7.1.22 Take 2
A mature sense of patriotism holds together in a tension, the things that we need to lament about and the things that we hope for. What we do is we get spiritual and intellectual lazy people who want to sort of alleviate that tension. No, you’ve got to hold it together in the way that God holds God’s viewpoint of us together. I am saint and I am sinner. I am both.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m Melissa Rau. Bishop Wright and I are having a conversation based on For Faith, a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and the link to subscribe in the episode’s description.
Good morning, Bishop.
Rob: Good morning, how you doing?
Melissa: I’m all right, man. You named this week’s devotion For America.
Melissa: And it’s taken directly from the prayer for our nation, which is on page 820 out of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Rob: There you go.
Melissa: And July 4 is coming up. And so, I imagine that’s why you chose it. Or perhaps it’s because the last couple of weeks have felt insane and tensions are running high.
Melissa: Do you want to tell us why you chose to share this with us this time?
Rob: Well, yeah, sure. Well, I mean, you know, I am born and raised in this country. I love this country. I’ve served this country. I wore the uniform. I believe in the experiment called democracy. I believe we are an imperfect union. And I believe that we can perfect this union, through government, through neighborliness, and all of that. I think, even though we’re facing difficult days right now, I think that America is worth saving.
And so, you know, when I think about that, I think about people like you and I who have faith, and we ought to pray. And so, the Fourth of July is not only a time to celebrate, you know, the legacy of democracy that we have as imperfect as it is, it is also a time to sort of celebrate along with the baseball and the apple pie and all of that, it’s an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the work of neighborliness in this wonderful country called America. And so, sometimes, we can be so critical of our union. And we’ve got to hold our legitimate critiques in tension with an acknowledgement of the ground we’ve crossed in this country. And the opportunity that we enjoy.
Melissa: Wow, that was a big statement right there. And it kind of shaded my next question. So, we’ve got a whole intention and so I wanted to like, get the bad stuff out of the way first?
Melissa: Before we dive into the good stuff of this prayer, I’ve heard it said, that belief shapes prayer, and prayer shapes belief. So, it’s hard for me sometimes to pray this prayer because of how it begins. It says, God who has given us this good land for our heritage. And that feels wrong to me. Unless it’s a prayer written solely for indigenous people. I mean, I don’t believe God gave us all this land. But many of us, you know, many of us took it. And so, can we just get this tiny part out of the way? How do you prayerfully, standing alongside other people who may not have a problem with anything in the prayer? Like, how do we pray this authentically? And again, hold intention, kind of what you said before, you know, the imperfect stuff? This is an imperfect prayer to me. Got any thoughts on that?
Rob: Yeah. Well, it’s an imperfect prayer for an imperfect nation for a bunch of imperfect Americans, right? Born or naturalized. And so, I mean, that’s not an excuse. The fact of the matter is, we did take the land. We did, you know, exterminate an entire group of people. We did seize property and call it our own. And we did transport human beings to labor in the land that we took. And by we, I’m claiming my part of we as an American citizen. So, even though I’m an African American, because I live in America, I enjoy the benefits of stolen property and stolen personhood as other Americans do. So, that is the fact of America.
And you know, I’m glad we get to talk about this because some people are so afraid to talk about America’s sort of shadow side. And I think they do the country a disservice by negating or neglecting to talk about our journey. We have a very complex family dynamic in America. From 1619, when the first Africans arrived, which is a year before the pilgrims, to the men and the women and the deep, rich culture that we found when we got here. A civilized culture, a genius culture that paid attention to land and water and thought in terms of decision making around seven generations. I mean, we called them savages. But nevertheless, that was a high culture. And it’s only now some of us are discovering that we sort of ran roughshod over something that we should have conserved and preserved and been humble enough to learn from rather than lean into extermination.
