Things fall apart is the title of a popular book. It also seems to be a description of everyday life these days. To cope, people have made a tenuous and unhappy peace with this perspective. To cope, some have exiled themselves to small islands of partisan thinking of one kind or the other. In this process, some have even shrunk God down to their image and ideas. Maybe we think that somehow division will lead to multiplication. But here comes Jesus with his big heart, clear words, and refusal to retreat from us. “Love enemies” he says, “Bless those who curse you. Fill the beggar’s cup. Give the shirt off your back.” His response to things fall apart is a one-word prayer, together! Not a glib and facile together but a together durable and elastic enough to accommodate all of us: the dead, the living, the sinner, the saint, the arrogant, the humble, the atheist and the believer, the fearful and the faithful.
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.
Read the Transcript:
Jesus gives us this wonderful, you know, list of a blessed. You know, blessed are these and blessed are those, and the purer heart, And, you know those sorts of, the peacemakers, etc. He’s trying to help us to know that, that our behavior matters, and it matters to God. And even though the world doesn’t value it, but how we hold ourselves together is to continue to commit to those things which we believe matter to God.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau. And this is a conversation inspired by For Faith, a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and a link to subscribe in the episodes description. Good morning, Bishop.
Rob: Morning, morning.
Melissa: Based off Luke, Chapter 6, verses 12 through 31. You call this week’s devotion, Together. And I honestly have to say, it hit me pretty hard. And I had some trouble with it, not because I disagree, but because it’s hard. And so, I’m wondering if you can share what really motivated you going with this message this week?
Rob: Well, that’s what we want, isn’t it? We want easy, don’t we? We want Jesus to be easy with us, right? Because that whole cross thing, and Calvary thing was so easy. Be nice to us, Jesus.
No, I’m just being a little bit pointed and funny. But you know, the good news of Jesus Christ is hard. It’s just a lifesaving hard. And so, I actually worry when we don’t say the hard things that the gospel demands. That is what actually worries me. Because I think God has faith in people. And I think that God being a wise genius loving God knows how to get the best results out of us. And so, when Jesus does his wonderful beatitudes, and he tells us about his spirituality, and invites us into his kind of spirituality, which is bless those who curse you, and love enemies, and if you’ve got two shirts, give one away, and all those sorts of things, all those counter-cultural messages. I think he wants to take us somewhere that will ultimately make us free.
So, yeah. I mean, you’ve named it. I mean, it is hard. And we will struggle. And we will always struggle. And we struggle for millennia, dealing with the message of God. But that’s just life with God.
You know, we sort of jumped right in. But I want to sort of zoom out for a minute and the word together, I chose, I realized I chose it in 2015 for another meditation. But I chose it this time because I’m thinking about All Saints Day. And I’m thinking about one of the most important things that the church gets to do is to try to hold things together. And to talk about how God holds things together. And when we think about All Saints, and All Souls, and the Day of the Dead in Hispanic culture, we’re talking about holding together life and death and everything in between, which I think takes real maturity.
And I think also gives us real insight into reality from God’s viewpoint, which is life and death are the same, light and dark are the same to God, God is present in all things. And so, it’s called Together because I’m thinking about All Saints, remembering those we love, but see no longer, remembering those who distinguished themselves as followers of Jesus, who we call the Saints.
Melissa: Okay, so your very first sentence, you talk about a book called, Things Fall Apart. And I don’t know that I’ve read that book. And yet, I am very familiar with the second law of thermodynamics, which is entropy. So, I don’t know if it has anything to do with entropy. But from what I remember of my, is that chemistry, I think it’s physics, chemistry, whatever, things fall apart, you know. I think we have a natural way of leading to disorder and the more complex or complicated a system is, the easier that entropic factor can be. And so, I’m wondering about society and how much more complicated we can get and how we maintained togetherness. Like what does the act of maintaining unity look like despite difference?
Rob: What an amazing question that is? And a little bit of showing off on your part.
Melissa: It wasn’t meant to be. I just love that word.
