Exclusive to TNE: One-on-One with Wandering Clarkson
TNE: Wandering Clarkson, this is such a treat, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview.
It’s my pleasure, Keith. I’m never too busy for the Nebraska Episcopalian!
I’d love to. Robert Harper Clarkson was the first bishop of Nebraska. He served from 1868 until his death in 1884. At his funereal, held at Trinity Cathedral, he was described as a “representative Western Bishop,” which is to say that he really thought of himself as a missionary—bringing the gospel and the sacraments of the church to those isolated communities of homesteaders on the plains. He traveled a lot, and in addition to building churches (he focused mainly on the towns that sprung up as the railroad moved west), he also established schools and hospitals. It was said that Bishop Clarkson wouldn’t stay in a town where with an existing parish or work that could go on without him. Instead, he went to little missions or places where missions might be started. He often preached in school houses, and personal homes, hoping to bring the Good News to those who hadn’t heard it in a while. Life was hard in 19th century Nebraska, and Bishop Clarkson was known for rolling up his sleeves, and working alongside the people of his Diocese. TNE: There are stories of wandering through the Bible: Abraham, Moses and the exiled Israelites, St. Paul, even Jesus and the Apostles. Why do you think this is?
I think that wandering has something to do with obedience, especially in Hebrew Scripture. Abraham and Moses both hit the road because of the Covenant they had with God: eventually, their people will be delivered to the “Promised Land,” where God’s dreams for them, and their own dreams, will be fulfilled. But before that day can come, they have to stay attuned to God’s directions and travel lightly. They aren’t always happy about it, but ultimately they remain obedient to God, and they are transformed through the journey. I think that Jesus calls us to a similar life. In the gospel of Luke, when Jesus empowers his disciples to go out into the neighboring village and proclaim the Good News, he gives them pretty specific packing instructions: “Bring nothing for your journey,” he says. “No staff, no bag, no bread, no money—not even an extra tunic!” I think as Christians, as disciples ourselves, we have to be pretty light on our feet, too. It’s easier to follow God’s call in our lives, to wander, if we aren’t so encumbered by material possessions (or our own egos and selfish desires). It’s through obedience to God that we experience real freedom. TNE: Why do you wander, and what are some of the exciting things you see on your journeys?
I would like to say that I wander for all of the reasons I described above, but I’m afraid that I’m not always that faithful or obedient myself! I wander, mostly, because I really love to be on the road. And I love Nebraska, especially when I can get off the beaten path and really immerse myself in some of our smaller communities. I love how it feels when a highway stretches into the Sandhills, or through corn fields, and you can’t see what’s next. It’s just you, this huge sky, and God’s creation. It make me feel small (not hard to do!), and reminds me of how much we all rely on God at the end of the day. And I love visiting our Episcopal churches. Each church in Nebraska is a living testimony to Jesus, and they inspire me to follow him better. TNE: What are some of your hopes and dreams for our Diocese in 2015?
It fills my little heart with joy anytime the people of our far-flung diocese come together for worship, service or celebration. The body of Christ is strongest when it’s many members are assembled. I dream that when invitations to diocesan gatherings are made in 2015 – to church camp, to annual council, to ministry fairs or ordination celebrations – the people of Nebraska will answer the call to come together as one. Similarly, dream our church families will increasingly find ways to support and affirm each others ministries. Nothing brings me greater joy than to see the people of God working and playing together, especially our neighboring churches. There are some beautiful ministries of service and outreach in our diocese right now. I am sure that where we serve the poor, the sick and the outcast, Jesus himself is present and pleased. I dream of broad support for those kinds of ministries, and for new and creative missional ministries to be born in the year to come. Finally, I dream and pray that every single Episcopalian in Nebraska might really truly experience the deep love of Jesus in their own personal lives. We are such hard working and faithful people out here in Nebraska, but I worry that sometimes our sense of duty overwhelms our sense of belovedness. You are all truly cherished and chosen people. Jesus loves you! TNE: Will you be going to camp this year? What’s your favorite camp activity, and do you think there will be anything new this summer?
I wouldn’t miss it! My favorite thing about camp is watching how much our kids love and support each other. It is kind of like a little snapshot of the Kingdom of God—this group of young people, diverse in every way, totally committed to being kind to each other for the week. Its remarkable, and grown-ups can learn a lot from it. I also love “The Hippo Song.” There will be lots of great additions to camp this summer—stay tuned! TNE: What advice and direction can you give TNE readers for their own personal journeys?
My advice would be to challenge yourself to go on a spiritual adventure. Give wandering a try, even if “wandering” means turning off your phone and computer for the better part of a day and seeing where your mind, heart, and prayers travel. You can’t listen to God if you don’t do your part by providing a little silence, and our world is so noisy! Give yourself a break. God really wants to hang out with you, without distractions.
You seem to have adapted remarkable well to new technology; can you tell us just a bit about the ways you use it to foster communication and community, and especially tell us about your latest, the new Wandering Clarkson blog?
Thanks! Our Diocese of Nebraska is geographically quite large. We have churches planted throughout pretty much the entire state, which is around 77,000 square miles! Sometimes, in our rural communities, Episcopal churches are separated by hundreds of miles. Even in our urban areas, it’s easy to feel isolated and like we’re shouldering the building of the Kingdom all by ourselves. Social media can help bridge some of that gap—connecting people, inspiring them, and showing them how the Holy Spirit is moving in the lives of their neighbors. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and I’ve found that people really just like seeing photographs of our Diocese—its natural beauty, its sacred spaces, and its people. So, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all ways to bring people closer together, even if they’re geographically very far apart. The blog is another way to do that, only with more written content in addition to pictures. I research every community I visit before I wander there, and I like to tell stories about what I learn.
This is a question I get a lot! I am neither sad nor angry. I have a mustache, which sort of looks like a frown. Also, I’m just kind of a serious guy. It’s not all fun and games out there, Keith! I’m encountering the Holy in all of my wanderings, and sometimes that’s awe-inspiring, and it’s generally rather serious business. I’m happy, I like to have fun, but I’ve also got a job to do. TNE: How about leaving us with a prayer?
Loving God, we acknowledge, in the words of one of your Anglican servants, that “not all who wander are lost.” Inspire us with a sprit of adventure in your name, that we may seek you and serve you wherever you see fit to call us, and that in joyful obedience to your Son, we may find an abundant life in the glory of your creation. Amen.