As this summer has drawn to a close, I’ve been enjoying the Olympic Games from Beijing – with or without comment about China’s human-rights record, environmental policies, etc. – and as it’s been for a million years, these Olympics are brought to you by Visa. Visa and the Olympics are always good for some quality ads, with some actual tear-jerkers this year. But this year, I’m struck by the central ad of the campaign:

Over images from Olympics past, Morgan Freeman, in his new role as James Earl Jones, says,

“There are 6 billion of us. We all come from unique places with unique ways of looking at the world. We don’t always agree. But for a shining few weeks, we set it all aside. We come together to stand and cheer and celebrate as one. We forget all the things that make us different and remember all the things that make us the same.”

I’m all on board with others’ cynicism, that presumably “the things that make us the same” include the need to spend money we don’t necessarily have on stuff we almost certainly don’t need. That we best celebrate the Olympic spirit by all choosing to carry the same card (disclosure: I have two cards in my wallet right now with the Visa logo). Of course, that’s what advertising always says: we should all do what the ad suggests.

Here I want to split a hair, however. Are the Olympics really about what makes us “the same”? My brain, watching the ad, always wants to fill in ‘one’ instead. Not “the things that make us the same,” but “the things that make us one.” Do we celebrate “sameness” well by measuring the difference, down to a hundredth of a second, between the most outstanding athletes we can find? Or aren’t the Olympics really about the unity that brings us together in spite of our differences? Maybe Visa originally wanted to say ‘one’, but they already used the word ‘one’ earlier in the ad, and their editors wanted to keep the language more interesting.

I wonder whether we really need “things that make us the same” in order to come together “as one.” If we’re talking about abstract concepts like sportsmanship, perhaps, but that gets vague pretty quickly. Besides, it leaves all those differences as obstacles in the way of our being more fully united. The implication is that we can be united only to the extent that we are the same.

Here at Hope, we run into the question of unity in the midst of our differences every time we look for an open slot on the calendar for a new event. We face it every time we gather for worship, study, or meetings. We each have our individual preferences, needs, and understandings, but through it we remain one church. Not all the same, but all one through the love of God.

For the next two years, our denomination will be studying a proposed set of revisions to our Form of Government. I’ve just been nominated for our presbytery’s Overtures and Bylaws Committee, which is charged with helping the presbytery study and discern appropriate action about this kind of proposal, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to share with you on this subject as I learn more about it. In summary, the proposed change tries to lean away from the heavily prescriptive polity we follow now, toward a “Missional Polity”: “Missional polity seeks to create a governing structure for the PC(USA) that will enable and empower congregations, presbyteries, and synods, in proclaiming the gospel, to react and respond to the particular exigencies of their local situations.” (Frequently Asked Questions of the Form of Government Task Force) This revision works to loosen our decision-making structure in a way that allows all of us – presbyteries, congregations, and individual members – to respond more directly to the call of Christ in our life together.

One hallmark of this “missional” trend is a move away from depending on standing committees to handle the work of the church. The word ‘committee’ can carry heavy procedural baggage, so the word ‘team’ often better describes these task-driven groups that get together just long enough to get things done. Because Presbyterians believe in accountability, the team should still answer to the whole church through a standing committee or the session, but how things happen in the meantime is much more flexible.

For instance, we no longer have a “website team” here. If you didn’t know we even had a website team in the first place, you’re probably not alone. It existed for part of this summer, did its work, and moved on. I called together a group of people who had expressed interest in having a more up-to-date website, we discussed what we had in mind, and we worked to make it happen. In the process, for some technical and logistical reasons, we picked up a new hosting service and domain name. All along, the team focused on finding options that were dynamic, interactive, and easy for our staff and committee chairs to maintain. In August, the new website was “presented” to the session, which still has oversight of the website’s content and operation.

This “team” approach seems like a good fit for a result-oriented project like the website. We didn’t elect a chairperson or call our meetings to order, but we shared together the ideas we had been praying and thinking about. Our ideas aren’t all the same, just as our lives and experiences aren’t all the same, but we’re working to be a church where various ideas and possibilities all flow together as one. If you have more ideas for the website, I bet they can flow right in there too. Just drop us a line by emailing Sylvia in the office or by leaving a comment below!

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

P.S. One website-related change you’ll notice in your print newsletters is that we’ve printed the event calendar differently this month. It’s still a monthly calendar, but it’s a printout of the Google calendar that you can access from our website. The Google calendar maintains a running list of upcoming events on the right-hand side of the website, so there’s always a publicly available, up-to-date calendar. By printing out the Google calendar, we save Sylvia the step of reformatting the same information for the newsletter. Let us know what you think!

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