Bishop Rob Wright For People Album
For People

About the episode

Have you ever wondered how asking the right questions can transform your faith journey? In The Episcopal Church, having questions of faith and not always having the answers is a part of common life together.

In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation inspired by Howard Thurman’s Sermons on the Parables and the Collect of the sixth Sunday of Pentecost in The Episcopal Church. Together, they uncover how faith isn’t about having all the answers, but about the ongoing process of believing, belonging, and becoming. Listen in for the full conversation.

Before listening, read For Faith.


Bishop Wright: 0:00

I think what I like about the way we talk about questions in The Episcopal Church is there’s no shame here in not knowing. In fact, we expect you to come through the door with some questions, not that we have the answers right, but we want to walk that walk with you because we know that that’s where growth happens, and one of the ways that I can respect your dignity is not to browbeat you or arm twist you, but simply put before you, with, with all grace and humility, a question.

Melissa: 0:30

This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright. Welcome 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 devotions 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. Something I know you’re really passionate about is what you named this week’s devotion.

Bishop Wright: 1:05


Melissa: 1:11

You based it off Howard Thurman’s sermons on the parables and the Episcopal Church’s collect prayer for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost and your devotion is really just a number of questions and I’m curious are these your questions based off of the sermons? Are these Thurman’s questions that he posed?

Bishop Wright: 1:25

So some combination of both, right? So when I’m reading stuff, I’m always sort of reading and wondering how’s my devotional life, since I have this sort of calling, how’s this devotional life going to possibly accrue to people? And so I was actually reading the foreword of Howard Thurman’s. The foreword of Howard Thurman’s, it’s an old book on the parables of Jesus, on the stories of Jesus, and I saw him take some turns down into some questions and I thought to myself I could update some of those and offer those to folks, because I think, ultimately, questions are a gift, right. They help us to clarify.

Bishop Wright: 2:06

And when I look to the news and I see Christian nationalism on the rise, which is some sort of malformed and, I would say, grotesque version of what it means to be Christian out there, I wonder if questions can’t help us. Wonder, you know, if questions can’t help us, not litmus test of who we are that’s not what the point of it is but help us to clarify what’s at the center and what are the constituent parts of our life with Jesus. And so that’s the inspiration of that. And then, of course, you know the prayer.

Bishop Wright: 2:39

We use a prayer every Sunday that goes along with all of our lessons. We call it the colic because it collects these wonderful ideas that are present in the scriptures that day and in the colic this week. We’re praying that with steadfast faith and love and through grace that we might proclaim your truth, god’s truth, with boldness and minister justice with compassion. So the answers to the questions and the chewing on the questions and the wrangling with them is supposed to produce in us an increased boldness and faithfulness to Jesus, grace and also minister justice with compassion. So for me it was all sort of wonderfully interlocking.

Melissa: 3:24

Yeah Well, you start your devotion with maturing faith. Appreciate the questions and I can’t help but wonder too. I love that you use the gerund like the maturing, not just mature, and I’m curious if that was intentional.

Bishop Wright: 3:40

Of course, oh yeah. So well, here’s what we believe, right? We believe that life with God is about believing, belonging and becoming. That’s what we believe, and we believe that you’re not done in this journey. You can’t be done. You can’t done it as they say, right, you can’t be done. You can’t done it as they say right. It’s a learning.

Bishop Wright: 4:04

We’re living with Christ, we’re learning. We’re learning from him, we’re learning from each other. We’re wrestling with what we believe is true. We’re squaring our lives up with what we say, our Monday life with our Sunday singing. We’re trying to do all that, and that takes us eight, nine decades, right, I mean, it takes us a long time to sort of be the thing we say we are on Sunday. So we are maturing. You know, we are growing up in the full stature of Christ Jesus, according to scripture, and so I actually wish we could use that word more, because then we wouldn’t sort of be beating each other over the head with, you know, bible verses and and all these sorts of things.

