Words by Rolando Perez on RMN Convocation 2013: ChurchQuake, which was held in Chevy Chase, MD over Labor Day weekend. Rolando is a new SWTX Reconciling Team member, is an active member of Trinity UMC, Austin, and was one of the 18 from the Southwest Texas conference who traveled to attend the national RMN Convocation. Photos from Convocation here and here.
2013 RMN CONVO REPORT
RMN (Reconciling Ministries Network) Convocation was a wonderful and deeply humbling learning experience for which I owe my gratitude to our MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) and RMN chapters, and of course, my beloved faith community, without whom my trip to Maryland would not have been possible. I am pleased to report that my experience at Convocation has already yielded practical results in the form of a short presentation to a few members of my congregation, and it has prompted my own independent research to learn more about RMN, MFSA and the United Methodist Church (UMC). It was also a pleasure to reconnect with, and make new friends in the movement; and I was overjoyed to witness Mary Ann and Annanda’s wedding ceremony.
One of my takeaways from Convocation was an increase in sensitivity to our diversity as human beings. On many occasions, there were discussions of our various identities and privileges, and how they might intersect. Although we have the potential to harm others with our privileges, we may also use them to assist or advocate for those susceptible to harm. As we know, the way our society is structured, it may be practically impossible to keep from harming others. To me, the lesson in sensitivity is becoming aware of and examining my own privilege, and engaging in the practice of causing the least harm possible where I cannot eradicate it, and taking appropriate opportunities to encourage others to do the same.
A second takeaway was a moment of absolute clarity that occurred to me during Bishop Talbert’s message on Saturday evening, speaking to Biblical obedience and unjust church law. What struck a chord with me was Talbert’s reference to the Civil Rights Movement, specifically, his participation in the lunch counter sit-ins. I thought back to a time when Rev. Sid Hall discussed with me the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. He noted that from the birthing of our nation, there was a disconnect between rhetoric and reality: the rhetoric of liberty, justice and prosperity, and the reality of the restrictions over certain segments of the population. He told me, “the irony is that the very documents that put the restrictions in place are the ones that also provided the possibilities for something different.” As Hall’s and Talbert’s words resonate within, and I look into our Bible and our Book of Discipline—our founding documents in the UMC—I am left with the same feeling: that the documents that put the restrictions in place also provide the possibilities for something different.
As Convocation came to a close I moved into D.C. for a self-imposed extra-credit assignment, if you will. I marveled at the size of the Capitol Mall and tried to imagine the multitude present for the 1963 March on Washington and the 2008 and ’12 presidential inaugurations. I wept at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I stood in quiet reflection at the Lincoln Memorial and the very spot where MLK once stood. I thought of the brave souls who sat and were humiliated, beaten and dragged away as I gazed upon the lunch counter from Greensboro, North Carolina, now in the Museum of American History. At the FDR Memorial, I stood silently by his near life-size likeness with my hand on his shoulder, as if at any moment, he might turn to me and speak.
These monuments do not represent the great people for whom they are kept so much as those who have suffered oppression, and the countless people who supported and stood by these leaders, some making the ultimate sacrifice, in solidarity for liberation and opportunity. The most profound moments of this extra outing, however, happened with my visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I spent hours immersed in a testament to intolerance carried to a horrible and absolutely heart crushing extreme.
In closing, the symbol of the rainbow has taken on a deeper meaning for me with my journey. I have come to understand the rainbow, not as a symbol of gay pride or the LGBTQIA community, but as a symbol of humanity: of our immeasurable diversity of experience and being. To speak to our value of Biblical obedience: We are told that the rainbow is a symbol of favor over God’s people; and in Jesus’ teaching, “love your neighbor,” we are given the plans to construct a new ark, not for two of every creature, but for one, and all.