Thursday, March 06, 2008

Earthen vessel

I went to the local retail book box to buy a copy of the New Yorker. It was sold out. I didn't have to worry though, because at least three members of my parish have handed me copies and asked me what I thought about about the excerpt from Honor Moore's upcoming book, The Bishop's Daughter.

Frankly, my outlook was influenced by Bishop Sisk's letter to the Diocese of New York, which looked at Bishop Moore's infidelity through the eyes we now have about boundary violations, litigation, etc. Those issues are important, and please don't hear me as belittling those. But one could not help but reflect on the apparent contradiction. I have spent a lot of time with therapists, soul friends, and my spouse discussing my own unique set of contraditions. While I don't think my kids could turn this into a book...I hope!...they still have to come to terms with them. Just as I have had to do with my own parents.

I was struck by hearing Honor Moore's own description of her journey in writing this book on the New Yorker website. It appears that, excerpt and interview taken together, the greater infidelity in her mind may have been the sense of negation of Honor's mother that she experienced after her father re-married.

In thinking and praying on the many levels this story operates on, I was especially taken with Scott Allen's words on the HoB/D list (which I reprint with permission). Scott is a priest along with me in the Diocese of Bethlehem and he keeps the blog Diatessaron. Some of what he said on the HoB/D listserve also appears in his blog.
I have hesitated to get drawn into this debate as I have always held Paul Moore as a hero (and still do) and an exemplary Bishop who did more than complain about the world...he was an agent for social change, economic justice and peace. He was larger than life in many ways (his stature alone was imposing) and I remember meeting and talking with him at some of the first Urban Caucuses---first in Louisville, KY and later in New York City. His "Blue Blood" background betrayed him during one of his rousing speeches at a meal where he exclaimed that there were Eucharists happening on the street where two homeless people "shared their last sip of Scotch". The whole room almost in one voice exclaimed "Scotch?!" It was humorous---some of you may have been there.

I can't wait to read the book not because of the "juicy parts" but Honor Moore is a wonderful writer and beyond the scandal saw the truth and beauty of her Dad's life as well. Its all a whole. While I am not condoning boundary violation, the Church then was not as hyper-sensitized to it as we are today. Many good people do bad things. Our hero's always have clay feet. Moses committed murder, David adultery, Peter betrayal. But somehow God still manages to shine light through those cracks and fissures. In a way, I think Paul Moore helped create a world that he longed to live in (remember Ellen Barrett?) A world where people didn't have to hide or live a
secret life.

I used to be on a Standing Committee in a southern diocese where the chair (a lay woman of formidable resume) would always ask the Candidates for Holy Orders we interviewed "Is there anything in your life that, if it were known, would bring scandal to yourself and or to the Church?" I cringed at that question as I would guess most of us here who have lived life with any passion and integrity have made mistakes and done things we are not so proud of on the way to becoming more human. If there is nothing in your development that you would rather not be published on the front page of the New York Times then you probably haven't lived much life--and I'm not talking of predatory behaviors here. Just the stuff we do on the way to understanding sin, alienation, destructive behavior and broken relationships.

God has a way of using wounded people to transform the world. Paul Moore was one of those people, and I echo what Bishop Righter said in that the Episcopal Church would be far less rich had it not been gifted with Paul Moore as a Bishop. Its not hard to sit back and judge, be smug and pontificate, its far harder to try and live with those paradoxes in your life and somehow use them to make you a more compassionate person and loose the chains that bind others.
Scott's blog post also points out something that we have missed in the other discussion:
I can't wait to read this book when it published. Not because of the apparent scandal it is supposed to bring to light, but because Honor Moore writes so eloquently for the secular media about things like the Eucharist, Easter, the mystery of Episcopal worship that draws us in and keeps us coming back.
As we move into the mystery of Holy Week and the Triduum, I want to let Tobias Haller's words guide us:
Paul Moore did not just have feet of clay. He was, in fact, almost entirely clay -- as are we all. He was inbreathed by God, yet lived a fallible life. He is now dead. He will rise again. Christ died for Paul’s sins as he did for yours and mine, and at the judgment he will stand as we will, acquitted solely because the judge is also our only mediator and advocate.
The New Yorker: The Bishop's Daughter
Audio interview found here.
Diatrssaron: Take A Bishop Like Him....
In a Godward Direction: Feet of Clay

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