Sunday, July 18, 2010


It is probably presumptuous of me to think that many people read this blog, but it is serving as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. It has virtually nothing to do with my employment, or “day job”, as I refer to it. It has everything to do with the rest of my life.

For most of my adulthood, I have sought for the truly spiritual experience, but looked for it in places where the spirits encountered might not necessarily be ones I should have been seeking. Somehow, religion and family were all tied up together, and for too long, I was in a slow process of rebelling against all of it to find my own way. I lived across the country from family, although I went through the motions for a while, and even attended a church. I allowed myself to be elected Deacon of my congregation, but it didn’t take long before I realized I wasn’t ready for that responsibility, hit the eject button and jettisoned myself out into the world of the so-called New Age movement. I spent hours in now closed Shambhala bookstore on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, reading about Eastern Christianity, astrology and mysticism. I took meditation “classes” and learned about “out of body experiences”. It was all interesting, even fun sometimes. I kept myself active with places to go, things to do, and people to see, except when I had nowhere to go but the living room couch, never changing out of sweats with the remote and whatever food I was using to try to fill up the huge hole in my soul, and with nothing to do but numb my brain with television or music. Those would be weekends where I said nothing to anyone. Sometimes, on Friday nights, I’d light my candles or even light a log in the fireplace, put Pink Floyd or Moody Blues on the stereo, turn the ringer off on the phone, extinguish the lights, and just stare into the flames while the music carried me away somewhere in my mind.

I’m probably lucky that each of those following mornings, I found myself back on the couch or lying on the living room floor where I had gone to sleep when the stereo cut off and the log or candles burned out. Of course, then it meant I would have to face another boring Saturday with myself for company. If I did anything at all, it usually meant grocery shopping; or maybe down the block for some bagels, sometimes to the Safeway. Sometimes I dated, but the relationships wouldn’t last long, and I finally decided it would be o.k. if I stayed single, and decided to just be comfortable. I wrote silly poetry about dreams I had, commemorating the deaths of each. My manufactured existence evolved into my thinking I was actually successful, and I even fancied myself to be happy. After all, I WAS living in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Certainly, there was something about the area keeping millions of people - - myself among them - - resident there when the entire nine-county area is built upon a maze of dozens of seismically active faults! It has taken me a while to realize that it was the city itself that I loved - - the hills, street patterns, landmarks and, of course, the fog - - rather than its people; the “prestige” of having that San Francisco address and actually adoring my flat, rather than feeling particularly great about my job or about the neighborhood, its six Irish pubs in walking distance notwithstanding. I just never envisioned myself leaving; I had become a Californian. It took a 7.1 upheaval to literally shake those realizations into my head; when I became aware that just as easily, I could have been on the Bay Bridge or on the Nimitz Freeway, or out at Candlestick Park, or in the Marina District. Instead, I was safe and sound in my office, listening to the shattering windowpanes, and watching my little knick-knacks falling off the shelves and the lateral file drawers opening and closing. Some fifteen months later, when my plane flew north over the “bay” and I looked out the window to the west, locating Highway 101 in the street light pattern and looking a block and half past it to where “my” flat was located, I sobbed, weeping for a good fifteen minutes before I finally stopped and decided that sleeping would be a better use of the “red eye” flight. I tear up even now just thinking about it. That was nearly twenty years ago, and I haven’t been back. Part of me is still there; whether it is my heart or not is debatable, but it was a little bit of something valuable, I think.

By the time that flight landed in Charleston, South Carolina, I had managed to reapply my happy face, and assured my folks that I was just tired; that they didn’t call them red-eye flights for nothing. Over the next couple of years, my spoiled-brat-kid issues with my family dissolved, and we forged the intense, rock solid bond we now have. Initially to make them happy, but later because I really loved it, I started attending worship services at the Presbyterian church in which my folks were members. Over time, some of the other singles in the congregation and I joined with some from other churches in the area, and attended various and sundry events and activities together. My philosophy by this point was to get a group together to do stuff I liked to do. If I met someone to date, great; if not, at least I got to have a good time. No surprises, I met my husband there and following our wedding, came to Virginia. Our life here has been pretty happy, on balance; we all have good times and not-so-good times.

