Disciple: The In-between Time
By the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman
In the late 1980s, the actress Carrie Fisher wrote a novel of sorts based loosely on her family life. The book was called Postcards from the Edge and was later made into a movie with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. The title’s reference was to a feeling the actress sometimes had as she found herself struggling to keep a toehold in reality. Her world, too often, felt as though it was about to teeter over the edge and fall in on itself.
These past couple of years have felt a bit like Carrie Fisher’s world. And this summer, just as we thought the worst of the pandemic was finally behind us, we have been battling yet another manifestation of the COVID-19 virus. This variant of a variant has spread rapidly, leaving more clergy and their families struggling with COVID-19 than at any previous time throughout this long ordeal. Fortunately, all are managing and recovering, over time.
So we continue to find ways to move forward, to live our lives, and to do so without fear but with greater adaptability and resilience. We are learning what it means to live in the meantime, or in the meanwhile. Even as the storm continues to batter us, we persevere. There is something faithful about this determination, something even Christ-like.
The words that come to mind are from that passage in the gospel, just after his transfiguration, where Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is the place, of course, of his trial. It is the city of his suffering, the final destination on his earthly journey.
The feast of the Transfiguration is actually observed in the middle of summer, on August 6. Here, in the long season of Pentecost, in what is often called “ordinary time” in the life of the church, something extraordinary happens to Jesus, that turns the direction of his mission to the city of his destiny and death.
Of course, we know what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration, because Matthew, Mark and Luke each have their own accounts of this theophany of sorts. And we certainly know what happens to Jesus when he gets to Jerusalem, but what was the journey like in the meantime, from Mount Tabor to the Holy City?
In other words, what was life like for Jesus in the in-between time, while he made his fateful and faithful journey? The Bible doesn’t tell us much about those days.
But perhaps those days were, for Jesus, like these days are for us.
As a diocese, we are preparing for a significant transition, as Bishop Anne moves toward retirement. This is an in-between time for us, in the coming months, as we express our love and deep gratitude to Bishop Anne for her leadership and care as our bishop suffragan, for her more than 30 years of service in North Carolina and for serving as the first woman bishop in our diocese. We will miss Bishop Anne in our day-to-day life. And while she is in many senses irreplaceable, we also know and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in our discernment and call of a new assistant bishop.
BETWEEN THE ROCK AND THE HARD PLACE
This summer also has been a different kind of summer. In many ways, it has been framed by two significant events in the life of The Episcopal Church: the 80th General Convention, held in July in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Lambeth Conference, taking place in August in Canterbury, England. As I write this, I am literally in the in-between time, the time between these two events.
General Convention was shorter and smaller due to the limits imposed by COVID-19, but it left many of us with a feeling of hopefulness and gratitude. We had conversations that reflected mutual respect. People who held different points of view or opinions came to the table to find common ground while respecting each other’s positions.
We made great headway in our commitment to racial equity and justice in our determination to live more deeply into the call to become beloved community. We listened to the heartbreaking stories of the trauma of those whose lives were upended, and then tragically ended, at boarding schools for Indigenous children. We faced together the aftermath of the shooting at St. Stephen’s in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, as one body suffering with one another but also determined to heal. We came together around concern for our planet, the care of which has been entrusted to us by the one who made it and who made us.
As presiding bishop the Most Rev. Michael Curry reminded us in his opening sermon, time and again, we looked to the rock. We looked to the one who was transfigured on the rock of Mount Tabor to find our strength and to learn to trust one another more directly and deeply. We looked to Jesus, and we found sure signs of new life, of unity, of hope and of that peace that passes all our understanding.
As we turn our faces toward Lambeth, though, there seems to be some conflict and trouble on the horizon. It feels as though, in this liminal space, we are not just in between, we are caught—between a rock (our Rock) and a hard place.
Just as we readied ourselves to leave, we discovered that a conference that was supposed to focus our time together on reflection and retreat so that we might listen and learn from one another will instead be the source of division, pain, and even discrimination and fear.
At the 11th hour, the Archbishop of Canterbury sent out a series of papers entitled “Lambeth Calls” that will be the focus of some discussion and debate during the course of our two weeks together. Not that there is anything wrong with discussion and debate, but this is not what we were led to believe was the agenda when we were invited. Furthermore, one of the calls is to reaffirm a piece of legislation from the 1998 Lambeth Conference that was, and now is again, deeply hurtful to beloved members of Christ’s body, specifically, our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ.
Many of us are both mystified and mortified that this will be a focus of our time together. And it feels as though this process might best be described as driven by a proverbial hidden agenda. What happened to building relationships, to building trust, to building beloved community?
By the time you read this, there will be greater clarity, and, by the grace of God, possibly greater understanding and even the return of a hopeful spirit and perspective. But for now, we stand between the rock and a hard place. Our faces are set, but our hearts are hurting.
What will emerge from this in-between time? Will Lambeth be a place of healing and hope? Will it inspire God’s people with the promise of liberation from biases and prejudices and fear? Will it invite all of us to become better at building God’s beloved community?
Consider this your bishop’s postcard from the edge, from this in-between time, from the space between our rock and a hard place, hoping that the faithfulness and persistence of the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us along the way, lead us and guide us to the promises of the way of love, the way of Jesus, the way that leads to fullness of life for all of God’s beloved children.
The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman is the XII Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple