Thursday, April 27, 2006

Book of Resolutions: Part II

***I'm keeping this post at the top for a few days to encourage some much-needed responses. Please comment! I really need feedback!***

Last week I asked you about your thoughts on the United Methodist Book of Resolutions. With the exception of ~c. and Andy B. (thank you!), most of you mentioned something about tossing the book out altogether. I understand your frustration! The Book has grown over the last several quadrenniums. It is also difficult to use sometimes – hard to find what you’re looking for, and hard to know how to use it if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

However…I don’t think the Book of Resolutions is going anywhere anytime soon. And I wouldn’t want it to. I think we have a proud heritage of social justice advocacy in the Untied Methodist Church, and the Book of Resolutions, to me, represents that people of faith have something to say about what is going on in the world.

That said, I need your help. My question comes to you out of a particular need. At General Conference in 2004, a petition was passed directing the General Board of Church and Society to create a task force, composed of members from pertinent general boards and agencies, to examine the Book of Resolutions and make recommendations about format, length, publishing, mediums of distribution, etc. I’ve been asked to chair this task force, and things are getting underway. The petition was broad in its scope, meaning that we can address any aspect of how the Book of Resolutions in put together and distributed.

Frankly, the task is so broad that it is hard to know where to begin. That’s why I’m seeking input from you all. So let me ask some more specific questions about how you might change the Book of Resolutions, assuming that we are not doing away with it! Please feel free to email me your responses or comment below. (My apologies for the vagueness of some of these questions, and their open-endedness. This is just a starting point.)

Questions:
1) For what purposes (if any) have you used the Book of Resolutions in the last year?
2) For web-based or CD-Rom based versions of the BoR, what additional features would you suggest? (ie: hyper-texting) What might a DVD version look like?
3) What do you think about having a ‘set’ of Resolutions for each section of the Social Principles – like a 5 book ‘set’ of smaller books for individual use?
4) What guidelines would you put in place for submission of resolution petitions?
5) How do you think the Social Principles and BoR could do a better job of addressing the social justice concerns of the global church? Where are our documents too US-centric? How do we balance the need for words to guide us in our US advocacy while also speaking to the global nature of our denomination?
6) Should every resolution passed at General Conference go to the Book of Resolutions? If a passed resolution does not go into the BoR, where else might it be placed?

I may have more questions as the scope of the task force becomes clear. Thanks in advance for your help!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

General Board of Church and Society Meeting - Reflections, Part 2

More thoughts from my GBCS meeting this past week. My work area is Environmental and Economic Justice. As part of our work, we also spent time talking about the continuing Gulf Coast Recovery efforts. We heard from Bishop William Hutchinson, Louisiana Area and vice-president of the board, and our work-area chairperson William Scott, from Mississippi. They talked about the frustration of how the cleanup/rebuild process is going. The levees, for example, are being rebuilt at only the same strength as they were before the storm – with the engineers stating that we are “only doing what we are authorized to do.” With another hurricane season approaching quickly, both said the tension is palpable. Bishop Hutchinson shared with us that something like $20 million worth of labor hours have been contributed by United Methodists in relief efforts. They also shared concerns for the environmental effects of the hurricane – how will the mercury, for example, affect crops that grow? Scott, who is a professor of chemistry at the University of Mississippi, compared the possible environmental effects to the effects of the Chernobyl accident.

Also in my work area, we talked about our legislative priorities for this year, particularly the priority for the Economic Justice area, which is Raising the Federal Minimum Wage. The program director for Environmental/Economic Justice, John Hill, led us through some exercises in resources he’s developed to help people understand minimum wage, living wage, and the budget. Again, I’ll link to resources once they’re posted. But for right now, go to the Online Calculator section at the website of the Economic Policy Institute. You can figure out how much it would cost different sized families to live in your area, and get some statistics about who lives below the “family budget line” in your state. Fun fact: Did you know that the UMC has advocated for a “living wage” since 1908?

On Saturday, we heard from some different speakers, one of whom was Kakenya Ntaiya. (Check out this 2003 article from the Washington Post.) Kakenya shared with us her own story, and her arranged marriage that was to take place when she was a child. Kakenya, however, worked hard to find other paths for her life instead, finally getting permission to come to the US to get her undergraduate and now graduate degrees. She was extremely eloquent, and spoke with great passion and emotion about the young girls in Kenya who are forced to marry, giving birth to children when they themselves are 11, 12, 13. She talked about the extreme medical crisis this has caused, with many young women suffering from untreated obstetric fistulas, shunned and shamed by their communities. We worked on a statement about child marriage which I will link to when posted on the GBCS site.

