What Difference Does it Make?

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

A friend of mine married into a family with a large philanthropic presence in the Midwest. She told me of a conversation among the family as they were reading through grant proposals for an upcoming funding cycle. Several of the non-profit organizations seeking financial support were churches committed to social service and advocacy in their communities. “Why on earth would we fund Christian organizations?” a younger family member asked. “Right,” replied another. “The last thing the world needs is more Christians.”

My friend, herself a faithful Christian, was heartbroken, as was I when she told me this story. Yet we both knew then what we all know now: there is no shortage of Christians acting so poorly as to give the entire Jesus movement a bad name. While examples abound of Christians who nobly embody the love of Jesus, in public perception the damage done by destructive expressions Christianity almost always overshadow the good.

As I visit the congregations of our diocese, I sometimes feel that shadow hanging over us. “We don’t want to be like those Christians,” we say to ourselves, either silently or aloud. As a result, Episcopalians often have an easier time articulating what we don’t believe rather that what we do.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called to us, as the Episcopal Church, to explicitly and intentionally follow Jesus in his way of love for the world. Specifically, he has invited us all to commit, or recommit, to faith practices that make for a Jesus-centered life. Doing so, he says, will help us become Christians who actually look and sound like Jesus, Christians through whom the love and mercy of God shines.

What difference would it make to others and to our world if more of us who identify as Christians made it our daily intention to grow in Jesus’ ways of love?  

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has reflected on that very question for many years. Two years ago he gathered up his thoughts in three short books: What is Christianity? A Little Book of Guidance, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, and Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life. If you’d like to dip into his writing without reading the books, I commend this short piece to you: What difference does it make?

Williams suggests that one of the tests of true faith, as opposed to bad religion, is simply whether it keeps us from ignoring things. “Faith is most fully itself when it opens our eyes and uncovers for us a world larger than we thought.” Following Jesus in the way of love, then, involves, among other things, “a process of educating our vision so that we understand how to see that we don’t see, how to see behind surfaces, the depth we are not going to master.”

Williams goes on: “The story of Jesus is not just an epiphany – a revelation of glory and no more – and it’s not just a commandment or a set of instructions dropped down from heaven. It is a manifestation of radiant beauty that lands in our world in the form of a profound moral challenge, because it’s a showing of active love that dissolves fear.”

Eyes to see as God sees. Active love that dissolves fear.

I, for one, am persuaded that the world needs more Christians. The world needs more  people committed to Jesus’ way of love. Honesty compels me to acknowledge how often I fail in my efforts to be such a Christian, how I depend daily on God’s grace and forgiveness. That’s why each day, as his followers, we begin again and return to the practices that keep us open to Jesus and his love.

My thanks to all who responded to the questions I posed last week. As I prepare to preach and write this fall on the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life, I would love to hear from more of you in these last summer weeks.

A final note for your calendars: this fall, Archbishop Williams will be in Washington, D.C. and he has graciously agreed to give a talk based on the works I referenced here. He will speak at St. Alban’s Church, on Thursday morning, November 8th, from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. All are welcome, free of charge. We will record his talk for those unable to attend in person.

Growing in Love: Questions from Your Bishop

Growing in Love: Questions from Your Bishop

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Romans 12:9-13

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has asked all members of the Episcopal Church, all of us who belong, as he says so often, to the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, to commit ourselves to The Way of Love — seven spiritual practices for a Jesus-centered life. This is not a new program, but rather an ancient way of life, drawn from the deepest wells of the Christian faith.

The seven spiritual practices of the Way of Love are:

Turn: every day, to intentionally turn toward Jesus, committing ourselves to follow him.

Learn: every day, to read passages from Scripture and other spiritual texts, with particular focus on Jesus’ teachings and the stories of his life.

Pray: every day, to set aside time–it needn’t be long–for intentional prayer, allowing God to speak in our heart.

Worship: to gather, once a week, around Jesus’ table in Christian community.

Bless: to choose, every day, to offer blessing, to be a blessing to those we meet, consciously loving as Jesus loves, forgiving as Jesus forgives.

Go: to venture out, stretching ourselves to be present in places where there is great need, or where others see the world differently. This is the call to justice and mercy, with a heart willing to be sent where God’s love is needed most or where we have something important to learn.

Rest: to remember that our souls and bodies need rest, that as God rested on the 7th day of creation, so we are to rest, in order to be strengthened and renewed.

This summer, I’m setting aside time to plan for a year’s worth of preaching, teaching and writing on the Way of Love and related spiritual themes. So that I might better align my preaching and writing to the spiritual questions of greatest importance to you, I ask for your feedback. Would you please take a few minutes to answer the following questions?

  • Which of these 7 practices come easily to you? What resources have you found to help you in your practice?
  • Which of the 7 practices do you most struggle with? What questions and concerns would you like me, as your bishop, to address?  
  • On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate your ease with reading the Bible? What questions do you have about our biblical texts? What would help you go deeper with Scripture?
  • What societal issues are of greatest concern for you? How would like to see us, as a Church, respond?  
  • Thinking about members of your family or circle of friends, what spiritual or life topics might I address that could be of value for them?

