Bishop Singh gives Keynote Address
Bishop Prince Singh gave the Keynote Address at the annual meeting of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches - Faith In Action Network this week. The title of the GRCC annual report for 2018 reads: "People of Faith Moving Forward in an Angry World." Bishop Singh's address gave inspirational direction on how to move forward in such a world.
People of Faith Moving Forward in an Angry World
I express my thanks to the host church community, to Gordon and Alan. Let me begin by thanking you for your crucial work of calling us to respond thoughtfully and actively out of our faith as Churches in a network of ecumenical and interfaith commitments. Since this is an ecumenical organization let me make my remarks within that framework. I looked up the Episcopal catechism and this is what we are taught about a significant purpose question. What is the mission of the Church? The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. I am sure our various churches have some similar teaching on the purpose of our churches of various shades.
I recently read a popular piece of wisdom on WhatsApp: “Once upon a time, when Windows was just a square hole in a room and applications was something written on paper. When Keyboard was a Piano and Mouse just an animal. When File was important office material. When Cut was done with knife and Paste with glue. When Web was a spider’s home and Virus was flu. When Apple and Blackberry were just fruits…. That’s when we had a lot of time for family and friends.”
Without pining for a broad brush “good old days,” which they were not for everyone, we are dealing with some of the steady decline of civil and good behavior practices and hence the loss of muscle memory for healthy models of such interaction. Life today is measured and valued by Likes more than by the practices of building character. The trust deficit within our institutions be it home, church or government impacts our actions at both the micro and macrocosm. Churches and places of faith are increasingly seen as out of touch, polarizing and often fostering hate. Mainstream religious expressions are mostly seen as out of touch at best and innocuous at worst. It is time to go back to our role of building persons and cultures of character.
The Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Jan 1) is quickly followed by the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6)! Both are equally significant in that they encapsulate the Why—because Jesus saves us from ourselves—and the What—and that is why we invite, not convert, others to follow the Jesus Way or join the Jesus Movement. The star of our life, as the familiar song reminds us, is Jesus who calls us:
- to relationship with God, each other and all creation,
- to do our part as stewards of all the resources entrusted to us, and
- to lead and follow in the Jesus Way.
To follow Jesus is not possible without some degree of commitment and intention because tensions exist between interpretations of us and them, church and state, chaotic community and beloved community. Let me share a few of my intentions for your consideration on the Feast of the Epiphany at the beginning of the year.
Here are ten specific ways we can all strive to follow Jesus:
Strive to be joyful. Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song (Psalm 100), is an invitation for every believer to choose and embrace joy in Christ as a way of life. A step in this direction is to see the face of Jesus in someone else and cherish the goodness in them.
Strive to be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle. Our personal struggles may seem insurmountable at any given moment, and it is very possible to justify our own sense of self-pity that leads to self-loathing that often leads to being indifferent, oblivious or cynical of others and sometimes everything. I have often thought that there are those who see life as a glass half full, those who see it as half empty and then, there are those who go “What glass?” It is possible to let bitterness dissipate our deepest sense of joy and wonder. You can break that trend today and step by step get out of the place you have allowed to be created. A place called oblivion or nothingness, where nothing exists. This moment is all we are guaranteed. Let’s make it count creatively.
Strive to be curious. The Magi, kings or Wise Men were. That is what started them on their journey following the star, discerning a path to the Palace, recalculating their path to the stable in Bethlehem and then disobeying a king by returning to their place or places of origin by another path. Curiosity, to me, does not mean distraction to the next bright object, but rather a sense of steadiness in creatively pursuing goodness with clarity.
Strive to be courageous. Mary was, Joseph was, and the Shepherds were. In an age of normalized rage and hatred in so many quarters of our common life it is easy to succumb to the temptation to be consumed by rage. The Christian invitation is for us to be people of courage who question authority when power is really abused and sexual and other kinds of bulling is tolerated. In our context, the Dreamers and other vulnerable people need courageous supporters today. Let’s be courageous.
Strive to be forgiving. None of us is perfect and we are all better when we are more aware than merely right.
Strive to be still. I find stillness to be the locus of gratitude. So much of the world around us is reactive and often in unhelpful ways. Make room for silence as the regular space of invocation of that which is good, wise and just.
Strive to be easy on yourself. You are not the center of the universe and while each of us has to be an agent of positive change we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. Laugh a lot and especially at yourself, it is a good antidote to fear.
Strive to be content with experiences, people or other things. All of life is quite remarkable. When we obsessively compare one experience with another to establish which was better we tend to make some parts of life more significant than others. I like to think that all of life is meaningful; the good times, the mundane times and the bad times. When we compare and grade experiences as better or worse than, we tend to limit the nuances of life’s opportunities and lessons; inadvertently reinforcing dualistic ways of knowing as pure and impure. I have learned much from the rough times and have practiced trusting more from the easy times of life; all of life transforms us. We do not classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves—2 Corinthians 10: 12, and Godliness with contentment is great gain—1 Timothy 6:6.
Strive to empower others to be their best self.
Strive to be humble. We are a work in progress.
GRCC/Faith that Acts Network is crucial for our common life. Your three upcoming events are good reasons for why you as an organization are necessary for our community. Strategically looking at the normalized rhetoric of racial hate, Memorial for neighbors who die without friends and family, and the Strangers to Neighbors festival.
Thanks to GRCC, we have an ecumenical community with diverse expressions of how to be loving incarnational community. We have to do our own work to revision and communicate relevantly in to this changing world. Mainline churches are declining only when we have accepted that line of thinking to be the norm and have stopped paying attention. We all have to do our self-evaluation, make tough decisions about our resourcing of what is important. With such diligence there will be vital congregations and thus a vital ecumenical body. In a season of normalized chaos and anger across many aspects of life, we are called to be voices of grace, character, creativity and sanity. Anthony De Mello tells the story of a man who goes to a newspaper store. The vendor is rude to him, even throws the change on the counter. The man nods and walks out of the store. His accompanying friend ask him why he puts up with that kind of behavior to which the man replied, “I don’t want him to decide how I live my life.” We all have work to do to build Beloved Community. In the words of Dr. King who put it simply and profoundly, “If you cannot fly run, if you cannot run walk, if you cannot walk crawl, but by all means keep moving.” Thank you.
To learn more on the GRCC click here.