Let’s play Jeopardy! The category is “Great Weekend Activities” and the answer is “Two days with 400+ of your favorite people with great worship, nurturing workshops, inspiring speeches, lovely music, productive business sessions, and great food.” And the question is, of course, “What is The 183rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan?”
Yes, our Convention is over for another year and, while I would like to think it means we can relax a bit, I know well that it really means there’s new work to do. It doesn’t do much good to get inspired by workshops, sermons, and keynote addresses and then forget about them once one returns home. Over the next few weeks, the blog will focus on some of the highlights of Convention and provide details about living into the resolutions we passed. For now, I want to share a little about the workshop I attended – “The Road to Emmaus: Story Telling for Diversity and Inclusion” presented by Vicki Hesse, Director of the Whitaker Institute.
Talking of reconciliation sounds lovely and I hope it’s something we all desire yet, as I continue to listen to the news and pay attention to social media, it seems to me that we are pulling further and further apart. On the drive to church Sunday morning, my radio traveling companion, Lulu Garcia-Navarro on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, was interviewing an American comedian Erik Griffin who was traveling in Canada. She asked if he felt he had to defend or explain or make a joke out of America when he was out of the country. He answered: “That’s what a comedian does anyway. We’re just making light of things that are going on. Or we’re pointing out an injustice and trying to make it funny.” He went on:
I mean, I used to have a lot of jokes about the election pre-election. But once he [Trump] got in office – and then it just made people uncomfortable. Like, I felt like people were like, this is too real. You know, even I – look, I have not been having a good time on my last three weeks of doing comedy in the United States. I was in Tennessee. I was in St. Louis. And it’s just, like, liberals are too sensitive, and conservatives are too angry….I feel like if I handed out a paper before every show, and I said, tell me what you want me to talk about, it would be nothing on there. But it’s just I’ve got to say, sometimes, it’s not fun anymore.
It has become too real and we are all too sensitive and too angry. We’re all scared. These negative emotions tend to pull us further and further apart as we try to protect ourselves. Vicki’s workshop was a great beginning in learning to counteract the impulse to run away from each other and replace that instinct with the tools to get to really know each other. We must listen to one another’s stories. We all have them and they explain a lot about who we are and how we became this way. I’m not saying that we should necessarily expect to change our opinion about issues but, if we are truly trying to “love one another,” we can learn to respect others despite having different opinions. I know it’s tough. When I feel particularly passionate about my own opinion I find it difficult to think that someone else’s is as valid. I do believe, however, that if I take the time to get to know that individual and listen to their story, perhaps I will understand how they arrived at their conviction and will then be able to grow in love for them.
In Vicki’s workshop, we had the opportunity to practice telling stories to one another – and, maybe even more important, we practiced listening to one another. Sometimes we were surprised by what we experienced and sometimes our perspective changed a bit. In my first story-listening opportunity, I listened to someone I thought I knew pretty well. We had taken many classes together as we traveled the road to ordination. I had come to certain assumptions about her (nothing negative, mind you) and was delighted to have my understanding expanded as she shared more personal details of her life. It felt very good and honest and, I believe, grew our friendship even deeper. That was with a friend; imagine the benefit if I had been speaking to one I didn’t know as well or perhaps felt at odds with.
When Jesus walked along with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he had stories to tell that opened their eyes to new understandings of the story of God: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27, NRSV). They were surprised, indeed: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32, NRSV). But, Jesus didn’t start out babbling about himself.
Vicki pointed out key elements in the Road to Emmaus story that are relevant for our achievement of diversity and inclusion:
- Jesus listened to them. We all want to be heard yet this is so contrary to our fast-paced, face-to-the-screen culture.
- Jesus traveled with them. Jesus comes alongside to walk with the disciples in their grief. We need to welcome others to journey with us and we need to offer ourselves to go where others need us to go.
- Jesus shared his story with them. Jesus built bridges of connection with the disciples having heard them and walked with them. He developed a relationship which gave him space to share God’s story with them.
- And only then does he break bread with them. The whole encounter opened the door for Jesus to reveal himself to them. Isn’t’ this the whole point – that we get to see the face of Christ in one another? This is where reconciliation happens. This is turning again to Christ.
Vicki has shared her PowerPoint presentation from the workshop here.
It’s been a long, full, wonderful weekend. Stay tuned for more convention news in the weeks ahead. Till then, let us pray…
Almighty and eternal God,
so draw our hearts to you,
so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations,
so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours,
utterly dedicated to you;
and then use us, we pray, as you will,
and always to your glory and the welfare of your people;
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council