Forced Perspective

February 2, 2012

Nothing like a good vacation to clear the head and gain perspective. After two-plus weeks in New Zealand with our daughter, the sensation coming home is of trying to jump on a fast-moving train. An accumulated average of forty emails a day, plus the many news reports and blogs to catch up on, will help me discern what happened in the PCUSA while I was gone.  As I re-enter the normal Presbyterian life after two weeks of jubilee, I am grateful for the hard work, faithful standing, and Spirit-led movement of God’s people during this time.

Perspective Number 1: New Zealand lies along the joint between two global tectonic plates. The earthquake centered near Christchurch, NZ, over a year ago (in which 80% of the central business district was utterly destroyed) happened on that fault line. Within the PCUSA are tectonic plates representing two mutually exclusive theological foundations. Those two plates slid past each other with a jerk this year, and the establishment of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) is the major aftershock event. What the denomination experiences can be a clean break or a rubble-producing mess, and it has the power to choose which one. I pray for God’s mercy upon us and ask for the grace and power to readjust to the new reality without creating further damage.

Perspective Number 2:  As a summer intern at an industrial manufacturing company in 1974, I remember my boss coming home from a two-week backpacking vacation to discover that while he was gone, President Nixon had resigned from office. He said, “I remember that day in the High Sierra perfectly. The stars did not fall out of the sky; the sun dawned on schedule. The world kept going along, despite the political events of the day.” I feel much the same way about the launching of the ECO. During the three days of the Orlando conference, in New Zealand the sun rose on schedule, the stars (albeit the southern sky) stayed in place, the sand-flies kept biting. God is still in the heavens, active and alert and at the center of the universe. The machinations of the PCUSA and now the ECO, remain a mere feature of God’s activity but not its center. Not to say that what has happened is not important to Presbyterians; it’s just not the most central reality and must be kept in its proper place in our worship life.

Perspective Number 3: On the requisite Lord of the Rings tour in Wellington, the filming technique called “forced perspective” was demonstrated. Remember in the early scene in Fellowship of the Ring, in which Frodo runs to greet arriving Gandalf and climbs up into his carriage for the ride into town? Frodo, a petite hobbit, and Gandalf, a rather tall wizard, are played by two full-size men. In order to present them in their fictional size difference, Frodo was seated in the back seat of the carriage, and the camera lens was pulled in such a way as to make it appear that the smaller Frodo was in the front seat with the wizard. All this is to say, what may seem to loom large for Presbyterians these days is in fact a rather small event in God’s overall wider perspective. What may seem cataclysmic to us is nothing compared to the glory of God and the bigger picture of Kingdom movement. I for one do not fear a division of our denomination, nor think it an act of which we must repent. I think there is plenty of evidence around the world that separation can be a tactical strategy to enhance missional effectiveness, if it is done carefully, wisely, and without violence. That of course is up to the parties in dispute to accomplish; if we end up killing each other in the process, we of course have thumbed our noses at God and cannot find blessing in the end. But it sounds to me like the ECO has made its case with an irenic spirit, and it is up to the PCUSA at all levels to receive the declaration of its existence with a generous and cooperative spirit, so that nothing takes away from the glorious witness due Christ, the Lord of the Church.

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