General Convention 2015 – Will history repeat itself?

photo credit Susan Snook

photo credit Susan Snook

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

It is a business meeting that inspires either the deepest anxiety or absolute apathy: General Convention – the triennial business meeting of the Episcopal Church.* This July we will have another of these enormous shindigs in Salt Lake City. What happened at the last one encouraged me.

My perspective on General Convention 2012 was somewhat unique: I was not a member of any of the “usual suspects” at General Convention. I was not a “deputy” (elected lay and clergy representative), although I listened privately to the perspectives of many deputies. I was (obviously) not a bishop, although I spent a fair amount of time privately listening to the widely divergent viewpoints of four bishops and their spouses. Neither was I a member of one of the many lobbying groups that show up at these events to push the church toward greater “justice.” Why was I there? I manned a booth with several friends attempting to rally adults to take the Good News of Jesus to youth outside the walls of the church. In other words, I was about as dispassionate an observer as one can be as an insider in our institution.

What encouraged me at GC12? The legislation that summer fell into three basic groups that illustrated trends:

Group One: legislation for theological change

-Allow Communion for people who have not been baptized. (A no brainer for evangelicals, but a big deal theologically for the church historic.): No

-Remove Confirmation as a barrier to holding parish leadership positions. (i.e. some semblance of Christian commitment prior to church leadership.): No

-Updating the 1982 Hymnal (A political precursor to revising the prayer book): No

Trending down: Theological change.

Group Two: legislation for political change 

-The bishops voted to continue making statements on moral issues such as the plight of Palestinian Christians, the use of drones, world hunger, etc. (This is an attempt to “speak truth to power.” Not to be snarky, but it strikes me as somewhat humorous that we think anyone is listening when we, 1% of the countries’ Christians, tell the government to stop shooting cruise missiles.)

-We voted to include the word “transgendered” in the list of what will not prevent someone from seeking ordination.

-We voted to have same-sex blessing rite liturgies approved for use by those who choose to do so.

Trending up: progressive politics

Group Three: legislation for mission and overcoming organizational stasis

-Sell our church HQ building in Manhattan: Approved

-Establish a committee to restructure church governance: Besides our bicameral legislative body, the General Convention, we also have a large national church office and hundreds of national committees & commissions. This new committee to “restructure” was tasked with shrinking all of this.  Approved

-Remove the stipulation that the Presiding Bishop must give up their diocesan bishop role (An attempt to roll back the ever-increasing hierarchical structure of our church since setting up of the national office in 1947.) Approved

-Perhaps most interesting of all: The bishops re-established themselves as the fulcrum in our three part divided form of government by writing a letter to the courts in Fort Worth and Quincy. Skip bracketed paragraph if you are not a church geek. 

[How does a letter rebalance power? A group of conservative bishops had written a “friend of the court” letter (Amicus Brief) to the courts in Fort Worth and Illinois defending the ancient church practice and traditional Episcopal understanding that the diocesan bishop is our church’s highest authority. The majority of the bishops were very angry about this as it undermines our lawsuits in those diocese. However, in a stroke of brilliance they chose to write a letter supporting the new bishops and the churches that remained in the Episcopal Church in Fort Worth and Quincy, without mentioning the substance of the letter written by the conservative bishops. This is dense politics, even for Episcopalians, but our bishops, by affirming the new bishops and NOT addressing the substance of the letter, re-affirmed the traditional view that bishops are the highest authority in our church – rather than a metropolitan such as a Pope, prophet, Archbishop, or even our own Presiding Bishop.]

In one swoop the bishops appear to have re-established themselves as the locus of power in the church, rather than the other two groups (the national office/presiding bishop, and the House of Deputies/Executive Council) who each behave as if they are the prime authorities. Practically speaking, in an institution with balance of powers, someone always gets a vote with just a little more weight than the others. I think it is a good thing if our bishops, who are closer to the mission field than the national office, and in recurring collegial relationship with one another, unlike the deputies. It makes for a safer, more catholic church that the bishops would be the ones with tie-breaking power.

Trending up: The scent of a revolution to drive the church back toward mission.

Summary: We seemed to be becoming a more theologically conservative, more politically progressive church that is irritated at resources being siphoned away from mission to national structures.

Why is this important for this summer’s General Convention? Because this summer we will make decisions that strike at the heart of what many perceive as our orthodoxy: marriage in our prayer book and in our governing documents. These changes will be pushed for “consistency” sake. Indeed, we will be more consistent if we, a church where many are performing same-sex marriages has that practice canonically in place. We will also be a much smaller church if that happens. This will be a bridge too far for many of the 150,000 or so remaining social conservatives in our church. In 2003 823,000 people worshipped in Episcopal Churches on Sunday mornings. In 2013 that number was 623,000 people, numbers that do not include the loss of another 10,000 Episcopalians in South Carolina. Do we really have another 100,000 Episcopalians to peel off to make us, to quote one of our seminary professors, “a leaner, meaner church”?

