Monday, July 28, 2008

Imagination is Evidence of the Divine

Br. Jon Bankert had a puppet theatre with “Imagination is Evidence of the Divine” inscribed on the proscenium. It is engraved on my memory, and I use it as a helpful criterion as I seek to serve God and proclaim the Gospel. So I have been looking around for signs of imagination here at Lambeth.

Most significantly for the Conference as a whole, I think the indaba process is a perfect example of the use of imagination. As the design group tells it, they wanted to take people into a fresh place of relating and doing the work of the conference in a way that allows the voices of all the bishops to be heard, not just the former high school debating champions. People in African communities come together for “indaba” when their community faces a crises of some kind. The only big difference between some rural African community and Lambeth is that in Africa the process might take days and days, and at Lambeth they meet for two hours in the morning and an hour and three quarters in the afternoon—with different topics slated for discussion. Western impatience aside, it is a huge step towards NOT doing business as usual. Most gratifyingly, it is driving some of the Western princes of the Church nuts. God is in the details, as others have said before.

Saturday The Episcopal Church led Evensong. It was an explosion of imagination: the bishops and their spouses formed a choir. The Bishop of Chicago played the drums, other bishops sang jazz and R and B Gospel solos. Confronted with the first chapter of Genesis as the reading for “The Environment” Bishop Cathy Roskam and Bishop Michael Curry read it in parts, and interpreter for the deaf provided a mesmerizing translation which had the Melanesians on the edge of their seats; the first lesson was greeted with applause. When was the last time that ever happened in Church? Watching the five minute DVD during the Evensong which highlighted the life and Ministry of The Episcopal Church, I was struck by the enormous vitality and breadth of experience and love for all kinds of people evident in the DVD. It showed men and women sharing in leadership,;black and white and Asian, Hispanic and Native American were shown baptizing, feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, and singing their hearts out, in churches majestic and humble. The sound track was terrific. I had a strong feeling of homesickness and deep pride. One Melanesian Brotherhood Brother said to me: “This is amazing, brother.” I replied, “This is my Church; now you see there are others like me!” (they say I am very ‘different’). TEC made a sweet pitcher of lemonade out of what could have been a pretty sour, tense situation. We are getting some pretty heavy criticism and are the focus of negative remarks I hear everyday. But the Bishops imagined it differently. They laughed, sang and celebrated a Gospel life in American harmonies.

Following the Evensong I went to the Inclusive Church Network Holy Eucharist. My friend the Archbishop of Mexico, Carlos Touche Porter celebrated, and the Rev. Canon Lucy Winkett from St. Paul’s Cathedral, London preached. She talked about prophetic imagination. Her gripping introductory example was about taking the St. Paul’s Cathedral Boys’ Choir to the London Stock Exchange on the anniversary of 9/11. The Chairman told the brokers they were free to continue trading, but that the singing was in honor of their colleagues who had died in the Twin Towers. Initially the young stockbrokers continued to shout into their phones, but as the choirs sang “Dona Nobis Pacem” in haunting polyphony gradually the men (and they were men, Lucy told us) started to listen. By the time they stopped singing the room was dead silent she said. The message of peace penetrated the noisiest corner of capitalism. It would never have happened if she’d simply tried to out shout them. It took a radical re-imagining of the opportunity. How does one proclaim the gospel of peace in a two minute time slot on the stock exchange? It struck me as so simple yet so daring as to outclass the efforts of most of us who might have to speak in similar circumstances. Of course she wasn’t speaking on Saturday night to a room or screaming stockbrokers, but a humble group of men and women who imagine Christ’s radical message of love and grace is for everyone, not just straight people. But the message was clear to me: we’ll get nowhere if we don’t stop doing business as usual and “choosing sides” and demon-izing our enemies.

I decided, on my run on Sunday, I need to meet one of these African Bishops and pray with him. I find myself thinking a thousand times a day how glad I’d be if they all disappeared. Magical thinking never solved anything. Imagination will.

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