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January 29, 2008

In the "Specifics Make A Difference" Department

As one of the elected commissioners from San Diego Presbytery to the 218th General Assembly (2008) in San Jose, I have begun to receive the correspondence from the Office of General Assembly. In the first materials I received, there was a "Frequently Asked Questions" page. The first question is, "What is the schedule for the assembly? (Answer) The 218th General Assembly will convene at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, ..."

10:00 p.m.? Really? Do you think they meant 10:00 a.m.?

Look, I know that is a typo. It's not a big deal. I thought it was kind of funny that this occurred in the very first question -- but I have been around long enough and made enough of my own typographical mistakes to understand how it happens.

Even so, this is a good illustration of the importance of clarity. One letter -- one simple little letter -- makes a huge difference in meaning. What is written is not what is intended. Now, pretend that this was the new Form of Government: how sure are you that what is written will result in what was intended?

And then, the pot calling the kettle...

Speaking of errors: Yesterday, I made an aside about the ordination questions from G-14 being "amended out of the Book of Order." I meant "amended out of the Form of Government" -- but wrote something that was very different. The ordination questions are now listed in W-4.4003 (the Directory for Worship). So, caveat blogreader: How sure are you that what I wrote is what I intended. Sigh. Well, my thanks to faithful readers who caught the error and brought it to my attention -- even gently.

And, a positive word...

Today's Presbyweb included a link to a video produced by the Office of Theology and Worship on Core Beliefs and Practices. Tom Taylor, Joe Small, and Charles Wiley discuss some topics like "why a denomination," "essential tenets," and the Trinity. It is well done.

Some of the answers reflect tensions that exist within the PC(USA); particularly Joe Small's comments about "essential tenets." I struggle when I hear answers like this because I wonder, "Can the church proclaim anything with conviction?" He does explain well the denomination's line -- I just have never been persuaded by that argument. Our experience with "Essential Tenets" in San Diego Presbytery has been a growing experience for us. It was tough to declare both "what we believe" and "what is not affirmed." There has been a learning curve to figure out how to use those tenets -- as educational pieces, as the presbytery's statement of faith for those coming into the presbytery to have, and as an affirmation for the people in our congregations and in our community.

Charles Wiley's answer regarding the Trinity was helpful. I had heard through the grapevine that Charles was somewhat shellshocked by the scope and intensity of the criticism of the "Trinity" paper a few years ago. Some of that is evident here, but mostly his comments evidence his deep desire to enrich the faith of Presbyterians.

The video interview is a helpful way to put voices, inflection, and faces to "the staff" in Louisville. One word of advice for them if more videos are planned -- some of the questions and answers seemed a little "inside baseball"; that is, if you are not already deeply involved it can be tough to know what they are talking about. That one nit-picky (hopefully, constructive criticism) thing aside, I hope to see more of this in the future. It is one way to help build bridges between local congregations and our national folk.