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TEEZing Out the RootsImage

Halle Halle Halle lu lu lah!

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

These past couple of weeks the reality that I will be leaving Zambia very very soon has begun to settle like a 50 kg bag of mealie meal onto my shoulders. I don’t do well with farewells, which is compounded by the fact that I have no idea when I will see again so many people who have touched me, impacted me, and become my family. I feel as though I am once again on the precipice of everything about my life drastically changing. As such, I have been walking through these past several days especially in what I will describe as a fog within a whirlwind. I am constantly with people whose lives have intermingled with mine, going from place to place and receiving visitor after visitor to share in these closing moments. At the same time my vision and emotions are muddled and befuddled by this heavy fog of anticipatory grief.

 

Today, though, no matter how heavy that fog and bag of mealie meal were I couldn’t suppress a grin that kept surfacing. For, my heart kept playing a video of my little sister Isabelle belting out “Halle Halle Halle lu lu lah!” You see, today is the first anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. I must admit that on August 9, 2015, I was also in the midst of this very same foggy whirlwind. I was about to leave loved ones behind. I was on the precipice of radical change. There were so many people I needed to see and things I needed to do. Heck, I even agreed to preach at the Sunday morning service the same day as the ordination service. This was after a week that saw me fly from New York to Chicago, drive to Indianapolis, and be examined by the Whitewater Valley Presbytery. I was decidedly not doing a good job of breathing, let alone taking moments to bask in the beauty of what was happening.


This photo and all following photos are courtesy of Vimary Couvertier-Cruz

 

One year later, I can look back with a grin on my face and tears in my eyes. I can look back through the lens of a year’s experience of preaching, dancing, baptizing, inviting people to the table, teaching, playing soccer, learning, and praying—in short, worshipping—in Zambia. I can look back and see how truly wonderful that day was. From Rev. Ruth Chadwick Moore’s participation after marching with me through the CPM process to Ruling Elder Carolyn Statler’s holding my hand after holding me steady from the beginning when I first came under care of Session; from Isabelle’s singing to my grandma’s Scripture reading; from Sade’s beautifully devastating poetry to the devastatingly beautiful poetry of the Lord’s Supper; from the prayers of my Bible Study loves to the visions cast by my brotherly and sisterly loves; from Rev. Eun Joo noona’s ever-challenging and exquisite preaching to our shared scramble to find the words of institution; from Vima’s vesperanzic singing to Mina’s dandy reading; from D’Angelo’s call to worship to my own benediction; from the community of saints surrounding me and laying their hands upon me to Mama Spirit filling me up…IT WAS FULL OF WONDER. 

Rev. Ruth Chadwick Moore

Elder Carolyn Statler

The Lord's Supper with Rev. Eun Joo Ryo Noona!

And today I realized that I am still full of wonder. “Halle Halle Halle lu lu lah!” will always be with me, and that is no small thing. Even when I am not cognitively there, my soul will always rest in the knowledge that the most important people in my life were there to lift me up, and they continue to hold me. And when the wind seems to be whirling too rapidly and the fog settling too heavily, it is those hands on my shoulders that will always help to anchor me and bear my burden.


The family sharing their love

One of the hymns from my ordination, one of those songs that shines as a guiding light on my life’s journey, goes like this: 

Spirit, spirit of gentleness. 

Blow through the wilderness, calling and free. 

Spirit, spirit of restlessness. Stir me from placidness. 

Wind, wind on the sea. 

 

You moved on the waters, You called to the deep, 

Then You coaxed up the mountains. From the valley of sleep, 

And over the eons You called to each thing, 

"Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings."

 

Spirit, spirit of gentleness. 

Blow through the wilderness, calling and free. 

Spirit, spirit of restlessness. Stir me from placidness. 

Wind, wind on the sea. 

 

You swept through the desert, You stung with the sand, 

And You gifted your people with a law and a land, 

And when they were blinded with their idols and lies, 

Then You spoke through Your prophets to open their eyes.

 

Spirit, spirit of gentleness. 

Blow through the wilderness, calling and free. 

Spirit, spirit of restlessness. Stir me from placidness. 

Wind, wind on the sea. 

 

You sang in a stable, You cried from a hill, 

Then You whispered in silence when the whole world was still, 

And down in the city You called once again 

When You blew through Your people on the rush of the wind.

 

Spirit, spirit of gentleness. 

Blow through the wilderness, calling and free. 

Spirit, spirit of restlessness. Stir me from placidness. 

Wind, wind on the sea. 

 

You call from tomorrow, You break ancient schemes, 

From the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams; 

Our women see visions, our men clear their eyes. 

With bold new decisions Your people arise. 

 

Spirit, spirit of gentleness. 

Blow through the wilderness, calling and free. 

Spirit, spirit of restlessness. Stir me from placidness. 

Wind, wind on the sea. —James K. Manley

 

This was the Spirit there at my ordination. This is the Wind that will carry me through the buffeting storm in which I find myself now. This is the Breath that will always give me life.

 

Halle Halle Halle lu lu lah!


Posted August 9, 2016

 

in Hope

Democracy, Disillusionment, and Glimpses of Hope….Oh My!

