Month: June 2015
I had a post in mind for tonight, but as I was drafting it I realized that I need to let the thought gestate a bit more before publication. Instead, here’s a fuzzy picture and a little story.
In 2002 I attended EYE, the Episcopal Youth Event. It was held in Laramie, Wyoming, and teenagers from all over the church came to live and worship and have fun together for a few days. During that EYE, we were visited by the then Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold. I’d never met or even seen a Presiding Bishop before, and I felt just a bit fancy knowing he came all the way to the tiny town of Laramie just to be with us.
During his visit, he blessed a pile of colorful crosses and gave one to every single youth in attendance. The cross was beautiful, a combination of red and green and blue. I really treasured mine, always remembering that it was the cross the Presiding Bishop blessed. This morning as I was getting dressed, I looked at the necklaces I brought with me and picked up the Presiding Bishop cross. It matched my shirt.
Today as we were remembering the work of outgoing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, we were surprised by a special guest speaker: Frank Griswold. I hadn’t actually seen him since that day in Wyoming.
After all the speeches were done and the House was in recess, I ran up to snag him before he disappeared behind the curtain. I was holding my phone in my hand and a man nearby asked if I wanted a picture with Bishop Griswold. We took the photo, but I quickly let the bishop know that’s not why I wanted to see him. I told him my story and held out the cross on my neck. He smiled that smile of a person who wasn’t expecting something sweet to happen to him today, and an aid quickly jumped in to get him away from the crowd.
I looked at the photo that the stranger took. No good. But it didn’t matter. I could never treasure a photo as much as a cross.
“The next item on the calendar is A037: Continue Work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage”
(For the full text of the resolution, click here)
Explanation (adapted from text written by the Task Force on Marriage):
The 77th General Convention directed its presiding officers to appoint a Task Force on the Study of Marriage, consisting of 12 people to consult, study, and provide educational resources on the subject of marriage.
In the course of completing these tasks, the Task Force became highly aware of a growing contemporary reality in society and the Church that is redefining what many mean by “family” or “household.” This changing reality is felt in our congregations, where there are an increasing number of those who fit the various categories detailed in the 3rd Resolve of this resolution (those who choose to remain single; unmarried persons in intimate relationships; couples who cohabitate; couples who desire a blessing, etc).
Contemporary data shows that these trends are increasing rapidly, challenging marriage as a normative way of life. And yet the Task Force did not have the time or resources to fully address this reality. More broadly, our Church has done very little to respond to it.
This time of flux bears continuing discernment and attention by our Church.
“I call on Deputy Hamilton from the Diocese of Olympia.”
(The clock begins to count down my two minutes)
I rise in support of this resolution.
For the last six years I have been in a monogamous, loving relationship with my boyfriend. We live together and share some expenses. Despite the admirable and well-meaning efforts of friends and family, I have no interest in getting married or having children. While that may not always be the case, for now my relationship is not seen as having any independent worth, but only as a precursor to something I don’t intend to do.
In Sunday School I teach my students that when it comes to sacramental rites (marriage, ordination, confirmation, confession, and anointing of the sick), we say that “all may, some should, none must.” However right now it’s clear that when it comes to marriage, we have acquiesced to secular society in saying that for marriage, “All Must Eventually.”
We don’t assume all lay people will be ordained, yet we assume all single people will eventually be married. I think this contradiction bears investigation, and it would mean a lot to me personally for my relationship to be acknowledged.
(I put down my official notes to speak off the cuff)
Finally, for any of you who are considering finding me after the session, putting a loving hand on my shoulder, and telling me I’ll change my mind when I’m older…I invite your silent prayers.
Today I was crossing the street from my hotel to the convention center. I saw a man approaching who appeared to be homeless. This wasn’t surprising, as there have been many homeless men and women around the convention center. I can’t be the only one who has felt a strange contradiction well up inside each time I see a homeless person begging for money but pass by in order to get to my church meeting.
And I have been passing them by. I do it at home as well. I opt to donate money in large chunks to established organizations rather than to individuals I encounter. I mainly do this because I am pretty meticulous about tracking my finances, including donations. Plus I don’t want to leave my charity up to chance, and I know I will not always be able to stop and give money to every person who asks. It feels weird to give to some and not others, which is dumb. I am an equal opportunity ignorer. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s what I’ve been doing in life thus far.
