Friday, June 29, 2007

Synod Decompression

The past week has been busy. In fact, there's been more going on over the past few days than even I'd anticipated, related to both the UCC's recently concluded General Synod and family. I'd meant to blog some thoughts during Synod, but never had access to a computer. Thus the blog went dark for a week or so.

And while this entry will mainly be about Synod itself, I'm thinking much more about family right now. My grandmother had been sick for quite a while, and I got the call early yesterday morning that she passed away. What was wonderfully convenient about my trip to Hartford was that my father's side of the family lives in New Jersey, so I was able to spend part of Grandma's final day with her. Not everyone can say that they're able to do this. So while I join my family in grief, I also give thanks for a life that was lived completely for God and for others. And it helped fuel my cranky post from yesterday.

So that's the long and short of things. But I also have some thoughts on what turned out to be a much less tense General Synod than two years ago. Here they are in quick succession:

Declaration Against War - During our very first plenary session, the officers of the Collegium presented a pastoral letter that they had written denouncing the war in Iraq. It was unclear to me at the time who they were planning on sending this to, but I may still have been distracted by the ambiance of the event. Originally, this was meant to be a simple sharing from the Collegium of what they were planning to do, but others' constant striving for Edgy Prophetic Witness~! got the better of them and someone made a motion that the General Synod attach its name as a collective body to the letter. After some debate that included the completely valid objection that this came out of nowhere and didn't give delegates much notice (much less local churches), the motion passed in unsurprising fashion.

Bill Moyers - I really liked this guy. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that he overshadowed a certain other big name speaker who had received much more hype. But more on that in a second. Moyers was fired up about the honesty of the media and the lack of embarrassment among the "political class" on issues ranging from the war to child poverty: "You have to wonder how a self-named Christian nation allows so many children to suffer." Moyers contrasted the Jesus of the rich with the Jesus of the Gospels, and at one point received an extended standing ovation. I found the speech very inspiring.

Marilynne Robinson - Robinson surprised me by talking about science and faith. I thought this would be a book reading or about writing. As it turned out, she focused on the importance of caring for humanity and creation and striving to understand both via science as conducive to doing God's will. And when talking about humanism, she referenced...John Calvin? Yes, John Calvin. She noted throughout her talk about how humanistic Calvin is in his Institutes, how he writes that you can't see or contemplate God without appreciating humanity, its uniqueness, and a need to see it as beautiful. To which end I wrote in my Moleskine: "So much for Total Depravity." Oh, and I got my copy of Gilead signed.

Barack Obama - To be honest, I was disappointed. Many others I talked to were as well. First, it did more than once come off as a campaign speech even though we were told earlier in the day that it wouldn't be. Second, he used some of the same lines and phrases that I've read and heard him use elsewhere: "As I kneeled under that cross on the south side of Chicago..." It seemed so canned in places. While I don't doubt his sincerity as a person of faith and as one who wants to help change American politics, this moment was not what I and others hoped that it would be.

Steeplejacking - I'd been curious about this book since I first heard about it, and my curiosity had been raised once the debating had begun on the UCC forums and elsewhere. As expected, it brought out denials and calls for clearer connections from some corners, which only made me want to read the book more. As it turned out, the authors were at Synod and offered a presentation on their book, which I made sure to attend. The hour began with the acknowledgement that UCCTruths had half-jokingly "endorsed" the book a while back (John Dorhauer in particular has had a back-and-forth with UCCTruths for months now), and then they moved on to trying to connect the Institute for Religion and Democracy with the exodus of at least some churches from mainline denominations. Afterwards I picked up a copy to read for myself, and read the whole thing on the trip home. I certainly have no sympathy for the IRD, and they do make several connections that warrant more investigation. However, from interacting with the treasurer of Biblical Witness Fellowship on the UCC forums, I know that he is honest and sincere enough both just as a person and when he offers up the books for scrutinizing for contributions from the IRD. The argument in Steeplejacking is that the IRD contributes through individual members rather than as an organization. Nevertheless, the book is helpful when describing general tactics to control or remove a church, as well as tactics to combat these attempts.

Meeting People - I met several people at Synod whom I'd only known online previously. I met several other bloggers, notably Kirk from Kirkogitation and Jeff from Jeff's Splendidly Mundane Life, both of whom are included on the UCC Blog Network list. In fact, they sat together through most of the business sessions, just over from my delegation. I also met a fellow young hipster pastor who posts on the UCC forums and together we acted our age, and I had lunch with the moderator of the forums and his wife, where we talked about The Sopranos, balancing family and ministry, postmodernism, and pluralism all in one sitting. That was cool. And of course there were a ridiculous amount of seminary buddies, with whom I also acted my age.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a much less tense Synod than two years ago. There were big issues on the table, but the tone was much less contentious than when we had to talk about marriage and divestment from last time. A lot of debating was cut short, actually, because we suddenly found ourselves in a time crunch to get through the business agenda. When you party too much, you wake up hung over.

It was an enjoyable Synod. The next one is in Michigan, which I'll thoroughly enjoy for that reason alone. But I'm not in a hurry to get there.