To this point I have refrained from public comment on the tragic death of a cyclist who died because of the brokenness of an Episcopal bishop in Maryland. There has been much comment on the culpability of the bishop, the diocese, and the discernment committee who put her name forward despite previous troubles with alcohol.
There has also been much written on the need for both justice and mercy in cases such as this. There has also been a good deal of emotion in debates about what it means for us to welcome into leadership those who continue to struggle with issues of addiction.
On Facebook today, a friend sent along an idea that I thought both sensible and spiritually valuable. He wrote the following:
“Like everyone in the Episcopal Church, I’ve been torn, dumbfounded, and mortified by the events of Maryland: what it says about the episcopacy and church structures, what it says about laxity where accountability among church leadership is crucial, and what it says (ugh!) about alcohol and the culture of the Episcopal Church.
Whatever Maryland says about all those things, I do not want the Episcopal Church I love to revert into a tee-totaling culture, on the one-hand. On the other hand, the stakes of this crisis could not be more serious or portentous. Here’s my idea: our of respect for the tragedy in Maryland and in penance for a church culture too careless and carefree with the responsibilities surrounding alcohol consumption, the House of Bishops enjoins or at least strongly encourages all bishops, priests, and deacons and earnestly invites all the people of God in ECUSA to observe this coming Lent with an absolute fast from alcohol save for the Sacrament.
This fast would, of course, be attended by encouraging serious reflections in parishes on health, lifestyle, and religious issues that arise from ‘stepping back’ for 40 days. Perhaps that seems ridiculous or unworkable on its face, but it might be a national wake-up call and at least a churchwide response.”
This seems an entirely appropriate and spiritually grounded thing to do. So I will take part in this 40 days of reflection and abstain from alcohol as part of my own Lenten discipline.
As in any tragedy, there are so many ways that we can respond that seem gratifying in their castigation of others’ missteps and tragic errors. My hope is that such a fast could be, for the Episcopal Church, a way for us to engage the deep question of our collective culpability in the wake of such an event. Each of us is part of this system and has a small part to play in our overall inability to face our collective issues regarding addiction and the consequences thereof.
I would encourage clergy, laity, and bishops to share in this fast and to use this time as a way to enter into the deep reflection we desperately need around our own part in this cycle of dependency. The answer is not “just say no.” However, we may just find that in saying no we will be saying yes to a deeper relationship with God and a deeper sense of our own responsibility to manage both our own brokenness and to walk with those for whom our collective culture of alcohol abuse is a painful thing in which to be caught.
Confession, as a search for truth, allows us to participate in small-scale transformations that lead to a fuller and more vibrant understanding of our participation in the Body of Christ and in all of our communities and relationships. The search for God must be deeply rooted in the search for Truth, a part of our core mystery, that is shared with Creation and God. Our Confession as the Church, our willingness to open ourselves fully in humility, enables us to receive wisdom, offer service, and form relationships in Truth. Confession encourages transformation by enabling the recognition of fundamental self and the inviolable other. Our evolution and life in community depends on that awareness of self-motivation, self-deception, and pardon.
Confession and the spirit of Confession is a process of conversion and a reflection of the ongoing transformation of the Incarnation and the cross. Rowan Williams writes, “The Christian is involved in seeking conversion – the bringing to judgment of contemporary struggles, and the appropriation of some new dimension of the transforming summons of Christ in his or her own life.”
It is the encounter with the ongoing Trinity that makes tragedy bearable and recovers our sense of humanity after inhuman capitulations to sin.
May we who struggle to make sense of capitulation to sin use this Lent as an occasion to engage more deeply the reality of our shared brokenness. May we find, through the power of the Cross, the courage to name the demons that dwell in open sight.