Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Get into the boat"

"Get into the boat. Go across the lake. There will be a storm. You will not die."

--The Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
June 28, 2008

When I read this letter discussing the recent decisions regarding PC(USA) ordination standards, Rev. Parsons' quote struck me as both inspirational and pragmatic. As Presbyterians, we seek discernment; we consider; we send out to committee for assessment; we pray and ponder. Eventually, we make decisions that formally express to others how we see the Word brought to life in the world around us. When we decide is when I'm most energized, but in the consideration and discernment, I'm most proud.

I hope that Rev. Parsons will forgive me for parsing his quote, but here is my application of that message to the situation we are in:

Get into the boat...
There's a good chance that some individual churches might consider this a crucial time to consider the future of the continuity of the denomination or specifically their own membership in the denomination. No matter how much many of us wish this were the end of the discussion, the exact opposite is true. The point at which decisions are made is a time for renewed dialogue rather than a time to end open relationships. We're all in this boat together.

Go across the lake...
This is a time for us to go on a journey together and arrive at the destination together. We may disagree on the destination, what path to take, who should row and who should steer; but in the end, it is in being together in right relationships with each other (rather than contentious or confrontational ones) that we're able to experience hesed. We must journey together as one.

There will be a storm...
I believe that we can only truly know ourselves after experiencing turmoil and questioning what we think we know? Life is alive because of the storms that we experience: internal strife debating what is right to do, external factors forcing us to make hasty decisions, confrontation with others after intended or unintended offenses, disagreements on which direction is most correct or least wrong. As the narrow margin of the vote indicates (54 / 46), we as a denomination are not of one single mind on the issue. People with many different perspectives will come together, clash, and settle... and change. Come together, clash, and settle... and change.

You will not die...
Change happens only through a journey. And the end of each journey is merely the beginning of another. This action of the GA is about going on a journey together. One that changes the way we discuss ordination and the ways in which God calls us together. If we don't change the way in which we discuss the issues that our current societies must address, then our discussion cannot be effective. The only situation in which we "die" is when when fail to change, when we choose to stop journeying together.

Some churches have begun posting information about their push to intentionally and methodically divide the denomination, creating relationships between our churches that are explicitly more separate. I hope that, instead, we can continue the dialogue together: as a denomination, as individual churches that will be inevitably divided in opinion; as a nation; as communities; and as humans. Times of contention are times for coming together to build relationships that will make us stronger and more able to survive the inherent turmoil in our current situation and the other storms that we are sure to encounter in the future.

As a denomination and through our representatives and leaders, we have discerned and studied and voted and changed. We are at one ending... and another beginning. In spite of our differences on whether the changes are consistent with teachings or not, I would expect us to agree that we are taught to build relationships that bring us closer together rather than further apart (especially in situations that naturally divide us).


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