I have been quite busy this past week. I’ve seen many clients, and given a presentation at the Department of Education, and worked on house projects. And even with all that busy “doing of life”, I can’t ever escape the constant call to show up and pay attention to my spiritual self as well. And my spiritual thoughts have drifted overseas to England where the bishops of the Anglican Communion are coming together in Canterbury to work, pray, sing and otherwise hob-nob with each other.
Already I have read what’s been happening on the inside of the bishop bash. It sounds like this is an incredible chance for those from the privileged world to meet their equals from the not-so-privileged countries, and both sides can learn and gain much from each other’s experiences of the Bible and its relevance in the lives of their people. And it seems the Bishops are also getting some schooling in what exactly their roles can or should be within their provinces and dioceses. All of this sounds like a chance for some genuine personal and spiritual growth.
And I ache as I think about the one who has been specifically and intentionally excluded. For many days now, when I have stopped to pray for those at Lambeth, I have found myself weeping about Bishop Gene Robinson’s place on the outside, “the fringe” as it’s called of Lambeth in the Marketplace. His rejection from the party has felt much bigger than simply rejection of “Gene, the Gay Bishop”. It sent a chill to any “out” person in the church that our earthly reward for living our lives in truth of who we are is too threatening to the straight majority, and will stir things up too much, and we must be kept locked outside the gate so as not to disrupt decorum. How insulting and un-Christ-like can you get?
But this morning, I woke up with another thought, one that takes the tears of hurt and turns them into the soothing waters my heart needs if I’m going to offer any further prayers for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and any of the others attending Lambeth and be genuine in my petitions.
Painful as it is to know that my brother-in-Christ is left out….what if it really is God’s will? What if God, a power of wisdom beyond wisdom, has a plan at work here, and if I quit my own gnashing of teeth, I might realize that the Holy Spirit is doing some business that I might not now understand?
At a press conference, the Bishop of New Jersey was asked a question about Bishop Robinson’s exclusion. The Bishop, who had waxed eloquent about how wonderful the experience of Lambeth had already been, began to speak about his personal disappointment that Gene is not with them….and then began to choke up, and had to stop to regain his composure. Clearly, the pain is felt by those on the inside as well.
What if the Bishop of New Jersey is not alone? What if others are, or will be, sensing that there is something not quite right here? That a sheep has gone missing, and needs to be called back? What if they start looking at the Gospel of John and the story of Jesus’ talk with the Samaritan woman and see not only the need to include and engage women in the church, but to include and engage all minorities…even the LGBT community in the invitation to drink of the living water? What if Bishop Robinson’s exile serves as the necessary “outward and visible sign” that some bishops in the Communion need in order to see that it’s not enough to give lip service to inclusion, but they must take action and include those they’ve been content to ignore, or sweep under the carpet?
As these thoughts rattled around in my brain, the number one hit on the juke box in my head began again:
God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year.
God is working his purpose out
and the time is drawing near.
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be;
When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
And the waters cover the sea.
I have no way of knowing if this is indeed a design of God’s will to keep Bishop Robinson out. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert on the mind of the Almighty. But my sense is the Holy Spirit may use this as a teaching moment for everyone…on the inside and the outside…if they just have the wisdom to stay awake, and pay attention. I doubt there will be any change in the hearts of those outside the USA who are so adamantly opposed to the New Hampshire bishop. Many of them don’t like our female Presiding Bishop much either, and so c’est la vie.
But maybe, just maybe, some more members of the House of Bishops from this country will have to examine their special place of inclusion at Lambeth and ask, “Why not him? Is he not my brother? Is he not my neighbor?” …and then, “Have I been doing the same thing in my own diocese toward LGBT people seeking greater participation in the church?” May such questions lead to wisdom for those with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to feel God’s inclusive love for everyone.