General Synod, Day 2: Some Good, Some Really Good, and Some Really, Really Bad

It’s Sunday morning, the beginning of Day 3 of General Synod. But, the day hasn’t really started yet, so I’ll focus on Friday night and Saturday.

After finishing Friday’s post, early in the evening, I attended the meeting of the committee to which I was assigned—Resolution of Witness in Support of Legislation Authorizing Aid in Dying. I can’t say that I went into that meeting with strong feelings about the issue, but most of the concerns that might have prevented me from voting in favor were resolved during the hearing earlier in the day, when the details—including the very narrowly constructed circumstances through which such aid in dying could be accessed—were outlined. The committee meeting was mostly a very thoughtful discussion about the issue, including a couple of personal stories that were shared.

For the most part, I felt quite positive about the whole experience. People spoke respectfully and they listened as well. There was a moment, though, when someone stood up to talk about the “hard time” she was having with the issue and I was struck by the thought that we could have a resolution declaring that the sky is blue and there would be at least one person who felt compelled not simply to have a “hard time” with it, but also feel compelled to share their “hard time,” using of course, the maximum amount of time available. Still, except for that one strange expression of someone having a “hard time” (yet was unable to actually articulate anything that sounded at all truly connected to the issues at hand), it was a positive and rewarding experience, as a room full of strangers connected only by the tenuous thread of our nonhierarchical denomination, managed to conduct business with quite a lot of respect, humility and trust.  The resolution will now move on to the full assembly, probably Monday.

To sum up Saturday, I first should admit that I kept my Synod experience just to the morning. It was a very full morning, including a Maine delegation caucus meeting at 7:00 and the first plenary of the day starting at 8:00. The plenary ran until close to noon. That was enough Synod for me.

The first part of the morning was great. The Rev. Traci Blackmon, the candidate for the Justice and Witness Ministries Executive Minister, was introduced by a dynamic speaker. Then, Rev. Blackmon offered her candidate speech. While I didn’t agree with everything she said, I was impressed. She offered a meaningful, substantive speech, delivered clearly and passionately.   I was ready to take on the challenge of doing the “messy, difficult work” of “making room” and not just “creating space,” and considering carefully and thoughtfully the different set of tools we need to confront the things that divide us, understanding that healing comes in community.

When she finished, and we all stood up to applaud, it was only mid-morning—and it was looking like a very good day.

Alas, that’s when the day took a bad turn.

It was time for the keynote address of the morning, in the form of a conversation between the Synod Moderator and Ms. Glennon Doyle. I had never heard of Ms. Doyle, but the bio in the Synod materials described her as the “New York Times bestselling author of Love Warrior, which was chosen as one of Oprah’s Book Club picks for 2016, as well as the inspiring and hilarious New York Times bestseller, Carry On, Warrior. Doyle is the founder of Momastery, an on-line community where millions of readers meet each week to experience her shameless and laugh-out-loud funny essays about faith, freedom, addiction, recovery, motherhood and serving the marginalized.”

Ms. Doyle’s remarks began with a rundown of all of her life issues—addiction, bulimia, escaping pain, an unexpected pregnancy, a cheating husband, a divorce, etc. She went on to talk about life as “brutal,” but that most everything could be made better if only there was more yoga: “If you can sit with the hot loneliness, that is the journey of the warrior.”

Warrior?  Really?

She also had the enormously annoying habit, after making certain points, to say to the assembled, “Right?” just so that she could gather up a little affirmation from the audience, which seemed much too willing to offer it.

Ms. Doyle suggested that “we are all afraid of the pain,” but that we shouldn’t be, and that pain is the way to transformation— (say this next part in your best Valley Girl voice) because, you know, that’s what happened to Jesus, like he suffered and he could have escaped the pain, but he didn’t, and then he was crucified and then he experienced new life. Right?

Her remarks were delivered in that way that one hears occasionally from people who somehow, mysteriously and on shaky grounds (which Ms. Doyle was at least gracious enough to observe for herself), make it into the public square of purveyors of truth and wisdom. They think they are offering something tremendously original and profound, yet it’s really just pedestrian drivel.

And, what seemed even more problematic to me was, after not only such a great and inspirational morning, but a morning when we were challenged to consider the ways of injustice in our society and in our world, we were confronted by a clueless privileged white girl who appeared to argue that yoga is the answer to problems. And, much, much worse than that, that she touted a message of transformation through suffering and pain after a powerful and meaningful speech by an African American woman whose own family and ancestors likely heard the very same message—that through their suffering, they would—eventually—experience reward. Although Ms. Doyle made reference to Rev. Blackmon as a remarkable person, she seemed to have no actual appreciation for the content or context of the speech that Rev. Blackmon had given. The confrontation against what vexes as a society should have started in the midst of Ms. Doyle’s presentation.

Before it was over, I walked out. Eventually, though, I came back and listened to the rest of the morning’s speakers.

But, then I was done. And, off to the Walker Art Museum I went. And, after that, it was dinner with a few of my new Maine delegation Synod buddies, where we enjoyed the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.

Today’s start is a little later than yesterday. Thank goodness. But, then, there’s lots to do, with community worship this afternoon and a very full plenary session that begins just after dinner.




About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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