Dear friends in Christ,
These past two weeks have been, for me, bishop-centric, and let me assure you I am not referring to myself or my work. The announcement of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s death the day after Christmas created a space of reflection and sadness for me. Unlike many of the reflections and tributes that have been posted since his death, I do not have a picture on my mantel of myself next to him. I do not have a story to tell you about a conversation he and I had … and which changed my life. I was not any kind of dignitary who invited him to preach and then hosted him afterward at a reception with important people. I can tell you that I did have the opportunity to hear him preach. I was a seminary student in Berkeley in the late ‘80s and Bishop Tutu was the guest preacher at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. My fellow seminarians and I drove across the Bay Bridge to catch a glimpse of Bishop Tutu and to hear him preach.
I had no idea what to expect; I knew only what I had read. He was a global figure. He was an Anglican Bishop – we were so proud. He was magnetic. He was inspirational. He cared about racial justice. This is what fueled my journey over the bridge to the cathedral.
I remember his stature the first time I saw him in the processional. I expected a man who towered over everyone at about 8 feet tall. He was not tall at all. And when he first spoke, I expected a big booming “cathedral voice,” but he did not “boom” at all. He spoke like a regular person and laughed, gleefully, with joyful abandon.
The quality I remember most, and which stays with me even to this day, was his pure and unabashed joy. Bishop Tutu knew love; he knew its abundance and he trusted it to fuel his work for racial justice. It was astonishing to witness as a young seminarian because so much of what I had been learning was intellectual. “How did he discover this part of his sacred call?” I wondered.
On Tuesday of this week, I had a meeting with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and two of his staffers. The objective of the meeting was to determine whether or not the Presiding Bishop’s planned visitation to our diocese later this month was a “go.” As I walked us through our local perspectives on the virus and the variant and the importance of his visit, I heard myself say, “Bishop Curry, the primary reason we want you to come here is so we can be with you and hear you speak. I don’t think it would serve our purposes if you came here only to be “met” virtually. You could accomplish that with a camera from where you are now.” As we concluded that it was best to reschedule his visitation, I admit to feeling sad. I had certainly looked forward to celebrating the one-year anniversary of my consecration with him. But even more, I was looking forward to being in the presence of his irrepressible love for God.
Tuesday night, thanks to the advocacy of the Rev. Sallie Bowman, I stood at the hospital bedside of Bishop Bob Ladehoff. Compared to Bishop Tutu and Bishop Curry, I know Bishop Ladehoff the best. We have lunched together and he has blessed me with the graces of his hope, joy, and love. Even more, he and I have a special connection in my ordaining Bishop. I learned from Bob that Bishop Kimsey and he were dear friends as neighboring bishops. Bob brought Rusty nearer to me through his unabashed delight in all of God’s creation. Standing at Bob’s bedside, I took the privilege of touching him – an innocent move that can seem scandalous in these days – and delighted in the light and life that emanated from him.
Yes, these past two weeks have been bishop-centric but not so much because of the “bishop” part as the baptism part. All three of these children of God exude deep and abiding obedience to their life in Christ. In ways that others can speak to with more eloquence than I, these men have died in Christ. They are free to fully be what God has called them into. Their lives reflect a freedom to love, to forgive, to reconcile, to laugh at themselves that inspires us to move faithfully into a liberation they seem to already know. It brings to mind the Gospel of John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”
May we die in Christ with confidence that life in abundance will be ours.