Wednesday, September 15, 2010

CPE, Redux

I spent the last few days at a synod leadership conference/retreat, which was, shall I say...well, I don't even have a good word to describe it. 

On the one hand, it was really nice.  I got to meet lots of new people, other pastors in my area, spend some quality time with my supervisor and other interns that I know from school, etc...

But the content of the conference had been billed ahead of time as being about how to connect with people and be a more effective leader in your congregation.  Awesome.  Or, not.  It turned out to be CPE 2.0.  Right down to the words and charts and graphs and the "understanding your feelings" and "developing an awareness of how you impact the system."  It was so fake and so froo-froo that I found it difficult to even listen respectfully.  I just got done with 11 weeks of this, I took the few bits of useful information from it, and I literally just signed off on the final evaluation this afternoon and I freaking want to be done with it.  I spent lots of time texting my CPE colleagues, my pastor at home, and my mom.  I made mental to-do lists.  I drank coffee.  I worked hard at not fidgeting, not biting my nails, not rolling my eyes, etc...

The other reason I struggled was that this was ostensibly a gathering of religious leaders, and the man presenting the material (four 75-90 minute sessions) claimed to be a Lutheran pastor.  And yet, I saw very little indication that he had any more sincere, identifiably orthodox Christian theology than my CPE Supervisor.  (At one point he talked about he and his wife leading pilgrimages to India and Nepal.  I'm unaware of any major Christian sites in India and Nepal that would make them good locations for a pilgrimage.  Maybe I'm missing something, though.)

Anyhow, one of the sessions this morning was focused on understanding the trajectory of group development and cohesion, and how we go from "pseudo-community," where basically everyone pretends to get along and suppresses their true feelings, to "chaos," where there is lots of conflict because everyone is starting to feel free to express how they really feel, to um...something where people start to decide how to get along despite their differences, to "community," where people actually do get along.  One of the pastors in the room mentioned that his congregation seems to be in the "chaos" stage right now, and that part of the problem is that there are people who no longer believe that they can get along.  He has people who have fundamental philosophical/doctrinal differences with the group, and are questioning whether those can - or even should - be overcome for the sake of community building.  This man's question to the presenter was whether it is possible or even desirable that all groups eventually move out of the chaos phase, even if they have to sacrifice doctrine to do so.  The presenter's response was, "Well, it's very sad that they are choosing not to be a part of the community and work through the chaos.  No one should ever have to give up their personal doctrinal commitments, we just have to learn how to live together despite our differences."  The pastor was very frustrated because this didn't answer his question, although, given that the presenter comes heavily endorsed by the ELCA and is headed out to colleges and seminaries in the coming months to ply this information to the unsuspecting young'uns, it should have given him all he needed to know.  (Maybe it did, I don't know, I didn't talk with him after.)

I feel sad (see, I'm learning to be in touch with my emotions) that we didn't really dig into this question, because I think in a lot of ways, this is the (or one of the) fundamental issues at stake in the ELCA, and maybe the whole of the church post-Reformation.  At what point should one actively promote schism with appeals to conscience, revealed truth, etc?  Ever?  At what point does one submit to what one believes to be false teaching for the sake of unity/community?  Ever?   (One of the things I don't like about the ELCA is that it doesn't ask me to submit to anything.)  "Pilate asked, 'What is truth?'"  Does truth matter anymore?  (Incidentally, I'm reading another book right now where the author is arguing for "truth" over "reality," and "authenticity" over "being real," claiming that truth comes from a place of hope and reality comes from a place of resignation and despair.)

Back to the topic at hand - at this point in the Q&A, another pastor (I think) stood up and noted that the lectionary gospel from last week (Luke 15 - the lost sheep and the lost coin) were very relevant here, because we need to be concerned that the community include everyone, and that's why we go searching for the lost sheep and lost coin.  (Which, to a certain extent, I agree with.  Although, I think I agree with it because it's poorly and vaguely articulated, and that if the two of us tried to get down to brass tacks, we'd be talking about two completely different things.)  But now I was starting to feel upset, because the focus was so much on preserving the community, and that there is never really any reason to break community.  I'm a child of the Reformation, so I know all about times and places where its required that we stand up for the truth, and where schism appears (at first glance, anyway) to be necessary.  And I also see the road that this desire to just up and leave because "they're doing it wrong" has led us down, and it's not pretty.  But what I really, really wanted to say at this moment, right after lost-sheep-guy, was "Yes, and the lectionary gospel from the week before was on hating one's own mother and father in order to follow Jesus. If there is such a thing as absolute truth, and if that truth is most fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, then the gospels are pretty clear that hippie-dippie-lovey-dovey community is not necessarily (always? ever?) compatible with clinging to that truth." 

Up next - how does one's role or status in a group/community influence how and when she should stand up for the truth?  Should it? 


Brian said...

I feel so sorry that you had to sit through this garbage (and I'm being very polite in my choice of words here). Community is the new gospel! That's what Christ reconciled us for, right? So that we would all belong to a group and none would feel marginalized?

Fuck no! (Sorry kiddos, I go pg-13 on you for a moment)

There's that whole "forgiveness of sins" thing he was here for...but apparently those endorsing speakers for the elca have forgotten about that. They also forget about that one verse from know, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Oh yeah...he must have been talking about a sword against injustice, right?

Or how about this one? "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." Once again are we talking about those who are unjust? I think not...especially since the last is followed by the unforgivable sin (maybe Jesus is talking about those who deny God in favor of the world? paritally, at least...)

I'm so sick of all this Jesus loves you with no mention of sin, repentance, or making disciples outisde of interfaith dialogue! So what if he loves me! My mother loves me but that doesn't mean jack squat in terms of my salvation. Reconciliation doesn't come about because of love; it comes because of action on God's part ALONE! When Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, he's talking about bringing a sinner back to God, not bringing marginalized people into community!!!!

Rant done. In the words of my pastor, "This is what it feels like to be free from the elca." To know that you don't have to worry about being taught this at a church sponsered leadership event.

Angela said...

My problem with the whole community is God thing is, well, the failure of communism, in so many words. There has to be a greater good than the community -- or else you have the "tyranny of the majority" right? Is that even a phrase? :) Still though, as I asked Susan, does the community always have the truth? How do we make sure we're not exalting the community (lower-case c) over the Gospel (upper-case G) and the Way, Truth and Life that are found in Jesus Christ alone? This goes back to my whole humanity as humility thing, and the realization that no matter how great our community is, it's still flawed until the eschaton, and we're still held in bondage to sin ... therefore there is no righteousness or goodness apart from Christ.
But then, I'm Lutheran through and through ... at least I thought I was :)

Hahaha guess we'll figure it out eventually. I'm all for community, but there's something more here than community. Something greater. Reminds me of Luke 11, which, coincidentally, comes just four chapters before the lost sheep ...

Elizabeth of Hungary said...

Ok Brian, don't take away my Lutheran credentials just yet...but I'm going to challenge you on this:

"Reconciliation doesn't come about because of love; it comes because of action on God's part ALONE!"

This has the potential to wander right up to the edge of Sundberg's "justification by coma."

Sure, it's the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ that ultimately makes reconciliation with God possible. But are we reconciled to God through Jesus Christ even if we aren't repentant? To say, "Sure, I can go ahead and commit Sin X because God will forgive me" -> Paul's "BY NO MEANS!" There's a fine line here between "earning our salvation" and "justification by coma" - neither of which are true.

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