"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Wednesday, July 07, 2004 The days here are growing short. This afternoon and evening, I'm back in Buduburam, meeting with the wardens and vestry at All Souls and then preaching and celebrating at their midweek Eucharist (they are expecting a 25-30 minute sermon!). Then tomorrow night, Robin gets here (32 1/2 hours, not that I'm counting)!!! Mackinnon left yesterday, she's probably over U.S. airspace by now.
Because my schedule has been less hectic for the past week or so, I've had a chance to sit with some of what has happened here and try to begin to see how some of the pieces fit together. Over the past couple days, Emmanuel and I have had a couple long conversations that have been wonderful and have helped me see a bit more into the differences between our church cultures and also the vast things we have in common.
It's also helped me see what is happening in our communion from a different perspective. A lot of the conflict is just simply because of difference in theology and how we interpret scripture. There is no way around that. But, particularly here in Africa, I am beginning to think that a failure on both sides to grasp the culture of the other has made things much worse.
When we consented to the election of Bishop Robinson, and when our Presiding Bishop went to the special meeting of the primates, we justified our right to make this decision using the polity of the church. The polity of this church is a Western polity whereby each of the individual churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous but in relationship through Canterbury (this is a gross oversimplification, but it's accurate enough). We maintained the right to make this decision for our church, the Episcopal Church in America, and maintained that it did not bind or even necessarily effect other churches in the communion. After all, we said, when we began to ordain women, that didn't mandate that other parts of the communion had to.
It all gets back to what I said a couple posts ago about the difference in our cultures and our churches. Our culture is much more centered on the individual and individual rights. African culture -- insofar as statements can be made about something so broad -- is more centered on the community.
So while we are making the argument that this is just about us and that the rest of the world just needs to calm down ... that when they think about it, this really doesn't need to change them at all ... the African church is seeing it quite differently.
Emmanuel was telling me about the clergy synod he went to after our General Convention, when Bishop Akrofi (who was just back from Minneapolis himslf) relayed what had happened. And Emmanuel told me that he stood up at the synod and asked "What are they doing? Why didn't they talk with us?"
For him and for the church here, our argument from polity that this action is within the acceptable autonomy of a diocese and the acceptable autonomy of a province of the Communion flies in the face of the entire notion of communion. (BTW, the Bishop Smith and Ralph McMichael tried to explain this notion of communion to us in the Diocese of Missouri prior to Convention -- not referencing Africa but instead trying to delve deep into what communion was really about. I understood it on an intellectual level now, but I am beginning to see and feel it on so many deeper levels now).
There is no such thing as an action that just affects one part of the body. As Emmanuel said to me "You are my brother. I am your brother. How can what you do not affect me?"
Looking back, I stand by my belief that the best, most loving, most honoring of communion thing we could have done was to delay the consecration for a year for a period of communal prayer and study and, most important, listening to each other. Not moving back from a decision I would still vote for, but leaving space for us to be with it together for awhile. Our hand was forced at General Convention by a mandated up or down vote. We should have taken more time after that to mitigate the damage.
But we didn't ... and OK. So where do we go from here. Well, I believe that in every crisis, even every disaster or tragedy (and I certainly wouldn't term this a disaster or tragedy ... but that's me!), God places seeds of opportunity that, if we can find and tend them, can grow into something that is even greater for the good than the crisis, disaster or tragedy is for the bad.
Maybe those seeds are in conversations like Emmanuel and I are having ... and in many, many more like them. Maybe it is in me going to Buduburam today as someone who cast a vote that wounded and confused a lot of people here and sitting with them and listening to them and learning from them and hoping that they can listen and learn from me as well. Maybe it is in Emmanuel being on our ECM weekly email list and learning about how GOd is moving in our community. Maybe it is in Robin and I worshipping at St. Luke's and at Christ the King and letting the grace of those communities wash over us and through us.
These are not heroic actions or conversations. They are the average, everyday actions of people committed to living in communion with each other, committed to the notion that our actions and our lives do effect each other.
But especially for us as the powerful American church right now, these actions require our taking a posture of humility and contrition. Not apologizing for our belief that God is calling Gene Robinson to be a bishop. Not apologizing for our belief that all of us, regardless of any category including sexual orientation, are created in God's image and are capable of sacramental relationships with one another that reveal God's love. But apologizing for our failure to see the depth of what our communion really is ... and therefore the depth of consequence of our actions.
As long as we keep chanting the mantra of "it was our right," we will not acheive this. Paul talks about all things being lawful but not necesarily being helpful. Yes, in our polity, what we did as absolutely within our rights ... but that doesn't matter. There were ways about the way we went about doing it that weren't helpful to the rest of the body. And it is that, for our own sake and for the sake of the whole body, for which we must confess, repent and ask for forgiveness.
And what an opportunity that is! Giving parts of the body of Christ such as exist here in Ghana the chance to be gracious to us. The chance to be the first one to let go of our stubborn pride and truly act like the body of Christ we purport to be. WHat an opportunity we have. What a lesson that can be for the world, especially in these days.
I have a feeling I'm going to be sorting out stuff from this trip for a long time ... long after I've come back to America, long after, God-willing, I've returned to Ghana again and again come back. THat's why I'm careful to talk in terms of "beginning to learn" and "beginning to understand."
Because if there are two things I am beginning to learn and understand, it is these:
The world is a lot bigger, scarier and diverse than I ever imagined.
The body of Christ is a lot bigger, richer and more amazing than I ever fathomed.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."