Thursday, October 31, 2013

On No Longer Being Young

Last night at the North American Regional Meeting, a couple of "youth" were invited to speak to kick off the discussion.

There is a line between tokenizing and fetishizing young people's voices, and genuinely holding up their leadership. Let's be clear, the church is usually behind other social institutions in giving young people real responsibilities and taking them seriously.

There is also a line where a young adult is no longer a youth, and a 30-something is no longer a young adult. I'm not 100% clear where the line was last night.

Adele, one of my colleagues in the United Church of Canada, who is about my age and with whom I have been traveling these international waters since 2001 and the UN World Conference Against Racism, admitted to having a small crisis last night about our no longer being youth. (I tend to be resigned to my fate, jaded, instead of being struck by crises.) She was a delegate to the 1998 assembly in Harare. In 2001 with the World Conference Against Racism (we were both WCC delegates and active with our own churches in that work), we were both still youth.

Youth no longer. Now we are established church bureaucrats. People no longer applaud when we speak because we are young (which is VERY PATRONIZING, by the way), regardless of how brilliant our statements are.

Our job is now to be the 30-somethings who encourage younger people, work to give younger people access, and take younger people seriously. That's what our mentors did for us.

Community Bookends: Day 2, WCC GA

I wore black today.  

Today began and ended with community.

I had breakfast with friends Mary, Dwight, HyeYoung, Kurt, and baby Sahn, which was pure delight. I don't get to see Mary and Dwight that often, which is mostly my fault, as I haven't been to Hawaii since their wedding in 2007.
Here is Mary emmo with Sahn

Sahn with his dad Kurt (please note Halloween costume...)
I headed over to Bexco and found my Bible study room assignment (yes, this does mean I didn't make it to morning prayer... breakfast won!). I ended up in Bible study with the Young Adult Volunteers and Julia Brown-Karimu, who directs the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Of course, it's just easier to go to Korea than see people in the U.S...

We did Bible study... It was remarkable mostly for the fact that it ended up being a good small group, with vigorous discussion. I snuck in some of Ted Hiebert's (McCormick professor and OT scholar) exegetical work on Genesis and the creation story (we're not just made of dust... we're made of the best dirt out there...).

I was very invested in getting to the morning plenary, because the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea (Jung Hong-won) was bringing greetings and we had to go through metal detectors. 

But the best part was the plenary itself. One of the presenters was Michel Sidibé, the director of UNAIDS. He was fantastic, arguing that transmission of HIV/AIDS will be greatly curtailed once we end discrimination against homosexuals, sex workers, and drug users, and also advocated ending discrimination against HIV positive individuals, including the travel restrictions placed on people by certain countries. UNAIDS also helped lower the cost of treatment from $15,000/year/person to $80/year/person. It was exciting to hear from him.

The presenter who really blew my mind was the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Bishop Duleep Kamil de Chikera. He is really poetic, so that helps. But he was calling us as the church to accountability. Here are some notes I scribbled down:
-"Good News is articulated among heroes, chief priests, pharaohs of our time."
-"the essence of diakonia converges on prophetic transformation"
-"victim theology is the crucible in which peace theology marinates"
-"theology minus victims is a mutilation of the heart and mind of Jesus"
-"victim theology redefines the character of Christian community"
-"our assembly theme (God of life, lead us to justice and peace) is a moment of grace"

I think it was also this bishop who said we should declare the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction to be a war crime.

I can't ever do justice to what he said, but his declaration of God's preferential option for the poor, and for other marginalized peoples, made me think about those of us who don't quite fit. What do we do? I do understand I face discrimination, but I also know I am a citizen of a powerful country. I have a home. I live in the U.S. I have access to education. Perhaps for those of us who aren't victims, it is our call as Christians to be accountable to victims and victim theology.

I am also noticing that the WCC tries much harder to integrate (intentionally) participants who are youth and who are disabled (or differently abled).

