Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A neat and tidy bundle? I hope not.

So much happening since our return to Canterbury.

Every few hours or so, I check in with all the people involved with advocacy for inclusion -- the hard working folks from our own Integrity, Claiming the Blessing and the Chicago Consultation, and the hospitable English groups, Inclusive Church and Changing Attitudes. If only you could witness the long hours and blessed devotion these people are giving, it would inspire all of you -- especially lgbt people around the world. In addition to the Americans and Brits, many lgbt people are here from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and other places, displaying the kind of courage you only read about in books! They are here, witnessing to the love of God in their lives, despite incredible danger to themselves for doing so. We should all keep them in our prayers when they return to their own countries which are hostile to the lives of integrity they are living. They are living proof of the lie often told that "we don't have any gay or lesbian people here."

During one of those confidential and necessarily private meetings with an African cleric yesterday, I had one of the miraculous moments that are provided when two people who disagree, sit down and discover not only one another's humanity, but brotherhood in Christ. While the details of this meeting must be kept confidential, suffice it to say that we -- of course -- discovered that we have far more in common than that which separates us, and left as friends and brothers in Christ. Oddly enough, one of the things we found we had in common was the condemnation and derision from those who want to divide our Church. He was and continues to be the target of distortion, lies and misinformation from those who see his openness to listening to those of us working for inclusion as an affront to God. He witnessed to the fact that it has given him a window into what lgbt people experience every day -- and it is not pretty. I was honored to be in his presence, and blessed by his willingness to talk. It will be one of my most cherished experiences here.

I was approached by one man, a youngish English priest whose parishes are near Canterbury. He timidly asked if I had just a minute to talk. Of course I did. It is precisely why I'm here. He described himself as an evangelical, having had a powerful conversion experience as a young adult. Upon moving to his new parishes, he discovered that he had a few gay couples in his congregations -- and this sent him back to the scriptures to study and pray, to ask if what he had always been taught about homosexuals was really what the scriptures meant, in an effort to be a better pastor. He has newly come to an accepting attitude toward those gay communicants, but was feeling guilty about leaving his old understandings behind, and wondering if he was moving in the right direction. He has come to believe that God's love is far more expansive than he first imagined, and wondered aloud if there were really two Gods being worshipped in the Church. I told him what I believe -- that no, there is only one God, but our ability to comprehend that God goes through lots of stages, becoming ever more expansive as God reveals God's self to us, directly and through others. Here was a young priest, open to change and growth, open to God's patient teaching and open to the notion that God's love might be more profoundly extravagant than he ever thought possible. Just your common, ordinary, everyday miracle.

Rumors abound here, spawned by the pervasive anxiety, especially from the higher-ups. If I were everywhere I'm reported to be, doing the subversive and destructive things I'm reported to be doing, I'd be even more exhausted than I am! Rumors of a predicted confrontation between African bishops attending a reception hosted by the Presiding Bishops and American bishops, by those Africans who oppose any association with us, caused a frenzied gathering of media, hoping to catch all the ugliness on film -- laughable and silly, given that nothing of the sort happened, with no footage to put on the evening news. I was said to be on my way, to add to the melee. Another good media story, spoiled by the facts.

There was much anxiety and dread surrounding news that the Archbishop of Canterbury would be giving a second, unscheduled "presidential address" last night after Evensong in the Big Tent. Upon reflection about his remarks, which you can find online, I think it was a really good summary about where the conference finds itself. The Archbishop, in a risky endeavor on his part (which he acknowledged), attempted to characterize the "two sides" of this debate, what each is feeling, fearing and hoping. While I might have charactized them differently, they were fairly accurate descriptions of that which counfounds us here -- how to learn to live with one another despite our substantive differences.

The only thing with which I disagree with the Archbishop over, is his conclusion: that all this points to the need for a Covenant and a means whereby some more centralized authority could and would pass judgment on developments within the communion, seeking to settle these differences once and for all, rather than let them be.

It reminded me of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, whose working group (they labored for three weeks!) on human sexuality produced a brilliant statement -- which did not seek to SOLVE the problems and differences between us on the issues of sexuality, but rather merely DESCRIBED where we are, with several different approaches held by large groups within the Communion. We now know that the 1998 Lambeth Conference swept aside this measured and fine report, and replaced it with the draconian Resolution 1.10, which has plagued us ever since, declaring homosexuality to be incompatible with Scripture. That conference gave in to the temptation to try to settle these complex issues by fiat, once and for all, rather than merely acknowledging, and offering to God, our different perceptions of the mystery of sexuality and its ramifications for Christian life. The Archbishop of Canterbury last night did a good job of once again outlining those differences, and I thank him for that. I see the call for a Covenant, no matter how worthy in its intentions, as another attempt to settle our differences rather than learning to live with them and with one another in charity and generosity of spirit. I hope that the 500 year Anglican tradition of living together under a big umbrella prevails and that the urge to settle things once and for all is resisted.

Yesterday, my spirits were once again lifted by young people. A theatre troup from Western Michigan is here to present a drama, called "Seven Passages" (about those seven dreaded verses of scripture that purport to relate to homosexuality), which will be performed tonight and tomorrow night. I met with them during one of their rehearsals. It was a magical and delightful time, meeting with these young people who have struggled with scripture and what it means for them and for their gay and lesbian friends. These are kids who love the Church and are so distressed at the harm they have endured at its hands. Yet here they are, making their own witness to the love of God in their lives. One young African-American man told me of his own coming out to his mother, after she saw the play. She and his father, just released after eleven years in prison, both expressed their undying and unswerving love for him -- much to his amazement and joy. More miracles.

Things are both winding down and heating up here. Everyone knows that the end is near. No, not THAT end; just the end of the Conference. There is the usual wondering, that always happens towards the end of any conference: "Is this all there is?!" And the nagging question of "Shouldn't we have done more?" My sense is that it is quite enough -- to meet one's fellow bishops from across the communion, to listen intently to their realities where they are doing ministry, to deepen the bonds of affection between us, and to leave here renewed in the knowledge that God is working God's purposes out, in many different contexts, in many different ways, and on many different timelines. That should be sufficient, and participants should leave without trying to solve everything with an ill-advised Covenant which will attempt to tie everything up into a neat and tidy package. My experience tells me that the Christian life is seldom neat and tidy, and the business of loving the world that God has made, and every person in it, is messy and difficult. Attempts to clean up the "mess" may be at cross purposes with what God has in mind.

Thank you for all your prayers. You cannot imagine how much they mean to me. You are joined in them by so many of my brother and sister bishops who have sought to "keep me in the loop," despite a grueling and overly-filled schedule. Running into them on the street or in the marketplace, and having them tell me of their constant thoughts for me, has meant so much to me. Ours is a goodly fellowship, and I am honored to be counted among them, even when separated. Special thanks and appreciation go to Tom Ely, Bishop of Vermont, and his wife, Ann, both dear friends, who have gone out of their way to keep me connected to what is going on and to listen to my own feelings as I navigate these waters. In return, I introduced them last night to the best Sticky Toffee Pudding in Britain, a treat they shall not soon forget!