In all things, God works for good for those who love him and keep his commandments.

During my husband’s very serious illness a few years ago, I had my first real tangible, conscious experience of the Holy Spirit - - I know you were wondering what all this has had to do with the Holy Spirit - - when people and circumstances aligned in such a way as to be absolutely perfect for the situation at hand. These were not those experiences where one looks back at them and says, ‘oh yes, that must have been the Spirit at work’; no, I felt, I KNEW it while it was happening. And yet, I could say nothing; how can one explain it when one cannot perceive something with the five senses? I couldn’t articulate it because it was all too startling, too perfect to simply be the coincidences that other people might argue they were. The Spirit is the only explanation for what is otherwise a mystery.

The same sense of awe surrounds the process we commissioners went through last week at the 219th General Assembly. We disagreed agreeably; we worshipped collectively and prayed in small, table enclaves, usually as presbytery groupings; we frequently sang hymns or stopped for prayer as we moved through the items of business. Questions were simply that, questions. Generally speaking, stands for or against motions were expressed in terms of the ideas’ merits, and never degenerated into personal attacks against those who made the motions in the first place. Even the protest group that briefly interrupted the Assembly on Friday afternoon was peaceful, and was treated with respect. If not by the Holy Spirit, how else were the emotions of the 700-or-so -commissioners kept in check while discussing the “hot button” issues? How else could we disagree with each other in one breath, yet hold hands in prayer the next? In nearly each and every decision made, whether at the committee or plenary level, common ground was vigorously sought. How else could that have happened? We dealt with highly charged, passion-eliciting issues! I’ve tried to explain it in my mind as good planning, as it was; good moderating, as it certainly was; the orderly nature of our polity, well maybe; or was it the unshakeable duty to stay united in spite of, or perhaps even because of, our differences? Sure, and it was all of these, joining in what - - a marvelous set of coincidental occurrences? I know better. Each of them absolutely played an important role, to be sure. But the Holy Spirit is the love binding us to God through Jesus Christ. I know this because I am a Presbyterian, an elder commissioner and a true believer. The 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was visited by the Holy Spirit last week in response to our invitation; and out of our hearts the rivers of living water will flow as we glorify the everlasting and all powerful triune God. May the LORD be with you!

Monday, July 12, 2010


written Saturday, July 10, 2010

Well, General Assembly has concluded its business sessions, the final worship service was held and our group of commissioners has scattered. It was almost eerie, the speed with which everyone cleared out, retrieving stored luggage and boarding the buses for the airport. I was able to finally share a meal with my brother and sister-in-law, after only being able to sort of hug them in passing during this week. In an unexpected way, I think we were all sort of sad to see it end. And it reminded me of the countless retreats and summer church camps I attended as a youth in Birmingham - - perhaps due in part to seeing a couple of folks who were also at those camps!! But now that I’m at the airport, at loose ends for a little while until my plane actually boards and heads back to Virginia, I’m noticing some of the emotion has given way to a sort of nostalgia. A wistfulness, perhaps.

My brother, who has attended a lot of General Assemblies over the years, said that this one was among the best, if not THE best he has ever attended or heard about. Over lunch, he shared some of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on at these events, that contribute to the make up of the positions taken by some of the factions - - and no, I’m not going to share them here in this forum. Gradye Parsons quipped that he was considering writing all of the 173 presbyteries to request that the same commissioners and delegates be sent to Pittsburgh in 2012. Our moderator and vice-moderator were just spot-on when items were potentially getting contentious or perhaps worse, repetitious. And when we were disrupted by a protest group, Moderator Bolbach reacted perfectly. So many divergent factors combined to bring about the right decisions at the right times, that I cannot think that it was anything but the Holy Spirit working through all the hands that worked to make this event happen.

The names are entirely too numerous to list. They begin, of course, years in advance, and in the office of the General Assembly. GA staff works with the Committee on Local Arrangements, or COLA. And, oh, what a COLA we had! From the moment I emerged from the aircraft, made it to the baggage claims area, these volunteers were there en masse to assist us in finding our way through the airport which, for me, was unfamiliar. My fellow passengers and I were escorted through the hallways, to the tram and out to the buses; today, the process was essentially reversed, with the friendly folks wearing smocks with the Presbyterian Seal on the front and back and always, always a smile right there to bid us safe journeys. I could go on and on.

