The Op Ed Wars

The 77th General Convention is over. The one allegedly controversial decision – the blessing of same-sex unions – generated a lot of brouhaha.  A news outlet shouted that The Episcopal Church was the first to acknowledge and accept the blessing of same-sex unions.  This left friends in the UCC dumbfounded. In 2005 the United Church of Christ voted on a national resolution that endorsed equal marriage by 80% of the delegates. Seven years have passed since that decision.

Then the Op Eds  questioning TEC’s decision began to appear.

Disclaimer: I skimmed these pieces because I don’t care. I used to care. The tipping point was right after 2003 and the approval of Gene Robinson successfully winning the Purple Fever version of the Parker Brothers Careers board game. At first I felt the self-satisfaction until my LGBT friends informed it meant nothing for them. They still lost property or had their names scrubbed from beloved partners’ obituaries.  That’s when I put the big “We’re Number 1!” foam finger in storage.

Two critical Op Ed pieces were published, the first in the post-Murdoch Wall Street Journal (so who really cares here?) and the second in the New York Times.  The Nerf ball salvos from the “conservatives” were responded to by loyalist Episcopalians. So many responses, so many shares on Facebook it was exhausting. I was close to wishing there would be more snapshots of dinners instead of the chest thumping quotes. The Op Ed Wars had begun.But the issues with the institutional church, the indisputable fact that on line graphs the numbers of church attendees was in the same trajectory as pay phones went unattended. Not only does the point-counterpoint model erode public discourse, it contradicts one of the core tenets of Anglicanism – the via media. In my interpretation, that’s not a kind of denominational Switzerland, responses so “reasoned” they are nearly incoherent. Via media means being comfortable in confusion and the grey areas as part of a process. Living with the bad news before deciding that MDGs or Five Marks of Mission are The Solutions. When were those writing the counterpoint Op Ed pieces going to get down to what the issues were? One piece on the Huffington Post was titled “The Glorious Episcopal Church.”  The language of exceptionalism was being recycled only by those with an investment in the system.

The latest response to the two not-so-superlative Op Eds was by Jon Meacham. He questions the future of the institution and he says this – quoted and re-quoted on Facebook:

But I do know this: the central tenet of Christianity as it has come down to us is that we are to reach out when our instinct is to pull inward; to give when we want to take; to love when we are inclined to hate; to include when are tempted to exclude.

Very good idea, Mr. Meacham.  However, there is a disconnect that occurs every day in nearly every community. Like the real estate maxim of “location, location, location”, church is “local, local, local.” This is not just a reality but a potential strategy. The giving, the loving, the inclusion, the reaching outward must come include everyone. Not just blessing same-sex marriages. Everyone means everyone. There are a lot of marginalized people these days. Bill McKibben’s new data on global warming, threatening Creation itself, is not covered in the reams of bleached white paper handed out Sunday mornings for worship. We have more empty homes than homeless families.  Our landscape and public psyche is scarred by corporate greed. People are illiterate, lonely, hungry, in need of skills, and dying. Five Marks of Mission isn’t going to get us anywhere as long as Wall Street corrupts everything  people of faith value. Don’t rely on a pastor’s, Vestry’s, or committee’s idea of inclusion – ask those in the community where your church is planted.

A few years ago a co-classmate in EFM told me that she loves her church -a bedroom community of Manhattan and home of a lot of Wall Street honchos -because the rector makes all the business people feel so very good every week. Trinity Wall Street suggests that we attend a service during which an associate is preaching because his southern accent is “so soothing”. The Episcopal Church has become a soul spa for the 1%.

The sad fact is that the institutional church gets together every three years to redefine what is “good” in order to mask its complicity in the commodification of God’s creation in these terrible, transitional days. The institution asks us to look at a few deft moves in the shell game –a liturgy here, pronouncement there.

It is not equipping those who attend to speak the truth and do their very best to fight the forces that are out to take out life and love on this planet.  Our very survival hangs in the balance.

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Community Service

Today George began community service for the audacity of trespassing on Trinity Wall Street’s vacant lot.   The other 7 defendants were all assigned to picking up trash in parks despite gifts as teachers, medics, counselors, one master carpenter, (Will Gusakov) one excellent comedian (Ted Alexandro), and  a talented  young artist (John Carhart).  Asking activists to perform community service is like throwing Brer Rabbit in the brier patch.

During these times of crushing heat and financial ruin I wonder how the local churches are serving their communities.  One of the local parishes was shut up tight all day Sunday – the floor show was over – and all I could think about was how the clergy lobbied to get air conditioning in the sanctuary so they wouldn’t be so hot under their robes. How cool – thermally and spiritually – it would have been if the sanctuary was indeed that during this heat wave. A place for those who have no air conditioning could take a time out and experience mutual aid. Put in some books, board games, have a few volunteers to share their skills. Why isn’t the institutional church more concerned with doing community service rather than “doing church”?

With Trinity Wall Street inhabiting a capacious expensive booth touting its good works, General Convention continues, the attendees getting heady about the  Marks of Mission (remember how excited the Episcopalians got about 20/20?),  New York City goes through a record-breaking heat wave,  and Mark Adams serves his time behind bars on Rikers Island. We have received phone calls from retired clergy – people who have nothing to lose had they spoken out during the exactly 6 months after D17 and the sentencing date of June 18th – telling us not to judge the church based on James Cooper’s behavior. He is an embarrassment – they are outraged at the persistence of the prosecution and Trinity’s overt collusion with the DA, Bloomberg, and the NYPD.

Yet this is one of those rare times when had the TEC leadership had been as persistent as Trinity and released statements regarding Occupy, the prison and legal system, worked the “cocktail party” social circuit,  it might have made a difference in a young man’s life.  Mark will always have a criminal record. 80% of those who go to Rikers return.

James Cooper and his staff are intentionally spreading disinformation by telling the handful of Trinity Wall Street parishioners that Mark is not serving time for trespassing and criminal mischief committed on December 17, 2011 as related to Duarte Square but for priors. This is not the case and all those who attended the trial can tell you the real story. John and Molly’s show on Breakthru Radio offers an accurate assessment.

Trinity Wall Street and James Cooper – preserving the sanctity and rights of chain link fence. Solidarity!

Posts from the  fans of General Convention and TEC through email networks, on Facebook, and Twitter indicate the institution is just not getting the point. The answer is more program, look to the mitres for wisdom and training that is not necessarily there, lobby for a piece of the budget pie. It is all unsustainable, insular, and delusional.

So what gives this Episcopalian hope? Some of the extraordinary seminarians who acknowledge that they are the precipice of a new era,  self-train, “skill-up”, and don’t plan on working their way up the company ladder of promotion.  The members of Occupy who work the streets, share skills, stand in solidarity with the poor, and put their energy behind mutual aid. The plans of Occupy Faith who know this is it – either the church goes down in a hospice/spa environment or it goes out fighting, dying in order to be reborn. (Now where have we heard that story before?)

And the entries in the blog Support Mark Adams which shows us all how we can BE church to each other without a single resolution passing the House of Deputies.