My church has been doing a series of book studies over Zoom. Past selections focused on issues of racial justice, but this book by Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, took a wider view, looking at how to be more loving in general. Each chapter poses a question (such as What is love? How do I find the energy to keep loving? Do I have to love even my enemy?) that Bishop Curry then attempts to answer by telling stories from his own life and sharing ideas from scripture as well as other writers and thinkers who’ve addressed the topic. It makes for good discussions because the questions are ones most people have had to grapple with in one way or the other, and the use of personal stories encourages others to share their stories as well.
You can tell from reading this that Bishop Curry is a good preacher because he combines personal anecdotes, the Bible, and other texts just in the way that my favorite preachers tend to do. He makes clear that these questions, while they seem to have simple answers, are not so easy to live out. He talks about his own efforts to live a life of love when he because the first Black Episcopal bishop of North Carolina, navigated the disputes over gay marriage within the Episcopal church, and stood alongside the water protectors at Standing Rock. He focuses on stories, rather than lectures, because, as he says, “Stories are a way to dig into politics without family members feeling attached and on the defensive—a truth force, not a truth bomb.”
He also doesn’t use love as an excuse to allow serious wrongs to go unchecked. Instead, he urges readers to remember the humanity of everyone involved and speak up in a way that focuses on love and avoids contempt. (And, yes, this is easier said than done.)
For me, though, the most useful part of the book may be the short appendix on developing a rule of life. Like a lot of Christians, I’ve gone through phases with my spiritual disciplines. sometimes maintaining a solid commitment to prayer, study, and so on, and sometimes being more lackadaisical toward one element of my spiritual life or another. As with a lot of disciplines, it’s easy for me to say, when I can’t do it perfectly, that it’s hardly worth doing at all. Bishop Curry encourages readers to be realistic, to know what we can fit into our lives and come up with a few habits that can help us live into one to three of our core values. This rule doesn’t have to just be about spiritual practices—it might include committing to movement every day. Whatever rule we establish should fit on a single sheet of paper. This seems like a good thing to be thinking about for this final stretch of Lent, especially as many of us start thinking about making our first tentative steps out of isolation and into more in-person community.