For People with bishop Rob Wright

Dignity with Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright

For People
For People
Dignity with Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright

About the episode

“When we create these wonderful communities, whether in church, in organizations, in institutions, and in schools, all of that is built around human dignity. If we put dignity at the core, we will be surprised how we can maximize the authenticity of our communities and the authenticity of our togetherness and allow for us really to be intentional about seeing each other’s dignity.” -Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright

In this episode, Bishop Wright is joined by special guest Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright, author and speaker. Beth-Sarah shares her powerful story of battling clinical depression, and how embracing our vulnerabilities can spark deep healing and foster genuine community. They have a conversation about dignity through the lens of the Baptismal Covenant, the acronym behind her book DIGNITY and the strategies used to create authentic community. Listen in for the full conversation.

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Atlanta-based author and speaker, Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright writes to make a difference. She writes to develop the courage for transformation and change, in our communities, our institutions, and our lives. Beth-Sarah is the author of seven books. Her most recent book, The DIGNITY Lens Workbook: Implementing the Seven Strategies for Creating Authentic Community is a companion to her book DIGNITY: Seven Strategies for Creating Authentic Community. DIGNITY is a comprehensive lens through which to view and solve for insidious barriers to authenticity and narrow the gap between who we say we are and who we are in reality.

A former college professor at NYU and Spelman College, she currently serves as the Director of Enrollment Management at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine. She holds a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University, an MPhil in Anthropology from Cambridge University and a BA (magna cum laude) from Princeton University in Sociology and Afro-American studies.

Beth-Sarah is originally from Jamaica and has lived and studied worldwide, from Edinburgh, Scotland to San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is married to Bishop Wright, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and they are parents to 5 children.


Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 0:00

When we are creating these wonderful communities, whether in church, in organizations, in institutions, in schools all of that is built around human dignity. If we put dignity at the core, we will be surprised how we can maximize the authenticity of our communities and the authenticity of our togetherness and allow for us really to be intentional about seeing each other’s dignity.

Bishop Wright: 0:40

Hello and good morning everyone. This is For People and I’m Bishop Rob Wright. Today we have an extra super special guest, Dr. Beth Sarah- Wright, bBth, good morning.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 0:54

Good morning. Good morning, and I’m so glad to be here, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Bishop Wright: 1:02

Dr. Beth- Sarah Wright is the head of enrollment management at the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. She is educated in Jamaica, Edinburgh, Scotland, Princeton University, Cambridge in the UK and has a PhD from NYU. She is an author and a much sought after speaker. She is a wife and a mother. Today she comes to talk a little bit about her work around joy, spirituality in the face of mental health challenges, as well as how to build authentic community. In addition to all of those wonderful distinctions, she has married incredibly well. She is my wife of 25 and a half years. Beth, you don’t take up this writing around spiritual subjects as an extension of being married to a clergy person. Why do you write about God and the movements of God and how to build authentic community and faith in the midst of mental health challenges?

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 2:26

Thank you for that wonderful question. First and foremost because God is present in my life. That’s why I write about it. That’s why I write about God. I’ve always been partners or walking with God. I am what Episcopalians call a cradle Episcopalian. I have been in church all my life. My father was an Anglican priest and he became so at 50 years old. My mother is a prayer warrior and has a deep and abiding faith. They both together have created an environment for their children, my siblings and I, to know God intimately. But as I have grown and been an adult and encountered all sorts of joys, challenges, differences, mountain tops and valleys, I have met God anew and I need to talk about that because I need to proclaim how wonderful it is to have a friend in Jesus, to have a friend in God.

Bishop Wright: 3:54

One of the great gifts that you have given so many people is your candor about having an amazing resume, having a life that looks like a charmed life, a good family, loving siblings, your own family everything is looking really good, a wonderful academic journey. And yet you were diagnosed with clinical depression many years ago and you did what not a lot of people do, which is, as part of your healing, you wrote a book about it. And so why that and why share that, something that a lot of people would say is a very personal journey?

