Sunday, April 27, 2008

General Conference Reflections

It has become clear to me that I probably will be unable to write any orderly General Conference reflections until I come home or at least until later this week when we move from Legislative Committees to all day full group plenary sessions. Sorry about that!

Here are some unorganized reflections again instead :) :

I am in the legislative committee called Church and Society, section 1. We deal mostly with items related to the Social Principles and their related resolutions. I am chairing the subcommittee called Environmental Justice, which is my particular passion area. I've never had to chair a committee before in a setting that requires me to lead using parliamentary procedure. It doesn't come naturally to me to do. I prefer a more conversational style of working together, especially in a small group. But the reality is that we have hundreds of petitions to address, and to act on them, the procedure is necessary to move things along in a 'timely fashion'. It has been an interesting experience for sure. I enjoy the small group work, though, because you at least get to form a little community with a handful of other delegates. With almost 1000 delegates here, it is hard to really spend time with many others.

The worship experiences have been so rich and wonderful. I will write about these in more detail later on. Hearing the bishops preach each day is a treat - some of them are just such fantastic preacher. Stand outs so far: Bishop Hutchinson (I'm not sure I've heard him preach before), and Bishop Carcano, who I always enjoy.

The work days are really getting to me. Last night, my committee didn't dismiss until midnight. Morning worship is at 8:15am. I am exhausted. I have list of things I'm meaning to do - little things like sending a certain email or even just checking my bank balance, and I'm just not finding the time (much less finding time to play my turns on facebook scrabulous!) But this evening we have some free time, so I'm hopeful to go to bed a bit earlier!

I'll try to blog again soon!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

General Conference Blogging

Ok friends -

I am trying to get a quick post up before my battery dies!

Things have gotten off to a crazy start for me personally - I had a flat tire on the way, and then I couldn't check into the hotel for hours, and ultimately they told me they didn't have a room for me at all - they'd overbooked. Ugh! Very long story very short, I've finally gotten my hotel room today.

So far: We've had opening worship, approved the rules, heard the episcopal address, the young people's address, some reports, and the laity address. This afternoon we'll break into legislative committees for the first time. I have a lot of notes I'd like to type up, but here are some first thoughts:

  • There are crickets in the convention center that seem very attracted to my delegations' section of seat.
  • One presentation (sensitivity training) used clips from NBC's The Office rather effectively.
  • The awesome music team, led by Mark Miller (from Drew), led us in singing "Sanctuary" to Dave Matthews Band's "Crash," a detail I'm not sure many people here noticed!
  • Bishop Huie spoke yesterday in opening worship about how we fail to be known by our love as first century Christians were. Can we at least be known by our hope, she wondered? What do we mean when we say, "I hope so"?
  • Bishop Palmer has a beautiful voice.
  • Celebrating communion together is one of my favorite things we do.
  • Bishop MaryAnn Swenson gave the GCFA report today and made it exciting
Ok. That's it for a quick update. Check out the methoblog for other GC live reflections, and I will try to post again at the end of the day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

General Conference: I'm on the Way

I'm checking in from the road, on my way to Texas. That's right, I'm driving from New Jersey to Fort Worth. I hate flying. I don't need the added anxiety on top of 10 totally packed days of conference. So one of my colleagues and I are driving out together. Tonight we're staying in Walton, KY. Tomorrow, for the first time, I will be in the state of Arkansas! So far, I can't think of anything I've left behind. I'll be trying to post as much as possible while I'm there. With days starting at 8am and ending at 11pm, we'll see how we do...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson

I recently finished reading Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson, a biography of Louisa May and Bronson Alcott. I have long been a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott. Like many young girls, I read and fell in love with Little Women when I was young. In fact, I was named after the character Beth in the book. I've reread Little Women countless times, and I have read most all of LMA's other fiction as well (except her earlier 'thriller' works), especially liking and rereading (practically yearly) Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom.

Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson, was part of the transcendentalist movement in New England in the early and mid 1800s. Transcendentalism was an idealist, sometimes utopian movement, springing out of disagreement with the Unitarian church, and drawing on the Romantics, and even Hindu and Buddhist thought. Transcendentalism believed strongly in the divinity of the individual, the power of the individual to transcend religion and doctrines, not needing to rely on empirical observations, science, etc., but able to in one's mind discover the correct and just path. The American transcendentalists were attracted to alternative lifestyles, forming communes, living in isolation, creating schools for their new thinking, etc. Transcendentalist thought was also linked with abolition, women's rights movements, and civil disobedience. Bronson Alcott was close friends with some more famous transcendentalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Davide Thoreau, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Margaret Fuller, and Sophia Peabody, wife of the (not-Transcendentalist) Nathanael Hawthorne. (side note: I am related to Elizabeth and Sophia Peabody!)

Bronson was never as successful as many of his colleagues, but ultimately made a career of talking about the beliefs of his colleagues in conversations he would host. His beliefs had a huge impact on daughter Louisa. She existed in reaction to him - much more pragmatic than he, wanting most of all to know how to pay the bills, feed the family, protect their health, since Bronson, chasing after one radical idea after another, was often unemployed. Louisa wrote in her journal, for example, that her father's 'conversations' seemed "a waste of time when there is so much real work crying to be done. Why discuss the Unknowable till our poor are fed and the wicked saved?" (392) Still, LMA's writings show the huge influence of transcendentalism in her life, even if she herself didn't subscribe to that set of beliefs.

I find the combination of progressive social beliefs (particularly around women's rights and slavery) with what we would today perhaps consider conservative morality (abstinence of many kinds, for example) very intriguing, and as an adult I can see how much reading LMA's books so often as a child shaped my own beliefs. (Another aside: Bronson raised his whole family as strict vegetarians. Louisa didn't stick to this so much as an adult though, I don't think.)

I really enjoyed this book for the added insight it gives to the fiction I've so loved. Matteson sometimes seems (to me) to assume too much or draw conclusions that are far-fetched from journals and writings that are vague from both Bronson and Louisa, but overall, he shows how their relationship shaped both of them in their work and accomplishments. I highly recommend this for any Louisa May Alcott fan!

from St. Casserole: Older Members of the Congregation

I really do have a post of my own coming up soon, but I had to link to this post from St. Casserole about older members of the congregation.

With her usual mix of humor and eloquence, she writes:
"A colleague north of here says he is hurt by the older people in his congregation who get in his way, criticise him and overall, make his work difficult.

I suggested that he think through his feelings, identify his goals for his congregation, then move in closer to those who get on his nerves.

Not easy to do, of course. You get your feelings hurt by people who dismiss you and let you know they think you aren't capable of the work you feel called to do.

Now, read that sentence as how the older people feel about how they are treated.

We preach the importance of being involved with the Church. We want people to do the work of the church, attend often and give of themselves to the Body.

What happens when people feel that they are no longer welcome to participate?

For many older people, the Church is the last place they feel their gifts, developed over a lifetime, are valued. Everywhere else they see signs offering them sausage biscuits discounted for senior citizens.

How to make peace in this situation? Move in closer to your "offending" people. Find a place to meet them where they are comfortable to talk about their lives and interests.

Nothing is sadder to me than to discover that that old guy in the over sized blazer who toddled into the sanctuary for years, was, according to his obituary, the author of three books on normative digestive patterns of the American Wolf. Now I find this out? I missed out on discussing this with him! How did he do his research? Where did he live? What was it like doing this work?

Put your feelings aside, please. Allow the older people the dignity of their last years. Do not coddle them. Do not talk down to them. Do not put them in the box marked "UNINTERESTING"."

Check out the rest of the post.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Children and Communion

**Update: I had to postpone the class until next month, so feel free to keep adding your thoughts!**

Tomorrow, I'm teaching a class to children about communion.

What would you want children to know about communion? What would you share with them?

I don't ever remember *not* taking communion. My grandmother made the communion bread, and I loved receiving communion just to have a piece of that bread! My little brother, at about age 4, when having some of her bread at a non-communion time, remarked happily, "These are the bones of Jesus!" Young eucharistic theology.

Part of our United Methodist theology of communion is calling it a Mystery. Like many parts of our theology, whether it makes us comfortable or not, we've decided it is best to admit we don't know exactly, don't have exact answers. What happens in communion is a holy mystery. Maybe children are more comfortable with mystery than adults are sometimes!