Friday, August 28, 2015

The Duggars Make It Hard to Admit You're Christian

Last Sunday the scripture reading I had chosen from the Lectionary, for some forgotten reason, was Ephesians 6:10-20. Paraphrased, it goes like this:
Ephesians! Wear your armour of God to protect you from the evil and temptations that exist all around you. Wear the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Helmet of Salvation (that's right, I said it, Helmet of Salvation), Belt of Truth, Shield of Faith, Sword of the Spirit and very sturdy sandals so that you may stand FIRM in order to proclaim the gospel of peace. (If you want the actual, non-paraphrased version, click here.) Oh yeah, and...pray all the time. I really don't like this scripture. I like the bit about praying all the time. That’s a good piece of wisdom. It’s the all other bits. I feel the need to put this piece of scripture in a time out--to send it to the corner for the time being.

Vicki, why so grumpy today about this sixth chapter of Ephesians? It's cause of the Duggars. The Duggars happened. JOSH happened. AGAIN.
The armour of God was to protect the early followers of Christ and to allow them to stand firm against evil. I would venture a guess that each and every one of the Duggars knows this list by heart. They are righteous. And they have stood firm. The problem, for me, it is implied that in order to don all of this gear, one must be worthy of putting it on in the first place. To have a full and confident understanding what it all means—what righteousness is all about, what salvation is, what conquests God would have us use the sword of faith in God’s name, what obedience looks like. You can’t don it unless you know exactly what the wills of God and Christ were. Without a doubt. And doesn’t that sound like an attempt to be perfect in one’s faith? Without question or doubt?  And, God only knows, and as the Duggars are figuring out, it’s pretty damn hard to be perfect all the time. And that armour must get pretty darn heavy over time. It gets heavy and can make it hard to breath after awhile. Hard to fill up your lungs and take a deep, life-giving breath. If you are wearing impenetrable armour all the time, how do you grow? Stretch? Evolve?

Leonard Cohen once wrote, “forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. And we know, where there are cracks letting in sunshine, that is the place, however improbable, where things grow, where, despite all odds, life takes hold and grows. I just don’t like this scripture as I read it today. I don’t see where it allows for pluralism, the understanding that there are many paths to God, not just the path Jesus has set before this United Church of ours. The armour does not allow for diversity, for expansion of thought and theology, for growth in understanding others in our world. When someone is standing so firmly, wearing their breastplate of righteousness, they cannot possible see that another is as good and loved by God as they believe themselves to be. Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. If we follow this author’s urging to don this protective armour in order to keep out what might distract us from Christ’s Way, I’m afraid we will not learn and grow from the beautiful diversity that is our world, our United Church and our very own faith community. In light of the many decisions made recently at the 42nd General Council of the United Church, it is evident that there is broad range of belief in what decisions were right or wrong.

But we have chosen to be together in the same denomination, the same congregation, so how do we be in relationship with one another, to be friends, allies and advocates together on things we do agree on if the armour is preventing us from learning from one another about the things we don’t agree on? Our church, the United Church of Canada, was built upon a solid foundation of social justice issues and has taken many of a controversial stance on certain topics over the years. Remember 1988 anyone? The year General Council voted, to the great consternation to a vocal opposition, to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian people into ministry? There can be a great tension in being a member of this church, this church that struggles to listen for those not often heard, this church that seeks out those who live at the margins and do not experience the privilege of speaking the common language, being the dominant colour or race, who do not process thoughts, ideas, concepts fast enough to keep up with those around them, who struggle to live with limited mobility or chronic illness. And yet again, we have some challenges before us, trying to sort our way through the tension of being a denomination rooted in social justice and the living it out in our day-to-day lives.

When I read this scripture today, in light of the decisions made at this year’s General Council, in light of the striving-to-be-perfect Josh Duggar falling from grace because of multiple infractions against his faith, his family and the covenant he made with his wife, I worry that this armour listed in Ephesians might get in the way of us trying to figure out how we will sort our way through what the church is calling us to be, what the church understands as God calling us to be. There were many decisions besides divestment and Israel/Palestine that were made at General Council that we, as a community, need to learn and talk about, to discuss, argue and agree about. So, can those of us who choose to enter onto holy ground together agree to not put on our armour, our breastplate of righteousness, our helmets of salvation, our shields of utter confidence that God will protect our beliefs, our belts of truth, the shoes for standing firmly and our swords of the Spirit, ready to conquer instead of listening. Can we set aside the armour, maybe go put in the corner for little while in a time out. Can we forget our perfect offering and allow the cracks to let in the sun? Do we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another? To offer ourselves, our thoughts and our beliefs and trust that our brothers and sisters in Christ in the UCC will not harm us? Will you strive not harm another with your own worry and concern? Will we hear and try to understand each other’s points of view? Will we know each other’s truths to be real just as our own truths are real? I think we can. Because we love one another. We care for one another. Knowing that God is always with us and that God will not leave us, can we forget our perfect offering? Can we let the cracks show and let the light in? May it be so.

