On Thursday, July 5, during one of the breaks of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, I was taken by this image–an image of what was left behind, in the empty hall.Some trash, some ‘stuff,’ and it appears much paperwork.
It got me to thinking, what have we, what are we, leaving behind? The ‘we’ in this sense, was both the event called the General Assembly, but also the ‘we’ of the Presbyterian Church more generally. What are we leaving in our wake? Knowing, of course, that the word ‘wake’ has two distinctive meanings, both of which, it seems to me, apply.
what we leave behind, Pittsburgh
© 2012 erin dunigan
That got me to thinking about Amy Grant. I know, it seems a bit of a non-sequitur. Stay with me.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to attend the National Youthworkers Convention. This particular year the big news was that Amy Grant would be performing. As a huge fan, I was thrilled.
But something didn’t go exactly as planned. There was a problem with her earpiece, or the sound. What I remember was not the issue with the sound, but her response–irritated, annoyed, and not all that nice to those who were responsible for the screw up.
Let me say–I have no idea what was going on from a technical sound standpoint, and of course no idea what had happened earlier in the day to her–this is not meant to be a slam on Amy Grant. We are all human. Sometimes we respond well, sometimes less well.
But what stood out to me all those many years ago, and what has remained with me, is that her response to the problem actually made a much more ‘unpleasant sound’ than the actual problem itself. Her response to the situation was what I heard loud and clear. And it was not a pretty sound.
Which, of course, brings me back to the PCUSA and the General Assembly, and makes me wonder, what is it that we are leaving behind us, in our wake? What is the sound that the world (those who care to pay attention) are hearing from us?
Lately online there has been a discussion of whether or not ‘liberal Christianity’ is dying. The first piece in this recent volley was by Ross Douthat, Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? It is a critique of the Episcopal Church and its ‘flexibility to the point of indifference on dogma’ (including its recent decision to bless same sex unions) which Douthat implies is the reason for the church’s dwindling attendance.
Douthat’s piece brought a speedy and thoughtful response from historian and author Diana Butler Bass, Can Christianity Be Saved. Bass is herself on the more ‘progressive’ side in the Episcopal Church and in her recent book, Christianity After Religion: the end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening goes into much depth on the issues surrounding denominational decline.
But I think my favorite post was by Adam Copeland, Douthat & Bass: Asking the wrong question in which he admits that “The premise of both pieces has left me wanting.”
To which I say, Amen.
Because though liberals and conservatives alike enjoy claiming that the reason denominational numbers are in such decline is because of them, those people, the ones we disagree with (because it can never be our problem, can it?) I wonder if we are not more like Amy Grant than we realize.
Because what I have begun to wonder is if it is the disagreements themselves that are the problem. By that I mean, the way we are living them out.
So we disagree? The world is full of disagreement, on really important issues.
Why not, rather than more of the same tearing each other apart that we can see modeled daily by the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow, on Fox News or MSNBC–why not model how to disagree well, respectfully, lovingly–prayerfully, more than politically.
Why not model how to love one another in spite of our differences, in spite of our disagreements? It is, of course, easy to love those who love you–the Bible tells us. Why not practice what we preach and learn how to love those we’d really rather not? Those who bug the you know what out of us? Those who we’d rather not include in our family photos of what it means to be Presbyterian, or Christian? Of course this isn’t easy. Of course it doesn’t come naturally. Of course it’s not always our first response. Or even our second.
The thing is, I don’t even remember what song Amy Grant was singing that day–and I was a fan. It would be safe to say that hearing her perform would have been the highlight of most definitely my week, perhaps even month or more. I knew all the words of all her songs by heart. All of them.
I don’t remember the song, because all she left me with was the memory of her response. Irritated. But more than that, rude to those she deemed responsible for the problem. There was a problem. It needed to be solved. It was not even her fault. But she lost some of my respect that day because of how she handled the situation.
So, I ask it of myself, and of my church, the PCUSA–will the rest of the world remember our song–the words we are singing, the beautiful melody, that which we feel deep down at the core of our beings that we are called to share with everyone who can hear?
Or will the only thing left in our wake be our response?
Thank you. Well said and well asked.
Keep singing. And playing. And dancing.
Remind me to tell you the story of the evening I played and sang for her, and her sweet response afterward. She was 16, on her first tour through California with just a guitar and her agent, selling cassette tapes out of their car.
this is an engaging question Erin…thanks..