Rob: The truth of the matter is, is that Jesus would not be welcome in most Episcopal churches, period. Because Jesus had radical ideas and what we have done, is we’ve turned Jesus, the raging bull, into a milk cow. And we have done this for organizational sustainability and survival. We have done this so as not to offend.
This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m Melissa Rou, your host. And friends, this is Part 2 of celebrating our 100-eposides of For People. Thanks for being with us. And we’re especially grateful for our special guest, Winston Arthur, a priest in the Diocese of Atlanta. Welcome, Winston.
Winston: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here. And, you know, I’m so grateful that I’m on the other side, I’m offering some comments or observations, rather than being a listener.
I am a Rector of a wonderful Church on one of the largest rocks in Georgia, Stone Mountain. So, my church is St. Michael’s and All Angels. And I’ve been there for the last five-years enjoying it, enjoying loving the people.
Melissa: Love that. And welcome, Easton, our producer. How’s it going, dude?
Easton: Hey, fam. It’s good. Like I said in the last episode, it’s funny to be on the other side of this. But I’m looking forward to chopping up some stuff from Bishop today.
Melissa: Yeah, so friends, just like we did our last episode. If you didn’t hear it, it was kind of like the greatest moments, if you will. And you know, we’ve got so many of them. So, it was hard to pick and choose. But what we did, we played a few sound bites, and then we unpacked them. And we’re going to do that this week only we’re listening to Bishop’s words. And we’re going to unpack them about the impressions that we’ve had listening to them. And so, Easton, how about you cut us up with our first.
Melissa: It starts inside of me. So, I feel like that was complicated stuff. Like that was a lot, right there. He’s talking about girl power. He’s talking about agency. He’s talking about standing up for what people believe in and following through. And so, Winston, what do you think about that overall thing? How does that sit with you knowing that you’re a leader of a congregation? What is your wish for them about how they use agency in what they do? Or how they live into their life as Christians?
Winston: Sure, yeah. So, if I could pivot a bit before we get to agency–
Winston: The comment or the observation that Mary had girl power is so accurate. And I want to speak to the realistic presence of girl power in our church and in our community. You know, obviously, the focus is on Mary, but when we think about where women have been placed in the Bible and their roles within the Bible, girl power comes alive. You know, expanding upon that point, obviously, the story of Ruth, and the relevance of her actions and her commitment to offering hospitality and being committed to following the advice of Naomi. She played a huge role. And now she’s inserted historically in the genealogy of Jesus. Of course, Mary and the Magnificat and then Mary Magdalene, and having her confession, understanding the resurrection of Christ and his policies and resurrecting Lazarus. And then, what I mentioned to in my Easter sermon, talking about girl power and the importance of women in the Bible, about Mary being the first one to proclaim the rise in Christ. So, girl power is a thing. Girl power in our Churches, you know, is definitely a thing.
Melissa: Can I interject though, because I feel like some people would have women in the church just be wallflowers.
Winston: Absolutely not. You know, I mean, again, the Bible, yeah, it’s true. Well, the Bible cements the important role of women.
Melissa: Easton, you are a daddy of a girl, right?
Melissa: So, how does that hit you as a father?
Easton: That’s what I love about so much of what he does on the segments anyways, right? He’s talking about leadership, right? And that we’ve all got it. And hearing this story, what is fascinating is it is how Jesus comes into the world and it’s also the ones that first come to the disciples to proclaim the good news that he has risen. So, that’s wild on both ends. But it certainly makes me think of, with my own daughter, how I want to walk alongside and that I know she can do anything that she wants to in the world. And we don’t talk about that enough. And so, I appreciate that we’ve got a Bishop who talks about girl power all the time.
Melissa: Yeah, I agree. All right friends well let’s listen to our next clip.
Melissa: You all, when I hear that, when I think of vertical and horizontal, I think of that old nursery, like that deep and wide, deep and wide. Anyway, but it is, about being deep and wide and being in right relationships. So, if we are in a right relationship with God, vertically, then it means we’re going to be living out right relationship horizontally with the people around us and our neighbors. Do you think that was summarizing what Bishop was getting at?
Easton: It’s really unique. Because I will tell you what it makes me think of and we’ve talked about this too. It’s heavenly citizenship.
Easton: We’re citizens of heaven, called to live out our walk with Jesus in the world for the world. And what he’s really doing here is challenging us to do that because that’s hard. It’s hard.
Melissa: Sure it is. Absolutely it is hard.