Bishop Wright: 4:48

We could understand that we are maturing, that we are fall short and that we I’m on my journey and you’re on your journey and, as one man has said, we’re all ultimately walking each other home. And so we’re walking each other home to the truth of God. You know actively. And also you know with some grace, because, my gosh, I mean I’m 60 now, but you know, I was so clear when I was 18 about so much. I was crystal clear and I know I’m not the only one Right and then I was 21. And I was clear, and then I was 25 when I was clear, you know, and so on and so on. And now, at 60, with you know, lots of experience and lots of categories, I realized, boy, I’ve got a lot to learn still.

Melissa: 5:36

Yeah, I feel like I knew a lot until 40.

Bishop Wright: 5:41

Yeah, right. And so why don’t we just name that, right? Why don’t we stop acting like really insecure and immature people and sort of asserting ourselves over top of each other and realize that I’m learning and you’re learning and we’re learning together? And why don’t we give each other a little bit of grace, right? And that nobody no intellect, no religious system, right, has all the answers about God. It’s all revelation and we’re all living in relationship to revelation, right. So I need your part of revelation, you need my part of revelation for it to be whole, and I don’t need to be over and against you, right, I need to find ways to be with you.

Bishop Wright: 6:29

This is true with other brothers and sisters who, in other traditions, the most generative relationship that we can be in with the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the atheist community, is to not be God’s lawyers but to be able to sit with people, boldly in what we believe, but gently, alongside of people. I think that’s the way to do it. But what we’ve done is we’ve loaded up the God talk and the God work with all of the anxieties of empire and striving and ego and we’ve sort of run roughshod over each other for financial benefit, if you go back in history not very far to justify all other kinds of malformed ideas superiority, misogyny, homophobia. We’ve done it all to each other right. And then we blamed God or at least said God gave us permission to do it right. And thank God, we’re purging ourselves of that and not admit it too soon, right? And we’ve still got a lot of apologizing to do in lots of systems around all of this about what we’ve done in God’s name to each other.

Bishop Wright: 7:39

So it’s always maturing. It’s always maturing. And you know, the most grace-filled people that I meet are the people who sit at you. They hold in wonder what they know of God and they offer it like they’re presenting you with some delicious dessert that they’ve made and you can have some or not, but they’re convinced that this dessert was just delicious for them. I think that’s the way to do that. And then you know we can mature if we’ll take a spoonful of that and learn something of that flavor and put that alongside what has been revealed to us and then hopefully in the end we’ll have a more full picture of who God is. So, yeah, mature. I mean we haven’t even gotten to the actual substance of the meditation, but it’s the maturing piece. That, I think, is what we have to be about, and Jesus, of course, is always engaging people with lots of questions.

Melissa: 9:07

So, bishop, when we’re talking, you were talking about maturing and really diving into more of the meditation. What made you choose this meditation at this point in time, for this particular week?

Bishop Wright: 9:20

Oh well, I mean, I guess I’m thinking about summertime, I’m thinking about a lot of us perhaps and I hope so are going to have a little bit of time where we’re not running from pillar to post, we might be able to slow down just a bit, and I think that a little bit of reflection around questions really is worth the work. I think that, as I’ve said already, I think we’re being bombarded by images and statements of really what I would call misrepresentations of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so, to the extent that I can, I want to offer people some questions so that they can sort of think deeply about what do I actually believe? What’s the substance of my hope? I think this is critical. This is about maturing, this is about claiming with clarity what I think I know. And also, I think questions are important because they send us back for some study.

Bishop Wright: 10:28

What do I think I know? When’s the last time I updated that information? When’s the last time I enhanced that information? When’s the last time I enhanced that information? And so I think that there’s an invitation here, and I think it’s critical, because I think we’re getting really an uninterrogated version of Jesus in popular culture that doesn’t look like the guy in Matthew, mark Luke and John.

Bishop Wright: 10:58

And that worries me.

Melissa: 11:05

But you know why, bishop? Here’s why I can tell you why. I think it’s because people are more about the answers than the questions, and we’ve been taught what to think rather than how to think, and we’ve lost the edge on living contemplatively because people have been all about giving us the answer, and so now all we want is the answer, and we’ve forgotten how to ask questions altogether.

