“I’m not voting for him because he was a jerk,” several of my seminary comrades posted in reply to my Facebook post in which I urged them to vote for Samuel Seabury in the latest Lent Madness vote.
Understand, friends, that Lent Madness is for fun, so Facebook discussions about favorite holy people are not the main things to be chewed on in a day that includes caring for the poor, the grieving, the perplexed, the angry, the depressed, and so on. And yet, this Lenten Madness gives us a chance to reflect on holy people who devoted themselves in some special way to God, humanity, and creation. (I put in that last part because I’ll get in trouble in my Ecological Theology class if I don’t.)
So really, do I care whether Hilda of Whitby, an abbess, or Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, wins? Not really. There is an interesting connection between Samuel Seabury and my seminary, the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, because we have some articles of his in our chapel. The story goes that our altar is his former desk, painted white, and we seem to have his paten, too. Also, he was the bishop of Connecticut, where Yale is.
And for me, he was special because he ensured the establishment and continuity of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition in the colonies and then in the United States, making the difficult transition from British loyalist to American in doing so. This is the church that gave me my life back as a Christian and my vocation as a priest. So I am personally grateful for the work he did.
I don’t particularly remember what others might consider “jerky” about him. In a class we take in seminary, we read a chapter about Seabury, and he was embroiled in controversy about ways to structure the church in the new United States, etc. What I do find interesting is that, precisely because my seminary comrades considered him a jerk, I wanted to vote for him.
And so, I voted for him because he was a sinner, not despite the fact that he was a sinner. (So was Hilda of Whitby, I’m betting.) It’s strange to me that people would react strongly to the weak points of a notable holy person, and yet I remember just that happening when Mother Theresa died. People were shocked that she experienced depressions and a dark night of the soul that included a lack of faith. People quoted in her biography said she was often stubborn and played political games to get what she wanted.
But what she wanted was to take the dying and the poor off the streets of Calcutta and give them a dignified death or even a chance at life. Why would we be upset that in a holy person’s singleminded quest to improve the lot of others, they would be short-tempered, stubborn, political? What major agents of change are not difficult in some ways? There are some pretty negative stories about one of my favorites, St. Francis.
I decided to embrace the jerk. If he even was that. I don’t know much about him after reading one chapter and listening to a 10-minute discussion in class. I decided to embrace the jerk because, well, God has embraced me, and all the other jerks, and I just want to return the favor in a small way this Lent.
Love you, Samuel Seabury.
Janine – And I love you! Susan Van Dyke