Photo: Cimento-Vivo

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

We Just Did What!?

Here at the 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada, some 340+ Commissioners have gathered to do the work of our denomination.

The plenary working its way through the Comprehensive Review.
Those of us who have been elected from our Conferences were required to read through and examine a 1100+ page Workbook. Very many proposals have been put forward for the Council. The biggest (in length of the pages & potential impact on the structure and future of the UCC) proposal is the Comprehensive Review but there are many other issues up for discussion. Membership, ministry training,  justice for Israel/Palestine, reducing carbon emissions, fossil fuel divestments, calls for public inquiries for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, concerns for inmates enduring solitary confinement and implementing a Child Well-Being Index are just a few of the topics being decided at GC42.

Yesterday we met in our Commissions. Each of the Commissioners were assigned to a Commission: Blueberry, Partridgeberry or Bakeapple. All proposals not of the Comprehensive Review or not foundational in terms of our denomination were given to the Commission to discuss and decide upon. My Commission, the Partridgeberry Commission voted on issues mostly concerning the church itself: how does a person proceed through training for ministry, should we do a review of the theological statements that are in the covenant for those people being ordained or commissioned, can those people not 'full members' of a congregation vote on all matters of the church?

Bakeapple Berries
When we left the second round of Commissions yesterday, at 7:15 pm in NFLD, some of us discovered that the Bakeapple Commission passed a proposal stating that the United Church will divest from fossil fuel companies. To the dismay to many Commissioners from Alberta and Northwest Conference, it was also clear that the national news programs were already reporting on this decision.

This has put me and my ANW Conference fellow Commissioners in the uncomfortable position of supposedly being at the meeting where this huge vote took place but not formally understanding what exactly was passed. There were many variations of the proposal to divest from fossil fuels - some more far-reaching than others. As well, the proposals may have been amended before being voted upon, so even though I have access to all the original proposals, I don't know the final wording or even which proposal was the one that passed. The wider gathering, the plenary, will hear reports from each of the Commissions on Friday. So, we know there was a vote and divestment form fossil fuel companies has been called for but we really do not know anything else at this moment in time.

And so, my friends of north Calgary, Symons Valley United Church and Alberta & Northwest Conference, what I am trying to say is:

Breathe deeply, know that we are not alone. Our United Church of ours is a diverse body of Christ grounded in social justice and which has great compassion for our world and all of God's creation. We have come together, following Jesus and being led by the Spirit. God is with us. God has been before us and will be after us. We are God's people. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reading 1100 Pages. Say WHAT?!

The 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada began tonight. The hundreds of us that have gathered in Corner Brook, NL are commissioners (elected by our home Conferences), stewards (volunteers), ecumenical guests, visitors and staff of the national church. We were welcomed by a variety of folks, including Vice Chief Kevin Barnes of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq people, the town mayor and the Vice President of the university campus that we are making use of. We worshiped together, lifting our voices in song and prayer, knowing that this next week will be a time of huge decisions and changes for our United Church of Canada.

Best line of the evening was from the guest preacher, Ian March-MacCuish (using his spouse's words), "We could say that the the church has crapped out. Let's go home. After the kitchen party."

This is not from the aforementioned kitchen party - that will be Thursday. This is the campus bar called The Backlot, being inclusive and welcoming, as all good Newfoundlanders are. (Thanks David Pollard for the photo.)

Ian did go on to say some lovely, inspiring words that will keep us here for the next week, working diligently to make sure the church doesn't, in fact, crap out in the near (or, hopefully in the far) future. Stuff like, "Be not afraid" and "We are the people who are called to help find the way".

ANYWAY, it's dawning on me that the business portion of this gathering is starting tomorrow and I'm fretting about whether I've got me readings all sorted. The Workbook for GC42 is over 1100 pages. That's right. 1100 pages!!

