It has been two weeks since my last blog posting. It does not mean that I have been silent by any means. I am in Anaheim, CA and have been a deputy from the Diocese of West Missouri at the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention. This was my sixth GC as a deputy. My first was in 1991, when I was canonically resident in Central Florida -- my home diocese. The next three deputations upon which I served resided in Northern Indiana. I was the Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. James for eleven years. The 2006 GC and this one has been as a canonical resident of West Missouri. I have been an inside observer of the Episcopal Church's heartbeat and leadership for 18 of my 31 ordained years. What an evolution!
The Episcopal Church may be small by modern standards, but it has a very important and influential place in American history. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and crafters of our country's Constitution were Anglicans (Episcopalians after the Revolutionary War). A majority of our presidents have been Episcopalians--at least in name. A surprisingly large number of the industrial, business and technology leaders have been Episcopalians. Numbers not withstanding, we have been a guiding force in cultural justice and equality over the past two hundred years.
This is not to say Episcopalians agree on all these matters. Not by a long shot! We are as diverse in our opinions and socio-political ideologies as our culture. Despite the barb that Episcopalians are the "White, Republican Party at Prayer," the truth is otherwise. We are "high church" and "low church," Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Native American, Latino, African American, Asian, Middle Eastern, wealthy, working class, middle class, liberal, conservative, moderate, straight, LGBT, and from every element of American intracultural life as possible. When we speak of being "inclusive" we mean it on every level possible. And, all of this was here at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (the 76th triennial).
For the past two weeks, I have been working, praying, legislating, meeting and living with nearly 6,000 sisters and brothers who are Episcopalians in every catagory of life mentioned above (and maybe some I didn't include). It has been an honor and an education. I am constantly amazed regarding how much there is to learn about other folks. I am also amazed at how other folks are willing to share, if they perceive the inquiry to be honest and authentic. And, the most important part of all this is that I have seen the God of Jesus Christ in every one of these folks...in ways I have not experienced ever before. What a gift of Grace!!
The Holy Spirit has been leading me into deeper truth for a good while now. The lastest deepening began with sabbatical last summer (2008). In working with the Lakota in the Black Hills, I learned the words: Mitakuye Oyasin. The rough translation is close to "We are all one together." The direct implication is that Wakan-Tanka (God) is in all creation, we are his creation, which makes us one with each other. This is lived out among our Lakota sisters and brother in profoundly authentic and transparent ways.
Three years ago, at the 2006 General Convention (held in Columbus, OH), we mandated that, over the three years leading to this GC, a program would be developed to help us explore relationship and community. Thus the theme Ubuntu was born. Ubuntu is a Zulu (Xhosa) word that describes human identity as being formed through community and encompassing sense of caring, sharing and being in harmony with all creation. In short, Ubuntu means, "I in You and You in Me."
Now isn't that a coincidence. The Lakota phrase Mitakuye Oyasin and the Zulu phrase Ubuntu have almost identical meanings...each at the core of meaning for them such that in both Lakota and Zulu all prayers end with those statements...like our "Amen" (which means, "it is thus").
In truth, at this General Convention, there were no "for" and "against" camps. People intermingled, talked, shared, listened, prayed and walked together. We struggled together, and, above all, we have been careful with each other -- treating one another as precious gifts of God -- as we each are.
Some of our decisions were difficult, and we will face some confusion, anger or distress in our home community environments. This is not because folks disagree, but because, in general, folks in our communities live lives as individualists rather than individuals in community. The early Christian community was, in fact, an Ubuntu-style community. A careful reading of Acts of the Apostles will open that reality. Jesus taught it: "I in you and you in me: You are one as the Father and I are One." The Gospel is one of Mitakuye Oyasin/Ubuntu. The contemporary Christian community has nearly lost this cornerstone element of what it means to be a Christian.
I am remarkably at peace following this General Convention. To be sure, I am exhausted. The pace of the last two weeks has been intense. On average, each day was about 16 hours long in terms of the work most of us were assigned. I served on the Ministry Committee (#14) and, like all other committees, we began at 7am. In the evening, the committees met to continue perfecting legislative materials and holding hearings...where those advocating resolutions came to speak and share information about those resolutions charged to the committees. The only break of length during the day was at lunch (about 90 minutes) and dinner (about the same).
One cannot really complain about how this works. We only do it every three years. Imagine it. Now, what we have done gets three years to work through. The next GC will take further steps, fine tune, remove or replace what we have done this GC. Thus we grow and evolve as a Christ-centered community.
I have been working hard to deepen my life in the Spirit -- through new contemplative prayer techniques, deeper reading of Scripture and other source material, listening more carefully to my sisters and brothers as they share their journeys in the Spirit of God. The Grace and Power of the Word....the Christ of God (see John 1) was very present during the past two weeks.
Today, I begin three weeks of vacation. My wife joins me today for some days of exploring part of California and visiting dear friends. While I am tired, I feel more at peace than I have felt in quite some time. We have done good work. We have done God's work -- with and for God's People in this part of the Kingdom...the Episcopal Church.
Mitakuye Oyasin!! Ubuntu!!