Friday, July 9, 2010

July 8, 2010

Wednesday is usually a tough day at the assembly. Not because of a grueling agenda. Rather it is because Monday and Tuesday are such long and demanding days. These are the days spent in committee and the committees must finish their business by Tuesday night. They start work at 9am and work through, sometimes late into the night, with few breaks.

By Wednesday, people at GA tend to be sleep deprived, irritable and sluggish from sitting too long, eating too much and concentrating for long hours. The festive air has given way to lethargy. Yet, by Wednesday evening, with the convening of plenary, energy and interest return.

Part of it, no doubt, is the energy generated by the band playing as everyone comes into the assembly hall. The band members youth, energy and effervescence contribute to a spirit of joy. But it is more than that. The commissioners gathered here care deeply for our church. Energy is renewed as they set to work because of how very much they care.

Our governing process can be tedious with all our amendments, substitute motions, and calling for the question. Yet, these representatives from across the church deal, even in the details, with passion. It is both impressive and heartening.

So now we are to Thursday. Folks have gotten some rest and been heartened by the work done yesterday. Hope is in the air. But more than that, there is a pervasive sense that Christ is moving in our midst here, enlivening our church. And I am profoundly grateful to witness it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oh, my, the whirlwind that is GA! Since I last had time to sit down and write, much has happened. We’ve elected a moderator, elder Cynthia Bolbach of the National Capitol Presbytery. My impression of her is that she is thoughtful, calm, measured and level. She is also funny, with a dry wit that has a point to it. I like her and am hopeful for her leadership.

We have also experienced vibrant, festive worship together. I cannot say enough about the music for this event. There were young people leading song with their bands, there was a vast choir whose blended voices moved our hearts, and the congregational singing! Let me just say that one hasn’t really sung until one has sung with 5000 other Presbyterians. We were sent on to work with a rousing rendition, accompanied by kettle drums, of Widor’s Toccata from his fifth symphony. What more need be said?

I spent the afternoon covering the Form of Government Revision committee for the Outlook. You may read that article by going here. I have to say that I was very impressed by the presence of the task force and their thorough, thoughtful presentation. They kept it pointing to Jesus, continually reminding us that polity is a tool for the ministry and mission of Christ.

I wish I could say the same for the overture advocates who spoke against adoption of the new form of government. Their arguments were lost in an overwhelmingly negative presentation which were actually kind of repulsive. Comparing the new form of government with a diseased pig which we are expected to eat? Yeellcchh. I’m proud to report that the only advocate speaking against the proposed FoG who had any dignity was the Synod’s own Michael Herrin of Mississippi Presbytery. He was calm, sensible and dignified. If you’d like to see Mississippi’s overture, head over here.

We’re all heavy in the business of the assembly now, with committees working long hours to complete their tasks. And these people care, deeply and prayerfully. It is moving to see how well they have prepared for their work, studying pages and pages of documents in order to be well versed for their tasks. I love this about Presbyterians. We are a sincere people, earnest in our desire to do the right thing for our church. It’s an endearing quality.

Meanwhile, despite the heavy work load, the atmosphere remains quite festive. Everywhere I go, old friends greet one another in joy. New friends are made as we discover, despite the differences, a love for God and our church. I continue to meet old friends and it is a real joy to renew ties. I’ve seen Ron, Vince, Susan, Laurie, Randy, Sharon, many, many Synod of Living Waters friends and communications colleagues. And I look forward to re-connecting with my former, dearly loved sister-in-law who, I’m relieved, still likes me! Life is good and I wish your joyful blessings, dear reader.

Friday, July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010 - Thoughts from GA

I traveled yesterday from my home in Nashville to Minneapolis for the 219th General Assembly meeting of the PC(USA). Security in Nashville was unusually backed up, perhaps because of the approaching holiday weekend, but the flight went smoothly and I enjoyed looking out my window at the Mississippi River for most of the journey. As we approached Minneapolis I could clearly see why Minnesota is called the “land of ten thousand lakes.” Small and large bodies of water were everywhere with motorboats and sailboats dotting their shining surfaces.