After the plenary was committee meetings. I met with my committee (Programme Guidelines) for the first time. Our task was outlined. Basically, it's lots of work. We are going to be determining the programmatic work (or at least the categories of work) for the WCC until the next assembly eight years from now. I sat next to a delegate from Belarus, who, as it turns out, graduated with a certificate from the same seminary where I got my M.Div. Also, my sub-committee work involves unity.

Now, unity is not exactly my thing. I have never really cared about unity. I'm much more concerned about other things. But reading through these documents has really made me ponder unity. Unity is a really great tool for making change. It also has significance for the witness of the church to the gospel. I'm suddenly intrigued. We'll see how this goes.

After committees, then business plenary. I noticed this is hanging above the table where the PC(USA) delegation sits.

We went over the nominations process and began some of the public issues work. Then, we went into ecumenical conversations. I'm in the ecumenical conversation on Ecumenical Theological Education, about leadership development. It was interesting, because we went over some data on theological education worldwide. I'm quite familiar with North American theological education, so that was fun. I'm looking forward to hearing more about the challenges of theological education in other parts of the world. 

This is why I'm tired. I'm still not done telling you about my meetings.

I confirmed I'm going to worship at a local church on Sunday morning between epic committee meetings. Then we had regional meetings. Here's the one I went to. 

It was kind of fun to gather with folks, and begin to discuss the concerns specific to our region. A couple of us in our small group recalled the words of a young adult steward from yesterday. He's from Fiji, and he said that while in the Pacific they are the least contributors to climate change, they are the most impacted. Other concerns were racism, particularly the needs to reconcile with First Nations communities, discrimination against migrants, and incarceration rates of men of color; ecological concerns in regards to consumption and our use of mines and questionable manufacturing and mining in other countries; as well as other diverse concerns. Many of us are concerned with our capacity to listen to the church in other parts of the world, because we in North America tend to take up A LOT of airtime.

And then (did you think I was done???), the PC(USA) group headed out for a delicious dinner. There might have been 30 of us, or more. We sat and ate, heard from people who have been engaging in WCC work leading up to the assembly (Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters, Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, Dr. Emily Welty, and Raafat Girgis), and had discussion at our tables about how we might take the events and learnings back to the PC(USA).

I am officially DONE. I think my colleagues are getting used to me leaving our late-night events suddenly. I mean, seriously, at 10:15pm, I so need to just go to my room, because I often have other work to do, including blogging!

Ok, day 3 is coming up tomorrow, so I'm going to bed. Carry on, good people. Carry on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eating and Not Sleeping Enough: Day 1 - WCC GA

I'm so tired. Right now, it's 10:27 am at my office. I had planned to send a message early in their morning, but I just got back to the hotel.

Here's the day's round-up:
Linda Valentine, the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, invited me to come along for breakfast with the four Young Adult Volunteers serving in Korea with the Presbyterian Church (USA), and their site coordinators. The site coordinators, Kurt Esslinger and HyeYoung Lee, are friends of mine from seminary. I got to spend some quality time with their son, Sahn, who I met (outside the womb, in person) for the first time.

I enjoyed meeting the young adult volunteers, and also enjoyed finding out that the hotel buffet has special plates for kids - Hello Kitty tray-style plates. My nieces would love that.

I was determined to take the subway, in part because the shuttles between the hotels and Bexco, the venue, get very crowded, but also because I have a strong streak of independence regarding transportation. I love figuring out how to get places all on my own. A couple of my colleagues came along with me. It's just a few blocks to the subway, then three stops later we're at Bexco. On our way to the subway, we saw this truck of persimmons... I guess it's a fall fruit! 

Upon our arrival at Bexco, I ran into a class from Columbia Seminary that includes Dave Vandermeer, the Director of Music Ministries at the church I attend in Atlanta (Central Presbyterian). He's amazing, and it was fun to see him.

We headed over to opening prayer (so you figured out I skipped the orientation, but since I read all the materials, I think I have it mostly covered). I learned that one reason the WCC has prayer instead of worship is because not all the member communions and partners and guests are allowed to worship with other traditions. Opening prayer was powerful. Also wordy. This gives me pause for all the times I have planned worship to be very wordy (and mostly confessional). But the words were also very representative of the various regions of the world represented here. And the music was awesome. 

