Bishop Rob Wright For People Album
For People

About the episode

If we start to see the way God sees, we start to look at how we handle the planet, conversations with others, money, and so many other spaces in life. For many of us, we’ve come to a settled sense on a lot of these things which limits what we allow in our consciousness. Freedom is deciding not to oppress seeing the world in a new way – this is divine!

In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about Martin L. Smith’s address to the House of Bishops in 1997.  They discuss spiritual practices, various faith traditions, and how sacred awareness of the world around us leads to freedom.

Before listening, read For Faith.


Bishop Wright: 0:00If I start to see as God sees, then I start to look at the way in which I’m handling the planet, the way in which I’m handling conversations with others. For lots of us we’ve come to a settled sense on a lot of these things, and so we’ve limited what we will allow into our consciousness, and so freedom is really saying I’m not going to oppress these impulses or urges that I would argue are divine.

Melissa: 0:40Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau, and this is a conversation inspired by Bishop Wright’s For Faith weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description. Good morning, Bishop.

Bishop Wright: 0:57Good morning.

Melissa: 0:59Your devotion this week is called Free and it is based off of an excerpt from 1997. Martin Smith, who was SSJE, and I know it’s St John the Evangelist, right Society for St John the Evangelist.

Bishop Wright: 1:14You got it.

Melissa: 1:15It was his address to the House of Bishops way back when, and so I have so many questions, bishop, you want to just share a little bit about why you chose this specific one and how you came to choose it. So many questions, bishop. You want to just share a little bit about why you chose this specific one and how you came to choose it.

Bishop Wright: 1:27So, Martin Smith, long before I was ever in the House of Bishops, martin Smith wrote this meditation on pastoral leadership to the House of Bishops. And someone introduced it to me many, many years ago and it’s one of those seminal pieces that you know, you keep it in a file, you keep it on your desktop. It’s a touchstone, it’s a mile marker for me. It is so good, so rich, so deep. I just recommended to the whole House of Bishops last week. You know lots of new bishops are not familiar with this piece of work and even some of us who’ve been doing this work a while didn’t know of this piece. And it’s just so good and he’s so clear. And he wrote this in 1997 and made an offering to the House of Bishops who were there considering what pastoral leadership is actually comprised of.

Bishop Wright: 2:23But I realized it’s not just for bishops, it’s not just for ordained people, it’s for the Christian. And so I was rereading it recently and I said this is just too good not to share. And you can Google it and find it. It’ll pop right up and it’s just, it’s so rich and, like Howard Thurman and Mary Oliver and so many others, you know, a little dab will do you. You read a couple sentences, you know you chew on it for a little while and you know, because you can’t take it all in. I mean, it’s such good and deep thought and such a great spiritual offering you can’t take it all in. But if you grab a little piece and think on it and in some parts of it there are real application pieces I have found it has made me clearer and, I believe, made my ministry better.

Melissa: 3:16That’s great. Well, so I’m reading it, and it is a bit complex, especially if we’re just reading the excerpt, and so for our readers, it’s really about the spirituality being a path to freedom.

Bishop Wright: 3:30Right.

Melissa: 3:30But can you maybe unpack? And especially for folks who may wonder what the difference is between spirituality and religion, does that even matter here?

Bishop Wright: 3:43I don’t know that it matters here. I think for the purpose of this excerpt, I think he’s talking about those two ideas as one in the same. I think what he boils down to is this and I think this is what people have got to get that God is love, but in that love there’s freedom, right. So love, a constituent part of love, is freedom. And so all spirituality, right, all spirituality, is really about that divine urge in all of us to be free, right. We were made by a free God for freedom, right. And so, basically, what we’re trying to practice in quote, religion right, in our Sunday worship and our devotional life, et cetera, we’re practicing freedom, because there’s so many things in life that can ensnare us, entangle us, imprison us. Even our own minds, even our own small sort of viewpoints, we can become incarcerated, you know, and we be the actual key holders of our own cells, right. And so what he’s trying to point to is that freedom is a practice, spirituality is a practice, and so we’ve got to practice freedom, and that’s what we hope we’re doing on the average congregation on Sunday morning is that we are throwing off chains by the power of the Holy Spirit, in song, in sacrament, in fellowship, in worship, in our prayer life, we’re throwing it off. We’re throwing off all those things. I love the way scripture says it and the sin that does so easily beset us Running to Jesus. Right, there’s a picture of freedom, throwing off the things that encumber us and running toward Jesus. It’s about being set free and it’s a lifelong journey, you know.

