Accepting Emotions

For one of the classes I’m going to be taking this summer, I’m currently reading Words Made Flesh: Scripture, Psychology & Human Communication by Fran Ferder, first published in 1986 by Ave Maria Press. It’s a wonderful book, and the chapter I read this afternoon reminded me of a moment I’d like to share with y’all.*

Some time during my college career, I was walking across campus. I vividly remember I was on the path near Penrose Library, headed toward Ankeny. (It may have been my first year at Whitman, since I was on a trajectory that would take me to Lyman, the best residence hall open to freshmen there.)

I don’t remember what sparked the initial feeling**, but here’s the path of emotions and thoughts I went through:

  1. I felt angry.
  2. I felt bad for feeling angry, and tried to suppress the feeling, to make it more acceptable.
  3. I realized that part of what was causing me to try to suppress my feeling of anger was an ingrained social expectation that women don’t get angry.
  4. I then decided to let myself feel angry. Because it was justified anger and frustration with the situation.

That moment happened while I was heavily involved with the feminist student group on campus, so my reaction was specifically tied to gender expectations, but there are other facets of my personal conditioning which influence this tendency to deny negative emotions. Namely, as I have been reading about today, a history of the Church teaching that feelings such as anger and jealousy are sinful, and thus should be avoided.

But the problem with avoiding negative emotions altogether is that it’s pretty much impossible. There’s a reason that people come with built-in emotions, whether you personally attribute it to biology or to God, they are helpful, and even necessary!

In my own personal journey, I think I’m getting better all the time at appropriately expressing my feelings. I’m a whole lot more assertive now than I was ten years ago, sometimes to the point of being heedlessly blunt. It’s an ongoing struggle for me to balance my impulse to express my feelings and reactions against my impulse to care for those around me. Often, my immediate reaction to something is not one that I wish to share with the general public. In those moments, I am super-grateful for consistently-online friends who know me well enough to act as a sounding-board.

Twice in the last 8 hours, in fact, I have shared the gist of what somebody posted on Facebook with a close friend, and then shared with her what I *wish* I could say in response to those posts. Today, these comments called out sexism, not-funny jokes, and a culture of fear. But instead of either totally suppressing these opinions, or starting flame-wars and hurting feelings, I had the opportunity to discuss my feelings and motivations behind them with my friend. She, in her wisdom, encouraged me to keep my snark to myself, at least on Facebook.

What are the things you struggle with, related to emotions and how to express them?

 

*This is my new strategy for not letting the blog lie dormant too long: post short things that I’m thinking about.

**And I totally just went reading my livejournal posts from my first year of college to try to figure it out. This, friends, is why I don’t get around to posting on here terribly often. I get distracted WAY TOO EASILY.

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Trusting in the Exhaustion of the Body

Last night, the deadline for finishing the legislative work of the General Conference was 11:15pm. We were told this at about three in the afternoon, and it seemed like ages away. Since the “hot button issues” of the GC were at the end of the list of things the GC would deal with that day, the progressives I was sitting with were getting a little bit worried that they would come up and be voted on at the end of the session.

It is important to understand the kind of mood people are in at the end of a legislative session. Delegates are tired, frustrated, and annoyed by what is often a tiring, frustrating, and annoying process. In my experience, people tend to give up on having meaningful conversations and simply vote just along established lines in order to get the work over with. Or they throw things which should be discussed and amended back onto a slate or a consent calendar and just go along with the decision of the committee.

Since the legislation at the end of the calendar was largely unfavorable to the various constituencies of the Common Witness Coalition, we knew that the end-of-session exhaustion wouldn’t bode well for the outcomes. If it came to the floor, we could expect strengthened anti-gay language, removal of some of the “Self-avowed, practicing homosexual” language*, and changing the Church’s stance on abortion to align more closely with that of the Republican party.

But then the news broke around 4:30 in the afternoon that the restructuring plan passed earlier in the week, planUMC, was unconstitutional. That left the body with mere hours to pass budgets, elections, and restructuring proposals which would be needed to keep the organization of the United Methodist Church running for the next four years.

That certainly changed things.

And so it was, at 10:30ish that the presiding bishop suggested it might be a good time to adjourn. White cards (used for questions, motions, points of order and amendments) flew into the air. In the next five minutes two motions came to the floor and were quickly defeated with no discussion. One was to return to discussion of what to do about the previously tabled planUMC. That was voted down by 50.98% to 49.02% (numbers from @mfsavoices). The other was a motion to consider the petition to withdraw the UMC from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which with no discussion failed 58% to 42%.

