Recently (if you were following along on Twitter), you know that I was cleaning my bathroom, discussing a few things with God, and coming to grips with a decision that I needed to make. I made no mention of what the decision was at the time, but I plan on going into graphic detail here in a series of posts. There will be graphic detail because what I’m talking about seems to have a veil of unhelpful mystery over it when in fact it’s just a weird and complex process. But what I won’t do is name names. (Those in the know could guess in an instant, but please, the names aren’t the point. Illuminating the process for those outside the church is the point.)
You see, it was all at once a big decision and a not big decision. It wasn’t big, in a few ways: a) nothing in my life would really change, at least not in the essentials, and b) it would entail me walking into my friend’s office and saying, ‘Yes, please, would you?’ It was arguably a big decision in a few ways, however: a) it would entail a voluntary leap down the rabbit hole wherein I would be required to keep my head in situations designed to make me lose it, and b) if the unlikely occurred, I’d have to move from my beloved city. You see, I was considering a job that I simply couldn’t do from Buffalo, NY.
I was considering being a Bishop.
And I did the things you’re supposed to do when your good friend and mentor mentions that you’d be perfect for a certain profile that was just released. I demurred. (Which in my world means I pulled many ghastly faces that would put Chevy Chase to shame.) I promised to ‘just read the profile’. I talked to my spousal unit. I talked to my spiritual director. I talked to my best friend. I talked to my good friend living in that diocese. And first of all of this, with many twisted emotions I rolled up my sleeves, put my hair back, put on my rubber gloves and grabbed the toilet cleaner and long handled brush… and I talked to God.
Here’s something that will be helpful for you to understand about me and my relationship with God. I didn’t need to clean the bathroom in order to talk to God. It’s not that I think the porcelain throne is really an altar or anything. It’s more that my punching bag doesn’t fit in our apartment and I haven’t gone for a run in long enough that now wasn’t the time. I needed to do something or else I was going to just end up yelling at God and telling him what a weird sense of humor he has. While fun, that wouldn’t have helped just then. So I talked to God and scrubbed the toilet, then the sink, then the tub, then that bloody shower curtain, then the floor. (Well, I swept, to be honest. The scrubbing thing was getting old. But I swept really, really well.)
And then God said:
And God spoke back to me, not just during the scrubbing, but also through the spousal unit, the spiritual director, the best friend, the good friend, and earlier today, the seminary bestie. And here’s what has become clear to me: I know that my talents and abilities fit what the diocesan profile states it requires, and know they fit it perfectly. But it’s also clear to me that that isn’t what would make me a good bishop in that place. What would make me a good bishop would be, if I can manage it, my refusal to take this personally and my dedication to growing into the stature of Christ.
In future posts, I’ll talk a lot about the process in the Episcopal Church for getting bishops, what kind of authority they have and don’t have, and all of the stuff that people outside the church wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with. In fact, my current plan is to blog this entire process, as far as I go in it (because, oh, they could boot me at any time). But for now, I want to hone in on what I mentioned earlier: the refusal to take this personally and the dedication to growing into the stature of Christ.
This is not about you.
One might imagine that being elected bishop is something one could take incredibly personally. ‘They like me, they really like me!’ said Sally Field. But not here. It’s not really about you. And if it is, you’re not going to be a very good bishop. The church in its best form is a community in which we learn to forgive one another. We do other stuff too, but in my head all of the attempts of loving one another really boil down to consistently forgiving one another. How many times? As many times as it takes before you’re dead. That’s how many times. And anything that involves taking credit and getting a big head for simply doing the work that comes easily to you is really going to hamper your ability to forgive others. Why might that be? When it’s all about you (or in my case, that would be when it’s the Sare Show), then it’s no longer a group effort. It’s no longer a vision embraced by everyone. If it’s all about you (or me), then there’s absolutely no sense that the difference between you and me is really an illusion, and that God is in you as God is in me. The key is to not take it personally. One may be gracious while taking neither criticism nor praise personally. Nor, for that matter, rejection or acceptance.
Growing into the what of who?
Growing into the stature of Christ is one of those awful churchy phrases that I try to avoid when speaking to a largely non-churched audience. And yet I used it, largely because I’m still working out a simple and elegant way to say this:
Forgive everyone, everything, all the time
Judge no one
Speak the truth, no matter what
Defer always to the Holy Spirit, as that way lies more fun
Realize that the oneness we share in God is more real than reality
Remember that the gifts of God are joy, peace and love,
not depression, anxiety and anger
See? No simple slick phrase that illuminates the concept and simultaneously fails to alienate outsiders. One day, maybe, if we’re lucky, the word Christian will cover it all. Oh, but we’re so not there yet.