The Bishop’s E-pistle: On Being Wrong

I am away at the College for Bishops this week, and attended the “Hats and Sticks” liturgy class for new bishops by retired Bishop Neil Alexander.

It was humbling. I thought I knew what I was doing, but some of my received and experiential knowledge about our liturgical practices is outdated. None of this is a salvation issue (all the confirmation, receptions, and ordinations I have done so far are valid!), but the class was an invitation into contemplating what I believe is transpiring when I confirm or ordain someone, and how that is demonstrated through liturgical action. I intend to make some changes in what I do so that my actions better match my theology.

It’s not the first time I have caught myself in error recently. A few weeks ago, I made a comment on a friend’s Facebook post about the meaning of the symbols on the Episcopal flag. My comment contained what I had learned decades ago–so long ago, that I no longer remember the source, but something I have repeated over and over again in many years of confirmation classes. It was quickly apparent that I was wrong, reading all the other comments. In fact, the accurate meaning was easily available on The Episcopal Church website.

I never thought to look it up, because I believed I knew the truth.

We all have thousands of “facts” lodged in our brains. Many of them are true. Some are not.

What happens when we discover we are wrong? Scripture is full of stories of conversion–they are central to the story of coming to Christ. Matthew is a tax collector–and then he follows Jesus. Paul persecutes Christians–and then becomes a Christian. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night early in John’s Gospel–and then is there at the cross openly, in daylight, with spices for Jesus’ body. Our story is entirely about recognizing the errors of our ways and making a change.

In some ways, it is easy for me to admit my lack of knowledge right now–three, whole months into my episcopate. No one–not even me!–expects me to know everything yet. But two years from now… or ten years from now… or twenty, I will not be so easy on myself, and people will not be so easy on me.  But, I pray that I will always retain the capacity to reexamine what I think I know, and be willing to learn a truth that is new to me.