Friday, May 12, 2006

Seeing Blindness

As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said,"Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Mark 10:46-51

Today, as I was preparing to post last Sunday's sermon online, I felt brought up short by several of my glowing statements about the election last weekend.

I had just returned to the office from a hard-hitting meeting with the leadership of the ethnic and multicultural communities of the diocese and our new bishop-elect. Bishop Andrus and the Standing Committee had called the gathering at St. Augustine's, Oakland, when concerns were raised about negative rumors and inuendos on the convention floor about some of our nominees for bishop.

We had publicly glimpsed the hurt stemming from this "talk" last Saturday in an article about the episcopal election in The San Francisco Chronicle. But that was only a glimpse. The disappointment was more widespread and was still deeply felt a week later amongst people of our diocese whom I have, over the past four years, grown to profoundly respect.

Talk is talk. Inuendo is inuendo. Rumor can be just that. In this case, there was no substance behind any of it. Nor was there any evidence of conspiracy or impropriety. But to us, the "talk" that had stirred up so much pain was still rooted in the painful reality that, while we have come a long distance, we still all suffer from our enculturated preference for white, straight males in this diocese.

Up until this point, I had been sorely tempted to stand behind all the assertions of last week's sermon and my experience of the election as God's truth.

Truth is, the pain I was witnessing was helping me realize there was a smugness that had crept into the text of my sermon. . .a smugness rooted in my being part of the dominant class and culture of not only this Diocese, but our country. . .of my being straight, white, and male. . .and of being "liberal" and, frankly, in a bit of denial because of it.

I had been operating out of a sense shared with many in the diocese that I had arrived, because I'd been "doing the work": living in a cross-cultural marriage, having attended the anti-racism training, laboring shoulder to shoulder with the men and women from all kinds of backgrounds in the leadership of ethnic, multicultural, and "mainstream" ministries of the Diocese.

The sense of arrival had led me to an arrogance. . .and an unwillingness to acknowledge that some of our worst biases had still played a role in our election. . .even in a Spirit-filled convention of a diocese that has prided itself on being enlightened and able to move beyond such sins. I was reminded again today that these sins around race, gender, sexual orientation, and class are slippery, subtle evils connected with our broken nature -- ones that I realized I am sorely tempted to deny in our church and in myself where they still have an active role in my worldview and relationships.

The word that came to mind about my state was "blindness." When I saw it, I was led back to the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who asks Jesus to restore his sight. Blindness is a common theme in the gospels, and I have begun to understand one reason why. Without steady vigilance and a healthy dose of God's grace, we are often blinded in all our human finitude. Even if we sport 20/20 vision, our everyday environment and the always limited scope of our experience is forever wooing us into insularity; to build walls that bar us from understanding others; into a blindness of the soul.

Today, our powerfully honest discussion of the heart with each other and with Bishop Andrus began to break into my settled sense of arrival and restore some broader sight, revealing to me again the wounds we share as a diocese, and beginning a transformative healing rooted in the depths of the Risen Body of Christ.

Like Bartimaeus, as a people gathered, we took the bold step of calling upon the Christ of Truth, manifest in the gathered community and in our lives, nourished by the sacrament, welcomed by open ears and hearts, to restore our sight of the greater world in one another: our sight of the truths we each hold, including our unique stories of pain, joy, and hope.


Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:52

Jesus tells Bartimaeus to "Go." With my eyes opened to the pain connected with the election that I had not or could not see at the time, I was tempted to let myself get stuck in guilt, shame, blame, and anger. But that was not the call of today's meeting, nor the vision many in the room were presenting from their hearts.

Instead, having spoken out of our sense of the truth of what had happened, we began plumbing the depths for hope . . . our hope to seek the path to wellness. We reconnected with our firm willingness to continue moving forward in the difficult, exhausting task of unwinding the power of "isms" from our church's life.

Bishop Andrus was still to be our bishop. There seemed to be a profound and renewed understanding that the Holy Spirit had indeed led us in the election last Saturday, despite the "talk." We were ready to forge ahead with vision, seeking with our new bishop an ever brighter future for all peoples of this diocese.

Like Bartimaeus, I felt called by Christ to go, get on the road, and follow. Restored sight is no excuse for staying put. There can be no sense of arrival. Now that I can see that, at least, back to work. . .and, I hope, better work with clearer vision.


Fr. John said...

R+ -

Thanks for this post. It sounds like the meeting at St. Augustine's was a beginning toward healing and reconciliation. My sense is that the disappointment felt by some over this election had to do with long-standing hurts that had never been acknowledged or healed. Bp. Andrus' first task will be to lead us in sharing the bread of justice with which God wishes to feed us.


R said...


I agree. Much of the time around the meeting at St. Augustine's was about old wounds and a desire for healing and moving forward.

The meeting with Bishop Andrus was a hopeful beginning of this process.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Father Richard!

We had 7 canditates and 3 of them are gay. Of course, there are some "talk" and disappointment about the result since we are humans. I just hope that everyone will agree in the end. God is guiding us (^_^).