What parts of our faith are worth holding onto? In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joins Pete and Jared to discuss ways to think differently about scripture and the importance of keeping love at the center of your being. Together, they explore the following questions:
- Is it possible to balance our personal convictions with the call to love everyone?
- How does Ubuntu philosophy flip Descartes on his head?
- How can we be our authentic selves while still striving to be the best version of ourselves?
- How does Bishop Curry navigate the violent portrayals of God in the Bible?
- Why is it important to dig deep beneath the surface of Scripture?
- How can the story of Jacob and Jesus help us make sense of strange passages in the Bible?
- What did Martin Luther mean when he compared the Bible to the manger that held Christ?
- What is the point of wrestling with scripture?
- When reconstructing your faith, what parts of our faith should we let go of? What should we hold onto?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Bishop Michael Curry you can share.
- “Part of my religious faith, which is a conviction about us being created in the image and likeness of God, is that that confers infinite value and dignity upon every one of us, and we equally share it, equally bare it, if you will.” @PB_Curry
- “The nice thing about love is it is big. Daring to live in the way of selfless love is the surest way to discover the real self, because it makes room and space for others to be, which includes you.” @PB_Curry
- “I really believe in wrestling with scripture. I just think that’s a lifelong journey. And it’s a good journey done in community with other people. Because by myself, I can’t figure this out.” @PB_Curry
- “Don’t just swim on the surface of the scriptures. Go deep. Look for the deep things of God. Look for the face of Jesus.” @PB_Curry
- “You can have all the religion you want, but if you do not have love at the center of your being, if it’s not guiding you, and giving you a sense of direction, then none of it matters.” @PB_Curry
- “To pretend that you don’t have any convictions or beliefs, that’s probably disingenuous for any of us to say that, but to pretend that what I believe and know is superior to what you do—that’s arrogant. That is, as St. Paul would say, we did not so learn Christ.” @PB_Curry
- “Conviction without humility is dangerous.” @PB_Curry
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
Pete: You’re listening to the Bible for normal people, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Jared: Hello, and welcome back, everyone, to The Bible for Normal People, Season Six!
Jared: But before we get started, we have a new course coming up.
Pete: Oh, yes! Yes. Not just a course. This is going to be an amazing course. It’s called “Reframing God: An Introduction to Open and Relational Theology,” and it’s being taught by Tom Oord, our good buddy, who’s been on the podcast – a couple seasons ago, I forget when. But anyway, topics covered, things like what is open and relational theology? I’m glad you asked. Because Tom’s gonna answer that question. How does it fit into the Bible? Another great question people ask. And what is love? And why does it matter? Because love, Jared, is really, really crucial in this whole idea of an open and relational theology. And I just think, you know, Tom’s amazing to listen to. And I just love listening to him put these pieces together in ways that, if left to myself, I never would have done it.
Jared: Yeah. And so if you care about love, we would encourage you to take the course. But if you don’t, if you don’t care about love at all, if that’s not important to you…
Pete: If you think love matters more…
Jared: Then you should take it.
Pete: Then you should definitely take it.
Jared: But if you hate love?
Jared: Then don’t take it!
Pete: If you hate love. Right, exactly.
Jared: You know, don’t take it.
Pete: How about if you love hate?
Jared: If you love hate? Well, that, you are listening to the wrong podcast. Hopefully.
Jared: Alright, so it’s gonna be four sessions. Tuesday nights – February 15, 22, and then March 1 and 8 from 8 – 9:30 PM Eastern Time. 8 – 9:30 Eastern Time.
Pete: Folks, we can’t stress that enough. Eastern Time.
Jared: And if you want to take it live with us, that usually means you can throw your ring in the…ugh. Your ring in the hat.
Pete: Yeah, other way. The other way works.
Jared: Your hat in the ring for questions you want to ask Tom, and it is pay what you can if you take it live. So, if you sign up now, just go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/opentheology. Again, thebiblefornormalpeople.com/opentheology, you can pay what you can, pay what you want for the first week. It will be more if you wait until it’s a download version. So take advantage of that now.
Pete: Season 6, you know, I mean. We’re back. We evaded the authorities, we paid our taxes and, you know, Jared’s out of jail finally so we’re good. We’re starting our Season 6.
Jared: It’s a whole new life.
Pete: A new life.
Jared: A new lease on life, they say.
Pete: I’ve never done anything for six years in a row except be married and have children.
Jared: I think that’s probably true.
Pete: Yeah, that’s about it.
Jared: That’s probably true for me as well.
Pete: I even gave up on the Yankees once for a while, you know, but this, we’ve done this… this is our sixth season. We’ve done this, yeah, since 2017. It’s the beginning of the sixth season, right?
Jared: I don’t know. That’s good math.
Pete: It is good math.
Jared: You’re quick.
Pete: I know, I think I am too. So…
Jared: And we are starting today with a wonderful episode with the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. He’s a big deal.
