The Rt. Rev'd Heather Cook, 58 year old Bishop Suffragan of The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly driving drunk and sending text messages when she struck and killed cyclist Thomas Palermo last month.
She faces numerous other charges, including leaving the scene of the fatal accident in North Roland Park and driving under the influence. Both the manslaughter and leaving the scene charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said that Cook's breath alcohol level was 0.22 percent, nearly triple the legal limit in Maryland, and that she was text-messaging at the time of the collision.
|Bishop Cook's booking picture|
I can tell you from personal experience visiting people there that the place, BCJ, is something akin to the second circle of Dante's Inferno, where those "souls are blown back and forth by the terrible winds of a violent storm, without rest".
It has to be one of the noisiest places in the universe, a constant howl and growl of women's wailing and cursing and cussing, to the steady beat of banging and clanging. It sounds like that no matter what hour of the day or night I've happened to be there.
Social media has been lit up like New York City during the holidays with constant chatter about what "should" happen now. What she "should" say. What she "should" do. IMMEDIATELY.
Even how she "should" pray and what she "should" pray for.
And, here I thought it was bad when the news first broke, before she was charged.
Indeed, the amount of "shoulding" has been fairly amazing, and from otherwise fairly intelligent and well educated sources who seem oblivious to the fact that "shoulding" on someone only makes the person who is "shoulding" seem worse than the person who is the object of the "should".
As my grandmother used to say, "Whenever you try to make someone else look bad, you never make yourself look good. " And, she was absolutely right.
Predictably, the drum beat which started even before the facts were known and the charges were made, which call for accountability - and change - of the "vetting process" that allowed her to be elected has also increased at various sites on the internet.
As if that might have prevented this - or any other future - tragedy.
Maybe it could have. Maybe not.
Which, I hasten to add, ought not exclude alcoholics in recovery from ordination to the diaconate or priesthood or consecration to the episcopacy. We might want to get a little smarter and turn to Addiction Recovery experts regarding some advice on time lines and - I hate to use the word - 'profile' of what someone in "good recovery" looks like.
At any rate, focusing in on the "diocesan vetting process" is a fairly convenient - and, in fact, pretty transparent - place to hang all the raw emotion - the shock, anger, sense of betrayal, embarrassment - which this incident has surfaced.
It's a safe, even respectable, place to be, a place where you can even shout, "THE BISHOP IS FORGIVEN" and then attack her by attacking the process by which we elect leaders in the church. And then attack the people who say privately, "Psssst! Do you see what you're doing?"
Another place is social media: Facebook, Twitter, the comment section on blogs, etc. It has become what I call, "The Wild, Wild West." There's a shoot-em-up-bang-bang every time you turn around - especially on one site called, "Episcopalians On FaceBook. (EOFB)"
And, that's when there isn't a controversial incident.
Some of those folks can get worked up into a white hot lather about the most mundane things - like whether or not we should kneel or stand at the communion rail. We're not "catholic" someone will huff - they STAND for communion. And, off it goes until one of the six beleaguered, blessed "administrators" steps in and tries to calm everyone down, sometimes having to remove the entire thread before the pitch forks and torches come out and a lynching mob begins to form.
Seriously. There have been some good discussions over there, but it is not for the faint of heart.
The former bishop of NY was quoted in the NY Times and has been roundly condemned for asking of his critics, "Who are these people?" I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I have read something on EOFB, scratched my head, and asked the same question.
Yes, yes, and yes: Social Media can be used as a force for good. As a vehicle of social change. I agree. I'm limiting my remarks in this post to the bad stuff that can happen there, too. Which, I hope, will be a vehicle for some social changes for the good.
On my blog post, "The Bishop and the Cyclist", there have been over 35,000 visits to date since I first posted it on 12/31. And, there have been almost 130 comments left. I've deleted over 20 of them. I had to. They were surpassing mean and hateful - about the bishop. Oh, and moi.
See? I am obviously using the baptismal covenant to try to "suppress the truth" - or at least stop conversation which would lead to The Truth" - and "circle the wagons" to "protect Mother Church" and "cover the church's ass" of any culpability in this horrible tragedy.
These folks wave around the banners of "The Truth" and "Honesty" in much the same way some of the members of the Tea Party use the First Amendment.
Except they can spell.
As one dear friend once said to me, "You have the absolute right to wave your arms around as wildly as you wish, but that right stops at the end of my nose."
Sure, you have the right to vent your spleen and say whatever you wish to say about whatever topic you wish to
Continue and I either hit "delete" or "spam" and, if you persist, "block".
I admit to laughing out loud, full throat, when a few folk commented to complain that I didn't post their comment which was filled with hateful stuff toward the bishop and/or me. I mean, after all, they took time out of their day that they will never get back just to tell me how wrong/stupid/hateful I am and how I'm telling everyone not to judge except, see? you're judging me, you hypocrite!
