In the Episcopal Church, being elected to the position of bishop, let alone presiding bishop, seems to virtually be a straight shot to publishing a book. But as we’re fond of saying in the church, “all may, none must,” to which I would add, some shouldn’t.
And yet, Bishop Michael Curry, current presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has chosen to publish, Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times.
The purpose of this book is to explain what the way of love looks like, even as we walk it in a world that feels at times closer to a nightmare than to the dream. The way of love is how we stay decent during indecent times. It’s for all of us who are sitting, looking around at the world, at our leaders, saying, “Something has gone very wrong.” It’s for those who are fighting hard for a better world, and feeling very, very tired.
It’s a bold statement and a bit of a risk, publishing a book today that purports to speak to our “troubling times.”
Many people, globally, are aware of Bp. Curry as the preacher at the 2018 royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Bp. Curry was probably a little more than the Brits expected, based on the nervous glances that appear in the videos. His folksy ways come through in his sermon as well as in his book, but I believe it to be more authentic than schtick.
That sermon, however, was punctuated by the refrain of “love is the way,” not coincidentally, the title of his new book.
Unafraid to ruffle the feathers of the royal hats in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, Bp. Curry is similarly unafraid to take head on the topics of race, human sexuality, and politics, the very things that seem to be dividing the United States today.
The punch line of Curry’s book, not to jump ahead, is simply,
Unselfish, sacrificial living isn’t about ignoring or denying or destroying yourself. It’s about discovering your true self – the self that looks like God – and living life from that grounding.
How many of us are living lives that are other than our “true selves”? Many, if not most, I would wager. We’ve bought the line of bull this world is selling and spend our days pining for something different, something more. We wish we were richer, better looking, thinner. We wish we’d gotten the promotion instead of that person, “bless her heart,” and look forward to retirement when we can leave all that behind.
That isn’t the life God wants for us, though. It is a life where everyone in it is an “It” and not a “Thou,” to paraphrase Martin Buber, a point Bp. Curry makes throughout his book.
Seeing people as an “It” allows us to justify the most unspeakable things. Slavery, the Holocaust, even simple indifference.
But when Eva raised her hand and that sleeve dropped, exposing that tattoo, I was speechless. I had seen pictures, but this was the first time I had seen the numbers up close, on the frail arm of a hand I had gently shaken. It hit me then as never before: That tattoo was who and what she was to her captors. A number. A thing. An object. An “it.” That number rendered her an “it.” And when a person, a human child of God, my sister, my brother, my sibling, becomes an “it” to society or any of its members, then the unthinkable becomes thinkable and the horrible possible. That’s how someone sits by while evil is done.
The way of love as articulated by Bishop Curry does not allow for us to treat others as Its. The way of love demands that we see the Thou in everyone and here he’s speaking primarily to the Church.
It’s easy to contribute money and time to “do good” and help others, whether through compassionate acts of service or by joining the movement for social justice and change. It is far tougher to maintain a humble and dedicated relationship with God and with others, especially others who are not like you. But that kind of relationship – the I-Thou relationship – is how we create a new dynamic, where there are no saviors, but only people working together for a better future for the good of all. Without that mutuality, our good acts all too easily replicate and reinforce the status quo.
How often do church going folk sit in the pew and put a little cash in the plate, satisfied that they have done “enough” but continuing to live their lives, unchanged by the Gospel, seeing all those different from ourselves as Its?
Lest you think Bp. Curry’s book is all condemnation and brimstone, he is quick to point out…
We all like to think of ourselves as paragons of virtue and intimations of perfection. But none of us are. And I know that I’m not. We’re works in progress, hopefully. That means we’ve got to grow and learn and evolve. We have to be willing to be wrong.
We have to be willing to be wrong, indeed. And more…
If the church truly believed that we all are the children of God, and equal before God, then we had to learn how to truly own that and live that. Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or a cultural trend, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. It was time to own that – and yet do it in a way that respected those who saw things differently.
That, to me, is the essence of Bp. Curry’s ministry as a diocesan bishop and as presiding bishop. We are all unique. We are all different. But none of that makes us or anyone else less than. It is when we allow those differences to be unspoken, to be unfamiliar, that we are able to see another as It and not Thou.
How, you ask, do we close that chasm between us and others different from ourselves? Bp. Curry’s answer is simply, through stories.
Whenever someone tells their story, you are standing on holy ground. You behave differently, hear them differently, and react from a different place. It’s so much harder to hate when someone has shown you their heart.
Be intentional about getting to know other people who do not look, think, or speak as you do. Be intentional about getting to know other people whose politics, who’s sexuality, who’s skin color or ethnicity are different from yours. This, argues the good Bishop, is the way of love.
The way of love is a commitment to seeking the good and well-being of others. When we truly do that, we all are blessed. In fact, if we all made the commitment – to loving beyond our nationality, our ethnicity, our politics, our religion, or any other difference – we and the earth itself would be blessed.
There are those who will shy away from this book or even this review because they’re not Christian, because Bishop Curry is a Black man, or even because they’re comfortable in their dissatisfaction with the world. It is to those people in particular that I recommend Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Bishop Michael Curry. Be willing to open your mind and have it changed. Be willing to hear the stories of others. Be willing to walk the way of love in your life, even if only for a little while.
When God, who is love, becomes our spiritual center of gravity, and love our moral compass, we live differently, regardless of what the world around us does. The world changes for the better, one life at a time.
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