Of course, in a scant few hours, I will be on the ground back in Virginia. I’ll be reunited with my husband, and eventually, our dogs. I hope to attend church in Warrenton tomorrow and I’ll go about various and sundry chores. I’ll return to work this week, catching up with the goings on that occurred while I was away. I’ll need to write a report about the week, it’s events and my experiences. I can say now that I want to be more ecumenical and open to other faiths; I can say I need to confront my fears on certain issues, and perhaps my prejudices with others. And I can say that I want to go back again, and hope to have the opportunity again before too long.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


It is Friday night, and I have just packed my suitcase for the return trip to Virginia tomorrow. General Assembly has concluded the majority of its business, and as with most assemblies in recent years, some of the decisions we made were received well, while some were not. We will close as we began, in worship. Then we will depart and begin the real work of our jobs as commissioners.

By now, it is possible that you have read some accounts in the secular media about our work here. I am told we made the front page of the New York Times. The decisions we made might be questionable in your thoughts. I urge you to withhold making judgments about our work until you can talk directly to us, the commissioners. The secular press tries, God bless them, but unless they’re Presbyterians, they probably do not understand our processes. Unless they had listened to the testimonies in the open committee hearings, participated in the prayers and the Roberts Rules explanations, it is unlikely they understand it all well enough to write our story. It’s hard enough for us to explain what happened here. We are the church, and while religion editors of newspapers want to get these sensational headlines, we are called to be holy, set aside to glorify God, and not be conformed to the modes of secular society. We are the PC(USA) and our General Assembly speaks to the PC(USA) with regard to how we are to live, even as we are in the world. We are not to be of the world.

What I am taking away from the last few months of reading, and the past six days of intense deliberations and more reading, has been the experience of the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. There were impassioned pleas, there were stands taken, and yes, there were tears shed; there were also a lot of prayers for the gift of discernment, lots of hugs given, information imparted, friendships rekindled, laughter shared and other light-hearted moments such as the “Plenergizers” taught to the assembled adults of all ages by the Young Adult Advisory Delegates on Thursday and Friday afternoons. One was called “Istanbul” and the other was called the “Ants in your Pants Dance”. These young people are the present church, as well as the future, and we are truly, truly blessed to have them!

Our worship services were glorious. The opening service incorporated the music of a combined choir from the Twin Cities’ area, interpretive dance from different cultures - - a theme repeated on Friday morning - - and throughout the service, a “performance artist” creating a painting on black fabric, utilizing some type of paints in swirls of blues, golds, greens and whites; it was completed a little bit after the service was completed and once dried, was hung in the plenary hall for the remainder of the week.

We will finish our business meetings in the morning, and I’ll head out for the airport, where I will say “so long” to the Twin Cities and catch the flight back to Virginia. I think I will be leaving behind something of my self here, but hope I have put on something special here. I’ll get back to my routines next week, but I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same again. This has been a life shaping experience. As surely as I poured the waters dipped from the confluence of the Rapidan, Robinson and Rappahannock Rivers into the pitchers that were poured out at the beginning of each worship service and each business session, rivers of living water will pour from my heart, because I am a believer. I am a Presbyterian

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Children of Abraham

In this my second entry in my PCUSA General Assembly journal, I turn to committee deliberations. As I think I have mentioned, I was assigned to the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee. When I received this assignment, I was somewhat ambivalent, neither pleased nor displeased. We would not be discussing the “hot button” issues, and for that, I was both disappointed and relieved. But, I am nothing if not Presbyterian, owing my very Christian existence to what in 1983 became the PC(USA), and probably could rightly be accused of a sort of snobbery when it comes to Protestant Christian denominations. So, ecumenism? Me?