But I think that we do America a real great service when we talk about who we have been and our mistakes and the things that we have done to hurt people. Because we have thou a realistic sense of who we are. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Any therapists worth three cents, will not, will never tell you to sort of just push away all the bad stuff and put it into a closet and leave it there, right? And sweep it under the rug. No, you’ve got to process that. And we’ve got to do that as a nation. What really concerns me is that people think they are not a patriot if you name what we’ve done to women and what we’ve done to indigenous people and what we’ve done to Africans, and, you know, the internment camps for the Japanese, and the abusive policies even right now for immigrants. I mean, just 52 people have died in the back of a truck, you know, in Texas being transported as labor. And the reason that happened was because there is a market still for, you know, to exploit cheap labor.
And so, yeah, America is not a perfect nation. But I think that America is worth working on, is worth saving. And how I get to see this, look, we have to make the connection here too is that– What does that have to do anything to do with me being a Christian? And you being a Christian? And you and I being people of faith? For me, it’s all about neighborliness, right? My first citizenship, our first citizenship at Saint Paul has said is in heaven. And then, everything there after is another context, a lesser context for our citizenship. So, because I’m a citizen of heaven, by virtue of my relationship to Jesus Christ and your relationship to Jesus Christ, I therefore now am in a specific locale and context. And so, my calling therefore, is to reflect heaven even amidst the most tragic looking hell. And this is our add value as Christians to wherever we are. And so, it makes sense to me, therefore, for us, to celebrate our nation. And also to deepen our sense of commitment and dedication to making this nation, even in our specific locales look more like heaven and less like hell.
Melissa: Right. Which is actually, to me the definition of what reconciliation is.
Melissa: So, how do we– How do we be neighbors, good neighbors without being able to tell the truth?
Rob: Well, you have to. I mean, this is it, right? I mean, and so what we have to do is try to increase the capacity. And this is where the church has failed in many ways. We have not done a whole lot better in the church than civil society, right? And so, what civil society should take from us is an example of how to tell the truth in love. How to name all these grievous factors that I just named and sit with them, live in that tension. I think what people are so worried about is guilt, condemnation, shame, right? And so, because of that we can’t talk about who we’ve actually been. We have to dispute it. And we have to burn books and we have to outlaw books, etc., etc. And, of course, we have to be careful with information. But the facts are clear about what we’ve done to indigenous people. And that we have withheld the vote to women until the 20s. And I mean, it’s not like we are making this stuff up. So, I think it’s a much more rich conversation. In fact, a much more hopeful conversation. If we can name where we have been, and begin to sort of talk about where we are, and then name, you know, those things that keep us from being, you know, the great country that we aspire to be. That’s all hopeful for me.
Melissa: I agree. Friends, we’ll be right back after a short break.
Easton: Hi, friends, thank you for listening to For People, the space of digital evangelism. It’s summer and a perfect time for some summer shorts. Join us over the next five weeks as we respond to questions from our faithful listeners. These are short, real short, like five minutes short. Listen in next Friday for question one. And now back to For People.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Bishop, many Americans will be celebrating Independence Day in just a few days. And I’m curious what you think about freedom? Especially through your perspective as a veteran?
Rob: Wow. Oh, my goodness, that is a great question. Well, freedom, yes, I want some. And I want it for everybody. So yes, I’ll have a double scoop of that, right? We know that freedom ain’t free. We know that people have to pay the price. And so at least on this Fourth of July, we have to give thanks for the men and the women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, families, spouses who paid the ultimate sacrifice, mothers and fathers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in sending a loved one, you know, off to war. So, we remember that. And we remember the great cost of freedom.
But then, you know, we’ve got to think about freedom, I think as being extended to all, right? And so, for me, that ends up being a justice conversation. So, justice and freedom are intimately linked together. Right? So, if we want more freedom for everybody in the culture in society, then we’ve got to talk about justice. We’ve got to talk about the scales of justice in this nation. And you know, can a woman and a man earn the same for the same work? Not yet in America. Not yet in America. You know, does a person of color have exactly the same kind of opportunity that a white brother or sister has? Not yet in America. In many places, in some instances, to be sure. I’m an example of that. But not everywhere. Not everywhere. And so, we have to talk about that. Do gay and lesbian people have same opportunities? Can they move forward without some kind of taint or some kind of, you know, sidelining? Not everywhere in America, just yet, right? Does a congress represent the tapestry that is America? Not yet.