Sweet Baby Jesus and all the angels that rock Him to sleep at night! Doesn't that just make you laugh right out loud and slap your thigh while you're doing it? I mean, there's no mistaking the indignation. You won't print my nasty-ass comment?! How dare you?! Ha!
Somebody's mama raised them much better than that, I'm sure. And, they've had a fairly decent education. They've just lost their minds in all of the emotion and/or drama of the moment, is what.
It's the part of the brain that instinctively reacts to protect and survive. Because it is an automatic response, we don’t even need to think before we act to protect our self when we feel threatened or injured. We "snap". We "bite".
I was trying to suggest to folks that a lot of what we were seeing was "reptilian brain" activity and that we all needed to take a breath, step back, reassess and move our responses up to the neocortex where actual thinking takes place.
Well!!! Some of them are still spewing over that! Good Christian folks, dragging information from one FB site to another like a piece of raw meat to where it's "safe" to have others ridicule it and laugh and take their own bite out of it.
Is this a good thing? I mean, having places on the internet to spew and vent and snap and bite?
I suppose it has its place and function.
I understand Starbucks has an online board where employees can say whatever they want about Starbucks policies without fear of retribution.
You'll forgive me, but I'm just not buying it. I think it is only the fool who believes that whatever she or he prints on Social Media will not come back one day to bite them in the arse. Even on so-called "closed sites" where it is supposedly "safe".
People, people, people: Listen up. Safety - especially on the internet - is an illusion.
There is no "safe space" - not in too many places but especially on the internet.
There are only the limits you put on yourself and others in terms of what you will tolerate.
Or, as Frederick Douglass once said, "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
So, The Episcopal Women's Caucus FaceBook Page is trying a little experiment. We have developed a "Comment Code of Conduct"which has been adapted from the Sojourner Community.
I think it's pretty good, actually. It's based in scripture and is not a demand but rather a suggested way to think before one formulates a response (vs. a reaction). It's pinned on the FB page so it's the first thing you see. Here it is:
I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of this online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree—even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)So, there's an expressed expectation of certain behaviors which folks are asked to consider and consequences if there are serious, repeated abuses.
I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)
I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)
I will not engage in spreading unfounded information/rumors by commenting about anyone who is in involved in alleged legal matters until such time as as all the facts are in and all the involved parties have spoken on the record." (James 3:1-18)
I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by the Administrators and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)
The downside is, if you're not a practicing Christian or a person of faith, this has very little meaning. In fact, those folk feel that they can absolutely ignore it. Then again, so can some practicing Christians. Le sigh.
It's very much a work in process and it will be amended as we progress. I've had this Code on the Comment Section of my Blog for awhile now. Truth be told, it usually only helps after the fact. I simply remind people of the Code and don't think twice when I send their repeated abusive comments to the spam bin and block them from further comments.
My sense is, we've got to start somewhere, with some expectations for behavior and decorum. I mean, we are Anglicans, after all.
Right now, The Episcopal Church has suffered a terrible body blow, which has come, as body blows often do, at time when we're feeling most vulnerable and, in fact, embarrassed.
widely quoted as saying that "There is a possibility that the Anglican Communion will not hold together." Meanwhile, Pope Francis is running around the globe spreading sunshine, lollipops and roses and Roman Catholics (who admittedly deserve a bit of a break) are slapping themselves on the back and even some Episcopalians are saying what we need in a new PB is a Francis. (Male, of course. More "catholic", no doubt. Who cares if he doesn't actually change anything? Just make us feel good about ourselves again.)
Then, there's the whole implosion going on at two of our Episcopal Seminaries and, perhaps, others that are going on more quietly. The seemingly hamfisted administration and bumbling faculty at General Theological Seminary has become nothing less than a huge international embarrassment.
And now, this. THIS! This is a journalistic trifecta: (1) An Episcopal woman bishop. (2) Drinking and texting and leaving the scene of the accident (A WOMAN BISHOP, for God's sake). And, (3) The vehicular manslaughter of a young father of small children.
No wonder our heads are exploding.
So, here I am. Back again. Biretta in hand. Asking us all to reconsider our Five Baptismal Promises. As the days and weeks roll on and the headlines trickle in as this tragedy continues to unfold - "Bishop released on bail." "Bishop resigns." "Bishop defrocked". "Anniversary Memorial Run for Slain Cyclist". "Trial date set for Bishop in Cyclist Hit and Run". "Former Bishop Sentenced" - it will be even more important to remember what we promised at Baptism:
It's important to remember that these are pretty difficult, very serious promises.Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching andfellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in theprayers?People I will, with God’s help.Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, wheneveryou fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?People I will, with God’s help.Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the GoodNews of God in Christ?People I will, with God’s help.Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, lovingyour neighbor as yourself?People I will, with God’s help.Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among allpeople, and respect the dignity of every humanbeing?People I will, with God’s help.
Which is why it's even more important to remember that we can only do them with God's help.
If you can't remember all that, please try to remember this:
Be kind. And, if you can't be kind, please be quiet.Amen.