“One thing we can feel confident in is that we can have hope for our future. Regardless of what happens, God has given us a path to follow. It will be hard at times and emotional at other times, but it’s going to be filled with so many good things and blessings. Over the last 4 years, we’ve been internalizing experiences, love, and our communities, and now it’s time for us to put those experiences to work in the world. Every person in this diocese is a reflection of God’s love and we’ve been reflecting that love back into the world for years, and as we go to college, we’ll find new ways to reflect that love.”
An excerpt from Arabella Brown’s sermon to the High School Graduates of The Diocese of Atlanta. Arabella is a member of St. James Episcopal Church in Marietta and will attend West Georgia College in the Fall.
For People with Bishop Rob Wright
The podcast expands on Bishop’s For Faith devotional, drawing inspiration from the life of Jesus to answer 21st-century questions.
Rob: Good to be with ya.
Melissa: It’s good to be with your Bishop.
Melissa: You shared an excerpt from Ms. Arabella Brown’s Sermon.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. Oh my god, oh my god, well, let me just say, I’ve been doing For Faith, which is my sort of weekly devotional that gets sent out. I’ve been doing it 10-years now, as a Bishop in the Diocese. And have never before used a sermon from somebody, you know, other than Dr. King, or some luminary, or some sort of Saint. But I was there celebrating with our high school graduates and I was so impressed with this young lady. And so, this is the first time ever, that we’ve done this. And what I loved about it was, that it wasn’t sort, oh, the adults have given me this task. And I’m going to sort of try to rip something off the top of my head about this. But I mean, it was really thoughtful. And you know, what I really want to underscore, if people get a chance to look at the text of this thing is, is that she has some understanding of the character of God that shows up in Scripture. And that is where I think relationship comes from. This is the God who is portrayed in Scripture. And she sees this God as friend as she goes off to college. And wants us to remember that this God is friend, even in transitions for all of us. It was fantastic.
Melissa: The other graduating seniors in the Diocese of Atlanta. And I have so many questions about that. But I have to say, like isn’t it a sweet thing when our young get it?
Rob: Yeah. Yeah.
Melissa: I know it. I know. And our youth do this a lot. They surprise us. So, I want to plug your For Faith because I know some listeners don’t read that and they just listen to the podcast. And I just feel like you’re missing out friends if you’re not reading For Faith, especially this week. Because it really is great.
Melissa: Well, Bishop, you named the excerpt then, Filled. Can you unpack that a bit for us why you chose that word?
Rob: I mean, as I heard her talk, you know, I heard her just fill her imagination field, I guess that’s what I want to say. I hear her imagination fill with who God has been. And that God has been with her through fellowship with other youngsters, with other young people. I see her, you know, if you read it, she’s talking about a God who fills our imagination and has filled her family and her home. I love that she doesn’t soft peddle anything. She recognizes that sometimes we feel lost and disoriented. And yet, you know, so we know empty is a season sometimes with God. But then God comes back around some kind of way and we are filled with fellowship.
So, I mean, that’s sort of where I was going with that. You know, as you know, I tried to pick one word in the meditation that sort of ends up being a bit of a clue to where we’re going. But can’t say enough good about this young woman.
And let me just say also, that, you know, there’s a lot of young people who are in seminary who are preparing to be priests, etc. And I think also, what struck me too, was that she had retained even though she’s a high school senior, she has in her possession what so many people lose. It’s like, now I am going to speak to you of God. And sort of this intellectual thing to try to legitimize the God talk. And she doesn’t do this. It is if she saying, hey, let me tell you about a friend of mine that I have learned that you can depend on.
Melissa: I love that. I love that.
Melissa: It’s all about hope and love.
Rob: Yeah, without a doubt. Without a doubt.
Melissa: And Arabella admits that there will be hardship just like you said. And that there’s really nothing that can, or should take hope away from us yet. Here’s the thing, like there are a lot of people that I know and love and I know you probably know and love who are feeling quite hopeless. And so, do you have a message for them?
Rob: Well, I mean, I have a message- I am a steward of a message that lots of people are a steward of. And that is, you know, the Buffalo, the City of Buffalo horrific event happens, life has evil in it. There are those who choose to use their strength and their bright minds to do harm to other people, but that doesn’t disprove God. And so, that’s our hope. You know, I said in a Sermon once, you know, the fact of winter does not disprove the fact of summer. It just proves that God has found a way to be involved with all of the seasons of life.
