For People with bishop Rob Wright

Revival, Diversity, and Loving People

For People
For People
Revival, Diversity, and Loving People

About the episode

“Holy Spirit break-in!”, says Pentecost! The Spirit breaks through ethnic and language barriers and celebrates the beautiful diversity of God’s beloved.

In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about Bishop’s time with the ELCA Southeastern Synod as the preacher of their Revival. They discuss what can happen when we experience revival and a renewed closeness to God. That testimony leads us to share God’s love in the world. Listen in for the full conversation.

Before listening, read For Faith.



Rob: If it weren’t for God’s goodness, knowing who I have been, and knowing how I’ve missed the mark, how could I stand if it weren’t for the gracious words, the non-violent words that come to me through scripture that say, you are my bellowed. And that when it comes to your sins, God says, that you know, I have amnesia. Cough it up, confess it, and let’s move on. This is the Word of God to us.

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 a link to subscribe in the episodes description.

Hey, hey Bishop.

Rob: Hey, everybody. Hi, Melissa.

Melissa: Hey. Well, this week’s devotion is an excerpt from a sermon you gave to Lutherans at a Southeastern Senate gathering. You called it unmute and opened devotion up with the truth about God must be spoken. Which got me to wondering, how is the truth about God not being spoken?

Rob: Well, that’s it. First of all, let me just say that I was honored to be invited to the Southeastern Senate of the Lutheran church. And we met in Chattanooga just a couple of days ago. And, you know, on the way to answering that question, they did a marvelous thing. Of course, it was the day before Pentecost. Pentecost in church is where we celebrate the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit breaking in to a very average, very traditional sort of gathering 2000 years ago and changing everything. Allowing people to communicate across ethnicity and cultural differences, etc. So, it was revival. And what I love about being with them was when you think about Uvalde, you think about Buffalo, you think about all the woes of the world, in addition to thoughts and prayers, and in addition to some courage from Congress, and local politicians, revival is the best response to the woes of the world. The people of God can be refreshed by the activity of God, to speak it, talk about how it is happening in their own lives, at their own addresses, and sort of bathe in it so that we steal ourselves to have something to say to the world.

So how it’s not being said, I mean, you know, how God is– And their theme was, Unmute, right? Whenever I’m a guest speaker, I always try to work with people’s themes. And so, that was really their theme. And so as far as I could tell, what they were really saying that we have to do what they did at Pentecost. We’ve got to unchain our tongues, take some risks, and talk about how God is alive in our own lives.

And they had a really wonderful worship service. Bishop Kevin Strickland is the Bishop there. They had this wonderful worship service where people were invited to come to the microphone and talk about how God was active in their lives. And of course, Lutherans like Episcopalians, you know, when they first gave the invitation, nobody moved, right? Nothing happened. And then after some singing and gentle encouragement, people came up remarkably and began to talk about the truth of God in their own lives.

Melissa: All right. So, this is kind of a complicated one. As I was listening to you, I even thought back to a most recent sermon that I heard at Pentecost. So, you mentioned two choices. You said, we can basically stay on mute on matters of God or join God and proclaiming Easter with her full throat. And I can’t help but notice at least one other choice that a number of people have made?

Rob: Okay. Yeah.

Melissa: That’s to talk at full volume ensuring that the loudest ones in the room talking about God are twisting God. And so, I’m wondering, Pentecost, if you read the stories, like the gift of tongues. And it was also, I think, based on the sermon that I heard, the gift of listening.

Rob: Yes.

Melissa: So, how might we discern those full volume characters from those who are using their voice for spreading the love of God without them being dubbed false prophet?

Rob: Right. Well, I mean, you know, full volume with words of grace, full volume with words of love, full volume with words of kindness, full volume with not being full of content, full volume with being helpful and useful, full volume in terms of living out loving neighbor and loving God, yeah. All of that and twice on Sunday, right? But not full volume where I have to put my foot, my metaphorical foot on your neck. Not full volume, where I have to win at any cost. Not full volume, where I have to sort of give you words of contempt. I sort of just have contempt for your right to exist, or your right to have a different opinion. We don’t need more of that.

