The first few days of Convention, I was an enthusiastic button collector. I combed the Exhibit Hall for the latest clever button that I could pin onto my name tag, filled with the same obsessive satisfaction displayed by my children as they doggedly piled up Beanie Babies all those years ago. I felt good about myself as I added virtuous causes to my identity. After several days, however, I began to develop an increasing pain in my neck. When a colleague told me that she had removed all of her heavy buttons for that same reason, I found that acting as a walking billboard could be detrimental to one’s health.
So often the Episcopal Church is criticized for lacking in theological substance, for choosing political agendas and legislation over prayer and deep thinking. As one who holds theological depth in high esteem, I have been sensitive to this criticism. I am already easily discouraged by the legislative process, with all of its power-plays and posturing, so unbecoming of the Body of Jesus Christ. I used to read all of the “politically correct” resolutions that came out of Convention and feel that they are nothing but buttons on our identity, a collection of facile sentiment, easy to pin on until they become painful, and then easily discarded.
What I have discovered at Convention is that our slogans and our causes are not ends in themselves—nor are they merit badges that prove our dedication to the Kingdom of God. While they might be created with the lesser goal of swaying legislation, God can, and does, turn them into a kind of "sacrament"—into an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The slick words that I wear only hint at the depths in which God is stirring within me and without me, when the Church gets it right and when we get it wrong. But God is definitely stirring, and I have seen it this week! I have been overwhelmed with the Spirit of God that is truly at work in all the hearts that beat underneath the buttons and the silly deputy ribbons with which we adorn ourselves.
For example, we have been wearing “Black Lives Matter” buttons. We debated and voted for important legislation on dealing with racism in our church and our society. What the buttons don’t describe, however, is the merciful grace that fell over the humble pleas of a thousand Episcopalians marching down the streets of Salt Lake City and chanting, “Out of the depths we cry unto Thee, O Lord. Hear the prayers of our longing hearts.” What the buttons don’t describe is the intelligent and exegetically sound testimony of the black ex-policewoman-turned-priest who explained that gun legislation alone will never be sufficient to solve the problem of violence in our country. Both those who oppose and those who promote guns are longing for safety through legislation, she pointed out. Jesus moves us beyond laws. The only thing that will bring about real change is a change of the human heart, brought about through Jesus Christ.
We have also been wearing buttons with the slogan “Love wins!” in order to promote marriage equality. These words filled with grace beyond the slogan when I watched a young Episcopalian in his late teens engage a group of homeless men and women on a street corner near our hotel. He turned around and flashed the group a friendly smile, chatting and inviting them to come to the Episcopal Church sometime and check it out. Even as they bellowed at him and at religion in general for its intolerance, he never stopped smiling or inviting: “Come see how great this church is! Come see how full of God’s love!”
I still have my buttons, but as Convention comes to a close, I no longer need to wear them around my neck in a painful attempt to make myself look as if I have laudable goals for our Christian life together. God is the one with the goals. No matter what slogans we use to describe God's love in Christ, no matter how we form it and channel it through our legislation, it will fill our words up to the brim and then overflow into the places beyond our control. As Bishop Michael Curry, our new Presiding Bishop-Elect, said just after his election, “We have challenges before us, but nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in the world.”
Can you believe it? Maybe we should put that on a button ….?