Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Canadian House of Bishops Meet with Lutherans

I commend to you “A Word to the Church from the House of Bishops” of the Anglican Church of Canada, dated October 26, from Montreal where the House of Bishops have been meeting for six days. In this conjoining of three separate meetings was “House and Spouse,” which included bishops’ spouses, who opted to gather as friends rather than have an educational program. As has been their practice for several years, the Canadian House of Bishops met jointly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s Conference of Bishops to dialogue about living into their full communion partnership. 
The Canadian bishops reflected on why they meet, who they are when they meet, and how they fit into the overall church structure throughout their time together with the Lutheran bishops and separately. They reached several conclusions about how they will meet in the future. Their desire is for greater opportunities for education and theological discussions, but they eschew outside presentations without specific purpose, and they do not wish to be lobbied. Like The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, they choose closed sessions to enhance free exchange of ideas without press scrutiny.
In closed session and in an update from the Lutheran bishops, the distribution of the respective churches’ statements on sexuality was discussed. The Canadian bishops observed that there has been little response despite wide dissemination of the statements. Their sense is that the churches are engaging other areas of mission and ministry even as issues of sexuality are not settled.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An insider looking in from the outside

The Internet is both gift and curse:  gift because we can stay on top of what is happening in distant events, blow by blow, and curse because we are incited by necessarily incomplete reports to all manner of emotions. Certainly this has been the case in the online reporting by Episcopal News Service (ENS) of the just ended Executive Council meeting in Salt Lake City and the correspondingly swift blogosphere commentary.

For this writer, the experience has been unique. As a member of Executive Council, but one who was absent from Salt Lake City due to caring for a husband just barely three weeks out of kidney transplant surgery, I got to experience what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. Granted, I did have the advantage of following somewhat minimally the written reports, proposed resolutions and financial reports posted to the GCO Extranet Web site dedicated to Executive Council’s use. They did not, however, tell the story of the discussions that took place in plenary sessions, in committee sessions or in informal conversations at meals, breaks and evening relaxation over a libation.

So, let me share a few observations as an insider looking in from the outside.

About Communications and the Need to Know

If Council and management didn’t know before, let me point out the obvious: there are a lot of people, both those who keenly love The Episcopal Church and wish it well and those who have antipathy for The Episcopal Church and deem it broken, who want to know what is happening in the councils of the church, some to the extreme of anxiousness bordering on unhealthy obsession. So, from my point of view, I think it behooves Council and the church’s communications department to do a good and timely job of communicating what is happening, in specifics and in as much detail as seems necessary in each instance, including some comments about the reasoning behind why decisions and actions are made and taken. When I was chair of a state sports association in which competitive juices ran high, I often over-communicated, and some people didn’t read what I wrote. But for those who had the need to know, my communiqu├ęs kept unrest down to a dull roar in my two-year term.

When a meeting is a multi-day meeting, as are Council meetings, it takes time for the entire story to unfold, and it takes time for the reporting on the story to get out, parcel by parcel. It is not helpful to anyone, including to those who are critics of Council, for analysis that reads a lot more like potshots than thoughtful reflection to be engaged piecemeal. The immediate case in point is the disparagement of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s comments found in the ENS story entitled “Presiding bishop warns Executive Council about ‘suicide by governance’” posted on October 24. More information offering a fuller picture of the context of Bishop Jefferts Schori’s comments and Council members’ responses to them was reported by ENS in its October 25 story entitled “Executive Council passes reduced 2011 budget” posted after the Council meeting ended.

Between the two ENS news stories, there were many blog postings that zeroed in on the sound bites from the first news story and mused about what was meant without any circling back to the Presiding Bishop or to the context of the Council meeting’s discussions. And yes, of course, it wasn’t really possible to circle back to either – yet. The October 25th ENS story after the Council meeting was helpful in providing a more fulsome picture. I had the opportunity, being at home managing lab and doctors’ visits and six times a day meds and preparing dietary-restricted meals, to read many of those blogs. My main impression is that there sure are a lot of people who have a need to hear themselves talk and who believe that line by line scrutiny of another’s comments or actions, as reported by third parties, somehow makes the bloggers feel smarter and righter. My response is, hire a therapist.

For any of you who has attempted the daunting job of reporting on events live, or as soon afterwards as possible, you know that it is a big responsibility to choose which of the myriad of important actions and remarks to report and how best to report them accurately and without bias. My hat is off to the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg of ENS for the stellar job that she does in this regard. The statement from Executive Council, which is typically written by a team of three writers (myself included), is meant to be more of a picture of the experience of the Council members during the meeting and is directed at our fellow members of The Episcopal Church. We try to give a flavor of what has happened, but the statement is neither report nor minutes.

About Executive Council, Deputies and Bishops and Governance

I strongly believe that speaking about specific points of disagreement about perspectives and choices is of paramount importance. In a civil, democratic church community, speech as exemplified in conversations and dialogue is what is important in order to advance mission and ministry. Dialogue must be between principals and not amidst a circle of third party kibitzers. Now, if the kibitzers engage the principals, then they become principals in the dialogue, too.

