Disciple: Practice That’s Not About Perfection, but the Way of Love
By the Right Reverend Sam Rodman
Becoming Beloved Community is hard and ongoing work. That is why this year we again are focusing our annual convention around it. Last year we gave an overview of the work and spoke about the labyrinth as an icon for the journey. We also identified the four components of Becoming Beloved Community as defined by The Episcopal Church: Truth Telling, Repairing the Breach, Proclaiming the Dream and Practicing the Way of Love.
This year at Convention we will turn our attention, in more detail, to two of these components: Truth Telling and Practicing the Way of Love. We will take a more in-depth look at our history of race and the way it has impacted and shaped our lives and the life of the Church. We will hear the stories of three Historically Black Episcopal Congregations and their journeys. We will listen to the ways the Church has supported them and also the ways the Church has failed them. We will look at ourselves as we hear these accounts and reflect on what happened, what we might have done differently and what we might do differently in the future.
Doing this work together is both a challenge and a gift. This past August, Diocesan Council, which acts as the convention between conventions, participated in a two-day training that was part of our commitment to Becoming Beloved Community. Based on the Racial Equity Institute model, the group spent two days learning more about the history of race as a construct and the impact racism has on individuals, organizations, institutions and the systems of our society.
The group chose to do this work together because we decided that in asking the Diocese to engage in this work, we needed to lead by example and engage in the work ourselves. The training was intense, thought-provoking, eye-opening and enlightening. It was an exercise in truth telling at many levels. We worked hard at sharing our respective truths and doing so in a spirit of love, acceptance, understanding and commitment to one another. It was not a perfect process, but we all learned from one another and as we went deeper into the work, we found we were deepening our connections with each other and with the group as a whole. In a sense it was a model for the work we are trying to engage in across the diocese.
For me, the challenge to listen to hard truth, with love, and to speak hard truth, with love, is at the heart of what it means to become beloved community. One could make a case that Practicing the Way of Love should be the last piece of this work, after we have Repaired the Breach and Proclaimed the Dream. I counter that we need Practicing the Way of Love to guide us in all aspects and dimensions of this work.
We need to be grounded in the love of God as we have these hard conversations. Only it allows us to hear one another clearly when we listen AND to hear and understand how our words are received when we speak. Some have called this the art of holy listening, but it means we are fully open to the presence and experience of the other, both when they are telling their story AND when they are listening to ours.
Of course this is not easy, and it’s not even particularly natural. We are used to formulating our response even while someone else is still speaking. Taking the time to be fully attentive and to listen deeply can feel strange at first. And listening, as we speak, to how our words may be heard and received takes a different kind of focus and concentration. But this kind of listening is essential in building authentic community, in building beloved community.
Practicing the Way of Love is also a source of support and strength for us because the work is hard, the conversations can be hard, and staying emotionally present can be hard when we hear something that hurts or when we find ourselves becoming defensive.
So how do we Practice the Way of Love? First we understand what the Way of Love is. It is the way that gives us the spiritual fortitude to stay fully engaged. It is not a straight path, but rather a cycle so we may return again and again to its gifts. The cycle was introduced and outlined by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the 79th General Convention this past July: Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest, Turn.
We will introduce and speak about these steps in more detail at Convention. But I encourage you, in the lead up to Convention, to consider taking one of these steps as part of your own personal preparation, as a way of getting ready and focusing.
Maybe this is an opportunity to Learn more about some dimension of our diocesan mission you haven’t explored before. Maybe it is a time to go deeper into one of our own Becoming Beloved Community priorities articulated last year: Spiritual Formation, Collaboration, Support for Vulnerable Congregations, Care of Creation and Racial Justice and Equity. These are all part of Becoming Beloved Community.
Maybe you are feeling called to Pray in a deeper, more intentional way for the Church, for this Diocese, for our common mission, for the work of Becoming Beloved Community.
Perhaps Worship is something that has been crowded out of your schedule lately, and you want to reclaim that, to make more space and time to worship God in community with others who share in this journey.
Perhaps you are feeling a fuller sense of God’s blessing, and you want to share that with others. This could be a time for you to Bless those around you, at work, at home, at school, in some intentional and meaningful way, as you live into the promise of God’s blessing.
Or maybe God is calling you out, as you get ready for Convention, calling you to Go to a place where some of this work is already happening: The Galilee Center in East Charlotte, Christ’s Beloved Community in Winston-Salem, or San Jose in Smithfield, to name just a few. Maybe this is where your energy needs to be as we prepare to engage again in Becoming Beloved Community at Convention.
Or maybe you are tired, worn out, run down. You have been going all out for far too long and you just need to slow down and catch your breath, to Rest in God. Rest is a vital part of our journey and an important step in the Way of Love.
Or maybe it is time to Turn from where you have been focused and shift your energy and attention to a new place, a new area, where God is asking you to offer your gifts. Or perhaps there is something that has been a source of distraction for you, draining your energy, diluting your focus, and it is time to let that go, to turn and leave it behind. This can also be part of your preparation for Convention this year.
The Way of Love provides guidance on your lifelong journey, so as with any journey, start with a single step. Pick one. Don’t try to do it all at once. Reflect and discern which of these steps is calling to your heart as we get ready to gather for Convention. This will be a great point of entry for each of us into the Way of Love, and a great opportunity for all of us to experience first-hand the gift this simple rule of life can be for us as we prepare to go deeper into the work of Becoming Beloved Community. While our Convention focus will be on the Becoming Beloved Community components of Truth Telling and Practicing the Way of Love, you can believe the seven spiritual practices of the Way of Love can, will and must be applied to every one of our diocesan goals as we move toward Becoming Beloved Community.
I so look forward to seeing you there and to discovering together how this Convention will deepen and expand our hearts and the mission we share.
The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman is the XII Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.