Friday, October 17, 2014

Remembering Tom Shaw: "God Depends On Us For That"

We lost a bishop, an activist, a monk and a friend today. Bishop Tom Shaw died in Massachusetts at the age of 69 after a valiant battle against cancer. The Diocese of Massachusetts released this remembrance ... which included these words which are, for me, the essence of the leader and mentor I knew:
Shaw saw no dichotomy between the daily hours he spent in solitary prayer and the public demonstrations he joined on city streets and State House steps; he believed that prayer leads to action, and sought to make the Episcopal Church a visible and vocal presence in the public arena.

“We are what God has to do good in the world. Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I don’t think that on most civil rights issues, for instance, we can point to one huge event that’s changed everything. I think instead it’s thousands of ordinary people doing what they think is right, taking risks, speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways. Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that.”
As the whole church mourns the passing of this powerful witness to God's love, justice and compassion, we also mourn the loss of our friend, companion and example.

I think today about the scene in the documentary "Love Free or Die" where Bishop Shaw romped on the beach with the family whose children were not welcomed to be baptized in another tradition -- because they had two dads -- and how +Tom embraced that family with joy, grace and playfulness.

I remember a moment in the Episcopal House of Bishops -- I've lost track of which year -- when he rose to speak about his vocation of celibacy and to challenge a brother bishop who was insisting LGBT folks were welcome in the church as long as they were celibate: "celibacy is a gift to be received by God -- not a sanction to be imposed by the church."

And I remember his quiet, gentle presence during the long month of Lambeth 2008 as we struggled with the Inclusive Communion team to give witness to the good news of God's inclusive love present in LGBT people around the communion. I remember a particular moment when he put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, "It is so important that you all are here. Thank you."

That's what I remembered when I read the quote above. "Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that."

God depended on Tom Shaw for that and Tom Shaw never disappointed. Now it's our job to take the baton -- to carry the torch -- to keep up the work ... taking risks, speaking out in big ways and small ways. Because eventually the tide will turn. And God is depending on us to turn it.

Rest in peace, Tom. We've got this.

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