Rob: With thermodynamics and all of that. The book that I’m quoting there, Chinua Achebe, wonderful African author. And this book was just a stellar book. And he was talking about culture and he was talking about, you know, post-colonial society, etc. But I’ve always loved the name, things fall apart. And it was actually the name of a rap album by a group called The Roots as well.
But things fall apart, when we look out our windows and watch our news, that is the way it looks like. It looks like things are following apart. Relationships are falling apart. We are falling apart. We are tired and suicide is on the rise. We are falling apart. The family is falling apart it looks like. And you know, the environment is falling apart, it looks like. I mean, we just had Ian. Lives are falling apart. And so, you know, I guess what I am trying to name here in this meditation is this real world, pressure and perspective that we are all sort of feeling. And I think a lot of people are tempted to lose their center. I think now, what is dangerous about now, is that despair is hunting us down. Which is, you know, by definition is the absence of hope. And I think the great privilege that we have as people of faith, is to say that, you know, we don’t have a naive hope. We have a hope that has something to say back to things falling apart. I mean, this is the message of the cross. You know, in a horrendous murder, lynching on a garbage dump 2,000 years ago, somehow God made a way even out of that. And so, we are the stewards of that message. And so, I think that is the golden thread for us through all of it. It has nothing to do with optimism. It has nothing to do with naivete. It has nothing to do with being happy, or clappy, or upbeat. It’s a real world hope for real world hurt. And that’s really the good news. That’s the only good news that the church really actually has. Every organization can do a better job than us in just about every category. But what we have been given, entrusted with, is this message that Christ has died. Christ has risen. And Christ will come again. That’s the foundation of our hope.
And so, even in divisive times, like now, even in times where neighbor is pitted against neighbor, where poor people are being exploited by rich people, you know, and wealth is being held by increasingly fewer and fewer people. And people are struggling to make ends meet, et cetera. You know, this is an invitation to look at ourselves, as beloved of God, blessed by God, with resources, imagination, grit, resilience, and hope. And to figure out together how we can make our way forward. Jesus gives us this wonderful, you know, list of blessed. You know, blessed are these, and blessed are those, and the purer heart, those sorts of things. The peacemakers, et cetera. He’s trying to help us to know that our behavior matters and it matters to God. And even though the world doesn’t value it in the way that we would hope, but it matters to God. And so, how we hold ourselves together, is to continue to commit to those things which we believe matter to God. And that’s what we do. That’s what we bear out in the world. We’re holding ourselves together, literally on the hope that has been entrusted to us. So, those are the beatitudes. And then, we move from that and trying to hold together all the disparate things in the world.
Melissa: Right. And that’s the hard part, right?
Rob: Yeah. What’s all is hard.
Melissa: It is so hard. Because most people are principled people. And I love that you say the unhappy piece with this perspective. I’m just wondering the act, the word cleave keeps coming together. Like when Jesus said love enemies, like did he not mean cleave? I don’t know, keep it together with your enemies? Like I don’t know. And I just think that’s so– I don’t want to say that it’s easy to say and harder to do, that’s so cliché. And yet, I’m kind of stumped.
Rob: Yeah. So, again and again, Jesus tries to hold things together. And what I love about him, he doesn’t try to do it with a fact Kumbaya or these platitudes. He names things. He talks about how things are displeasing to God or apart from who God is. And yet, there’s always this invitation back. And yet, his way to be together, to keep us together is to keep his hands outstretched to people.
I mean, think about it, the very people who betrayed him on the day he needed friends most are the people that he goes to first, right? I mean, he refuses to leave that chasm unchecked, right? So, the truth about so many of us, myself included, is that we end up becoming complacent, satisfied with some of the chasms. And not that everything is about us, but the people that we say we are, with our life with God, we have the impetus. The impetus is to at least reach across those chasms. So, when Jesus says, love the enemy, he is talking about not allowing people to be banished to some corner of your heart where hatred flourishes, right? Because that ultimately corrodes everything. And it corrodes you, right? And it corrodes us.