Next up: Lunch. Yes. All-important food. I sat with two of the other PC(USA) delegates (Sara Lisherness and Gradye Parsons), a UMC pastor who has been attending WCC GAs for years, and a Presbyterian minister attending with him.

I got in the habit of taking pictures of my food after traveling in Puerto Rico with my friend HyeYoung (now one of the site coordinators for the YAV program in Korea, mentioned above) and several other McCormick friends. Here you go.

Then it was opening plenary. We heard from the mayor of Busan, the moderator of the WCC, the secretary general of the WCC, and many other dignitaries. Then the Korean churches made a presentation that was the history of the Christian church in Korea through today. It was beautiful. Well-done.

I do have to admit I spent the first several minutes squirming. Korean churches are not like other churches in Asia, like those in Iraq or in India that have existed since the time of the early church, because they are the result of missionary outreach from Europe and North America. Now, Korea sends more missionaries than the U.S. to other parts of the world, but I felt so uncomfortable seeing the faces and names of white missionaries scrolling across the screen, and hearing to how these missionaries brought the light of the Gospel to Korea.

Here's the thing. It's pretty much technically true. Historically accurate. The Presbyterians especially sent many missionaries.

That era was so rife with cultural imperialism that it has tainted my overall impression of missionary work. I am proud that Presbyterians had a tendency to establish schools and hospitals, and that women who were unable to serve as ministers in their countries of origin were able to live out calls to ministry in other countries. But this is all so problematic. What I do love is that Korean Christianity has fully taken on a life of its own, with charismatic, Pentecostal, and liberationist church expressions.

We headed from there into business sessions. 

The WCC operates by consensus; thus the orange and blue cards. Orange means I'm feeling warm toward a motion, and blue means I'm feeling cool about it (and need to keep talking). The WCC GA isn't quite the same as a Presbyterian or Disciples or Lutheran assembly (yeah, I've been to those national meetings before... church geek alert...), so it was helpful to learn. The Presbyterians are sitting behind the Orthodox churches, and I learned there is an Orthodox church in Japan. 

It turns out when the Middle East is mentioned, it is just as contentious in the WCC as in the PC(USA). The first comment was from an Asian brother who wanted to ensure that any statement on the Middle East speaking about living as Christians in Muslim contexts take into account all those Muslim contexts not located in the Middle East. 

After business sessions was evening prayer. And then we went to dinner.

We had forgotten about this dinner. The PROK (one of the Presbyterian denominations in Korea) is hosting its partners in the evenings. I was so happy to see their ecumenical officer, Min Heui (I forget her family name). She was one of my guides the last time I was in Korea, and she is a force to be reckoned with. Many of my seminary classmates were PROK-affiliated, so it was really fun to sit down with many of the leaders of this denomination, which is quite close to my own in its affirmation of women's leadership, and some of its social and theological policies. We attended with representatives of Reformed or Presbyterian churches in eastern Africa, Switzerland, and Indonesia.

I ate meat at this dinner. I don't usually eat meat, but when it's offered, I try not to turn it down. I also tried to eat everything. This didn't turn out well for me. I gave up. But it was wonderful hospitality, and we are gifting the leaders two special gift editions of the new Presbyterian hymnal ("Glory to God"). 

I need to sleep. Because I have breakfast at 7am with more friends and colleagues. G'night.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Exhilaration, Hope... and a Tiny Meltdown

I'm so done.

It was a lovely morning.

I was up and ready to go for the second day of the women's and men's pre-assembly. We began with morning prayer, and then had Bible study. Here is my Bible study group.

We then moved into reports back from yesterday's separate meetings of men and women. This was the best part of the day. The women, we had a good day yesterday. But the men had prepared a whole statement. I think there were only a few North American men and European men - the majority were men from the global South. It was an amazing statement: about the gratitude men felt to be in solidarity with women, for their own commitments to continue to work for gender justice, their own understanding of how the construction of masculinity in many cultures means many of their brothers face homophobia and hatred, and confessing their fear of the repercussions they would face for being in solidarity with women and changing their own behaviors. I know I'm not writing this as well as the men said it. I was surprised. I was expected a watered-down statement, and instead we heard something powerful.

