|Cabin and trees covered by kudzu|
That address has been causing quite a buzz. So much so that some have requested it be published.
It has. You can find it by clicking the link above or here.
I understand the buzz. It's a fine address. It is well written and was, no doubt, well presented in our Presiding Bishop's signature measured, careful manner. She is quintessentially intelligent, eloquent and even, at times, poetic. Even though we may disagree on some issues, I always appreciate what she has to say and I remain an ardent admirer. There are many, many good points and I found myself agreeing with much of what she said.
It's what she didn't say that concerns me.
There are two paragraphs which caught me up short. The first is this:
Our churchwide governance work is largely based on parliamentary democratic methods. We have evolved a system that gives great attention to the details of process and structure in how decisions are made. We have a representation system that has at least something to do with interest group politics. We have made legislative decisions over the last few decades that have done great good in opening us up to the movement of the spirit. We have also done damage in voting, by creating winners and losers about several hundred issues at every General Convention.There's a lot to comment on, but let me say a few words about "creating winners and losers".
First of all, I will say what many of us are too polite to say out loud. The legislative system did not produce "winners and losers". That was set up by "the orthodox" who were apoplectic about the ordination of women and LGBT people, human sexuality and reproductive rights.
The set up was "our way or the highway". I remember Kendall Harmon, the Canon Theologian from the Diocese of South Carolina, repeatedly asking for "clarity".
What he and the other "evangelical orthodox" were insisting on was a clear vote - up or down. No "Anglican Fudge". Got it. Understood and understandable, given the "black and white"way they read and apply scripture.
When you do that, however, you set up a situation where there will be winners and losers. "Nice" Episcopalians were scrambling to find the "via media" - the middle ground - but it was harder and harder to find because it had become the battle ground in the "Holy War to Save The Church from The Evils of Homosexuality."
The "orthodox" left the high ground and had seized the middle ground, making it a battle ground without any room for compromise or the possibility of reconciliation.
It wasn't the process. It was the people.
I agree with our Presiding Bishop and Bishop Sauls that the church needs some restructuring. We can become much more effective as well as cost efficient by utilizing technology available to us. We can also make some painful but necessary cuts and trim some of the fat we've acquired over the years as a sort of insulation to the pain of the discussions we've been having and the decisions we've made.
We have been in "red meat mode" for the past thirty years. We've been fighting over "issues" for so long, we've forgotten that there are people - human beings, children of God - behind those "issues".
We've hurt each other. Terribly. Deeply.
When that happens, institutions often become afflicted with "mission creep" - the tendency for a task, especially a military operation, to become unintentionally wider in scope than its initial objectives. It can be very dangerous because each success can breed more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic failure occurs.
We're creeping up on that catastrophic failure. You can see it clearly reflected in the budget. But, I'll have some more things to say about that at a later time (Until then, the blog of Susan Snook A Good and Joyful Things shares her perspectives of the budget which I think is spot on).
So, yes, let's address the mission creep. Let's retreat and regroup and rethink this. Let's consider our identity and our mission - which the Presiding Bishop's address does beautifully - and then, by all means, let's "restructure for mission".
I have no problem with that.
Here's my problem. It's in the very last paragraph:
If we want to save the life of this Church, we’re going to have to lose it. If we want to find life within this body, we’re going to have to give it away. We are once again being invited to let go of our idols and turn to God – to drink from the well and join the dance. This is kenotic work, self-giving work, what God does in pouring out the divine self into human flesh. We are here to serve God’s people and God’s creation, rather than ourselves. The Episcopal Church will learn who it is in this age when it learns how to give itself to the dance, to drink from the well and be spun out into the world – for the life of the world.I am sick - ye verily, unto death - of hearing people in power talk about 'sacrifice' without demonstrating even a willingness to model that for the rest of the people of God.
We'll cut down on General Convention and CCABs (Commissions, Committees, Agencies and Boards) but the bishops will continue to meet as they always have - twice a year, flying all around the country, many times to Camp Allen, which is in a diocese which does not - has not, for several years now - given it's money to The Episcopal Church. I know. Go figure, right?
Let's cut the POHD's (President of the House of Deputies) budget and remove her staff, but let's allow our Presiding Bishop to travel the world so she can "represent The Episcopal Church" to "dance into the world" and not touch her budget. At all. In fact let's increase it.
Never mind that the Presiding Bishop is supposed to "preside" over the House of Bishops. That's the job, historically. Why isn't anyone talking about "restructuring" the role of the Presiding Bishop to its original intent?
Same thing with the budget: Cut structures that support the participation of laity and clergy but the administrative costs actually increase.
In the present budget, there’s more money for the Presiding Bishop’s office, more money for the General Convention office, more money for the Chief Operating Officer’s office. Meanwhile, funding for formation, youth, and young adults, is slashed. These things, the budget documents say, can better be done on the diocesan, provincial, or local levels.
We talk about "mission" - which everyone knows is best done at the local level - but continue to feed the institutional church.
General Convention is obscenely expensive - on average, about $3,000 per deputy in most dioceses. (Note, please, that no one is saying how much the bishops spend for their twice yearly gatherings.)
In order to be cost-effective, much of the work of conversation and consensus building must be (and is) done BEFORE the legislative sessions of General Convention. That's why Executive Council, CCABs and Provincial gatherings and the HOB/D listserv (which costs the institutional church $0) are important.
Can it be done more efficiently and cost effectively? No doubt. Can we use technology to help us achieve those goals? Absolutely.
Here's the thing: I don't want to hear any talk about that without parallel discussions about how those same methods can be used to make the meetings of the House of Bishops more effective and cost effective.
Many are saying that not only does the legislative process at General Convention set up winners and losers, it doesn't allow for 'Holy Conversation' that is informative as well as transformative. The current buzz in some circles is that we should limit the voting and have more time for bible study and conversation and prayer.
Here's my unvarnished take on that: To spend three grand per deputy - plus the other expenses to the institution - to have the luxury of sitting around in prolonged conversation and prayer sounds like a grand idea but unless there's productivity and results, it's just a big, expensive junket.
The purpose of General Convention IS legislative. That was its purpose. It's the only place where dioceses can be called into being. It's the one place where canons can be created, adapted, changed and put into place. It's the one place where the budget can be passed.
And, all of this must pass both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. It is then enacted by Executive Council and the CCABs - which have equal representation of laity, clergy and bishops.
So, if we limit discussion and voting at General Convention in the House of Deputies, let's also limit it in the House of Bishops.
And, if we make time for 'Holy Conversations' ..........yep, you're getting the hang of this now..... let's not just have Deputies talking to other Deputies and Bishops talking to other Bishops but (gasp!), Bishops and Deputies talking with each other.
Look, I'm a good Anglican. I'm not saying either/or. I'm looking for a balance here. I think we've basically got it but the past 20 years have been so contentious that it's called the process into question. I'm saying that we're asking the wrong questions.
Let's give ourselves some time to see what we do when we're actually focused and not distracted by meanness of spirit and derailed by a group of people who are intent on destroying the church if it isn't a precise, exact reflection of "their Jesus".
Oh, and by the way, what no one is saying but is as obvious as the Iberian nose in the middle of my face is that, if we cut General Convention, that also makes it less expensive for the diocese.
Guess where 815 wants that "excess" money to be applied? Right.
Let's name the demon in the institutional church: Mission Creep.
Let's admit that we've become unintentionally wider in scope than our initial objectives (mission).
The flowers that bloom in late summer have a very pleasant fragrance and the shapes and forms created by kudzu vines growing over trees and bushes can be pleasing to the eye in the summer months.
However, it becomes a noxious weed that grows so rapidly it kills trees and shrubs, either by heavy shading or strangulating the roots.
The Presiding Bishop has done a masterful job of calling us to our identity as Christians. She wrote:
".... our primary identity (is as) – beloved siblings, created in the image of God, made for conversation and intimate community with God and each other. That image we bear is a community image – we don’t just reflect Jesus, or the Spirit, or God the Father – we reflect that dynamic, relational Trinity. The ancient church likened the trinity to a dance, a moving, dynamic, interdependent community – that is at the same time one. It’s a circle dance (perichoresis), but not simple revolution. It’s more like a transformative and evolving spiral in multiple dimensions.Yes! Brava! Well said. Lady Gaga was right: Just dance (doo-doo-doo). Just dance!
But note that the Presiding Bishop also rightly observed that it is a 'circle dance'.
And perichoresis in community calls for Circle Leadership.
Not top down. Not bottom up.
So, if we're going to dance, don't ask me to put on high heels and dance backwards while you continue to lead in your comfortable shoes.
That may have worked for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but it doesn't work in the Sacred Circle dance of the Realm of God.
And, don't ask me to take off my shoes while you continue to wear yours and then wonder why I yelp so loudly when you step on my toes.
Give me your hand, not a handout.
Don't look down on me, look me in the eye.
Let's meet in small circles and talk about Jesus. Then, let's talk about how we, as beloved children of God through our baptism in Christ Jesus, can do and be His mission in the world. What is our unique gifts as Episcopalians who are members incorporate of the Body of Christ? What do we have to give to the world that no one else can give?
What is our particular dance step in the circle dance? How can we teach each other to dance? How can we make room for people who create variations on the dance step?
And then, together, let's cut back the kudzu of mission creep and clear a space on the dance floor for everyone to join in.
God has been filling our ears for centuries with the inviting, inspiring music of the Gospel.
Let's cut down the kudzu and dance. (Doo-doo-doo) Just dance!