Why should anyone care what Neland Ave does?

This is one of the first questions that will arise both within the CRC and outside of it as news of this “crisis” arises. https://www.thebanner.org/news/2020/09/woman-in-same-sex-marriage-installed-as-deacon

It’s a fair question. The CRC has pursued freedom and diversity at many different levels for a while now. Why this?

What’s interesting is not the question but when the question is asked and for what.

Why should anyone else care about the random shooting of an unarmed black man on the streets of Minneapolis or Kenosha? Numerous people who happen to be white and who happen to be men have been shot since (some in Sacramento) and nobody has cared at all. I can pull up the articles from the paper to prove it. I’ve started to pay attention news reporting on police shooting and noticed that the skin color of the person shot only seems to appear in some instances and not in others. Why? But apparently care we do, enough to march, loot, destroy, defunding, elect or not elect. Isn’t that strange?

Had a new college kid at the meetup last night. Grew up in the Bay Area. Noticed that at UC Davis the college has taken to declare that they are confessing publicly in documents that they occupy stolen land. Well if they occupy stolen land then they should give it back. Apparently at some point the heirs of the people that the college admits they stole the land from are going to start asking for it back, maybe even in court. The problem is of course that the UC Davis didn’t have an army in 1849 to steal land from the people that were here. Sutter was around. We remember his name because it’s all over the place in Sacramento. Did he steal it? Did he then sell it? Maybe his descendants should make good on it. But then again why should any of us care about some bad land deal almost 200 years ago? I bought the land my house sits on from the church. Did Living Stones steal it?

We participate in these broad symbolic-dramatic-liturgical imaginaries. They are stories that give us identity and meaning. They create the world in which we live and locate us in it. They give meaning to even the mundane events of our days. Seemingly unimportant aspects of our lives are imbued with power and significance that only human beings seem to care about, and of those human beings only such humans that participate in certain segments of the story.

Let’s imagine that I’ve got some spare time this week and I’m a bit bored so I decide I want to find a new group of friends. I find a social group in town that seems to have ritual, symbols, and a long history of doing things for the common good. I discover that they have cool traditions, even secret names and hand shakes. If I join a new strange fantasy football league no one will care. If I join a lodge, well suddenly my livelihood is in crisis. Maybe I’ll send a letter to the congregation telling them that I’ve decided to become a Mason. Most in my congregation wouldn’t care, except a couple who grew up in the CRC. My council probably wouldn’t vote to depose me. Then it gets kicked up to Classis.

I’ve got lots of friends at Classis. Let’s say they like me and don’t really want to depose me. Let’s say I tell them that my new relationship with the Masons has filled me with meaning, purpose and has energized the local church. We’ve got lots of new members and donors because of my new friends. Maybe Classis Central California digs in its heels and says “no, we think Masonry is OK by us. Let’s see if Synod dares to depose our Classis. Our Classis is one of the more wealthy classes and if the denomination were to suddenly stop getting ministry shares people would need to be fired. Who cares if PVK wants to join a new club where they wear funny clothes, have secret handshakes and secret names. Wasn’t George Washington and many other founding fathers a Mason? What’s so wrong about it…”

I don’t know if the CRC would care that much today, but some would. Most would say “being a Mason isn’t core to PVK’s identity so just put a bit of pressure on him and he’ll probably relent so we don’t need to have this church fight. Besides, the Masons are in bigger trouble than most churches…”

But there are other things. If I put my hands on a person’s arm or shake a person’s hand no one cares (pre-COVID). If I put my hands on another person’s crotch I can go to jail. What’s the difference between a hand and a crotch? If my dog or my cat watched me do this my dog or my cat wouldn’t care. If a police officer saw it I could lose my livelihood, lose my marriage, lose my freedom and spend the rest of my life going to a little county office registering my name once a year and every time I changed residence, all because of the difference between a hand and a crotch. Isn’t it all just part of the body? Hands seem way more important and powerful than crotches…

This symbolic-dramatic-liturgical-imaginary is about as important a thing as human beings have going. It seems often strange and arbitrary (especially in a culture where we like to think of ourselves as rational materialists) what triggers wars and battles and crises and how we all sort of know it when it happens. If we were in ancient Greece I could touch student’s crotches as payment for my lessons I was giving them in wisdom and philosophy. That was an acceptable payment. If my son went into the UC Santa Cruz offices and said ‘what if we cut a deal whereby instead of me and my family forking over thousands of dollars in tuition how about some of my professors just touch my crotch?”

