A post by Mass. deputy Patrick Gray
I got to Indy with a stiff neck.
It always happens when I fly. Invariably, I’ll fall asleep, and without fail, my head will bob about in my somnolent state (I always forget to put my seat back). The turbulence doesn’t help either. And by the time we land and exit the plane, my neck could substitute for a two-by-four at your local hardware store. I think I hid it pretty well, though, no one guessed that I had a stiff neck, and thankfully my dear wife had restocked the ibuprofen in my carry-on, which made it a bit more bearable.
But I kept thinking, “How appropriate. I’m a stiff-necked person going to join a whole bunch of other stiff-necked people.” Which of course is completely unfair of me, casting aspersions like this on the entirety of the Episcopal Church as exemplified by us participants in General Convention (hereafter known as GC). This is not only my first time as a deputy to GC, but my first time to GC ever. And here I am judging it before I even get there. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence abounds from friends and acquaintances, and little of it positive. And let’s face it, the Episcopal Church hasn’t exactly been known for its friendliness and generosity as of late. Flexibility hasn’t been our strong suit. And from the way some people have experienced GC, if you weren’t stiff-necked when you got there, you definitely were when you left.
Tell me again, why did I run for deputy?
The Israelites get called stiff-necked by God via Moses quite a bit in the Hebrew Bible, and the upshot of their stiff-necked-ness seems to be their resistance to God. And we all know what happened to Stephen in the New Testatment after his Acts 7:51 tirade – “You stiff-necked people…you are just like your fathers! You always resist the Holy Spirit!” They didn’t take kindly to poor Stephen. No one likes being called stiff-necked. And those leaders and elders of the people showed their great ability for flexibility and compromise, listening and discernment, by stoning him to death Now of course, we’re Episcopalian, and we wouldn’t dare throw rocks at one another for fear of missing and smashing our stained glassed windows, but we have become highly adept in causing damage in other ways.
But you know, it’s kind of interesting to me, it’s in the air, it seems. Of course I’ve never breathed the air of GC before, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the feel, at least not here at the start. And from what I could gather from both presentations on July 4th by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies – the time for damage is over. No more stiff necks. Which of course is going to be very hard to do, given what it seems like we’re up against these next few days (small issues like a budget made from scratch, not to mention a potential restructuring of the national church itself). But I guess it’s up to us to model that, to show our church, to show one another, a heart filled with God’s love and justice does not lead to rigidity.
And maybe that’s it –we can judge how our heart is with God and others by how our neck feels. Who knew that those two parts were connected? But apparently, according to St. Paul, all the parts of Christ’s Body are connected, and when someone is cut, we all bleed. And St. Paul might easily have said, when the neck is stiff, the heart is in trouble. The neck becomes our spiritual barometer as to how we’re doing with God and others, despite our right-ness.
So what’s my prayer at GC? Lord, save me from a stiff neck! And while you’re at it, Jesus, can you do something about those stony hearts that we walk around with inside of us?