Bishop Wright: 5:40Think about it this way. You know, we read the Bible and we see the Exodus story, where for 400 years the Hebrews were slaves and then they run away. By the hand of God and by the good work of Moses and others, they find themselves in freedom. And what’s the first thing they do in freedom? Then they make an idol for themselves, something that they can now be beholden to, they could put over themselves rather than enjoy freedom. And you even hear it in the lines of scripture. It said well, at least in slavery we had somewhere to sleep and three hot meals. You know what I mean. But now we have freedom, but freedom takes responsibility. Meals you know what I mean, but now we have freedom, but freedom takes responsibility right. So freedom is not just some passive idea. Freedom is something that we have to apply our agency to, and spirituality is practices that help to keep us free, our mind free, our bodies free, our souls free, our psyches free.

Melissa: 6:43Yeah, so I had the image of mindset too. How much is spirituality, or how much isn’t spirituality a mindset?

Bishop Wright: 6:56No Again. Martin Smith is very clear in this article it’s practices, it’s practices. So I guess if there’s a mindset, it comes out of the divine image in all of us I have a very difficult to articulate within me, and others do urge to be free, right To not to be constrained, to not be controlled and oppressed. I have that in me and God gave that to me right. And so how do I then practice this freedom? How do I nurture it, how do I regenerate it? And that is, you know, what’s tragic to me is that in the way in which we practice religion in so many places, it is viewed by many as actual slavery slavery to some antiquated practices, slavery to narrow-mindedness. I mean, think about what the Pew report has reported, and that is that people understand religion and Christianity as misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic. You know all these terrible and tragic words, which is? That is not how it was intended. It may be how it’s practiced in some places, but that is not what is intended. What is intended is is that in worship, we find out who we are and whose we are, and we find out how to hold steady in that, even though the world wants something else for us. You know the practice of Sabbath, for instance, in the way that the Jewish tradition does it, you know, and here I Sabbath, for instance in the way that the Jewish tradition does it, you know, and here I’m thinking of the book by Abraham Joshua Heschel, who was a great friend of Dr King’s. Dr King called him his rabbi.

Bishop Wright: 8:35The practice of Sabbath is the practice of freedom, where I won’t even go and shop, not whether online or in person, because I am more than a consumer, right? What, what Sabbath time is for is for the worship of God and for refreshing myself in family. It is being that thing that has dignity and worth, apart from what I own and my work, etc. What if we took, for instance, a Sabbath from work all of us rather than the weekend as a time to catch up on emails? Right, there’s a concrete example, right there. Some of us don’t know how to be if we are not a work widget, right? Some of us don’t know how to be in the world if we are not a consumer. And so there’s a concrete practice, the practice of Sabbath, which is meant to be encouraging in us freedom and seeing our dignity, our inherent dignity, apart from all these other sort of ad hoc pieces. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against anything, but I think things in moderation is the way to live forward. When my kids were young, we practiced this kind of Sabbath where we didn’t shop. We didn’t do those sorts of things on Sunday, and it wasn’t because we were rigid, it was because I was really persuaded by Heschel’s argument about the Sabbath.

Bishop Wright: 10:09And it’s amazing that you find time to be together with your family. It’s amazing that you find time for games and for laughter and for other kinds of good silliness. It’s amazing when you’re not a slave to every ding on your phone and every ding in your email. It’s amazing how much life you can squeeze in. Even family walks became a time to be refreshed. Um, even family walks, uh, became a time to be refreshed.