On Sunday morning, Julius Trimble, board member, gave the message at our closing worship. (We rotate leadership of worship services through our task forces, committees, and work areas – this closing worship was led by the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century Task Force.) He gave a great illustration. He was talking about the James Bond movies and reading an interview with the director of the Pierce Brosnan/Halle Barry James Bond Film Die Another Day. The director, Lee Tamahori, was asked, “how does James Bond survive from movie to movie through such catastrophes and drama?” The director responded, “It’s in the script.” Julius urged us to use this metaphor for our work in the board. Why do we do what we do? What’s our rationale? “It’s in the script,” he said, holding up the scriptures, (and the Book of Discipline, amid some giggling.)

Ok, I think that’s enough for one post! I will probably have one more ‘reflection’ page, then finally get back to some of the other posts swimming in my head.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

General Board of Church and Society Meeting - Reflections, Part 1

I’ve been in DC this week at the Spring meeting of the General Board of Church and Society, which is my excuse for my lack of posts this week. I have several posts mentally written in my mind – Holy Week reflections, a theatre review, two book reviews, etc., but so far they remain in the mind and not on the screen.

The board meeting went well, quickly. I always enjoy being here, and I always feel challenged and inspired by talking about the work we are doing in the church for justice. I will use a few posts to share some highlights with you. Jim Winkler opened with his General Secretary’s report, which I will come to in a later post when I can link to the text on the GBCS site. I always enjoy his reports and his eloquent presentation of our work.

As a side note, I also met John Lomperis, IRD staff, in person today, after knowing his name from long reading his comments often over at Shane’s blog. I’m reminded of taking my doctrine and polity classes online in seminary and then one day running into the professor on campus – a real person! Sometimes after hanging out in the world of blogging I’m surprised to run into the actual real-life people.

On Friday, we spent a session as the board with Rev. Eric H. F. Law, a consultant/trainer who helps religious institutions and other groups deal with issues of cultural diversity. (Rev. Willy, I think, asked about how/if we did this work before – we’re still working on it!) Eric led us through a time of learning how we talk to one another – really talk and share and engage in meaningful conversation and dialogue – when we have such differing theological views, have power issues, have issues of race and gender, etc., that keep us from feeling safe and open and willing to share. He shared with us his working definition of inclusivity – not an “anything goes” model, but instead that a group is inclusive when it acts openly when its ‘boundaries’ are being challenged.

He also talked to us about the “Cycle of Gospel Living.” He proposed that the entry point into the cycle of gospel living for the powerless is empowerment and endurance moving to a focus on the empty tomb, resurrection, but that the entry for the powerful in the cycle is in the act of giving up power and choosing the cross, focusing on the cross and death. We talked about how difficult it is for the powerful to give up power. Isn’t this true? All of us have different kinds of power, and I have yet to find many who want to give up the power they have, including myself. We’d like others to have power, but not if we have to give power up for them to get it.

Continuing in the same theme in some ways, Saturday morning in our daily opening worship, Rev. Ricarte Rapisura, board member from the Philippines, gave a sermon based on 2 Corinthians 5:14-17. He focused on the continuing abductions and murders of human rights workers in the Philippines. He shared about the countless young adults workers who have been victims of these crimes, but that the workers remain unwilling to give up their work, even in the face of such a dangerous climate. I have to admit that I doubt that I would be able to be so brave, so committed, when it came to a threat on my own life. I could be so brave if I was protecting the lives of my family or loved ones. I hope I could be so brave in protecting the lives of those with whom I did not have such connections. Could I be so brave as to give my life for beliefs? For the cause of human rights? For the hope of social change? I’m not sure, and I admire such dedication.

I have a lot more to write about, but I wanted to conclude this post by letting you know that I got to worship today at Foundry UMC, where Dean Snyder is the pastor. I got to meet Dean in person, and told him we all missed him/wondered where he was in the blogosphere these days (as if he didn't have enough to think about with hundreds of people trying to greet him on the way out the door). He said he's thinking about coming back, so we'll see. It was great to worship at Foundry after hearing so much about it. A small detail I really liked: Dean asked during sharing time for individuals to commit right then and there to visit folks whose names he lifted up. I really liked that approach - everybody becomes part of congregational care.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Risky Business

I don't typically review the books I listen to on cassette or CD - I tend to listen to mysteries or thrillers or other 'lighter' fare that usually amuses but doesn't inspire deep reflection in me. But some authors are exceptions to the rule - and Maeve Binchy falls into this category.