Far better would be to resist the urge to over-define ourselves. As Nick Knisely, bishop of Rhode Island says, “Anglicanism is tentative, nuanced, and compromised.” The tendency to over-definition is characteristic of other traditions: fundamentalism with detailed statements of faith and Rome over-defining the Eucharist in the 11th century come to mind.

My hope this summer is that cooler heads will prevail. That we will continue our previous trends toward holding the line on matters theological, being open politically, and that the scent of revolution that wanted to drive mission from a national vortex back into thousands of local communities to proclaim the Good News of Jesus in word and deed would be the place our leaders will focus this summer.

Will history repeat itself? One can only hope.

 

*Bunny trail: Episcopalians will tell you, chests heaving with pride, that our General Convention is the second largest legislative body in the world. When one considers that Episcopalians now comprise less than 1% of the Christians sitting in American churches on any given Sunday morning (623,000 in 2013), it raises one’s eyebrows at the hubris necessary to think that we need a decision making body second only to the group representing the one billion people of India.

How a backwoods battle and a leader you’ve never heard of changed history

Photo of the Battle of Cowpens in the Charleston Custom House.

               Painting in the Charleston Custom House.

Snark MeterrealMID.003

You probably haven’t heard of it. I hadn’t. It is known as the Battle of Cowpens and it isn’t in most high school history books these days. Here is the backstory: America was losing the revolution – badly. The British, well funded, well mannered, and well dressed, had established forts in the southern countryside and were converting loyalists to their cause as the patriots, hungry and ill equipped, hid in the woods. American General, Daniel Morgan, had 300 regulars and was trying to elude a British trap.

Morgan was a veteran. He had proven himself at Quebec and Saratoga. At Cowpens, in the face of a far superior force, Morgan did everything right and modeled leadership under pressure.

What did Morgan do?

  1. He analyzed the situation accurately: Morgan had 300 Continental soldiers. The British under the ruthless “Bloody Tarleton” were marching 1000 crack troops to surround the Americans and wrap up the frontier campaign.
  1. He recruited aggressively: Seeing the hopeless mismatch, Morgan sent out the call to “meet at the cow pens!” This produced 650-ish militia to meet him to attempt to turn the tide.
  1. He motivated passionately: The night before the battle, Morgan went among the untrained militia imploring them “just give me three good shots and you can go home heroes.”
  1. He chose his battlefield carefully: A brilliant strategist and realistic leader, Morgan chose “the cow pens,” as the place his untrained men would make their fight. It is a high and open ground with a road the British would travel down right up the middle. He stationed his Continentals on the uphill side of the pens, an open spot one hundred yards wide by five hundred long. The cow pens were surrounded by dense woods and streams. This prevented flanking. Even more, the swollen Broad River at their back gave his men nowhere to run.
  1. He formulated his plan brilliantly: Three lines of riflemen. Each would shoot at the officers and dragoons and then melt behind the next, each line providing cover for the other and leading the enemy deeper into Morgan’s midst.
  1. He estimated his foe wisely: He knew Tarleton would press the battle, confident of the open ground and anxious for a decisive blow.
  1. He led his men courageously: When the battle began to fall apart, Morgan was right there. He rode among his panicked troops, rallying a right flank in disarray, until it resembled a purposeful wheeling/pivot movement backwards from his right.
  1. He pressed the victory brilliantly: As the British came forward on their left, Morgan’s best men, mounted “Dragoons” were waiting in the trees. They came galloping down, surprising and surrounding Tarleton’s troops. This is known as a “double envelopment.” 120 British troops were killed and 800 surrendered en masse.
  1. He finished honorably: It is often difficult to be a good winner. Morgan was. The American colonists (most of whom were not trained, disciplined ‘regulars’) were very angry about the atrocities and brutal tactics  of “Bloody Tarleton.” They wanted to show no quarter and cut the British down. When the British laid down their arms in surrender, it was Morgan who forced the Americans to overcome their adrenaline and put an honorable end to the fighting. Morgan would never again lead a significant fight. Eight months later ill health would force him to resign his commission. A great leader finishes well.
  1. He did his part faithfully: Morgan was a small part of a big picture. The defeat at Cowpens deprived British General Cornwallis of his offensive weapon. Forced back to Virginia, Cornwallis was pinned on land by Washington and at sea by the timely arrival of the French at Yorktown, thus winning U.S. independence. But it was Morgan, faithfully doing his small part in the back country, who set up the famous surrender at Yorktown. We have the America we have today because of someone most of us have never heard of faithfully doing a job that needed to be done, in an out of the way spot, in the face of great adversity and terrible odds.