I find it problematic when Americans say that men in other countries are so patriarchal and sexist (since the U.S. isn't doing so well at gender equality)... and today the men from other parts of the world totally showed us up. I was so grateful for their presence and commitments.

We exited for lunch to this. 

Yes, protests. I have to admit by this point I was tired and hungry (which is fairly typical of me, many days when I have all-day meetings). I know that we as Christians have lots of disagreements, and I'm fairly accustomed to seeing the Westboro Baptist Church picketing events I attend (PCUSA General Assemblies, presidential inaugurations). Here's an article discussing some of the disagreement among Korean Christians about the WCC. I'm not surprised; I think these issues show up in the U.S. among American Christians just as much. I figure there are people praying for my soul in these protests, and that can't hurt.

I did have a fun lunch (dumplings and more dumplings) with some folks from the United Church of Canada, and then we headed back to hear about trafficking and sexual violence. At this point, I had a meltdown.

Nowadays my meltdowns are more about checking out than emotional explosions. I realized I had expected this pre-event would be a time to get to know other women, but also to think together about strategic engagement on gender justice issues through WCC and other church mechanisms. We listened to a lot of talking heads, a lot of presentations. Our interactions with one another felt limited, and we didn't get to strategy until late in the day today. So I had a meltdown that included checking out just enough to continue preparing for my committee work, and leaving a little early to go to the grocery store (I'm practical about my needs even in a meltdown).

I know this is not my most helpful contribution. However, I do feel prepared for my committee's work, and I have had some amazing conversations with other Christians, particularly Korean Christians. I am very grateful for these interactions, because they are shaping my orientation to the work of the General Assembly in the next ten days. And a highlight of my day, besides the mens' statement, was going to the steps outside the convention center with hundreds of other participants in the pre-assembly for a group picture, with women from all over the world singing "We Shall Overcome." This, from women who had just been discussing trafficking of women and children, and sexual violence. There is plenty of hope here. I can't wait for tomorrow, for the beginning of the assembly.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Women's and Men's Pre-Assembly Event (day 1)

The WCC has a series of pre-assembly events for youth, indigenous peoples, the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, and traditionally for women. I've aged out of the youth, and I have done gender justice stuff before, so I signed up for the women's pre-assembly event. By the final email prior to coming to Busan, it had become the women's and men's pre-assembly event.

Now, I have known people to be overly inclusive, so I almost suppressed an eye-roll, until I looked at the agenda. Awesome. This became an event on gender, so that men and women had gender-specific breakouts. We as men and women experience and contribute to the gender divide differently, so I think this was a brilliant move.

I managed to get on the shuttle after the one I wanted to make (I just couldn't pull myself together in time), and when I got on the shuttle, I saw about five people I knew from other meetings, including the Rev. Hannah Lee of the United Church of Canada (she had attended an event I planned when working with the Common Ground Project at McCormick Seminary). I saw a few more by the time I got off. We saw this when we got off the shuttle.

Cool, right? And when I got into the pre-assembly event, I saw Aruna Gnanadason, a WCC staff person I first met in 1999 at my first WCC event; Meredith Coleman-Tobias, a friend from Atlanta; Dr. Cheryl Sanders, who I know from work with the Fund for Theological Education (FTE); and a bunch of women I know through the Pacific Asian North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) and alumni of McCormick Seminary (who are now PROK ministers!). 

At the event itself, we had a lovely welcome from Korean sisters, including this. 

I played some Korean drums in my day, so that was fun. 

We heard from the WCC general secretary, and I ran into my friend the Rev. Garland Pierce, whom I know when he was National Council of Churches staff for the Pacific Asian American and Canadian Christian Educators (PAACCE), and now works for the WCC. Then we had lunch. 

