Even as I write, I sit in the House of Deputies. We are meeting as a Committee of the Whole, hearing how many among us have seen the results of passage of B033 at the end of General Convention in 2006. I say “hearing” rather than “discussing,” because while many are speaking, it is not technically “debate.” I am not among those planning to speak. I simply feel others will say what I would say, and perhaps say it better. I am happy to listen; and listening, let me share some reflections.
First, I am not particularly struck by the opinions. Oh, they’re articulate and well thought through. It’s just that there’s nothing new in them. We’ve heard them before. I don’t say this to be dismissive but descriptive. While some are speaking from microphones who have not spoken so publically as those of us in the blogosphere, they’re saying things that have been said here. Oh, there are the occasional surprises. There was the deputy who spoke of just how resilient our Communion is, with bonds of affection based on the personal relationships shaped by the Millennium Development Goals. There was the deputy who chose an interesting image of B033 as “the crucible of adaptive change.” But most of the statements made familiar points.
So, what strikes me is the continuing passion, the audible pain and anxiety that were quite clear. Many speak of sacrifice – of the sacrifice of people, the sacrifice of relationships, the sacrifice of the Communion. Many speak of cost – of cost in lives, of cost in relationships, of cost in ministries and vocations lost. No one speaking – no one - is casual, and no one is dismissive. Of course, the pain being what it is, I don’t know that those most engaged don’t still feel dismissed. I rather expect they do.
At some point, we will address this with a resolution. It will be a clear instance in which we will do that because it is our process, and not because it’s ideal. It would perhaps be ideal to seek consensus. It would also be a clear sign of the presence of the Spirit. It would be a sign of the coming of the Kingdom, and I for one would be waiting for the roof to roll back and the heavens to open and the dead in Christ to rise. We are not sufficiently in one place to come to consensus, common thought and feeling. The voices are making that clear. There are perhaps more speaking of, in some sense, moving beyond B033 than there are speaking of staying where we are. But, the number calling, sometimes pleading to stay where we are, is enough to indicate a significant, and not a tiny minority. Where shall we go from here? Yet, the one thing we cannot do is stay here.
The day has passed, and I’m back in my hotel room. However, this morning’s discussion took me back a few days. My first day of Convention started early, and not in Anaheim. I began with a morning flight. I roused early, and made my plane. My only mistake cost me my pocket knife – again. However, I had chosen the particular pocket knife specifically because I wouldn’t be devastated if I lost it.
As the ground below me went from green to tan to red, I did some studying – studying that I hadn’t been able to do up to this point. Oh, I’ve had the materials. I just haven’t had the time. While folks in the hospital wouldn’t disapprove of me taking time to study for Convention ahead of time, the patients simply wouldn’t stop coming. What can one say? And so my time was committed to matters more immediate.
The theme of this Convention is “ubuntu.” Of course, in all my convention material the word is capitalized. However, I haven’t done so here because the word is first a concept, and not a title. It’s most common meaning – common in the sense of most often quoted – is “I am because we are; and because we are, I am.” The real meaning is broader than that. It really encompasses a statement that personhood is only known in community. I can’t be me apart from participation of and with others. It might be called a “communitarian” position, somewhere between our sense of Western individualism and cultures in which the community is all in all.
We first heard it in context of the Lambeth Conference. It was intended to give us some sense as Anglicans of interdependence. It was tied to the Gospel of John, who spoke of us being in Jesus as he is in the Father and the Father in him; and to Paul’s image of the Body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’”
All of which made it rather hard for everyone to really embrace. Oh, great statements were made, but few changes. There were those who weren’t there, functionally saying, “I have no need of them.” There were those who were there but saying, “I have need of you, as soon as you fall in line.” There were those who were there but saying, “I really want to be with you, but if need be I’ll do without.”
And now it is the theme of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Some things are the same. There are those who were with us three years ago who have departed, saying, “I have no need of you.” There are those present prepared to say, “I really want to be with you, but if need be I’ll do without.” And while no one said, “I have need of you, as soon as you fall in line,” some said, “I fear they will have no need of us if we don’t fall in line.”
We do not do community well in America. Some talk about our militant individualism, as if we’ve lost touch with what it means to be defined in relation to a community. I can see that, but I sometimes think it’s just the opposite: that many of us have experienced what it has meant to be defined by a community – call it our small town, or our family, or our class – and defined as outcast, and we’ve wanted to flee away. We are not so much individualists because we have no sense of community, as much as we believe we are recovering from community by being individuals.
And so this morning voices were heard, all of whom felt they were speaking of being included in an important relationship. The many who spoke moving beyond B033 did so to feel included, or to include another, in the Body of Christ in the Episcopal Church. The smaller number who spoke of staying with B033, believing we could do so without abandoning GLBT Episcopalians, almost to a person spoke of being included in the Body of Christ in the Anglican Communion. And everyone – virtually everyone – spoke of sacrifice.
“Ubuntu” – the idea that we are who we are most fully in the context of community, and the community is most fully complete with we are all in it – is more than the theme of Convention. It is a Gospel value. It is the Biblical norm, both for Israel and for the early Christian community. We are indeed called to it, however confusing and confounding it may seem to us. The difficulty, a difficulty that is clearly painful, is to figure out how we can embrace it. For many have come to a point of knowing that this must involve sacrifice and risk, while feeling that they have already risked more than they can afford to lose.