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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, July 06, 2012

Where's the beef?

General Convention is always a test of endurance - emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual. 

This one is no different. 

Except, for some reason, my feet hurt more than I remember them being sore and tired at any other General Convention - even Denver or Minneapolis when we seemed to be spread out all over the city.

I refuse to believe that it's my age. Even young people are complaining about it, which, misery always loving company, makes me feel better.

Things are beginning to heat up here in Indy, and I'm not just talking about today's temperature which soared to 106 with a heat index of 112. The Budget "process" still looms - hearings on "Income" are scheduled for this evening - and some folks are really edgy about it. 

Discussions about "Structure/Re-structure" continue to dominate conversations, but the undercurrent is always that of the Budget.  We talk about "cutting" this or "expanding" that, but underneath it all is a free-floating anxiety about money.

I was amazed at how those conversations mirror the rhetoric we hear in our cultural/political arenas.

We want change. We need change. We need to spend less money on church governance and more money at the parish level. "All mission is local" (Is it? Really?) We have been "hit by an iceberg and we're sinking fast". We need to "flatten the organization" so that the voices of laity, deacons, priests and bishops can be equally heard. 

The problem was that nobody - not one person - offered any example of the change which we seem so desperately to need and they seem so desperately to want.  No, not one. We just all know that what we have now isn't working and we need to change - we hope and long and earnestly desire change. 

The question hung over the room like a dark cloud: What change? What does that look like to you? No one would say, if they knew. Just lots of talk that sounded more like a therapy/venting session than a legislative hearing. And, maybe that's just what we needed at this point. 

I understand that, just this afternoon, the House of Deputies voted to sell 815. Now, whatever you think of that, pro or con, is fine. What I find disturbing is that no one offered an alternative. Just, change it. It will most likely be defeated by the House of Bishops.

Remind you of anything? Anyone? Bueuller? Anyone? 

Over in another room on another night, a group called "Acts 8" (The eight chapter of the Book of Acts) had people come to the microphone and finish the sentence: "I dream of a church that________".  You can see a video of it here. You can also follow them on Facebook.

More than 120 people crammed into that room and about 40 people came to the microphone to finish that sentence in a variety of ways - like:
…. has lots of opportunities to listen and share with each other.”
… where you can’t tell where the Church ends and the world begins.”
… shows love.”
… believes that the Holy Spirit will direct and is not afraid to go where it’s directed.”
… in which the spiritual life is lived intensely.”
… is not ashamed to proclaim Jesus.”
… honors its past without sacrificing its future.”
… where we are working freely and joyfully with ecumenical partners to do Christ’s work in the world.”
… actively engages in raising the dead.”
… whose members are not afraid to talk about how God has changed their lives.”
… is a home for the entire community.”
… has tattooed on its forehead, ‘Take a risk.’" 
I'm not sure I understand it all, but that's the nature of other people's dreams. It doesn't always make sense to other people. What's important is that it makes sense to the dreamer.

What was interesting - and, admittedly very distressing - to me was that, while the age and gender demographic varied, the race, class and educational status didn't. Indeed, everyone - except for one person - was Caucasian, well educated, and middle class.

That one young woman said, "I dream of a church where I’m not one of two (African Americans) in a room.” Amen. And, include Hispanics, First People, Aboriginals, Pacific Islanders, etc., etc., etc.

It's important to dream dreams. Dreams are one of the favorite haunts of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, that's what an Acts 8 movement is all about. To allow the work of the Holy Spirit to be done and not playing into the negative, destructive bickering over structure and money which seems to have been the set up of the conversation initiated by the institutional church. 

Again, I have to ask: Where's the content? What do these dreams look like in reality? The promise is that the organizers of Acts 8 are going to initiate another gathering to talk about how to transform the church and make our dreams become a reality.  Probably two days before General Convention ends.

As Clara would ask, "Where's the beef?"

Neither the institutional nor the grassroots Acts 8 movement solutions will come in time to positively impact the final outcome of the budget. I don't know if that will be good or bad or simply fuel the frustrations many are feeling. I don't know what the "final draft" budget looks like that will be proposed to General Convention and whether or not the venting/dreaming will positively or negatively affect how it is received.

I would like more honesty, please. If what we're talking about is cutting down the structures of the church so that the power and authority are more centralized in the episcopacy, then let's say that and not muck around in egalitarian images and language. 

If we're talking about giving more voice to more people, then let's please talk about how we're going to reign in the episcopacy and the institution. Less budget for bishops travel and entertainment and more line items for church planting and evangelism, please. 

If we're talking about "cutting down" on General Convention and governing structures as a way to "save money," turning it into an opportunity for more bible study and "encouraging each other" but what we really mean is that we'd like to roll back the progress we've made through the legislative process to provide all the sacraments for all the baptized, then let's be honest about that, too.

If we're asking people to "dream dreams" because we don't have a clue about the change we want but we're just trying to diffuse the tension and anxiety, then I'd really love to hear someone say that - flat out - because it's what I think is a large part of what is going on but some people can't even be honest with themselves and say that out out loud.
 My dogs are dead tired from all the walking. But, even they are asking, "Where's the beef?


susankay said...