Pete: He is a big deal, and we are going to talk about how “Love Makes Room for Us All.” And he has a wonderful book that came out during COVID, I think. You know, late fall or something of 2020 called “Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times.” And we just had a great time talking to this guy. I mean, if I can say “this guy” to the Presiding Bishop, and I will, because he seems like the kind of guy you could say that to.
Jared: We’ll hear from his people if not.
Pete: Yeah, we will.
Pete & Jared: [Laughter]
Pete: We’ll have some Episcopal version of the Spanish Inquisition showing up at our house.
Jared: Yeah, three episodes later, Pete’s mysteriously gone.
Jared: And I have another co-host.
Pete: “Jared, what happened to Pete?”
[In lowered tone]
“I’m not allowed to say.”
Jared: “Pete? Pete who? Uhh…”
Both: [Continued laughter]
Pete: He’s just in the bathroom. He’ll be back in a few days. So yeah, anyway, Yeah, so we had a great time. So let’s, let’s just get to it. Let’s start this.
Bishop Curry: You can have all the religion you want. You can preach all day, you can speak in all the unknown tongues you want. But if you do not have love at the center of your being, if it’s not guiding you, and giving you a sense of direction, that none of it matters. Whatever way the Spirit will lead us, it will always be in the deeper ways of love. An unselfish, sacrificial love that really does seek the good.
Pete: Bishop Curry, welcome to the podcast. Great to have you.
Bishop Curry: Thank you. It’s great to be with you.
Pete: Yeah, this is like, the one slot you have for the next six months, I think. And we’re really very happy that you chose to spend it with us. So we’re really honored and I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun talking about all sorts of things here today.
Bishop Curry: Thank you for having me. Really, thank you.
Pete: Well, maybe we can begin in a way that might sound odd, I think, to some of our listeners, seeing that you’re, you know, a bishop. Maybe give us a sense of your own spiritual journey of how you got to where you are, and what, again, this sounds awfully cheesy, but how you process, briefly, you know, just the Christian faith for yourself. You know, because I think these are questions our listeners are asking too, about themselves.
Bishop Curry: Sure. Now, and again, thank you for having me and thank you for doing this. I was, you know, I grew up in the, I’m 68 now. So, my growing up years were mostly in the, you know, late 50s and then 60s and early 70s. I grew up in sort of a classic African American community, where religion and the Christian religion, to be even more specific, was a given.
And it was just, it was as much part of the cultural waters as it was a decision. You know what I mean? It was very much, it was just part of life. Everybody went to a church, or at least lied about it, you know what I mean, in those days.
Bishop Curry: And there probably was more lying than we know, but anyway. So, there was, it was that firm in that environment, to be sure. So, the religious faith wasn’t alien in that context. But I grew up in a home, my father was an ordained minister, an Episcopal minister, and it was actually my mother who brought him to the Episcopal Church, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. But I grew up where faith really did matter in our home and it mattered in our wider extended family and on certainly on my father’s side was the largest family. You know, I mean, the majority of folk are Baptists, then there’s a smaller group of Pentecostal Holiness and then an even smaller group of Episcopalians. But, you know, that’s our, that was our family. And we did kind of used to joke that, depending on who died and what church they went to, we would know how long it would be before we actually got to eat the repass meal after the funeral. If it was for the Pentecostal side, you knew you were gonna be out a long time before you got to eat. And the Baptist was not quite as long, a little bit shorter; and Episcopalians, you know, you might actually get brunch.
Bishop Curry: And that was sort of a standard joke, but it was funny because I grew up with folk who debated the Bible. I mean, that would be at family reunions and picnics you’d hear debates about the Bible as well as baseball and football and all that kind of stuff, and politics and whatever, but the Bible was woven into it.
So, I grew up in that kind of context, I have to say, looking back, I grew up with a father who was very much involved in civil rights work, as well as being a parish pastor. And so, I saw multiple dimensions of Christian faith. I grew up assuming that the teachings of Jesus actually had something to do with not only how we live our lives as individuals, but how we live our lives together as a human society, reflecting what we hope reflects God’s beloved community, something of God’s kingdom.
And so, you know, growing up, I remember Daddy saying, you know, “Lord didn’t put anybody on this earth to be under anybody’s foot.” You know, the Lord made us, created us all in his image, which means we are all equally, nobody has any more of the image than anybody else. You know, I grew up with that, that kind of thing. You know, they used to quote the thing in Acts. You know, “the Lord God made of one blood all the peoples of the earth for the dwell upon the face of the earth.” It was from the old King James version of it, the newer versions are not quite as poetic, but the same message.
Anyway, grew up with this notion of human equality and human dignity, and a commitment to work for that for all people. Not just for black folk, but for all people. That was a religious commitment that grew out of our hearing and understanding of Scripture, of the holy scriptures, of the teachings of this faith, and how Jesus lived and what He taught. And so I grew up with all that.
