|The Wedding Dance Pieter Breugel the Elder circa 1566 Detroit Institute of the Arts|
One hundred sixty-eight hours.
When we are on vacation- sipping cold drinks under a beach umbrella; sleeping under the stars; exploring new cities, museums, restaurants; hiking new trails- the time seems to fly. It is over as soon as it has begun.
When we are away- engaged in the work that we have gathered to do, but missing the work that and people that we left at home- it can seem like a long, long time.
I do admit to being somewhat of a homebody. I like to sleep in my own bed, am fairly picky about the quality of my morning coffee, and figuring out what clothes to take on a trip is an exhausting enterprise that makes me want to stay home in my gym shorts. I love the rhythm of my work, as fast-paced as it can be, and the connections that I make week-in-and-week-out with lay leaders, clergy, civic leaders, ecumenical partners, and parishes is fulfilling and exciting.
So it is hard to leave. If just for a week.
But so good.
In this past week, about 125 bishops of the Episcopal Church (representing 109 dioceses -99 dioceses in the US and 10 in other countries) gathered in Detroit for the fall meeting of the House of Bishops. The House of Bishops meets twice a year. In the fall, the meeting is located in one of our dioceses that has been selected with some intentionality; the impulse to gather in Detroit this fall had to do with the re-birth of that city and the recent water crisis in nearby Flint. I like that the site for this meeting was chosen with an eye to how we, as a Church, might lend support and join in celebrating the good things that are happening in and around Detroit. The spring meeting is usually held at Camp Allen (TX) or Kanuga (NC).
The agenda this time was a mix of business, public witness and education, worship, committee reports, challenging discussions about culture and change, the election of a Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries (a process completed, canonically, by the House of Bishops), and updates from associated Episcopal agencies, like the Pension Group. We had opportunities to engage in learning events discovering the city of Detroit and, besides the scheduled trips to Flint, the newly re-configured waterfront, four different churches on Sunday morning and the Charles Wright Museum of African-American history, some of us made pilgrimages to see the Detroit Lions at play and to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, a fantastic museum that is home to Diego Rivera’s amazing room-sized murals depicting the industry of “Motor City” and a cultural commentary, painted in the early 1930s. (I was one who made a side-trip to the museum).
About day 3, the “grippe” hit the House, sweeping rapidly through our ranks and causing the hotel kitchen and gift shop to sell out of ginger ale, soup, saltines and Gatorade. It was estimated that around 80 of us were affected by this illness.
But our spirits ran high and it was heartening to receive inquiries about each other’s health and to see the Body, taking care of each other.
In fact. In fact, while the business was good, the education enlightening, the witness inspiring and the worship reviving, it was just being with each other, sharing the stories of our work and life, that was the best.
And that’s no surprise- we are a faith that values the Incarnation and that places a premium on relationship, each-to-each. Our stories (the “delivery system” for our personal experience) is material that we use to build the relationships and, it is these relationships that strengthen us for the work ahead.
We spent a lot of time talking about the Jesus Movement. The Jesus Movement has 3 new adjectives attached to it, by our Presiding Bishop: “loving, liberating and life-giving.” We worked in our table groups to further define the movement and to indicate concrete action steps to further the movement and enhance our communication of the movement. It was an exercise that gave us the freedom to talk more deeply and personally about the Jesus Movement but, in my mind, it was a little ironic: If the Jesus Movement is a movement, then it is up to the people living it to identify it, not up to us, the hierarchical leaders of the Church to direct it. That is not a criticism of our efforts to find facility for the elected leaders of the Church to talk about our work, but a reminder to myself that, really, it is the work of the shepherd to gently guide the sheep, not to pick them up and carry them to place that the shepherd wants them to go.
And so- the Jesus Movement. What I’d like to support in our effort to engage the movement is not to institutionalize it, or to narrowly define it, but to find ways that we can all be engaged in living it and then pointing to it when we see it at work. How is the life that you live loving and liberating? How, as a Christian, do you express love for your neighbor? How do you help to bring others to places of freedom- freedom from self-doubt, shame, despair, addictive and unhealthy behaviors- how do you work as Christ’s liberating hands in the world? That’s part of our call. How do you find new places to shine the light of God’s love, helping others to see that there is new life possible, in Christ. That might not mean “bringing someone to Christ” (Lord knows, we have work to do amongst ourselves learning the skills of classic evangelism) but how can you be a life-giving agent for another? I see this all the time: in people who tutor children, feed the hungry, give a home to a refugee, clothe the naked, stand up for the oppressed and offer hope to the downtrodden. We’re doing it. That’s the Jesus Movement. And, by our work, I am encouraged -in the strength of our people and God, moving in us…. in you.
I am sitting on the tarmac in Detroit.
There’s so much to do when I get home: a Convention gathering in a couple of weeks, new committees to build, a School to support, programs and retreats to plan, sermons to write, clergy transitions to effect, agendas to create and documents to sign. None of it is more important than meeting with and caring for all of you. Most of it has to do with meeting and caring for you. All of it has to do with celebrating and sharing Jesus’ love.
It’s a direct, 84-minute flight.
It will be good to be home.