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 4:46

Well, about 15 years ago, we had, you and I together had five children in our home and one morning I woke up and was doing just what I normally do with those children getting breakfast, getting them ready for school. I kissed them goodbye and I kissed you goodbye, and only one thing was different that morning I wanted to die, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know and understand what was happening. I got into that car and I went to my workplace that morning but I held on real tight to that steering wheel and I drove very slowly to get there because all I wanted to do was swerve the car off the road. But when I did, and where I was teaching at the time, I told my students I cannot teach you today. And I left that place and checked myself into a hospital and got some help. Now I was dumbfounded, astounded. I didn’t understand depression. As you said. I had what I have attained. I have attained what maybe 1% of the population have attained in terms of education. I had a wonderful, strong, loving home and family and could not understand how and where this came from. But while I was there in that hospital, I met other doctors, nurses, pilots, all these professional folks who were also suffering and none of us wanted to talk about it. And it was only when we started to, in groups, started to tell our stories that the healing began. And that’s when I realized we’ve got to tell this story, We’ve got to talk about it, I’ve got to talk about this, we need to be able to talk about this. And while I was there, I met a woman who said she could not bear telling her mother that she was there. I said why? She said because my mother is a prayer warrior and she will think I have not prayed enough and that’s why I’m here. And that broke my heart, Because the answer to God’s prayers can be go get yourself some help. Go to a physician, Go to a psychiatrist, Go to a psychologist, Whether that be. Get the medication if necessary, learn the strategies, learn to understand what’s happening and tell the story, share your story. Vulnerability is powerful and we can be vulnerable in those moments and share those good Friday narratives of our lives, because we know that there is an Easter Sunday morning coming.

Bishop Wright: 7:40

Right. I mean, that’s the rhythm, isn’t it, of the faith, which is that Christ has died, christ has risen, christ will come again, yes, and to bring that pattern that we say on Sunday into our real lives is an extraordinary gift and it opens hearts and it changed minds, and it’s said in the church that we haven’t spent more time actually talking about that. We’ve done some work here in the Diocese of Atlanta, but not nearly enough, because a lot of people do sit in pews all over the world and wonder if God hasn’t abandoned them because they are suffering and they wonder if they, you know, perhaps they need to pray more, perhaps God isn’t listening, and when none of that is actually true, but that God is working through all these sort of healing levers, doctors and nurses and caregiving organizations and institutions and even resources. You know, one of the best resources that I had for the non-depressive spouse during that time was a book co-authored by a husband and wife called when Someone you Love Is Depressed, and that book was a life raft for me and it provided some buoyancy for me even as we were working that through, you know, as a family so. But you’ve talked about it and you’ve talked about it in very theological terms, and I think that helps people to integrate my mental health as well as my spiritual health and for me to see the whole picture really, that all of it is under God and all of it, you know, god can intervene in, and so that’s just. It’s just a wonderful gift to people and in, in, in. I hope, and I’ve seen, actually, that other people have come out from the shadows and out of the corners to say hey, me too, yes, or I have family members also.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 9:40

Indeed, and I just want to say a word about that silence that you talked about earlier and feeling abandoned by God, because we’re not the only ones who felt that. If you read through the Bible, there are many other instances of people who say when are you, god? Even Jesus said have you forsaken me? While he hung on the cross. But I want to say something about reminding us that even the Bible says and I I want to give you a context here when I learned this in a real time, I just was in the depths of depression and really did not know what to pray for and didn’t even know how to pray. My tongue was heavy, my heart was heavy, I didn’t know what to pray or how to pray, but it was at a Bible study I just happened to host at my home. I wasn’t I just just there, but I heard through the lips of a woman who was then about 85 years old and you know who I’m talking about a spirited woman who is a one has a strong faith, and she reminded us that. And without even knowing my context and what I was going through, she reminded us that and from Romans, when you don’t have the words, the spirit will intercede with moans and groans and pray for you and I thought, thank God, because all I have right now are moans and groans. I didn’t have the words. God is there. God is there in the silence. God is there when you think that God has abandoned you. And God has not. God is there in the valleys and in the mountaintops, and it’s so important for us to remember that, as people of faith, when we’re going through those good Friday narratives of our lives.

Bishop Wright: 11:51

Our friend Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that God does some of God’s best work in the darkness, right In the times when we don’t see any light, god is still at work. You move from that in your work in writing, in your authorship. You move from the intersection of mental health and faith into novels, into strategies that you want to commend to people, but you also move into this idea of dignity, which seems to be really, really important to you. Say a little bit about dignity. What are you trying to get at Bye, you know, pointing us to this idea, this word dignity, and this idea, dignity.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 12:39

Well, as I look back on even the eclectic nature of my writing and my body of writing, there is definitely a core thread that goes through all of it and that is human dignity, because there’s dignity in the pain of depression, there’s also dignity, human dignity that we need to remember when we are creating these wonderful communities, whether in church and organizations and institutions and schools, all of that is built around human dignity. If we put dignity, human dignity, at the core, we will be surprised how we can maximize the authenticity of our communities and authenticity of our togetherness and allow for us really to be intentional about seeing each other’s dignity. Now I came to that word. I just happened to be married to you and whenever I go with you on these visitations, every Sunday, we are renewing our baptism.

