The Bishop of Georgia, The Rt. Rev. Frank Logue, made arrangement for the clergy of his diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, to be on a Zoom call with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. I was thrilled to be on the call and listen to Bishop Curry talk about his life of faith that is recorded in print in his book, The Way of Love.
Some of you may remember that it was Bishop Curry who spoke eloquently at the last royal wedding.
In his book, Bishop Curry tells the story of his father’s conversion into the Episcopal Church. He was, in fact, in the seminary studying to become a Baptist preacher, as he had come from a long line of preachers. He went to church with the woman he was dating, who was an Episcopalian,…,the woman who would become Bishop Curry’s mother. His father watched as the Episcopal service proceeded with its culmination with communion.
He watched as his date went down front to receive communion, while he hung back, He was looking to see how it would play out as he and his date were black, and the rest of the congregation was white. He was amazed that his date drank from the chalice, and then, the white folks kneeling at the altar rail drank from that same chalice. This was in a time of segregation and such a moment was pregnant to the Spirit for this young man. Bishop Curry reports that his father was so impressed with the Christian practice that defied the cultural norm, that he thought that this might be the church that might be where he could call “home”. He did, ultimately becoming a priest in the Episcopal church.
Bishop Michael Curry’s book is a tour de force on the essential Christian message of Love. He takes a good bit of time lining out the Copernican revolution of coming to the spiritual understanding that a proper reference is to “we”, than the more natural inner, ego focus of “me”. When one undergoes a profound spiritual awakening, a person wakes up to his/her deeper identity as a person in community rather than the self-serving egotistical inward turn.
Curry smartly turns attention to the words of the apostle Paul who is addressing the pastoral concerns of a divided community of faith in Corinth. The passage he focusses on is the 13th chapter, the noted “Love” chapter. It has been used at about 80% of the weddings I have officiated at, leading me to hate the “love” chapter! It has been particularly painful to hear aunts, uncles, and friends, who are frustrated actors, using this nuptial situation to make a dramatic reading of the chapter, like Cicely Strong’s cheeky SNL parody of bad, overblown church lectors.
But in this current climate, this boy is coming around to appreciate Paul’s deep wisdom.
Love, for Paul, is placed in triad: faith, hope, and love. And all in the context of a bifurcated community of Corinth. Bishop Curry write, “Those Corinthians. Paul tells us, are fighting in the pews at church. They are splitting into factions in terms of who baptized them. People are suing each other. Sleeping with each other’s spouses. The rich and high-status folk are demanding they get communion first. Other people are getting drunk at Communion. This was some serious dysfunction. Amid all this, everybody’s arguing about who is the better Christian, who is going to heaven, and who is not.” Both Michael and I studied with family therapist, Rabbit Edwin Friedman, who taught us all about dysfunctional congregations. Corinth fits the classical clinical diagnostic designations: pretty screwed up.
But the Bishop goes one to make the critical connection. ” The behavior sounds a little familiar. Tilt your head at it, and it sounds a lot like a lot of us today on social media. Arrogant, rude, insisting on our own way, irritable, resentful, rejoicing in wrongdoing? Paul’s got it, all right. It sounds like some of our leaders in Washington, D.C.. It sounds like some of our business leaders. It sounds like some of us in religious communities. It might even sound like some heated conversations around the dinner table at Thanksgiving. The situation that occasioned the ancient epistle sounds remarkably contemporary.”
Paul’s answer, and Bishop Curry’s, is a call to love. This is a call to “turn it around” from a preoccupation with selfish concerns to taking the perspective of “the other”. Love is not a sentimental thought, but rather, love is an action which one does out of concern for and care for the “other”.
Curry helpfully suggests a GPS that will give one a sense of what love looks like in a particular situations: Is this just about “me”, or is this about “we”? Does this just serve my unenlightened self-interest or does it somehow server the greater good? Just starting to address these questions gets you “on the road again” toward love, in this current world of self-centeredness and contempt that characterizes much of our life. Selfishness excludes, while love makes room for the other in the field of attention, and includes the other in consideration.
This notion of a GPS has been intriguing to me. A Trappist monk who did our premarital counseling used something like this as he pointed to Paul’s 1st Corinthians passage to get Mary and me to consider how we might use the verbs to characterize the way we should treat one another: patient, kind, not envious, not arrogant or rude, not irritable or resentful, bears, hopes, endures. In a word, that’s what love is all about, Charlie Brown.
That was forty years ago. Forty. 40. Did I mention forty years ago? That’s a lot of water under the bridge. There weren’t a lot of people at the betting window the day of my wedding. They knew me well, my self-interest had been in full bloom. Some would claim, one in particular, would say my wedding was in fact self-interest in spades. And I would be hard pressed to object.
While I have preached my share of romantic, Hallmark Card sermons at the social convention occasion that we call weddings, I have learned my lesson well. It’s quite a business, rivaling those boys in the planting industry called funeral homes. My initial ride was doing most of the weddings at the Cathedral in the sanctified section of Atlanta, called Buckhead. I saw obscene amounts of money funneled for grand occasions with a glance given toward the spiritual meaning and even less toward the herculean task ahead of forming a healthy relationship. I did a wedding with the whole cavalcade of ABC stars, hanging with Cosell and Barbara Wawa, speaking of SNL skits. I did a wedding that was showcased and centerspread in the hallowed Southern Living magazine. I know about the wedding show business.
My time on the Peachtree wedding circuit skewed me, or screwed me, with me only killing three wedding coordinators, buried somewhere beneath the Cathedral. Dead planners tell not tales….nor take obnoxious pictures. But I emerged with a clear concept of what is really going on at a wedding. It is the beginning of a process of education, progressing from this concept of cellophane, forged through the years into the iron and steel structure of love. This is the Right Stuff, not fairy tales.
I started seeing “The Blessing of a Marriage”, as it is designated in the Book of Common Prayer, as an occasion for counter-cultural testimony. I began to refer to marriage as the crucible, the holding container of the fire of human relationship. And the success is not the number of years one accumulates. Did I mention FORTY? Rather, the fruit a marriage bears in the way it has taught its students the art of love. Marriage is one of the most powerful, experiential venues where we can learn of this thing called love.
Of course, we learn in all times and places about this love, if we choose to. It can happen in families as we learn to share time and resources. We can learn about love in school as we bump up against people from different backgrounds. One can even learn in business, as we must weigh our personal agendas with those of our co-workers and our collective. And, dare I say it, we can learn about love in the context of social media, and even church. Any place we are with others, the subject of love is in play.
This is a pregnant time in terms of our ability to live with one another. We must learn, relearn, and learn continually about this thing called love. I do commend taking the time to read Bishop Curry’s book, The Way of Love. Invest the time and energy to read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest his wise words concerning this way of being in the world. I think you just might fall in love again, I did. Blessings.