But today there was this man. He looked up at me with a friendly smile and asked, “Miss, could you spare a dollar?” He was tall and thin, a white man with slightly long brown hair and a bit of a beard.
Yeah. He looked like Jesus.
Not just any Jesus. He looked exactly like that stupid, invented, European white Jesus that we’ve all been raised on. It’s that image you can’t shake, even though you know the real Jesus would have looked nothing like that.
At the end of chapter 25 in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a story about what will happen at the end of time, when all will be asked to account for their actions. Those who come with him are told they are being rewarded because they fed him when he was hungry, took care of him when he was sick, and a whole host of other things.
But they are confused. “When did we do that?” they ask. “When did we help you?”
He says, “Just as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
It’s one of the most straight-forward things Jesus ever says. Take care of those at the bottom of society, and you are doing right by him. Just for good measure, here’s a list of concrete actions to take: feed, hydrate, clothe, welcome, care, visit. He is present in the least of these. If you love Jesus, you will love them and respond to this list of basic needs.
And there I was, positive of at least one crisp dollar in my bag, not running late for any part of my church convention, and staring at a smiling man who actually looked exactly like my stupid anglo-centric image of Jesus. I don’t know how much more obvious it gets. I handed him the dollar he asked for, smiled, and told him to spend it well.
Tomorrow morning I’m going to get change from one of the local coffee shops and start keeping one dollar bills in my pocket, easily accessible to give to every person who asks for them here in Salt Lake City. I may not be able to live my life like this every day, but I can certainly stand to do it for the next five days.
I owe him that much at least.
Here is the whole story, for anything less would make it seem like it was easy.
At around 10:45AM the worship services ended and the bishops proceeded to the buses. It took five buses to move the entire House of Bishops to St. Mark’s Cathedral where they were to deliberate. According to one bishop I spoke with, trying to get the entire House transported via bus takes a lot longer than you think. Though the cathedral isn’t far from the convention center, they didn’t get there until 11:30AM.
The Bishops sang a few hymns and got settled in the church. They jointly agreed that they were all grown ups and therefore nobody had to surrender his or her phone in order to ensure the name of the elected bishop remained a secret until the election could be confirmed. They prayed, and they voted. Typically it takes multiple ballots before a single candidate gets enough votes to win, so people were ready for a long day.
Meanwhile in the House of Deputies, we took some time to honor past house members and celebrate the 230th anniversary of the House of Deputies. We went on with our regular legislative business. And behind it all we waited.
At about 12:45, fifteen minutes before we were set to adjourn for lunch, two representatives from the House of Bishops arrived. They were invited onto the floor (no unauthorized persons are allowed on the floor of the House of Deputies, including Bishops), and they proceeded to the front of the House. They told us that they had successfully elected a Presiding Bishop. They then turned around and quietly shared the name with Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. The President asked that all members of Committee 19 (Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop) step forward. There were a lot of them – 30 members in all. The house Chaplin, Fr. Lester Mackenzie, stepped forward to pray for the committee in their discernment. It’s strange. Even though I knew all the candidates were men, it still felt strange for Fr. Mackenzie to use masculine pronouns to describe the office after nine years of it being held by a woman. What a difference a word makes.
Committee 19 disappeared behind a curtain to deliberate. At this point I should clarify that I’m not exactly sure what their deliberation entailed. In order for the House of Deputies to confirm a new Presiding Bishop, the election must be given to us in the form of a resolution. In order for us to hear a resolution, it must be presented by a committee along with the committee’s recommendation on what the House should do. However when it comes to the election of the Presiding Bishop, this is more of a formality (one could argue the entire confirmation from the House of Deputies is a formality, but probably an important one). In theory there is no information the committee had about the nominees they didn’t have before, and there’s not much information they could have ever had that the rest of us didn’t have all along. If there was a nominee they had reservations about, those reservations would have existed long before they got the name. So who knows what they talked about. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to ask one of them.
Either way, at ten minutes until our planned adjournment, Committee 19 disappeared and the entire House sat there, knowing that a name existed and that name was known to every bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and the 30 people who just went behind the curtain. The President called on the Secretary to ask what the next item of business was. He suggested that in light of the hour we adjourn and come back after lunch.
