Monday, June 29, 2015

Screw Our Courage: It's the Second Half of GenCon

Yesterday Crusty caught up with an old friend from his ecumenical days. COD asked how this person thought the Convention was going, and the reply was, "Except for the Presiding Bishop election --which was so incredible, don't get me wrong -- it seems most of the Anglican and ecumenical guests are leaving before the really interesting stuff comes up for consideration."  COD replied, "Oh yeah -- s**t is about to get real."

General Convention has a flow to it:  the first few days are the ramping up; there's orientation for new deputies, the opening worship and opening addresses from the PHOD and PB.  A lot of time is spent in legislative committees; there are short legislative sessions which often, frankly, don't have much to do and usually result in one or both of the Houses getting worked up over nothing because they need something to do.  In 2003, the House of Bishops spent an inordinate amount of time in one of their opening sessions debating a pretty straightforward resolution about Lutherans and confirmation.  The House of Deputies had an extended metaphysical discussion about applause in their opening session this time around.  The action is in the legislative committees, who are hearing testimony, combining resolutions on the same topic, amending other resolutions.  All that starts to change around the halfway point when the trickle of legislation starts to become a torrent.

This is where we are: this is the beginning of day 5.  We are at the halfway point, and the torrent of legislation is coming our way.  How we deal with it will define the legacy of this Convention, impact our own future shape as a church, and shape the beginning of Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry's tenure.

Crusty has been to five General Conventions; that's not nearly as many as some, but it's more than others.  COD has found that each General Convention sparks a theme for him.  For example, in 2006, Crusty went home with Judges 21:25 in his head: "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." Not that he was longing for a king; rather, COD felt
How Lady Macbeth would put it now.
we had a system of governance, but that it was either incapable of adequately addressing matters or that people simple ignored the processes that we did have.  Crusty lays it all out in more depth here.

Crusty is proud to announce it came to him yesterday, and he has his theme for 2015:  "Screw our courage!"
The following line from Macbeth popped into Crusty's head as he sat in various legislative committees and in sessions of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops over the first half of General Convention:

"Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail!"  From Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act I, Scene 7.   On the one hand, it may not be in good form to crib a line from two people trying to psych themselves up to assassinate their close friend, but, on the other hand, Crusty thinks the sentiment behind it speaks to the particular place we are currently in at Convention.

Significant legislation is going to come pouring out of committee and into the House of Bishops and House of Deputies:  whether to amend the marriage canon and authorize a rite for same sex blessings; proposals around restructuring; whether to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; and the budgetary process, just to name a few.

The reason this quote has been in Crusty's mind the past few days is that he is beginning to fear that the Convention may be unwilling to screw its courage.  Decisions are clearly before us, but is there a willingness to follow through?  To look at matters from a different way?  To stop talking about change and actually, maybe, trying some change?

Here's two examples so far.

There's been a proposal to eliminate provinces, Resolution D011.  [Disclosure: While Crusty was part of the group that helped to craft the Episcopal Resurrection Memorial to the Church, he did not draft this resolution and has not taken a stand on any of the resolutions.]  The debate in the testimony to the committee and in the governance and structure legislative committee's deliberations seemed to crystallize into two areas.  There were those who argued for efficacy of provinces, including particularly important and moving testimony from those in dioceses where a majority of Episcopalians have tried to leave and take property, noting the crucial role provinces played in helping the faithful, remaining Episcopalians stay connected.  There were also others who said that provinces functioned as spottily as they did effectively,

and were arbritrary: one person noted he could see Province IV from his house yet was in Province V which included a diocese hundreds of miles away.  Crusty found himself thinking that all the
No, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin was not testifying at the committee.
testimonies were absolutely correct -- cooperation and fellowship with nearby dioceses was and is essential, the boundaries don't make sense at times, and different provinces function in different ways.  While Crusty isn't wed to eliminating provinces,  he does think we need to free up as much energy for regional networking and cooperation -- if eliminating provinces does that, fine; if it doesn't, then don't eliminate them.  But his fear is that NOTHING will be done to answer the real question -- how to empower local and regional collaboration -- and we'll just stay with the exact same system we have, with all its effectiveness and ineffectiveness intact.

Another was the debate in House of Bishops on resolution C047, "to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in clean renewable energy."  The issue at hand was clear, and addressed forcefully and passionately by several bishops: the imperative of addressing matters of climate change and environmental stewardship.  The resolution was then amended to strike out the request to the the Church Pension Fund to be included with the Episcopal Church Endowment Fund in the call to divest.  [Aside:  the debate did include a discussion of what, exactly, "call" means -- is it like urging or recommending, or is it a command?  Crustenfreude went through the roof, since Crusty spent 6,000 words blogging on these kinds of ambiguities here.]  Now, just like with the issue around provinces, Crusty understood the logic behind proposing the amendment:  it's dubious that the General Convention can order the Church Pension Fund to do anything, it's a not-for-profit organization incorporated with its own Board.  The General Convention elects the Board members of the CPF, but nowhere canonically does it say it can order those Trustees to do things.  Plus, it could raise a host of legal questions for an entity that is a not-for-profit and has to exercise fiduciary oversight to have some outside agency telling it what to do with its financial assets. 

