Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Evening with Gandalf

Monday evening was such a wonderful celebration! After a long needed and much appreciated afternoon nap following a hectic weekend, we headed for Queen Elizabeth Hall, on the Thames at the South Bank Centre for the Arts, a kind of British version of New York's Lincoln Center, only more expansive in its buildings and cutting edge in its programming.

Earlier, I had contacted Sir Ian McKellen, arguably the greatest living Shakespearean actor (and Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings series), to see if he wanted to help introduce the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So" in its British premiere on Monday evening. He enthusiastically said yes, and he and I spent a wonderful evening at his home planning the event. It turned out better than either of us anticipated.

After welcoming the audience of some 700-800, and viewing the film, he introduced me, and we sat and had a conversation about the issues raised in the movie. We then opened it up to questions from the audience, which were thoughtful and substantive. No hecklers! It was a wildly diverse audience, keenly interested in the Church and its impact on those marginalized for one reason or another.

Sir Ian had told me about a rarely-heard speech written by Shakespeare (the ONLY composition preserved in his own handwriting, and under glass at the British Museum), and included as part of a play written by a group of playwrights. In the play, the people of London have rioted, demanding that all foreigners be expelled from London and from England. Sir Thomas More comes out on a balcony to address the angry mob, and delivers a speech urging the welcoming of strangers, and cautioning them that they too, someday, in some other context, might be considered "the other." They too might someday pray for compassionate treatment of "the other." I had asked Sir Ian to deliver this soliloquy as a way to end the evening. (He had recited it for me when we had dinner, and I was stunned by its relevance to our current situation.)

As we closed the evening, I asked Ian to share this recitation with us. He stepped forward to the edge of the stage, away from the microphones, and proceeded to fill the theatre with his distinctive and thrilling voice, becoming Sir Thomas More as we watched and listened. It was a breathtaking moment none will soon forget.

After the hectic and tense nature of the day before, this was a relaxed, joyful and celebrative evening of good will and hope. With God and Gandalf on my side, how can I fail?!

For the past couple of days, Mark and I have been secluded with friends in an undisclosed location, delighting in the English countryside, taking long walks and getting much needed rest. Our friends have cooked us gourmet meals, taken us for a wonderful visit to Kings College, Cambridge, and pampered us in every way. They are among the many supporters who have been so generous, welcoming and supportive. We are grateful to them and to God for this time of rest and rejuvenation, before heading to Canterbury tomorrow (Friday).

As we said grace over dinner last evening, we prayed for the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the bishops beginning their retreat in Canterbury. It feels VERY strange to be cut off from them, for the first time since my consecration. I look forward to connecting with my brothers and sisters of my own House of Bishops, and to whatever lies ahead.

Keep those prayers coming, especially as we head to Canterbury, as both pilgrims and missionaries.