What kind of leader will you be?

In your life you will likely be called upon at some point to lead. Will you accept the call? And when you do, what kind of a leader will you be? Today it is fashionable to tell young people, “Follow your passion.” Frankly, that sets up a world that begins and ends with the self. The world was not built on such little thinking. And it is no coincidence that as our culture follows that line of thinking it is running right off the rails. You see, the men and women that you most admire were not people who did what they “wanted” with their lives. The great acts of history, the great leaders of the ages, and the great works of literature were all forged in the fires of difficulty and conflict. I am fairly certain that Dr. King would rather not have been writing from a Birmingham jail. I am fairly certain Lincoln would have preferred not to have to write an address for the slaughter at Gettysburg. I am absolutely certain that the New Testament would not be what it is if Jesus was not crucified and if his followers, Paul and John, were not writing from prison cells and penal colonies. Difficult times produce great humans. The world does not need you to follow some narcissistic “passion.” It needs you to find a need, step into that gap, and do something. Something small or great, that needs doing. To do that thing that is part of the bigger picture. To fight your battle, so that whether or not anyone else notices, you will have contributed to the great victory of leaving the world a better place than you found it. That is leadership.

Poverty Prevention: 5 car buying tips

64 Studebaker

’64 Studebaker “Wagonaire.” V8 and a wicked sweet roll back roof.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

Occasionally I wander off script and into the weeds. This is one of those days…

Automotive industry pitchmen and those who have just dropped big scratch on a new car insist, “An old car will cost you money!” Reality check: New cars are almost always more expensive to own than old ones. A lot more! Let me, a man who has owned far too many cars, make my case by sharing the financial results of my many automotive indiscretions…

Total Ownership Cost (purchase + repairs – sale price)

New (2 years old or less): 5 cars. Loss: $48,000 (avg loss: $9,600 per car)

Old (more than 10 years old): 6 Cars. Loss: $9500 (avg loss: $1580 per car)

Ancient (more than 20 years old): 13 cars. Loss: $1400 (avg loss: $110 per car)

Notice that every additional decade of age cut the cost to own by approximately a factor of 10.

Conclusion: Driving a beater will save you money!

Car buying advice for those on a budget

1) Don’t buy a car you can’t afford. If you can’t pay cash you can’t afford it!

2) Don’t throw away money on depreciation. If you buy a car that is anywhere close to new the depreciation will cost you piles of money.

3) Buy a car that is uncool. If you buy a car that is or ever was a status symbol you will pay too much.

4) Buy a car that was dependable when it was new. An undependable car is always undependable (like Rover or anything made in Europe with that cool engineering). Buy cars made in the right continents…i.e. any continent not named “Europe.” This will save you PILES of money for each part that will continue to break. If all you want is dependability then buy Japanese. However, the cost of Japanese cars on the used car market is relatively high because of their reputation for dependability. If you want cheap and dependable:

5) Look for old American iron that was well cared for. I have driven several hundred thousand miles on old American cars without a major breakdown.

In Summary

Buy a well maintained, fully depreciated car (10 years or older), that no one wants (like a 4 door), and you won’t get hurt financially. If the 1980 Cutlass that you paid $1200 for dies after 2 years of $50 bucks a month worth of repairs who cares! You are only out $2000. If you had bought a new Toyota Matrix (like I did) you would have spent close to $300 per month in payments, watched your car insurance double, paid 10X the $20 per year for tags on a Rambler from the ‘60’s and lost another $5000 in depreciation. Over the first 2 years of owning a Toyota Matrix it cost more than four times what the Rambler cost per mile to drive! Finally,

6) Don’t buy a car from someone who has to make a profit on it (like a car dealer). Oh yeah, and every mistake I have made buying cars was from making the decision too quickly, so…

7) Wait until tomorrow to buy that car you really want. Take a day to think about it. Take it to a mechanic and have them make a grocery list of things that are wrong (so you can negotiate and deduct them from the price). Go home and check online at kbb.com and edmunds.com for the cars value. Mostly, don’t rush and make an expensive decision on emotion. If you do it will cost you. You will buy something way too expensive (like the really nifty VW Passat I once bought) or miss something big (like a rusted out floor pan) or buy something just plain bad (like the’62 Ranchwagon I bought on a whim).

Or you could just do what my cousin did: after spending years driving new European status cars he found a really nice underpriced older Lexus 4 door. He paid $6000 for it. He has driven it for 5 years, made no repairs other than brakes and a battery, and is still in it for less than it’s worth. Now all you have to do is find a clean $6000 Lexus. Good luck with that.