The objections rang out from all over the House. The President looked shocked. Whispers began. As the thought of leaving for over an hour and not knowing loomed, from somewhere in the back the singing began. A few days before, the chaplain had taught us all a beautiful chanting song. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo // We are one together, yo, yo, yo.” The singing started and it spread fast. It was a bit of a joke to protest in this manner, but the intent was true. We were in this together. We were not leaving.
The President and Secretary suggested a few strange alternatives that involved everyone running out to get a sandwich and coming right back. People started to appear at the microphones to protest leaving. One deputy pointed out that the bishops were sequestered, unable to leave St. Mark’s until they heard from us, and that we owed it to them to stick around until confirmation could happen. After much bad suggestion-making we all agreed to suspend the rules and remain in session until Committee 19 came back. I started to check my phone. An isolated Twitter Storm was seen over Salt Lake City.
In the middle of the storm, a rumor started to go out. Someone had leaked the information, and we knew it had to be a bishop. So much for being grown ups. The Twittersphere responded by immediately urging everyone not to retweet the leaked name or share it if they had read it. The secrecy was out of respect for the dioceses of all four nominees. One of them was about to lose their bishop, and it would be cruel to toy with them by spreading unconfirmed rumors.
The gallery in the back of the House was standing room only. Photos from the exhibit hall showed it was completely empty. People back home were watching via live stream. At 1:45PM, the committee finally emerged. After more waiting for the electronic and administrative ducks to get in a row, the members came forward and the chair got behind the microphone.
Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina.
Curry is an incredibly charismatic preacher and a strong believer in evangelism and sharing the love of God. He also happens to be the first African American person to be elected to the office of Presiding Bishop. A cheer rang out and the President reminded us not to applaud. He still wasn’t confirmed. We must respect the deputies of the four dioceses.
The results of the House of Bishops vote went on the screen. He was elected on the first ballot, receiving almost 70% of the votes despite being one of four candidates. It was an absolute landslide. More cheering came from the crowd, and more calls for respect from the President.
The matter was put before the house. The committee was still standing in front, and the President politely suggested they might want to return to their seats so they could vote. We entered our selections into the voting machines at our tables. The confirmation was overwhelming: 800 to 12.
Now you can cheer.
Once the applause died down, the House was put at ease for 20 minutes while Bishop Curry was escorted from the Cathedral over to the House of Deputies. The President announced we would suspend the rules to allow him and his family onto the floor. Even the Presiding Bishop-Elect has to have permission.
When we were told he was almost there, we stood up in anticipation. The cheering started, and everyone was up on their chairs trying to get a good photo as the Presiding Bishop-Elect walked from the back entrance to the front of the House. He was escorted by current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. It was a beautiful sight to see them next to each other. A sign that even as we continue to struggle with diversity in our church, in our hearts we wish to be better.
As he reached the platform the cheers grew louder, and the singing began. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo!” I saw the delight and shock in Bishop Curry’s eyes. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your very presence inspire people to burst into song. We are one together.
His speech was short. “I know you haven’t had lunch,” he joked. He was eloquent and to the point as usual, ending with probably the most important fact of all: “Nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”
I was sitting in the Legislative Committee on Marriage, microphone in hand, when we got the news. The Supreme Court had ruled 5-4 in favor of marriage equality in all 50 states. Because I was speaking at the time, I believe I may have been the last person in the room to know. There was applause and smiles. Our chaplain asked to be excused and ran out the door to call his husband. The youth in the visitor’s gallery began to cry. We had to adjourn early because the news was so important to so many members.
It may surprise people who have known me to be a straight ally my entire life that when the decision came down, I was encouraging the committee members to reach out to the opposition and get their feedback on our proposed changes to the marriage canons. This is not a contradiction for me. I was doing what I always try to do: listening to the minority.
Over the last several General Conventions, a clear and noticeable shift towards liberal and progressive values has occurred in the Episcopal Church. We were once a church of contradictions where conservatives sat next to liberals, but over time our conservative membership has dropped, and their voices are now few and far between.
As LGBT inclusion becomes the more dominant belief, we have to constantly remind ourselves that within the church we now represent a majority, not a minority. While there is still more work to do and there is still a long road ahead, we now have the pleasure of walking into this space knowing most people are like us, agree with us, and act like us. This seems to me to be the very definition of privilege.