Winston: Yeah, and what Bishop Wright does extremely well in sharing the rumbling of the Holy Spirit within him is to create the imagery of a story. So, not only are there words, but there is imagery that you can associate with them. Let me explain. So, if we look at the vertical and the horizontal, if it’s declared, the Christology to cross, right? I first heard the explanation, which is so accurate, from Charlie Holt in reflections during Lent, and then spilled over to Easter. He was talking about forgiveness. And the ultimate forgiveness, of course, comes vertically and Jesus’ wonderful work on the cross, and our strength, our responsibility to wherever we have been wronged by others to offer that forgiveness to our brothers and sisters horizontally. I’ve also heard instances where that has been referenced, that vertical horizontal action model, by the way of blessings, around stewardship. We are constantly blessed from God, all that we have, all that we experience that brings us joy is from God. So, wherever we can pass that along to our brothers and sisters by offering time, talent, or treasure as well known, that we do offer that horizontally. So, the imagery and the model of a vertical and a horizontal relationship with God and others is critical in our faith in action.
Easton: What do you have, Melissa?
Melissa: It’s so darn practical. And it’s a really great illustration, you know, is it prophetic? I don’t know about that. What I think Bishop Wright has a really great gift for is making difficult things–
Melissa: Yes, you just finished my sentence. Yes, it’s accessible. And so, you know, when I’m living life, I can put on new lenses and remember, because of what I’ve listened to or I’ve heard Bishop Rob say, I can process and implement a new understanding and a new way of being because of the way Bishop distills things for us. And so, again, it’s already been said, right? I just think Bishop has a real knack for words and a real way of explaining things that makes it accessible and applicable for folks.
You got another one for us, Easton?
Easton: I’m just going to speak to a story. I had the privilege of volunteering to record a massive, diverse choir of young people this past weekend at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was a God inspired moment of seeing just praise, just praise for God. People trying to do the work of expanding God’s kingdom and reach on Earth. And it was in that moment that I saw something that told me, we’ve got to tap into this energy source in the Episcopal Church. We’ve got something unique that I think we can offer with music because of the way that we do music. So, how do we tap into that in a way that’s more accessible for people that need healing? Because we’ve got something unique to say in the Episcopal Church that I think is loving all people and really striving to love and respect the dignity of every human being.
I saw music as a bridge and catalyst to enter into hard conversations. And y’all we can do it. So, I was I was actually texting Bishop this morning. We really need to explore what it would look like to gather people to sing, and record that, and get it out in the world. I don’t know what else is going to happen with that, y’all. But let me just say that it was one of those moments where I was like, I’m touched by God, by the Spirit, right here, right now. Let’s do something with the energy.
Melissa: And yet, so when we have these kinds of mountaintop experiences– When we experience things that are out of the ordinary and just lovely, sometimes it is easy to crack us open and we can experience God in a new major way.
And you’re a Rector, so that’s a fancy word for senior pastor for our non-Episcopal listeners, so you are tasked with creating or curating a space where people can worship, be moved, and be recommitted. And I’m wondering how much time or thought goes into that process, in your role for helping people see God’s major newness in their lives through worship?
Winston: Melissa, you have teed this up perfectly. No, seriously. I will tell you why. Because I wasn’t going to comment necessarily on the question that Bishop Wright asked. But the process of him leading people into the sermon which ties into your question. But I think what is unique about Bishop Wright is that he asks good questions. So, he may say, he did some training, post-graduate training and asking questions, but is really a gift to ask the right question to lead someone into deeper discernment. So, anytime you leave Bishop Wright, listening to his podcast and he asks a question, it’s never a question that you can answer immediately. It calls for deep thought, reflection, and an awareness of where you are. So, that is his gift.
So, to answer your question, how do we move past the usual liturgy, the usual process of Christian formation that is known in Episcopal Church, is by inviting individuals as led by Bishop Wright, and asking good questions. And Jesus was a master at asking good questions. I mean, there are so many. Who do you say that I am to the disciples, to the man at the well, do you want to be healed or cured? I can go on and on and on. But the process of asking good questions is an invitation to a deeper discernment that you might not immediately experience in going through the usual ritualistic forms or structure of the Episcopal Church. I just wanted to touch on how unique that is and that isn’t an art that you can acquire easily. It is something that’s gifted by God. I think that is his true git to ask the right questions and invite God into space in a way that you don’t get anywhere else.
Melissa: Yeah, I really appreciate that. I am wondering about the practical thing, it’s so funny that we spend so much time about teaching people how to answer questions. And not enough time in seminary, just on the art of asking good questions, right? So, that is a really great point.
All right, Easton, any other thoughts you got for us, bro? Or should we move to the next clip?
Melissa: That was a big one, y’all. It was kind of deep. He is talking about community, relationship, and authenticity. I’m curious, how did that hit y’all?
