This afternoon I leave Washington, DC after witnessing history in the making – the Installation of the first African American Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church. To be clear, that is the last time you will hear me refer to the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry as the “first African American” to hold this office. In the powerful words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, African Americans are more than sentimental “firsts” in history books not written by us. Nonetheless, it was a historic occasion. But more than that it was an opportunity for the Episcopal Church to recommit itself to that which is foundational to the Christian experience – Holy Baptism and the way of life that we are called to lead while dripping wet. It is way of life that, properly lived, will turn this world upside down (which is really “right side up.”)
As a Kansas City transplant, it is also an especially proud day because our very own Kansas City Royals have won the World Series in the fifth game against the New York Mets. I must admit I didn’t have the energy to stay up and actually watch said game as a day of reconnection, remembrance, and recommitment meant that his introvert had to go to sleep and recharge.
As I was preparing to leave my hotel this morning, a young men who rode the elevator down with me said “Are you from Kansas City or are you just a fan?” It was at the moment that I realized I was wearing my KC Royals World Series ball cap. “From Kansas City,” I responded. “Congratulations,” he said, to which I responded “thank you.” It felt odd. I hadn’t really done anything. I didn’t even watch the final game. We parted ways and I made my way to the Metro.
As I was descending what seemed like a mile-long escalator, a young man came up behind me, tapped my shoulder, and said “Champs baby!” I looked at him curiously until I realized he too was wearing a KC Royals ball cap. I could tell his being much older than mine by the wear and tear it bore – the seasons of defeat borne with pride, patience, and hope. “Yeah, bro. Go Royals.” (Yes, I actually said “Yeah, bro.” Black folks have always had to adept a code-switching). We slapped five as he, unencumbered by luggage, walked down the escalator in front of me. After I settled into my seat on the Metro, a man started starring at me. When we arrived at his stop and as he prepared to leave the train, he pointed to his head and gave me a thumbs up. He was congratulating me on a Royals victory.
I must admit I felt guilty. I only moved to Kansas City a little over two years ago. I wasn’t here for the many years of defeat borne by many locals with pride, patience, and hope. I felt much like the tenants in the Parable of the Tenants who were hired last. They hadn’t borne the heat of the day, but were still invited to share the same wages as those who had (a more accurate exegesis of this text and the economic exploitation it belies is perhaps forthcoming).
What occurred to me as I was passing through Arlington Cemetery (riding the appropriate “Blue Line” train) was that it didn’t matter how long I had been on board, what mattered was the celebration and community. You don’t have to know someone’s name or even how long they’ve been around. When you simply know whose side they’re on, it can open up space and opportunity for celebration and joy.
So what does all of this have to do with Bishop Michael Curry, the Episcopal Church, and our fundamental call in Holy Baptism – a life lived “dripping wet?” Like my recent Royals fanboy status, I am also fairly new to the Episcopal Church having only been received into this communion six years ago. I wasn’t here for the last Installation of the Presiding Bishop (Katharine Jefferts Schori) in 2006 or for the many years of theological Cold War and guerrilla fighting that preceded it. What was striking though is the fact that though I was new, I was still invited to share in the feasting and celebration even as I am invited to share in the work going forward.
In Holy Baptism we are invited into a story that is new to all of us. None of us was here when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters and sung Creation itself into existence. None of us was counted among the emancipated mob of Hebrews crossing the Red Sea singing “free at last!” None of us was present as Jesus entered the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptizer with the angels singing “take me to the water.” And yet, through our connection to the family of God, each of us is invited to share in God’s story of creation, redemption, and commissioning. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been here, so long as we are here now and say “yes” to the Lord’s invitation to the Feast.
Bishop Curry offered both a critique of the world and a challenge to the Church to become the beatitude community of God, to supplant nightmares with dreams, and ultimately to rest in God who’s already done this work before. We don’t write the stories. We enter them. We share them. We hide them in our hearts and sing them with our mouths. We may be late to the party, but we can still dance… and sing.
As I sit in Reagan National Airport overlooking the runway, the Potomac River, and Mt. St. Alban crowned by the Cathedral Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (also known as Washington National Cathedral) with my coffee steaming to my right and jazz music playing overhead, I am glad to have been here, to have seen the Church gathered in joyous celebration, to have seen old friends and hugged old mentors, and to be going back to a city where the party is just beginning.