Bishop Wright: 10:32Smell and it sounds cliche, but smell the flowers and to be out and to be silly and get to know each other just that much more. Uh is a is a way to honor life. Uh, and as we get old, we realize how fleeting it actually is. No one has ever said, on their deathbed or in the ICU uh, god, give me an hour or two more so that I can finish some more emails, right, right, and so the practice of freedom is supposed to be a way that we bear witness to the world that every human being has dignity. God has made us to have dignity. God has made us for life abundant and not just to be gerbils on a never-ending gerbil wheel.

Melissa: 11:18Friends, we’re going to be right back after a short break.

Melissa: 11:37Welcome back, bishop. I’m struck by the fact that Martin Smith didn’t refer to this as Christianity. You know. I wonder if that was an intentional decision to go spirituality versus Christianity, because he even brings in the wisdom traditions of both Eastern and Western traditions of spirituality, and so I guess my big question is freedom, free from what?

Bishop Wright: 12:13Big question is freedom, free from what?

Melissa: 12:15Yeah, I’m free from being God’s lawyer is what I am, oh oh, oh, even though I have come in my own personal life.

Bishop Wright: 12:23I have come to know God through Christianity, through the revelation of Jesus Christ, through, you know, particularly the New Testament, and through Christian worship. I am free to put my antennas up and notice the ways in which God is present all around and present to other people. You know, I think following Jesus, properly done, puts you beside people and not over and against people. And it is interesting, to me at least, that all of the mystics from many traditions recognize that, while they may have come to God through their particular tradition, they find themselves open to the ways in which God is revealing God’s self to other people. The truth of the matter is is that most of us, or whatever religion we are, as an accident of geography right? Were I born in Iran, I could be a Muslim. Were I born in India, I would be a Hindu, and so on and so forth. And so I’m not denying the power of how I’ve met God in my tradition, but what I realize is that when I go deep in my tradition, I don’t need to be God’s lawyer. I can sit beside lots of different kinds of people and still be secure. Sometimes our Christianity is so insecure, you know, and we really get into these talking head kind of arguments. What I want to know, when I meet people who live differently in terms of spirituality, is that what do you know about God through your tradition? What do you know about God through your practices? That’s what I want to know and that changes the temperature of the conversation.

Bishop Wright: 14:16You know, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu were great friends, great friends, and when you see those two together they’re like two little playful four-year-olds, you know. I mean, they’re giggling. I mean, these are men, spiritual leaders in their own right, with great weight on them. I mean, they’re giggling. I mean these are men, spiritual leaders in their own right, with great weight on them, I mean, and who both have known great suffering and hardship and tears, as they’ve watched how we’ve treated each other in lots of different places in the world. And yet, when they get together, theirs is a giggle, theirs is a smile, and they wrote a book together about joy, right?

Bishop Wright: 14:53So joy is not the sole property of Christians, neither is it the sole property of Buddhists or Hindus, and so if, in fact, we are all made in God’s image, then God has put this appetite for freedom in all of us, and so that’s what I’m free from. I’m free from being God’s lawyer and I can. Just that puts me in a position to know God as deeply as I can know God in my own tradition and look to my left and right and see who else is knowing God deeply, and not just in words, but in the way they live their life, the fruit of how they live their life, and there’s something to be learned there. I mean, I’m not a Quaker, but I admire the way in which Quakers have an appetite for silence, silence, right, I am not a Muslim, but I honor and love and appreciate the way in which the discipline of Islam in terms of prayer I mean I’ve seen a man lay down a prayer rug on a bus, right A public bus, and make his salat, make his prayer, and I could go on and on and on.

Bishop Wright: 16:08And that doesn’t diminish me in any way. In fact, what it does do is it affirms for me that this God, who is more than I can imagine, has made God’s self known to all of this world in various ways, and and I marvel at that and that what that wells up in me in that regard is adoration and praise for who god is again, and I think I can do all of that while celebrating the fact that I know god through jesus christ me personally, uh and I think it really makes me understand in new and really dynamic ways that we are all intimately connected.