Easton: Y’all we’ve become, and I am a millennial. I remember what it was like to grow up and be in closer proximity, like to people that are actually around you, right? So, when we think of proximity, you think of your neighbors and actually spending time with them. We don’t do that anymore. I feel like in my neighborhood that I live in, these people that I’m actually in proximity close to, we don’t spend time with. And so, I think my question for Bishop Wright is, why have we become a society that spends zero time with the people that are in proximity to them? Why aren’t we doing a neighborhood dinner or something?
Melissa: He mentioned authentic and about Thurman, so one of my favorite Thurman prayers is called, Open Unto Me. If it’s okay, I would like to share it with you all right now.
It’s open unto me light for my darkness. Open unto me courage for my fear. Open unto me hope for my despair. Open unto me peace for my turmoil. Open unto me joy for my sorrow. Open unto me strength for my weakness. Open unto me wisdom for my confusion. Open unto me forgiveness for my sins. Open unto me love for my hates. Open unto me thy self for myself.
You know, that whole idea of open. You know, I don’t know that this is the answer or why, but maybe we just become closed off. We’ve forgotten to care about the simple things and we’ve become insular. We know it’s wrong, but it just doesn’t feel great. And I would see your why and I would raise you a how? You know, how do we turn it around? How do we turn it around?
Winston: Yeah. When Bishop Wright references the importance of being authentic, it reminds me of a quote that Howard Thurman used. I tried to speak to and I think it answered your question a bit, Easton, in terms of where is the interests, or the joy, or the appetite is that you can direct individuals to become more involved in their community, or speak to or get engaged in difficult subjects. I remember Howard Thurman, there is a version of this, don’t ask what the world needs, asks what makes you come alive and go and do that thing. The world needs people who have come alive. Something to that extent. And when we find what interests’ people, what brings them joy, you can’t be more authentic than that. It can be seen in the faces, it can be analyzed and observed in their energy, and of course people are present. If you are going to be authentic, you have to be real and honest and say, “Look, this area of ministry, reconciliation, social justice, Chirstian formation, outreach, whatever that is, or sing it, brings me joy. And I will come alive. Or a gathering in a community, in a community building brings me joy, and I will come alive. That’s when you really see someone express the authentic self.
Melissa: And that’s my great worry. I have to say, I’m really thrilled that Churches are really stepping into that online, digital, the virtual space, however you refer to it. I do worry about authentic connection. I’m all for online worship, as long as it can turn into authentic connection in your own milieu, your own context. If that’s what you need, great. And I just pray to God that we’re not doing it at the cost of connection.
Winston: Well, Melissa, so true, so true. And as you know, especially in this, I don’t want to say post-COVID world, but as we learn to live with COVID, we absolutely have to meet people where they are. And so basically, people are interested in something. The world has not ended. There is engagement in some activity. And to carry the message of the importance of the why to be involved, to be active, to be present, or to speak is to meet them wherever they are, wherever that source of enjoyment is. So, that’s the how first is. We spoke earlier about agency, an agency is action or intervention. And intervention is getting up and saying, “Hey, I see you are present here, let’s talk about these fundamental issues.”
Melissa: Great. Well, Easton, do we have one more clip?
[Sound bite] I would say, the truth of the matter is, is that Jesus would not be welcome in most Episcopal churches, period. Because Jesus had radical ideas. And what we have done is we’ve turned Jesus the raging bull into a milk cow. And we have done this for organizational sustainability and survival. We have done this so as not to offend. And so, I have to look at myself and others have to look at themselves at, in what ways have I colluded with that? But I think that Jesus would not be welcome in most churches, right? We’ve made Jesus in our image. Jesus is not an English speaker. Jesus is not from America. Jesus is not an NRA member. Jesus is not from South Georgia. Jesus is a very small, swarthy, wooly haired Jew, who’s daddy was a day laborer. And whose birth was suspicious.
Melissa: Talk about being real. You know, Bishop, he’s got a way with words, right? He just gets right down to it. And gosh, how many people in our churches make Jesus out to be in their image? If they’re passionate about something, well, then darn it, Jesus was too. And rather than being passionate about what Jesus was passionate about, we put Jesus into a box with preconceived notions about what we think. I don’t know, you guys, it’s hard for me. It’s hard for me when people say, “Well, we can’t talk about politics in church.” Guess what? Bullshit. Just saying. I don’t know that we can be at church if we’re not talking politics.
Bishop Wright is very clear. We don’t talk politics. We don’t talk partisanship. That’s the whole kicker, right? We’re not endorsing candidates. We’re not doing that kind of thing. But Jesus was political. And so, we have to be political. And I just wonder what you think about that whole raging bull versus the you know, the little tiny, the milk cow. Oh, my gosh, so funny. So, I’m going to shut up now and I’m turning it over to y’all. What do you think?
