Wayne Smith's occasional blog of pilgrimages and journeys

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, July 28. An ordinary day at the Conference.

The weather here is hardly what you would call hot by Missouri standards, with today's high around eighty degrees Fahrenheit, but the meeting rooms are deadly. Obviously designed to hold the heat, they fulfill that function quite well. Bible study room, hot. Indaba room, hotter. The Big Top, hotter still. Not a hint of breeze in any room, anywhere.

The hottest of all was the room where the bishops met this afternoon for a hearing with the Windsor Continuation Group. It is a most impractically large room in the University's sports center, a room designed to let in a lot of natural light, rather like a gymnasium-size atrium. With a difficult subject before us and hardly any air to breathe, the atmosphere was more than stifling. The testimony provided by some twenty-five bishops gave more heat than light, with really not much new said, and I need time to process the content of the report itself (as well as the testimony). The only clarity I can find is that there is no consensus, at this point. The afternoon press conference will surely be filled with details of this hearing, and I urge you to remember that today's work was but one step along the way with the Windsor process. The Lambeth Conference will not "vote" on anything coming out of this Group or on the Windsor Report itself, but the Continuation Group will funnel data from the hearings and the feedback from Indabas into their final report, which will go to the Anglican Consultative Council next April. There the decision, if any, will be made. I find that Lambeth presents multiple points for reactivity, and I am no good in responding with care, whenever I give in to reactivity. And after five years of commissions and reports and such, each seeming dire on initial glance, I am finally learning to tamp my reactivity down.

Everything, however, seems languid with the heat, including today's Bible study (John 10:1-10) and Indaba. The topic for Indaba was an important one--bishops, Christian witness, and other faiths--and I do believe that my group gave it our best shot, though we met in a room that left everyone gasping for air.

Under the Big Top tonight, in a plenary session, we heard from Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He awed the gathering with his explication of covenant as a crucial idea in our world--and gave us some hope, both for the world and for our own internal difficulties. He differentiated the commodities of covenant (love, friendship, trust) from the commodity of politics (power) and the commodity of economics (wealth), thereby arguing for the urgency of covenant, the natural language of religion, in an age awash with the signs of power and wealth and their misuse. He also noted the ill effects for a world in which covenental goods disappear--anxiety, loss of identity, substance abuse, and on and on, and he challenged us for the sake of society, not for our own sake alone, to sustain the presence of covenant.

Then he elaborated a distinction between the covenant of faith, which binds a people together based on common hope, identity, and purpose, and a covenant of fate, which binds people together through shared hardship or even disaster. In a world faced with global climate change, economic disaster, warfare, and other life-and-death matters, he pushed us to stake a claim in such a covenant, one of fate, that bears the potential for binding us together when so much is at stake. This summary hardly does justice to the brilliance, the forcefulness, and accessibilty of his presentation, but it will have to do.

Rabbi Sacks won a standing ovation from a crowd that is typically reserved in its such displays. And what a sight it was to see Archbishop Rowan embrace him, at moment the sound of applause only increased.

(I can also commend from my own reading Rabbi Sacks' 2002 book, The Dignity of Difference.)

UPDATED July 29. You can find Rabbi Sack's address here.


Barbi Click said...

Dear Bishop Smith, I too am trying to live without the knee jerk reactions that one is so prone to in times such as these. Each meeting of Bishops and Archbishops fills me with such anticipation at the thought of all the good things that could happen. Yet hand in hand with that anticipation is the knowledge that what could result might feel quite disasterous.
I am praying steadily for you, for all the bishops and for the true idea of Indaba.
May God guide you and wrap you tightly in the Spirit.

Lisa Fox said...

Bishop, I am so very, very glad you are blogging during this time! I am grateful for your insights and for the time it must require in these already-full days.

The Lambeth Conference will not "vote" on anything coming out of this Group or on the Windsor Report itself.
Thank you for these reassuring words. I know there are some (including Ephraim Radner) urging one "side" to force a vote. I pray that the indaba process will prevail against any power-politics move that may arise.

Perhaps some of my blogging in the last couple of days has been premature. I do feel forced, personally, to consider what it would mean to me and other Episcopalians were we to be "shunned" by the Anglican Communion. It would be painful, but surely not as painful as the beatings we've endured for the past five years.

The heat in the rooms sounds oppressive. I wish you all could just go meet out under a big ol' shade tree.