Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Encounters with Sudan


I did meet a Sudanese Bishop yesterday.

I went to a Round table discussion about the Sudan, and listened to the heart wrenching accounts of Darfur and all of the incredible human needs in that country. The Archbishop made a strong plea for help from the world community; as I listened I thought: no matter what happens to the Anglican Communion I will do what ever I can to help the situation in Sudan. It is not about what the Sudanese bishops say or don’t say; the situation in Sudan is about me and God. There is a group called “Zero Church” (named after their street address, not a theological statement) which sings a song which says in effect, if people mock you for being honest, be honest anyway, if people reject you for the truth, tell the truth anyway, if people accuse you of profligacy, be generous anyway, because it’s not between you and them, but between you and God.

Feeling a bit more confident as I remembered my obligation to give my life over to the care and keeping of God, I knew I had to do my part and stick out my hand. So I approached a Bishop and introduced myself. I was feeling vulnerable and still angry about the things I’d read in the paper about the Archbishop of the Sudan calling for Gene Robinson to resign and suggesting, if not threatening, to break communion with the Episcopal Church. We shared a few home truths about the situation from our different perspectives and I was beginning to feel dismayed by the whole conversation, when the bishop told me to pray about it. I seized his hand and said: “Let’s pray now!” And so we did. I can’t actually remember what I said or what he said, but the effect of holding his hand and praying as sincerely as I am capable had a big impact on me. He had very gentle hands, and I suddenly had an image of him celebrating Mass. As we ended he described the “acronym” on all the doors: “p.u.s.h.”: pray until something happens, he said.

Today at lunch I happened to sit with a woman who is the Assistant to the Archbishop of the Sudan. She has been a fairly regular participant in our prayer services, so I felt well disposed towards her without knowing who she was. When I learned who she was, I asked her about the Archbishop’s comments. She replied that he had deviated from the text of an agreed statement, the part about Gene Robinson and breaking communion was ad-libbed. They had come to Lambeth in a spirit of peace and looking for fruitful conversations; the resulting furor over his comments had left them somewhat bewildered. She reiterated the comments I had already heard about the liberal attitudes towards homosexuality inhibiting the interfaith work of the Church of the Sudan with Islam. I responded that if the Episcopal Church forced Gene Robinson to resign or rejected gay people it would lose a great measure of credibility in the USA. She said she hadn’t thought about that. The longer we talked the lighter I felt. I wasn’t solving the Church’s problem, but I was solving a huge personal problem, the burden of hating the Church of the Sudan. I offered her coffee, she offered to share a piece of cake. We talked of our respective seminaries, the exigencies of a nearly three week conference. I learned her name: Joanna. I look forward to seeing her at night prayer.

I don’t know how things are going to resolve themselves, but there is another group of people who have put their lives on the line for honesty and inclusiveness. Pictured here is a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people mostly from Nigeria and Uganda. They danced on the campus today and then held a meeting at which they told their stories of persecution and the difficulties of being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in their countries. They also talked about the gay movement gathering strength in South Africa and some other countries as well. They all seem committed to living openly, even if in exile, and helping their brothers and sisters. They are at Lambeth to meet with bishops: they exist and they are most of them people of faith (two Anglicans spoke). A retired bishop from Uganda was also in the room, and he spoke about his work with LGBT people and his efforts to educate the other bishops in Uganda.

Providing an interesting background to all of this was a fantastic speech Monday night by Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. His main task was to talk about covenants. Covenants of Fate, he said, (meaning among other things a shared fate on the planet as living creatures) provide a deep place of connection and a fruitful starting place for divided people. I thought about his comments later as I remembered the situation in Darfur before I went to bed. The tears of Africa have a claim on me. I have no control over what bishops or other world leaders do, but I can reach out in small ways, creating relationships, channeling resources and getting beyond my personal sense of grievance into a place of service and freedom.

3 comments:

renzmqt said...

Clark, I was so glad to see you have a blog. I don't know if you remember who I am - I'm a deacon now at St. Paul's in Marquette and met you at the retreat at MaryGrove when Jim Kelsey was intiated (?) into the Third Order.

I think you're awesome - should you care to chat with "family" from the Upper Peninsula I would welcome an e-mail. (larry@shell-family.com)

Peace to you.

Larry Shell

renzmqt said...

Clark, I was so glad to see you have a blog. I don't know if you remember who I am - I'm a deacon now at St. Paul's in Marquette and met you at the retreat at MaryGrove when Jim Kelsey was intiated (?) into the Third Order.

I think you're awesome - should you care to chat with "family" from the Upper Peninsula I would welcome an e-mail. (larry@shell-family.com)

Peace to you.

Larry Shell

Sister Edie, FCHC said...

Brother Clark,
Your comments on Lamberth were very encouraging. Also your openness about your vocation and that of the other brothers was reassuring. As I come up on my third anniversary of my life profession, it is refreshing to hear others share their struggles and triumphs.
We met at General Convention in Ohio several years ago.
Sister Edie, FCHC