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March 11, 2008: Find Your Help Before Going To San Jose

During each of the General Assemblies I have attended in the past, there is an orientation time for commissioners and advisory delegates. If memory serves, it was always the case that more than two-thirds were attending their first GA. Because the number of commissioners is going way up this year (from mid-500's to mid-900's), the percentage of first-timers is going to go up, too.

Learning a new process requires time and help. Do not wait until you arrive in San Jose to seek help. Do it now.

Where do you go for help? Who can you trust?

Well, ... me, of course.

Ok, aside from me. The truth is you can trust me as far as you find me trustworthy -- and that is the same standard you should use for all offers to help you prepare. There are a whole number and range of sources available to you.

For years, I heard warnings to "be careful of the special interest groups" that come to the Assembly seeking to persuade you on various issues. As the executive director of one of those special interest groups, the warning always rankled me. It still does. So, I am going to advise you in just the opposite way:

As best you are able, dig into all the special interest groups. Now.

Here's why: the General Assembly is best served when people bring the best they have to offer. These interest groups are often the best resources because they are vested in the outcome. They are only as successful as they are persuasive. If they are not clear, helpful, and resourceful, you won't be persuaded and they will not be successful.

You will not agree with everyone. You probably do not always agree with me; for that matter, I do not always agree with me. But the point is that you will be much better able to be discerning if you are able to engage a much wider range of perspectives now.

A quick story:

A number of years ago (nine? ten? wow!), when I was the executive director of the Presbyterian Forum, I was actively engaged in the debates regarding ordination standards. One of my "opponents" at the time was Virginia Lewis, who operated a website entitled "Hesed." It was my impression and experience that we engaged in the arguments with full vigor -- disagreeing to the core about what the appropriate outcome should be. Yet (again, my impression and experience), we were never disagreeable.

We set up a joint lunch (Forum-Hesed) prior to the convening of the Assembly and invited a number of people who had been reading along and/or participating to be a part of it. As I recall, there were close to a hundred people who attended (my memory may have improved the attendance, but I do not think by much).

I cannot say that we ever came to an agreement over the issue of ordination standards. However, I can tell you that my arguments improved because of my participation in this dialogue. It also is true that my rhetoric became more precise -- in large part because there was no temptation to engage in ad hominem attacks against someone I respected (even while disagreeing). [At the risk of ignoring a log in my own eye, I do not recall that I have ever been tempted to personal attacks, but there was even less of a risk of doing so when I had been in direct communication.]

To bring this back to the point -- I think the level of debate was heightened by engaging in the best everyone had to offer; not by trying to limit the scope or range of the discussion.

So, as best you are able, dig into all the special interest groups. Now. It will serve you well later.