Friday, July 17, 2009

Remaining Hopeful, Part Three

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’

But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

--Jeremiah 1: 4-10

I LOVE when Scripture comes at the most opportune moments! This reading from Jeremiah was assigned for "William White Day" in the Episcopal Church. Huh? Who? William White, the very first Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church... now known as The Episcopal Church... and the chaplain of our Congress starting in 1777. He's credited with the creation of the governance structure of our church that exists to this day of a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies made up of clergy and laity. So, how appropriate to have had his Saint's Day at the conclusion of our 76th General Convention in Anaheim. The collect for his day includes this:

O Lord, who in a time of turmoil and confusion raised up your servant William White, and endowed him with wisdom, patience, and a reconciling temper, that he might lead your Church into ways of stability and peace: Hear our prayer, and give us wise and faithful leaders, that through their ministry your people may be blessed and your will be done.

I, for one, believe that God bestowed a good dose of William White's energy into this General Convention, leading our Bishops and Deputies to make moves toward reconcilliation with the LGBT faithful that I NEVER thought they would do. As I had to admit to one friend on Facebook, "OK, I will take a side of crow with that cake, please."

We, as a Church, have approved a process for allowing same-gender blessings in dioceses where it is allowed by law; have opened the possibility of another "gay bishop"; have affirmed that people who are transgender deserve the same respect and dignity of every human being as we state so boldly in our Baptismal Covenant; and passed resolutions as prophets to call on Congress to end DOMA*, pass ENDA, and allow immigration for the partners of LGBT Americans. With each day, with each piece of news, I kept wondering if someone was going to pinch me and tell me, "You're dreaming again!" But it all happened. It really did happen. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

And then I opened an email, and I was directed to the pastoral letter from Bishop John Howard on the Diocese of Florida website. It reads in part:

I and the majority of our Florida deputation did not vote in favor of the resolution, fearing that it would be given undue attention, fearing that it could be the occasion for further division in an already divided and hurting Church, and fearing, too, that it would be misinterpreted as saying things that it did not. I am already reading some who are saying that it has ended the resolution of Convention in 2006 when we said that we would exercise restraint in consenting to the consecration of bishops whose manner of life would be unacceptable to our Anglican Communion partners. This resolution does not end that resolve. Only the future can tell just who will and will not be put forward as candidates for the Episcopate or how the Church will deal with them.

I felt the air leaving the balloon. But I read on:

We Florida Episcopalians live under some rules regarding these matters(human sexuality): We will love, respect and care for all of God's people...we will respect the traditional Christian norms and understandings of human sexuality which call us to chastity or to monogamous Christian marriage in ordained ministry and in the blessing of sexual relationships. We will deal with all of these important matters prayerfully, with love, with dignity and in the way in which Jesus Christ has called us: Loving the Lord our God with all that we are and all that we possess and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Balloon flat, and on the ground. As well as the tears rolling down my cheeks.

So, I had to pause. I had to reflect. And I had to ask for advice on "How do I pray for my Bishop?"

More pausing. More reflecting. First, acknowledge the pain I was feeling in having read these words which seemigly dismiss D025 and the other resolutions as "irrelevant". Second, recall my own Lenten practice of asking God to help me with the hardness in my heart. And then remembering that phrase from the previous Lent: "Fast on fear, and feast on faith" and realizing that, in one sentence of his pastoral letter, the Bishop used the term "fearing" three times. So, my starting point in prayer was to ask God to soften his heart and lift the burden of fear from him.

My mentor suggested I take that same idea a step further, and imagine one of my worst fears... such as being told that I will be tossed into a deep lake... because that's where everybody else is going. (Note: since I am not a good swimmer, this would be quite frightening!) In other words, put myself in his place... real or imagined as it might be... but just know that this is where he is. I balked at first. But then I tried it on in my body. And I realized an important factor in how I venture into "deep lakes".

I don't go in alone.

I always make sure the people with me know that I am, at best, a crappy swimmer, and please don't try to surprise me or "dunk me" or do anything to me that might make me panic. I am careful, and usually go in slowly, but eventually I will be in the water, and may even dip my head under the water quickly. And while I may never fully relax in the water, I am also enjoying it and realizing that I have support in case I should get into trouble.

I think, to return the metaphor back to the Bishop, the answer may lie in the need for me... and for all of us who are the more experienced and skilled swimmers in these particular waters, to assure the ones who are deathly afraid of drowning that we will be in the lake with them. We will watch out for them, and we promise that we know their fear; hence we won't start playing impish dunking games to panic them needlessly. It's OK. The water feels good, and once you've been in it, your body temperature will adjust and it won't feel so cold.

In other words, those of us who have felt "unheard" for so long know that place of hurt and fear. And even when we were in that place, we still stayed in that particular lake, swimming as best we could under the circumstances. So we, of all people, are the ones who will make sure nobody drowns. It is the Christian thing to do.

God calms and controls the waters of chaos. And God is alive and well and working God's purpose out with what has happened in Anaheim... just as at other conventions and Lambeth conferences. I'm reminded of the passages of how the weak and the strong must be there for one another. We all, at one time or another, will face that feeling that we're in a place of weakness when we're in the minority. But, speaking as one of those made strong by the resolutions in Anaheim, I will support the weak with my offer to not let you drown. Just dip a toe into the water.
I am with you. And so is God.

*UPDATE: just read through Intergrity's listserve that the resolution on DOMA passed the House of Deputies but then went to the House of Bishops Executive Council. Still, this is amazing what they've done for LGBT Episcopalians.

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