Binchy writes great novels, and has great, complex and lovable characters. She's also inspired in me a love of Irish names, making me want to claim my 1/32 or so Irish-heritage. I've listened to Circle of Friends, Evening Class, Scarlet Feather, The Glass Lake, Tara Road, Night of Rain and Stars, Quentins. Inevitably with my favorite authors I run out of books that I've not yet listened to. So I was glad to happen on London Transports, the American title to Victoria Line, Central Line. This is a collection of 22 short stories. I'm not always a great fan of short stories - they're just too short for me. I like long, detailed novels. But Binchy's stories were just right. In each of the stories, her characters find themselves at the point of making a decision. They have to decide - do they take a risk, or play it on the safe side?

I am not a risk-taker, not in most situations anyway. I am not a thrill-seeker. I don't like roller-coasters. I'm never going to go bungee jumping or sky-diving. I can barely tolerate regular flying. I'm ok with this. I don't mind being more serious and steady. I try to find a balance of trying new things and saying "no thanks," and so far, I've been happy with my choices. Not feeling in fear for my life, and not feeling like I'm missing out.

But a different kind of risk-taking is emotional risk-taking. Risk-taking in relationships. Risk-taking in faith. Risk-taking with, in some ways, more serious consequences, and more wonderful rewards. Listening to these short stories, I was sure of what I would have done - rooting for the characters to take the plunge, to put themselves out there. I could see so clearly the right choices. In my own life, I have sometimes been less bold, wondering, after the fact, how things might have worked out differently if I'd taken the risk. Not regretting - but wondering.

I think risk-taking is also a matter for the church. Being part of the early church was risky business. Today - perhaps still risky, in different ways. Risking being relevant? Risking committing time and energy to an institution so many have written of as not worth the effort? Risking doing things in a new way, often without the support of congregations, or leaders?

Are you a risk-taker?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Question: Book of Resolutions

If you could revise the United Methodist Book of Resolutions, what would you change?

I'm not wondering so much about specific resolutions, but about structure, format, style, petition entry, etc.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Rants on its current size and weight?

Seriously...

Today I had lunch with one of my college students, home on break. I asked her if I could share this hilarious story with you, and she said OK.

She attends a conservative Christian college, and has struggled occasionally with the theology there. She is considering ordained ministry, and this is not a welcome career path for women according to some of her peers and professors.

She's been checking out the Christian fellowship groups on campus, and told me she attended a couple gatherings of Campus Crusade for Christ*. I asked her how she like it, and she told me that at one of the sessions, the theme was decision-making according to God's will. The leaders would propose different scenarios and ask for feedback - "what would you do?"

One scenario: A villain captures you and another individual. He hangs the other person over a pool of alligators, and says he will let the person be eaten by them unless you have sex with him. What do you do?

My student told me that the responses centered on whether or not the other prisoner was a Christian. If he/she was a Christian, it would be safe to deny the villain sex, apparently, because the other person would be 'saved' and it would be OK for them to be eaten by alligators, rather than having sex outside of marriage with a villain. But, if they were not a Christian, you must either 1) risk having sex with the villain to save the other person from eternal judgment or 2) try to witness to them before they died, so you could still avoid having sex.

Hm.



*I'm not suggesting that the scenario described is something that happens at all CCC gatherings. That's just where she was.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

Yesterday, I participated in one of my favorite Lenten traditions: I went to see The Salt City Center for the Performing Arts' production of Jesus Christ Superstar, my favorite musical. I have been going to see this particular production every year since I was twelve years old. A tradition now for more than half of my life!

The first time I saw it, on a trip with my church UMYF, I was already familiar with the music, but what clinched it for me as a favorite was my instant crush on the actor, Henry Wilson, who played Judas Iscariot. I went back to see the show again that season, and then every year after that. Henry only played Judas for the first three years, and I have seen him again in 'cameos' on anniversary years of the theatre's production, but my love of the show and the music survived my crush! I've since been intrigued especially by Judas Iscariot, and eventually wrote my senior religion paper in college on Judas in literature.

Tonight was Salt City's 29th Annual Production of Superstar. (Syracuse Post Standard review here.) Last year, the theatre had their building, an old synagogue, condemned, so they've been performing their shows here, there, and everywhere. Superstar was at Most Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church for the second year in a row. I know the show so well, and so little changes in the production, that I often feel I could march up on stage and join the production. This year, I felt a little breath of fresh air might be in order. The chorus seemed only mildly interested in the fact that they were onstage. I felt like they just happened to be on stage, but without any real interest showing in what was happening around them. During big chorus numbers, they could hardly be heard. It seemed like they just were not singing!