So, we’ve got work to do. And so, all of that work for me is about fortifying this idea of freedom, making it real. It’s a great idea. It’s a great word to use. And everybody can get a little weepy eyed, or, you know, the sort of chin starts moving when we start talking about freedom. But all the freedoms that you and I enjoy, were hard won by generations before us. Hard won. And so, I mean, think about the women who did the legwork to make women’s suffrage a reality for you. So, that you get to go the polls, your daughters get to go to the polls, and you don’t have to think about being excluded, right?
And so, I guess, I always think in terms of what is the work here? What we want to do is extend the blessings of liberty as they say to ourselves. And our posterity, right? So, this is the work for us. And what guides us as people of faith is our absolute radical commitment to the fact that we are siblings, you know, in the eyes of a loving God. So, all of that, that theology is what drives us. Now, what drives other people, I don’t know. And it’s not for me to say. But what drives I think people of faith, how they marry these ideas of following Jesus and working on making this a more perfect union is that it’s the rocket fuel for us. We have a radically clear idea from the Gospels and the Epistles in the New Testament, Old Testament as well, about neighborliness. And that’s what we’re working on.
And so, it comes out in the polls. And it comes out in the grassroots work that we do. And we’ve got to do more. I was talking to Andy Young the other day, Ambassador Andy Young. If I ever had a grandpa, I would choose him. I never had a grandpa. But you know, so maybe God gave me a grandpa, he’s 90 years old. And he said the most jarring thing to me the other day. He said that he reads the newspapers and takes in all the data that is today. He said, it seems that hate is more organized than it’s ever been. I was so struck. I was blown away by that comment. I said, whoa, wait a minute, wait a minute. You’ve got to go slow here. I said, this is a guy that face downed dogs and state police, racist state police. And I mean, he’s just seen the worst of us, you know, and all these little towns that many of them are in the Diocese of Atlanta. He confronted these places. And he said, that now hate is more organized than before. He said that the only way they were able to make the progress that they made, which you know, even accrues to us now, you and I sitting here talking as brother and sister, was because love was more organized than hate in his day.
How they made a difference in Montgomery, how they made a difference in Birmingham, how they made a difference in all kinds of places was because love was more organized than hate was. That was how they were able to run the non-violence strategy. And to break the backs of segregation in lots of places. Right? Wow. I mean, that’s a PhD dissertation right there. But what we’ve got to do now, I think, as Americans, as followers of Jesus, is that we’ve got to get our love organized.
Melissa: Amen to that. Which leads me to the question, Bishop, is there room for lament when coupled with the idea of patriotism or American pride?
Rob: I think in a mature sense of patriotism holds together in a tension, the things that we need to lament about, and the things that we hope for. I think those two things have to stay in dialogue in us. What we do is we get spiritual and intellectual lazy people who want to sort of alleviate that tension. You know, falsely or immaturely, it just sort of puts one away. No, you’ve got to hold it together in the way that God holds God’s viewpoint of us together. I am saint and I am sinner, I am both. I am both. So, we’ve got a whole lament of where we’ve been, with the hope of where we are going. We have too.
Melissa: And we’re talking about the great we, as the Christian we?
Rob: I’m talking about the great we as the American we.
Melissa: The American we. Here is the tension though, right, many of us would, many people would call America, a Christian nation?
Melissa: And that rubs me the wrong way.
Rob: I don’t think numerically you can bear that out. When you look at recent data, I don’t think you can bear that out. Many of us in America have no religious affiliation at all. And that number is increasing rapidly, right? And so, Christian is becoming associated with sort of xenophobic, homophobic, white, you know, evangelical prejudice, those sorts of things. These are the words that people are ascribing to Christianity, right? And so, a lot of young people are walking away from that. Islam has a certain population. Judaism has a certain population. And so, we are becoming as a country something that does not have a shared lexicon vocabulary on how we shall proceed to make a difference in America as a believing group. There are pockets certainly. But as a general matter, not so much. In some ways, in some places, it is pejorative to be labeled as a Christian because of how people have come to that. Pedophile, abusive, authoritarianism, all of these negatives, that are being continually ascribed to what it means to be Christian these days. And so, we’re having to work through that as well.
