These thoughts are my thoughts alone and do not represent my diocesan team or the Indaba project.
There are a few analogies that have become powerful for me over the last few days with which I am working out my thoughts about the Episcopal church.
Yesterday, I stood at an ATM. I put my card in and punched my number to withdraw $120. There were two slots as far as I could tell - one for a receipt and one for the money. I received my receipt, I seemed not to receive my money. I stood for a while in panic, thinking through my options. If I left the machine, there would be a good chance that I would abandon the transaction and any possible sight of the dollars, which would surely be claimed by someone else. I just stayed there and tried to work it out and probably no more than a couple of minutes later looked further down the machine, nearer to my knees and there was my money lying in a little old-fashioned letterbox like slot. Hey presto! Duh! Panic over.
This is relevant to my experiences here. I am doing all the 'right' things, the usual things I do to encounter God, come into his presence, enable him to reveal himself to me but just where I would expect to find him, I am not. I am having to stand in the panic for a while and work it out. He manifests himself differently here.
I have another analogy, which, every time, I think it through, does not actually work so happily in my favour. I want to buy flowers and instead of going directly to the flower shop, I go to the bread shop, the bakery and Starbucks instead and ask if they sell flowers. All of them have flowers that I can see and even touch and smell but I can not buy flowers at any of these places until I actually get to the flower shop. What I have to decide is whether going to the flower shop direct is the best thing, in some ways it is and in some ways it is not. I will meet more people at the shops along the way, chat with them and get to eat pastry, drink coffee and sample different types of salami. There is also a part of me though, that longs instead to be simply in the flower shop, spending the time that I might otherwise lose with all those flowers of beautiful varieties, which are all of course, actually flowers, the very thing I set out to encounter and be captured by.
My next thoughts were stimulated by a day with migrant farm-workers ministry who support those who dig the black soil for onions. I was told by a wonderful man named Stash - more about him in another post some time, that the soil contains onions - this is poor man's food, an entire meal consisting of bread and a big boiled onion. What was memorable (many things were, but another time!) was that 5 miles down there would be oil and if they were to dig 15 miles down, they would find diamonds. In the Episcopal church, I am not sure whom it is who should be doing the digging and I suspect it is probably me - I 'get' the onions - I really do see them. I see onions everywhere. These onions are feeding people, nourishing them and bringing people into church every day. There is however little burning oil, in terms of that fire that I have learnt to sniff the embers of in charismatic expressions of evangelical worship, that something that gently warmed the heart of Wesley and there are few diamonds in terms of the mining of scripture in community for the amazing, supernatural light that it can shed on a situation. However, I am also prepared very much to say that it could be that this is my problem. I can not find oil or diamonds here. I find a socially engaged, bright and colourful people with a heart for the social gospel, people's lives are being transformed, there is hospitality, invitation, dialogue, conversation, inclusion, generosity. I find so many aspects of Christ's revelation but I am still hungry. I need to keep going in search of oil and diamonds, I am sure I need to dig deeper.
What is alarming me and causing me to do some real wrestling with God is that I would come here and end up with the black of the soil under my nails and the stink of onions in my hair and somehow that is scary and perhaps more costly than the ministry I might become involved in in England whose welfare state system seems to give out onions too so that onions do not become so desperate a focus.
...and the last analogy that is proving puzzling and helpful is the idea of docking at different ports. I long to dock somewhere. I am looking for home. I am alien in many ways and this is very gospel, I guess. If I dock several places I will climb onto land and then return to the ship with booty from many destinations. I will also be left changed by my encounters with people and this is a bit concerning to me right now, just as I am approaching ordination, having journeyed a little and even having dared to have already made my mind up on some things. Now I am in flux again or perhaps I am even more fixed (?). I keep imagining the certainty of praising God in college worship, holding up my arms in adoration, it all feeling a little more simple. A trip to Staten island here will have me orientated always to the Statue of Liberty, it is the focus of the landscape, being framed by millions of cameras. The green is pulling me in with the victory it is declaring over oppression, what I want to see is that which it points to more clearly but I am blocked by the sunlight behind it and need to wear shades. The spectrum here is very colourful when it is broken down. It is almost blinding, I have this need to rest in the shade for a while and think about this God who manifests himself in ways that are so obvious and yet on another level so hidden.
I wonder what my analogies might reveal to you, do help me work things through :-)