8/26/2022 – Remaining Curious
Rob: Jesus himself played around with this. Jesus would say to his listeners, “You have heard, but very truly I say to you.” In other words, he was refreshing, he was updating, he was 2.0-ing. But at the same time, he was doing that, he was also affirming, “You shall love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength and neighbor as yourself.” So, it’s complicated. There is no quick and easy answer. But there are parts that we need to bring forward, which is the dignity of God and the dignity of neighbor.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau. And today we’re having a conversation with Bishop Wright about a number of things. Bishop, it has dawned on me, that we haven’t seen one another in quite some time because you’ve had some things going on at the church.
Rob: We’ve had a number of things going on. First of all, hello, good to see you again, and good to hear from you again.
Yeah, we’ve had General Convention in Baltimore, where the Episcopal Church met and decided its mind about a number of issues, was a shortened version because of COVID protocols. And then, we had about a week or so in between. And then, many bishops were off to Lambeth, which is every 10 years, in this case 14 years gathering of bishops. 165 nations were represented. Just about 700 bishops gathered in England at the University of Kent to fellowship and to talk about what it means to follow Jesus as a global church today. So, yeah, been a little busy.
Melissa: It’s been great. Well, here at For People, we had a number– We had a five-episode series called Summer Shorts. That was really popular. We polled the audience and a number of people submitted questions that you unpacked for them. And then, you also had a number of guest speakers on and interviewed. Some really fabulous, had some really fabulous conversations through that which spurred some questions from our audience.
I just thought we would spend some time taking some of those. Sound good?
Rob: I love it. Let’s do it.
Melissa: So, we have this question, or this statement. I was intrigued– Well, let me tell you, this is from Scott Christian from the Diocese of Virginia. He was intrigued by your recent interview with Archbishop Foley Beach. And he said, the one point that he’d like to hear you discuss is the notion of literalism and why it’s so important in some branches of Christianity as opposed to Judaism, or most religious traditions in indigenous faiths who view wisdom differently. What are your thoughts on that?
Rob: Yeah, well, I appreciate that question. I mean, I know people are doing PhDs on this question, you know. I mean, this is a five day plenary events. But I mean, to try to get to the heart of it is that what we were really talking about with Archbishop Foley Beach and others is, what is the Bible? And how do we hold it? Right? Those are the two fundamental pieces. There is age old difference in how to do that. And in the Episcopal Church, we hold it at a particular way and other places they hold it another particular way. Archbishop Foley Beach, according to him, they hold scripture in a particular way.
But let me just try to say that the Bible is a complex book. And it’s not just one thing. I think this is what we have to say. It is poetry, it is hyperbole, it is pros, it is history, it is a document to affirm a certain group of people’s sort of quest for empire. And God is all in it. The story of God, who we have known God to be over many, many millennia is in that. And it takes some practice. And so, what we’re talking about is how do we decide which parts of the Bible to bring forward? And which parts of the Bible to leave behind? Which parts are ancient? And specifically bound to a specific context? And pieces of transferrable?
I like John Dominic Crossan, a great scholar who said, “My point once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically. But that they told them symbolically and we are dumb enough to take them literally.” So, Crossan is really suspicious of literalism. You know, for good reason.
And here’s another question that helps me sort of get to a better answer here. And that is, “What I always have to be on the lookout for is selective literalism is another attempt in a very long line of techniques designed and intended to shape God in our own image.” And that quote comes from a guy by the name of R. Alan Woods. And so, the stakes are high when we start reading the Bible. Because we can do more violence than good. If we are really just looking for God to help us and justify our exclusion of people, etc., etc. Jesus himself played around with this, Jesus would say to his listeners, “You have heard, but very truly I say to you.” In other words, he was refreshing. He was updating. He was 2.0-ing, if we can say it that way, scripture.
But at the same time, he was doing that he was also affirming, “You shall love God with your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and neighbor as yourself.” So, it’s complicated. There is no quick and easy answer. But there are parts that we need to bring forward, which is the dignity of God, and the dignity of neighbor.
So, Walter Brueggemann says, “Those are the two irreducible parts.” So, the dignity of who God is, right? God. God is God, all by God’s self. God is sovereign and we are not. And neighbor has dignity, inherent worth, and value. So, if you are looking for the quick and dirty, which we shouldn’t be looking for. But if you’re looking for the quick and dirty, it is, “Love God, love neighbor, do good in the world.” And these are the things that are transferrable. That seems to go through millennia, right on there.
In fact, the truth of the matter is, if we lived out those two tenants with our heart, mind, soul, and strength, the world would be a much better place. But we get down into looking for justifications to exclude people and all these sorts of behaviors, which is really us layering our sin, blindness, and narrowness over an ancient text.
Melissa: So, in the Anglican tradition, we have that thing called the three-legged stool, right? We’ve got scripture, tradition, and reason. And I’m reminded, I was reminded very recently, that when you have a three-legged stool, and one thing is out of whack, the stool falls over.
Melissa: And I think sometimes we forget that reason is really important to balance the tension between tradition and scripture.