Bishop Wright: 13:50

Of course.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 13:51

And as I looked at each you know, each Sunday, traveling with you and just looking at that one, of course, the baptismal covenant is our map, it is our roadmap, it is a guideline for who we are, it’s our mission statement. And that last sentence and the culminating question of the baptismal covenant is will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being? And I was stuck on that question respect the dignity of every human being. What does that actually mean? I love words and so, looking at that word, respect, I recognize that the word doing a deep etymology. The root of the word respect is speckere, a Latin term meaning to look and re again. Will you look again at the dignity of every human being? Will you look first and be aware of your biases, your normal understandings? Now, we’re all human and so we do that normally. Can we look, be present to those things and then pause and look again? Can we look again to see the dignity in another human being, regardless of what they look like or what they’ve done or what they’ve said? Can we go ahead and see the dignity and the commonality between what we both share as human beings and children of God? Can we do that, and so I was really, and that takes great intentionality. It’s not something that just comes. It takes great intentionality, it takes great capacity building, and that’s where that happens. That’s what I was really grounded and that’s what really launched my thinking about how do we create authentic communities? When what we say and what we do align, when we can close the gaps between our aspirational identities and our lived realities, when we can say, yes, I believe in respecting the dignity of every human being. Okay, so what does that look like?

Bishop Wright: 16:01

Well, that’s the piece I wanna pause here a second about, because not only is this a word and a word study that’s sort of animating for you, even unto a book, but you’ve made dignity really an acronym and so, and you’ve developed strategies. So, real quick, what’s the acronym?

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 16:20

The acronym. Seven strategies for creating authentic community, beginning with diversity. And it has to be, because if we’re going to respect every human being, every single one of us is different and that’s all that. Diversity means human difference, I identity that is the purpose and the full identity of whatever community that is, or your own personal life identity. G growth there has to be growth. We have to be growing, encouraged to do this kind of work. We have to grow in our capacity to understand, to have hard conversations, and grow in our capacity to understand that there’s going to be loss. And to nurture. We cannot have these conversations without the infrastructure, the necessary infrastructure, the changes to nurture this new way of being. I integrity Are we saying what we are doing, what we think, what we say we are doing? Are we doing what we say we are doing? Holding ourselves accountable? T transparency being able to effectively communicate what our mission is, what our hopes are, our values, and being able to reiterate those so that everyone understands the values and can align with them. And why is yield? We have to base this type of work in data. This is not some highfalutin. Let us all come together and kumbaya approach. This is grounded in data. This is grounded in numbers. This is how do we measure this work, how do we measure what we are hoping for? I am a trained sociologist and anthropologist. I have to deal with data, so this is an approach, it’s a lens, it’s a way of seeing, a way of seeing our work, a way of seeing our communities, and if we implement each part, each of these seven strategies, we’d be surprised how we can maximize the authenticity of our communities and of our institutions aligning, making sure, closing the gap between what we say and who we say we are, and how we are actually living that out.

Bishop Wright: 18:45

And so you’ve taken this to schools, to congregations, to nonprofits, and how’s the work being received?

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 18:55

It is tremendous. I am astounded by the receptivity of these strategies, not only in schools, where there is more of a clear mission of what you are hoping for and what you’re doing and what you’re striving for, and a gap between that and there’s so many different elements and dimensions in schools. What I am most appreciative of is the different ways that people see how they can implement this lens in their communities. Whatever they may be, they may be very different and they’re asking very different questions. Some people might think this is more about belonging and creating communities where people can really bring their full selves and their genuine selves, which is certainly a part of that. There are some people who are really asking strategic questions about their strategic planning when are they going, what would they like to achieve and they’re able to really use this dignity lens in these remarkable ways. I am most appreciative and value these wonderful conversations and conversation partners I’m having using implementing the dignity lens.