You may email your responses directly to me. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

May God bless us as we strive to walk in the ways of Jesus, which is the way of love.

To Grow in Love: Perseverance

To Grow in Love: Perseverance

Dr. Lisa Kimball (holding certificate)

“When you get right down to it, it’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life: not just to love, but to persist in love.”  
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

This is the fifth reflection in a summer series I’ve entitled To Grow in Love.

In his sermon at the Royal wedding, and every sermon he’s preached before and since, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us that sacrificial love has the power to transform lives and heal our world. Yet that kind of love is, by definition, difficult and costly. My question this summer: How do you and I grow in our capacity for such love, perfectly revealed to us in Jesus?

As the General Convention moves toward its conclusion, I’m reminded that growth in love requires perseverance. Among the thousands of Episcopalians gathered, I have seen how the faithful practice of love over time shapes a human heart. Through the ones who persevere, the love of Jesus shines in and through their humanity.

Perseverance is evident in the work of General Convention itself. In the first few days, all engaged in the legislative process felt the enormity and complexity of our task. More than once I wondered how we could possibly work through some of the truly divisive issues before us. But through prayer and perseverance—people showing up in committees, hearings, and late night conversations, supported by countless saints working behind the scenes—the process has moved forward. What seemed impossible one day was accomplished the next. Where we were in danger of falling into old patterns of conflict, a new foundation emerged upon which nearly all could stand.

Even more inspiring have been the quiet examples of persevering love in our midst. On Sunday morning, for example, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) honored a woman from each diocese for her distinguished life of service. From the Diocese of Washington, Ms. Paula Singleton received well-deserved recognition for the breadth of her ministry. Later in the week, another EDOW lay leader, Dr. Lisa Kimball, was honored for her steadfast commitment to faith formation. Lisa is among the most beloved leaders in our Church because of her faithful, persevering love, and in particular for her mentoring of young people.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Griselda Delgado / Bishop Griselda Delgado and Bishop Mariann Budde

All at General Convention were moved to tears when the Episcopal Church of Cuba was officially welcomed back home. You see, over 50 years ago, in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, the House of Bishops voted to remove the Episcopal Church of Cuba. Through years of intense persecution, Episcopalian Christians in Cuba quietly persevered. As the political climate in Cuba has grown more accepting of religion, the Episcopal Church has grown in vitality and public witness, guided by the inspired leadership of Bishop Griselda Delgado. This week we were privileged to cast our unanimous vote to receive Cuba back into the Episcopal Church. In her words to the Convention, Bishop Griselda paid tribute to the generations of Cuban Christians who persevered in the hardest of times. 

Women Leaders of the Episcopal Church  surround Bishop Griselda Delgado

One final example: I attended a worship service to celebrate and mark the end of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. The Caucus was founded in 1971 by brave, loving and persistent people who believed that women could be called to the priesthood. For more than four decades, the EWC has advocated for women to be priests and bishops. It’s hard to remember now how strongly the Church fought against women’s ordination. Were it not for the fierce and faithful advocacy of the EWC, there would not be women leadership at all levels of the church today. But now, its leaders discerned that it was time for their ministry to end, allowing space for rising generations to find new ways to respond to God’s call. Sometimes perseverance in love means letting go.

To persevere in love is not easy, but those committed to the way of love accept suffering as part of the cost. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “We know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Such is the life of one who is committed to following Jesus. As we follow him, we received grace to grow in our capacity to love and to persevere.

Our Presiding Bishop, whose leadership here at General Convention and beyond is persevering love personified, often encourages with the words of Negro spirituals: “Hold on,” he’ll say, “Stay strong. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.”  

Jesus is with us, holding us up, leading us on. He’s with you, wherever you are, as you face whatever challenges lie before you. It’s his strength we can lean on; his love that perseveres in and for us.

Growing in Love: Questions from Your Bishop

The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life

Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.

 John 15:1-4

I write from Austin, Texas, at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. There is already much to share with you from this gathering of Episcopalians from around the country and the world. Our deputation is energized, working hard to share our gifts and bring back learnings to the Diocese of Washington.

This morning the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached a sermon that was the culmination of months’ worth of prayer and collaborative effort among many in the Church (including several from EDOW) and that sets the stage for the next three years of his tenure.

Reflecting on Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, he encouraged each one of us, as members of the Episcopal Church, to join him in committing to specific spiritual practices, The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus Centered Life.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to listen to the Presiding Bishop’s sermon. It is as powerful or more than his sermon at the Royal Wedding.

Drawing from the deep wells of spiritual wisdom and practice from our Church, he calls all to a living faith, with practices to help us go deeper in love for Jesus and to live in ways that embody Jesus’ love for others and for our world.

After you listen to his words, you can visit the Episcopal Church’s website, where you will find carefully curated materials that will help us all. While there are surely things we can explore together, for now I simply encourage you to consider these practices for yourself. How would it feel to commit to them?