our fundamental identity

The 77th General Convention started to rev up yesterday.  Legislative Committees had several hours worth of meetings, deputies and bishops were oriented, and the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies both offered opening remarks.  During the PHoD’s speech, I began to realize the fullness of our problem.  I tweeted “I’m realizing that the PHoD and I live in two different worlds. Her’s informs mine, but the foundations are fundamentally different.”

She, and many like her, had their lives profoundly shaped by the struggle for equality in the 1960s and 70s.  Out of those struggles, many boomers developed two very strong identities (broad brush warning).  Some are fighters: they continue to seek out problems that are in need of solutions, especially in areas of equality.  Others are guilt carriers: they continue to emote the guilt that comes with realizing one’s privilege at the expense of millions who carried the full burden it took to create that privilege.  Some, I’m guessing the PHoD falls into this category, carry both identities with in them.

I grew up in the excesses of the 1980s and 90s.  Bubble economies, the rise of hip-hop, and the beginnings of digital communities have lead many in my generation to feel disconnected from the guilt-ridden fighting that has come to define so much of the rhetoric in our current debate.  Sure, my world was cushy because of the world that two generations before me struggled to create, but my fundamental identity is not based in social change.  And while I very much appreciate the hard work done by the generations that came before, I’m wondering how long guilt, shame, and partisanship has to rule our discourse?  As I looked at the dais yesterday during orientation, as I realized that the leading candidate to replace the current PHoD and the leading VP candidate were two of the four bodies up there throughout.  I’m thinking that we’ve got at least three more years in this transition.

The Old Testament lesson for Sunday tells us that David was 30 years old when the elders anointed him King over Israel.  Youthful leadership is not something that is without precedent.  It has been lamented all over the internet that there aren’t enough younger people present in the councils of the Church, and I agree.  The problem is that we have made leadership roles all but impossible for those who still have to work a day-to-day job to make ends meet.  How can we bring more voices to the table?  How can we make sure that one group’s experience doesn’t define our fundamental identity?  How can we enjoy the fullness of who we are, the truth that exists within every believer?  I don’t have the answers at this point, but I’m certain they are out there.

Perhaps a starting place is forgiveness.  I offer you the Prayer for the Mission of The Church (BCP, 816-7)

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

22 thoughts on “our fundamental identity

  1. Good reflection that captures well the spirit of those opening remarks. I was struck by the difference between the remarks of PHoD and PB+KJS. One was looking for collaboration while the other seemed looking for confrontation. Reminded me of showing up for a dinner party and being the only one not wearing a coat and tie. The lack of coordination in their messages spoke volumes.

  2. Steve – so glad that you, Evan, and Lonnie are there and giving the rest of us the benefit of your insight. I am thrilled that a new template is being used for the budget. We need all voices at the table. Like many of our battles, we are not where we want or need to be just yet, but we are heading in the right direction. We would better serve the world – and the church – if we focus on sharing the love of God, the message of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit with everyone. Thanks…..and blessings.

  3. I am of the boomer generation and if I would be broadstroked I would fall under the first category you described. There is a very definite ‘generational’ problem in our church and in our society at large. I suppose always has been and always will be. Even GC itself is a product of old methodology. New technology ought to be able to take the cumbersome aspects out, but someone has to take the bull by the horns.

  4. Thanks Steve for your youthful wisdom. As a tail-end boomer (born in 1961), I have one foot in the “idealist” boomer generation, and the other in the “survivors” of the 70s and early 80s. I kinda get her concerns that Anglo Americans still have not come to terms with the privileges they received from that “birthright.” I think it explains much of the anxiety over immigration where I now live, along with the realization that “we” won’t be the majority anymore by mid-century.

    The problem with Anderson’s comments is that she fails to see how her opportunity to speak about these issues is, itself, a privilege. And the House of Deputies, which she styles as the peoples’ body in the Episcopal Church, is itself a bastion of privilege. Who can take the time it takes to network with the activists in the Diocese to get elected as a deputy, then take two weeks off and pay for that much hotel time, but those who are privileged?

    At the last GC, John Ohmer wrote an interesting article in the Virginia Diocese’s “Center Aisle.” He pointed out, while everyone was bashing the bishops then, that they might be in a better position to actually represent the Episcopal “masses” than the deputies. They actually have to hear the views of average Episcopalians every Sunday, after all.

