The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S. His latest book "Love is the Way: Holding Onto Hope in Troubling Times," reveals how love fueled his journey from descendant of slaves to the top position in a predominantly white church. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how love can help overcome adversities.
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The Most Reverend Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
His latest book is "Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times." It's about how love has shaped his life, as a descendant of slaves, who rose to the top position in a predominantly white church.
We spoke earlier. And I began by asking whether he foresaw any of the conflicts of this moment.
Rev. Michael Curry:
The perfect storm of a pandemic or racial reckoning and a polarized American society had — wasn't in my mind.
But I knew that we were divided. I knew that we had some racial history with some past with some difficulty. And I hoped that my story would contribute something positive and constructive to that, again, pre-pandemic, or B.C., as I like to say, before COVID.
I'm struck, Bishop Curry, that you say it's a look at what love is like even — and I'm quoting — "in a world that feels at times closer to a nightmare than the dream."
I mean, you're pointing to the fact that we have been through some really tough times.
We have been through really tough times. And the reality is, that happens. That's just the nature of life. It's good and bad. It's the alchemy of all of it mixed in together.
I have been blessed in the course of my life to have been around people who have not given in to fate, if you will, who have been people of faith, who — people who have struggled against the odds.
And one of the patterns that I have seen in their lives has been that they were people who would not submit to selfishness or hatred or bigotry, but who really did live lives of love and believe in it.
I remember my aunt Lillian, when I was a kid, used to tell us — and she was quoting Booker T. Washington — I don't know if she knew it, but she was. She used to say, never let anybody drag you so low as to hate them.
I grew up with a father who worked in civil rights against the odds. Barack Obama wasn't even on the horizon in 1960. And yet hope goes beyond the moments and the exigencies of the moment, and dares to believe in something — something possible that we can't even see.
It's kind of like George Bernard Shaw. Some men see things as they are and ask why. We dream things that never were and ask, why not? That's hope. That's living by the power of love. And that is living in spite of a nightmare.
There are many people who have loved America, in spite of the fact that America often didn't love them, Native American folk, Black folk, Latinx folk, poor folk, who have not always benefited from this great country. But they have loved America.
You know, my grandmother had my two uncles, their pictures. I can remember their pictures in their Army Air Corps uniforms, having fought in World War II. She lost members of her family. The two of them came home during that war.
My wife's father — grandfather fought in the First World War. She's actually got his discharge papers from World War I. Black folk, they fought for this country and had to fight in order to fight for this country, not necessarily because of what the country was, but because of what the country, sometimes, in spite of its contradictions, stood for.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That's true even when our country failed to live up to that. That's what people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood for, in spite of the contradiction. That's what I mean by hope.
Hope doesn't just accept the way things are. It dares to hope and believe that something can be different, and then works to make that happen.
And, Bishop Curry, how do you make this apply in people's lives, when we live in such a politically divided time, such a time of — when people look at each other across this gaping divide in our country?
That is where love actually comes in.
If we take love out of the sentimental, take it out of the — even the romantic, just for a moment, and think of the kind of love the Scriptures talk about, the kind of love that Moses talked about, that Jesus of Nazareth, that our religious traditions have spoken of.
That kind of love tends to be unselfish love that actually seeks the good and the welfare of others, as well as the self. On the great seal of the United States, above the eagle, are the Latin words e pluribus unum.
Those words come from the writings of Cicero, who said — and I quote — "When a person loves another as much, if not more, as he loves himself, then e pluribus unum, one from many, becomes possible."
That is the motto of this country. It is based on willingness to love and be concerned about others, as well as yourself. That makes one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Love is the key, because love is unselfish sacrificial living. And when we live like that, then Congress can work.
When we live like that, then the economy can work. When we live like that, then there is equal opportunity for all. You see what I'm getting at? Love is not a sentiment. It's a commitment to the common good.
And, Bishop Curry, I'm also thinking, as we start this new year, of people who, frankly, feel isolated. They're at home, whether they have lost a job or can't be with their family right now.
What is the message for them, when they are physically separated from the people they love?
I mean, you're absolutely right. It is hard.
But you know what? We have got to figure out — one of the things I have learned is that love very often must be embodied in community. When my mother died and was sick and in a coma for over a year, there were a community of folk gathered around us. That community was a context in which love was able to lift us up.
I think we have got to figure out ways to be connected to each other. I mean, I have jokingly said, if you're high-tech, Zoom, if you're low-tech, text, if you're no-tech, call, send a note, stay in touch, socially distanced, following what the public health folk tell us, but stay in touch. Don't get disconnected. Don't get cut off.
The psychologists tell us, cutoff is unhealthy. We actually need each other. So, if we can't touch each other physically, we can touch each other on the phone by writing, across the fence, but find a way to stay connected to other people, and to intentionally, if you're able, connect with other people.
Sometimes, I experience love when I love myself, which is to say, when I step beyond Michael and reach out to somebody else, you know, like that song says, reach out and touch somebody's hand.
When I do that, somehow, I begin to experience love myself in a very different way, when I give it away.
Such good advice, and a book that is full of good advice and full of a lot of wonderful, wonderful stories.
It's "Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times."
Bishop Michael Curry, thank you so much. It's very good to see you. And happy new year.
Thank you, Judy. God bless you.