Now, that doesn’t mean Michael Curry really fully claimed that as his own, if you will. That took some years. But I eventually got there, and eventually came to realize that I actually do believe this faith, that I believe it’s the right, it gives me the guidance that I need to live a life of some sense of integrity, and it actually makes a social difference in the world, at large in our society, as well as in our individual lives. And so I, you know, one thing led to another, and eventually, I went off to seminary and was ordained and that was sort of the journey. But it took, Michael Curry had to come to the conviction, that no, this Jesus has something to say.
I thought I was gonna go to law school in college, at least early on. Because I had always intended to do something that was of some social contribution. That was a given. And I was thinking I’d probably enter government service or something like that. I remember helping on the campaign for Robert Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy.
Bishop Curry: This is back in the late 60s. And so, you know, that was part of my formative years. And while I was in college, I read deeply and actually got to read and study deeply the actual writings of Dr. King, not just the sermons or speeches and sermons, or the popular ones, but more deeply, including his doctoral dissertation and a number of writings and his correspondence. And went to Boston, went up to Boston University and spent a week and just read many of his papers and stuff and did some work around that.
And that’s when I started to make the real connection, that there is something about this Christian faith, there is something about this Jesus, who makes a difference, who can make a difference in my life and can make a difference in the life of this world, how we learn to live together as brothers and sisters, as the children of God all created equal in the image of God.
Jared: Wow, that’s quite a story and in terms of just this socially conscious faith that was kind of interwoven throughout your upbringing. But I want to go ahead and ask the question I really wanted to ask when we had the chance to talk to you because you have this book Love is the Way. And you really are a leader in a denomination within the Episcopal denomination within Christianity, how do you balance this, you know, you are, clearly have conviction about Episcopalian, you know, flavor of Christianity, and yet you have this call to love everyone. And I think we can all relate to this tension between having convictions, and yet a call to love. And I think there’s a lot of wrestling with how do we do both of those things?
Bishop Curry: Yeah.
Jared: How can I stand up for what I believe while also kind of sit down and wash the feet of others, if you will. How do we balance that? Can you talk to that a little bit?
Bishop Curry: I love the image you just gave. How do we stand up and sit down and wash the feet of others? We’ve got to do both at the same time, which is what Jesus did. If you look at Jesus, I’m picking up on your image of Jesus at the Last Supper in John’s gospel, and it’s in John 13, where Jesus, you know, put the towel on and he probably gets on his knees and washes his disciples feet. And yet, at the same time, he teaches them. He’s teaching them by washing their feet, but he also teaches them, he says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”
And you get all of these teachings in John 13 – 17, which sort of are like Jesus giving his disciples, this is what I need you to know before I’m taken away from you by the powers of the world. Because I’m going to be taken away, I know what’s coming. And this is what you need to know. So you see Jesus actually teaching authoritatively and yet doing so in the context of profound humility.
One of the things I talk about in the book was a particular experience where I had to learn to both stand and kneel at the same time, to have some convictions and not to be disingenuous about those, but also to realize that others have convictions that may be equally compelling to them and they are children of God, just like I am. And so I need to both stand for what I believe, and yet kneel before them and honor the image of God that dwells in them and listen and learn from them.
And so I mean, I realized that sometimes you got to learn how to stand and kneel at the same time. I just believe that that’s true for all of us, that part of my religious faith, which is a conviction about us being created, Imago Dei, in the image and likeness of God, is that that confers a value and dignity upon every one of us, infinite value and dignity, and we equally share it, equally bare it, if you will. Well, if that’s true, then one of the convictions that I hold, is I have to honor you and make space for you. Just as I make space for myself. You see what I’m saying? So, while it seems like it’s contradictory, it’s actually not. The same God who tells me you shall love your neighbor, as yourself is the same one who says, “Stand up for truth, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice.” You see what I’m saying?
So you’ve got to do both, if you will, in order to be able to live with some semblance of integrity. To pretend that you don’t have any convictions or beliefs or something like that, that’s probably disingenuous for any of us to say that, but to pretend that what I believe and know is superior to what you do—that’s arrogant. That is, as St. Paul would say, we did not so learn Christ.
Jared: I was just gonna have a follow up there, because I think one of the things, maybe you can take this line of thought a little further around.
It sounds like one of the prerequisites for being able to do both is that one of your convictions is that we love our enemies, that we love our neighbor as ourselves, that we honor and make space for everyone without one of those or maybe all three of those being core convictions. Sometimes our convictions can get maybe out of hand a little bit.
Bishop Curry: Oh, yes. If there is conviction without humility, it’s dangerous.
Bishop Curry: Conviction without humility is dangerous.
Pete: Yeah, I think, well, let me ask something here. Again, I’m channeling a lot of things from my own experience and the experience of other people that I’ve known. You know, conviction without humility is dangerous. Absolutely agree. And that, on the personal level, let’s say on the bureaucratic structural level, being a person of authority over, you know, really the Episcopal communion. There are…talk about a topic that I hate talking about, which is drawing lines. How do those things work together to conviction with humility, but also making space for everyone? This is not a trick question. This is a conundrum because I struggle with this myself. And, you know, what does it mean to be Christian? Period. You know, where do you draw the lines in terms of what you believe or not? And how can we love people even if we might think, yeah, you’re sort of outside of this realm here. Right?