A UCC pastor, the Rev. Sarah Lund, whom I know through my work with the Transition into Ministry program, invited me and Evie to lunch with this group of Korean women Anglican priests. First of all, there aren't too many of these women ordained as priests. Second, they are just really cool people. I got to listen to Sarah and Evie and one of the priests talk about the stigma around mental health, and ministry in the context of people who have family members with mental health issues, or who themselves need help beyond what the church provides. 

We headed back into plenary, and got to engage with other women in some interesting conversation. I met the aunt of an intern at the Presbyterian UN Office, and a woman from South Africa who works with people living with HIV (we are going to be friends after this is over, I told her, after our conversation regarding militarization and its effect on a culture of violence). I got to meet many great folks.

What matters to me is not just meeting cool people, or seeing people I knew before.

This is what matters: the Christian family has diverse concerns, experiences, and gifts. This gathering reminds me of how we are connected; how the concerns of a few on one continent pertain to the concerns of a few that I know on my continent. Our family has always been big, but we don't always act like it. 

I hope I act like it even after we leave.

Now to rest, after a light supper with some good PCUSA women: Toddie Peters, Sara Lisherness, and Linda Valentine.

P.S. A fun note: Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters founded the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, the organization I hold responsible for helping me see the relevance and beauty of the church after I had given up on it. I have heard about her and read her work for years. I finally got to meet her. What an honor.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Note on Korea

This is my second visit to South Korea. The first was in 2005 to visit friends (Irene and Tahir) and travel around a little. I was traveling with Korean speakers (Mary, Irene, and Min, a pastor in Wonju), so it was extra easy to get around. I just came along for the ride, and I loved it. Besides meeting people, going to church (pretty much most of one Sunday), visiting cultural sites (beautiful and incredible - wish I could go back on this trip!), shopping, enjoying the mountains, and spending some time at a spa, there were the little things that made the trip even more enjoyable. Street markets that stay open late into the night, for instance. Fish for breakfast. Noodles and kimpap available on the street. I could easily reach the overhead handles on the subway in Seoul, whereas in D.C. or Chicago or New York, I have a hard time getting up that high.

Like most good Presbyterians, and like most who have attended a seminary, I have many friends who are Korean and Korean American. That, combined with my earlier travel to South Korea, and the fact that I'm an English-speaker, means this is a sort-of easy trip for me. Most signs have some English as well as Korean. I am familiar with much of the food available, and have no problem wandering around finding street food I can eat (I'm usually pescatarian, and can't handle much dairy.).

Beautiful persimmon.

I'm looking forward to seeing friends who live in Korea (HyeYoung and Kurt, who are mission co-workers and seminary classmates), and to seeing others who are here for the WCC. There are spaces of familiarity here even though I will not be familiar with the vast majority of those attending this event. 

Now, some of my Korean and Korean American friends point out to me with some frequency that Japan was brutal in its occupation of Korea, sometimes implying my responsibility in this. This does, as you might imagine, put me in an awkward spot. It's bad enough being American and also pro-human rights, given the actions of the U.S. in violating human rights at home and around the world. The U.S. has a large military presence in South Korea, and U.S. soldiers are frequent violent human rights abusers, particularly toward Korean women. The fact that we maintain bases here is not ok to me, although I'm sure the geopolitical situation is more complicated than I understand. 

It is also true that during Japan's rise as a colonial power, my family left for the United States. One of my great-grandmothers was born in California in 1907, and the rest of my great-grandparents arrived during the teens. I identify much more with the U.S. and with Asian Pacific Americans in the U.S. than I do with Japan, given the generational distance (I'm fourth and fifth generation), my biraciality (I am also of eastern European Jewish descent), and because experiences of anti-Asian U.S. sentiment have been much more shaping for me than have Japanese culture and history. My experience of being Japanese American is about maintaining a strong blended identity of American-ness, Jewish-ness, Japanese-ness, and resisting racist discrimination and its effects. 

