Monday, July 5, 2010

failing the 'clicker' test....

This morning, when I tried to use the remote control for the air conditioner in my little office, I couldn't get it to work. I'd failed the 'clicker' test again. And I had a memory....

(This isn't the memory, this is why I have an air conditioner in my little office: the one I have now was in the TV room but it made so much noise you couldn't hear the TV without having the volume so loud you couldn't have a conversation without yelling. So Bern decided to take it out and replace it with a quieter one she had. She, by the way, does all the stuff like that since I've proved myself so incompetent in such undertakings that I'm no longer asked to participate. Poor me! And since the weather has turned horribly hot she decided to put the noisy air-conditioner in my little office, believing it would take the hot air coming up the back stairs from the kitchen and make the downstairs a little cooler as well. So far, it has worked quite well. I called her a 'heat manipulator' since, through a complicated ritual of opening and closing windows are certain times and putting fans on and off at other certain times, she has managed to keep our un-air-conditioned areas 74 or below in the hottest weather.)

What I remembered when I flunked the clicker test was the electronic voting at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I've been a Deputy during the last two conventions--Minneapolis in 2006 and Anaheim in 2009. Luckily the EC only meets every three years. Annual meetings would open untold possibilities for theological and programmatic mischief. Plus there are 4 lay folks and 4 clergy in each dioceses' deputation and the expense of gathering 800+ Deputies, never mind the cost of the House of Bishops, makes annual meetings untenable.

Since the House of Deputies has so many deputies, voting practice is an issue. At the last two GC's we've used electronic voting which requires using a little hand held clicker about the size of a cell phone. Needless to say--even though there are 800+ people of above average intellect involved--it has been a minor disaster, taking up more time than you can adequately imagine during the 9 days of meetings.

The only thing that has made it bearable, if not a tad pleasant, is that the Chief Teller, who gives the instruction each time is a gorgeous priest from New York or Mass or somewhere. She is also very patient and extremely humorous. Gorgeous, patient and funny--how much better could it be? She also has an accent I really can't place (she may be at least part Hispanic) that makes it a treat to listen to her explain in words of one or two syllables, how easy this process that confounds 800+ people really is....

(About accents, by the way: I love them and practice placing them. I can even tell the difference between a Peurto Rican accent and the a accent of someone from Cuba or Mexico. Anyhow, once I met a new member of the church I served in New Haven and after talking with her for a few minutes, I asked her, "Where's your accent from?"

She replied, cooly, "Actually, it's a speech defect. People seldom mention it."

She stayed at the church anyway...)

So what is it about the voting clickers that confound even those who have conquered remote controls of all kinds? The voting clicker has numbers 0 to 9 and three buttons, not really a complicated thing. (My friend John and my son Josh have multiple remote control clickers for their assortment of electronic mysteries. I can't figure out the one for the TV, much less cope with the others. Even when alone in places like John's and Josh's, I tend to watch whatever was on when I arrived though I know that have in excess of 600 channels cleverly concealed from my meager skills at clicking.)

I actually think the General Convention's voting clickers are a metaphor for how the EC and probably most mainline churches (though I'm sure Unitarians are more adept than most) are rendered incapable and laughingly distracted by anything that is new, different, out of the ordinary, edgy, etc.

I remember visiting St. Mark's in Raleigh, NC over twenty years ago. The parish was considering me to be their next Rector. In fact, they called me to that job and I turned it down after a weekend of anguished struggle for what would be best for me and Bern and the kids. A month later I was invited to interview for the position of Rector of St. John's. Things do happen for a reason.

At any rate, St. Mark's was growing so rapidly they were in their 3rd new building in the 25 years of the parish's existent. It was an ultra modern building with nothing nailed down--everything could be moved around within an area the size of a basketball court. The building was three years old and I asked them to tell me about the different configurations they'd used for worship. I was thinking about designing the space for different seasons, high holy days, all sorts of ways to place the furniture in that vast space.

They looked at me sheepishly. They had set up the space like a traditional church--font in the back, altar in the front, chairs in rigid lines--and never changed it in three years. The stuff might as well have been nailed down!

And there are always the complaints on Christmas and Easter and when we have multiple baptisms that "someone was in my pew". Lordy, lordy, a full church and everyone is a bit miffed! But then one day, a visiting Bishop sat in my chair and I almost made him move.....

Little stuff like that--like voting devices--throws the church off kilter. We really don't want to 'change' or 'transform' either. One thing CHURCH inspires in people is a longing for 'the way things have always been'.

It goes all the way to the top, in fact, as I think about it, the whole ''changelessness" probably starts at the top....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.