In a moment of overwhelmed-ness, trying to read the Workbook page by page, I wondered (as EACH AND EVERY Commissioner has in the past month), "how much of this thing do I actually need to READ?" And so I took a break from reading - cause let's face it, there are only so many proposals asking, 'for the love of God, change the name of Chasing the Spirit' that one can read before distraction is required.

And this is what I found when I went through the Workbook as a whole:

  • 45 pages of Contents, Letters of Welcome, Instructions and Guest Profiles
  • 14 pages are profiles of the youth on Pilgrimage
  • 7 pages are dedicated to those folks in the UCC who have died since GC41
  • 39 pages are profiles of the Moderator nominees
  • 17 pages list the origins of each (EACH!) proposal and the financial implications of each one
  • 197 (!!) pages are reports
  • 8 pages of proposals that we need to deal with right off the bat to even convene the official meeting
  • 170 pages of proposals that we likely won't deal with directly--a sub-group has taken those on - thanks be to God for them
  • 57 pages of plenary proposals - okay, now we are talking turkey
  • 138 pages of proposals that will be dealt with in the smaller Commissions - my Commission (lovingly called the Partridgeberry Commission - apparently there really is a thing called a partridgeberry - see below) has responsibility for 33 pages
  • 407 (!!!!) pages of General Council Executive meeting minutes and references
So, yes. Answering my question above, I DO have all my readings sorted. And they are sorted good. Time for some sleep. I need to rest up for the big discussions about to happen in the next 6 days - during the business time AND at The Backlot!!

The Partridgeberry

Friday, August 7, 2015

What Time Is It Again?

I got up at 3:50 am today. 3. 50. AM.
As in, ten minutes BEFORE 4 am. In the morning. Today.
And now, it's some 13 hours later and it's 10:30 pm.
No, I didn't forget to tell time and math is not being hard for me today. The time shift is easy to explain. All I need is one word.

That's right. Newfoundland happened to me today.
This morning started out like a bad joke you play on a good friend by setting their alarm clock to a random time in the middle of the night, hoping they don't actually look at the time but assume it really is time to get up. The problem was, it WAS time to get up. So, no happy relief after having a shower, realizing I could go back to bed for a few hours. Nope. It was time to go to the airport. And, of course, Tim's for a steeped tea. Mmmm. LOVE steeped tea.

I was quickly on my way to Corner Brook, NL for the United Church of Canada's 42nd General Council (otherwise known as GC42). Those of us going to GC42 from Alberta & Northwest Conference were asked to post their travelling photos so I set mine up as church-geeky as I could while waiting for my second flight.
My UCC jacket, the latest Observer (United Church magazine), the DUCC (Diakonia of the United Church of Canada) banner to hang up at GC42, proof of my diligent readings of the 1100 page GC42 Workbook opened to the controversial One Order of Ministry Proposal that will cause a bit of aggravation this next week and my second round of caffeine - Starbuck's version of the London Fog.

Our little plane to Corner Brook was filled with only two types of people:
  • United Church people
  • Other (not random Others but a big group going on some sort of cruise. It sounded like fun.)
The confusion really set in when leaving Deer Lake Airport. 

Have you ever been to Deer Lake Airport? If you have, I would totally understand you saying, "Vicki. How could you ever be confused at Deer Lake Airport? It's that tiny." But then, I would know you haven't read my second blog post. I can get lost in a paper bag. However, this time it wasn't my fault. And I wasn't really lost. Just confused. Remember? Sheesh. Keep up.

Anyway, I left the airport to discover there were two, almost exactly the same coach buses waiting for passengers. Which one was for the cruise and which one was for GC? No signage, no one I recognize. Sigh. Luckily the super nice and welcoming lady at the GC42 table crossing off names and offering cookies came outside just as I was having anxious flashbacks of the time I had to choose which change room to go into: "US" or "THEM" (let's just say I chose wrongly and there was more than enough embarrassment for everyone involved). She pointed to me to the correct bus and I didn't end up on a cruise I had paid for. Hmm. Maybe I need to rethink that.

So, I'm all safe and sound in Corner Brook at the Grenfall Campus, ensconced nicely in my dorm room, wondering who my room mate next door will be.

I DO know who my room mate in the bathroom is and that's this guy. He's sketchy. And I don't trust him. And I can't squish bugs. And I have no outside door close enough to shoo him. I hope he doesn't come into my room. My mom could squish bugs. Sometimes, I suppose, you just need your mom to come save you and that's that.

So now that's it's almost 11 pm here in Newfoundland, I will try to trick myself that it's bedtime and get some sleep. Wish me luck!