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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.


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