Winston: You know, I remember observing in a forum, I’m not going to say where, but observing a forum where someone mentioned, you’re a good preacher, just don’t talk about politics and you’ll be fine. I always laugh at that. So, you know, this is my observation, that church for many people, and I can only speak within my contacts and experience, sees church as a place, like a safe haven. It’s a place where they can be refreshed, renewed, made to feel loved, made to feel comfortable, exchange the peace with so much joy. So, it’s an escape from a cruel world. Harmony. I mean, you can offer so many platitudes and descriptions. Absolutely.
But really, the message of the gospel is one of triumphant love or hate, of life over death, yes. But it’s also inviting us to hold us the standard of living and viewing our brothers and sisters, which can be quite hard and challenging in this world. So, it is a difficult message. But a message must be told. And it is a message that dependent on the lectionary, dependent under circumstance, might make parishioners uncomfortable. But it’s a difficult message, but a message that needs to be shared. So, you know, it’s just a view of church, what church represents for many people, but what is more important? To make people feel comfortable 100% of the time or to proclaim the truth of the gospel.
Melissa: Yeah, I think Will Willamond called it maladjusted in his episode. We should be going to church to be a bit maladjusted to think, well, I’ve never thought about it that way, I think is what his quote was. And, you know, when we talk about the political things, oftentimes people I talk with, whether or not we’re on the same side of the political spectrum or whatnot, we typically agree that a problem is a problem. We just often disagree with, how we’re going to fix it. Let’s bring up the topic of illegal immigration. Many people stop at the fact that people are crossing the borders illegally, and they stop there. But because they’re not curious, or asking questions, the solution isn’t very easy. So, is the solution taking it, and bringing in, and meeting people where they are? Or is the solution further upstream? Gosh, wouldn’t it be amazing if people didn’t feel scared that they had to leave their home in the first place? You know, why? Why are people feeling the need to leave their home in the first place? Well, they’re living in places that are deplorable. They don’t feel safe. They’ve got drugs and violence. And that’s why they’re fleeing. And so, what would it look like for the Christian community, or all people, to help them, everyone? Reimagine how we can help people feel safe? And I’m not saying that’s the answer. There’s no answer there. It was just a question. But again, we’re not curious enough. We are not asking the right questions.
Winston: You are right. And also with illegal immigration, I mean, you referenced some issues, political, socioeconomic issues in a place of origin. But what about the cost of legal immigration?
Melissa: Heck yeah, come on.
Winston: So, you know, you can say, “Well, this is the pathway.” You adopt the right pathway. But there is a financial burden. And it’s also quite timely as well. It can take three to five years. It can be longer for other individuals. So, when you think about issues in the place of origin where some immigrants started their journey, yes. But holistically as well, not to just say, “Why are they coming to the United States for a better life?” There is some human issues there, experiences that might be jarring for why they do not go the legal route. Well, yeah, there is a path, it is expensive, it requires many time legal advice, and it’s quite lengthy. What do people do the in the meantime in terms of sustaining themselves while they adopt the legal road? So, you are right, it’s a very complex issue. And can only be actively and accurately discussed if people are curious to ask the right questions.
Melissa: Thank you for that. Well, friends, Easton, do you have any other thoughts? This has been a joy. I just have to tell you personally a walking alongside Bishop and having the privilege to be a conversation partner the last two years has been an absolute gift for me. And I know that there are many people who listen and share these with other people because something spoke to them. So, we are inviting you to continue listening with us. If you have any ideas or thoughts and you’d like to be in touch with us, Easton what’s the best way for people to be in touch with with you or Bishop Rob or For People?
Easton: Continue to find us on social media, Bishop Rob Write. Shoot us a message if you’ve got an idea. We’ll be in touch with you pretty quickly.
Melissa: Well, thank you. And thank you Winston for being with us. I was just thinking, and I would say when you are preaching, you had some firey stuff yourself my brother. I was like dang, you know what, that Diocese of Atlanta has got some pretty fine clergy in it. So, we’re grateful for you. We’re grateful for all of your gifts. And we’re thankful that you listen.
Winston: Yeah. And I just want to, you know, I can’t speak on behalf of all the listeners, but for myself, I express tremendous thanks and appreciation for hosting. Melissa you are asking some wonderful questions and challenging and inviting Bishop Wright to go deeper. I usually listen to the podcasts on my drives or my rides to or from work, and it often fills me up, fuels my spirit, where I feel challenged when empty. So, you know, I’m sure to other listeners, too, are equally charged after listening to your exchange. So, it has been a blessing. I hope it continues. So, thank you very much.
Melissa: Friends, thank you so much for listening to For People. As always, we’re grateful for you and we’re especially grateful for the gift that this is, this For People is for the church. Thanks for listening and follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review. And we’ll be back with you next week.