Bishop Curry: Let me speak as an individual and then maybe as an individual who happens to be a religious leader in some sense, because I think that one translates to the other.
Pete: Okay, yeah.
Bishop Curry: As an individual, we’ve all got to realize that, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought the out of the land of Egypt, thou shalt have no other gods but me.” That’s how the 10 Commandments begin. Only God is God. Only God is all wise, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. Only God is God, I’m not. And it’s quite liberating to realize that.
Isn’t it though, I agree. Yeah.
Michael: It’s helpful to have a reminder of that.
And so, for me to, if you will, step out of my lane, which is a wonderful human lane with gifts and graces that are attendant to it, but it’s not being God. I’m made in God’s image, but I’m not God. To learn to live in my lane, crowned a little bit lower than the angels, as the Psalmist says, but crowned by God. There’s a liberation in that so that I don’t have to pretend to dominate anyone else. I can simply be the Michael that God created me to be, and be that with as much authenticity as I can discover, or muster. And when I do that, then I don’t have to dominate anyone. I stand as who I am, and stand in relationship to others.
Desmond Tutu made popular a traditional teaching from Southern Africa called Ubuntu, which kind of flipped Descartes on his head. Nothing against poor Descartes.
Pete: [Light laughter]
Bishop Curry: But remember, Descartes is I think, therefore I am. Well, Ubuntu says, I am, because we are.
Bishop Curry: That the notion of individual solitary existence is a fiction. We are all the result of networks of relationships and community and social realities. And when we intentionally seek to live that way, that creates a different way of being. It allows me in one sense to have a role of leadership, but a role of leadership that I hope is more a servant leadership, and not one of domination, and subjection, or subjugating anyone else. Which is consistent with what Jesus taught, you know, when he said, “The greatest must be the least of all,” when he talks about, “Whoever would be a leader must be a servant of all.” Jesus was so consistent about that. I really think he’s given us a model of leadership that is servant leadership, that is not leadership based on subjugation and domination and coercion and manipulation. But leadership that is based on seeking the greatest good, the highest degree of compassion and justice, the greatest reflection of love that is possible in human relationships, and even in human organizations.
Now, I say, you take that, and I gotta tell you, I have to keep going back to Jesus and the Gospels every day, to keep reminding me of this…because I forget it. And there’s, you know what I mean?
Bishop Curry: There’s a part of Michael Curry that can well up. Put me in the wrong context and I want to respond by dominating. I want to respond, you know what I mean?
That there’s, there’s a side of me like everybody else, that if you hurt me, my first instinct is to hurt you back and to figure out how I can do that.
Pete: You know, we actually did a background check on you, and that’s very true.
Bishop Curry: [Laughter]
Pete: You’re a pretty vindictive person.
Bishop Curry: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Bishop Curry: I’m a really rotten guy, I’ll tell ya.
Bishop Curry: I know. It’s just, it’s amazing.
Pete: [Continued laughter]
Bishop Curry: We human beings, we’re human! You know, that’s okay!
That’s what we are and yet I really believe that part of what Jesus Christ means to me and has meant in my life, when I listen, is that there is another way. That just fight or flight is not the only way. There is another way. That’s why Jesus says follow me.
Every day I try to listen, to read, even if it’s just one verse, aside from whatever other devotions I’m doing, something in the Gospels where I’m listening to Jesus, listening to him, because I need him to keep calling me. Because there are times when I don’t want to follow. I want to follow, I don’t want to follow him. I want to follow Michael. I want to get revenge. I want to or whatever it is, you know. And so, I got to keep going back to that call and I think we all do! I mean, when I was in the parish I used to say, that’s why he’s Lord and none of us are.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Can you speak though to, you said some things that might be confusing. Some nuance here, because you talked about authenticity and being the best Michael that you can be, and yet also being called to something else. So there is this tension within us. Where we, to be authentic means I could kind of follow my, my baser motives.
Bishop Curry: Yeah.
Jared: And that’s being authentic. That’s being true to who I am, because I am all those things. I also have a vindictive side. And yet, maybe there’s… Can you maybe speak to that, because I think sometimes we wrestle with this call to being authentic, which I think is really true and powerful. And we see that, you know, in John, chapter four, Jesus is in discussions, and yet, it sort of gets mixed up with, well, I want to be who I truly am, but there are also things about me that I really want to change, because I’m not the best version of me yet.
Michael: Sure. Oh, that’s a great question. Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t, I can’t remember if I said it precisely this way. I hope I did. But if I didn’t, let me correct quickly. To be authentically the Michael that God created me to be.
Jared: Mmm, okay. Yeah.
Bishop Curry: That’s, see what I’m saying? And that is, and that’s where to actually live into the image of God that dwells in me. And I will discover the real Michael, the true Michael, the authentic Michael. I just believe that’s the real one.
