The Beauty of Irony

May 21, 2007

Posted with permission of Philip Turner+ 

Attending the graduation of my colleagues at the Seminary of the Southwest last week was an amazing thing.  With the Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, as the preacher, we had a packed house.  I was serving as an usher—and with a packed house I soon came to learn that an usher’s job is not an easy one.  We had our hands full with a full house, overflow seating in another building, a separate balcony with stairs for people to navigate while trying to get to Communion, and a cry room for those with little ones.  It is also particularly difficult when you are in a facility that nobody knows well, and participating in a liturgy for graduation that is not well known by anybody.  (Oh, the woes of ushering!)

Be all that as it may, it was a wonderful service.  The presiding bishop spoke eloquently.  It was both sad and uplifting to watch the graduation—sad to know that my seminary experience is now going to be different because this year’s class will not be a daily part of it, and uplifting because they have been for so long and they will make such excellent priests and ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

One of the other amazing things about the service has already had some comment out in the cyberworld and blogosphere.  That is that our interim dean and president, the Very Reverend Philip Turner, presented the Presiding Bishop with an honorary degree from the seminary.  As Philip+ is a founder of the Anglican Communion Institute and Adviser for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, his presence on our campus did not come without controversy.  As the Anglican Communion Institute has been in the news lately, his name has come up again, drawing this event into the headlines as “ironic” by some, and ending his tenure at the Seminary of the Southwest with the same headlines of conservative-affiliation with which it began.

I was at a post-graduation party that same day, and discussing the story that was making its way around our great and glorious church with some fellow students in our seminary housing’s apartment area as we watched our children splash in the pool.  A fellow student remarked to me that it was ironic—and it was beautiful irony to have such theological opposites brought together in such a forum.

When Phil+ presented ++Katharine with her honorary diploma, he was most gracious.  He lauded her for being the first woman primate, and spoke most highly of her.  I saw nothing but courtesy and respect from him.

This has been my typical experience with this man, whose permission I got to make this posting.  It can be so tempting to demonize our opponents.  That is one thing I have heard him say repeatedly from the pulpit—that it is not matters of sexuality that rip at the seams of our church but our lack of willingness to be in community as we go through the process of exploring those areas.  It is our willingness to demonize and to traumatize and to castigate.

I myself fell victim to this process at no less than one point during this seminary year—the pressures to villianize our theological opponents can become great, especially when community is not functioning properly.

It is often difficult to find the line between neighbor and enemy—we are commanded to love both.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan in the first century was both an “enemy” of sorts to Jesus’ audience and he preached to them that he was to be their neighbor.  After all, Samaria was nothing less than one piece of the broken united monarchy of Israel—once united and now divided, the “other” piece of Israel, followers of the same YHWH, Jesus’ audience had spent centuries building up animosity against their fellow tribesman—fellow sons and daughters of Abraham and Jacob. It is hard to live up to our Christian calling to love all, especially when we do not feel loved ourselves in return.

Phil+ also said often that preaching should always be of such magnitude and intensity that its “importance is of life or death—anything else and we are just gossiping from the pulpit.”  How true.  Too often Christians seek to make church something that is convenient and does not affect daily life—the call to intentional living and walking in Christ’s footsteps is radical, transformative, and life changing.  As leaders we can hardly expect our parishioners to get the message if we do not take it seriously ourselves.

There are, I suspect, many things that Phil+ and I would agree on.  I wish, now that he is leaving, that I had used my time while he was here to form a tighter relationship with him so that we could have learned from each other.

I am far from his theological viewpoint, that is sure.  It is true that I believe there are serious consequences to his theology that undermine the message of the gospel, and I’m sure he believes the same to be true of my theology.  The real point I’m making here, though, is this:  he and I agree that the real problem in the church right now is not the theological divide but how we handle it.  One of his quotes that stood out for me was when he referred to both a conservative and progressive bishop, who each independently said, “I have no need of the other.”  That is something he and I agree we cannot afford.  I hope that growing numbers of us agree on that.  That doesn’t have to be code for “do what the rest of the Communion wants” or “keep GLBT folks in without regard to what anybody else thinks.”  It means just what it means.  It’s relational and process-oriented, not goal-oriented.  Such statements are important but often get misinterpreted because they don’t have tangible goals (which is what makes them important).

If I, a board member of Integrity from the Diocese of Los Angeles and an out gay single parent (who writes this on my own and not on behalf of Integrity), and he, an active contributor for the IRD and the ACI, can agree on that, then isn’t it only fitting that he should present ++Katharine with an honorary degree?  Since she is the sign of so much discontent to some and hope to others, having him do such a thing is a beautiful irony to me, and a sign of hope of what the future may still bring.

The question is: what will you and I, the Body of Christ, do to see that such a future can exist?



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