And as I say, in the sermon, you know, we got plenty of religion all around the world. I mean, you know, good Lord, we don’t need more religion, what we need is people with a relationship with God, right? And here’s what we find out. When people have a relationship with God, they get quieter and gentler. They get quieter and gentler, without fail. They get quieter, gentler, and they laugh a lot. Because they know that human beings are silly things. And we’re just so full of arrogance. And it’s a silly thing that we sort of puff ourselves up so much.

What’s not funny is the tragic things we do to one another, you know, sort of puffed up on arrogance. But when you think about the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, and so many other people, you know, who have lived lives of amazing faith, you know, they’re just like, sort of children, you know, in one regard. In one regard they are sort of these men and women of incredible intellect. I think of Sister Helen Prejean, who we had on the podcast. I mean, they’re just fun people to be around. They’re just so silly. And you just love them, you want to hug them. And at the same time, they say things which destabilize the status quo. They call all of the BS into question. And so, the people that I know who I would say sort of spend time with God, are people who have sort of kindness on their tongue. They have a little bit of mischievousness, a little silliness. But at the same time, they’re salt and light, as Jesus said, you know. What they say is impactful and effective. And it doesn’t cost anybody sort of any dignity when they talk. And I think that’s a crucial distinction.

Melissa: You know, I’m listening to you, and I’m like, dang, I’m nothing like that.

Rob: Sure, you are. We’re all we’re all aspiring. And I think if Ambassador Young, or CT Vivian, or Sister Helen Prejean, or any number of people were sitting right here, they would say, damn, Bishop, I’m nothing like that, either. I mean, you know, it’s always this notion of self-effacing. When you spend time with God, you are so aware of the goodness of God, the magnanimity of God that when you begin to think about yourself you say, who am I? And that’s where the next piece of God comes through which you say, you’re my beloved. And so, we’re in constant dialogue of sort of not being quite there and yet still striving. And that’s what gives us the ability to be with other people, you know, sort of with respect and with love. It’s because I am so abundantly aware of how much I missed the mark. So, abundantly aware.

Melissa: Exactly. And how maybe that there is good, God’s goodness, in all, somewhere deep down, maybe.

Rob: And if it weren’t for God’s goodness, knowing who I have been, and knowing how I have missed the mark, how could I stand if it weren’t for the gracious words, the non-violent words that come to me through Scripture that say, you are my beloved, you are made in my image, right? And that when it comes to your sins, God says that, you know, I have amnesia, right? Cough it up, confess it, and let’s move on. This is the Word of God to us.

And then no matter what you do, what you say, how you do it, your worst day, your worst deed, you’re still God’s beloved. Now, if we can get down to speaking words like that then there’s hope, right? There’s hope in the world. And so, I thank God for those men and women that I’ve encountered over the years, who have spent enough time with God to be able to be really good neighbors. And I mean, you know, we just don’t see this enough. I mean, think about it. 80% of Americans right now, realize that we’ve got a problem in America when it comes to gun violence. 80%. That’s really overwhelming. Amazing, right? But for some reason, our elected officials, the people that we sort of voted in to do our work for us, representative work for us, you know, are stymied, you know, they’re giving us all of these sort of platitudes, etc. They’re not doing the work, right? What would it be like if we started off with, well, let’s just sort of work on this thing. Let’s figure out a way to talk about holding our rights intention with our responsibilities to generations now and generations yet unborn. And let’s try to do that without contempt. Let’s try to do that affirming that people come at this a lot of different kinds of ways. But we’ve got to do what’s good for the country right now.

And so, you know, what’s helpful about Pentecost and what’s hopeful about you and I getting the invitation to unmute ourselves is that the truth of God is that we’re siblings. I’ve said it a thousand times. We’re siblings and God has given us one another to try to make this Earth look less like hell and more like heaven. And that is the encouragement for all of us.

