rough sawn barn, non-linear
nails, batten-less boards grayed
by water and time
I never paid much attention to church resolutions until one of consequence came along in the 90’s. The resolution called the Christian Church of Northern California-Nevada Region (CCNCN) to engage in a two-year study to become the first Disciple region to become “open and inclusive.” Prior to then, Findlay Street, a congregation in the Northwest Region, had become the first congregation to claim an open and affirming identity. However, this was the first time a Region risked fracture to claim wholeness which only comes with the full inclusion of their LGBT (QI &A were to be identified in another decade) brothers and sisters. At the end of the two-year study, CCNCN congregations voted to affirm their Region as open and inclusive. A few congregations left the Region because of the vote; however, there was not the max exodus some folk feared. Rather, congregations recognized the conversation became full and meaningful with everyone participating at the table.
Over the years, resolutions came and went, but none had quite the same impact on my life. Then came GA-1324 (Reflection on Christian Theology and Polity, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, and the Indigenous Voice) in 2013. This resolution was an Item for Reflection and Research presented at the National level of the church. GA-1324 called congregations to study the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (CDoD) and have conversations on how it might have affected the theology and polity of the church, and its relationship with indigenous people of the United States and Canada. For the first time, Disciple congregations were called to pay close attention to the people(s) on whose ancient land their church buildings are constructed and learn how US systemic racism developed out of the CDoD.
Disciples are now discerning a draft resolution. The draft—expected to be considered at Disciples 2017 General Assembly—takes up from where GA-1324 left off. After four years of research and reflection, this resolution will ask to Disciples to take what they have learned about the CDoD, put teeth to it and act to have their denomination become accountable to the indigenous voice of the America’s.
While this draft resolution matters as much as anything that has come before Disciples, it also speaks to the problem of “Church” resolutions. Too often, the Church mires resolutions in the mundane language of the profane rather than the unity language of the sacred. Rather than speaking to the fullness of Creation, the language of Church resolutions are located a moment outside the ampleness of communal justice. Instead of engaging the sacred language of emotion and kinship, resolutions languish in the mundane legalistic language of Whereas’ and Therefore’s.
The mundane language of legalism comes from a communal education system that has folk believing justice and legal are two sides of the same coin. On the surface, there is little problem with legalism, after all it is one of balance, right?—When we image the concept of legal, does not Justitia, the blindfolded lady of justice holding the balancing scale, come to mind? However, legal balance language is a mundane language of tit for tat rather than the sacred language of communal care and compassion. Justice called for by the church should not be language of reciprocation or retaliation, but rather of harmony. Rather than calling for a reckoning, harmony calls for an intersectional grace filled relationship that promotes the wellbeing of the whole. Where balance’s identity is located in the language of legalism, harmony situates its identity in the language of art.
Systems and structures prefer clear-cut unobtrusive language. Artful language of love, shalom, and beauty, is thought of as imprecise, non-specific, and non-legislatable—too many interpretations come from such nebulous language. The narrative, the poetic, painting, and sculpture though, provides a clarity legalistic cannot.
Art calls for textual embodiment of creations fluidity—where does clay end and human begin, and where does human end and dust begin? Where spirituality and emotions languish in the language of legalism, artful language calms the richness of wonderment. As exampled in a line from the 2017 draft resolution,
Whereas, cultural, communal, and individual damage experienced by American Tribal and First Nations people is disproportional in the United States and Canada.
The whereas cuts to the quick of systemic damage. Yet in its exactness, there is a lack of clarity and one is left wanting. The depth of damage is lost, leaving the line lifeless, detached, and without emotion. Without the profundity of artful language, spirit and emotion, which calls forth anguish, loss, the tearing of clothes, tears and wailing, the whereas serves an emotionless systemic status quo. Lost in such language is the resolve to act with passion and tenacity.
Ending resolution language of whereas’ and therefore’s allows for the descriptive language of spirit and emotion. Seraphs holding live coal to one’s lips might be ancient and metaphorical language, but one senses the heat of live coal, feels the burning of lips, and thus knows the commitment of “send me!” (Isaiah 6:6) By claiming old words of wonder and developing new words of curiosity and surprise, documents begging people toward justice and action become alive. When church documents of justice are emboldened through artful language, resolutions will reflect the wholeness of mystery and wonder.
Movement toward artful church documents requires a few practical steps.
Clergy must work from the side, and encourage non-clergy to organize, draft statements, letters to the editor, and resolutions. Clergy do well organizing, developing areas of resistance, promoting critical theological thought, but the power of change lies in the hearts and wills of non-clergy. Non-clergy have the natural instinct to gather multiple viewpoints alongside artful language and blend them into actionable concepts. Even provocative pastors find themselves caught up in their systems and institutions, too often supporting a legalistic structure because that is their structure (e.g., the resolution mentioned above). Non-clergy though, are more likely to bring outside the church box (non-secular) thinking to the conversation.
Second, wisdom and justice based eldership must become a norm in the Church. Unlike the voted upon spiritual elders of congregations, these are aged elders who have lived long enough to accrue a wisdom that only comes with life lived. In other words, do not expect to find an elder who has not lived a good sixty or seventy years. Lost in many if not most communities, this eldership needs reclaiming. However, such a reclaiming is not an easy task. The elderly need help in learning they have a wisdom that needs expressing, they must learn they have voice that needs speaking, and they must learn they have an obligation to speak. Such learning cannot come from anyone but elders. As such, elderly folk must create opportunities to listen to elders of cultures where eldership remains normative. Done well, such eldering to elders will allow for an eldership that is not about being “liked,” but about doing all one can to keep coming generations from repeating past injustices. Such an eldership is about creating an ethos of generational justice.
Having a voice lending toward generational justice requires children to know the heart of their elders (recognizing a fifty-year-old adult, is a child to the seventy-year-old elder). Knowing this heart is not knowing whereas’ or therefore’s, but rather stories of wonder and compassion, texture and color. The telling of these stories comes in many forms. Some stories are spoken, others are danced, painted, sculpted, clowned, beaded, or woven. Whatever the case, the elder passes on truths learned through both hardships and laughter.
Third, non-clergy must become the church’s dominate voice. Justice comes from non-clerical conservationists, environmentalists, hospice workers, farm workers, chemists, foresters, sanitation workers, social workers, hunters, fishers, programmers, farmers, pilots, construction workers, botanists, bringing the beauty and the language of their creative world to the conversation of justice. Church structure will not serve the world until it experiences the timbre of non-clerical insight with the clerical passion for the theological. The resonance of individual created work blending and conversing together allows for an artful relationship that has the strength to hold the course of justice in the midst of the search for harmony.
Artful language breaks down boundaries and the compartmentalizing of life of legalism. The day the church chooses to drop legalistic whereas’ and therefore language and adopt the flight of a great blue heron and her harmonic implications is the day the church allows for the passage of a resolution through the simple, yet complex, evidence of a painting. On that day, creation becomes healthier, for then the chemist will know their created work through poetry, the plumber through prose, the programmer through sculpture, and the farmworker through song.