"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
There is so much I could write about today even beyond the accountings of the keynotes. Had a long conversation over breakfast with Jackie Price, who co-chairs the HIV/AIDS work of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia. Heard a challenging talk from a Pakistani bishop who spoke of the role development work has played in reconciliation with hostile fundamentalist Muslim neighbors. Spent an hour and a half with the young adult delegation listening to them process their experience so far (side note: it is wonderful to see Bishop Marc Andrus at work with young people. He sits on the floor and really mixes it up with them. No pretense. Really honoring and engaging them and not just paying lip service. If he weren't a bishop, he'd make an excellent college chaplain). During and after dinner had an extended conversation and coffee with Peter Lee, the bishop of Christ the King diocese (one of four dioceses that make up Johannesburg) all about the history of the end of Apartheid, the current situation in South Africa, the changing role of the church. Then to a fire pit where we listened (and danced) to the same band that played at the Eucharist last night.
So much to absorb. Any one of those things I could relay details of things learned and experiences. And at some point I probably will. But I can't do it all now and I don't want to pick just one.
But through all this, one thing did stick out that has me reframing a lot, including what is happening here.
In my conversation with Bishop Lee, he said that one thing that made reconciliation possible in South Africa is that the nation is 85% Christian and that even people and factions that were poles apart politically could be brought together by the commonality of their Christian faith. It's part of the reason Desmond Tutu was such a critical figure (he told me a great story of how F.W. de Klerk, who regularly consulted with Tutu, called Desmond one morning just as Desmond was preparing to go on retreat and asked to speak with him. Desmond replied that he would have to wait until he was done praying -- three days later. Can you imagine someone the president calling someone and being told he had to wait three days until he was done praying? But that's what Desmond did. He had to listen to God before he talked to de Klerk. And Tutu being who he was, de Klerk waited).
Anyway, that's off track. Here's the question -- if that was such a critical element in South Africa ... is that possible for us?
I'm not even so much talking about "the late unpleasantness" in the Anglican Communion. One of the elephants in the room at this gathering is the large number of Americans here (I believe there's around 70 of us, and if you add the young adult contingent that's well over 100 ... for a conference of about 500). Americans are bankrolling much of the gathering, and while that makes this possible there is also the tension of what do we presume our money buys?
The people sitting in back of me today (both from Southern Africa) routinely grumbled and commented to each other whenever something about America or prosperous nations was mentioned.
I'm not asking "is this possible for us" in the sense of "can't we all just get along" but will we over the course of this week and in the course of our continuing life together in the Church be able to have honest conversations about these things. Because as someone who benefits from the overprivilige of my country, I need to hear what is on the hearts and minds of those who are underprivileged -- and not just eavesdropped literally from behind my back. I need help in determining where confession, repentence and amendment of life are necessary.
Even though I didn't vote for the current administration ... one which, I have to tell you, if this gathering is any barometer, has done more to alienate America from the rest of the world than I would have thought possible ... I still am an American and can't escape my connection with their actions. Have I really done enough to try to change things? Probably not.
I am here representing the American church. The Church is supposed to be power for the powerless -- and yet are we really living into that. This isn't about guilt. This is about what Rowan Williams was talking about and what I have been preaching -- we are prisoners of our own wealth and overprivilege because when our way of life impoverishes another, we become impoverished.
But can we talk about it honestly. And what about me. If we were to talk about it honestly, can I bear the anger without being defensive? Can I try to really hear. I think of Mohammed's words of "cold anger" against America and yet his willingness to be in conversation with me. But can I receive the anger as well, even when so much that is in me would want to smooth it over and say "but that's not me!"
Right now, this gathering has been wonderful -- like an amazing smorgasboard of wonderful people with great and terrible stories and lots of hope. But I'm interested -- and hopeful -- for what happens tomorrow when we begin to get out of plenary and into smaller groups. If it doesn't start getting more difficult, it's not going to be real.
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.
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"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."