So while Crusty understood the impetus behind the amendment, he also questioned our inability to find a way to actually address issues in effective ways.  Sure, maybe we can't order the CPF to do things -- but is the only option to simply strike out mention of the Pension Fund entirely?  Could we have come up with some language other than simply omitting any mention? And could we even possibly consider the irony of debating about divesting from fossil fuels given the massive carbon footprint it took to bring us all here to debate and pass a resolution with no teeth and which doesn't even mention the entity with the single largest financial holdings in The Episcopal Church?

So, if you're wondering why Crusty's mantra is "Screw our courage!" that's just two examples as to why he is concerned about our ability to best address issues before.  And these examples cited here aren't even two of the top 20 biggest resolutions coming before Convention, and already Crusty is a bit concerned by the lack of willingness to see past the problems presented and try to find new ways forward.  As we move towards the second half of Convention, and the way S**t Is Getting Real in the next 96 hours, Crusty hopes we can screw our courage to the sticking place:

On the budget:  can we find ways to live into the vision of our Presiding Bishop elect, and so many others, who are proposing robust, sustained, and innovative ways to do mission and evangelism?

On marriage equality: Crusty heard several people saying, "The Supreme Court has acted, it's time for us to act."  As someone who presided at his first same sex blessing in secret 20 years ago so nobody would get brought up on charges, COD wanted to shout: "We should be doing this no matter what the Supreme Court says or does!"  As we do, can we find a way to do so which emerges from our own perspective and is grounded in our call as Anglican Christians?

On restructuring:  Will we really walk away from this Convention with no major structural changes at all?  Will we look at the work and recommendations of TREC, the massive changes in society and how we look at and view institutions, and do nothing of substance?

Or, as in our liturgy this morning, we will only call out some of our sins?  We prayed to be delivered from "snarkiness."  Frankly, Crusty is neither pro- or anti-snark.   Can snark be mean spirited or unhelpful?  Of course.  He is opposed to snark for snark's sake, but also notes that snark, like sincerity or humor or satire, can also help point out deeper issues and concerns. Crusty is opposed to anger for anger's sake; but anger can also be prophetic and transformative.  Or, why not pray to be delivered from the sin of fear?  Crusty may criticize liturgy at times, but he doesn't selectively manipulate it.  This is at best lazy theology or passive-aggressive, or at worst a selective weaponization of liturgy.  Yes, snark has its downside.  So does pride.  So does despair.  So does, well, EVERYTHING.  Or, if they're going to pass along all the prayers that are tweeted, get ready for Crusty to request a prayer of “Thanksgiving for the transformative and life-giving gift of snarkiness, which mitigates our sins of self-importance and passive aggression, as well as a prayer of lament for our inability at times to be open to criticism."  But Crusty won't, because he doesn't believe in weaponizing liturgy, the one thing we shouldn't be messing with. 

In 2003, Crusty Old Dean was sitting in overflow seating in the worship hall, watching the live stream from the House of Bishops debate giving consent to the election of Gene Robinson.  There was 45 minutes or so of downtime while the bishops were engaged in private table conversation.  To kill the time, Crusty proposed everyone guess what the number of "yes" votes would be. [Aside:  This
As The Tick once said, "Hellloooo Reno!"
is why Crusty has regularly pushed for Reno, NV, for General Convention, precisely so we could bet on stuff.  If you ask why Reno instead of Las Vegas, you have not been to Las Vegas in June and July, months when Convention is usually held.  While Reno is far from cool temperature-wise, Las Vegas is Satan's microwave. And BTW, Crusty guessed first and guessed accurately that it would be 62.  Suck on it, haters.]  When the House entered into plenary debate, bishops began to stand up and speak.  One bishop stood up -- Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island -- and Crusty was watching closely: he was unsure of how she would vote on consent to Gene Robinson's election.  It's 12 years in the past, so Crusty is recollecting from memory what she said.  She talked about fear and hope, and her own struggles of whether to listen to her fear or trust in hope -- and she said she had decided to trust in hope, and was voting yes.  The first thing Crusty thought was, "That was really powerful."  The second was, "They're going to give consent if more people think like Bishop Wolf."

Twelve years ago in Minneapolis, the church trusted in hope and not fear.  Will we do so the same in the next four days?

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