Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Concusion Without Conclusions

Today the 2008 Lambeth Conference officially came to a conclusion—a fact that inevitably raises the question “What has it accomplished?”

I am mindful, once again, of the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the beginning of our time together—that we should not expect that this conference would solve the issues facing the Anglican Communion but that it would be reasonable and realistic to hope that our trust in one another would be renewed in such a way that we might be empowered to change in whatever way God intends.

Placing ourselves in the hands of the living God is always a risky thing, of course.

Over these past few weeks the spirit of God has certainly moved among us—sometimes quietly and unseen, sometimes more apparently, sometimes loudly, sometimes with consolation, and sometimes with deep and demanding challenge. We have not resolved all the issues of the Anglican Communion, particularly those focusing on human sexuality. That much is clear and should come as no surprise. But it is also quite evident that people really did come to this conference ready to listen and to speak and with both the will and the heart to learn from one another and to understand. As one bishop observed, “the hardest language to learn is the language of our neighbor.” The result? A deep and respectful attentiveness to our relationships across this Communion that will inevitably serve our common mission in the days ahead.

What has been produced? A paper capturing the conversations of the sixteen “Indaba Groups” (40 bishops per group) that met daily over the past few weeks. That document is available at http://www.lambethconference.org/reflections/document.cfm .

It is important to note that this paper is not intended to be conclusive. Archbishop Roger Herft of Perth who chaired the writing committee said simply that it is intended to be a “snapshot of the encounters that have enriched and changed us.” It is, in other words, descriptive rather than prescriptive. It is not legislation. It has not been voted on. “It is not,” in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, “a report of the Lambeth Conference.”

None of which should minimize it’s significance. It is quite simply a faithful record of conversations held among bishops of the Anglican Communion, gathered solemnly in prayer and bible study under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In that is its weight, and that weight is sufficient.

What will happen? This afternoon Archbishop Rowan William delivered his final presidential address (the full text of which is available at http://www.lambethconference.org/daily/news.cfm/2008/8/3/ACNS4511). In it he observed that among the gathered bishops “there is no desire to separate.” The widespread commitment of bishops to the unity of the Anglican Communion has been clear throughout the conference. Archbishop Williams went on, however, to raise significant and serious questions about the true nature of Christian unity and what that might mean both theologically and practically if indeed we desire to be something more than “an association of polite friends.” Therein lies the challenge.

Given the amount of listening I have done over these weeks, and given the amount of information that I have taken in, I intend simply to sit with it all prayerfully for now. I will write more later, so do keep checking this blog.

Which brings me back to the risk and consolation of surrendering ourselves—or, more accurately our selves—into the hands of the living God. If God indeed intends to give birth to something new and divine among us, none of us can afford to say anything other than, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Friday, August 1, 2008

Translation

video

Yesterday I arrived for lunch at Keynes College ahead of the noonday crowd and found myself sitting down alone at an empty table in an uncharacteristically quiet dining hall. In short order, however, I heard a familiar voice from behind saying, "May I join you?"

It was Bishop Martin Nyaboho of Burundi, smiling warmly, and I was delighted to see him. I welcomed the company.

Our first meeting had actually been in Colorado in 2003 not long after I had been consecrated bishop. Martin and his wife were guests of The Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, and their rector, Ephraim Radner, brought them to the Diocesan Office to meet me, the "new bishop." I am sorry to say that at the time I had never heard of Burundi. But two years later, quite to my surprise, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, asked me to go to there to represent The Episcopal Church at the enthronement of their new Archbishop, Bernard Ntahotori. It was an experience I will never forget--a country just emerging from years of war, the challenges of rebuilding and development in the face of staggering poverty, the joyous celebration of a new archbishop, and Martin (quite the linguist), right in the middle of it, translating tirelessly so that we could all understand one another.

It's just one short story that is emblematic of the many stories of the many relationships that are being made, renewed, and strengthened here, and Bishop Martin wanted me to be sure express his thanks for his friends at Ascension, Pueblo and the support they have given to the ministry of The Diocese of Makamba (hence the video).

