I'm writing from the Duncan M. Gray Conference Center where I'm attending this year's annual clergy conference for the Episcopal Diocese of MS. It's always good to see my brother and sister presbyters and deacons. This year, we have so many new clergy in the diocese that it seems like there's one person I don't know for every three or four that I do know.
This year we're joined by the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and author of the 7th volume in the New Church's Teaching Series entitled Opening the Prayer Book.
Many of my more conservative brother and sister clergy were angered by Bishop Lee coming to be with us, in large part due to his involvement with the Chicago Consultation (the website says that this group's "principal focus is on strategies for advancing the inclusion on GLBT people in the sacramental life of the Church").
In spite of theological differences, however, I think it's safe to say that everyone in the room was impressed and moved by the talk and spiritual direction that Bishop Lee just walked us through (I certainly was). It's the first of several talks/meditations, and this one was on woundedness. Bishop Lee was very vulnerable with us as he shared his own woundedness over the premature birth of his son, and he has invited us to "show" our wounds in the expectation that our wounds are the places where we encounter the wounded Christ. Upcoming talks/meditations will focus on gifts and on healing, and on how both are connected to our woundedness.
Bishop Lee and his wife are musically gifted, and as someone who also loves and plays music, I was struck by one thing in particular that he said:
"The Christian life is a practice, not a performance."
UPDATE: October 15
After two more meditations with Bishop Lee yesterday afternoon and last night, I'm afraid I must qualify my initial enthusiasm. When he first spoke to us, he lamented the polarization of the Episcopal Church and the ways in which we reduce one another to slogans. And yet, with each successive session, he becomes increasingly bold in saying things that almost seem targeted to antagonize conservatives. And it's working.
He has an interesting way of prefacing certain things by saying, "This may sound heretical, but ..." And then he says something that does, indeed, sound somewhat heterodox if not heretical.
I didn't pick up on all of this so much in the second session (my conservative friends sure did, though), but I did during his meditation in the midst of Compline, especially when he boldly declared himself a Universalist and denied any substitutionary character to the atonement (I would have to conclude that he's not very big on Rite I). He said that the sacraments don't do or change anything, but simply reveal what is already the case: that we are loved and saved by God in Christ. And in what came across to some as a jab against orthodoxy per se, he said that we don't have to do anything right or believe anything right. Grace takes care of everything.
While I'm reconstructing this from memory and am hoping that we will get a copy of all or some of this to back up my memory, I can confidently say that I'm hearing antinomian and somewhat Gnostic overtones to some of this. Indeed, some of what Bishop Lee is saying sounds like it's in the same ballpark with the stuff I read from Kevin Thew Forrester, the former bishop-elect of Northern Michigan (my series of postings on Forrester can be read here). I'll be listening carefully this afternoon.
In the meantime, it saddened me last night to hear one of my best clergy friends say that every time "he" comes to a gathering such as this, "he" leaves feeling disheartened and more disconnected from the diocese and the Episcopal Church.