Bishop Wright: 20:25

So I love the word, obviously, and I love the acronym, and I love the fact that you’re trying to figure out how to have these kinds of conversations that acknowledge gaps and that chart courses across these gaps to the benefit of community. But you know, is there a scripture or some Bible verse that really is the rocket fuel for you doing this work.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 20:50

There is. There is indeed. It’s James 318 and is the message translation. I’m gonna read it for you now you can develop a healthy and robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results Only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

Bishop Wright: 21:22

There you go.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 21:24

What I love about that verse is that it taps into every part of the dignity lens. Yeah, you can develop a healthy and robust community. That’s your identity. That’s your identity that lives right with God, and that’s also your accountability and enjoy its results. That’s your yield Only if you do the hard work and that has to do with growth and with nurture of getting along with each other, treating each other, and that’s D for diversity, with dignity and honor. All of it there and very clearly, transparently so. So there’s the T in transparency. It captures every element of the dignity lens and I just love it as a launching pad for these kinds of conversations.

Bishop Wright: 22:20

There’s not only this work that excites you, apparently, it is also writing and doing meditations. You were the guest author this month, january, for Forward, day by Day. What was that like?

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 22:34

What a tremendous joy and opportunity to share some thoughts and meditations. I loved that opportunity and I thank Forward Day by Day for the invitation. It was quite a task and what a pleasure. It was a pleasure to think about all these, to boil down these scriptural scripture to. What an opportunity to boil down the scripture to one sentence, one or two sentences and to say something meaningful about it. I hope it has been meaningful. I’ve been hearing such wonderful words and gracious and kind words from people who have been listening. It has been a joy to follow along with the community online as they engage with the words and engage with the text. And now I’ve been invited to be a part, to contribute to an Advent book that Forward Day by Day is going to be publishing for Advent 2024. So I look forward to that this Advent. And what has also been interesting as a result of these meditations. One meditation I referred to an older blog that I had written during 2020, during Lent of 2020. And the blog was I decided I was going to write 40 days, 40 meditations on joy, and a woman from Texas emailed me, contacted me and said hey, I would love to see that blog. I would love to be able to engage with that work on joy with her group, a small group of women at her church, and to study that for Lent. And I thought, well, what an opportunity. I’m going to now publish and release a book on joy, deep joy. This is a different type of joy that we’re talking about. This is the joy that is deep in abiding with God. And so deep joy 40 meditations on a journey to joy by me. So I look forward to releasing that, hopefully as soon as possible for Lent, this Lent 2024.

Bishop Wright: 24:55

Now for people who want to know more about what you do and what you’ve written, and resources. Where can we find you?

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 25:02

My website is BethSaraWright. com B-E-T-H-S-A-R-A-H, w-r-i-g-h-t. com. There you can engage with my books you can buy my books there as well as anywhere you buy books, but there would be great and also to request my presence if you’d like to have further conversations, to be conversation partners around dignity in your specific space. I would love that I also as one of my books. You know that I wrote for the first time a children’s book and that book is called Meet Babs and Her Beautifully Different Friend, once again in child appropriate and developmental ways to talk about respecting the dignity of others, and it’s a beautiful relationship that’s inspired by my mother, who turned 83 years ago, and she remembers fondly this woman who was her aunt, who was developmentally disabled, and they had a profound and long lasting relationship and I wanted to talk about that and share that story. But we’re just coming up on February 17th there’s another opportunity to share that story with an incredible in incredible space called Glenn’s Cafe, and Glenn is an adult and man with developmental disabilities and he and his brother own this cafe and I thought what a perfect space to talk about dignity, to talk about seeing others and appreciating and valuing and affirming others, no matter where we are and where we find ourselves. So thank you.

Bishop Wright: 26:49

So, for people who are in the Atlanta metropolitan area, we’re talking about Glenn’s Cafe, which is in Mapleton, georgia, and it’s just a great project by a loving family, a husband and a wife and Glenn, as has been mentioned, who is what we would call developmentally disabled, but just a big picture of love and he’ll greet you right at the front door and the food is fantastic. So you’re going to have an event there coming up.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 27:22

Yes, yes, on February 17th at 11am, a book reading and an opportunity for people to come and share their stories. Stories are the currency for dignity and and we just stories are on our lips, so if we can share them, we can strengthen one another.

Bishop Wright: 27:42

Beth, thank you. Thank you for today and I will see you at home.

Dr. Beth-Sarah Wright: 27:48

I’ll see you at home. I love you.

Bishop Wright: 27:50

I love you too.