Fortunately, most impressive were Jesus (Casey J. Ryan) and Judas (performed alternately by Terry LaCasse and Paul Valentino, Jr. - I saw Terry LaCasse.) Terry LaCasse as Judas did a great job, especially with his numbers in the first act. His death scene was a little shaky, but I blame this on the trouble they seemed to have with the noose this year - a powerful scene usually, this time I found myself distracted from worrying if they were going to get everything hooked together correctly. But LaCasse had the vocal range and clarity need to handle Judas' role.

This is the second year I've seen Casey Ryan as Jesus. Out of all the years I've seen Superstar at Salt City, I've been at least three other actors perform the role of Jesus. Casey Ryan is by far the best. He has the best voice - he hits the entire range of the difficult part without much apparent effort - and his acting skills are well beyond those of what I've seen from previous performers. I don't mean to criticize those who came before - I've always loved the show - but I thought this actor made for the most complex, intriguing, expressive Jesus we've seen in a long time. He was especially good during the trial and crucifixion scenes. Lucky for Salt City, Ryan is only 25 (I read some reviews of his other theatre work in the area) so hopefully he'll reprise his role for several years to come.

'Til next year - I'm eagerly awaiting the announcement on dates in Ted Neeley's Farewell Tour - the actor who played Jesus in the movie version will give a last run in the touring show. I've seen Neeley three times on stage now, and he never fails to impress. Last time I saw him he was in his mid-50s, and he could still hit every note.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

myspace part 2

Hm. Since I started blogging, I've occasionally had phone calls from people about my blog. So far, these calls had been for purposes of someone writing an article about blogging, or something similarly research/blogging oriented.

Today I got a phone call from the gentleman who commented anonymously on my previous post about myspace. He did identify himself on his call, but since he chose to comment anonymously here I won't share his name. He, as you can gather from his comments, was quite upset that I would encourage people to use myspace, because some profiles listed on myspace have objectionable material.

I shared with him my view: I see myspace as another medium - another tool to use on the internet. It can be abused, of course, and misused. IMing has resulted in similar problems for some people, online journals like livejournal can be used in similar ways, chat rooms, etc., are all susceptible to abuse by some. But I don't think this means we need to abandon the medium, the tool, altogether, or condemn it, or discourage use outright, especially when the benefits of the tool or medium can be so positive. There are just under 60,000 groups on myspace, for example, that are about religion and faith and related topics. No, they aren't all Christian groups. But there are 60,000 groups of people on myspace who are using this tool to talk about what they do and don't believe.

The gentleman hung up, from my perception, frustrated that I wasn't persuaded by what he said. We disagree. I'm glad to say that I'd discourage abusing/misusing myspace, but I can't say that it shouldn't be used altogether. I don't know what else to say about it.

Where would you "draw the line"? When would you reject a tool/medium in itself rather than speak out against misuses of the tool, speak out against bad/harmful content? I still think having a pastoral presence is a better strategy. What do you think?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Succumbing to myspace

I'd stopped by myspace before Gavin posted about it last month. As our conference youth coordinator, it would be almost impossible to at least not know what myspace was. 95% of my CCYM is on myspace. In fact, they created their own myspace group for our CCYM that I had nothing to do with and knew nothing about for a while, and that has far more members in it than our official message board has ever had. But I wasn't really interested in it.

After Gavin posted about it, I checked it out some more, took the plunge and posted my own profile, and - thrill - I got a friend request who wasn't also a family member! Within three weeks or so of signing up, I've now reconnected with several friends from high school that I literally have not seen/talked to in years, maybe 5 or more years. And I can't deny it - the thrill of logging on and finding a new-friend-request is great. I can only imagine the thrill for users younger than me.

Many have wondered about the role of the church and church leaders in myspace. Can we use it? Is it a tool for the church? An opportunity? I like what Gavin says: "i feel the presence there is important and even if we don't get off the charts commenting it is okay, because we are there." Sometimes I think we underestimate the power and importance of presence and participation.

I also took note of a myspace bulletin posted by 'Tom', the myspace creator/first friend of all - pointing out this NPR story about myspcace being used by student activists to protest proposed immigration legislation.

I have no idea how myspace might impact the church or vise versa or anything, really, at this point. I know my older brother hates it already, but other than thinking that people in their 20s and 30s are too old for myspace, I haven't heard good reasons from him yet. (Perhaps he'll reply with a blog post with reasons...) I guess we can just be here and wait and see for now.

So, make my day, and add me as your friend. Or tell me why you hate myspace. Or how you might use myspace. Or something.