Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Conversation . . . even when it's hard

Last night, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori had a conversation with over a thousand people at Temple Beth El. The venue was chosen, because none of the Episcopal venues was large enough in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Our hosts from the diocese estimated about 25 people from the former Episcopal congregations also turned out to converse with Jefferts Schori. The Episcopal Church's Executive Council is meeting in Fort Worth this Wednesday through Friday, and eight Council members also attended Jefferts Schori's conversation.
The presiding bishop recounted the two Creation stories in the Bible, emphasizing the order in which they are purposefully told: first, God's declaration that all that God has created is good, very good, and then, the story of humankind's fall.

She also recounted the story of Jesus' baptism and told the gathering that not only are we baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection, but we are also baptized into Jesus' baptism, when the heavens open up, and God declares, "You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased."

The gathered people were invited to spend five minutes in silent meditation, imagining God saying to each of us, "You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased." Afterwards, Bishop Jefferts Schori asked how it felt to hear those words from God, and the responses were very moving. Several people said they felt humbled, and others said they felt affirmed and energized.

Then she asked, "How is conversation different when it starts with belovedness?"

The message that the presiding bishop delivered was simple: We must converse with one another, even when it's hard, asking the image of the beloved in the other person, "what can this image of God teach us?" We begin by listening, seeking to see the image of God in the other.

Bishop Jefferts Schori pointed out, "You need to listen with the expectation you will learn something." She continued by linking that listening to evangelism, which begins with hearing someone else's story, and only then, after listening, sharing your own story of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in your life.
Bishop Jefferts Schori made the point that we need the diversity of all of us, from cultural differences to differences in theological perspectives, because none of us has the whole truth. We need all the diversity in order to reflect the image of God . . . even when it's hard.

On another note, it was of interest to this writer, a member of Executive Council, to witness a handful of people in the audience asking questions about the lawsuits over property in the church and the process of returning to The Episcopal Church from another church. I observed hurt and anguish over the history of the last several years in the Diocese of Fort Worth, but also a sense of shalom, of welcome and hospitality to all travelers, from the large gathering. The shalom seemed to be good humored and gentle, an acknowledgment that the road has been rocky and strewn with hazard, but promised homecoming to be sweet.

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