Where I experienced when I was in college, and you know, I mean, I never strayed, I can’t say that I had a dramatic reconversion story or anything like that. And, you know, I didn’t stray away dramatically. But you know, I went off to school and did what kids do in school, and that kind of stuff. And a friend of mine, and this is in the early 70s. A friend of mine OD’d, didn’t die, but did overdose on drugs, partying, and all that kind of stuff. And I remember, you know, we got him to the emergency room, and all that kind of stuff. And he was okay, eventually, he was okay.
But I remember going through that experience, and later in the night laid down. And it did actually happen this way, I remember, it was my grandmother, who was a profound spiritual influence on me, she popped up in my dream. And I don’t know if she said it in the dream, or I concluded it when I woke up, and I can’t remember, I can’t discern which one it was. Except that I remember thinking, we didn’t raise you to be like this.
Bishop Curry: That that was a voice, if you will, calling me to my best self. Not my base self. You see what I’m saying? And, you know, I hadn’t gone too far, but I’d gone far enough. And, and we didn’t raise you to be this way.
Now, I remember hearing that as a kid. That was a mantra, you know what I mean? It was, no, again, it was a means of parental control, I know. But also, there was some wisdom embedded in it. We’re raising you to be your best self, the best self that you can possibly be. You know, and they didn’t put it in theological terms, or they weren’t using religious language. But when I think about what they were really getting at, and that’s what came back to me that night, which was part of my claiming Christian faith for myself. It was part of the journey. That was a call, to be the Michael that God created Michael to be. Every one of us has a call to be the person that God created us to be.
Jared: Maybe, what I’m hearing you say, I’ll kind of translate it into how I think about this, is that the call is to love, but the shape of that love is unique.
Bishop Curry: Yes.
Jared: In other words, the that of love is sort of this objective Christian truth. But the how of love is subjective, is unique to how we’re built and our environment and our personality and our DNA. And so you can have this, that’s where the tension lies is the wisdom is navigating between the that of love that we’re all called to, and our unique expression of that.
Bishop Curry: That’s wonderful, yes! Preach brother.
Pete and Jared: [Light laughter]
Bishop Curry: Yeah, that’s it. Yeah. Well, yeah, no, I think you’re right. Because the nice thing about love is it is big. Daring to live, which I don’t pretend to do all the time, but daring to live in the way of selfless love is the surest way to discover the real self, because it makes room and space for others to be, which includes you.
And a good example, I just did a wedding a couple of weeks ago of my niece. And she married a very nice guy. And I was thinking about it. I didn’t actually, I may have said it in the wedding homily. I can’t remember if I did or not, but when you think about 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul’s talking about love and all of that kind of stuff, you know, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” you know, and it’s read it weddings a lot and that kind of thing.
One of the things that I’m aware of, and I know I’m talking to biblical scholars, but one of the things it took me a while to realize dramatically is Paul didn’t write that thinking about a wedding.
Pete: [Light laughter]
Bishop Curry: He wrote it to a church that was destroying itself by factions and divisions that were ego-centered, that were centered on self-centeredness. I belong to Paul, I belong to Cephas, I belong to Apollo. You know, I love that thing at the beginning of the letter where he says, “It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people…”
Pete & Jared: [Laughter]
Bishop Curry: I just love that!
Pete: One faction told me that there are factions here.
Bishop Curry: Yeah. I just said, wow, this is incredible.
Pete: Oh Paul. Paul, Paul, Paul.
Bishop Curry: And I can’t wait to meet Chloe in heaven because there’s a Chloe in every church, there’s a Chloe in every group, there is a Chloe who knows everybody’s business.
Jared: Yeah, I feel I feel bad for the Chloe. It reminds me of my kids when one of my kids come and tell on the other ones, and then they get in trouble just the same.
Oh, yeah, they do. It’s true.
So, Paul saw this community tearing itself apart by these profound divisions that have their origin on this, this self-centered, sometimes righteousness that sees me as the center of the universe and you and everybody else who’s not part of my world as on the periphery. That is a formula. Dr. King called it the reverse Copernican Revolution—instead of the sun being the center of the universe—I am. You know? And that that is the most destructive, that is the prideful hubris that ancient Christian writers used to talk about as the root of all sin, and it will destroy families, it will destroy communities, God help us, it will destroy nations, and that self-centeredness, that unenlightened self-centeredness, left untethered, could destroy part of God’s very creation, this earth where we live by human selfishness that will not care and do what we need to care for this creation.
So Paul sees that going on and he says, “Uh uh, gang. Y’all gotta listen to me. There is a way out of this. Jesus taught us a way out of this.” Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, you can have all the religion you want, you can preach all day you can speak in all the unknown tongue you want. But if you do not have love at the center of your being, if it is not at the center of gravity in your life, that if it’s not guiding you and giving you a sense of direction, then none of it matters. It doesn’t matter how holy and sanctimonious it sounds, it doesn’t. It’s like Duke Ellington used to sing in that song, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
Bishop Curry: You know, that’s the reality. And that’s where Paul sees love as the selfless way that leads to the discovery of the true self. Not via the selfish, but via the selfless way. Jesus said it. He actually told us that, “Whoever would save his life will lose it. Whoever would lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will find it, for what does it profit someone to gain the whole world and lose,” I like the old version says, “and lose your soul.” What good does it do?