    Anyway, thanks for your service my friend.

  5. The other thing I notice about PHOD’s remarks is the absence of Jesus in discussing who we are as a church and a people. I looked at her sermon from July 3rd and there was not a mention of Jesus.

    I think if this church is going to heal the world it has to begin with Jesus. Our mission is not an abstract reign of God but a kingdom established and announced by Jesus our Lord and Savior.

    I notice the SCLM avoids Jesus as Lord, something we do at our own detriment.

  6. Interesting and valuable thoughts! Perhaps, as we rethink TEC, we might consider moving towards regional provinces rather than a national church as a more appropriate way to be inclusive and hear voices currently being missed?? Thoughts?

  7. Speaking first of all as a Boomer, I’d like to add a third broad stroke of the brush – we can also be identified as “servers”, which may be in the middle of the other two. But I think there is a distinct identity among those who simply want to try to make the world a bit better without it being a fight and without feeling guilty. We’re the Nike bunch – Just do it.

    Secondly, I think we need to remember that we all share a common bond, regardless of whether we’re Boomers or an ExGens: we all changed on 9/11. We all share a sense of vulnerabilility and confusion. Do we fight our oppressors (who are they?) or do we maintain our normal lives and go shopping? I hope that in some way we can share a greater common responsibility for one another, and we acknowledge that Christ is vital to our daily lives, because we all experienced the bitter lesson that our lives can end in an instant.

    Which leads to Steve’s prayer for forgiveness….

    • This might just be me, but I feel like in the almost 11 years since 9/11 it has become a political flash point. Repubs point to it for political gain. Dems point to the 2 war aftermath for the same reason. Does the unity we saw in the immediate aftermat really still exist?

  8. I think your points are valid, Steve…and having prayed the prayer you offfered, perhaps the Acts 8 crew might mount a candidate for key office in DFMS to let folks know there are underutilized folks at GC and in the church? Keep fighting the good fight, Brother!

      • LOL Nope, but you’re doing a fine job! BTW, maybe Acts 8 would consider tabling a resolution re-establishing DFMS as TEC’s “market name” to emphasize where young folks and their oldster supporters would prefer church focus be put going forward? This way the whole “who is in authority issue” is subordinated to our missional focus….

  9. Sounds like every generation I have seen pass by in my 9x at GC — why don’t you all just get to work like those who are currently in leadership. As to not mentioning Jesus — I know Bonnie Anderson is a follower of Jesus Christ – have yet to see that from those alleged Christians who snipe from edges.

    • Ann,
      Thank you for you comment. My response would be that I’m here. I have taken my part in the councils of the Church. I am engaged, involved, and serving the Kingdom to the best of my ability, and I understand that these things take time. I would, however, rather work with builders, boomers, x’ers, and millennials instead of taking pot shots at one another because of when we were born or how we came to be a part of The Episcopal Church. As I said in my post, I am grateful for the pathway paved by those shaped by the 60s and 70s. My request is not to ignore their, your, experience, but rather to invite us all into a wider understanding of whose experience carries authority. President Anderson (and from what I’ve read of yours, you) and I will disagree on most things, but her commitment to the Church is unquestioned.

      As to the question of commitment to the Lord Jesus, I didn’t raise it, and I don’t doubt President Anderson’s discipleship. I do echo concerns that we have lost the Gospel in a mess of issues from budget and structure to social concerns. The Good News of Jesus Christ should be the motivation for everything we do. Period. Full Stop. The rest should be informed through the work of the Spirit.

      I encourage you to follow my blog, comment as you see fit, and be a part of the conversation. As I’ve said on my about page, I’m eager to listen and be changed, and I’m glad that you have made your voice heard. My only request is that dialogue be respectful of divergent views.


    • I have no issue with Ms. Anderson: I understand where she’s coming from and empathize. At the same time, while getting to work is always good advice, is there some truth in the observation that being part of a system makes it hard to see new options? And is continuing to support business as usual what we need to best live into our baptismal covenant?


      What would happen, following up on an idea I’ve seen elsewhere, of running TED type get-togethers ( see http://www.ted.com/ ) for folks in DFMS (aka TEC) at diocesan or provincial level and then prototyping popular ideas in a couple of dioceses with debriefs at the provincial level annually and best practices sent up to the national networks?