A woman selling food by the beach gave me a look when I said I was American. I took that to mean that she didn't quite believe me because of my looks (this is a frequent problem I have when traveling in other countries - I don't look white, don't have blond hair or blue eyes, and I like spicy food, so I do not seem very American to some). I said my mother's family was Japanese, and she walked away. I know that just because my family wasn't in Japan, and spent a few years locked up in concentration camps in the U.S. for being Japanese, does not make much of a difference to a people who were systematically terrorized by a brutal and dehumanizing regime. 

While I'm here, I know I will learn much more about the occupations of Korea, and the implications of U.S. military actions here. I will learn more about the work towards Korean reunification. I expect there will be many more awkward moments, as I'm not one to duck and try to pass myself off as not half-Japanese or not American. 

Well, no one ever said life is easy. It is painful, and joyful, and difficult, and beautiful. Here we go...

Accidents, Privilege and Responsibility

A photo Evie took as we flew into Gimhae Airport in Busan
(A note... the inclusion of the names of other Presbyterians in this blog post has not been approved by these Presbyterians, nor do they necessarily share my views or perspectives.)

October 25, 2013
It’s 3 am at home, and 4 pm in Busan.

Evie Landrau (one of the other PCUSA delegates) and I are on a plane en route to the Republic of Korea. I’m trying to stay up until at least 7 pm Korea time, and then sleep hard the rest of the way, so when we land in the morning I can function. I watched one movie (Thanks, Korean Air! You’re the best!), will write a blog post, and finish writing a book chapter. Evie is awesome, by the way. I hope you get to meet her someday. And those of you in Charlotte should go visit her church! She serves at Caldwell Presbyterian Church.

Being one of four delegates is a ginormous privilege. I suppose I could point out that not being a delegate, but being able to pay my own way to one of these meetings would indicate privilege, but let’s be clear: this is crazy awesome. My brother emailed me before I left to say, “Did you ever think you would be doing this stuff before you turned 40?” No. Not really in the realm of possibility.

I’m here because of an accident, and because of privilege.

Here’s the accident. In 1999, my parents got a mailing promoting the National Network of Presbyterian College Women (NNPCW – a feminist college ministry) Leadership Event, taking place south of Seattle (close to home). Somehow, there was a mix-up in the mailroom at the Presbyterian Center. The mailing list my parents were on was applied to the wrong promotional materials.

I arrived at the NNPCW leadership event, and the leaders confirmed through a series of conversations that I was not a right-wing conservative plant (I can give you a history of the systematic persecution of this particular college ministry, but that’s another blog post on misogyny.). I found out later that I was the only person who registered as a result of the mailing mix-up.

Attending the NNPCW leadership event led to serving on the Coordinating Committee of NNPCW, which led to being sent as a PC(USA) delegate to a World Council of Churches consultation on women and racism and also led to learning about the young adult internships then offered by whatever the Presbyterian Mission Agency used to be two rebrands ago, which led to serving as the Gender Justice Intern at the Presbyterian United Nations Office, which led to my work with the Peacemaking Program and facilitating the PC(USA) participation in the UN World Conference Against Racism in 2001, which involved working with the NCC and the WCC, which led to me discerning a call to ministry, which led to me enrolling in seminary… Ok, there are a lot more steps here. But here we are, Evie and I, two church professionals winging our way to what will be an amazing manifestation of what it means to be church, even though it is in decline, even though it is facing severe budget challenges. This is still going to be GIANT NERD FUN.

(I totally didn’t make it, by the way. Fell asleep at 5 pm Korea time and woke up at 10 pm.)

Some good Calvinists may call that little mailing room mix-up something else, but I’m not the best Calvinist. Maybe a mix-up is just a mix-up. (The publishing company I work for sells lots of great books on Calvin, by the way. Just if you’re interested.)

So much for the accident.

Here’s the privilege.

As a U.S. citizen (and knowing our own national history and policies on immigration and citizenship, I don’t take that privilege lightly) and a Presbyterian, I and others like me have access and clout in international ecumenical circles. Worried that we aren’t the center of religious culture in the U.S.? Don’t worry. We still get plenty of airtime around the world. We have a full-time head of communion (the Stated Clerk) and a full-time ecumenical officer, which is more than many communions can say. I noticed this indicator of inequality during my work with Churches Uniting in Christ. Larger, wealthier communions had personnel, availability, access to resources. Smaller, less wealthy communions scrambled for people and financial resources.