Now, let me just say also, one of the things that people immediately default to when we say we can unmute ourselves and be gracious and you know, respectful all this sort of thing. They think automatically that the hard conversations go out the window. No. I think hard conversations get better and the quality of them get better when we start off by saying, Melissa, you and I are related. We worship the same God. We are siblings made in God’s image, you and I both. And so, that sort of says what things are out of bounds in terms of you know, personal attacks, etc. But everything else is in bounds. And so, the responsibility really the privilege of the conversation is how do I affirm your dignity and at the same time really work on a hard issue? That’s harder and I think it’s better. Because in football you have out of bounds, basketball you have out of bounds, and tennis you’ve got out of bounds. When we fuss in marriage we should have out of bounds. So, we should have out of bounds in the way that we speak to one another.

Melissa: I love that idea. Friends, we’ll be right back after a short break.


Melissa: Welcome back to For People.

So, Bishop speaking of revival. I’m wondering, do you think there are groups of people who need to find their voice more so than others? In other words, are there groups of people who have been silenced or need to be raised up in the spirit of revival?

Rob: Without a doubt, without a doubt. If we’re all made in God’s image, you know, and all have equal worth, value, and dignity in God’s eyes, then we have to look back with a constructive critique of who has been given the microphone over and over again in our culture, in our society, etc. I mean, look at it, Congress doesn’t equally represent America in terms of race, gender, and orientation, and those sorts of things.

And the House of Bishops that I’m a part of, does not represent the church, 98 million Anglicans globally. The average Anglican around the world is brown, a brown woman, the house of Bishops doesn’t look like that. I’m about to go to Lambeth, which is a gathering of the global Bishops, majority of them will be male and even though they’ll be brown or of color, still, they will be overwhelmingly male. And precious few will be gay and lesbian. And even of all the spouses invited, the gay and lesbian spouses have been disinvited. So, there’s no doubt about it, that we continue to allow some to the microphone, allow some the prominence, and we restrict other voices. And when we do so, we’re poor. If it’s true that the Holy Spirit speaks through all, then we need all so that the Holy Spirit can speak more forcefully and fully. And so, I think what we’ve got to do really is to think critically here and ask ourselves, those of us like me, who are given the speaking, you know, what opportunities do I have and that I need to take to shut up so that other voices can come through? And maybe some of us who are over represented in places need to stop talking, a little while, so that other voices can start talking about it.

I realize, you know, I have two daughters. And I realize that somehow, they are socialized– And a wife who has earned PhD, smartest person in my house, and I realize that they have been socialized to apologize when they offer an opinion. Right? Or when they offer a thought that is counter to the prevailing thought. So, oh, I’m sorry. I notice that in so many women. They have been taught to apologize for being smart, well read, or forthright, etc. I wonder about that, I wonder if we as a society of culture, family, etc, have been diminished because we have not encouraged, you know, these folks, these parts of our community to bring their full throat.

I was talking to a minister the other day in another diocese. And he was telling me about their commitment to diversity. But when you go to the website, it doesn’t look like that. And so, the optics are damning for us a lot of times. I mean, even if we have good intentions. And the church is 150 some odd years old and they just have invited their very first somebody to come who’s brown and he’ll be on staff. But, you know, representation is so important, not only, you know, some people think I’m talking about political correctness, but I’m not. I’m talking about the full family of God being represented. That’s what I’m really talking about. We’re talking about diversity in worship, lots of different kinds of ways in which God speaks, different kinds of music that God uses, that God is still animating people to write, and to perform. So, that you know more people can hear their way in, think their way in, feel their way in to the family of God, and to know God for themselves. And so, these things are important, not because of, you know, this sort of notion of political correctness. I’m not exactly sure what the hell that is, anyway.