And so, you know, what Arabella’s sermon also calls to mind, for me at least is that, you know, hope is this thing that we have to share with each other. Because sometimes I’m running a quart low, you know. And sometimes I’m running the half a tank low. And, you know, this is this exchange that we have with one another, not that we fire platitudes at each other. But there’s this knowing, you know, in the community of faith and said, “Hey, I’ve been there. I know what that feels like. You know, despair for us, it might be a temptation but it’s not a real option for us.” As long as God is alive, there is no reason to despair. We can be tempted to it, I understand that. When you look at the news, when the seasons of life are difficult, bad news from the doctor. I mean, a lot of people are really sort of fretting right now. They’re looking at their finances and they’re looking at inflation, and they’re looking at, you know, the marketplace. They are really tempted to sort of fret and give up. Hope comes along and taps us on the shoulder and says, “Okay, now that you’ve had a good cry. I’m still.”
Melissa: Well, Amen to that. Thank God, right?
Melissa: Well, Bishop, it doesn’t escape me that this message of hope and love is from a teen. And I’m a huge fan of Gen-Z. I’m curious if you have identified any markers of this youthful generation that might set them apart from others before them?
Rob: Yeah. That’s an excellent question. I don’t know that I’ve seen any markers. But you know, I’m a city boy. I grew up believing that trees, you know, belong in parks. But as I’ve gone along in life, I’ve met a few farmers, and they’ve shared their wisdom with me. And, you know, I understand this notion of fallow time. And that is when a field has to be left alone for a little while and sometimes I wonder in the Church, if we haven’t had a fallow season. In other words, you know, things just sort of didn’t spring up. And all the things we tried didn’t necessarily sort of take off. And we’ve wondered if we’ve lost a whole generation of young people.
But then, there’s this group comes back around, who are trying to, you know, reach out to faith, reach out to God, reach out for one another, reach out for service in their own way and in their own idiom. So, not the ways in which the Church sort of is wanting them to or inviting them to, but nevertheless, sincerely saying there must be something better out there. And they want to be a part of that. So, when I hear people like this young lady and others who want to clean up the ocean, or who want to go to law school because they want to make a difference, that could go for the money, but they’ve decided to go for the service. When I see people who could go off into corporate America decide they’re going to go off into nonprofits so that they can fill bellies or get healthcare down into the cracks and crevices. It really, really encourages me. And so, I think that they are exactly what some of us older folks need. They’re dreaming these dreams and seeing these visions and sharing, you know, with us in their own way.
Now, they’re not going to be the Church that we have been. And so, some of us gray haired people have got to get over that. Right? They’re not going to sing the same hymns that we sang. But I think that they want to make Jesus known in their own way and I think we should be okay with that.
Melissa: That’s right. Amen. All right, friends we’ll be right back after a short break.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. So, Bishop, what are your thoughts about youth as leaders? And what’s the Diocese of Atlanta doing to help its youth cultivate and nurture leadership qualities? I mean, I have to say, I’m just curious about you giving platform to your graduates? So, what’s that all about?
Rob: Well, you know, I’ve said it before, you know, one of my favorite gospel lessons is John 5, Jesus walks up to a guy who has been on his back for 38-years and says, basically, “Hey, man, what do you want?” And I think that that is one of the most important spiritual questions that any of us can grapple with, what do you want? And one of the things I want is to in some way make myself obsolete or another way to say that is to use leadership so that it convenes and encourages other people to take leadership behavior. And so, what I want by giving people platforms, as the Bishop, not taking the microphone every three minutes, I want other people to, you know, get the microphone and to try on this thing called leadership.
I think, you know, our young people are really smart. They don’t want to sit and watch. They don’t want to, you know, they don’t want the equivalent of sit down and shut up and you’ll get your turn. They they’re walking around. They’re born with, in some cases, a supercomputer in their back pocket. They have seven times as much information as we had when we were kids, doesn’t mean they know everything but they are further along when it comes to just information.
So, what I want to do is, is that I want to give them opportunities and experiences that will begin to crystallize for them a way to live. A way to live, you know, where you are taking responsibility for the world. And not just simply sitting, you know, with your phone, or your laptop, critiquing the world. And so, to give people– I mean, I could have sort of insisted, I’m going to preach to high school, the Bishop has got something to say to you graduates, I would never do that. And when I go on a visitation to, you know, Churches on any given Sunday, I tried to do only what I have to do as the Bishop. And so, increasingly, I’m passing over to folks more and more and more to distribute communion, to read the gospel, to do various other things. Previously, you know, roles exclusively for clergy. Because I think that when you give those kids those opportunities, they see themselves in that role a little better, a little clearer. And then, they’re never going to forget that time when the Bishop said, “No, man, you preach.” Or you do this or that. And who knows that may be their Isaiah. Isaiah said, he got a glimpse of God, high, and lifted up. And who knows, maybe that’s the work you and I are supposed to be doing now is given these kids a glimpse at every turn. We’ve got to get over ourselves, I do think. We know we have something to add. So, I’m not saying that we don’t have anything to add, certainly we do. Certainly information is not wisdom. We have a role to play. We have to let these folks try some things out. And I think that the Churches that do that, are going to be making young people welcome in a way that they are not welcome everywhere and they are going to be giving them a glimpse of what leadership can look like. They may take that up down the road. For me, it’s always this notion of how do you pass the baton? How do you encourage? How do you develop this next generation?
