My life after I (mostly, kinda, maybe temporarily) gave up Facebook

Dear Facebook friends,

I am sorry if I alarmed any of you with the status I posted on Monday, May 20th, about “shutting off social media before it shuts me down utterly.” In retrospect, that was pretty dramatic sounding. I guess I was feeling pretty dramatic at the time.

It can just be hard sometimes, living in a rich and powerful nation, when the richest and most powerful people keep making incredibly selfish decisions. It can be hard to vacillate between feeling like a rich and powerful person who is also being selfish and thoughtless, and feeling like a person who has been working for justice and trying to move the rich and the powerful in one way or another for decades to no avail – a powerless person with delusions of power. And my Facebook and Twitter feeds had become a constant flow of “CHECK OUT HOW MUCH THIS STINKS!” “AND THIS TOO!” “AND ALSO THIS!!!!”

Not the best time to be reading Amos chapter 2: “People of Israel – you are thoughtless, selfish, unjust covenant breakers! Don’t think you don’t have it coming!!”

Oh! Had I not mentioned that it is pretty much my job at the moment to be reading Amos and writing about it? *sigh*

I am just compulsive enough to need to read my entire feed. Everything I missed. And friends, you read such interesting things, and share them! So when I would sit down at the kitchen table to work, I would first check my e-mail, and see that someone had commented on something or tagged me on Facebook, and I would click over to see what was going on, and next thing you know I would have spent two hours reading one article after another about how racism is as bad as ever, sexism is as bad as ever, Congress is more selfish than usual, and more than half our family income taxes are going to kill various mostly non-terrorist people overseas… but wait – let’s all stop talking about all of that awfulness as we all try to process the new awfulness of someone (or some storm) having killed a bunch of children all at once. Here, look at some kittens.

And having “reached the end of the internets,” I would look up from my screen and see that it was lunchtime, and I would eat because it was the right thing to do, but I didn’t really feel hungry anymore. And then I would re-read Amos chapter 2, and stare at the blank screen for about 30 minutes. Again, le sigh.

So it is true that right up through the moment that I wrote that dramatic status that my mental state was… concern worthy. But if you have been at all concerned, rest assured that everything is ok now. Well, probably not everything – I wouldn’t know since I am no longer reading all of those articles about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I am sure the world is still FUBAR in all sorts of ways, and so it is unfair to just stop reading about it and then assert that everything is ok.

Please allow me to rephrase: since (mostly, kinda, maybe temporarily) giving up Facebook, I am ok now. Actually, I am better than ok. I have totally disassembled our KitchenAid mixer and repaired the switch. (The part only cost $10, including shipping!) I have taken my daughter swimming, and bike riding, and made cookies with her. I have not once checked my feeds or even my e-mail on my phone while half-attentively interacting with her. I have done lots and lots of laundry, even folding it fresh out of the dryer! I have mostly overcome my fear of chickens. I wrote long e-mails to friends that I might otherwise have only communicated with via broadcast status updates.

I prayed. I prayed and prayed for so many people that I hadn’t had the time or energy to pray for when their problems were collected in with literally hundreds of millions of other people with also big problems. I prayed that God would call other people to pray for the hundreds of millions of people that I missed, and would inspire me to pray the prayers I most needed to pray.

I scrubbed my shower. And my bathroom counter. And as I was scrubbing the counter, I had an insight about Amos. But it wasn’t ready yet. So I read a book, and I talked with my husband, and I didn’t check Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. I called my mother and my sister in the same day. I listened to one news story on the radio, and then turned it off to think about it instead of listening to the next one, too. I cleaned 1500 messages out of my inbox. And then I knew what I wanted to write, and I wrote and wrote until time to pick up my daughter from school, and get ready for the chickens who are living in our garage over the weekend. Chickens. I can’t believe it.

Now it is my intention to pop on over to Facebook and post this and set the hearts of all of you, my loving friends and family, at ease.  Pray for me, that I make it in and out of the Kingdom of Zuckerberg before finding something so interesting that I get stuck catching up on my feed.  It is late, and I do not have the six hours that it would take to make headway on the backlog of your interesting thoughts and beautiful photographs and very important articles. Ugh. That sounded condescending and awful. I hope that you all understand that I meant all of that completely un-ironically.  I love you guys and all your posts, or I would have hidden you from my feed, easy peasey.  You’re just so darn thought-provoking!  And funny!  And your kids are growing like weeds and doing interesting stuff, and I haven’t even met them in person yet!!!

OK, I almost talked myself into getting back in there.  But here’s the thing:  I have challah french toast to make in the morning, and then I go to the Farmer’s Market, and then we are letting a bunch of chickens and children loose in the back yard.  After lunch, I am hoping to finish putting the mixer back together.  And I would like to get around to calling my mother again.  So… I think I am going to stay away a bit longer – at least until I can figure out how to manage my “complete feed-reading” compulsion.  I hope you guys understand.

