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Today was the business
meeting of the House of Bishops.
First we passed the
resolution on our own behavioral norms for Convention, essentially a behavioral
covenant committing us to prayer, direct communication, and respect for those
with whom we disagree.
The next Resolution called on
the Presiding Bishop, in consultation with the President of the House of
Deputies, to appoint a special commission to investigate and report on all
aspects including canonical aspects of situations where church leaders are
“impaired” (a term of art in the canons covering a variety of problems) with
special attention to addiction and substance abuse. While there was no dispute
whatsoever about the need to do this, there was a lot of feeling surrounding
it, so we did a good deal of parliamentary wordsmithing. In retrospect, I think
it would have been better to have an Indaba group about addiction in the church
before taking official action. No legislative or formal action can be a
sufficient container to hold all the feelings and concerns we have. So it would
have been good to share those concerns in a less restrictive conversation.
Still, we took the needed action. As an aside, this is something I wonder about
restructuring the Church. I wonder if formal mechanisms are able to handle the feelings
and relational dynamics at play.
In response to a request from
the anti-racism committee of the Executive Council, we supported the appointment
of a special commission to draft a new pastoral letter on the sin of racism in
light of Ferguson and other recent events that show us something about the
continued racial woundedness we experience.
The ecclesiology committee (Ecclesiology”
is the theological doctrine of the nature of the Church) then asked us to
disseminate their draft report,
Remembering and Reimagining, for further comment and development. That
actually proved a bit controversial over concerns that we might seem to be
endorsing the report prematurely. There must be more going on here than I know
or understand. I gather some of the discomfort relates to the breakaways that
happened a few years ago. In any event, after some more parliamentary tweaking,
we passed the resolution.
Finally, we passed a
Resolution of mourning for those killed, injured, and bereaved in the church
bombings in Pakistan and further expressing support for Pakistani Christians
enduring violent persecution. We have already received a message of
appreciation from the Bishop of Pakistan.
Leaving the business meeting
Bishop Rob Hirschfeld and I recommended new poets to each other. He recommended
Wistawa Szymborska, Poems: New &
Collected. I recommended Franz Wright, Walking
To Martha’s Vineyard and God’s
Over lunch I met with the
Stewardship & Development Committee. Bishop Greg Rickel, who has chaired
this committee in the past and who remains in the thick of the work, briefed us
on what has been going on in recent years and what we may expect in the way of
In the afternoon, Michael
Barlow, the Secretary of General Convention, along with 14-Convention veteran
Bishop Dick Price, and host Bishop Scott Hayashi, gave us a cursory orientation
to General Convention so we can better find our way around and help the
deputies from our dioceses do the same. I really like Michael Barlow. He has
made the Gen Con office considerably friendlier. I feel more welcomed and less
judged these days. Michael’s main point is that we are going to be using a lot
more technology and a lot less paper. But we still need to wear our nametags.
No subcutaneously implanted identity chips. We will also be the greenest Gen
The main thing to know is
that we cannot access “the virtual binder” with our own devices. Our devices
could crash the system. So they are going to issue us each our own rented iPad
for use at Convention. Renting the iPads is cheaper than what we paid for
photocopying 3 years ago. The iPad will not be able to connect to Internet at
The Salt Palace where we meet. That is just for intranet access to Convention
info. But back in our hotel rooms, etc. it will access the Internet.
In order that we may live up
to our Episcopal tradition of being good guests, the folks putting on Gen Con
will provide resources from the LDS Church to help us understand their
perspective. We are encouraged to take a friendly view of our LDS brothers and
sisters who have been good friends to the Episcopal Church in Utah and who are
being quite helpful in hosting this Convention.
Then came the closing Eucharist
with a sermon by Bishop Katharine. “The invisible become visible when we
practice curiosity.” Then came our formal-ish dinner and a bit of a party afterward.
Now it is time to pack up and head home. It has been good to be with these
remarkable people but I am more than ready to get back to the remarkable people
in the Silver State and sleep in my own bed once again.
It was a J-shaped day at
House of Bishops, a good start, a slump, and then a great rebound to a high at
Eucharist had a homecoming
feel this morning. We have been enjoying the musical leadership of the Theodicy
Jazz Collective from Los Angeles. They are young, cool, and very good. So it
was a positive thing to have them with us. But today we had our choir back, and
our choir is pretty talented and cool themselves. This is Chicago music and
Chicago knows a thing or two about music as well. So the Collective was great
but so are our own folks who are led by the incomparable Dent Davidson. It was
like a reunion.
At the end of the service
Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark offered a meditation on interfaith relations. He
did it by telling his story. Mark did not go in search of interfaith relations
but such diversity has been the sea in which he has sailed his whole life. It
is our time. It is the world we now inhabit. We do not have a choice. He did
not say the all too frequent simplistic stuff about how all religions are
saying the same thing. Thank God. Instead he spoke of how interfaith encounters
had challenged him, taken him to the edge where he discovered his center.
Paradoxical and profound stuff all conveyed as true-life first person
We then had table discussions
arising out of Bishop Mark’s offering. We took the topic seriously talking of
how Jesus and the doctrine of the incarnation take us to the edge by shattering
our neat concepts of God and our neat concepts of humanity, and then when the edge
is reached we discover a new and deeper center. All in all quite a good morning.
Along the way I heard good West Virginia and Pittsburgh reminiscences from
Bishop Frank Brookhart of Montana and Bishop Ken Price of Southern Ohio and
Pittsburgh, now retired. They both logged some time in that part of the world.
