Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Very Latest From Bishop Mary At Lambeth
“There is nothing strange here but the Grace of God”
This was one of those fine phrases preachers receive when in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and who are wise enough to pause from their outline and take note of some new thing that has suddenly appeared in the midst of holy conversation. Mark MacDonald, a bishop of TEC and of The Church of Canada (actually the first national indigenous bishop in the Anglican Communion) and a very fine preacher, offered the sermon at our worship yesterday and took a little jaunt off his topic to have a laugh at how people sniffed at the strange, what I assume to have been traditional Ijibwe “incense” burning in pots near the altar. He said, “they are thinking this is strange, this smell, ‘what is that?’, as they sniff and speculate ….…but there is nothing strange here, but the Grace of God.” At first I thought, “It is too bad that Grace is so unknown that it is strange…..” Perhaps a symptomatic thought of keeping a grueling schedule with 660 bishops for nearly three weeks! Indeed, Grace is strange and foreign, relative to our legalistic, sinful and suffering world, but it is also strange in that it is revealed in artful, sudden, unpredictable, deep ways that surprise and delight our imagination. We can only be rendered silent in those moments, shake our head and smile at the sheer joy of God gifting us yet again with more Grace.
At this Lambeth Conference, Grace flows through the day-to-day process, and also appears in sudden bursts. We are doing our Bible Study and indaba process day in, day out, characterized by talking and listening around specific subjects, voting on nothing, instead drafting together a reflection report to be issued at the end of the conference. By this time, we are communion. It makes some of us quite nervous, as we expect to be in greater control of what the result of a process will be even before we begin. We don’t get to do that this time and it feels a vulnerable place to be. In a way, it is like flying on the trapeze without a net - which I imagine is something one must get used to in the art of trapeze flying. The first several times feels strange, perhaps like subjecting oneself to Grace when we are accustomed to controlling outcomes. Today I checked in with a couple of people in my indaba about how they were feeling. It has been such a respectful and mature process that frankly I was not sure that people were really being honest about their thoughts and feelings. Today we talked about Human Sexuality, a day some of our bishops have dreaded, as the loudest, most anxious voices in our midst continue to demand some action for those of us (at the least) who support +Gene and the blessing of same-sex unions. However, by God’s Grace, the business of communion-building works, and at least in my group which reflects the diversity of the communion, a recognition that we are all in a difficult place, but that it is much better to be there together, has I think, developed over these weeks. I do not speak for all groups and I know that some conversations have been more contentious. Overall, however, I see communion ahead, and am very grateful that this conference has been designed with the wily Grace of God in mind.
Grace has also burst forth into our communion revealing Jesus stunningly and dramatically. Tuesday, we had a joint session with the spouses, who had been granted the power to plan our session. The content of our morning involved a frank presentation and conversation about violence against women. This included dramatic renderings of scripture about women, and a Bible study on II Samuel 13, the rape of Tamar, which drew out a variety of perspectives, including the feminist view on gender and power inequity. Other indigenous voices, this time from the order of laity - Jenny Te Paa of Aotearoa/New Zealand and Gerard West, a South African - lead us through this history making morning. Safe space for conversation was facilitated by the separation of women and men for the entire session. It was reported that close to 100 men walked out, some surely in need of the restroom (it was a long and uninterrupted session!) and others needing to attend another meeting, but many in protest of the topic itself. While the content of this session does not seem revolutionary to our American context, it was the first time the matter of violence against women was so thoroughly confronted at a Lambeth Conference. Many of us perceived this as a bursting in of Grace that will further the work of justice in our church and for the people we serve. I concur with Helen Wasongo, Anglican representative to the UN that if we work for justice for women first, we have a much greater chance of achieving the other millennium development goals. In addition, I believe the development of rights for women contributes positively to the long conversation of full inclusion of GLBT persons in our own context. The matter of justice around sexuality and gender are intertwined.
I have listened, spoken carefully, and learned more than I imagined. While difficult to be an American, female bishop in this context, the good far outweighs the challenging here. I have a much greater understanding of those who are angry with us, and experience with them, mutual patience and respect. We have worshipped, prayed, cried, argued, agreed and learned together. At least in my crowd (and one not of my choosing) here at Lambeth, communion is more important than moral certitude. Moreover, I am beyond grateful for our diocese and our country, for the rights we enjoy and expect, and how much we have to share with others in the world. My contextual understanding and compassion has deepened enormously for those who do not enjoy a fraction of what we do. There is so much need for so many things in the world, and I believe that strange Grace shall find a way to bring our common mission of reaching the poor and marginalized in Jesus’ name, including the whole creation, back to the forefront of our life together. May we in El Camino Real continue to prepare our hearts for the work God is going to ask of us; may we watch for Grace, anticipating its presence, as it comes steadily over time, or in large bursts of justice and love.
I See You!
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