But even if you are still reading, I’ll bet you a tenspot you won’t follow my advice. You will rationalize buying a shiny sporty new thing on the grounds that you will save money on repairs and the improved gas efficiency. You will go out and find a car you can’t afford. You will buy it from a car dealer who will make a fatty of a commission on you, and then even more when you finance this status symbol. Then you will pay thousands more in tax. All so that you can start paying the expensive annual tags and monthly insurance premium increases….but you have all that spare money sitting around, so you can afford the $10 bucks you now owe me.

Pay up.

Some of the Cars I’ve Owned…
61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry.

61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry. Here it is exploding with YL boys after a bikeathon.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

A ton of steel and a half ton of chrome. It was illegally exported to Saudi Arabia.

The person who bought it illegally exported it to Saudi Arabia.

61 Rambler 6. I drove four Ramblers at a profit.

61 Rambler 6 with push button tranny. I have owned four Ramblers – all at a profit.

Volvo 1800 ES. Like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems. Volvo was a mistake I made three times.

Volvo 1800 ES. A great car that I made money on. But like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems.

68 Rambler Rogue

68 Rambler Rogue

A very nice ride

A very nice ride

Full size Jeep and a 240 Turbo coupe

Full size Jeep and a Volvo 240 Turbo coupe

I didn't own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

I didn’t own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

-74 VW Super Beetle. Sunroof & an AC that never worked well (I broke even).
-61 VW Microbus. Bought it in a junkyard. Put 60K on it. (Made $400)
-78 Honda Civic Wagon. Cute, but only a 60k mile engine. (Lost $200).
-88 Suzuki Samarai. They were brand new. A well engineered toy…absolutely no power. One rear ender totaled it. A new car (I lost 6k bucks over 3 years).
-87 Nissan Sentra. Kari’s car. Nearly as underpowered as the Suzuki. Another new car: (lost 8k over 5 years).
-48 Packard. Beautiful. Everything about it screamed quality. The straight 8 might have had the best engine notes ever. (Lost $1500 over 5 years).
-62 Rambler Classic. (pic). Great car. Push button automatic tranny, but no AC. (Made $600 on it)
-63 Rambler Wagon. Had AC. Fred Flintstone could’ve driven it though: I learned about rust when my foot went through the floorboard. (Lost $300).
-63 Ford Ranch Wagon. A terrible car straight from the factory AND worn out. I just wanted to buy a car that day. (Lost $200).
-71 Oldmobile Cutlass sedan. Another bad car. How did GM sell them? And why did I buy it??? (Lost $400).
-64 Rambler Classic. 3 on the tree. Good condition. No AC. It was such a good car I drove it 2 1/2 years anyway. (Made $500).
-64 Studebaker Wagonaire. A very cool car! Installed AC. Drove it 7 years and 70K. Lost $3200 (only about $40 per month!) because of money spent on the paint and AC.
-91 Dodge Spirit. Another Kari Car. Strong 6 cylinder. Went 140k miles before a major repair! (Lost 8k over 5 years: really good for a new car)
-93 Chrysler Grand Caravan. Kari’s kid hauler. A complete lemon. Even found a union statement under the carpet insinuating that employees were sabotaging cars. (Lost 6k over 2 years)
-74 Volve ES. Very cool car. In great condition. Someone offered more than I paid. I should’ve said no. Made $800)
-96 Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon. Great Seats, Great Motor. Loosened my fillings going over man hole covers. Kari’s. (Lost 3k in a year)
-84 Volvo 240 Turbo Coupe. A pretty cool car. AC, sunroof, 5 speed. After 2 yrs of constant repair I gave up on it. I ran into the girl who bought it 2 years later. She hadn’t spent a penny. Terrible AC. (Lost 3k in 2 years)
-87 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. A friend gave it to me for free. A nightmare of vacuum hoses and 10 mpg. I had three fender benders in it: did thousands in damage to each of the other guys. Scratched the paint on me. Mostly Kari’s while I drove the 240T. (Lost $3500 in 2 years)
-2001.5 VW Passat Wagon. V6. Leather. Loaded! Incredible technology. Broke weekly. I learned my lesson on new cars. (Lost $13,000 in 3 years)
-2003 Toyota Matrix. Kari’s car. Needed a rebuild at 170k! (And depreciated $9000 in the first 4 years)
-1998 Chevy Suburban. 4wd. Solid. Holds 8 kids but has power for 20…A gift from a friend!
-1968 Rambler Rogue. 290 V8. AT, PS, AC, power front disc brakes, solex windows, electric wipers/washers. A very nice little car. (I over paid: $5,000, spent about 1200k more and sold it for $6700)
-2000 Ford Expedition. V8, Power everything. Another gift. It has needed $2100 worth of work, but we have put 30,000 miles on it, which isn’t too bad.
-1991 Pontiac Firebird. A base model. Luke’s car. Total invested: $2050. Totaled last week while parked. Settled for $2440.