Then came the afternoon, the
whole afternoon, studying and discussing the TREC report on restructuring the
Church. I like some things in the report. I have hesitations about some of the
report. I have grave concerns about other parts of the report. So my reaction
isn’t about whether I like or don’t like the specific proposals. It is my overarching
feeling response to the project of engineering structural solutions to organic
relational problems. It made me want to go back to the more amiable discussions
of racism, genocide, class prejudice, and divisions over sexuality. It just
sapped the life right out of me. I am truly grateful to the TREC task force
that has worked so hard to create this architectonic dismantling and remantling
of the polity of the Episcopal Church. If I could not handle an afternoon of
it, I cannot imagine how they have persevered through three years of this. So I
mean no criticism. I have only respect for their efforts.
Then after supper 6 of us
gathered for an ad hoc voluntary self-organizing group to brainstorm evangelism.
Thank you Bishop Suffragen Jeff Fisher, Diocese of Texas, for pulling this
together. He had 3 topics for us to consider but the fist one was so rich we
never got to the next two.
The first question was: how
do we bishops promote discipleship in our congregations? I was particularly
excited by Bishop Scott Barker’s promotion of The Restoration Project by Fr.
Christopher Martins. http://www.forwardmovement.org
It is a book and a short adaptable course for discipleship based on a
user-friendly Benedictine model for busy people of today. It is a simple way to
form people as disciples of Jesus. I think this may be the program one of our
rectors presented to his congregation recently and the lay leadership wrestled
seriously over the threshold question of whether the church should be trying to
form people as disciples. On the one hand I am stunned that anyone could doubt
that. On the other hand, it is refreshingly honest to say, “we don’t really
know whether we are interested in following Jesus or not.” If they do become
disciples, they will mean it.
I am convinced that all the
church growth marketing and charismatic clergy we can buy will not enliven the
Church. Our deadness comes from our lack of belief we have anything to offer that the world wants or needs. The problem is we don’t have Jesus in
our hearts. We are not being transformed ourselves so that we can in the power
of the Spirit transform the world. Cosmetics won’t help if our heart is not
beating. For our heart to beat, there is one and only one way: we have to
Project is not the only discipleship program. It may not be the best discipleship program.
But it is shaking things up in California and it is getting a start in
Nebraska. I hope Nevada will give it a try. But then we began to wonder about
motivation. It is a proven matter of social psychology that negative motivators
will not work. If I say to a congregation, engage in discipleship or you will
die (which is true), they will choose to die. In order to inspire a congregation to follow
Jesus, I have to show them that he is offering something positive that they
want. What do our people want? What do they hunger for? It is the bedrock of my
faith that the deepest desire of every human heart can be satisfied in Jesus.
But what form does that desire take in the hearts of our people?
Bishop Jeff reminded us that
when Bartimaeus called out “Lord have mercy on me” Jesus said, “What do you
want me to do for you?” Only after Bartimaeus named his blindness as the
problem did Jesus heal him. We have some serious listening to do to figure out
what our people want.
We plan to keep meeting, to
keep in touch, and to ask the House of Bishops to take these questions on in a
more systematic large group way. I have never been in a group of people where
the love of Christ was more palpable than this House of Bishops, and it seems
to just get more that way with each passing year. We do love Jesus and we love
our people. We see an empty pain in the eyes of so many. It is time for us to
find a way to ask: “What do you want Jesus to do for you?”
Today began with another
spiritually rich Eucharist, leading into a moving meditation by Bishop David
Bailey of Navajoland on the legacy of genocidal polices toward Native
After that we had Sabbath
time for the afternoon. For me that meant a nap and some reading about Paul and
the first 7 ecumenical councils of the Church, then a wonderful conversation
with Bishop Neal Alexander, my erstwhile liturgy professor at General, my
bishop in Atlanta, and now Dean of the School of Theology at the University the
South. We exchanged stories, rehashed old times, and had a fruitful talk about
how Nevada might provide better formation for our clergy.
Then I had another such
reconnecting conversation over dinner with Bishop Doug Hahn of Lexington who
was a fellow priest in Georgia. I made him laugh with my story of how Elias the
schizophrenic preacher and prophet hitchhiker I picked up on I 75 prayed me up
for the Bishop election in Nevada, and he reduced me to tears with his daughter
Avery’s account of how her stroke had been a spiritual death and resurrection
to new life In Christ. It turned out the protagonist of one of my Mercer
University stories, Professor Bob Otto, had been his Sunday School teacher when
Doug was a teenager at Vineville Baptist.
Along the way, one of the
Bishops I respect most, the poet, Rob Hirschfeld of New Hampshire, overheard us
and said he knew a priest from Macon. It turns out my old friend, the late Fr. John
Buchannan (originally from Texarkana, 14 miles from where I grew up), had
played a pivotal role in Rob’s vocation when John was a canon at the Cathedral
in Paris. No 6 degrees of separation in the Episcopal Church. We are all
connected by no more than 3 or 4.
We then had our large group
fireside chat, a confidential meeting about whatever is on our hearts and
minds. No we do not conspire or make decisions or plot strategies. It’s about
the feelings. It’s a pretty personal thing.
Afterward I talked in some
depth with a Bishop who is having great success in church growth and
congregational development but catching hell from the old guard who miss the
days of doom and decline. That is not unusual. I hope I was of some
encouragement to my friend. I don’t have his particular set of problems, but
talking with him nonetheless sparked me to think of ways I could address our
Nevada challenges more creatively.
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
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
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