After that, it was the motion to adjourn, and that passed 89% to 11%. So in the end, the exhaustion of the body worked in favor of my coalition. But it could have just as easily gone the other way. Some people breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of the session. Some breathed a sigh of frustration and discouragement. In any case, though, we were finished, and it was time to move on and figure out how to be the United Methodist Church the best way we can.

 

*In and of itself, that’s not so bad. The petition in question equally discriminated against unmarried clergy persons having sexual contact with people of either sex. It did, however, exclude same-sex marriage from the kind of marriage that “counts” in that situation. The biggest problem was that the de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the United Methodist Church would be removed, allowing for the possibility of clergy being charged without choosing to be.

Praying for the Church

Of the half dozen public witness actions I participated in these last two weeks, Thursday morning’s prayer witness felt like one of the most affective. It wasn’t really effective, since that morning the General Conference did end up retaining the language in the 2008 Discipline about homosexuality being “incompatible with Christian Teaching”, but it felt like we were doing exactly what we needed to be doing as witnesses: being present with the delegates, and praying for them and the Church we all love. The previous day, General Conference had passed the “PlanUMC” legislation to reorganize the general church structure to make it more “nimble” in a way which many of us see as making it more totalitarian.* So I was not just praying for my church in terms of inclusiveness, but also in terms of accountability and mission.

Common Witness volunteers placed ourselves around the bar of the plenary floor, and we stood in prayer all morning as the delegates debated various pieces of legislation before them. Here’s me!**

mary-s-s-600x400

We prayed from the beginning of the session, but once the discussion of homosexuality began, it was especially poignant for me to be there praying for this my church. I lifted my hands in blessing to speakers on either side of the fence, with a similar prayer, “God, be with this person and open their heart to your Spirit.”

One delegate asked for a point of clarification. When he started his question with “I would like to clarify the extent of the bar of the conference,” I was worried he’d be speaking in order to get us to back away from the curtain which separated us from the floor.

His reason for asking was so that he would know if he could join us, to stand at the margins, and still participate in voting on the legislation. When it was clarified that anyone within that curtain could still vote, scores of delegates, including the entire Pacific Northwest delegation stood to join us at the edges of the floor.

It was beautiful.

 (Photos by Patrick Scriven, used with as much permission as the photo *of* me above was used on the pnw website–I promise to ask once he’s off his airplane)

*PlanUMC was ruled unconstitutional on Friday afternoon. More on that later.

**The whistle you can see hanging from my neck is a part of an ongoing action to encourage the presiding bishops to hold delegates accountable to the guidelines for Holy Conferencing. Bishops are supposed to interrupt delegates who use hate speech, or speech which dehumanizes persons. If something dehumanizing was said on the floor without the presiding bishop asking the delegate to re-phrase their statement, a whistle would be blown. I was not the whistler, but extra whistles were distributed to prevent the whistler from being escorted out.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

The rainbow stoles you see us wearing in the photographs of witness actions are not only symbolic. Wearing that stole around my neck has reminded me of the often repeated children’s time that my dad used to do: the stole that clergy wear is evolved from a towel draped around the neck, used in baptism. A towel, used to dry water from the new-baptized.

Here is Bishop Tuell in his rainbow stole today:

For me these two weeks, my stole has absorbed blood, sweat and tears. The blood is (mostly) symbolic: my sisters and brothers in Christ have been harmed by the policies, both old and new, of the United Methodist Church we love. Debriefing after the votes, people talk about “hemorrhaging” hurt.

Sweat, from every time we step outside into the humid Tampa air. Sweat from dancing in the flashmob. Sweat from stress surrounding all the actions and witnesses we are doing here.

But most of all, tears. Today, as we surrounded the communion table, I was a stoic at first. I was committed to witnessing faithfully, singing the songs, participating. But I ended up next to my sister in Christ,  who was weeping. I stood with her, hugging her as we witnessed on the floor of the General Conference. And my tears began to seep out. But it was not until I looked up that I started to cry again in earnest. I looked up and saw Amory, so full of grace, so full of the love of God for neighbor.

I weep for voices silenced, for love dismissed, for gifts denied. I weep for a church which can barely admit to God’s Grace being available to all, and which appreciates the gifts of its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members and clergy, but will not admit them into full participation in the ministry of the church.