The Minneapolis airport is impressive, open and airy with a tram to take one from concourse to concourse and, best of all, large stalls in the ladies room. Perhaps, dear reader, you are rolling your eyes now but any of you who are women know what I am talking about here. It is difficult to turn around in most airport bathroom stalls, much less handle luggage in it, too. I thought the large stalls, along with the piped in classical music, was a clue to the nature of Minneapolis and these first signs have not disappointed.

Once I claimed my baggage, the Presbyterians were easy to spot. There they were, mother and teenage daughter, smiling a welcome and saying “you bet.” In their white smocks with the Presbyterian seal on the front, they helped me find the shuttle bus which took me to my hotel downtown.

Early the next morning I was up to find a sunny, clear day. Minneapolis is easy to walk around, clean and pedestrian friendly. As I made my way to register at the convention center I found old and new friends along the way: Jerry, Donna, Terry, Ron, Amgad, Terrye, Bridget. And it was the same for everyone there, greetings going on all around. Despite our differences and the serious conversations ahead of us in the coming week, ours is a church full of affection and regard for one another. Pray for our church. We may have our differences but we love each other. Not too different from most extended families I know.

Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010

A month ago, Nashville was under water. Torrential rains came on Saturday and Sunday – the 1st and 2nd of May. Up to 17” in some places, more than the earth could hold, more than the creek banks and riverbeds could contain. It came pouring forth, a wall of water from the sky at times, flooding the churches and homes and finally downtown and all of Opryland. To watch one’s home fill up with water is shocking – not my literal home, it stayed mercifully dry -- but this city I call home. There was water where I’d been to see the Titans play. There was water in the symphony hall where I heard Dvorak’s New World Symphony, enraptured. There was water in the Opry, where I saw Garrison Keillor and heard Old Crow Medicine Show stomp out their music. The fields where my children played soccer, the playground where they climbed and played on swings, Shelby Bottoms Greenway where I have walked many a mile: all of it under water.

Nashville is often called a small town within a big city and it does have that quality. “Do you know so-and-so? His mama is so-and-so.” “Oh, sure, I know who that is now.” Because I know his mama. We all, this small town/big city, watched as the waters crept up and covered the places where we eat, sleep, shop, play and worship. And then we set about cleaning it up. We went to our neighbors and sorted sodden, smelly clothing. Then we took it to the dry cleaner and did the laundry because our house was dry and theirs was not. We carried artwork and doll babies and board games and futons out of basements. We sorted china and someone’s grandmother’s silver so it could be washed and stored. We sifted through the personal lives of our neighbors, all the while trying to help those neighbors maintain some sort of dignity while we did it.

We, Nashville, carried children through the rising waters and got out our boats to rescue others from their roofs and lead horses out of swamped fields to higher ground.

And then we were the city of the unwashed masses and dirty dishes because, ironically, after having too much water, we had a water shortage. So, while we began recovery and rebuilding, we also conserved, another step to meeting the disaster with dignity and respect for each other. We watched as the waters rose and it grieved us to see our city, our home flooded. We were grieved, too, by our neighbors bearing their loss as we came to their aid. And as we grieved, it became clear that we intend to recover.

And now I look at water in a different way. All those soothing platitudes about the renewing properties for water seem frivolous. The waters of early May were a power beyond “living waters.” They were overwhelming, terrifying and expansively sweeping. They were full of garbage, heavy objects, toxins: they were poisonous and deadly. Now when I ponder the waters of baptism, I’m not thinking of a handful of warmed water, gently dribbled over a head. Baptism is a DYING and a RISING to new life, and that flood is what I think of now. Baptism is that radical, that raging, that spiritually life-changing, because it takes that kind of grace in this world to live into the beauty beyond the pain.

Picture the torrents of raging water we saw tearing through Nashville and then picture the mountains of possessions and water-logged debris piled everywhere outside of flooded homes. Now picture the armies of volunteers that poured forth from this city in response, doing for those who lost everything what they could not do for themselves. Now that, my friends, is baptism: a dying and a rising. And it is what Nashville is living and we are witness to. In May we were baptized. And now we live in grace, bringing new life to the city we call home.