Pete: Speaking of love, there are parts of the Bible that don’t sound very loving. And how, because this is a question that comes up all the time. Like, you know, people tell me to read my Bible and I’m reading it and you know, you’ll grow, you’ll get to know God and by chapter six, everybody dies.
Bishop Curry: Yeah.
Pete: Because God’s had it. God’s patience has run out by chapter six of the book of Genesis. So how do you sort of navigate the portrayals of God that seem vindictive retributive, violent? You know, whether it’s violence that he allows or violence that God causes or things like that? How do you process that or maybe help other people to process those passages?
Bishop Curry: Hmm. You know, I don’t mean this to sound glib at all, but I do it using the model of Jacob and Jesus.
Bishop Curry: You remember Jacob from Genesis?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Bishop Curry: You remember, he wrestles with the angel at night. He falls asleep. He’s done wrong to his family. As I say, he duped his daddy.
Pete: [Light laughter]
Bishop Curry: Stole from his brother, did it at the behest of his mother. This is all, I said, and so let’s keep, be serious about families, even in the Bible, families or families. And I mean, he has done some dirt, right? And he’s wrestling, his conscience, it’s biting him back. And he’s wrestling. And he wrestles with the angel all night long. Remember, and then the angel changed his name to Israel in the morning, I mean, after the wrestling. But he wrestles and won’t let the angel go until he gets his blessing. You got to get blessed.
I believe that you got to wrestle with scripture. Wrestle with it, to find what’s the blessing? What’s the blessing for me? What’s the message? What’s the word through the words? That helps me as the, as the Psalmist said, “Set me upon a rock that is higher than I,” that that that lifts me up to higher and nobler living, that makes me more just and wise and kind and good and compassionate. I mean, what is the message, even in passages that are, you know, can be quite strange. When you know, the passage says, “And the Lord said go kill everybody in the city of Ai.” You know what I mean, go, just get what you say. “But did the Lord really say that?” Well…remember…the Bible, I like the way Martin Luther said it, the Bible is like the manger that held the infant Jesus, the baby Jesus in the birth stories. The wise men came to worship the baby, not the manger.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Bishop Curry: So that leads me from Jacob, wrestle with scriptures. I really believe in wrestling with it. I just think that’s a lifelong journey and it’s a good journey done in community with other people. Because by myself, I can’t figure this out. I mean, together, we have a better chance of discerning the spirit, wherever two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst of them. So you got that, you gotta wrestle with it. That’s what I mean by the Jacob thing, I could go on with that, but wrestle with it with them, and find the blessing. What’s the message that turns my life into a blessing in this world instead of a curse? Look for that.
But the second thing is Jesus. And that’s where again, picking up on Luther’s saying, the wise men came not to worship the manger, not to worship the Bible, but to hear and respond and obey the Word that is conveyed through the words. And you know, if you look in the New Testament, you have all these passages that you know, 1 John that speaks of the coming of Jesus into the world. “And the Word became flesh,” that in Jesus, we see and hear and experience and meet the eternal word of God that becomes human flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. That, you know, Colossians says that, “In him, the invisible God has become visible.” Hebrews at the very beginning, I love the in the King James, it says, “In many and diverse ways, God spoke of old by the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son.” That in Jesus we have, I don’t, I can’t remember who the theologian was who said it, but in Jesus, we’ve got the human face of God. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. You want to know what his heart is like? Look at Jesus. That Jesus really is, we really are seeing what God looks like—God’s teachings, God’s hopes and dreams for us, for human life, for His creation.
And so Jesus, if you will, for me becomes the standard and the norm, by which I discern what sounds like it is the word of God. And not just the words of human beings who told the stories and the poetry, and remember the histories and all that kind of stuff. Those were human words done by human beings who were inspired, but they were human. It’s just like a sermon on a Sunday morning. There are parts of that sermon that’s Michael Curry and that ain’t gonna save you.
Pete: [Light laughter]
Bishop Curry: But hopefully, through those, that very human fragile thing, that something beyond Michael Curry speaks.
Bishop Curry: And we pray that that is the word of the Lord. That word, the norm for me of what that word looks like, is Jesus. The Jesus, especially that we find in the Gospels. And I used to tell, you know, when I was a parish pastor and we were doing Bible studies, I used to say to folk all the time. I said, look, if I was Jewish, I would have a different way of handling various passages in scripture. But I’m a Christian, so I come at it from a Jesus perspective. And for me, in many respects, Jesus is my rabbi. He’s my guide and my teacher for understanding what, in very human words, may look like and actually be a Word from on High, the Word of God.
