without stopping.  (Not without gasping, however.)  And maybe after this Assembly, we will be more equipped to walk, run, and hopefully even soar, in God’s mission.    

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