Melissa: I love that. All right, so this generation still has a tremendous amount of things stacked up against them. You know, their college debt will preclude many, if not most, from ever owning a home. Because debt to income ratio is a thing. And they need to worry about the climate, and what global warming will mean for their own children if they choose to have them, and yet, they champion hope and love like a battle cry. I wonder– It’s incredible isn’t it.
Rob: Yeah, it is amazing, isn’t it?
Melissa: So, I wonder if you have any ideas about what our older generations might learn from these wise ones?
Rob: Well, you know, what can we learn? I think, we can maybe appreciate and get alongside them, because we were young and optimistic once as well. And I think maybe one of the things we ought to take up as a spiritual discipline is not to sort of pour, you know, a jug of cold water on their youthful ignorance and an optimism, right? I think. So, that’s our spiritual discipline for those of us who are a little older, which is equip them as much as we can, but realize they’ve got to learn. And how you learn, as you get out there you try, and you stumble. So, that’s one thing. So, I want to be in the business of doing that. It’s giving kids more and more opportunities to try some stuff out. I think this is how it happens.
But I am encouraged by them as a general matter. I mean, think about how hard it is to be hopeful. When you’re bombarded in a 24-hour news cycle with the stuff that we’re bombarded with. How do they do that? How do they do that? See, TikTok, see the worst of us, right? And Instagram. How do they see the worst of us again, again, and again? How do they see the news? How do they see these sort of warring political parties, the Republican and Democratic Party? How do they see this? How do they see the corruption, the lies, and all that? And at the same time, want to make the world better? I mean, we would almost give them a pass if they just wanted to stay home and give up. But yet more and more as I’m listening to these kids, they want to give it a try. They want to give it a try.
I was with a young group, you asked what we do in the Diocese of Atlanta, we started something called Steps to Lead, which was to get the conversation about leadership to a younger and younger group of kids. So, we’ve taken the Harvard Kennedy School level curriculum, and put it and pitched it to, you know, high school graduates, 11th graders, 10th graders, even in some cases. And get those ideas and those concepts to them as soon as we can, so that they can begin to sort of live that out at home, at school, at camp, wherever they find themselves. So, I’m always impressed.
One kid we asked to it we joined he joined this group called Steps to Lead. And he was talking to me about, he was going off to college and the college that he was going off to was in a small town in Georgia that had a really a pretty robust Ku Klux Klan sort of group in this college. And this kid happened to be a white kid. But he had a number of friends who were not white. And he could not stand the division. And so, his conversation to me it was about, how do I exert leadership in that context? Because he himself out of his own gut, knows and knew that, you know, this thing about Jesus is to be bridge, right? To recognize that we are all siblings. And so, I was so impressed that this guy got the message from this training, that he ought to go out and really try to run that experiment, you know, in the real world. And with some degree of risk that he would be that kid, that has black friends, and also has folks that he knows that are involved in the Klan and those hateful messages, and he was going to be sort of the bridge piece there. It’s just amazing when you think about it.
Melissa: Yeah, for sure. How long ago was this, Bishop?
Rob: This is an example from a couple of years ago. But I mean, but there are updated versions of that. We’ve got other kids who are, who were shamed, for instance, because of learning difference. And now, you know, based on the training and some of the conversations, they’re now going back to, you know, some hostile climates in their schools for kids who have learning differences, and trying to be those kids who create some space for some other kids who don’t have their voice just yet.
And what’s been amazing is that some of those very same kids, after sort of working with us, talking with us, now are pretty clear, are pretty clear now that they want to be teachers. So, they want to go right back into sort of the crucible that has given them, you know, pain and suffering and feelings of isolation. They want to go back now because they want to help somebody else.
You know, there’s a club in Carrollton, for instance, one of our congregations out there, where there’s a gay/straight alliance, where our young people are trying to do this kind of bridge building work. And so, this is really just amazing. They have looked at the news, they looked all around them, they realized where they don’t want to go, and who they don’t want to be. They find some inspiration in Jesus and the people who talk about Jesus. And they want to try to take this stuff on. This is the only way the world is going to get better. Is that Jesus said, I send you out like sheep among wolves to some degree and that is what is exactly is happening right now. These young people are saying, I see the odds, I see the danger, I have some sense of the risk. But I gotta try.