Melissa: Right. I would say a dominant minority of us would call themselves an evangelical Christian. And so, I’m wondering about the shoulds. You know, there’s so many people who should on us, you know–
Rob: For the listeners, she said should.
Melissa: Well, I took it from Brenea Brown. I think it’s fabulous.
Rob: Yeah, yeah.
Melissa: How do we reconcile the fact that we can show up to people and say, we can stand firm with our Jewish, Muslim, and other faith-based Christian? I’m sorry, other faith-based Americans? And say that this our country, we are globally, a united we. That we do this in response to our calls, Jesus followers, but with respect for people who are not?
Rob: Well, yeah. Howard Thurman said this better than anybody, which is it is my Christianity that puts me beside other brothers and sisters from other fates, as sibling, right? So, it is because I follow Jesus and try to build some depth in that, that I end up beside lots of different kinds of people, right? So, what they say and Habitat for Humanity and the good work that happens there, right. It’s a Christian organization, founded as a Christian organization continues in its Christian identity. But what they say is Christ is our center. But Christ is not our border. And I think that’s just a wonderful way to say that. Jonathan Reckford, who is the executive director says that again, and again, and again. That’s perfect, because what that means is, is that out of our center, we find ourselves side by side with lots of different kinds of people doing the work of Christ in the real world. And to that we can, you know, add all kinds of partners, right? Because it’s just about the work getting done. Yeah.
Melissa: That sounds like freedom.
Rob: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, what freedom is, freedom is also connected to partnership I think.
Rob: I think what makes us free is that if we join together with a clear sense of purpose, the worst kind of partnership is coercion and obligation, shame and guilt. The best kind of partnership is as I do this, of my own volition, this is the place I want to spend my agency for this thing, you know, this enterprise, in this case, this country. And so, this is why Jesus kept trying to make partners, kept asking people, you know. And this is why when, like, people like the rich young ruler, you know, when he was invited to go forward with Jesus, he said, no, I’m good, I’m going to keep my stuff and he turned around and went away. But Jesus didn’t shame him, right? Because the best expression of partnership, is uncoerced partnership, right?
And so, well, you know, out of our own deep commitment to what we say are our values, it should bear fruit in the world. And so, if we love this country, and we understand this country, right, we should find our way into listening with other people, deeply listening for fears, and not just opportunities to sort of bludgeon people with our talking points, whatever our talking points are.
And while I’m on this tirade, let me say this. You know, I hear from people all the time in the body of Christ, that is the Christian family. They want to use the terms liberal and conservative all the time. And may I just say, so very humbly, that is not in the Gospel. It’s not in the Epistle. And it has no benefit to Christian Fellowship. It’s just a way to diminish people. And so, what I’m more interested in is trying to find out what my brothers and sisters on either side of things are afraid of, what is their concern? And figure out how we can get something done. We just passed a gun bill here first one in 30 years. It was bipartisan. It’s not perfect. I’m not saying it’s perfect. Please don’t send me any emails. I’m not saying it’s perfect. But you know, it got overshadowed by some of the horrible things. It got overshadowed by the Roe reversal. But you know, for some of us, it was a glimmer. It was a glimmer. By no means is it perfect. We could have done more, should have done more in my opinion. But it is a step.
Melissa: Yeah. Well, Bishop I’ll be celebrating with you I’m sure this very imperfect yet, I guess experiment. We’re still experimenting, right.
Rob: We are still experimenting.
Melissa: I’m grateful. Happy Independence Day, y’all.
Rob: Happy Independence to you and just remember, pray for this country. If you love this country, pray for her.
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