I have something very close to the Full Privilege Package, which means I make a fool out of myself often. I forget the needs and feelings of others, I neglect to see the unintended consequences, and worst of all I assume that my experience is true of all experiences. I rely on my friends in disadvantaged positions to keep me honest and to tell me about their experiences so that I might better serve their cause of justice. I can be a wonderful straight ally, but I will never know what it really means to be gay.
In my experience, living without privilege makes it easier for you to see the suffering of others. There is something about the personal experience of being in the minority that opens you up and strengthens your empathy. My gay friends show me this. My black friends show me this. And occasionally I show it to my male friends.
The things is, you can develop and practice this empathy without holding the traditional markers of minority. We all find ourselves in the minority at one time or another. For example, I imagine that no matter what your political beliefs, there has been a time in the last 16 years when you were truly disappointed by the results of a presidential election. How did it feel to see people celebrating? How did it feel to hear voices claiming that this is right when you believed it was wrong?
There is obviously a big difference between feeling politically devastated for a month (or even a few years) and living your life as a marginalized person. But the practice of empathy is the same, and if you practice you will get better.
Today I am celebrating, as are most of my friends. I believe that what has happened is right and just, and that ultimately the political opponents of this lose nothing. Their marriages are the same as always and their churches retain the right to refuse to perform marriages that don’t fit with their theology. The government shouldn’t prevent consenting adults from entering into contracts, and now they won’t. As an American I am very proud.
As a Christian and an Episcopalian, I believe this is also what the Holy Spirit has been calling us to do in this church. That part of me is happy, because I feel like I am living into my Baptismal Covenant. But I must also keep a place in my heart for those in my church who are hurt by this, whose upbringing gave them a different view of the world and of faith. They are not just losing to the government or losing to outsiders. They are being told by their own brothers and sisters that their image of God is hateful and wrong. They are a minority in my church, and I imagine they are currently feeling the painful sting of empathetic enlightenment. They are living in a world that is made for others and not for them.
Having laws you don’t like, even church laws you don’t like, is nothing compared to being told your entire life that your very essence is sinful and wrong. But I don’t think it’s helpful to play “who has it worse” when it comes to privilege. The basis of intersectionality is the admission that no minority trumps another in terms of oppression. You can be white but also poor. You can be black but also straight. And you can be a cis-gendered white man in the Episcopal Church, and be told that what you think is terribly wrong. That you are somehow wrong. And you can hear the cheers from the next room and feel like the majority is celebrating your pain.
The charge I place on myself and give to you is this: Don’t forget what it was like to be the loser. We who have been the minority for so long are now the majority, and it is up to us to remain responsible. It is up to us to listen, because we know what it was like to not be heard. It is up to us to show compassion, because we know what it was like to receive only hate (see Exodus 22:21).
I told you that we adjourned the meeting early, however we did not adjourn immediately. First we kept a moment of silence, and we said a prayer for those on the other side. We must give them the love we wished others would have given us. Being in the minority, if only for a little while, can be terrible. But hidden in that pain is the gift of empathy. If you celebrate today, you likely have that gift. Don’t waste it.
Today’s post will be short on both length and substance as the day has been long and my mind is checked out. It’s amazing that I am this beat after so short a time, especially since this is the convention where I have felt most comfortable, most at home. Here are some highlights from the day, some of which may be referenced later in more in-depth posts:
1) A two hour legislative session in which the only substantial matter addressed was the proposed Rules of Order. It’s amazing how dysfunctional we can be in our attempts to function better.
2) A unanimous decision to immediately address a resolution expressing support and condolences for the South Carolina shooting victims and their families. The letter was endorsed without objection and specifically labels the incident as a “racist act of violence.”
3) Having an older cis-gendered heterosexual white man talk about the importance of addressing privilege as he proceeded to interrupt me but not the other two men in the conversation.
4) Getting my own privileged checked when I failed to account for the significant loss in racial diversity that would come from reducing the size of the House of Deputies, a proposal I otherwise support.
5) Secret Young Adult Deputy meeting.
6) Eating McDonald’s for the first time in a long time (not worth it).
7) Hearing many beautiful and passionate responses in the hearing on the proposed marriage canons.
8) Realizing that there is zero agreement on whether or not our Book of Common Prayer is a constitutional document.