Rob: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And then reason is also the biggest liability, right? Because our reasoning is limited, right? And so, this is why we proceed with humility, right? We proceed with humility. I think, I have a piece of the truth and so do you. And so, we’ve got to figure out how to live together with one another as these things unfold. And this is why I like having conversations with other denominations and other folks who believe differently, and even other fates is because you know, I don’t have to give up what I believe. But I want to hold it gently as I sit beside you. Because there’s something about the mind that God I need to know from your tradition. This is the way God is. God didn’t give one group the whole kit and caboodle.
And so, even in that design, that God designed, you and I have to figure out how to honor one another. And I think where we do incredible damage to one another is we say, I’ve got the truth and you don’t have any of it. I’ve got all of it. You know, I come from you know this, and you come from only that. And so, I’ve got the whole thing. And every time we’ve done that, over human history, we’ve looked back years later, centuries later, and we look and see the carnage that we’ve caused over people.
And so, when will we learn that this book is a gift? It’s the lives of men and women of people with God. All of our failings are included in that book. All of our pettiness is included in the book and our better moments with God. And sort of our ideals are there as well. And we’ve just got to hold them gently and live this thing out.
Melissa: My friends, we’re going to be right back after this.
Easton: Hi, listeners. Thank you for listening to For People. Keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. We would like to invite you to Imagine Church at the Center of Racial Healing on August 27th. Join the Center, the Youth of our Diocese, and friends for a worship centered around brave spaces and tough questions. Register in episode description. And now, back to For People.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Bishop, we’re on a roll with the Diocese of Virginia because we got another question from the Diocese.
Rob: Shout out to the Diocese of Virginia.
Melissa: That’s right. We have another question from John Brown from McLean, Virigina. Who said this, he said, “He was struck by something you said in your conversation with Archbishop Foley Beach, that God is loquacious and speaks beyond what is in scripture.” And he confesses, he said, at my Episcopal School growing up I learned that physics, chemistry, and biology was creation and that we could learn God’s will by studying them as well as scripture. Yet, when he shared this with his Roman Catholic wife, she practically spat out her tea. So, is he on theologically sound footing here? In what ways might he know the will of God outside of reading scripture?
Rob: Wow. Okay, so we’re just having a day with the Bible here, right? I love it. I love it. And a lot of friends in the Diocese of Virginia. So, thank you for your questions.
I think we are on very solid foundation, if we are looking at scripture, and if we are looking for compliments to Scripture. I think even scripture looks to nature and to beauty and to natural complexity as a way to point to the mind of God. Psalm 8 is one of my favorites, when I consider the sun, moon, stars, the planets, and their courses. You know, the Psalmist is driven to a moment of deep devotion by considering the genius of God in hanging the planets like Christmas lights.
When I think about Psalm 1, that you and I are to be like trees planted by the rivers of water, who bring forth fruit in due season. And even Jesus, Jesus is looking at nature. He’s looking at fig trees that don’t bare. He’s looking at grains of wheat that give us metaphor for what a life broken open should look like. So, I think we are on really firm footing.
So, you update that, fast forward that by 2,000-years, what can we know about God with these new images coming back from the web telescope? What can we learn about the vastness of God? And how does that give us perspective as we live on this little blue ball just a little ways from the sun? So, yeah, I think we are on firm footing. We also have to realize that God didn’t stop speaking. We could not have captured all of God’s mind in 66-books. So, I think we use scripture, we have some facility and command of scripture, and then we use that as a jumping off point to then look at my backyard. The owls, the hawks, and the foxes in my back yard to understand myself not as above creation but as a part of creation. That is the mind of God, right? Or what we’re doing to the planet, the violence that we’re doing to the planet in terms of pollution, in water, and all that sort of stuff. So, that is also the mind of God. We have been given this rich, beautiful, pure gift, and we’ve defiled it. I think there is something to know about God there, right?
You know, I was in the Georgia aquarium the other day. And I was noticing the sort of millions or millions of years journey with the sharks. And I was noticing how many times that whole species has almost gone extinct. But somehow, the genius of their design keeps coming back, keeps coming back, bigger, and better, and stronger. So, I think we’re on firm ground to look at science to look at beauty, even to look at math. The Muslims look at math. And architecture and design and all of that. I think all of those things can point us to the divide. So, absolutely. We are not left only with scripture. Although scripture is a significant resource.
Jesus often looked beyond. He often looked beyond, you know. He loved Isaiah, he quoted Isaiah a lot. He was, you know, a good little boy. I’m sure he learned all of his Torah, and all of that sort of stuff. But he also had this mind, you know, sort of framed by that. He looked out– Think of it this way. I am not a musician, but I appreciate music. And I know that some of my favorite musicians are these people that had absolute command of the standards and the scales, etc. It is because they had command of the scales and the standards that they were able to take these gorgeous flights, I’m thinking of jazz music here, right? John Coltrane, in particular. And so, the flights that they took, were tethered to the standards. They were tethered to the scales. But they were nevertheless flights. This is what Jesus does when he emerges. So, yeah, I think we are on firm footing to think in terms of who Scripture tells us who God is and then look for that, all around us and be affirmed by that absolutely.
Melissa: Excellent. Well, friends, we’re always so grateful to get your questions that Bishop Rob can then answer.
Rob: Try to answer.
Melissa: Try to answer, exactly right. He does a great job.
Thank you for listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. You can subscribe to For Faith, you can subscribe to For People, and leave a review. We’ll be back with you next week.