I happen to think the Presiding Bishop’s comments about the exercise of the roles of deputies versus bishops as being diocesan-based versus whole church based is inaccurate. I don’t think it’s something that can be generalized, because there are as many versions of how diocese-influenced or diocese-loyal any deputy or bishop might be as there are deputies and bishops. It’s even more complicated than that. I think it also depends on the nature of the question before the deputies and bishops as to how strongly or, if at all, their diocesan influence or loyalty weighs in. Individuals at both ends of the conservative and liberal spectrum seem to want to paint the picture as absolute, either A or B, and it’s neither. Deputies and bishops are thinking individuals who have deeply held convictions and widely different experiences, and they are complex and cannot be reduced to stereotypes.

My observations lead me to believe that the most important two qualities of church leaders in any role is profound, utter love of the Body of Christ and being equipped through both Christian and secular formation for the role undertaken. Personal politics or theological leanings are much less important. Being unprepared is, in my opinion, inexcusable. I believe that those of us who vote to elect church leaders have an equal responsibility to pray for, lift up, challenge, inform and dialogue with those leaders whether or not they were our candidates of choice.

“Suicide by governance” is a wonderful sound bite, but that’s all. It’s actually an unfortunate turn of phrase, because it invites more emotional outbursts than it does serious reflection. And seriously, The Episcopal Church really does have some issues to reflect and act upon regarding its governance structure. My sense is that everyone can agree that something needs to be done, but what we cannot agree upon – yet – is how much to deconstruct and restructure, and the when and how of it.

Structural change will always be resisted by the status quo and those most invested in the status quo, whether by virtue of benefits that they derive from the status quo or from nostalgia about traditions that have blessed them and theirs. But it will always be better to be our own agents of change and bear the lumps that will surely heap upon us as we engage change than to be the remaining and passive recipients of abandonment, apathy and neglect, or rebellion and revolution. The very human reaction I see all around me in the church is the emotion of not trusting our leaders and not wanting to be led into a season where we will be taking some lumps before it gets better. Who ever said that moving forward would always be on the primrose path with others beyond our sight taking the lumps, but not us?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Caretakers

Being the caretaker is in some ways harder than being the patient. The focus is rightly on the patient. Your job is to do and take care of, while the patient’s job is to rest and get better. When the patient is your husband of almost thirty years who has consistently said, “the ‘please’ is silent,” partially in jest, your forbearance sometimes wears thin.
Anyone who knows me well knows that patience is not my strong suit. I have learned through training and reflection to exercise patience, because in most instances it works better than impatience. I know, my pragmatism is showing.
Patience doesn’t come naturally to me, although a driven sense of self-discipline does. When the pop psychologists itemized the characteristics of Type A personalities, I felt like someone was reciting my psych profile out loud.
Luckily for my husband, while my patience quotient is low, my duty index is off the charts. I’m the daughter of a father whose epitaph says “Duty and Sacrifice Beyond Reproach.” I emulate those sentiments without even trying. They are as much a part of my DNA as the color of my skin. They are my cultural legacy as a filial Chinese firstborn.
Hospice, a movement younger than I am, has come to appreciate the importance of respite for caretakers. Likewise, church guilds also institutionalize home delivered meals and housecleaning services for families with recently hospitalized members. Nobody sends the caretakers flowers, but maybe they should. I think I will from now on.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Public Outrage

The aftermath of Tyler Clementi’s suicide and Liu Xiaobo’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize is provoking similar reactions of public outrage and humiliation to their oppressors.
Since Clementi’s suicide after being outed on live Webcam by his Rutgers roommate, there have been numerous efforts to speak out against homophobic bullying. Examples include The Trevor Project, which provides resources to end GLBTQ teen suicides, the It Gets Better videos project, launched September 21st to respond to another GLBTQ teen who suicided, Billy Lucas of Indiana, which records affirming messages directed at GLBTQ teens, and amending the 2009 Safe Schools Improvement Act to include anti-bullying language.
The It Gets Better project has gone viral with new videos posted daily by people from all walks of life, including Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson. The goal is to affirm publicly the value of GLBTQ teens’ lives and to state unequivocally the moral wrongness of those who perpetuate hate language and bullying acts.
Chinese political prisoner Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for writing a document promoting democracy. Calls for freeing Liu have come from President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Kan and are deeply humiliating to the Chinese government, which says that Liu’s imprisonment is an internal issue.
Social media used to elicit activism is electrifying. Everyone can be an activist in one’s own home. The public outrage is loud, instantaneous and omnipresent. The humiliation is deserved for those to whom the outrage is directed. Let us hope that humiliation will lead to changed behavior.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Planning Your Life

You can have a plan for your life, but your life also has its own timeline, independent of your druthers. So it is when you are a transplant patient. You get onto the list, if you pass the screenings, and time advances until you rise to the top. Nothing can be done to speed that rise.

Herb and I opted to continue living instead of engaging in waiting as a lifestyle. Friends these last couple of days have said, “We didn’t know Herb needed a kidney.” Our not telling was about shaping our lives. We believe that life is for the living. Herb wanted to be Herb and not “the sick guy.” He wanted me to be Lee and not “the sad wife.” Humans have a tendency to project their fears onto others. Herb and I decided not to take on anyone else’s fears.

Herb continued to work and consult in nuclear engineering, mining the wisdom and knowledge developed over a distinguished career, participating to make a positive difference. I continued to volunteer with the church, influencing reflection and change, touching individuals, encouraging bravery and joy in life’s challenges. The Gifts of God for the People of God. We give, because that is the only meaningful choice in living.

We’re on the other side, so to speak, but the downhill journey is still potentially dangerous. We are grateful for the donor’s choice, and we pray for the donor’s family and the ones who didn’t receive this kidney and their families.