Accountability

I have to admit, I was mostly ambivalent about the ending of guaranteed appointments. Like I told Emma last night, I can see both sides of the idea of “missional appointment-making”. After the missional appointment making petition passed and was brought up for reconsideration yesterday, delegates spoke out about their fear that female and racial-ethnic clergy would be pushed out of the ministry through non-appointment leading to transitional leave. I chose to reserve judgment until we knew what would happen to the monitoring bodies in the General Church. I trusted that the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) would be able to hold cabinets and conferences accountable in not discriminating against clergy for any reason.

And then this morning we passed the planUMC petition, which did two things to suck the authority out of the monitoring agencies:

  1. GCORR and GCSRW were combined into one agency, the “Committee on Inclusiveness”, and placed organizationally UNDER the new body, the General Council on Strategy and Oversight
  2. The language governing annual conference CSRW and CORR bodies was changed from “shall” to “may”, meaning that annual conferences will not be required to appoint monitoring bodies.

Therefore, in the worst-case scenario, we could see a situation in an annual conference where women, minorities, or even just prophetic preachers who do not align with the theology of that cabinet could find themselves being put on involuntary transitional leave without cause or due discernment by the appointing cabinet.

So, what can we do?

In the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, I am not very worried. Not only do we have a really quality cabinet (Hi Mom! Hi Sharon!), but we are passionate about inclusivity, and we are likely to bring a petition to Annual Conference this year to write accountability guidelines into the conference rules, and to pass it with flying colors.

But we are worried about the rest of the connection.

You Can’t Stop the Beat

Sometimes the people at home can be too supportive and involved in General Conference activities. This evening at dinner I was informed by three different people (all with smartphones, which I don’t currently have) that not only had the video of our flashmob from this afternoon made its way swiftly online, but one of my supportive adult friends, photographer Paul Jeffrey, had gotten the following quite clear photo of me dancing and posted it on facebook, and it was all over the place.

(I guess it’s better than posting the photos I’m pretty sure he has of me bawling my eyes out at the witness action last Wednesday.)

So the story here is that as part of the Common Witness Coalition, there is a flashmob witness team. The absolutely inspiring liturgical dancer, seminarian and all-around awesome Tyler Sit led a group of young adults in quickly learning the steps to the dance, and coordinated us in maybe a total of an hour over two days. As may be clear in the video, I’m not really much of a dancer, and I got confused about which leg went first a couple times. But I DID get to go first down the “runway”, and didn’t know I was going to be leading the banner down the line. (Hey Andrew, sweetie: No, I am not trying to tell you something by apparently becoming a poster child of the Love Your Neighbor campaign for at least this afternoon on facebook. We’re still on for September 8th)

I kind of hate being the center of attention. That’s part of why I’m totally thrilled to be a lowly legislative monitor with Common Witness. But I get to meet all kinds of United Methodist rock stars this week! I have had the joy to chat with something like six bishops and their spice*, an Associate General Secretary, GCSRW and GBCS staff, and a member of the Judicial Council who I met on the walk to the hotel.

Amy DeLong also gave me one of her rainbow stoles ^_^

I am a huge nerd, but so is everyone else, and I love it here!

*another shout-out to my future spouse. Spice is the proper Simpson-Stanton/Nurse plural of Spouse.

The Philosophy of Loss

This song is feeling true for me today:

Welcome to why the church has died
In the heart of the exiled, in the kingdom of fate.
Who owns the land and keeps the commands,
And marries itself to the state.

Modern scribes write, "In Jesus Christ, everyone is free."
And the doors open wide to all straight men and women,
But they are not open to me.

Who is teaching kids to be soldiers?
To be marked by a plain white cross?
And we kill just a little to save a lot more,
The philosophy of loss.

And there are a few who would be true out of love,
And love is hard.
And don’t think that our hands haven’t shoveled the dirt,
Over their central American graveyards.

Doctors and witch hunters stripped you bare,
Left you nothing for your earthy sins.
Yeah but who made this noise? Just a bunch of boys.
And the one with the most toys wins.

And who is teaching kids to be gamblers?
Life is a coin toss.
And of course, what you give up is what you gain.
The philosophy of loss.

Whatever has happened to anyone else
Could happen to you and to me.
The end of my youth was the possible truth
That it all happens randomly.

So who is teaching kids to be leaders?

And the way that it is is meant to be.
The philosophy of loss.

–Indigo Girls, Come on Now Social (hidden track)

(link to youtube video with live recording…)