Friday, July 18, 2008
Be Not Afraid
I've been sitting on my deck, drinking my morning coffee and listening to the sound of silence in my neighborhood. It's so hot and humid the birds don't even have the energy to chirp, much less fly.
The only real sound is that of the morning psalmody of the crickets, half the choir protesting the weather, the other half chanting for rain on alternate verses.
It's a good place for me to consider my travel to England in a little less than 48 hours.
In the midst of the hot silence, I've been hearing the words of Bishop Gene in his sermon at Putney last Sunday evening. "Be not afraid," he said.
He reminded us that those words form the 'bookends' of the life of Jesus. When the angel came to Mary to announce His conception, when the angels went to the shepherds to announce His birth, when He and His apostles faced a storm on the water, when He came to them in every post resurrection appearance, those three words were always spoken:
Be not afraid.
I admit to having fears about Lambeth a few weeks ago. Fear was the motivating factor to do the "Christmas in July" fundraiser to keep Bishop Gene safe while at Lambeth.
Even though I knew how the episode would end, when I saw the heckler at the church in Putney, I admit that I could feel my fists clench and my stomach knot itself in fear.
I also admit to no small fear about the safety of my colleagues and myself, who might be considered "collateral damage" by the crazies that are always attracted to the church's once-a-decade Circus Maximus. This year, they are even meeting under a Big Blue Tent. It's all a bit frenetic and crazed.
Experience is a stern, unforgettable teacher. I've had more than my share of experiences where violence was present. I know what it can do. I have scars that are visible and some that are not from previous encounters with the lash of violence.
Be not afraid.
After much prayer and love and support from many of you, I can truthfully say that I am not afraid. I can say with all integrity the words Bishop Gene spoke, "I am going to Lambeth and I am not afraid." I say it as truth and I say it as prayer.
If I am honest, however, I must admit to a few waves of anxiety now and again. They are not paralyzing waves. I just recognize them when they come, thank them for the heightened awareness that anxiety always brings as an unexpected gift, and move on with my task.
I admit that I have a fear about Lambeth but it really doesn't have anything to do with safety or security to anyone's body. I am more concerned with what the bishops will do at Lambeth to the soul of the Anglican Church.
My worst fear is that they will emerge from the Big Blue Tent ("Hogwash", as I've named it), all starry-eyed, holding lit candles against the dark night of the threat of schism, singing Kumbya in four part harmony (you KNOW how clergy love to sing).
There can be no doubt after the so-called Jerusalem Declaration that we are in schism. 'Realignment' is the language of snake-oil salesmen.
Yes, in the face of schism, it's important to begin talking about rebuilding the communion and getting clear about what it is we believe. It's too soon - much too soon - to enter into a covenant (if that's even a good idea at all for Anglicans).
It's time to work for Christian unity, but that process can not be rushed.
I'm all for Christian unity, but not at the expense of honesty.
I'm all for Christian unity, but not as a cheap bargain in trade for the compromise of justice and the dignity of every human being.
I'm all for Christian unity, but not at the sacrifice of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments and sacramental rites of the church.
I pray that bishops and primates will be brave enough to tell their truth, even if it makes their sisters and brothers angry.
I pray that bishops and primates will be bold enough to hear the truth of their sisters and brothers and respond - not react - in love, even if that love needs to be 'tough'.
I pray that the good women and men who have been elected or appointed to positions of power and authority in the councils of the church will exercise the leadership of their roles instead of playing "Mr/Ms. FixIt."
I pray they will not cover the abscess of schism with the deception of 'realignment' and leave it to fester after leaving Lambeth.
I pray they will face into the reality of the deep wound that has been inflicted in the common life of our faith and tend to it with courageous mercy and bold compassion.
I pray that they will be able to hold in fond esteem as well as in clear accountability those of their brothers who have chosen not to be with them and work for the justice and peace of God and get on with the work of the mission and ministry of Christ Jesus.
I pray they will be able to bid a fond farewell to their brothers who have chosen to walk another path, helping them to see that there are many paths but one way to God, which is the way of justice, compassion and humility, not prejudice, retaliation and humiliation.
I pray they will be able to move beyond inclusion, beyond the Windsor Report and various recent statements and pontifications made from Tanzania and Jerusalem, and into the Way, the Truth and the Life of Christ Jesus who is Love Incarnate, Love Divine.
I pray that the bishops and primates will be so inspired after their MDG walk next Sunday that they will form partnerships across the vast chasms of their theological and ecclesiological differences and do good work in the name of Jesus, so that all who seem them may give honor and glory to God.
These petitions are part of my Lambeth Prayer, which can be summed up in three little words:
Be Not Afraid.