Friday, March 31, 2006

Moving Toward Columbus

Written for RUACH, journal of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus

Moving Toward Columbus

I have been pondering the concept of productive waiting.
It is a concept with which most women will be familiar. God knows women and our male allies working for change in our church have had to learn patient and productive waiting or go mad in the process. We have learned that productive waiting is as action-filled a process as it is a reflective one. It allows us time to think before we act, an increasing rarity in these days of instantaneous Internet hyperbole.
Our church is now moving through what many describe as a time of turmoil. There are those who are working hard to keep things as stirred up as possible in the wake of the prophetic actions of General Convention 2003. One tool they are using to great effect is the Windsor Report. They make loud and repeated demands that The Episcopal Church “submit” to it and use disinformation to stir up as much anxiety as possible.
It is at times like these that The Women’s Caucus’ gift of being a calm presence is most valuable. This has been especially true at recent General Conventions, when the hysteria of a few privileged white males threatened to infect usually calmer folks.
So how to turn the remaining time until General Convention 2006 into a time of productive waiting instead of a time of anxiety, name-calling and fear? Information is our best weapon against the fog of words being put out by those threatening schism.
Here are facts some are trying mightily to obscure:
* The Anglican Communion is not a church. It is a fellowship of highly autonomous provinces.
* Lambeth has no legislative power. In “The Study of Anglicanism,” John Booty and Stephen Sykes wrote, “The Lambeth Conference has remained a deliberating body convened solely at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whatever the respect according to its deliberations, it has no canonical or constitutional status.”
* The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting were first grouped in the 1997 Virginia Report which preceded Lambeth 1998. In that report these entities were called “World-Wide Instruments of Communion” in a chapter discussing ideas that the bishops at Lambeth might choose to explore. The authors of the Windsor Report introduced the term “Instruments of Unity” for the first time in 2004.
* The Primates have met regularly only since 1979. At that first meeting, the Primates themselves defined the meeting’s purpose as “not being a higher synod but a clearing house for ideas and experience through free expression, the fruits of which the Primates might convey to their churches.”
* Who decides who is a member of the Anglican Communion and who is not? We might look for an answer in the Canons of the Church of England. Rule 54(5) of the Church Representative Rules provides that “if any question arises whether a Church is in communion with the Church of England, it shall be conclusively determined for the purposes of these rules by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.”
And as for the Windsor Report itself, it is a flawed document that focuses so tightly on Institutional Preservation that it leaves no room for the workings of the Holy Spirit.
It does recognize that The Episcopal Church and the Canadian Church acted within the bounds of their Canons and Constitution, but after that, it goes downhill.
The WR is not a piece of legislation, it is a report that seeks to start a discussion, not end one. It contains a laughably inaccurate account of the history of the ordination of women and its reception in the Communion, and skates very lightly indeed over the way the Communion historically has dealt with anyone other than white males.
Worse, it proposes a completely un-Anglican confessional document and calls for a highly centralized non-elected authority of clerics to run the Anglican Communion. It also calls for a convoluted process by which all Episcopal elections anywhere – and one assumes appointments in the places where bishops are appointed, not elected – would have to be approved by the entire Communion, as would other controversial matters. One assumes this unelected Curia would get to decide what is “controversial” and what it not.
It calls on The Episcopal Church to impose indefinite moratoria on the episcopal election of any more gay people living in committed relationships and on same-sex unions, quite offensively placing the entire burden on one small of group of our sisters and brothers in Christ.
The General Convention is the only body in The Episcopal Church with the authority to respond to the Windsor Report, so no matter how much sturm und drang the Schismatic Gang tries to arouse, nothing can happen with the WR until General Convention meets.
But events are overtaking the WR, and by Convention the whole thing may be moot. Many Primates already are dismissing it as inadequate and ignoring its request that Primates not interfere with the business of Provinces not their own. Meetings in Cairo and Pittsburgh are making clear that many already have decided to split from The Episcopal Church no matter what.
In the midst of all this, Caucus members may find it helpful to remain focused on our vision – that of a church that honors and rejoices in the ministries of all women. We know that such a church will honor and rejoice in the ministries of all people.
All people.
We will not sacrifice our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on the altar of false unity in a centralized communion that handcuffs the Holy Spirit in the interest of institutional preservation.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dreaming Our Children

The most heart-rending description I’ve ever heard of a mother-child relationship came from a grown woman struggling to articulate why she always felt so estranged from her mother.
She had felt disconnected from her mother for as long as she could remember. Her mother had had to work hard, and seemed to be always tired.
“But it wasn’t just that. It was . . . it was that my mother never dreamed me,” she said.
“My mother never dreamed me.”
What a powerful phrase.
I felt upon hearing this story that this woman is not alone, that there are many grown children out there who were never “dreamed.”
They appeared in their parents’ lives, and their parents “loved” them. But they never valued their children as separate, unique, creative entities, capable of immeasurable feats of discovery and growth. They were, instead, bodies to be fed, bodies to be clothed, tummies to be fed, bottoms to be swatted, noses to be wiped. They were a duty to be performed, a responsibility that came with the title “parent.”
If you told these parents that their children felt a sense of loss, an inchoate longing, they would be puzzled, and even angry. Why, they never neglected their children! And, by the world’s standards, they had not.
So how does one “dream” one’s children?
It has to do with seeing childhood as the womb in which we prepare for adulthood. Just as we grew in the womb in preparation for the world outside our mothers’ bodies, so does the potential for the next stage gradually develop within us during our childhood.
We need psychic nurturing during this time just as we needed the physical nurturing of the earlier womb. Without it we risk dying stillborn, or coming through still undeveloped.
Even in a “good” birth from childhood to adulthood, the new being is fragile. We still need guidance and some protection while we gain strength and confidence. We still need psychic nurturing.
Psychic nurturing has to do with basic respect for the individuality and dignity of this separate human being. It has to do with the willingness to be a guide at first, and then a companion, in an exploration of intellectual, emotional and spiritual terrain. It has to do with the willingness to listen, with respect, to young ideas and fantasies.
It has to do with being able to provide continuity while honoring the ambiguities of this newly emerging human being. It has to do with being able to “play” in many different ways.
It means being willing to let answers come in many forms – to let a body find an answer in dance, or a hand find the knowing in a piece of clay, or the voice discover wisdom in a song. It is being willing to accept that your child may find love in different ways and in different people than you do.
It means being willing to let the child explore new patterns, to learn in different ways, to head for the hills when you are sure the safety is in the desert.
It means being willing to wait while the child lets the song come or the clay take shape, or the dance happen. It means stillness while the answers search for your child.
And when the answers come for your child in a language you cannot understand, or even hear, it means understanding that that is all right. The answers aren’t speaking to you; they are speaking to your child.
Perhaps the most important thing about psychic nurturing is knowing that “creation” does not mean “novelty.” Otherwise, our child may create something wonderful in herself or himself and we will be blind to it, simply because it isn’t “new.”
If we are indeed created in the image of God, then we, and our children, must possess within ourselves tremendous powers of creation.
Psychic nurturing means letting the creation go on, wherever it takes the child. And then celebrating it.
That is how we “dream” our children.