Monday, July 23, 2012

Shepherds and Sheep

So the week following the end of the General Convention was one of mixed emotions for me.  On the one hand, there was the excitement of knowing that my church was making waves as the largest mainline denomination to move in the direction of greater marriage equality.  We'd also opened the doors of the church wider and deeper to the trans community.  We took stands against bullying and the Defense of Marriage Act. And there is the much talked about decision to allow trial usage of liturgies to bless same-sex unions.

OK, that last one comes with a caveat.  Since it's a "trial" liturgy, it is up to each diocesan bishop to decide whether to give it a test run in their particular area.  Each bishop has had to make this determination and, in the southeastern USA, its been interesting to see where each one of the shepherds has staked out a position.  In Alabama, there is Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan who voted for the liturgy at convention, but won't approve it's usage in Alabama until there has been more dialogue.  In the Central Gulf Coast, Rt. Rev. Philip Duncan, II voted "No" but is allowing very closely-monitored use of the this new thing.  In Georgia, Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase did not vote for the liturgy because he felt it was too much like the marriage rite in the prayer book. But the church has said overwhelmingly, "Yes".   And his response now is, "I don't know."   Then there are those who are denouncing the vote of General Convention and expressing their annoyance.  This would be places like Central Florida, South Carolina... including Upper South Carolina.   As for Florida...

Our bishop told us in a letter dated June 20, 2012, almost two weeks ahead of the convention, that he would be voting, "No" and would not allow the trial use of the same-sex blessing liturgy in our diocese.  And, thus far, this has been the last communication to the people of our diocese on the matter.

As I was posting notices on Facebook about the good news of the General Convention, I was hearing back from some living in our diocese that indicated their frustration with the circumstances of this place.  I have had straight people confide in me that they don't agree with the bishop.  In fact, at an adult forum after church where the actions of General Convention were discussed, a long-time member of my parish took the floor to say that he disagreed with the stance of our bishop, and he wanted all the LGBT faithful to know that they were loved and should not be discouraged.  He must have heard how discouraged some have been.  I can't blame them.  I have felt that, too.  And at times, I still do.  As I've said, it's very hard to be the sheep living in a world where you can see the lush green field of grass from which others are happily grazing only to have the shepherd insist on leading you to the field with the withered and dying weeds.

I have reread the bishop's letter, especially in light of yesterday's readings.  We are using what is called, "Track Two" which follows a "theme" as opposed to a "book" for the lessons from the Hebrew scriptures.  Ours was from the prophet Jeremiah in which he writes:

"I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD."

These words, heard in 21st century queer ears, are the promise that I hold fast to day-in and day-out as I continue this journey with God.    When this promise is re-emphasized in the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want," I hear the constant reminder to put my trust not in rulers of the earth, but in God who is watching, waiting, slow to anger, and yet not forgetting those who are continuously asking the question, "How long?"   

There is no clear-cut answer to that, "How long" question.  The only response seems to be, "As long as it takes."  The Gospel lesson from Mark contained a phrase that caught my attention as I listened:

"As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." 

And I thought, "That's me!"  It would seem we have been through this situation before.  Sheep, left stranded for want of a shepherd, waiting for someone to come along to care for them and lead them to a pasture with green grass. I think this is what exists for those who feel they are the left-behinds in those parts of the church which are not venturing forward into this new territory of blessing same-sex unions.  And I think that's true for those who are living in all of the dioceses that are pursuing this path with lots of caution, or after dialogue, or continued discernment.  There is the response to look at the leader, the shepherd, and say, "We're ready! What gives?"

That's another question that God hears.  For all I know, God is asking that question, too.  Did Christ not feed all those thousands?   Did Christ not come into the world not to condemn, but to save?  Did Christ not make the ultimate sacrifice of His life on a cross, so that all... every single one... might live?   

And God is also meeting each of these bishops wherever they are in their journey... be it in the middle, or sitting at the stop light... and is turning our question of "What gives?" back on us.  Will we who seek justice stay stuck in this place, expecting a different outcome from diocesan quarters by just saying, "What gives?"

A posting from a friend had a saying that seemed to answer this question.   There was a photo of what looked like a Buddhist monk in meditation before a body of water.  The quote on the picture read:

"Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness.  Your job is simply to do your work... Sacredly, Secretly, and Silently... and those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear' will respond."

For me, this was an "A-ha."  Living and moving and having my being with full authenticity  is what will illicit a response.  Drawing people into dialogue is what ultimately matters.  If they happen to wear a purple shirt, that's a bonus.  I can not drag such a person kicking and screaming into a new awareness.  I can, however, continue to present who I am in Christ to all people... including those in the purple shirts... and allow that Christ to shine through me and entice them into a place of sharing, so that we both can see each other, fully and completely.

As St. Paul says to the Ephesians, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."

Can we talk?  Can we listen?  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Flprida is a strange place. But I think it will come around eventually.