Even more importantly, it puts me in mind of all the connections that The Diocese of Colorado has throughout this global communion--Christ Church in Denver with Bishop James Ochiel of Kenya; Church of the Transfiguration in Vail with Archbishop Valentine Mokiwa of Tanzania(who was also present at our Diocesan Convention in 2005); the Colorado Haiti Project with Bishop Zache Duracin of Haiti; many friends and supporters throughout Colorado with Archbishop Daniel Deng and other Sudanese bishops; and others with Bishop Miguel Tamayo of Cuba and Uruguay (who is also in my bible study). There are more, but these are just a few that come easily to mind.

Every one of these relationships are life-giving in the fullest sense of the expression, and as my visit yesterday with Bishop Martin reminded me, it's pretty basic.

In our post-colonial, post-modern, and still emergent Communion, it becomes particularly important to simply to sit at table with one another and be willing to keep doing the work of translation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No Word For 'Resurrection'

What do you do when there’s no word for “resurrection”?

The topic for discussion in our Indaba Groups today was the interpretation of scripture. The specific question posed to us was “What would you consider are Anglican Ways [of] interpreting the Bible?”

The conversation uncovered many principles of interpretation held in common across cultural lines—a respect for biblical scholarship; the necessity of interpreting scripture in both its biblical and historical contexts; the fact that scripture is most properly read and understood in community and primarily in the context of worship; the challenge of reading the scripture in the context of the culture while at the same time allowing the gospel to stand over and against the culture; the importance of giving room to the Holy Spirit to inform our interpretation; and the role of the bishop as a bridge of interpretation between different contexts.

There were more contributions as well, and the presence in our group of Cardinal Walter Kasper from the Vatican (President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) confirmed that these principles are not uniquely Anglican but are indeed shared across denominational lines.

Given the controversial issues that are before us as a Communion—issues that have caused some to claim that others are rejecting the very authority of scripture itself—the subject of interpretation becomes particularly important.

To the task of interpreting scripture we inevitably bring our lives, our different cultures, and our personal histories. It is a fact that our fellowship as a global communion “is both greatly enriched, and at times challenged and confused, by the variety of ways of encountering Scripture.” These are the words of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission in a report addressing the centrality of the bible in the Anglican tradition. The report goes on to say, “The rich variety of material within the canon [of scripture] resists all human attempts to reduce it to a flat or uniform agenda. At the same time, the biblical writings are consistent witnesses to the trustworthiness of the triune God and, for all their differences of style, content, and opinion, they are clearly part of one conversation that intends to be open to hear the Word of that one God.”

Not surprisingly, in today’s Indaba Group, the foundational issue of language showed itself once again to be one of the greatest challenges.

A bishop from the Democratic Republic of Congo informed us that in his language there is no word for “resurrection.” A bishop from Burma said that there were no words for either “shepherd” or “sheep.” Something as basic as that—the lack of a concept and the lack of a single word—he observed, makes it difficult to teach people that Jesus is the good shepherd let alone one who has risen from the dead.

Which brings an element of creativity into the task of biblical translation and interpretation.

A bishop from Canada told the story of translating a passage in Luke 10 for the Inuit people among whom he was working—that story in which Jesus appoints seventy to go before him to proclaim the gospel. When it came to the part that reads “the seventy returned with joy” (verse 17), the translator informed him that there was no word in the vocabulary that would do. After searching a moment for a concept that would remain faithful to the text and, at the same time, would work for a people living in an environment of cold and ice, dogs and dogsleds, the translator finally explained to the people quite simply that the seventy returned “wagging their tails.”

Think about it.

