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April 21, 2008: Analysis Fatigue

As of today, we are two months away from the convening of the General Assembly. I have been posting since mid-February about the business the Assembly and have only touched on a portion of it. Most of the last two weeks have been focused on the eight -- count 'em -- eight ACSWP papers that are coming. Five down, three to go.

I am experiencing analysis fatigue.

The prospect of looking at another ACSWP paper is disheartening. What's the point? Should I just move on to something else? (Much to my immediate delight -- but knowing that this joy is short-lived -- I do not think the other three papers are posted yet. So, I have to look forward to, "Costly Lessons of the Iraq War," "God's Work in Women's Hands: Pay Equity and Just Compensation," and "Struck Down, But Not Destroyed: From Hurricane Katrina to a More Equitable Future.")

Mine is the classic presentation of analysis fatigue. It is a common malady -- though better experienced in April than at the Assembly. It is characterized by a sense of futility, that processes put in place long before I was elected to be a commissioner are driving things to an inevitable conclusion. What can one person do? There is the temptation to just let it go, what's the big deal?

Well, it is a big deal.

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall. Perseverance is required to keep going and to not give up.

The same is true for General Assembly preparation. Just as you would not try to run 26 miles without training beforehand, so you cannot expect to have much impact if you do not train for your service as a commissioner. If you wait until you get to San Jose to start preparing, you will be going along for the ride. The only way to be effective is to train and prepare ahead of time. Training is sometimes painful. It is sometimes dull and boring. It involves discipline and dedication. But it is necessary.

This is important because only a few people have the abilility to make a difference. There are six of us elected as commissioners from San Diego Presbytery, seven with the Youth Advisory Delegate (YAD). It is up to us on behalf of all the thousands of Presbyterians who are here in San Diego and Imperial Counties. The same is true in all the other 172 presbyteries. It is not OK to take service as a commissioner for granted.

There is a lot of business to prepare to handle. It is important to pick your spots. Not every piece of business is going to be a controversial. Nor do you have to enter every controversy. That said, you need to do the work to know which pieces of business are worth your time and attention and how to make a difference. Fatigue or not, there are no shortcuts.

What are the biggest issues to watch? (I saved this material, knowing that it would come in handy when I had analysis fatigue.) The Outlook's editor Jack Haberer asked me what I would list as my top ten. Here's what I wrote a few weeks ago:

At this point, I do not know all the issues, but here's what I have spotted thus far -- and how I would seed them:

1. nFoG (the proposed Form of Government and all the attendant substitutions for it/amendments to it)

2. The Stated Clerk election

3. Ordination/PUP #5/AI's (lots of pieces; one big issue)

4. GAC -- Funding, organization, and operation changes. This is the sleeper. It is a big deal and most people will not do the reading to understand the impact. I am writing about it this week on Presbyblog. For example, one of the changes to the funding is "where a particular ministry through designated giving is oversubscribed, an understanding would be communicated as part of the process of seeking support that funding received in excess of the amount requested would be channeled to a similar ministry, where possible." That's a huge loophole -- money designated for one purpose could be diverted to another. It thwarts the purpose of designating. (Recommendation #23).

5. Israel/Middle East. Nothing creates more headaches for local church pastors than public statements about Middle East issues. (I am lumping Iraq into this mix).

6. ACSWP papers. There are several of them (I haven't gotten to them yet) (ed. note: that was then; since I wrote this list, I have).

7. Moderator election.

8. PC-Biz and the paperless Assembly. (This could be interesting, even though it is not a substantive "issue" per se. How does requiring computer literacy impact the dynamics and substance of what the Assembly votes?)

9. 900+ commissioners. (Again, not a substantive issue issue in itself. However, raising the number of inexperienced people dealing with unfamiliar business in a wildly new environment -- #8 -- could generate some fairly spectacular and unexpected results.)

10. The Trinity study materials. Will it open up this can of worms again?

I did not include the Ecumenical stuff or the confessional stuff because I do not think those are going to raise a whole lot of interest. Whether they should is a different question.

Obviously, some of that is in shorthand. If you understand and disagree with the ordering or what's in the list, feel free to let me know. If you do not understand or do not understand why some of these are potentially big issues, that means there is much homework left to do.