Saturday, July 11, 2009
Last night I wandered into the living room as a KFC ad was winding down. The message on the screen read
TASTE THE UNSUB SIDE
I read it again. It had been a long week. I was tired, generally annoyed at the whole world, and suddenly this. I sat down on the couch and read it a third time. Was I having a stroke ? It made no sense, in a vaguely Orwellian way. The words gave way to an image of a box of repulsive looking poultry parts, then the Red Sox. I turned to DK.
What did that mean ?
Huh ? What ?
My husband is better at filtering out the fowl effluvia of pop culture than I am.
That ad -- "unthink taste the unsub side of kfc" -- what does that even mean ? Is it some kind of text message speak ?
Well I concluded, That ad is definitely not targeted at my demographic. They have written me off. They have given up on selling me their repulsive poultry parts.
Oh, no they haven't. They want you to buy their chicken !
It was an eerie replay of what had actually been bothering me for the past few days. This week the Episcopal Church General Convention is convening. The General Convention is the legislative body of the church. It is bicameral, with a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies consisting of clergy and laity. It meets every three years. During the last convention, after prophetically electing a woman Presiding Bishop, the House of Bishops came up with a last-minute shocker,the notorious B033, a resolution pledging a moratorium on electing Bishops whose "manner of life" might be troubling to the Anglican Communion. "Manner of Life" is a euphemism of overwhelming and obfuscating delicacy. It means, of course, "partnered and gay like Bishop Gene." Sadly, it passed. And did the Orthodox Anglicans love us more ? No. And did the Orthodox Episcopalians forgo schismatic moves. No again.
So the Convention, among a multitude of other important issues, is grappling with this. So far there seems to be a glimmer of hope that convention will somehow undo the folly of B033 and move toward what seems so obvious to many of us: full participation of all baptised people in all the sacraments, marriage and holy orders included.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gave an opening speech that has caused some consternation (read, snarky apoplexies) in the usual predictable quarters. The one unpredictable quarter of consternation ? Yours truly. Read this with the eyes of the woman in the Boulevard Noir
The crisis of this moment has several parts, and like Episcopalians, particularly ones in Mississippi, they're all related. The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy - that we can be saved as individuals, that any of use alone can be in right relationship with God. It's caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.
Ubuntu. That word doesn't have any "I"s in it. The I only emerges as we connect - and that is really what the word means: I am because we are, and I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. There is no "I" without "you," and in our context, you and I are known only as we reflect the image of the one who created us. Some of you will hear a resonance with Martin Buber's I and Thou and recognize a harmony. You will not be wrong.
This IS a gospel announcement that our journey is meant to be toward Jerusalem, rather than sunning ourselves in the sands of the Negev or floating in the Dead Sea. This IS a reminder that we’re supposed to travel light – no extra sandals or tunics or lunch bags. Our mission is to keep traveling, bearing the good news of Jesus and working to transform the world. This crisis is an opportunity to refocus on what is most essential. When we have done that, we WILL go on our way rejoicing.
The decision-making we face here is an opportunity to choose the direction of our journey into God’s mission. Will we turn our faces toward Jerusalem, or will we wander back out into the desert? How will we engage God’s reconciling mission – in sharing the good news, healing the world, and caring for all of God’s creation? How will we discover anew that we ARE in relationship with all that God has created, and that we’re meant to be stewards of the whole?
So there is apparently a second "manner of life" that is troubling: that of the loner, the introvert, the shy person, the person who, constitutionally, runs screaming from processes and concepts like "public narrative," indaba, ubuntu, the person who will never, however many times she does it, get used to passing the peace.
I defy you to deny that such a person, a person whose secret motto might well be "hell is other people," could feel excluded by the Presiding Bishop's depiction of salvation much in the same way that I felt excluded by KFC's gnomic homily -- they're not even speaking in a language I understand. Could it be that the both the Chicken Corporation AND the Body of Christ have written me off as a lost cause ?
And it's odd, too, because I don't disagree with the Presiding Bishop. Salvation has a corporate, here-and-now context; we are all, in church and in the world, part of one another, as we out live Christ's gospel of love and forgiveness in the smallest to the largest arenas.
But aren't we also, in a very real sense, alone with God ? If God loves us, God doesn't love us in the abstract, as a population or a demographic. God loves us intimately and individually for who we are, gay or straight, shy or gregarious. I don't think this is individualist, or idolatrous or that it puts the self in the place of God, or is incompatible self-emptying and service. The only caricaturing that is going on here is the Presiding Bishop's. One can have ubuntu and indaba without explicit talk of God. One can serve humanity in the most Christ-like, devoted and selfless manner and be a flaming atheist. So, then, what sets the Church apart ? What does the Church have to offer that secular service does not ?
Some of us have crept into the back door of the church reeling with the existential nausea of the Boulevard Noir, finding in it a fledgling vocabulary of assent and a possibility of replacing existential and ontologic despair with celebration. And finding, at the cruciform intersection of being and nothingness, God in Christ.
It is not desert or Jerusalem, it is desert and Jerusalem.
For some of us it's mostly desert -- not as the Presiding Bishop somewhat snidely depicts as a "sunning" and floating" pleasure trip, but the particular ground of our own particular, if peculiar, mission.