As the descendant of slaves and the son of a civil rights activist, Bishop Michael Curry’s life illustrates massive changes in our times. In Love Is the Way, he expands on his message of hope in an inspirational road map for living the way of love, illuminated with moving lessons from his own life.
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 lonely and defeated, and very, very tired.
Good people today are grasping for the America celebrated in Emma Lazarus’s famous poem inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In- stead, neo-Nazis and KKK members march through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” People are killed while in a Bible study and prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel AME in South Carolina, during worship at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pennsylvania, at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. Children are separated from their parents at the borders of this country, and a baby girl and her daddy lie dead on the shore of the Rio Grande.
And it’s not just in America. It’s around the globe. Muslims are terrorized in New Zealand while Christians are killed in Sri Lanka. Fascism, nativism, and bigotry we thought long buried are rising again. Resistance, animosity, even hatred of migrants, immigrants, and refugees from war, famine, and violence have increased at a frightening pace. And evil and destructive nationalism and ethnic superiority threaten the very fabric of human civilization.
We are in a time of planetary crisis. The future of the earth we all live on is at stake. To do everything we can to save the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land on which we live, and the very earth that is our common home is no longer an academic consideration. It’s now life-and-death.
Dr. Martin Luther King—who, besides my father and grandmother, is the human most responsible for my wearing the collar today—wisely said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” He was right in the late 1960s when he said it, and it’s right in this twenty-first century. We can no longer afford the demonic luxury of bigotry or the false hope of hatred. We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, all of us children of God. As Dr. King also often said in this regard, we have two choices before us, chaos or community.
Love is the Way
By Bishop Michael Curry and Sara Grace
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The Bible says, “Choose this day who you will serve.” I believe, and I suspect most of you do, too, that we must choose community—the human community, in community with all of creation. This is the beloved community of God. This is what the late lay theologian Verna Dozier and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have often called “the dream of God.” And love—unselfish, sacrificial, unconditional, and liberating love—is the way, frankly the only way, to realize God’s dream of the beloved community, on earth as it is in heaven. It’s the only thing that can, and that ever will, make the world a better place.
I learned that from the people who raised me, and so I learned it as they did, from the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whose way is this kind of love. But love is an equal-opportunity employer. It is a gift of God, flowing from the very heart of creation. It cannot be claimed by any single religion or philosophy or person. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” That’s not my opinion—that’s from the Bible, 1 John 4:7–8.
Love creates room and space for others, “the other,” to be. In the New Testament, in a section of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”2 The poetry of the King James Version makes it even more powerful: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” It’s not an accident that when Jesus teaches about the way of love, he speaks of the kingdom of God as the most spacious reality imaginable. That insight led African slaves of America’s antebellum South to create and sing a spiritual:
There’s plenty good room,
Plenty good room,
Plenty good room in my Father’s kingdom;
Plenty good room,
Plenty good room,
Choose your seat and sit down.
There’s truly room for everyone. This, too, I learned from my elders. One summer we were visiting my maternal grandma at her family home in Winton, North Carolina. Each day they opened the doors and sent us out with the words “Go on out and play. Just stay away from the creek.” Of course, you know we always went straight to the creek. One day, though, we had other plans. Some kids in the neighborhood told us about a revival coming to town that evening. So after supper we got on our bikes and went. A giant tent had been thrown up in an empty lot. We’d been told it was a revival, but we didn’t understand the word well enough to ask the obvious question: A revival of what?
The tent was packed full. We were Episcopalian kids. Church, as we knew it, was politely sitting in the pews, quietly saying and reading prayers, standing to sing hymns, and then sitting quietly for a few wise, considered words from the pulpit. Nobody got excited, or if they did, they didn’t display it in those days.
There is a universal hunger at the heart of every human being: to love and to be loved.
But at this tent revival, more Pentecostal than Baptist, the preacher shouted. Folk spoke in unknown tongues, people got saved, and some even got healed. Amen! Hallelujah! Glory!
We went home howling with laughter. Outside my aunt’s house, we were making fun, imitating the preacher and the congregation. We rolled around in the dust, saving each other’s souls, in complete hysterics. Grandma just watched. We didn’t know it yet, but we were busted. Come Sunday supper, she sat us down and told us how things were going to be going forward. “You don’t laugh at anybody else’s religion. You respect the Lord however he comes.”
Living Love’s Questions
So here I am, fifty years later, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, encouraging a revival of love as a way to a liberating and life-giving relationship with God, with others, with all God’s creation on the planet we call Earth.
But this goes far beyond a denomination, and beyond Christianity. This is the revival of love as the guide for living; for relationships; for leaders; for our individual and collective spiritual, material, and physical well-being. I understand Grandma’s message today better than ever. Only God is God. None of us are. While we must be discerning, love is the ultimate criteria for that. Our job isn’t to tell anybody how they should work out their relationship with the living God. Our job is to love, and in the case of Christians, to witness to the way of love that came to us from Jesus’s teachings.
I had no idea that one day I would receive a call from the archbishop of Canterbury, calling on behalf of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex: If I were to be asked, might I be available to preach at their upcoming wedding? I could not have dreamed or imagined that invitation, which gave me the opportunity to take this message of love to the world.
What I learned that day, preaching in the presence of Her Majesty, The Queen—and, it turned out, an audience of billions—is that we are hungry for love. No matter our state or condition. Beyond our national identities and loyalties, beyond our political sympathies and ideologies, beyond our religious and spiritual convictions and commitments, there is a universal hunger at the heart of every human being: to love and to be loved. It connects all people of faith, hope, and good will.
That love is truly ecumenical, truly universal. That love knows no borders, no limitations, no divisions or differences of race, class, caste, nationality, ethnic origin, political affiliation, or religious conviction. That love can break down every barrier that blocks the way to the realization of God’s dream of the beloved community.
These days, I’m on the road easily 75 percent of the time. During one typical month while writing this book, I went on seven trips—to England, West Virginia, Michigan, Alabama, New York, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. In these travels, I meet a lot of people, and they ask me a lot of questions. I’m sure you have a few yourself. This book is roughly organized according to the events and lessons learned in my own life. But each chapter also ad- dresses a question that I’ve been asked by people I’ve met in churches, at public events, on TV, and even in airports.
1. What is love?
2. How do I find God’s love?
3. How do I find the energy to keep loving when the world seems to be going the other way?
4. Can love really change the world?
5. Won’t loving everybody make me a doormat?
6. I’m just a regular person, so how can my love have an impact?
7. I’m told to love my neighbor, but who is my neighbor?
8. What if love reveals me to be a hypocrite?
9. Do I have to love even my enemy?
10. How can love overcome what divides us and move us forward together?
11. Does love mean avoiding politics?
12. How can love make “E Pluribus Unum” real in America without erasing anybody?
I have faith in God. I also have faith in us. We can get this right. The world has changed before, and it can change again, for the better. And we can find peace and joy in our hearts in the interim, even as we carry on the struggle for a humane, just, and peaceful world ruled by love.
However the future unfolds—whatever the detours, the trials, the troubles, the goal, the zenith, or the pain—we shall overcome, not for ourselves alone, but for the entire human family.
Excerpted from Love is the Way by Bishop Michael Curry and Sara Grace. Copyright © 2020 by Bishop Michael Curry. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.