It was a J-shaped day at House of Bishops, a good start, a slump, and then a great rebound to a high at the end.
Eucharist had a homecoming feel this morning. We have been enjoying the musical leadership of the Theodicy Jazz Collective from Los Angeles. They are young, cool, and very good. So it was a positive thing to have them with us. But today we had our choir back, and our choir is pretty talented and cool themselves. This is Chicago music and Chicago knows a thing or two about music as well. So the Collective was great but so are our own folks who are led by the incomparable Dent Davidson. It was like a reunion.
At the end of the service Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark offered a meditation on interfaith relations. He did it by telling his story. Mark did not go in search of interfaith relations but such diversity has been the sea in which he has sailed his whole life. It is our time. It is the world we now inhabit. We do not have a choice. He did not say the all too frequent simplistic stuff about how all religions are saying the same thing. Thank God. Instead he spoke of how interfaith encounters had challenged him, taken him to the edge where he discovered his center. Paradoxical and profound stuff all conveyed as true-life first person narrative.
We then had table discussions arising out of Bishop Mark’s offering. We took the topic seriously talking of how Jesus and the doctrine of the incarnation take us to the edge by shattering our neat concepts of God and our neat concepts of humanity, and then when the edge is reached we discover a new and deeper center. All in all quite a good morning. Along the way I heard good West Virginia and Pittsburgh reminiscences from Bishop Frank Brookhart of Montana and Bishop Ken Price of Southern Ohio and Pittsburgh, now retired. They both logged some time in that part of the world.
Then came the afternoon, the whole afternoon, studying and discussing the TREC report on restructuring the Church. I like some things in the report. I have hesitations about some of the report. I have grave concerns about other parts of the report. So my reaction isn’t about whether I like or don’t like the specific proposals. It is my overarching feeling response to the project of engineering structural solutions to organic relational problems. It made me want to go back to the more amiable discussions of racism, genocide, class prejudice, and divisions over sexuality. It just sapped the life right out of me. I am truly grateful to the TREC task force that has worked so hard to create this architectonic dismantling and remantling of the polity of the Episcopal Church. If I could not handle an afternoon of it, I cannot imagine how they have persevered through three years of this. So I mean no criticism. I have only respect for their efforts.
Then after supper 6 of us gathered for an ad hoc voluntary self-organizing group to brainstorm evangelism. Thank you Bishop Suffragen Jeff Fisher, Diocese of Texas, for pulling this together. He had 3 topics for us to consider but the fist one was so rich we never got to the next two.
The first question was: how do we bishops promote discipleship in our congregations? I was particularly excited by Bishop Scott Barker’s promotion of The Restoration Project by Fr. Christopher Martins. http://www.forwardmovement.org It is a book and a short adaptable course for discipleship based on a user-friendly Benedictine model for busy people of today. It is a simple way to form people as disciples of Jesus. I think this may be the program one of our rectors presented to his congregation recently and the lay leadership wrestled seriously over the threshold question of whether the church should be trying to form people as disciples. On the one hand I am stunned that anyone could doubt that. On the other hand, it is refreshingly honest to say, “we don’t really know whether we are interested in following Jesus or not.” If they do become disciples, they will mean it.
I am convinced that all the church growth marketing and charismatic clergy we can buy will not enliven the Church. Our deadness comes from our lack of belief we have anything to offer that the world wants or needs. The problem is we don’t have Jesus in our hearts. We are not being transformed ourselves so that we can in the power of the Spirit transform the world. Cosmetics won’t help if our heart is not beating. For our heart to beat, there is one and only one way: we have to follow Jesus.
The Restoration Project is not the only discipleship program. It may not be the best discipleship program. But it is shaking things up in California and it is getting a start in Nebraska. I hope Nevada will give it a try. But then we began to wonder about motivation. It is a proven matter of social psychology that negative motivators will not work. If I say to a congregation, engage in discipleship or you will die (which is true), they will choose to die. In order to inspire a congregation to follow Jesus, I have to show them that he is offering something positive that they want. What do our people want? What do they hunger for? It is the bedrock of my faith that the deepest desire of every human heart can be satisfied in Jesus. But what form does that desire take in the hearts of our people?
Bishop Jeff reminded us that when Bartimaeus called out “Lord have mercy on me” Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Only after Bartimaeus named his blindness as the problem did Jesus heal him. We have some serious listening to do to figure out what our people want.
In studying about evangelism, including reading Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s recent landmark address, “Revolutionary Love,” http://www.anglicanink.com/article/revolutionary-love-archbishop-justin-welby-evangelism (a must read for all Episcopal clergy and evangelists), I have gotten the message that before we begin pontificating to the secular world about what we want to say, we need to listen closely to the secular world to figure out what they are asking, what they are longing for. We get nowhere offering them what they don’t need or want. Two short blog posts by our niece Linda Mizwicki make this point drawing on the insights of Peter Rollins. http://lindaloumiz.blogspot.com/2015/02/can-you-smell-what-church-is-cooking.html ; http://lindaloumiz.blogspot.com/2015/02/what-are-we-serving-evangelism-part-ii.html We have to listen to the world before we preach to it; but we have to listen to our own people in the pews first if we are to inspire them to follow Jesus for real, not just attend church out of habit, or duty, or for mutual support. It’s a whole lot bigger deal than that. It is a life and death decision.
We plan to keep meeting, to keep in touch, and to ask the House of Bishops to take these questions on in a more systematic large group way. I have never been in a group of people where the love of Christ was more palpable than this House of Bishops, and it seems to just get more that way with each passing year. We do love Jesus and we love our people. We see an empty pain in the eyes of so many. It is time for us to find a way to ask: “What do you want Jesus to do for you?”