Bishop Wright: 11:25

We’ve forgotten how to ask questions and for some of us who’ve grown up in the church, we borrowed grandma’s faith and we borrowed mom’s faith and dad’s faith perhaps, and we’re just sort of on autopilot and that’s fine enough. We know, you know, we park in the same place, we sit in the same place on Sundays, we know the stuff and that’s just fine. But you know, I remember this conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, and Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night with a question and that’s just fine. But then Jesus begins to ask him some things and basically he’s saying to Nicodemus you know, aren’t you a teacher of Israel? And yet you don’t know some answers. In other words, have you been on autopilot all along or have you grabbed this for yourself?

Bishop Wright: 12:18

I think what I like about the way we talk about questions in the Episcopal church is there’s no shame here in not knowing right. In fact, we expect you to come through the door with some questions, not that we have the answers right, but we want to walk that walk with you because we know that that’s where growth happens right. And Thurman Howard Thurman has just this wonderful way to sort of walk you down a long, winding path and not give you an answer but leave you with an important question. And one of the ways that I can respect your dignity is not to browbeat you or arm twist you or condemn you or shame you into something, but simply put before you, with all grace and humility, a question, you know, a question that perhaps even I’m working on and haven’t gotten a resolution, and then to say I think there’s something to this question. What do you think or how would you answer that?

Melissa: 13:18

Yeah, and not in a trapped sort of way either.

Bishop Wright: 13:21


Melissa: 13:22

Bishop, I ask so many questions. I love I guess I’m a curious.

Bishop Wright: 13:26

I’m a curious and you know what this is.

Melissa: 13:28

This is made manifest today. This past week, my husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary and we took a cruise.

Bishop Wright: 13:35


Melissa: 13:36

Thank you. We cruised and we’ve never done one of those behind the scenes cruise tours, and so it was a group of 12 of us walking through the vessel with a tour guide and we learned everything about the ship and how they make this like mini city on the sea work. It was awesome. I was the person asking questions at every single point in time and then finally another woman stepped up and stepped in. I do, I just ask a lot of questions and it might upset people, but sometimes, bishop, I think sometimes people will assume that the questions I’m asking. I think sometimes people will assume that the questions I’m asking they’re like, they’re suspicious, that I’m like leading the witness or trying, and I’m like, no, no, actually I just want to, I want to know what you’re thinking.

Bishop Wright: 14:20

Yeah, Well, I mean, thank God for curiosity, right. And so if we’re made in God’s image and we have this capacity, right, we have this curiosity, and you know, some of us, as little kids, have been shamed out of curiosity, right, sit down and be quiet, you know, speak when spoken to, or we’ll. You know, when we want you to have some answers, we’ll give them to you. You know, that’s sort of the thing, right, but God has made us to be curious and I think God celebrates and loves. When we get curious about who God is, I mean, think about it we say that Jesus is our friend and God loves us. Wow, then why not be curious about all that? Right? And so how does that? You know? Why not pull a part of that down for you? That is yours. And I think it means that we somehow understand the relationship when we bring that curiosity to God, right, and say, hey, you know, people always have questions.

Bishop Wright: 15:16

One of the greatest things I get to do sometimes is I get a chance to sit with teenagers and young people, people who are younger than that, middle schoolers and let me tell you, I sit with adults all the time and you know, really accomplished people who’ve got all the fancy degrees, et cetera. The teenagers and the middle schoolers have the best questions. And you know, and, and they’re not they’re not sort of trying to stick it to me, but they’re curious, right. How come you call it good news? And look what they did to him, hanging him on a tree. And you know, didn’t he care? Didn’t God care about the Egyptians? You know, when they got drowned in the Red Sea? And how does God hold all that? I mean, I think sometimes we don’t like the questions because we are afraid that we don’t have any answers and that somehow the whole system will fall in on itself.