Melissa: Well, I have a bit of a skeptical question though, I’m sure–
Rob: You should.
Melissa: I do. Well, it’s really more about forming. It’s really more about, like if I were to hear Miss Brown’s Sermon, as the Sermons I had for our three youth who are graduating from our own Parish not too long ago preached, all of them preached fire. And you know what, not a single one of them could tell you what the Ten Commandments are. I mean, they could give you an idea of what they are, but it’s not like they’ve been formed in Sunday School classroom their entire life and had parents, you know. And so, I’m wondering then, how might we try to go about duplicating that, rather than getting caught up in all the minutia that actually doesn’t really matter, has mattered in the past?
Rob: Well, you know, you’re asking a really, an important question. What does formation look like for these young people going forward who are going to try to lead with love, right? And is this biblical literacy the same thing as adequate forming to do the work going forward?
Rob: I think the answer is, maybe, you know. I’m not sure that a young person has to have a command of Deuteronomy to go out and try to love neighbor. I mean, this is why– What did Jesus say? I mean, he repeated the law, right? He’s like, all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two things, right? Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and neighbor itself. Hell, I think if we could just get that down into all of us, I mean, the world would automatically be, you know, measurably better. You know, with all due respect to Deuteronomy and Leviticus and all those other things, which can be certainly, you know, strengthening and they have been in my own personal life.
So, you know, I think that if we could really get Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John down into us, you know, the actual travels and words and teachings and example of Jesus, I think we’d all be a lot better off. I think if kids want to go forward and be teachers of the faith, I think there’s some prerequisites that have to happen. But, you know, I would love if they just–
I mean, think about the survey that was just taken recently, where, you know, some 80 some odd percent of people recognize Jesus to be some sort of persuasive, enigmatic, compassionate leader. Someone of moral authority, someone’s still to be reckoned with. Right? That’s who they know Jesus to be. And so, if we can just amplify that. I think we measurably change things, you know. Jesus, interestingly enough, is not really quoting scripture and beating people over the head with it as he makes his movement is he? I mean, he’s really interested in Isaiah. I mean, jeez, that’s his sort of go to, that’s on his top of his playlist. But he’s not beating people over the head with this stuff. You know, he’s lifting up the dignity of people. You know, he’s talking about who God is and that God is love and what that looks like, concretely, day to day with people. I mean, if we can just do that, and our young people get that, then we’ve done something, right.
Melissa: Amen. You know, our youth aren’t going to Church like the generation’s past. But let me tell you the spirit is alive and well in this generation.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. Well, maybe the last thing we should say around this, too, is that let us not underestimate how much music is getting into their heads and hearts. Now, there’s all kinds of music out there, yeah, I get that. But, you know, when I engage some of these young people, you know, there’s the crazy messages, we get it, there’s girls and drugs and cars and money and all that it’s always been around in one form or the other. But then, you know, you hear a lot of these kids who are actually thinking also about these other messages, right? About what is life? What does it mean to be generous? What’s a good life? What is love? You know, do I belong? All these really important sort of– And so that ends up being also an aspect of their spiritual formation. You know, you know, as I’ve said, you know, in other places, you know, Bano lead singer of YouTube said, that people give themselves to lyrics of songs like nothing before. And so, even as I listen to my own kids, quote back some stuff to me, I mean, in one instance, my daughter was quoting me something that a singer had said that was actually scripture. And, and she wasn’t exactly aware. And I was very tempted to tell her that it was, but I just left it alone. Because if she got the kernel of the truth of that thing, then that was good enough.
Melissa: I love that, Bishop. Thanks so much for sharing and listeners thank you to listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review, and we’ll be back with you next week.
“Una cosa en la que podemos sentirnos seguros es que podemos tener esperanza para nuestro futuro. Sin importar lo que suceda, Dios nos ha dado un camino a seguir. A veces será difícil y emocionante en otras ocasiones, pero va a estar lleno de muchas cosas buenas y de bendiciones. En estos últimos 4 años, hemos estado internalizando experiencias, amor y nuestras comunidades, y ahora es el momento de que pongamos esas experiencias a trabajar para el mundo. Cada persona en esta diócesis es un reflejo del amor de Dios y hemos estado reflejando ese amor de vuelta al mundo durante años, y al ir a la universidad, encontraremos nuevas maneras de reflejar ese amor”.
Tomado del sermón de Arabella Brown a los Graduados de la Escuela Secundaria de la Diócesis de Atlanta. Arabella es miembro de la Iglesia Episcopal de St. James en Marietta, GA y asistirá al West Georgia College en el otoño.