Friday, March 16, 2007

Reflections: Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been in DC this weekend at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days. Advocacy Days"is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its recognized partners and allies, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Our goal, through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, is to strengthen our Christian voice and to mobilize for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues." (from the website.) This year the theme was "... and How are the Children?", so all of our work looked at how critical issues for people of faith and people of politics impact children. Attendees get to choose a 'track' to focus on for the weekend, and I chose the Eco-Justice track, as environmental justice is a particular passion of mine.

After an unintentionally scenic last half-hour of the drive into DC, with almost driving through the Pentagon's parking lot, and repeatedly ending up in Ladybird Johnson Memorial Grove, my colleague and I finally made it to the hotel in time for opening worship. Worship began with some excellent music - Jazz musicians Rick Whitehead (jazz guitarist), Lou Hinds (bassist), and Sanelma Sutton (pianist) were great, contemplative, and energizing. They also accompanied us on jazzy versions of traditional hymns. We the congregation weren't so good at keeping up, but it was fun!

The preacher at opening worship was Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who is the "Stated Clerk" of the General Assembly PCUSA. I had no idea other denominations had weirder titles than we United Methodists do. He said his job is to interpret their constitution, promote unity, and preserve records. Eesh- quite a task! Kirkpatrick talked about concern with churches that are "unconcerned and unengaged," concern with policies that threaten to make poverty permanent. He spoke about children's health insurance, global warming, peace and sustainability, and authentic human development as priorities for our Advocacy Days. I didn't take many notes, but I thought he was a good preacher and started us in the right direction.

Next day: tracks begin. Our first speaker was Dr. Larry Rasmussen, professor of social ethics at Columbia Theological. He referred to a comic strip which contained the phrase "insurmountable opportunities," and talked about that as the place we are in for eco-justice. He gave a great theological framework for where we are and where we want to be. He talked about how God has been made separate from nature, emphasizing transcendence over immanence, about how humanity has been separated from nature, emphasizing humans in God's image, but not the rest of creation. He talked about redemption being 'wrested' from creation, with creation left as just a backdrop, and churches reflecting rather than correction pervasive dualistic thinking and theology.

Instead, we want to be (said Rasmussen) an "earth-honoring faith." He talked about radical incarnation, bodiliness, all creation, humans as adam from adamah - 'earthlings', asceticism - voluntary simplicity, sacramentalism - the standing miracle of life, mysticism - "we can touch with our hearts the living heart of the world," prophetic liberative religious tradition, and that we are "all born to belonging. All that exists coexists."

Rev. Janet Parker was the responder. She said so often we see ourselves as "God's regent, God's stand-in, or simply god." Instead, she said, we need teacher - from indigenous cultures that are earth-honoring, and from the earth itself, and the rest of creation. We need a sense of place, and a sense of community.

OK - that's enough for one post! One more set of reflections to come.
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