Well, as it turns out, yeah! There is merit to engaging with our Christian brothers and sisters in dialogue and action where no issues of deep conviction compel us to act separately. This is included in a document from the 1950’s conference in Lund, Sweden, that has come to be known as the Lund Principle, and that was recommended in an overture. We dealt with 11 overtures, reports and recommendations involving these interactions. One, in which the behavior of the Evangelical Presbyterians was studied, the reports of the EPC “recruiting” congregations of the PCUSA to disassociate with the PCUSA and connect with the EPC were determined to be mostly unfounded. We heard inspiring reports from the newly formed World Communion of Reformed Churches, in which the body moved from a loosely allied group of Reformed Churches to a covenented body of Reformed Churches! This represents a much strengthened bond among our brothers and sisters of the Reformed tradition. Hopefully, Calvin would be proud!

We then moved into the three overtures that would serve as the “meat” of our discussions. We reviewed recommendations and an overture involving two reports, or papers, one involving Christians and Jews, and the other about Christians and Muslims. We heard impassioned pleas from Middle Eastern Presbyterians who bemoaned their exclusion from the deliberative process that went into the composition of these reports. Simply put, they were hurt and resentful that these reports were written without their input, yet understanding that the reports' publication would have direct impact on the day to day lives of Palestinians, whether Jew, Christian or Muslim! The Presbytery of San Francisco had made overture to General Assembly, asking that the two reports not be forwarded, but be retained for further study. Our committee delved into each of the papers, ultimately forwarding for approval the paper involving Christians and Muslims, but referring the paper on Christians and Jews back to the Office of Theology and Worship and Interfaith Relations for further input from the Middle East Presbyterian Caucus and any other stake-holding group. (“Stake-holding is my characterization).

Why did we “split the baby”, as it would seem that we did? It’s actually pretty simple. The recommendations accompanying the paper on Christians and Muslims presented it as an introductory study; a well written first step requiring and inviting further input and interaction among the groups. In fact, the recommendations directly addressed that need. On the other hand, the paper on the Christians and Jews was presented as a completed document, and we were concerned about the absence of input from the Middle East Presbyterian Caucus in the paper’s composition. So, in summary for this matter, we agreed with the portions of the San Francisco Presbytery's recommendation that the document involving Christians and Jews was not ready for widespread use, but disagreed that the paper on Christians and Muslims needed to be retained. We felt it was ready for use as introductory material and “conversation starter”, and therefore removed it from the San Francisco overture.

It is important to remember that Jews, Christians and Muslims trace their origins back to Abraham. It is vital to remember that Ishmael also benefits from a covenant with God; and we recognize (I hope) that the Jews’ status as the “Chosen People” was not “trumped” by the covenant in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is also important to remember that all have claims on the land area roughly defined as Palestine, where the nation state of Israel was established in 1948, but where Palestinian Arabs had been living for hundreds of years. Some of these Arabs are Christian - - and many, perhaps most, of the Christians are Presbyterians! And yes, many of the Palestinian people are Muslims. Palestine has no world recognition as a nation with land and borders. As we know, the land is but one point of contention, but it is a huge problem; one that has often degenerated into violence and bloodshed, with outright warfare breaking out several times in the past fifty-plus years of my life. The two papers were written from different perspectives, with the Christians and Jews paper focusing primarily on the similarities between our faiths, while the paper on Christians and Muslims highlighting the areas of disagreement between us.

Am I still ambivalent on the subjects of ecumenical and interfaith relations? No. It is possible to engage, individual to individual, and group to group, in the spirit of welcome and with the intent to understand each other. One might think of it as a step toward the ultimate family reunion as descendents of Abraham!

Monday, July 5, 2010


Whew! The past couple of days have been something of a whirlwind, and I have just pulled up to the banks of rivers to review tomorrow’s business and get a bit of rest. To the extent that my writing is ever coherent, this may not be the best example. More likely, this will seem more like a journal.

