Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Inside and Outside

I must confess that I like to hang out with snarky colleagues. I like to sit on the back row and roll my eyes and mutter under my breath unhelpful, destructive, sarcastic comments. A former colleague used to remind me that the root for "sarcasm" is to "tear flesh." She's right, but that's exactly the kind of comment that makes me roll my eyes and say something snarky. When it comes to General Convention and the work of the wider Episcopal Church, I'm likely to hang out (in person and through social media) with skeptics. Many of my colleagues regularly remark that General Convention is a waste of time, that the decisions it makes have almost no connection to real parish ministry, and that the people who go to General Convention care more about getting a fancy trip and the prestige of being a deputy than doing real work for the church.

I'm biased, of course. This is my third General Convention, and I love being here, and I love the work we do because I think the whole thing--the process, the legislation, the worship, the collaboration--is all good for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm not always happy with the outcome. In fact, pretty often, when I speak out on the floor of Convention, whatever side I'm advocating usually loses. (Otherwise, why would I bother speaking?) But, here at Convention, when things don't go the way I want them to, I don't feel a sense of panic, dread, or loss, which I sense that many of my snarky colleagues back at home are feeling.

I want to focus in particular on the issue of prayer book revision and resolution A068, which passed the House of Deputies in amended form and has been sent to the House of Bishops, where it is being debated. In short, this resolution authorizes the process for the revision of the Book of Common Prayer. There's a lot more to it than that. In fact, it may be worth noting that the plan that has been recommended involves three years of conversation about a new prayer book (2018-2021) before actual revision can begin (2021-2024) and then be approved (GC 2024) and adopted (GC 2027). And it may take longer than that. But I opposed the resolution for several reasons.

I support getting access to same-sex marriage to all of our congregations. I don't think our polity works when bishops decide which forms of worship that have been approved by the General Convention are allowed in their dioceses. If it's officially sanctioned by the church, it's up to the rector or clergyperson in charge to decide whether it gets used in the congregation. The bishop doesn't get to decide whether we use Rite I or Rite II. The vestry doesn't get to decide whether we use Holy Eucharist or Morning Prayer on Sundays. That's the rector's job. But I don't think wholesale prayer book revision is needed to make that happen.

I support gender neutral expressions of God. God does not have a penis. Except for the incarnate second person of the Trinity, God is not a man. God is not an actual father. Nor is God an actual Son. I affirm that those images and metaphors are helpful, useful, and godly. But I also affirm that God isn't always "him." I think that, when we begin our worship, it is ok for us to say, "Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," but I also think it's good for the congregation to respond, "And blessed be God's reign, now and forever. Amen." There are lots of ways that our prayer book needs to be updated to provide where appropriate additional gender neutral expressions of God. But I don't think it's time to start over from scratch. It's possible to make a bunch of small changes. It's possible to change the rubrics or the information at the beginning of the prayer book to allow gender-neutral expressions of God. But we don't have to throw out the whole book to make that happen.

I support deeper theological revision in the prayer book. Our baptismal theology isn't fully represented throughout the prayer book. Our Eucharistic prayers could do a better job articulating what we believe about the economy of salvation. Some of the collects and prayers and thanksgivings are theologically sloppy and could be tightened up. Liberation theology, our commitment to creation, and other important theological claims are notably absent or underrepresented in our prayer book. All of those things need to be incorporated when the prayer book gets revised. But I don't think this is the time to do it. Our theology of marriage has changed remarkably over the last decade. The role and value of lay ministry in our church has deepened substantially over the last decade. To write a prayer book now might capture some of the theological shift taking place in our church, but I think a six-to-nine-year delay before the process begins would help that substantially. Plus, by that time, maybe we'll be at a point when we can stop yelling at each other over same-sex marriage and women's ordination. Maybe we'll be able to work together on a prayer book revision instead of seeing prayer book revision as a massive way to fix some tiny issues. It's not, of course. And those who support prayer book revision aren't trying to use a wrecking ball to do some bathroom renovations, but, to traditionalists, it feels that way. And that's part of the problem.

So for those reasons I opposed prayer book revision. But the resolution passed the House of Deputies. There were some helpful amendments about honoring ecumenical commitments and respecting the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. I voted against it, but it passed. And that happens. It still remains to be seen what the bishops will do with it. I have strong doubts it will pass as that house is always more conservative than the deputies. And, even though I didn't support prayer book revision, I don't think the decision to pass A068 represents a massive failure on the part of Convention. But my skeptical, snarky friends seem distraught.

I don't get it. People are taking about General Convention as a "dumpster fire." There are posts about how terrible this is, about how people are thinking of quitting parish ministry, about how every three years the General Convention ruins everything. Really? I don't get it. The process is faithful if imperfect. People were heard. Some amendments weren't considered. Some testimony was cut short. But it seems that the will of the House of Deputies as a whole was expressed by the adoption of A068. Again, I didn't like it, but I still like the work that Convention is doing because, in my experience, people who voted for it aren't triumphant. They aren't insensitive to me and my perspective. They haven't written me and others like me out of the process or out of the church. We might disagree about the best way forward for the church, but we all agree that we want the gospel to be spread and God's reign to be established more fully in our lives and in the earth. This isn't a dumpster fire. This isn't terrible. Actually, it's a pretty beautiful thing--even for those of us who are disappointed. Maybe I'm biased. Maybe I'm out of touch with my snarky friends. But I find a lot of reason to hope and to stay connected. I hope others on the outside, especially those sitting in the back row rolling their eyes, can see that, too.

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