The plot line of House of Bishop Day 2 was simple but the work was actually even harder than Day 1, which you may recall wasn’t easy.
We started with another good Eucharist in the chapel leading to a meditation on culture by Bishop Wayne Smith of Missouri. Bishop Smith recalled how he had grown up in West Texas where he did not fit or belong and yet in a deep sense it is still home. He then described St. Louis in all its complexity and noted how he does not fit there either and yet he loves it. St. Louis too, for better or worse, has become home.
It is a poignant but necessary place to be, this belonging and not belonging, this one foot firmly in but the other foot awkwardly out. If we do not make the world, and the specific part of the world we occupy, our home, we cannot speak to it, we will have no chance to be heard, we will be outsiders with no real stake in the game or right to an opinion. On the other hand we must be somewhat outsiders in order to have a perspective, in order to be able to see the place, in order to have anything to say.
I was captivated by how truly Bishop Smith was telling my own story. For me it was East Texas and Nevada instead of West Texas and St. Louis, but the confused state of part belonging and part alienation was perfectly familiar. At least for me it is true of episcopacy as well. I feel at once so at home in this vocation and yet it is so utterly foreign to my sense of myself! But Bishop Smith is a wise man and he says this is precisely where I need to be.
The afternoon – I mean the whole afternoon – was devoted to discussion of the report on marriage and the proposed canon revision. We talked about it in table discussion with prescribed questions. We did a long Indaba session. Then we had a plenary session on it. It was intense and draining.
There was no attempt to reach decisions. We did not try to hammer out compromises. There were no deals struck in smoke-filled rooms. The paranoid images of what we do are utterly and completely wrong. Instead, we spoke candidly from the heart even about our own marriages and the strains placed on those relationships by our callings. We spoke of family members who are gay and married and of other family members who are straight and reject marriage as “an archaic institution.” It was all the mix and the muddle of human life, including the feelings of people in the pews.
I was struck by the goodwill and humane gentle spirit of everyone – those we might label liberal and those we might label conservative alike. The one thing I can say for sure is that there are a lot of things to consider here including the issue of what kind of changes need to be constitutional as opposed to canonical. Speaking as one who is an advocate for LGBT inclusion and marriage equality, I want us to move forward on this – but I want us to move forward in the right way, that is to say in a way that will stand up in an ecclesiastical court if challenged, and in a way that will bring as many people along with us as possible.
Our mission is “to reconcile all people (straight and gay, conservative and liberal, Black and White, Protestant and Catholic, etc.) to God and each other in Christ” – not in a common opinion be it theological or political – but in our shared relationship with Jesus. It is the very point of communion that we should disagree but kneel at the same altar rail. Perhaps this is how all of us, in one way or another, must find the church to be somewhat alien but nonetheless our home. Despite the generous spirit of the people, it was an exhausting afternoon.
We then heard from our ecumenical partners, the Old Catholic Bishops of the Union of Utrecht. I confess I was too tired to give them proper attention. But it was good to have them with us.
I then enjoyed an excellent dinner at an Italian Restaurant with my classmates from the Bishops Class of ’08. We are missing a couple of Bishops who are having health issues. But it was good to be with the bishops I know best this evening after having had lunch at Kanuga with the Bishops of Province 8.
In the evening I attended Jazz Vespers with the Theodicy Jazz Collective from Los Angeles. It was a musically and spiritually beautiful end to the long day. The Vespers was sparsely attended I gather because of some sort of rift – not at all sure who it is between or what it is about.
One thing comes up to separate me from my brother and sister Bishops – not in animosity but in that I feel compelled to take a position that they generally find at least peculiar if not wrong. There have been a couple of Bishops who have gotten in trouble in one way or another. I understand how they must be held accountable. But I feel bound to them by a kind of loyalty, so I have to stand up for them a bit. When I do, the others look askance at me. And they are probably right to do so, but when people have been kind to me or when I have been assigned to partner with them, I feel a bond of fidelity that means I have to stand with them even when they are in trouble. It is a way of being left over from my lawyer days but it feels like human decency to me. So there I am even if it is a bit alienating at times.