Bishop Wright: 16:06

But I think that the real growth comes from really getting to the text and asking scripture, and asking God and learning with one another. You know, just so, who is this God again, and how does this God connect to me personally? And how do I connect to this God? And what is true for me? What’s been revealed to me? True for me? What’s been revealed to me?

Bishop Wright: 16:37

And the Psalms, that 150 song hymn book in the middle of the Christian Bible. They’re full of questions. The psalmist loves God, is writing on behalf of the community, but also poses the most difficult questions to God. Where were you, god? Right? Why do the evildoers seem to prosper, right? I mean?

Bishop Wright: 17:01

And it’s fascinating to read through the Psalms and watch you know a process, watch information happen, watch relationship deepen and to see how some of these things get answered and how some of them don’t get answered, right, so I think that’s the best way. I mean, I could tell people, go read a book and take a book to the beach or to the lake, and that’s cool. But I’d rather ask someone what’s your question for God? Right now? You know, as you live in your sort of life, what’s your real question. And if you’ve got a real question on your heart, what are you doing to get it answered? You know, I think that’s what’s really cool, because that then moves us to the next level of relationship with God.

Bishop Wright: 17:47

And I should say also here, while we’re talking about it with God, and I should say also here, while we’re talking about it, it’s okay to be angry with God, right, there’s some of us who feel like you know, we’re really torn by these emotions, right? So I love God, I’m supposed to love God, I’m supposed to say nice things about God, yet I’m kind of angry about God. I’m angry with God and something didn’t work out, or some profound disappointment, or perhaps even a marriage ended or an illness, something like that, a death of a loved one, and we don’t know what to do with that. And so some of us just check out of the faith community and I wonder sometimes if we do that because we don’t feel like our question, our anger, our intense emotions, our bifurcation could be contained in our faith community. And that’s terrible as far as I’m concerned, because that’s exactly when we’re supposed to provide a space for people to bring the most difficult questions that they have and the most difficult intersections of their life to bear. We’re supposed to be able to sit with them and not sort of pelt them with cheap answers, but at the very least listen, legitimize the question and then, when it seems right, to begin to walk through.

Bishop Wright: 19:00

I mean, I’m sitting here right now, me personally. I’m sitting here right now because I got to a place with questions about who God is and was, and they were too much for the friend. A friend of mine and a friend of mine invited me to meet an Episcopal priest. And I look back and I laugh and we’re still friends to today. And I look back and you know, it’s not like he gave me lots of answers and he didn’t give me necessarily a book, but one of the first things he did was say you know, it’s okay to have some questions.

Melissa: 19:34

I think that’s good, because I think answers are often the things that bankrupt potential.

Bishop Wright: 19:43

Cheap answers, you know I mean platitudes, cheap answers, I think you know we’re talking about visceral stuff here. We’re talking about real life and there are no easy answers, and Jesus actually doesn’t. You know, we’re talking about visceral stuff here. We’re talking about real life and there are no easy answers, and Jesus actually doesn’t, you know. Here’s the funny thing. You know, I took a course one time at the Sloan School at MIT. It was online and that was probably one of the best classes of spiritual formation. It was executive education, it wasn’t theological at all, but it was one of the best what I would call spiritual formation classes that I think I’ve had, including seminary, because it was all about questions, and people have written about this sort of thing too.

Bishop Wright: 20:24

You know, jesus was asked lots of questions and he asked lots of questions. So questions are the way that we learn, you know. And of course there’s those wonderful old billboards that say Jesus is the answer, and actually I would say Jesus is actually not the answer. Jesus is the question. How you live in response to the question is the answer, and it may be that we could say that we had to kill Jesus, we had to crucify Jesus because Jesus, he knew the questions to ask right. And he became such an annoyance he had to be eradicated because he saw our gaps.

Melissa: 21:01

That’s right. Well, thank goodness for that. Bishop, we’re grateful for all the questions that you ask and walk alongside us in trying to answer that. Hopefully, we’ll fuel more questions. Thank you all for listening to 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.