Could it be that the interplay between scripture and culture and the inevitable tension that it brings to the task of faithful interpretation is, at the same time, the very thing that brings the Living Word into life?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, spoke to a plenary session last evening about the concept of covenant as it is found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Author of numerous books, including The Dignity of Difference and The Home We Build Together, his lecture was passionate, provocative, and wise. The full text of his presentation can be found at http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1912 and is, in all honesty, a "must read." I recommend the two books as well and am confident that his insights will bring a breath of fresh air to our conversations about the proposed Anglican Covenant over the next few days.

Indaba

Indaba: the word is Zulu and Xhosa and means quite simply “an important conference or gathering.”

It describes a process used in a number of African countries by which a community can address any problem or issue that may arise. It demands a kind of corporate or communal listening, as I understand it, that is based on real attentiveness to “the other” and is characterized by two key features: (1) that the community as a whole must define the problem or issue without rushing to a conclusion until the point is reached that everyone can agree upon what the problem or issue actually is; and (2) that in both defining and resolving the problem or issue at hand, every individual must be able to speak and every voice is heard.

The process of indaba has been perhaps the most innovative feature of this year’s Lambeth Conference—a gathering that has been radically overhauled in terms of its organization and structure. Rather than plenary sessions with many hundreds in attendance, affording few and time-limited opportunities for only a handful of bishops to find their way to microphones to publicly state positions, we have been working from the first day of the conference through a process of small group bible study (eight bishops) followed by “Indaba Groups” (forty bishops) in an effort to meet face to face, to speak our hearts and minds, and to really listen to one another—something that is far too rare for a body that claims to be a global communion.

Although the process as it has been practically implemented here has been widely criticized, I am mindful of the question posed by the Archbishop of Canterbury during his first presidential address—that is, “how effective has the old process been?”

In spite of its flaws, I have found that in my “Indaba Group” we are indeed speaking our hearts and minds, we are listening, and in a process that may not travel easily across cultural differences, we are teasing out a more fulsome description of our life and our issues as a communion.

That process stands in stark contrast to the second hearing of the “Windsor Continuation Group” that was held yesterday afternoon. Picture a large plenary session in a sweltering hot room with few and time-limited opportunities (three minutes for each speaker to be exact) for a handful of bishops (approximately 20-25 according to my math) to find their way to a microphone and state their position in response to a paper entitled “Preliminary Observations Part Three” (a document that was officially released to the press this afternoon, is said to be provisional in nature, about which some are rushing to conclusions, and because of which levels of anxiety are inevitably rising both here and at home).

It’s not that there weren’t good and helpful contributions from those who spoke at the hearing, and as deeply challenging and offensive as I may have found some comments, it was still good and helpful to listen.

But as a bishop from another part of the world said only a few days ago, so long as we gather in the old ways “we shall only be doing difference as difference has always been done.” Instead, he continued, “we need to do difference differently.”

In the spirit of indaba, I am not rushing to conclusions.

Last night when Sir Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth) spoke to us about the concept of covenant, he observed that “the hardest thing in the world is to hold the adherents of a faith together.” He said, “The Anglican Communion has held together more strands of faith and has done it more graciously and successfully than any other religion I know.” He concluded quite simply and powerfully by saying, “This is your unique contribution to the world.”

Perhaps the heart of Anglican Christianity, in its own peculiar but wonderful way, is indaba after all.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting To The Point With John


Lambeth Conference support staff, led here by Professor Gerald West of the University of Kwazulu-Natal, are participating in the same bible study that marks the beginning of every day's agenda. The series, focusing on the "I Am" statements of John's gospel, has proven to be a prayer-filled and insightful experience for all of us in the small group in which I participate.

Each of the encounters with Jesus described in these passages (listed further down on right-hand side of this page) pose, in different guise, two of the most basic questions of faith--that is, who is Jesus, and who are we in relationship to Jesus?

And just as significantly, these passages have led us quite naturally and inevitably to a much deeper place of encounter, providing both the framework and the context in which we have addressed many of the troubling issues of our Communion that are at the heart of this conference. Those conversations (involving in my group English, American, Mexican, Australian, Caribbean, and South American voices) have been characterized by candor, forthrightness, thoughtfulness, attentiveness, honesty and compassion.

