Monday, June 15, 2015

Behold, I make all things new!--a preparation for the 78th General Convention

Today I commented on a national church site on which I spoke to the area of TX in which I now live.  After spending 43 years living outside of TX, and now have returned ostensibly to help our diocese recover our Episcopal identity and to live supposedly happily in retirement, I have had to wake up to some realities that I wasn’t prepared to address when I moved here 5 years ago. 

I have been in NY State, MD, CA in the meantime and have watched our Church grapple with racism, prayer book revision, women’s ordination, Latino inclusion, the addressing of the place of LGBT persons in the church without too much schism.  There is a temptation to believe that there was a time before all of this ‘newness’ began we were all one big happy family.  Actually I have never known the Church without an issue that some said threatened us. And when some of those issues didn’t affect me personally, I understood that the Church needed to make allowances for those who it did. 

Faith demands that we constantly bounce what we know of the Holy One off on how we personally live and how we corporately live in the light of the Gospel, the light of how Christ lived.  The journey of faith is constantly making me face the cool comfortable shadows in which I want to walk so that I can see clearly how I participate in my own enslavement to systems that keep me bound. God’s desire for me is to live in the Light, in a way that proclaims with every step that Christ’s is my life.

 Part of the problem of having preached regularly for most of my lifetime is that over the years I have ingested enough Scripture and been forced to unpeel it from its time and place in order to know what it means some 21 centuries later, is that most of my actions I have to regard through an awe filled lot of messages.  But whenever I begin to hear the other messages about how we need to be people of peace and move slowly, I keep hearing “Behold, I make all things new.” It is from Revelation, not my favorite book of the Bible.  Also one of the most operative passages in my life is “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”. It is in Christ that I begin and I end.  I have no real existence outside of that relationship.  So I know I am beloved by God.  And I know that I am in Christ.  But as a priest I am required to uphold a Church too.  I am not solely my own person.  When I don my collar, I must speak for the Church too.  I cannot go off on my own personal journey without the community of faith which
ordained me.  Do I have a personal conscience?  Of course!  And I live it out always.  I am no good to Church or Christ if I do my own thing in isolation or without thought.
At the same time, different places have different ways of going about living out the same Gospel that challenge me.  And perhaps it is the gap between those who have been formed in this part of the Church and those who have been formed by other regions of the Church that drives up my wariness.

The Episcopal Church has always been a place that accepted ‘local custom’ as a natural way to live out one’s faith.  What has not been proclaimed as sinful is often permissible no matter if it appears to be wrong.  It allows each region of the Church to grapple with issues in due time and often I am so impatient. I would so like the Church where I live to be like the Church I came from, or experienced elsewhere.  But it doesn’t happen that way.  And nothing that I can do will change others overnight.

As the Church gets ready for its 78th General Convention, our triennial all Church meeting in Salt Lake City at the end of the month, many of the issues that have faced the Church over the past 50 years will once more be raised.  I have been a part of much of that history and live with decisions made in their light. And they have been
momentous issues.  Our Church has had a reputation for taking the bull by the horns and addressing the hard issues that face us.  I am proud of that record not because those decisions are liberal or conservative, but because we as a faith community have done hard work in trying to speak of how Christ is present to us.  After the 2003 Convention, those in the pews knew that being LGBT was ‘acceptable’ when a gay man was elected bishop.  After the 1976 convention we knew that women could be priests even though there were those who would not allow it in their own regions.  As a faith community we said what the ideal was whether it was what existed or whether it was even being tried in the local areas.

That has worked for the past 50 years.  Local ‘custom’ has often flown in the face of all the legislative work that Deputies and Bishops could work out in their 2 weeks of
legislative process.  However, there is a problem when local practice tops the rulings of General Convention.  And that is what happened here in Fort Worth.  The ‘local custom’ was at such odds with the workings of rest of Church that the leadership of nine years ago could not accept the decisions of the larger body.  It brought schism when it needed only to have been a point of disagreement and discussion. When we see such issues as life threatening—or soul threatening, there is no place to go except to leave. And while I find real exception in the way that the then leadership did it, I do not find it shameful that they had to leave.  The experience of Church in the local custom was at such variance that the center could no longer hold. 

A response to my comment on the website was one in which the responder admitted that he is opposed to mine and that because of his opinions he is feeling that he cannot find a ‘home’ in the Church any longer because of his holding his particular position.  It touched my own experience of exclusion in the Church because I have held the opposite view.  I hurt for him.  At the same time, I do not require him to renounce his position.  I do not demand that he leave the Church or be turned away from the sacraments and the life of the Church because he disagrees with me.  And that is why I continue to speak up to the growing backlash to LGBTQ presence in the Church and their service in the ordained ministry.  I have no problem that my colleague has a different opinion.  I actually relish it.  It means that the Church is alive and well.  But when his opinion must carry with it exile, the exclusion minorities in the Church, the loss of faithful people who are excluded because of his opinion, then I take issue.  We may disagree, but we may not exclude and that is what the LGBT movement has been about. 

Whether Same-Sex marriage passes at GC, isn’t that important.  Whether we restructure the Church is mere moving the deck chairs on the Titanic in my opinion. The Church that I have known over the past 40 years is changing so fast that I can’t keep up.  I just hope they can continue to send my pension check.  But the faith is still there.  The journey with Christ is still there no matter how it is packaged.  “Behold, I make all things new” is still the journey of the Church no matter what it looks like.  It is still the willingness us of all to listen for those places where those who are denied access to that message and flag them for the Church.  It is willingness to continue to be the outward and opening of life in Christ that will forever call us to this journey no matter if we have buildings or even altars.  It will be those of us who can hear that call who will build the new church, the new diocese, the reign of God.

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