Like many with privilege, I want to squeeze myself into a corner and not take up too much space out of an awareness of that privilege. Of course, as an under-40 woman of color, there is another part of me that knows disappearing is not the answer. Making myself small and withholding my contributions to the work is just another way to exercise privilege, or to allow those from my denomination and country with more personal privilege to dominate. So I will participate. In fact, I think I’ll be working my ass off, dancing between contributing the appropriate amount and making sure my contributions are not dominant over the contributions of others with less economic and social power in this religious world. At least I’m aware that I should not dominate the conversation.

October 27, 10am

Saw other parts of Incheon airport I hadn’t noticed before (must have been tired, because I mostly noticed the beautiful wood flooring). Made it to Busan and got our WCC conference badges from the staff at the airport. Met an Indonesian student studying in Korea who is volunteering for this event. Walked along Haeundae beach. Ate noodles at an outside stand. Checked into the hotel. Rested. Ate noodles at a little hole in the wall. Slept and slept. Now able to write again!

Noodles, kim chee and mandoo for dinner
Haeundae Beach this morning

Tomorrow we begin with pre-assembly events. Evie and I are attending the women and men pre-assembly event on gender. By then, we'll be joined by lots of other Presbyterians, including the two other delegates, Gradye Parsons (the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA) and Sara Lisherness (Director of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry Area of the Presbyterian Mission Agency), standing in for Robina Winbush (Associate Stated Clerk for Ecumenical Relations), who was unable to attend.

This is my responsibility: to take my duty as an elected voting delegate of the PC(USA) to this World Council of Churches General Assembly very seriously. As a good Presbyterian, I believe I am not representing a constituency that shapes my voting, I am here to discern the will of the Holy Spirit. However, I am also bound by the theology and social witness policies of the PC(USA), and my voting will be consistent with those policies.  It sounds tricky, especially to my tired mind, and it feels like a heavy responsibility. But I’m feeling joyful, too. This will be big and serious and delightful. I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Journey to Busan

I leave tonight for the 10th World Council of Churches General Assembly, in Busan, South Korea.

I’m consumed with details. I’m leaving the country for over two weeks, and I still haven’t called the bank or checked rates with my cell phone carrier. Thirteen-hour plane rides tend to feel just about five hours too long, so I need a few books. I will have no problem eating or getting what I need in South Korea, but I never did get around to learning hangul. I’m expecting to make lots of mistakes in interpersonal interactions with Christians from other parts of the world. I’ll miss my dogs, my friends, and a bunch of important work meetings.

In the midst of just getting stuff done, I’m nervous-excited! I’m nervous because I’m one of the four PC(USA) delegates* to the GA, and I have actual responsibilities. Along with participating in the women’s and men’s pre-assembly event (two days on gender), and Ecumenical Conversation 6 (“Developing effective leadership: contextual ecumenical formation and theological education”), I'm going to serve on the Programme Guidelines Committee. The mandate for the committee is to “propose policies for all further programmatic work of the World Council of Churches.” This committee will be "making recommendations for future work in the areas of churches and ecumenical developments, unity and mission, public witness and diakonia." Exciting. But that’s a big responsibility, considering the constraints the WCC continues to face, and the very big issues communions handle in their own contexts.

I hope to blog a bit here during the GA.

I ask you for prayers for the event: for a spirit of openness and delight in the diversity of Christian expressions, for the cause of reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, for the conversation and worship that will take place among Christians from many traditions and countries. 

* I was elected to this position at the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) before I came on staff of one of the PC(USA) agencies. I thought I wouldn’t be able to go, but our polity and my job allow me to do so.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Majority Rule - Mixing Faith and Politics

[Apologies to my regular readers: There has been so much to blog about lately that I just gave up. That, plus a lot of travel and other writing projects.]