Everyone should just read Margaret's blog (leave it lay) and go from there. I think that would do a world of good,

Ann said...

Did you see Tom Jackson's article on this?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - I'll go read it now. I have a baptism to do in the morning. At the fountain. Outside. Between the Hyatt and the Westin.

While others are doing their shame and blame thing, I'm doing a baptism.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ann, Haven't yet seen it but great minds and all that. I mean, it's just as plain as the Iberian nose in the middle of my face.

These three vunderkids have a lot to offer. Too bad their frat/sorority house snarkiness gets in the way.

Unknown said...

As usual, you hit the nail on the head. Gracias, Madre.

And when is this baptism tomorrow morning scheduled? Surely you'll need a few witnesses...:)

Unknown said...

As usual, you've hit the nail square on the head. Gracias, Madre.

And when is this baptism tomorrow scheduled? Surely you'll need a few witnesses...:)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jason - 10 AM. Fountain between Westin and Hyatt.

Josh Thomas said...

Prayers for the new sister tomorrow. Baptism in a fountain at the Hyatt Hotel is the ideal way to beat the heat!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm not sure of that, Jason. It's going to go up to 115 today. Even a bit of baptismal water won't affect that kinda heat. It's already 89 and the air is thick and heavy out there.

Lord, have mercy.

Elaine C. said...

The Bishop of Southern Ohio sent out an email today about being on the structure committee -- and agreeing to be part of a sub-committee to write up "what" things will look like -- and seemed to be also saying that it was far from clear what that might be. My reaction is that may be good because it is open minded ... depending on whose coercive power shapes the content ...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine C - I agree that you've got to allow room for the Spirit to lead but, my goodness, I'm so weary of the Kumbaya / Group Therapy feel to all of this. Time to put on our big girl/boy pants and LEAD. Don't worry if the institution will follow. Be more concerned about being faithful to following where the Spirit leads you and then LEAD in that direction.

Then again, patience has never been my strong suit.

Lyn G. Brakeman said...

Blessed are the feet of those who proclaim the gospel to those who are afraid, longing, and schtuck! Just back from Israel. The new dean of the Anglican Cathedral St. George's is Palestinian. Our Episcopal way can still work when we grow into our own shoes. Thanks sister.

Malinda said...

I would rather start with a dream than a strategic plan - albeit a plan generally and in hope filled ways flows from the dream. I am hope filled about where the Acts idea might take us, out of slavery to our structures and buildings (the "we've always done it this way) and the real and for some crushing costs of supporting these beautiful but expensively decaying buildings. It will not be easy or pretty and it never was but on the other end there is life, new and renewed. At least I think so, pray for it and try to live in ministry into it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malinda - I think there must be some middle ground between being constipated by strategic plan and having diarrhea of the mouth. I mean, I don't mind messy processes but I have to tell you, there's another power dynamic afoot here. It feels like avoidance to me. Then again, what to do I know. I'm a Boomer and, as such, "The Enemy" to some in the Acts 8 Group.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

To the person whose post I inadvertently deleted - In no way do I consider Acts 8 "the enemy". I think it's premature and immature and I suspect an unconscious (or, possibly conscience) agenda for self-aggrandizement. But, enemy? Not hardly. They are too disorganized to be a threat. Besides, whoever is for Jesus is not against Jesus. I think they are well intentioned but ill advised. And, I really, really, really hate the divisive generational labeling. It's deeply offensive.

Nurya Love Parish said...

If you don't like divisive generational labeling, then please stop doing it. Nobody in Acts 8 has described the Boomer generation as the enemy. There were Boomers as well as Millennials at the Acts 8 gathering and nothing but mutual respect.

The Acts 8 conversation conveners are all over 40. The fact that you are describing them as vunderkids is a little condescending. Tom Ferguson, of Crusty Old Dean fame, is the only one who excels in snark. Susan Snook is snark-free. The Acts 8 conversation has had only one meeting. I think it's premature to expect "beef."

Here's one example of something that needs to change:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I never define people by their generational demographic but lots of GenXers seem obsessed with it. It's an interesting ploy - they talk about how Boomers have ruined the church and then, when a Boomer defends themselves, the GenXers say, "See, you do it, too."

I think conversations like this are not only not helpful, they are part of the problem. Process is an important part of planning but when process becomes the plan, it begins to turn people on each other.

When you want to start talking about something more concrete - like an actual plan - let me know. Until then, I'm still watching and waiting with one eye while I keep the other on the work of the gospel I'm already doing. Indeed, I'm preparing another person for baptism while I'm here in Indy.

I look at a water fountain and see a baptismal font. I don't have to dream. I just have to open my eyes and see what God has placed right in front of me and then use my intellect and creativity to bring another soul to Jesus.

Small Farmer in The City said...

As usual many good points in your post and the responses...I would offer the thought that perhaps we need to come to some unity on the true essentials of what being Episcopalian means at our provincial (i.e. National) level and let the remaining adiaphora be dealt with at the diocesan and parish level - assuming those old Roman divisions of governance are

Small Farmer in The City said...

And an added thought piece from a young Conservative Quaker minister...