Yesterday, I had the great fortune of being part of a small group conversation with some other clergy folks in our local area. In our conversation, we were exploring the question of what the role of our institutions (churches, temples, etc) is in the current context of the United States and, perhaps more importantly, in the current context of the state of Arizona. We were attempting to discern the role that each of us has to play within our respective institutions and the role of the institutions we serve. I think, at the heart of our conversation, is a shared concern about people whom we know. We were all bringing a shared love for the place in which we live and the people who make this place special. We were asking questions that sought to help each of us to listen to the Holy as we continue to show up in our community and as our institutions seek to knit people together in relationship so stories are shared as we grow in loving relationship with our neighbors.
In a separate group of colleagues, I am reading Daring to Lead by Brene Brown. The beginning of the book starts with a note from the author about her own experience in becoming a public speaker. At her first speaking event, which was a TED Talk, Brene Brown looked out at an audience filled with people in dark suits and white shirts. She described it looking like a funeral in the vein of a New England funeral or one you might see in the movies. The author goes on to describe a moment of wavering and of thinking that her message was not going to connect with this audience of business leaders – CEOs, COOs, CMOs, etc. In the course of her meltdown, one of her fellow speakers at the event says to her, ““Look out into that audience again. These are people. Just people.1” From that experience, Brene Brown says that she begins each speaking engagement with a simple mantra: “‘Before I go onstage, I whisper the word people, three or four times to myself. “People. People, people, people.’2”
People. People. People. People. This seems like a pretty great mantra for disciples of Jesus Christ to have in our minds as we discern how God is calling us forward in God’s mission. After all, the mission of the church is all about reconciling God’s people to each other and to God. We have a mission that is, at its core, focused on people. And while Brene Brown’s mantra is pretty great, I wonder if the church might be better off in adapting the mantra, “Neighbor love. Neighbor love. Neighbor love. Neighbor love.” If we want to go further, and this might be particularly helpful when encountering someone with whom we have disagreements, we might be well served to have in our hearts, in our minds, and on our lips the mantra, “Child of God. Child of God. Child of God. Child of God.” In all of these, the focus is shifted towards relationship – towards developing a relationship with another and towards learning how to love each other so deeply that I am no longer afforded the option of vilifying a neighbor who might otherwise be seen as the other. Instead, I encounter my neighbor as someone who I love from the word go
In my sermon last week, I offered that Christians change the world in the ways that we love in the hum-drum moments that we call life. As disciples of Christ Jesus, love is the ethic that we are called to hold most dear and to practice day in and day out. A focus on love is not a fairytale focus or an attempt to gloss over the differences that we might have with another person. If we are truly loving another, I think we are also developing a depth of curiosity that invites us to know more about our neighbors. When we place love at the center of how we live our lives, we want to know the stories of our neighbors that leads them to certain beliefs or stances on different questions. We develop a depth of curiosity that leads us more and more into the center of loving each neighbor as an extension of who I am, and when I do that, I am better able to be open to the ways that another is shaping my own understanding of my identity as a child of God.
Each week at Church of the Epiphany, a diverse group of people gathers to rub shoulders (in a socially distanced kind of way) with each other. As a parish, we are blessed to be a community filled with people with many different thoughts and opinions on many different issues. While we might have work to do in some areas of diversity and inclusion as a parish, we can also celebrate the fact that this is a parish in which we continue to come together to pray with each other because we all share in one commonly held belief: that Christ Jesus is the Son of God who offers salvation to the whole cosmos. We are fortunate to be a place in which the “big tent” nature of The Episcopal Church is still being practiced on at least a weekly basis, and we are fortunate to be a parish that places the Gospel at the center of our being. In this way, we are practicing some of the oldest and most cherished traditions of the church: to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as part of the self.
- Excerpt From: Brené Brown. “Dare to Lead.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/dare-to-lead/id1384267645