So, he’s trying to keep us together with God and he’s trying to keep us together with one another. And of course, you’ve said that it is hard. But I think this is the work with our life with God. Look, if we want a God that doesn’t leave us any bigger than we are when we started, then lets just stop all the foolishness and just do, what do you call those sort of things, the BBQs before football.
Rob: Yeah, let’s just tailgate and forget all the church foolishness, right? But if we are saying at least in part to live with God is to through our arms open to God and say, make me bigger, for my sake and for the world’s sake. Then Jesus has hard words and hard invitation is exactly where we should be.
Melissa: All right, friends we’ll be right back after this.
Easton: Hi friends, you’re hearing Jason McGee and mass choir at Imagine NYC. This song is Revelation 19-1, streaming now on YouTube. Keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Now, back to For People.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. So, Bishop one of the things you said before our break was talking about how Jesus didn’t ghetto eyes people. And I feel that’s one thing that our society is very good at doing, especially when people judge and presume that they don’t want to be around. It is like the all time, you know, you are unclean, therefore you need to get away which is so old school. And I’m just curious, I love your statement. It says, maybe we think that somehow division will lead to multiplication. Because we learned that 1 + 1 is 4.
Rob: That’s right. My math teacher would be so proud.
Melissa: I love that. I love it. So, I guess what does that mean then? How do we maintain integrity? How do we keep fellow believers in line you know, with that be above reproach, not ill repute, and kind of help iron, sharpen iron, all those things. Stand by what we believe and yet keep our arms wide open.
Rob: Well, I think that’s a good question. Because I like that you’ve got to this notion of integrity. So, what is integrity, right? That the thing actually has consistency, right? And so, I think the first point of integrity for us, those of us who say that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, is for that statement to have some integrity, right? So, if Jesus is actually the Lord of my life, then my first point of integrity is making sure that I’m tending to that daily, right? Am I really doing it? I mean, you know, and this is not about people being perfect. This is not about all those other head trips that we get into and really infect the gospel with. No.
Integrity just means, did I get up today and try to live my life falling the Lord of my life? And you know, of course, we are going to stumble because we are made to stumble. But that’s obviously not the point. The point is that, you know, even in Jesus’s remedies, we find a way back. There is a pattern of how we get back that we confess, that we preserver. I love how we say it in the baptismal covenant. When you fall into sin, will you repent and return to the Lord? So, we know how to make our way back.
So, the first thing we have to be doing is, does my walk with Christ have integrity? Or is it platitude? You know, am I Jesus adjacent on Sunday? Or am I actually following Jesus, right? And a lot of us for one reason or the other, you know, we prefer to be Jesus adjacent, right? And that’s cool. You know, I guess that gets you to the party. But it won’t get you all the way where you want to go, right? It doesn’t give you the power, it doesn’t give you the relationship, it doesn’t give you the depth, and the wisdom. And it doesn’t give you the life abundant that we say we want. It doesn’t give us the intimacy that we’re made to have with God, where we can actually flourish, right?
Things Fall Apart es el título de un libro muy popular. También parece ser una descripción de la vida cotidiana que vivimos en estos días. Para afrontar esta realidad, la gente ha hecho una paz tenue e infeliz con esa perspectiva. Para sobrellevarlo, algunos se han exiliado a pequeñas islas de pensamiento partidista de un tipo u otro. En este proceso, algunos incluso han encogido a Dios a su imagen e ideas. Tal vez pensamos que de alguna manera la división conducirá a la multiplicación. Pero aquí viene Jesús con su gran corazón, palabras claras y rechazo a retirarse de cada uno de nosotros. “Ama a los enemigos”, dice, “Bendice a los que te maldicen. Dona a la taza de los mendigos. Quítate la camisa y dónala.” ¡Su respuesta a las cosas que se desmoronan es una simple oración de una palabra, juntos! No un conjunto simplista y fácil, sino un conjunto que es suficientemente duradero y elástico para acomodarnos a todos: los muertos, los vivos, los pecadores, los santos, los arrogantes, los humildes, los ateos y los creyentes, los temerosos y los fieles.