Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Presbyterians, Change, and Eaarth


By the end of the day, some folks at the Presbyterian headquarters in Louisville will get the word that their job no longer exists. The General Assembly Mission Council is determining how they will respond to a 13.2 million dollar decrease in revenue over the next two years. This marks the sixth time since 2002 that national staff has been cut. According to the Presbyterian Outlook:

National staff members losing their jobs – the staff was told in meeting this week that the number will be about 45 – will get the news from their supervisors that afternoon.

Linda Valentine, the council’s executive director, acknowledged to the council on May 13 that “these are painful, difficult times” and that both the lives and livelihoods of people who have served the church for years will be affected.
The national organization is being hit hardest. But regional levels are changing as well. Following the retirement of our youth and young adult director, Jim Kirkpatrick, our presbytery decided not to replace him. This decision followed the painful reality that projected income for our presbytery had dropped significantly.

That is why volunteers in the presbytery are picking up the pieces of Jim's job and why heretics like me are leading Presbyterian Student Fellowship at ETSU. I come cheap. As in free.

In the meantime, a task force has been selected. According to our moderator this task force will meet over the summer to

"determine which programs, ministries, and committee activities are most relevant and vital in fulfilling our vision and mission" as well as "to insure that we are adequately funding our most critical programs".
So who gets the prize for being "relevant", "vital", and "critical"? It isn't as though we have been wasting money. It is all relevant, vital, and critical.

We are in the midst of change everywhere. The Presbyterian woes are just one small symptom of what is happening all over the globe. The Presbyterian story is a metaphor for change. There is no one to blame over this. In fact, I think to try to do so causes us to miss opportunities for responding to change.

To put it bluntly, we have built a global economy and a global civilization with over six billion people by the exploitation of fossil fuels. That wasn't a bad idea. It wasn't an idea at all. It was the serendipitous creativity of cultural evolution. It has been a wild, magnificent ride. We are living at the pinnacle of the highest level of consciousness Earth has experienced in four billion years.

And now, production of fossil fuels is at or near (in some cases past) its peak.

So, creative humans, what should we do?

The foundations are shaking. Change is inevitable. This change will be huge. So what is our response? So far it appears that we are continuing to prop up old ways of doing business that are no longer working. The oil leak that the engineers cannot even figure out how to stop is the inevitable result of continuing to do things the old way. Cheap, easy to find oil is gone. Drilling for oil is risky, dangerous, and expensive. We can expect more and more disasters like what happened on the Horizon.

The alternative to off-shore drilling is very expensive gas at the pump or dangerous adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere to compete for the remaining global supply. In time, this will happen anyway. Another alternative is a collective global effort to power down and build local infrastructures. This is true for both ministry and civilization.

The whittling away of the national structure of the Presbyterian Church and even of the local presbyteries is the way of the future. Soon those who live will live locally. Local ministries, local food production, local energy sources, and limited travel will be our realities in the coming years. We should be transitioning now.

It isn't all bad. It isn't just shitty change. We might get to know our neighbors better. The air could be cleaner. The food could be healthier. Oh, and we should keep the internet. This is from Bill McKibben:

Which is why, if I had my finger on the switch, I'd keep the juice flowing to the Internet even if I had to turn off everything else. We need cultures that work for survival--which means we need once more to pay attention to elders, to think hard about limits, to rein in our own excesses. But we also need cultures that work for everyone, so that women aren't made servants again in our culture, or condemned to languish forever as secondary citizens in other places. The Net is the one solvent we can still afford; jet travel can't be our salvation in an age of climate shock and dwindling oil, so the kind of trip you can take with the click of a mouse will have to substitute. It will need to be the window left ajar in our communities so new ideas can blow in and old prejudices can blow out. Before you had to choose between staying at home in the place you were born, with all its sensible strictures, and "going out in the world" to "make something of yourself." Our society--restless, mobile, wasteful, exciting, and on the brink--is the product of that dynamism. We can't afford to indulge those impulses anymore, but it doesn't mean we need to shut ourselves in. pp. 205-6
My heart goes out to all those at the national Presbyterian offices who will be losing their jobs today. My heart goes out to everyone everywhere who has lost his or her job. Change results in great suffering. We are all in this together.
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