But what I’m concerned about is the whole family of God represented? Are the elderly voices still represented? Are the youngest voices still represented? Are the voices who are who are not sure represented? Are the voices who bring a contrary note, are they representative, etc.? I mean, I think the best sort of snapshot of community, especially church community I would say, is that when we have the capacity as a community, to listen to everybody, and to figure out how to build, you know, worship, expressions, liturgies, etc. so we can hear everybody. I think when we do that, then we can account for the broader swath of who we are, and then we can move forward with a bit more confidence.

Melissa: All right, well, I’m wondering if you’ve seen or heard a powerful movement of prophetic voices being lifted up? Who we might celebrate today? Like, who are they? And how can people learn more?

Rob: Yeah, well, you know, I want to go back to this revival the other day. What was so amazing to me and what really animated me, I mean, I was the preacher. And I must confess, I drop up from Atlanta to Chattanooga. I had my little sermon, you know, in my back pocket. It was ready for a decent and orderly sort of worship service. I had never worshiped with the Lutherans and there I was going to be with a couple of Bishops. Everything nice and tidy, decent, and in order. What really broke it open? Was the music, right? So, music has a role in reviving our spirits, right? We know this. We know this that music is like praying twice, right? There’s something about music. So that’s sort of unlocked, you know, and, and not some obscure sort of 15, 16, 17 century settings of anything. With all due respect to those expressions. But something that people could really lean into and give themselves too. And the music was wonderful. So, God bless these musicians who are committed to excellence. Because what they really do is they create a space for us to sort of stop being so self-conscious, right? And to be more worship conscious. So, God bless them.

But then what really sort of, I think unleashed spirit in the place was that, as I said to you, people were invited to the microphone. And one woman got up and she was really reluctant. As an older African American woman, she got up, and she said that she had had a stroke just before Easter. And everybody sort of gasped because shew as one of the praise dancers at this event. So, here we are some 50 days from Easter. And, I mean, now she wasn’t, you know, a Russian ballerina or anything like that. But she was up and she was moving and it was beautiful. And, you know, the fact that she said that, you know, she just refused that in her life to believe that the stroke was going to impose these limitations on her and that she would not be able to worship in the way that she wanted to worship, which is liturgical dance, which is giving her full body. And so, you know, she gave her little expression of testimony really. It was amazing to watch 3, 400 people in the room.

Another woman got up and her granddaughter, grandchild had been in a car accident, a little baby. And tragically, you know, they had to cut him out of the wreckage. And the baby was a paralyzed from the chin down. So, from the neck down, right? Terrible. And the doctors said, that this child would not have any motion in their limbs and their body, below their neck for the rest of their life. The grandmother who stood up to talk about it, she said, we believe God. We believe science but also believe in God. And they prayed for two years. Two years. Can you imagine holding on to something in faith for two years when the doctors tell you, no way, no how. But this grandmother help on to it for two years. Well, the story goes that there was a video monitor in the child’s room and a video monitor in the living room. And the grandma looked into the video monitor and said to the baby, see you honey, I’m leaving. I will see you soon. And the baby waved back and said, see you soon. And after two years now, there is life in the limbs of this child and this child is moving.

And so, some will write these kinds of expressions off. And there were seven or eight more of opportunities where people got up to talk about things large and small, you know, things huge, and things seemingly more mundane. But what was amazing was is that people talked about God. They didn’t refuse to speak about God. They got over their coyness or shyness and began to talk about how God was alive and well in their life. And I think that is our response to the woes of the world is to begin to be the community that we actually are, which is we worship a living God, in spirit and in truth. And we refuse to be bought off by all the narratives that say that we sort of moving forward in a hopeless, despair written reality and future. We are not. It is hard, life is hard. Evil has always been our companion. And there is still God. And God finds a way to break in and make a difference. And that is the best thing we have to offer the world, and that happened dramatically in the person of Jesus Christ, who broke into an empire that was abusing and oppressing people and destabilize the whole joint with words of love and grace. 

Melissa: Thank God for that.

Rob: Amen. Thank God that. That my friend is revival.

Melissa: Amen. Bishop, thank you as always. And listeners we thank you for listening and sharing For People with others. 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.