"Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
(Mark 4:41, Wednesday Evening Lesson)
The last few months have been bittersweet.
There have been some truly kind efforts by folks in the Diocese of South Dakota to reach out to me, and I've tried to do some of the same. I am genuinely touched by folks who are making a real effort to do some of the hardest work that Jesus commands, which is to forgive when wounded. And in all the "stuff" going on in the Episcopal Church, you can be sure that there are wounds all around.
But at the end of the day, one "side" runs the national church, calling itself "inclusive" while piously intoning "Good riddance" to dissenters. I know that assessment will be a profound discouragement to those who've reached out to me, and my inclination is to fudge it a bit. But that's my sincere analysis of the situation, and their kind efforts deserve sincere response.
I will grant them the fact that the Diocese of South Dakota is more temperate, broad and inclusive of different viewpoints than is the national denomination. Today a new church member (the Lord done tooketh away but also giveth back?) told me about her upbringing on a military base. She grew up with Catholic and Protestant groups having their separate services, but in the same building with both traditions socializing in between. There was crossover attendance at Bible studies, youth groups and other events. As she shared this, it struck me as applicable to life in the Diocese of South Dakota. Like a military base, this Diocese is not a "normal" environment, but one with special needs and demands that can make even profound points of disagreement secondary to a few important things in common.
That used to be the Anglican "Middle Way" as well, I think.
But today the "few important things in common" are really, really elusive for Episcopalians. That's why I led with a verse from this evening's Bible lesson, when the first disciples look at Jesus and ask, "Who is this...?" Episcopalians, even here in South Dakota, can't come anywhere near a common answer.
I simply cannot fathom why homosexual clergy and marriages are non-negotiable, unquestionable understandings of Jesus for some in the church. I know that they would answer "Who is this?" with at least some reference to Jesus as an archetype of inclusion, but my mind can't get from there to some of their mandatory church policies.
And, with all their good intentions, other Episcopalians cannot fathom why sacrifice for our sin is a non-negotiable, unquestionable understanding of Jesus for me. Ask "Who is this?" and I have to say, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" - and they smile tightly and roll their eyes.
The Diocesan Vision borrows a Tribal perspective to express the church as "a sacred circle gathered around Jesus." But there's no agreement on Jesus - there's no true gathering point.
As I type that, I come up against a contradiction. I led off this post sharing that several of us did look to Jesus and obey his words about forgiveness. That is no small thing - and Jesus did describe the church as a family where brothers and sisters would keep on forgiving one another. So somehow a circle - even if temporary - formed around him for that.
But then I look back to the national church and see millions of donated dollars budgeted for lawsuits and "discipline" by the devotees of inclusive Jesus against the folks who want to announce Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God. I see the reality that folks who want to announce Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God usually can't get through the inclusive Jesus seminaries and, even if they do, won't have access to congregational leadership under inclusive Jesus bishops.
And so it goes. On the one hand, the Diocese of South Dakota where the challenges allow Jesus to show up and surprise us, despite disagreements. On the other, the national Episcopal Church which blends supposedly passe terms like "heretic" and "schismatic" with new terms like "homophobe" and "hater" to demonize people like me.
"Who is this...?" Ultimately, I would like to be part of a family that celebrates and shares a common reply.