Pete: Well, one thing that you said, to me, summarizes a lot of this is wrestling with scripture in order to discern the Spirit. Yes, which is different from, you know, Jared, what we have, you know, heard for much of our lives, you wrestle with scripture to discern what Scripture is saying.
Bishop Curry: No…
Pete: And those two things. I know this is hard for some people to hear, but those two things are not the same thing.
Bishop Curry: No.
Pete: Right? So, you wrestle with scripture, and we have a hermeneutical theological center, which is not simply the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. It’s the gospel, it’s Jesus. Which itself is a little bit complicated, because you got four gospels.
Bishop Curry: Sure.
Pete: And you got Paul, and they’re not always talking about the same thing. But that’s, that’s part of the wrestling too, is wrestling with how Jesus functions as the norming norm, if that’s a good way of looking at that. What gives us the impetus to be innovative, to be creative, to listen to our instincts, sometimes about how to discern the spirit in some of those more difficult passages that don’t seem to, on the surface, they don’t conform at all with some of the other parts of it. So, we have a Bible within a Bible.
Bishop Curry: Yes. Yeah, we do! There’s a word in the words, you know, a Bible within the Bible. It’s almost as though you know, in the book of Revelation, remembering the first three, first couple of chapters, the letters to the seven churches, in them, when he gets to the end of each letter, or near the end of each letter, it says “here with the spirit sayeth to the churches,” or to the church, something like that. One way to read the Bible is always to ask here, what is the Spirit saying to the church?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Bishop Curry: You see what I mean, to push beyond. Go deep! I mean, dig deep! I mean, don’t just swim on the surface of the scriptures. Go deep. Dwell in the, look for the deep things of God. Look for the face of Jesus, I’m talking about, look for the face of the word in the words that might well apply to my life, our life.
Pete: So not to put words in your mouth, Bishop Curry, but would you also would you say dig deep and beneath the surface?
Bishop Curry: Yes.
Pete: Which is part of the history of Christian interpretation of the Bible, though. They’re forever digging beneath the surface. And that was, they figured that out like a long, Paul figured that out. You got to dig beneath the surface, you can’t just stay on the surface. But also, maybe digging deep into what’s happening around us.
Bishop Curry: Yes.
Pete: And maybe even what the Spirit is doing there already and trying to bring that deep dive into Scripture and that deep dive into our human context, to bring that into some sort of conversation, some sort of dialogue.
Bishop Curry: I love those stories of the resurrection, where Jesus is, he’s alive. And he appears to some of his followers and they don’t recognize him. Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize him in the garden initially.
The disciples on the Emmaus road, in Luke’s gospel? They’re walking with him on the road. They don’t recognize them until he breaks bread with them, that there’s something about the risen Lord, his reality. I mean, I believe Jesus really rose, was raised from the dead. That’s not the question. The question is, I can’t always see the risen presence, the living presence of God in the world that I’m living right now. But sometimes, if sometimes the scriptures can help me to open my eyes to actually see where the risen Lord actually has already gone before us and already is, and I just didn’t recognize it.
You know, I think it’s in Matthews version of the resurrection story, where the women get to the tomb on Easter morning and it’s empty, and the angel or the angelic being, you know, says, “Why seek you living among the dead? He’s not here, he’s risen?” And then the angel says, “He has gone ahead of you to Galilee, there you will find Him.”
God, Jesus, the Lord—He’s always going ahead of us. He’s gone, he’s out Star Trekked Star Trek! Not just where no man has gone before, he’d gone ahead of that.
Bishop Curry: He is, he is gone, going ahead of us. And there, we’ll find him. Go where the risen Lord actually is and discover him. You know, as you did it to the least of these who are my members of my family, you’ve done it unto me. There he’s gone ahead, he’s gone there. You know, you could go on and on with this.
And that is the amazing discovery, that God is not finished with us yet. That God has more to teach us. Remember that passage in, it was in John’s last supper. And I guess it’s John 15, 16. Probably in chapter 15 and 16, where Jesus at one point says, you know, “There are many more things that I could tell you.” And then he says, “but you can’t handle them now.” What he really said was, y’all can’t handle this right now.
But the Spirit of truth, when the Spirit comes, when the Counselor comes, when the Advocate comes, the Father’s gonna send some somebody to guide you. When the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all truth.
And you say to me, God’s not finished with us yet. God wasn’t finished with those first disciples in that apostolic community, and God’s not finished with us in the 21st century, God’s got more to teach us, and more to show us. But we got to wrestle, and we have to do it together, and we’ve got to wrestle with these Scriptures, and figure out what’s the blessing and look for the face of the risen Lord Jesus. And when we see it, it very well may be Him.
Jared: And that reminds me of even, there’s something even maybe more blasphemous in our modern context that Jesus says in that. It says, “You will do even greater things than I have.”
Bishop Curry: Yeah, that’s right.
