Wednesday, July 23, 2008

God is good. All the time.

The busyness and tension of the last couple of days have kept me from blogging. Now there seems so much to catch up on, it is daunting. Some highlights....

Early morning prayers with the Franciscans continue to feed and nourish me. Approaching via the narrow and empty streets of Canterbury, arriving at the gate, left open for me by the brothers, proceeding across the quiet and narrow river, into the meadow of wildflowers glistening in the morning sun, and into the chapel where Christians have been praying for 700+ years. As I sit quietly in prayer with the brothers, doves are cooing overhead, and the babbling river over which the chapel is built makes its own peaceful rhythm.

In reciting the psalms, the brothers employ a practice that has never really worked for me -- until now. The long and pregnant pause between lines of the psalms has always seemed to me, observed in large groups, to be artificial and distracting (more worried that I'm going to start too soon and stick out like a sore thumb). But here, it is an entirely different spiritual practice. It's as if the brothers and I have become one breathing organism, finding a breathing and speaking rhythm that brings us intimately together. Rather than a distraction, it is an embodiment of the oneness life in Christ promises with one another.

As an American, I suppose, I want to voice meaning in each word, but the flatness with which the brothers recite the psalms make a strange sense to me. The reciting of the psalms becomes less about what the words mean, and more about the unity with which we are reciting them. Sounds strange, even for me to be saying. But it works. Powerfully, prayerfully and intimately.

In the intercessions rota, we happen to pray for the Francisans in the Solomon Islands, where I visited last November. A holy and unexpected coincidence (although since being here, I heard someone say that "coincidences are God's way of keeping a low profile!"). Those brothers, halfway around the world, are collected into our presence, and the world seems unexpectedly one.

Emerging from the Greyfriars, after a morning cup of tea, into the now-busy streets of Canterbury is a prelude to the tension and drama that awaits me "up on the hill" at the University of Kent campus and the Lambeth Conference. I try to take some of the peace I've found at Greyfriars with me.

The day is littered with chance meetings with brother and sister bishops from the Episcopal Church -- always helpful and comforting to me. There are the chance meetings with others from around the Communion -- some warm and friendly and supportive, some averting their eyes when they see me coming, choosing to withhold returning even a smile in passing.

Almost invariably, though, I am stopped by each of the conference stewards -- mostly college-aged young people from England and around the Communion, who want to shake my hand and tell me of their support. These young people are so interested in the Church, so committed to being here and helping in any way, yet mystified by some of the words and behaviors they witness, all in the name of the Church. They want me to know how much they are praying for me. The fellow behind the cafe counter in the Marketplace insists that I accept a cappuchino he has made for me, a free gift he insists. Many want their pictures taken with the Bishop of New Hampshire, as if it will be a reminder of something important and hopeful for them. I am awed and honored by their interest and their kindness, and am reminded that "my congregation" right now is anyone who will listen and engage. Being "on the Fringe" is a blessing indeed.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I was scheduled to make an address at the University of Kent's Law School's Centre for the Study of the Law, Gender and Sexuality. It was an oversubscribed event, with a queue of people on a waiting list, hoping for a seat. Young and old, churched and unchurched, faithful and skeptical. It is an amazing gathering, and our conversation is robust, thoughtful and challenging.

Just before entering the hall, I receive news that the Archbishop of Sudan, claiming many in the Global South supporting him, has called for my resignation as Bishop of New Hampshire. The Bishop of Fort Worth adds that those who consecrated me ought to recognize how unwelcome THEY are at Lambeth and should leave.

I have decided not to make any official kind of response. It seems to me that the challenge is not so much to me as it is to the Episcopal Church, and specifically to its House of Bishops, our polity as a Church, and the canons which were followed to the letter in my election and consecration.

But I will reflect on a few questions raised and thoughts I've had since.

First, this is also about the faithful people of New Hampshire who called me to be their bishop. Everyone seems to forget that I am not here representing myself, but rather all the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, with whom it is my privilege to minister in Christ's name. They have called me to minister with them as their Bishop, and suggestions that I resign ignore the vows that I have taken to serve my flock in New Hampshire. I would no more let them down or reneg on my commitments to them than fly to the moon. We may be the one diocese in the entire Communion who is, for the most part, beyond all this obsession with sex and are getting on with the Gospel. They would be infuriated, as well they should be, if I entertained any notion of resigning. And it is not just Gene Robinson who is being denied representation at the Lambeth Conference, it is the people of New Hampshire who have been deprived of a seat at the table.

Second, those calling for my resignation seem to be under the impression that if Gene Robinson went away, that all would go back to being "like it was," whatever that was! Does ANYONE think that if I resigned, this issue would go away?! I could be hit by a big, British, doubledecker bus today, and it would not change the fact that there are faithful, able and gifted gay and lesbian priests of this Episcopal Church who are known and loved for what they bring to ordained ministry, who will before long be recognized with a nomination for the episcopate (as has already happened in dioceses other than New Hampshire), and one of them will be elected. Not because they are gay or lesbian, but because the people who elect them recognize their gifts for ministry in that particular diocese. We are not going away, as much as some would like us to. That toothpaste isn't going to go back into the tube! Not if the Bishop of New Hampshire resigns. Not if the "offending" bishops leave the Lambeth Conference. Not ever.

I especially need your prayers tonight. It is the first of two Wednesday evenings in which some American bishops will sponsor a Fringe Event (officially sanctioned, not as part of the conference, but as a Fringe Event), for bishops and spouses of the Communion to come and meet their brother bishop Gene. After four bishops describe the process that led to my election and consent, and testimony, one from a bishop who voted for my consent and one who voted against consent, about my warm welcome into our House of Bishops by virtually all members of our House, even and especially those who voted "no." They will bear witness, I hope, to how the Episcopal Church is forging a model for ministry together, despite our differences. Something the Anglican Communion might want to learn from.

Then I will be introduced -- not by a bishop, but by the people of New Hampshire who elected me. A DVD presentation will include voices of clergy and laity from New Hampshire introducing me and reflecting on our ministry together. I am so proud of that.

I will then attempt to share my own witness to the love of Christ in my own life. It will not be a "sell job," although I'm sure some will judge it to be that. Rather, my one goal is to talk about my own life and journey in Christ in such a way that those who are listening will perceive that the God I know in my own life is the same God they know in THEIR lives. Then we can wrestle with the faithful differences we have in interpreting that God's will for us and for God's church. I feel an enormous weight on my shoulders as this evening approaches, and hence ask for your prayers. I assume that God will, as God has always done, supply me with the words I need. Not MY words, but GOD'S words, as best I can open myself to being a channel for those words. Those who have ears to hear, by the grace of God, will hear.

This has gone on much too long, and I apologize. But as I write these words, my faith in God is strengthened and my spirit is calmed. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "God is good. All the time." I trust that this evening will be no different.