Melissa: 16:52Yeah, I love that, because when I think of freedom, if I’m going to choose freedom for myself, well then I have to honor other people’s freedoms for themselves.

Bishop Wright: 17:01You know, martin Smith, of course and Martin Smith makes this other point, because we’re talking about practices, but practices are born of awareness, right? And so you know, I think this is what Jesus taught. Jesus taught a radical awareness. So when the lawyer says who is my neighbor to Jesus, then Jesus tells a story and in that story there’s a practice of neighborliness, right? So you know, the religious folks pass by the guy laying in the ditch and the guy who worships God in a different way, who has different words in worship, who does different ways in worship, this is the guy who shows a muscular neighborliness. I mean, jesus is cheeky man, I love Jesus for that, right? He’s always telling these stories to keep you off balance, right. And so what we’re talking about here is that this Samaritan we call him the good Samaritan he had an awareness, an awareness of neighbor, and he had a sensitivity to neighbor’s suffering that apparently the two other guys didn’t have, right? I love the way Dr King preaches that story. The first two guys in the Good Samaritan story, when they see him lying in the ditch, they have a high regard for their own safety, and I understand that. And he says, dr King says, and they ask the question what will happen to me if I stop and tend to this brother in the ditch? But the last man, he had a different kind of sensibility. He asked the question what will happen to the man in the ditch if I don’t stop and care for him? And so there is an awareness that happens, an awareness that happens.

Bishop Wright: 18:49And I like Martin Smith’s article. He goes on to say that there is some repression of certain awarenesses that have become commonplace in our society and we’ve taken up these practices and they limit our spirituality and ultimately they limit our freedom. And so we have to say to ourselves I think what I’m trying to say is spirituality, takes courage. To say to yourself I want to see as God sees really puts you on the edge. Because if I start to see as God sees, then I start to look at the way in which I’m handling the planet, the way in which I’m handling conversations with others, the way in which I’m handling money, the way in which I’m handling my time, and then, for lots of us, we’ve come to a settled sense on a lot of these things and so we’ve limited what we will allow into our consciousness, what we will allow into our consciousness, and so freedom, according to Martin Smith is really saying. I’m not going to repress these impulses or urges that I would argue are divine A radical sense of connectivity to neighbor, courage to confront injustice, et cetera.

Bishop Wright: 20:10Look, what is tragic right now that is happening in America is that we won’t let into our consciousness that the Israeli people as well as the Palestinian people both have dignity and worth and value and, in one way or the other, we seem to be preferring one group of people over another group of people, and I think that that shows our limits and our inability to hold two truths together. And that is what we really want is we want the people of Israel to live in safety, with dignity, and we want the people of Palestine to live in safety, with dignity, and we want the people of Palestine to live in safety and dignity. And that is irreducible. That is the irreducible truth, and I’m sorry that we don’t see that enough in the arguments that are being made and in the media as things are being portrayed. But this is the awareness that I think Martin Smith is talking about, and none of this is easy and all of this is hard and all of this is fraught with lots of things, but this is the journey, right, it’s almost like now.

Bishop Wright: 21:21I’m not a big sci-fi person, but there was a movie some years back called the Matrix, and I won’t get this right. But Lawrence Fishburne’s character offers to the young man two pills right, take this pill and see behind the veil, or take this pill and go on with your little life and continue to be deluded about things. And this gentleman takes the pill that allows him to see At its best. Worship, the love of God, the life for Christ, the life with neighbor, is supposed to help us see life as God would have us to see it and then begin to live accordingly. And that’s what’s difficult, and that’s what Martin Smith is trying to let into our consciousness, is that if you want to be free, you’ve got to be willing to say here I am God, again I am yours, I wish to see as you see, and then we begin to live from there.

Melissa: 22:28Bishop, as always, we’re grateful and we’re grateful to you listeners for tuning into For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review and we’ll be back with you next week.