To Grow In Love: The Company We Keep

by | Jun 28, 2018

 Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with member of the band U2

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

My husband and I recently went to see the documentary film Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, which I had already seen once and would gladly watch again. In the words of  Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, “It is uplifting when someone who says he is a Christian actually behaves like one.”  

Our beloved Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is experiencing now a similar level of global admiration for his joyful, courageous, compelling Christian witness. Like Pope Francis, he is pointing us all to the love of Jesus, and how the world is changed for the better whenever someone chooses to live a Jesus-centered life.

As summer begins in earnest, I encourage you to spend time with the people who inspire you, and in particular, to draw strength and courage from the witness of inspiring Christians. We would be made of stone not to be sometimes discouraged, given the challenges we face and the pain of our world. It’s easy to become cynical when we see how the Christian message of love is routinely distorted or ignored. But there is a communion of robust saints all around us. They show us that it’s possible to live, here and now, as Jesus would have us live–with joy and compassion, gratitude for all that is good and wholehearted commitment to change those things that break God’s heart and ours. They spur us on, as is written in the Letter to the Hebrews, “toward love and good deeds.”

If you’re looking for inspiring summer reading, I can suggest Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, by Gregory Boyle. Boyle is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. His book will make you laugh, cry and be proud to be a Christian. And he believes in the power of Christian witness:  

In a recent New Yorker profile of American Baptists, the congregation’s leadership resigned itself to the fact that “secular culture” would always be “hostile” to Christianity. I don’t believe this is true. Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel. It sniffs out hypocrisy everywhere and knows when Christians aren’t taking seriously, what Jesus took seriously. It is, by and large, hostile to the right things. It actually longs to embrace the gospel of inclusion and nonviolence, of compassionate love and acceptance. Even atheists cherish such a prospect.

 Bryan Stevenson

Another compelling Christian witness is Bryan Stevenson founder of Equal Justice Initiative, and author of the book, Just Mercy. For years Stevenson has worked to overturn death penalty convictions, especially for juveniles and the mentally ill, More recently, he has focused on work of deep racial reconciliation in this country, which he insists must be rooted in an honest examination of our history.

Given the weight of his work and inevitable discouragement he faces every day, he is often asked how he manages to stay hopeful. Here is a typical reply:  

I really do believe in things I haven’t seen. I actually believe that we can create communities in this country where people are less burdened by our history of racial inequality. I believe it, even though I haven’t seen it, and I think that hope has real power in how you live and how you function. I don’t think we’re allowed, frankly, to get hopeless and beat down, and I think that’s the upside to understanding our history. The more we understand the depth of that suffering, the more we understand the power of people to cope and overcome and survive. . . When you’re surrounded by a community of witnesses, it inspires you to do things you might not otherwise be able to do.

I’m also inspired by the steady faithfulness and quiet joy of many people in our diocese. I hope that you know who you are. You are the ones who offer to help, without complaint; who show up or share your resources when others are in need, who pray then rise from prayer with renewed commitment to follow Jesus.  Thank you. 

Next week our diocesan deputation will be in Austin, Texas, at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. We expect to be inspired by the Presiding Bishop, who will preach several times throughout the week. Those sermons will be live-streamed, and I invite you to watch on both July 5 and 7. He will invite us all to engage the spiritual practices of a Jesus-centered Life. 

I will write more about that next week. In the meantime, take time to seek out those who inspire you. Let their example renew your soul and strengthen your resolve be a person of faith, hope, and love.