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

To be honest, democracy has got me down these days. The overarching driving force of this down-ness is the bedlam of national elections in the United States and Zambia this year. Demagoguery crosses the world and mixes with ideologuery, creating a mess of roguery and violence—social, emotional, and physical—sometimes strategically targeted and sometimes aimlessly indiscriminate. It’s frightening and exhausting in a global sense. 

The more specific democracy blues I have, though, are the result of TEEZ’s biennial organizational meeting this past weekend. We have been facing some significant mountains in the office over the past several months (financial woes, a botched leadership transition, and subsequent loss of confidence by stakeholders), and we had perhaps naively placed our hope in this meeting to move those mountains, or at least help us to summit them. This meeting was attended by high-level leaders from our member churches as well as a couple of former TEEZ directors and training managers. In other words, these should have been the people most aptly placed to help us work through our difficulties and come to some healthy resolutions.

It quickly became clear, however, that the scourge of institutionalism would plague this institutional democracy. There was a lot of passion in the room to tackle the aforementioned mountains by debating what had befallen the organization in order to address the causes and develop solutions. The chairperson of the meeting, though, had a direct interest in blocking this conversation; the botched leadership transition and loss of confidence by stakeholders could ultimately be laid at his feet. So, masterfully exploiting parliamentary procedure, he stopped the debate in its tracks. He used a strategically vague agenda to punt contentious questions to other parts of the meeting and then used time constraints to cut them short in those punted-to other parts. When debate did break through his barriers he maintained a strict “speak through the chair” method that silenced natural conversation. He would listen, nod, and then say that there were no motions presented and therefore no actions to be taken.

In my life I have been to many such meetings in which the exact same thing happened. Rules that are meant to ensure equality of representation and input for the sake of a just and fruitful discussion in a meeting with the sole purpose of serving the mission of a certain institution are manipulated to do the exact opposite. The result is that those with regularly disproportionate power control what is presented and what is resolved. Other voices are marginalized and brushed off. The status quo is maintained. The leaders insulate themselves from criticism and blame. All others feel trapped by the rules but don’t know how to respond because we place so much faith in these rules. Unreasonable plans and demands are placed on the implementers of the organization’s mission by those who make decisions but have no clue whatsoever about the actual goings-on of the organization. The real issues go unaddressed. Afterwards everybody smiles and congratulates each other on the success of the meeting. It frustrates me to the point of rage every single time.

This time was no exception. I was furious. Weeks of hard work by our office to facilitate this meeting seemed wasted and unappreciated. It was a slap in the face for our staff who have dedicated themselves to this ministry for decades. And all of this was so that those with power could dodge responsibility and still maintain their power. At the end of the meeting the quorum nearly unanimously voted to keep him as chairperson for the next two years. Ouch.

Obviously I am still riled up about this meeting. I recognize that this is so because I feel such deep passion for this organization, its staff, and its mission. It is also so because it is a microcosm of what goes on in the macrocosm. Disenfranchisement and impunity are very real phenomena in all democratic institutions. People with institutional power exploit the system for their own gain. The voices of those without power are drowned out or even stopped before they can be vocalized. We have given the name “democracy” to a process that is fundamentally undemocratic. Because we have idolized and idealized democracy, we then see any challenge thereof as blasphemous. Such is the case even though the thing as it is practiced is not actually the thing that we have christened it to be.

My disillusionment is all the more potent because the democratic institution is what makes Presbyterian polity…well, Presbyterian. Our distinct form of governance is exactly this system of committee and assembly meetings that make decisions for the implementation of the mission of the Church. So, in order for me to exist in this specific expression of the body of Christ, I will need to come to terms with the polity. It is something in which I deeply believe theoretically. My lived experience, though, makes me doubt the possibility in practice. 

I am thus learning that I need to explore creative expressions of true democracy. I need to seek out the Holy Spirit’s movements through and in spite of current democratic systems. I need to find more examples of people breaking through the exploitations and manipulations of those with power. I need to experience rules of discussion that maintain equality rather than reinforce power relationships. Maybe this will require a radical restructuring of the very institution of a meeting. Maybe it will simply mean getting back to the spirit that created the rules to begin with…before they were mastered and monopolized by an oligarchic few. Maybe it will be an entirely new creation.

And I have had glimpses of hope. In the U.S. movements like Black Lives Matter are challenging the very systems of democratic institutions, breaking through inscribed barriers. Judges are finally striking down draconian attacks on voters’ rights in many states, re-enfranchising thousands. In Zambia there is a history of single party rule moving to a multiple party system. This year there will be more positions chosen by popular election than ever before. In the Presbyterian church our assembly-based decisions are slowly marching us towards progress. I have seen Sessions and committees that operate with love as a foundation rather than power. Even in this TEEZ meeting I saw hope in a few individuals who refused to back down from challenging the chair. I saw hope in especially the women representatives who stood up and said, “Nope. We know what is happening and we know what should be happening. This isn’t our first rodeo. We will make this organization great again.”

I pray that these glimpses of hope along with exploration of effective and creative action will get me through. Please do let me know if you have experiences of democratic systems that work for all the people involved, especially in the Church. 

Posted August 2, 2016

 

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8