Would we allow it? All of us? Because if UC Santa Cruz decided to accept crotch touching as tuition it would be national news.

Well if my son decided to instead of having his professors or administrators use him sexually he decided to make porn and sell it on the Internet for cash then he could use that money to pay his tuition. It’s OK if there is a middle man, men or women or corporation monetizing crotch stuff for money and then using money for tuition. Some of us feel uneasy with that, but it’s legal and many wouldn’t care, except perhaps those prudes in the CRCNA that look down on that sort of thing. For most it’s perfectly fine but exchanging tuition for sexual favors directly is somehow against the rules.

If UC Santa Cruz decided to launch a new program to avoid student debt by letting students pay tuition with sexual favors it would be big news. If the State of California decided this would be far more equitable, because skin color, nation of origin or even intelligence doesn’t seem to impact whether or not people want to touch crotches other states would be upset with this, laws would be passed, and if California didn’t back down there could even be a civil war over such a thing. To imagine this war fought over touching crotches in public rather than hands is not unthinkable.

So yes, we are a strange species that cares A LOT about stories, and aspects, and things that to my dog or cat seem absolutely meaningless. That is how we are.

A woman at Neland likes other women and likes to do things with another woman and has no interest in doing slightly different things with a man. Seems arbitrary. They want to have her count money, and make decisions, and help the poor. She stands up and says words in an old room with other people watching and because of this the lives of many of us will change. That is how human beings are. We are connected by symbols and stories and all of this is important. To say it isn’t important is just as much a part of that vast network as to say it is because part of the importance is whether people think it is, like with paying tuition by having some people touch other people in certain ways and places.

So yes, it matters, and the CRCNA is going to have a fight about it. Seems strange, but I think we all do understand. pvk

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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10 Responses to Why should anyone care what Neland Ave does?

  1. So – a person who loves Jesus, wants to serve in the church, has been acknowledged by, one should expect, the prayerful and careful discerning process by elders and deacons who received their delegated authority in good order and who, one should also expect, are committed to faithful reading and exposition of Scripture – is on an ethical par with a child molester. Subtle.

    • PaulVK says:

      I’m not making that argument. Why are you reading that here?

      • Because your dominant illustration throughout the article is the practice of someone touching a child’s groin to pay for their education. Yeah – you don’t explicitly draw the parallel – but the implicit argument is that it’s somewhere on the same level. If you care about that you should care about this. Maybe you just didn’t have your coffee this morning: can you not see the gracelessness of writing about LGBTQ+ issues and even tangentially bringing up the specter of pedophilia?

        • PaulVK says:

          1. It wasn’t the dominant illustration. It was one a few. It illustrated that the human symbolic-dramatic-liturgical-imaginary has sacred aspects that are at play in society. We track them. To equate this would like be saying those who suggest George Floyd wasn’t killed because he was black are pedophiles. I made no such argument. This has become a knee jerk reaction in this conversation and it should be laid to rest. If I wrote: blah blah gay blah blah black blah blah porn blah blah pedo someone would jump in and make the argument I’m equating same sex relationships with pedophilia. It all depends what’s in the “blah blah”.

  2. Warren Mills says:

    Very clear, and brave Paul. Regards, Warren.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. George Vink says:

    Paul, as I read your comments, the first in a long time, I’ve concluded that you’ve got way too much time on your hands…….but, Shalom to you and yours.

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