      Work gets done, folks outside the usual, over-burdened, core cadre gets to carry some load and we get the benefits of diverse wisdom from across the Church…. what am I missing, seasheller? P.S. Thanks for making the time to participate in TEC GC and work for our future!

    • I don’t doubt whether Bonnie is a Christian or not. But there is a language issue in our church and those who lead it that I think is important.

      I think what Steve+ is pointing out in his post is there are generational differences present in the church and I am sure these differences occur in each generation. We need the wisdom of those who have been around but also listen to the voices of those who are younger and not tied to “this is how we have always done it” and “we tried that once before and it did not work.”

      Those who grew up in the 60s and 70s experienced justice issues in a different light than those say products of the 1980s and 1990s. I can only speak for myself but reading some of the stuff from the Acts 8 folks there is also a general frustration that the church focus on justice issues has been at the expense of discipleship and evangelism in the church.

      When I use the word mission I am not sure it has the same meaning when someone else uses it. I think part of the Acts 8 moment is seeking a more holistic understanding of mission (justice/evangelism is another false dichotomy). When we have lost 1/3 of our church in a decade, we lose a parish a day, and half our members are going to be dead in 20 years we have some serious work to do. My experience is some are more interested in maintaining structure and governance and not recognizing that ship has passed. Our drop in membership over the past 50 years has not woken us up to reality, maybe the disappearance of our financial picture will force us to wake up.

  10. Pingback: A Short Post Worth the Reading from a Young Deputy to General Convention « The Curate's Desk

  11. Steve: I’m nearly 60 and don’t quite fall within any of your broad strokes, but I think you identify a valid problem. I was unable to hear either of the opening addresses nor have I had time to read them. However, I have suggested to some of my Acts 8 friends that it would be a good idea to not elect anyone currently running for PHoD – draft someone that can provide new, younger, fresher leadership with a changed outlook.

    Keep posting your GC thoughts – I’ll look forward to following them.

  12. Steve+, Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I have sometimes called today’s Episcopal church, the church of Pittenger and Pike–two oldies and goodies I did not know about but read about after I became an Episcopalian. Social activitism had deep roots in the Episcopal tradition as early as the social gospel movement if not before. I like the metaphor of rhizomes to describe historical and emotive change. Everyone tends to think in terms of dichotomies, those built on binaries. We have been playing those out inside the church and outside in the wider culture. As a person born at the end of the Boomer generation, I look at all the continued struggling of the Boomers as emblematic of idealism–the world can be a better place; we can build the “city of God.” Much of what I grew up with in the 1970s-80s was built on false idealism. I have a priestly friend who maintains the error of the church is the lack of formation, a formation that includes both clergy and lay people at a very fundamental level. I resisted that characterization for a long time, but now see the crumbling church that it has left behind. Since we seldom ever find equilibrium between forces of change, I fully expect the “new voices” to develop with tones as strident as the previous generation. What I see missing–and I don’t know how to fix it–is the removal of the sacred as a kind of embracing vision. There are sacramental properties to social justice, but a social justice rooted in the sacral is different from political justice. There are sacramental properties to evangelism, but the trick is not to mimic the forms of evangelical/fundamentalist discourse that is descralized again into a kind of political agenda. Actually I do see the church as embodying “shame,” one so great that it can only be remade by the power of the Sprit.

  13. Thank you for these comments. As a younger person – I’ll be 31 on Monday – I too struggle with living after the Boomer generation. Many of us who are younger are asking these exact same questions.

    I would like to invite you to The Living Church’s Conversation on the Church, which is happening this evening at 6:30pm (see: http://www.livingchurch.org/tlc-convention for details). Our participants this evening will include Dean Ferguson, Ruth Meyers, Bishop Daniel Martins, and others from across the spectrum.

    You may be interested to know that there are a number of younger people affiliated with TLC today; we are theologically serious and are focused on building for the future. With TLC, you certainly won’t find folk gazing wistfully upon a sanitized, rhetorically useful version of the 1960s!

    I will be at GC come Sunday, working at the TLC booth. It would be wonderful to meet you – please do stop by!

  14. Pingback: On Letting Go of Generational Battlelines « Draughting Theology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s