I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy surrounding the name of the football team in Washington, D.C. You can read a little about it here

The owner of the team wrote a letter explaining why the name would not be changed here.

Majority rule? Yes, because most fans aren’t bothered by the name. Neither are the majority of Native Americans who were polled. Polling evidence was used to shore up the decision to leave the name as is. That, and the long history and legacy of the team and its name are cited as vital to its identity.

Activists and even my church (the PCUSA) say using people as mascots, specifically Native American peoples, is dehumanizing and disrespectful. (The 1999 PCUSA policy statement on racism includes a request that the Stated Clerk write a letter to schools and professional teams urging them to change derogatory or stereotypical names/logos.) The reality of dehumanization may not mean much to people who think they don’t know Native Americans who are hurt by these team names/mascots, have never been portrayed as a mascot, or have an emotional attachment to a team and its name. Many of us do not exist in spaces where we need to think much about this dehumanization.

If you know me, you know I go by other rules than majority rule on issues impacting minorities. Had President Johnson waited to sign the Civil Rights Act based on polls, we might still be waiting. Why? Because the majority doesn’t always recognize dehumanization when it sees it, or doesn’t see a reason to care. Protecting the rights and dignity of the minority sometimes has to be done before it is popular.

There is a Biblical precedent for this. Sometimes it seems Jesus treated women and ethno-religious minorities with respect, at least when compared to the culture of the time. There are many verses in the Bible exhorting members of the community to care for widows, orphans, and immigrants. This is downright counter-cultural, when the entire social structure of the time ensured widows, orphans, and immigrants remained perpetually marginalized, without legal means of supporting themselves.

Another majority rule issue…

Just like most of you, I’m extremely irritated by what has happened thanks to the House of Representatives. I’m talking about the shutdown.

I think what has happened is that health insurance legislation passed. This was affirmed (or at least not condemned) when the incumbent candidate for president was re-elected. This was majority rule. And now a group of people from one party has engineered a shutdown of the government, having a huge impact on people. This is way more than ruining some middle class family’s vacation to national parks or to Washington, D.C. This is about the real people who make a living serving the government, or serving those who serve the government. This is about the kids who won’t get their cancer treatments, the staff of the Cliff House Restaurant in San Francisco who are going without wages, the unpaid police keeping the capital safe during recent demonstrations, all of us who benefit from having inspectors on the job checking our food, and many others.

We could say this group (those who made the shutdown a reality) is the minority speaking up to protect its rights to be heard despite being in the minority. But who is the minority here, needing their rights protected? Perhaps the minority are those who have been without health insurance until now. Perhaps the minority are those who are now going without work, paychecks, treatments, and other needed services due to the shutdown.

I realized that I technically don’t have to care if other people have health insurance, because my plan is provided by my employer. I mean, I do, because I like the other aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), like how my insurance company can’t kick me off my plan for getting sick, or that my lady health visits are fully covered. People like me, who are eminently employable with the right jobs to get great health insurance, may not grasp how important the ACA is to people who don’t have health insurance. But I do know that we as a society benefit when the overall health of the country is better than it is. I know that we benefit in terms of development, financial health, and a whole host of other measures when more of us have access to affordable health care.

Why am I writing on such political issues?

It’s because I was raised this way. Some of this comes from my own cultural background and the convictions of my parents. Some of this comes from being so Presbyterian. Presbyterians, like many other Christian traditions, have a long history of political involvement. I think my faith leads me to really care what happens in politics at all levels of government, because my faith tells me I need to care. Politics has real impact on the lives of a whole bunch of people. I do not agree that people in ministry need to be themselves politically neutral (Jesus wasn’t neutral! Yeah, I know we’re not Jesus.), although I do think that we in ministry need to be faithful and loving in our ministry with people of diverse convictions.

I also struggle constantly with how to express my political convictions in a way that is faithful. How do you express your politics through faith?

Since this is a political post, here are some resources.


The Church and Politics – Being Reformed curriculum series

Politics – Faith Questions (Youth) curriculum series


The Bible and Politics by Richard Bauckham

The Thoughtful Christian Downloadable Adult Studies: