Inviting the Light: The Re-purposed Bishop
By the Rev. Carole Wageman
“Re-purposing” is one of those kitschy words that became popular a few years ago. It suggests altering or converting something from its original purpose to make it more suitable for a vastly different purpose…kind of like recycling but with an innovative twist. While it entered our vocabulary and consciousness relatively recently, it’s not really such a new concept for our Divine Companion. God always seems to be in the business of repurposing his people, leading us individually and collectively toward God’s vision for us that we might not always be aware of right away. Sometimes events in our lives that are the most difficult to deal with are the crucible through which God works to repurpose us.
Sometimes events in our lives that are the most difficult to deal with are the crucible through which God works to repurpose us.
Consider the story of Paul Jones who was Bishop of Utah at the beginning of World War I and whose feast day is September 4th. He was a deeply faithful Christian who was a pacifist at a time when it was not politically correct to speak up against the war or the national fervor about the “war to end all wars”. He held a deep conviction that non-violence was Christ’s way of peace and, as a Christian, that was the supreme call for his own life. He got himself in trouble with the Church because he went against the popular opinion of the day that this war was somehow a “great crusade that would establish justice and righteousness, end all wars, and make the world safe for democracy…embodying all that Jesus taught.” (John Howard Melish.“Bishop Paul Jones: Witness for Peace” Forward Movement Publications 1992 pg. 21). That was the thinking of the day.
The dilemma for Bishop Jones was that in his heart, Jesus’ principles of love and right relationships were primary and war was not an option for faithful Christians—at least it was not an option for himself as a faithful Christian. In denouncing the war, he was a voice in the wilderness and he came under investigation for his pacifist views and affiliations by the Episcopal House of Bishops. Rather than continue to face that controversy, he eventually resigned his position as Bishop of Utah under extreme pressure from some in the House of Bishops. Not one of the proudest moments in the Episcopal Church, to be sure.
Now anyone who has ever lived through an experience like that—being the center of a political storm with unethical manipulation of due process, backroom politics and gossip, and dis-information roiling around you—know that can be pretty debilitating. Some people never recover from the pain of that experience. God was not done with Bishop Jones yet, however, for God “repurposed” the Bishop’s passion for peace. For the rest of his life, he remained involved in pursuits for peace within and outside the church—traditional and non-traditional—leading by example as well as word.
Twenty years after he resigned as bishop of Utah, he helped found the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, a pacifist organization formed in 1939 right on the cusp of WWII in response to the refugees trying to escape Europe as Hitler’s power grew. This organization is still highly active today throughout the United States in addressing issues of violence, war and injustice in our world.
“…Leadership with God takes one into those currents where creative changes are taking place…”
Bishop Jones wrote: “…Leadership with God takes one into those currents where creative changes are taking place. It means catching something of his vision of the world and letting him work through one…and not caring what one’s portion may be so long as one has the consciousness of being a fellow-worker with God.” (Ibid)
There is no shortage of challenges to any serious follower of Christ these days as well. We wade into the deeper waters of faith and follow the bread crumbs of belief trusting that God’s transforming energy will re-purpose that which we thought was impossible. With God, nothing is hopeless. With God there are no questions so big that they can’t be solved, there is no wilderness so barren that living water cannot be found, and there is no problem so desperate that God cannot kindle what might well seem like a miracle to us. It is re-purposing taken to an exquisite level.
Isn’t that what following Christ is all about—being repurposed? Starting from wherever we are and being mended and reformatted as God puts us on new and different pathways that we might not have thought about before. It is a surprising notion, I know, but God just might have a better idea for our lives than we could have possibly imagined for ourselves.
Copyright © 2017 Carole A. Wageman. All rights reserved.
NOTE: Similar stories from Scripture are explored more fully in my newly released book: “The Light Shines Through: Our Stories Are God’s Story” by Church Publishing, Inc. Ordering available now at Hopkins Bookshop, Church Publishing or Amazon.