Jared: And so I’ve been wrestling with that. What does it mean, to even go beyond some of those things that we see and believe that the Spirit of God is at work, and is going ahead of us and before us? So, kind of in that spirit as we wrap up our time, is there something you would want to leave our listeners with to end, and especially people who really have been convinced that love is the way. That the Christian faith, if it rests on anything that rests on this principle of love that we see through Jesus.
Bishop Curry: Yes.
Jared: But they’re still trying to reorient and reconstruct and figure out what to let go of. Maybe some of the baggage of the religious tradition they grew up with, where maybe love wasn’t the center. And, you know, they’re kind of trying to find this anchor point, what would be some words of wisdom that you might want to leave with listeners?
Bishop Curry: You know, it would be true with anything, any experience of our past—there was good, and there was bad. And that’s true with anything. I mean, that is true with anything. Anything human, anything that humans have to do with, that’s gonna be the case. There’s gonna be some good, there’s gonna be some not so good. And that’s just the way it is.
And it’s sometimes helpful to ask, what was not for me, or at least not for me now, and at this point in my life, that I can let go of? And what was good for me that’s worth holding on to? And that’s not to say anything is all, it’s not to put it down. It’s just to say, what’s worth holding on to? What actually may well reflect things eternal? Things that are not time-bound, and what was something that, maybe it served a purpose at the time, but I can let it go now? Because I’m moving on to Galilee, where the risen Lord is.
You see, to me, the early Christians had to do that. They had to decide, you know, do we continue to worship in the temple?
You know, on the Sabbath, you know, even the early church wrestled with, what’s our worship pattern? Is it do we continue to worship in the temple? Well, once they were past Jerusalem, that became problematic anyway. I mean, out of Jerusalem, that became problematic anyway. And so they had, eventually most evolved toward worshipping on the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection. That eventually became the day of worship, at least for most communities. But they had to make a decision. Is this a movement? Is this Jesus movement just for those of us who are born Jewish or who convert to Judaism, or is it possible that the…
You see what I’m saying? They had to decide what do we retain? What have we learned from our tradition as Jews that we must keep? And what must we translate into a new way? What do we let go? That’s what Paul does. I mean, Paul is the consummate, without Paul, Christianity would have died. I’m convinced.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Bishop Curry: It had to be a Paul or somebody like him. I’m not sure he would have been a fun person to be around, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.
Pete & Jared: [Laughter]
Bishop Curry: But you needed somebody who could actually say, who knew the law and loved the law, if you will, and was able to say, this is something that we must carry with us. Maybe we need to reinterpret it for a new context, but we must carry with us and this is something that we need to let go. Eventually, he said that about the actual act of circumcision. I mean, I jokingly used to say, you know, I don’t think Christianity would have gone very far if Paul hadn’t really made the case that circumcision really must be circumcision of the heart, not necessarily of the foreskin. Because I can’t imagine, you know, in the old days, when Billy Graham would have a crusade and would be inviting folk down, doing the altar call, “Come down, come down.”
Pete and Jared: [Laughter]
Bishop Curry: “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. And in order to do that, you must be circumcised.”
Pete and Jared: [Continued laughter]
Pete: Oh, by the way…
Bishop Curry: By the way, yeah. I don’t think so!
Jared: Instead of people down front to pray for you, they have scalpels.
Bishop Curry: Scapels, yeah.
Pete: And gauze.
Bishop Curry: You think we have a hard time getting men in church now? Look, we’d never get them in church.
Pete and Jared: [Continued laughter]
Bishop Curry: I mean, but you see, what they did was they honored the tradition. You said to me, reinterpreted it. And some things they let go and other things they carried with them. The Spirit will do that with us all the time. And I just believe that this, whatever way the Spirit will lead us, it will always be in the deeper ways of love. An unselfish, sacrificial love that really does seek the good, the welfare, and the well-being of others, as well as the self. And that way of love will lead us closer to living in a reflection of what Jesus in the New Testament called the kingdom and the reign of God, what some in our time have called the beloved community. Whereas the old slaves used to say there’s plenty good room for all God’s children, that love makes room for us all.
Jared: Those are, I think, really powerful words to end on. So thank you so much for jumping on with us, Bishop Curry, and giving us some insight from your wisdom and experience of, as you say, wrestling with these things for many, many years. So, thank you so much.
Bishop Curry: Thank you for this and thank you for having me. What a wonderful, this is a wonderful thing you’re doing.
Pete: Thank you so much.
Jared: All right. Best to you.
Stephanie: That’s it for this episode of the Bible for normal people. Before you go, we want to give a huge shout-out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, you can leave us a review or just tell others about our show. You can also head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormapeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gearhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared and the entire Bible for Normal People team—thanks for listening.
Pete: Do we want to say when they check us out on Twitter? Because by this time, will something be up?
Jared: It’s already all up.
Pete: What’s there?
Jared: I don’t know. Stephanie’s been putting random stuff out there.
Pete: Okay, I didn’t even think about what’s there. So I’m gonna go look at it later. So, okay.
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