We elected a Bishop in East Tennessee on Friday. I say we not only because I am part of the diocese of East Tennessee, and I deeply believe that any church is in reality its people, not its structure. The structure, including Bishops, priests, deacons, elders or whatever else they may be called, are there to facilitate and support the growth of the body as a whole -- ie. the body of people. But I also say we because I was a delegate to the electing convention, and I was thrilled and honored to be there. Being a part of that process was a privilege. You can see me in the video below in the second row on the left.
I found the process fascinating, at least the part I was involved in, which is in a way the smallest part. Truthfully, I wanted to be a part of the Bishop-electing convention simply because I believe so deeply in the idea of laity. I also entered this process without a real understanding of what a bishop does. Research was needed, and I took that task to heart, reading rules and regulations and bylaws, thinking about organizational principles and trying to balance all of this with faith and people, and the deep uncertainty of a changing world. But all of my research and thought and good intentions would have been useless without the hard work of the people who ran the bishop search, who did the work to present the electing convention with a wonderful slate of candidates for bishop.
I read the information provided by and about the final candidates. I attended the walkabouts, where each candidate spoke to a small group of people and answered questions. I listened to my fellow parishioners, thought about their opinions and weighed my responses and thoughts. I honestly can't say it was a clear path. My choices on paper were not the same as my choices after actually listening to the candidates, were not entirely the same after listening to other opinions, but there were consistent themes. I have friends who are happy with the final choice, and I have friends who are deeply disappointed. Nonetheless I am happy with the results of this election, am honored to be part of the process of calling Brian Cole to be the new Bishop of the Episcopal Church in East Tennessee.
Part of a process like this involves weighing options, of trying to find the best choice among many. In the end my vote was my choice, and I had to vote my conscience. That is the thing about an electing convention, about any human convention actually, is that it depends on the delegates and their consciences. How well the convention works depends on what the delegates believe, or don't believe, and even, although this is hopefully not the case in a faith-based community, whether they follow their conscience at all, or some political or emotional agenda. But the choice is about more than what I believe, what each delegate believes, it is about more than what our faith (and I am using faith loosely here -- humans appear to be the only animals who organize their lives around some faith that arises completely out of their imagining, beyond the basic needs of food, shelter, procreation) tells us the world should be. Electing a bishop is about who we want to be, it is about what we believe we want, as well as about what we actually want, about the way our history and circumstances and expectations shape us. It is about the ability to compromise and weigh choices for the greater good. It is also about our history, what has come before, where we are now, how we perceive the world to be and what we think it might be. Electing a Bishop is about whether our dreams of who we want to be are in touch with who we actually are right now. A faith-based electing convention is about faith, faith tempered by reason, faith tempered by wisdom, faith tempered by experience and compromise.
Although I have no intention of putting a sour note on this, I am reminded, much as I believe the best possible decision was made, much as I am in fact happy with our choice, that we humans rarely actually know what we really want. We interpret the world based on our own predilections, our own beliefs, or own natures. This is true across humanity. Even in churches more dogmatic than the Episcopal Church, even among those who proclaim not to believe in any god or religion, there remains a wide gap between what people actually believe and what they profess to believe.
I am reading A Clash of Kings, the second volume of George RR Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin is a far better writer than I had expected, and excellent with complex multi-faceted characters and complex plots as well, but what I love the most is the way he crafts sentences that take my breath away. Not always mind you, but enough, enough to make the book worth savoring. Anyway, in the second volume there is a red comet in the sky. It is recognized as a comet by the scientific sorts, by most of the educated in fact, but also it is interpreted by each to suit his own needs, his own beliefs, his (or her) own temperament. There is nothing new in this insight, and yet we need reminding. We all interpret and evaluate and hope that we are making the best decisions. But to some extent we are always blind, never knowing from whence the wind will blow.