Unity and Schism

I am posting this as part of a synchro-blog on the topic of schism in the UMC. This synchro-blog was organized in honor of the first anniversary of Dream UMC.

For my friends who are not United Methodist, I apologize. I am keeping the tone of this piece “inside baseball,” because I didn’t allow enough time today to revise this for a wider audience.

I remember about five years ago, talking with a friend about how frustrated I was with the failure of the UMC to make any forward progress on inclusivity at General Conference. She pointed out the problems that the Episcopal church was having within the Anglican communion because of choosing to ordain gay priests, and said to me, “Doesn’t it pose an ecumenical problem? Because there is so much disagreement about this issue across denominations?”
I pointed out that she was on track to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA, a church that split from the American Presbyterian Church over the question of ordaining women. Was there a difference?

The dilemma in debates about what makes schism worthwhile and what does not is that it so often neglects the reality that the church is already in schism. Many times over the past centuries, Christians have decided that they could not in good conscience continue under what they saw as a corrupt, or unfaithful, or simply ineffectual system. It happened over indulgences, over communion, over pastoral authority… In the U.S., nearly every Protestant denomination split over slavery, including the Methodists – who splintered into not two, but at least five different denominations over the slavery issue.
The Church is already a fractured family. There are those who say that we should always try and stick it out, but given our history, this seems arbitrary. Why is this iteration of our church more sacrosanct than others? For others who vaguely assert that of course there is a line that they are not willing to cross, I would like to know: where is that line, exactly? And how did the failure of General Conference to even name that we disagree not cross it?

I have to admit, I have been hoping for a split. I see the seeds of a split in the actions of the Northeastern and Western jurisdictional conferences – if the jurisdiction can vote to ignore actions of the General Conference, then it is only a short step to having a whole jurisdiction brought up on charges for failing to uphold the Discipline. Which might be the best kind of split, because then churches don’t have to decide where they stand, initially. Instead, the church would split along geographic lines initially, but individual congregations could hash out different positions over time.
I like the idea of a split because I think that we could all benefit from having scaled down operations – from not being such a major player in everything from lobbying to relief to publishing. Yes, we do great stuff with the money and members we have. But we have turned our denomination into an idol, so conferences and bishops and publications all put too much energy into increasing everyone’s anxiety about how many people we have as compared to fifty years ago, and how relevant we are, and what is our brand, etc. Which leads to some truly awful ad campaigns (Remember the one with the dandelion? “If you can wish, you can pray.” Um, no. Way to trivialize church, guys!), and worse – to pastors whose ministries are driven more by fear than by love.
I like the idea of a split because it lets so many pastors off the hook. By and large, pastors in the U.S. are opposed to the restrictions on ministry by and to gays and lesbians, but leaving the church (or even putting themselves in a position to be kicked out) means losing a job with health benefits in a bad economy – usually a job that is the only one the pastor has any interest in having. And let’s not forget how many pastors marry young – which means that they have families to support. Splitting would allow pastors who oppose the restrictions to stay pastors and live into their convictions about gay marriage.
And I like the idea of a split because it would show gay and lesbian United Methodists that they have not been forgotten or abandoned – that they are as important to the church as the bullies are.

But admittedly, I have a much more selfish reason to like the idea of a split: I have already split. No longer clergy, I don’t have a voice at annual conference or the ability to get kicked out for defying the rules that bind clergy only. And after more than 20 years of following these issues, I am tired of waiting for things to change at General Conference. Or, more accurately, I have stopped believing that things ever will change at General Conference.

And so I have reluctantly left a church whose social justice stance and theology I admire because, according to church law, only straight people can fully participate in the life of that denomination. Am I being unfair? I don’t think so – the church is behaving in a tremendously unloving way towards a group of people who are already disadvantaged in our culture. This behavior towards sexual minorities is telling. “By your fruits you shall know them.”

Maybe you feel that by leaving, I have forfeited my place at the table. I get that – you are sticking it out, and that is not easy. But the voices of the Methodist diaspora need to be heard. There are many pastors and would-be pastors who were driven out of the church because of who they love. There are many laypeople who cannot be a part of a church that half-heartedly welcomes them. In this sense, the question of whether or not the United Methodist Church should split is moot – the church is already split. There are many Methodists who are sitting in UCC, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches – or even not in church at all – who would happily return to a Methodist church that truly welcomes them.

Or, you know, keep trying to win over the people with the loud and angry voices, if you think it might make a difference. Give the whole Central Conference strategy a try, if you think they won’t see through it. I’ve shaken the dust of that town off of my feet, and walked on.