I often feel like an odd duck in my denomination. To be honest I’d probably feel like an odd duck in any Protestant denomination, because I’m neither “conservative” nor “progressive” — these seem to be the only two options people accept as valid. At our recent Biennial, the fact that I had no real “tribe” with which I identify was something I felt. Progressives got together and chatted about issues which matter to them. Conservatives went to their corner and talked amongst themselves. I have friends across the theological spectrum, so I never felt comfortable in any group. Instead I had personal conversations with friends that saw, but even then I could sense the tribal barrier between us. People I’ve known for years probed to see if I’d joined their tribe. It was rather depressing.
Extending my sense of isolation was the profound lack of social media chatter I saw during the conference. When I was in Portland two years ago the ABCUSA Facebook group I’m part of was buzzing with reflections and opportunities for connection. This year I saw next to nothing. It could have been a result of the absurdity of Facebook’s algorithm, but try as I might I never managed to find any sort of real discussion happening. It kinda felt like I’d been kicked out of the club, to be honest. It would have been nice to get together at least one evening after all the official gatherings had ended 1.
ABCUSA, in general, can also be a bit weird — from my vantage point, anyway. By nature, I cannot take myself seriously. This is because I know me, and realize what a profound idiot I am. I also know that whenever I’ve succumbed to the temptation to take myself seriously I become someone I do not like. My natural personality, and my life-lessons which have ingrained that personality in me, have given me a deep mistrust for displays of power. And I have zero affinity for political maneuvering or back-channel manipulation — it looks ugly to my eyes. Unfortunately it sometime seems that, at the national level, that type of back-channel tribalism is what ABCUSA is about.
And then there are the status symbols which designated VIP’s from just plain P’s. These drive me bonkers.
The biggest of these status symbols were the ribbons which could be attached to a person’s name tag. Delegates got one, new ministers got one, special guests got one, and people who have been to multiple Biennials could get one that shows how faithful they’ve been over the years 2. The more ribbons you had, the more status you had. It was a way of saying, “I’m one of the people who really matter.”
I had exactly zero ribbons 3.
Then there were all the little tribal symbols on display at the gathering. I guess people can’t help themselves, looking at members of our tribe as the “real” people seems to be ingrained into the human psyche, but it just felt weird. Special tee-shirts, logos for the competing national boards 4, and other emblems meant to draw a line and say, “I’m here, not there” were all over the place — even when we were supposed to be gathered together as a wider family in the main sessions.
I finally gave up and decided to wear my Eagle’s Super Bowl championship tee-shirt. It had nothing to do with the conference or the ABCUSA family, but even I felt the need to be part of some tribe.
Biennial wasn’t a great all around experience for me 5. I’m glad to be home.
- Well, at most. I’m oldish now and multiple late nights in a row are not a good idea. I’d probably implode. ↩
- There are others. ↩
- I could have gotten a “second Biennial” ribbon. The thought of doing so made me want to throw up. ↩
- Yes, competing. We don’t have a denomination, we have several different organizations which are in competition with one another. It’s odd. ↩
- I thought my teaching track went well, and I really enjoyed my conversations with some of the folks who’d attended. Even if Eddie dissed Cheesesteaks. ↩