While sitting in the coffee shop of a bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, I decided to check my email and found there an announcement of great import regarding my former bishop.
The announcement was shocking, not because of what it said about my bishop ("a credible allegation of recurrent marital infidelity") -- I'd been aware of his activities for some time -- but because the church had actually moved to discipline him.
Part of my disaffection with the church over these last 15 years or so has been the sense that the hierarchy has a tendency to protect its own; that the clergy are not always held to standards that reflect what I believe to be the values Christ espoused. And of course my views on my bishop's behaviors -- and his tendency to protect other clergy behaviors in the diocese -- were significantly less tolerant due to my own experiences of recurrent marital infidelity (in a former marriage, not this one); I know first-hand what that feels like to a wife, and have perhaps less sympathy for those of God's creatures who venture into this realm, and for those who close ranks to protect them.
So it was curious, indeed, to walk out of the coffee shop with this new information and see before me in the walkway the words on this granite slab. I have for some time known that marriage vows do not appear to be written in stone, that the 10 commandments do not appear to have been written in stone, and that the laws of our country and community are not written in stone: in most of these cases the rules seem to become more flexible for those who have power and money.
Knowing such things can make you cynical; it sometimes takes considerable effort to remain upbeat and optimistic about faith and the human condition. I am thankful that, over the years, I have found great solace in meditation and study, but I have consciously held myself somewhat apart from faith communities for fear my cynicism might leak. And that has been challenging: I've missed the connection and innocent optimism inherent in church community involvement.
But it was surprising to note that I had assumed "the church hierarchy protects its own" was pretty much written in stone. And, understanding that, I am intrigued to see that, for me, this message has shifted from one of discouragement to one of hope. Perhaps things are not, as so many people tell me, "going to hell in a handbasket." I'm not certain where this takes me, or if, in fact, it will have any lasting effect on me. But I am determined to pay attention to my responses; to remain conscious and alert to any shifts that may occur in my faith as a result. Because a little glimmer of hope would be lovely.