When we first assembled well over a week ago, Rowan Williams stated that he did not expect that in two weeks time we would find a solution to all of our problems. That is realistic. He went on to say, however, that it was his hope that we would "find the trust that will give us all the energy to change in the way that God intends."

That too, I would hope, is the point of encountering the gospel.

To the degree that I can, I'll say more in the days ahead about some of the difficult and challenging experiences that I have had in the larger scope of the conference's agenda and activities. For now you should know that, at least at the beginning of the day, my small group bible study is actually getting to the point.

Friday, July 25, 2008

London Day: The Walk of Witness

Yesterday was officially “London Day” in the Lambeth Conference schedule—which meant at the very least an early start to load some 1600 people (bishops, spouses, and staff) onto buses for the two hour trip to into London.

Although the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a luncheon at Lambeth Palace, and although the day culminated with a garden party with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, the most important part of the day, to my thinking, came at the beginning with the “Walk of Witness”—a public demonstration of 670 bishops and 1,500 other faith leaders, politicians, and diplomats—which began at Whitehall, then passed Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey before crossing the Thames and concluding at Lambeth Palace.

In the words of The Archbishop of Canterbury, the walk was intended to be “a poignant act of commitment by the Anglican Communion and other faith groups to continue to put pressure on those who have the power and resources to help end extreme poverty across the globe.” It was, he said, to be “about pledging, as a Church, to play our part in continuing to develop lasting solutions.”

Those words—a noble sentiment so easily spoken—assumed the form of a haunting and challenging question yesterday. With the words of Archbishop Ndungne, the former Archbishop of Southern Africa, spoken two years ago in Boksburg, South Africa ringing in my ears—that “we live in a world in which the rich are getting stinkingly rich while the poor are becoming desperately poor”—I could only be struck by the radical contrasts contained within the walk itself. Tourist waved at us eagerly from passing busses, eager only to get some video and photos for the record. Workers from office buildings, taking a break from the routine of the day, came out to watch an unquestionably intriguing sea of purple. A news helicopter circled, then hovered, then circled again, capturing footage for the evening news. Photographers and reporters circulated around the fringes of the walk taking statements and looking for photo opportunities. All of it was directed more to the spectacle than to the substance of the story itself .

Prime Minister of England, Gordon Brown, spoke both eloquently and passionately, without a single note, about the need for churches and governments to work together to eradicate poverty. When he finished, an English bishop standing beside me said simply "he really means it too." His speech, well worth hearing, can be found at http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page16019.asp. Reporter James Macyntire gave a thoughtful and accurate report on the walk itself in The Independent (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/what-the-activists-said-to-the-bishops-876802.html).

But add to the spectacle, the gathering at Lambeth Palace. Then follow that with tea with the Queen. Then insert, somewhere in the midst of it all, the glaring fact of global poverty—absolutely incomprehensible to those of us who live in the first world—set against a background of Whitehall and Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, while at the same time I am walking side by side with brothers and sisters from Burundi and Sudan, and Zimbabwe and Burma who live daily with a kind of courageous witness to the gospel that is simply not known in our experience—and the only question that comes to mind is a plain and simple “why”?

While there is no disagreement on the sentiment of opposing global poverty, our collective will is sadly lacking. If we, the Church, do not speak a powerful word of compassion and equality and justice (the very words of our Lord) into the indifferent structures of our government and society, then who will? Is that not what the prophet Micah meant when he wrote, “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It gets back, I think, to the fact that when it comes to participating in God’s mission “the road is made by walking it.” Period. End of sentence. This is what our world longs to see—not spectacle, but women and men of faith standing together courageously, without condition, in Love.

Until we Christians are willing quite literally to stand in complete solidarity with the poorest of the poor in our world, we bear witness to nothing more than a garden party and we have no good news to share with a world that not only needs it but is longing to hear it.