Friday, August 1, 2008
Goodbye, Canterbury; Hello, Scotland!
We left Canterbury yesterday afternoon as the Bishops struggled with the notion of an Anglican Covenant.
Wednesday evening's session with other bishops again went very well. Good attendance, and rich discussion. One particular Indian bishop especially moved me with his own testimony. He rose to speak, dressed in his long white garments. Without any rancor, anger or blame in his voice or on his face, he described the difficulty my election and consecration presented for his life and ministry. It was a beautiful moment of truth telling. He spoke of our very different contexts which made my election seem all right in America and terribly wrong in India. I apologized to him for whatever harm had been done to his ministry by our actions. I told him that I really didn't have the answer to this problem. I longed to talk further with him, and it made me realize again what I was missing by not being included in the conference. I told him that what I DID know was that he must continue being the Church in his context and that we must continue being the Church in ours. And how that plays itself out must be left in God's hands. In the meantime, we must hold onto one another as best we can.
I also told him that my own life and ministry would be profoundly changed by listening to him. I will carry his pain and life-made-more-difficult with me in my own ministry. Surely this kind of honest exchange is at the heart of whatever Communion means. Not that we have all the answers, but that we bear each other's pain. I have heard things like this before, but the miracle of his words were that they were said with love, absent of rancor and blame. Just a description of what is. Afterwards, he came up and thanked me, patted me on the arm, and assured me of his prayers. Surely, if Communion means anything, it includes this.
The kids from Western Michigan put on a stunning performance of "Seven Passages" on Thursday night. Every word spoken came either from the Bible or from interviews held with countless people who have struggled with those seven passages which seem to condemn homosexuality and struggled with a Church that uses them to denounce and degrade gay people. The passion and commitment of these kids to a new vision of the Church came through both in their performances and in the Q & A afterwards. I had sent them a "break a leg" bouquet of flowers for their opening. One last round of group photos ended a sublime evening. Another holy moment.
It was hard to say goodbye to the Franciscan brothers, after one last cup of tea following Friday morning prayers. These kind and gentle souls had provided me with a spiritual home during my stay in Canterbury. Their peace contrasted so dramatically with the anxiety of the conference. These too, I will carry in my heart: Austin, the burly linebacker-looking head of the Household, with a voice and manner so gentle it defies description; Colin, a walking-talking hospitality machine, always eager to welcome any traveler; Reg, whom we had feted the day before on the occasion of his 55th anniversary of becoming a brother, who is still writing music in his late 80's; and Max, the novice from Berkeley, California, young and fresh and soaking up the wisdom of his older brothers. I shall miss them all terribly, and will be forever grateful to them for making a space in their chapel, their home and their hearts for me.
Lots of people, including journalists, were asking what I thought the Lambeth Conference had accomplished. Most of them, I suspect, thought the answer is "nothing!" But I disagree. I have said all along, publicly and privately, that this is the part that the Archbishop of Canterbury got exactly right. That while the Conference would produce no legislation, no definitive statements and no decisions, its real "product" would be the deepening of the bonds of affection that MAKE us the Anglican Communion. That won't be enough for those who want to bring all this difficulty to a rapid conclusion, declaring winners on one side and losers on the other. That won't satisfy those who seek a way to punish those who are pushing the boundaries of God's inclusive love. But it's enough for me.
I have frequently recalled Desmond Tutu's simple and wise description of the Anglican Communion. "We meet," he said. Full stop. That's what we do. We hold a common belief and hope in the Risen Christ, and because we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, we meet. We meet, and let God's Holy Spirit work among us, to allow us to see our common humanity, and to discover the Christ in "the other." While that might not look like much to the rest of the world, it is an amazing "product." It is precisely what we need during this difficult time. We don't need -- perhaps cannot possibly discern -- the answers right now. What we DO need and CAN discern, is that we are all in this together. That God IS working God's purposes out, even if we can't always see it. Even if we are in the midst of conflict and pain.
I am not an optimist -- because being an optimist seems to me to be putting our faith in the works of humankind. The evidence is that we're not doing a very good job of it. But being a person of HOPE, means we put our faith in the love of God, and GOD'S ability to bring this to its rightful conclusion, in God's own time. I leave this Lambeth Conference as a person of hope.
I was also asked by several people whether or not my own witness, and that of other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, had been "worth it," and "effective." If I've learned anything over the last five years, it is that I am not responsible for how my words and actions are received and whether or not they make a difference. I can only be responsible for (and judge myself by) the faithfulness with which I make my witness to the love of God working in my own life. I am proud to have stood with the people of Integrity, Claiming the Blessing, the Chicago Consultation, Inclusive Church and Changing Attitudes, as we all have made that witness, loud and clear. It was VERY interesting to me to look at the faces of those at the conference -- many, many of which were somber, sad and tense. In contrast, the faces of lgbt people and our allies, looked joyful, happy, even radiant. I wondered, which vision of the church are people drawn to? That which produces a solemn and morose countenance, or one which produces joy and radiance? Gay and lesbian Christians KNOW what it is like to be rescued from shame and guilt, and to walk in the light of God's redeeming love, and seem to show it in every moment. That's the church I want to be in, don't you?
Upon our arrival back in London, our happy little band of travellers (pictured above) had to say goodbye to our driver. We've dubbed ourselves the "Fab Four," and I must say we have become a real community. Richard, our driver, is one of the perkiest, happiest cherubs ever to walk the planet. With his Cockney accent and effervescent sense of humor, he added so much to our little band of men. He (and we) were nearly in tears as we said goodbye yesterday. Terry, my security person, is a big, football-lineman looking sort of guy, but a big teddy bear of a guy inside. This, I think, has been a real eye-opening experience for him. He's new to this "gay thing." He's had a crash course in this side of culture and the oppression we experience from the world and the Church, and he shakes his head and says, "I just don't understand all the hatred toward you guys." He has taken such good care of me, and I am indebted to him for putting himself at risk for me. Mike, my press person, has been the purveyor of good news interviews and media connections. He has helped get our story out to the world. His cell phone is nearly permanently glued to his ear, and he has worked tirelessly to field, screen and help me choose the best venues for getting the word about God's love out to the world. What a funny little band of men we are. Even here, God's love has worked to change each of us. None of us is worthy of such a community of love, and yet, there it is. We will be brothers for life.
Now, we're off to Scotland. I will be preaching and celebrating at the Cathedral in Glasgow on Sunday morning. Scotland, the Dean/Provost is eager to tell me, is NOT England! If I didn't believe that already, it was confirmed when he said he would not be able to meet us at the train station, because he was doing a same-sex blessing in the Cathedral at the time of our arrival. Dorothy, I guess we're not in Kansas anymore!
I leave Canterbury and journey to Scotland believing that our witness in Canterbury was worthwhile and holy. I came to do two things: to witness to the joy that is in me because of God in my life, and to be a quiet reminder to those gathered that every bishop worldwide has gay and lesbian people in their pews and they dare not forget that they have taken vows to serve ALL their people, not just some. I think we accomplished both of those things. We'll leave the results up to God.