Photo of Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial by Tabitha Kaylee Hawk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This morning I'm feeling the pain of disunity in the Body of Christ. I'm sensing in myself where that disunity comes from. It comes when I get angry and just want to shut off the other party in conflict. It comes from pain that I feel.
There's pain out there. The pain of gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people in our church who find themselves once again at the center of our conflict. The pain of people far away in our Anglican Communion for whom being honest about their sexuality can get them imprisoned or even killed. And we must stand with these brothers and sisters.
And I'm feeling again that only a deep grounding in God can keep me growing toward my full humanity.
And today I'm helped by writings from two scholars: one who is a personal acquaintance and friend, and one whose books I've read. They both are Episcopalians.
In a very thoughtful post, Bill Countryman, who has been deeply involved in the intellectual work of supporting a church that could be more honest about sexuality and embracing of all its members, reflects on the Primates' Meeting and the message it sent. I commend the entire post to you, and I give you this excerpt for your thought and prayer. In it, Professor Countryman is placing great value on the efforts to seek and to preserve unity in the church:
...the fact that the task is difficult does not mean that it can or should be lightly abandoned. The unity of the church is more than an institutional convenience, more than a theological premise, and more than a concern of professional ecumenists. It is a matter of deep spiritual value. God’s creation of humanity in God’s image and likeness, implies, as I have said elsewhere on this weblog, God’s search for friends. And since God has created so many of us and of such different temperament, experience, and culture, it seems reasonable to infer that our very multiplicity is part of what we bring to God as God’s friends. The great danger of Christians in any one place or time is that we shall begin to identify the gospel with the practices and prejudices of our particular time and place. Only a community of discourse that is large and varied enough to disrupt that kind of fossilization is ultimately adequate to the needs of our growing friendship with God, this friendship for which God created us and to which we are learning to respond through God’s grace.
I was moved to read the other day what my seminary classmate and friend Professor James Farwell wrote on his Facebook page, and I'm going to share the entire post.
Today I attended the funeral of a man I did not know. I was there because I know his son, who was one of my students when I taught on the faculty of the once great General Theological Seminary – someone who is a colleague now, and whom I consider a friend.
In a sermon that was a master class in preaching the burial of the dead, the preacher evoked the memorial inscription for Sir Christopher Wren who is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. You know, perhaps, that memorial inscription: “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city…who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit, but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” The preacher went on to note that the 'living monument' of the deceased was the people who packed the church to its walls, who had felt the effect of his service, his leadership, his humanity, and his faith and – in the case of his family – his love and his pride in them.
As I said: I did not know the man. Yet there I was, sitting in church, because I was connected to his son – so, I suppose, one degree of separation. I was struck through this gathering by the extent of our illusory sense of isolation, our belief that we are connected as human beings only to those with whom we are the very closest; and to all others we are strangers. But this is wrong. We are all connected, just barely separated by generations or distance or happenstance, but deeply enmeshed in one another’s lives as our choices, our practices, our influence, touching those closest to us, radiate outward, ripples in a great sea, through our connection with those we touch, through those that THEY touch – for good or for ill.
Buddhists know that we are thus connected – all interdependently arising and passing away together. Advaita Vedantists of the school of Ramanuja know this too, acknowledging the distinctions among us and among all things of the earth, but knowing simultaneously that these are all just manifestations of the One who is, unconditioned and ineffable. And Christians know this, that we are all connected in the ground of Being by whom we are made and by whom we are blessed in our flesh by the Incarnation of Christ, whose presence we shared today at the Eucharistic table – we, both wonderful and terrifying in our capacities to touch one another through the lives we build over our span of years. For this reason we are wise, as John Donne saw, when the bell rings for the dead, not to ask “for whom the bell tolls,” for it tolls always for all of us, as each and all “go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” “Alleluia” indeed, for at every fresh loss we are consoled to know that nothing, in the end, is truly lost; that nothing that is good slips through the fingers of God; that we belong to one another; and that we are not alone.
I was grateful to understand this again, as I forget it from time to time; and so I am grateful that I could be present at the burial of a man I did not know, to support a friend.”
We are in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; the octave between the feast of the Confession of St. Peter and the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In both stories we find that unity is the gift of God. That unity is vast and wide and deep, but we don't see it so much of the time.
So that's why I have to pray personally after the fashion of this excerpt from Prayer D of our Book of Common Prayer 1979:
Remember, Lord, your one, holy catholic and apostolic Church, redeemed by the blood of your Christ. Reveal its unity, guard its faith, and preserve it in peace.