Friday, July 2nd. My wonderful husband took me to the airport for my flight to Minneapolis. After negotiating the borderline humiliating security lines, I walked to the gate to wait. And with numerous others who were either reaching their destinations in Minneapolis, or merely using it as a connection point, wait we did. The plane arrived at the gate, its passengers started to disembark and I noticed that outside, there was a man with a green shirt and khaki pants standing in front of one of the engines talking with some of the ground crew. I wondered what that was all about, and whether it was a matter of concern. As baggage was being loaded (or offloaded, in some cases) I assumed the cabin was being cleaned, too. Sure enough, they began boarding what used to be called “First Class Passengers”. And then something odd happened: one of the flight crew led the people who had just boarded back up the jetway, said something to the gate agent, turned on his heels and disappeared from whence he came. We were told first that some maintenance issues needed to be addressed, and it would be just a few minutes. Then we were told that the flight had been selected for a random FAA inspection, that it would only be about ten minutes. After about a half hour or so from that announcement, with the gold van still behind the aircraft, we were allowed to board. We finally pushed back from the gate house a full hour and a half late. Those who were using Minneapolis as a transfer point were disappointed, angry, and otherwise emotional. My row-mate, a young woman going to see her mother for the first time in 2 years, was in tears. I learned that her mother had made the trip from Japan, and was meeting her daughter in Boise, where she was staying with other relatives. Due to work, this young lady only had the weekend and Monday to spend with her and the FAA Inspector had ensured she would not get to have as much time; it was not likely that she would make her connecting flight. I said a quick prayer for her as she headed for the jetway. It was all good news for me, though; I encountered the first bit of hospitality put on by the Committee on Local Arrangements when I entered the baggage claim areas and met the welcome committee with the smocks decorated with the Presbyterian Seal. Everything was smooth from that point and I got to bed about 12:30 am Eastern time. It was comforting to know, through this “ordeal” that planes are routinely and randomly inspected, and that when caught early, little mechanical difficulties are readily repaired.

Saturday, July 3rd. Following a seven hour nap, I awoke on Saturday, showered and dressed and headed over to the Minneapolis Convention Center. Aside from an over supply of Coca Cola products, the MCC is beautiful and perfectly set up for a meeting of this kind. The Riverside conversations started at 8:30 am, and I selected first to listen to the presentation of the task force on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage and then to the excellent presentation of the Form of Government task force. A quick tour of the Exhibit Hall followed and on to the first plenary meeting.

I have to do a flashback at this point, so allow your eyes to go out of focus for a second and then refocus a few weeks ago. When my materials arrived to begin my preparations for being a commissioner, one of the instructions was to bring a small amount of water from a local river to the assembly. I was able to prevail on a couple of my colleagues at work who were going on a canoe float to collect a small amount from the confluence of the Rapidan, Robinson and Rappahannock Rivers. OK, back to the present, this water was combined with other samples from other rivers and some was poured in a bowl as the opening prayer of the first plenary session was delivered and the opening passage of Scripture - - John 7:38-44 was being read. “Out of the hearts of believers shall come rivers of living water…”

We heard reports and accepted certain consent agenda items then broke for dinner. It was at this point that I located a Pepsi machine! It was all o.k. again! The MCC is now a perfect place for such a convention!!

When we returned at 7 pm, we listened to the candidates’ for moderator: six individuals, any one of whom would have been good, but one whom I am happy to report is someone with whom I have been acquainted through hearing various presentations from the FOG Task Force. Cynthia “Cindy” Bolbach, from National Capital Presbytery, was elected after numerous ballots and then test votes with our cool little voting machines (we had some issues with them!). Once the Cindy’s election was secured and our evening prayers concluded, we were in recess. Once again, it was after midnight before I got to bed…

Sunday, July 4th. Independence Day arrived with my awakening, startled, that I had overslept. The plan was to meet my brother and his wife for worship. A quick call to his cell secured my saved place, and I nearly sprinted one of the more glorious worship experiences of my life ensued. The rivers were again in use as, for the first time at General Assembly, a baby was baptized. I had wanted to describe this experience, but I do not have the words. I commend to you my brother's blog:

Lunch followed worship, and immediately after that, our committee meetings began. As you may know, I am assigned to the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations committee. We began with some fun team building exercises and heard a couple of presentations from General Assembly staff.

I could have participated in a picnic and fireworks display at Nicolet Island, but I felt too tired for a picnic and I’ve never enjoyed fireworks. Following a quick nap, I am now writing to you and reviewing committee business for tomorrow morning. As I write, I hear the popping of fireworks…

So. Here we are. Cindy Bolbach is moderator, God is in His Heaven and we Presbyterians are in Minneapolis, prayerfully requesting the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we seek to do the business of the PCUSA and further the glorification of Jesus Christ our LORD. Please keep us in your prayers! To God be all the glory, honor and praise!