9) Being praised by multiple people for sharing a personal experience I didn’t realize was so important.
10) One of the most honest and interesting conversations on sex and marriage and society that I’ve ever had.
I’m going to bed now in the interest of self-care. Tomorrow is another, longer day.
The Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church serves for a single nine-year term. There’s disagreement on what her job currently is, and much debate on what it should be. She is not infallible like a pope, and can’t veto like a president. In some ways she is more of a spiritual advisor and figurehead, in other ways she is the CEO and chief administrator.
Today was the first time the House of Deputies was given a chance to meet and learn about the candidates prior to the vote in the House of Bishops. There were bios and intro videos released ahead of time, and today we saw additional “homemade” videos, heard intro speeches, and listened to the candidates answer questions – A LOT of questions. The questions were submitted by church members ahead of time and separated out into categories such as structure, theology, LGBT issues, etc. The bishops took turns pulling questions out of a bowl and giving short, off-the-cuff answers. Over the course of three hours, we got to know a bit more about the candidates and how they might lead the church.
The environment surrounding the election of a Presiding Bishop is delicate and strange. On one side it’s a typical election where candidates are nominated and must prove their worth to a group of voters who then decide who should get the job. On the other hand it’s supposed to be a calling, not a career move. This subtlety is reflected in the language we use. The nominees aren’t “running” for Presiding Bishop, they are standing for election. They are making themselves willing and available, not vying for the job.
This tension was certainly present in the opening speeches and many of the answers. I couldn’t help but think of the Miss America competition. The questions ranged from the simple and easy (“How has your prayer life changed?”) to the nearly impossible (“How do you feel about divestment in Israeli companies?”). Just like with Miss America, the candidates must craft an answer that means all things to all people. Nothing too upsetting, nothing too generic. To their credit, the nominees were a lot more willing to jump into specifics than most beauty contestants, but then again their audience is a bit more forgiving and their answers aren’t on YouTube.
After about an hour I leaned over to the deputy next to me and said, “You know if they weren’t all trying to become Presiding Bishop, I might really enjoy this.” If they felt a bit freer with their answers and if the questions were a bit more open, the basic activity would have been really wonderful. Imagine if part of every General Convention involved us putting a small group of well-spoken bishops and other leaders on the stage and asking them to reflect on the issues surrounding the church. How much might we learn – and how much might we change – if they speak and we listen and no one has an agenda?
While I think the session was well organized and I appreciate all the work that went in to getting the House of Deputies more involved in the process, I couldn’t help but ask, “What am I doing here?” The laws of the church dictate that it is the House of Bishops that elects their presider. All the House of Deputies does is confirm the election (a good and reasonable guard against a totalitarian takeover). There are plenty who think this should be changed, but I’m not one of them. The House of Bishops meets way more often, they are a smaller and more intimate body, and they have consistency of membership. The House of Deputies is huge, meets once every three years, and is about 40%-50% brand new people. We don’t know these bishops like they know each other, and we certainly aren’t any more qualified than they are to make a decision based on available information. So unless I suspect foul play, I see no reason not to trust their judgement and confirm whomever they call. If we can’t trust them enough for that, why did we elect them in the first place?
Before today, all I knew was the four names and I felt generally ambivalent about all of them. I was confident that the committee we elected was able to find four candidates that would all do a fine job. I didn’t really care who won. Now I know a bit more about each of them, and while I wasn’t really trying, I can’t help but have a favorite. But I still don’t have a vote. So all I have gained is the possibility to be disappointed when the guy I want isn’t picked.
I worry what will happen if we acquiesce to present paranoia and make the change suggested by TREC to have the Presiding Bishop elected by both houses. I worry that the politicking will go up, that we will have to suffer through actual campaigns, and that the job will always end up going to the person who wants it the most (which is almost never the best person for a leadership role).
The vote happens on Saturday in a closed session of the House of Bishops. No white smoke will go up. Instead a simple a message will be sent to the House of Deputies and a bit of (possibly unnecessary) bureaucratic process will occur before the vote comes before the house. And I’m voting yes. I don’t normally decide my votes ahead of time, but unless some strange and terrible thing is revealed about the candidates between now and then, I’m voting to confirm whichever person they choose. And why shouldn’t I? I respect and trust the bishops. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be in a church named after them.