On this episode of Unlocking Us
The Most Rev. Michael Curry is Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, and on this episode, we talk about love. Messy, hard, complicated love. I ask him how we can transcend fear in a scarcity-based culture and what we can learn from those who came before us. We also talk about the church, how to develop beloved community and the scrappy, gritty, work of love that is my definition of faith. Plus, Bishop Curry shares his playlist with one song that I really didn’t expect.
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Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times by Bishop Michael Curry
As the descendant of slaves and the son of a civil rights activist, Bishop Michael Curry’s life illustrates massive changes in our times. He brings his message of hope in an inspirational road map for living the way of love. Through the prism of his faith, ancestry, and personal journey, Love Is the Way shows us how America came this far and, more important, how to go a whole lot further.
Production by Cadence13
Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us. Today, we’re talking to Bishop Michael Curry. He is the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. And on this episode, we’re going to talk about love. Messy, hard, complicated love. And I don’t know about you, but I need to be focusing on love and hope right now. This is such a fear-based, scarcity-based culture that we’re in right now, so a little love will go a long way. We’re also going to talk about the church, how to build a beloved community, and the scrappy, gritty work of love that is actually my definition of faith.
BB: There’s great lyrics from a Roberta Flack song, a song that Bishop Curry loves, that’s on his playlist, and these lyrics I think sum up what we’re going to talk about today. She sings, “This is my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.” There’s also another song in Bishop Curry’s playlist that I did not expect. If you already know Bishop Curry, you’ll just love this, and if you’ve never met him or heard him, you’re in for a big treat. I can’t wait.
BB: Alright. So my guest today is Bishop Michael Curry. In the Episcopal Church, we refer to him as the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry. Again, he’s the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He is the first African American to lead the denomination, which is my denomination, actually, and he was previously bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Bishop Curry is recognized as one of the most popular preachers in the English language, and you will know that very shortly, because this episode is like church.
BB: As the descendant of slaves and the son of a civil rights activist, Bishop Michael Curry’s life illustrates massive changes in our times. He’s a noted advocate for human rights and author of several books, including his latest that just came out called Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. Through the prism of his faith, ancestry, and personal journey, Love is the Way shows us how this country came this far, and more importantly, how it can go and needs to go a lot further. He and his wife, Sharon Curry, have two daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth. They live in North Carolina. “Let’s get on to church. We’re late, grab the first pew you can find.” That would be my dad. That’s what he would say to us every Sunday. Actually, what he would say to us every Sunday is, “Get any pew you can find, but make sure you sit on the end because we’re going to leave right after communion.” We were those people.
BB: Okay, Bishop Curry. So before you thank me for having you on the podcast, I want you to hold any potential gratitude to the end because I’m going need you to help me with some stuff during this hour together.
Michael Curry: Okay, we’ll do it together.
BB: Okay, okay. We’ll do it together. So, I finished reading your new book, Love is the Way.
MC: Oh, okay. Thank you. Well, I shouldn’t say thank you. I’ll wait. [chuckle]
BB: Yeah, no. You may have to. I’m struggling, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. And I want love to be the way, but I’m wondering if we’ve been worn down, we are weary. And I’m having a hard time getting to love right now. Am I alone?
MC: No. Good Lord, no. No, we’re worn down. We’re not even worn down, there’s been a lot going on, certainly in American culture and society that’s worn us down. On the one hand, you’ve got the Covid-19 and the isolation and separation. Human beings weren’t made to be separated from each other. We weren’t made for that. We were made to be together.
BB: That’s right.
MC: And even when we’re headaches to each other, we’re still better off together than we are apart. And we’ve been separated, and then whatever anxiety gets added on top of that, parents have kids in-home, some folk are living… Multiple fam, intergenerational… Think about it, this is not normal. We’ve not been living a normal existence for however many months it’s been. And then we’ve been cut off from the things that actually feed us, whether it’s family and extended family, if they’re not actually living with us. Folk are cut off from religious and faith communities, at least in terms of being physically present.
MC: And the online thing is… People are doing that, but that’s not the same as being in the same room and hearing the singing. And while people are slowly back to churches and mosques and synagogues and all that kind of stuff in small groups, singing is something you can’t… Think about it. All the stuff that actually feeds and nurtures us has been taken away and we’ve had to find… It’s like we had to find neural roots to even be in touch with God. And you know God is spirit, and God is… But somehow, God gets mediated through community, too and we’ve been cut off from it.
MC: So I hear you. That’s real. Add that on top of that, not only the pandemic of Covid-19, but the pandemic, as some have said, of 1619, of chattel slavery, and of white supremacy, and all of that stuff. And it’s just constant shootings and killings. Police, the people who… And again, it’s not all cops, I know that. But police-motivated violence that makes human life cheap, and the fact that you have to say Black Lives Matter because they’re not treated as though they do matter, and that’s why it has to be said. And this has been going on forever, and Black folk and Brown folk and Indigenous folk are weary because they’ve been crying in the wilderness like John the Baptist for generations, since I was a kid and before that.
MC: And now, the rest of the country has seen this in isolation from each other. When you add… That’s a heck of a lot of stuff. No wonder we’re all tired and on edge and… You have to remind each other… Remember, we’re all kind of on edge. I’ve been in meetings where I’ve actually had to say, “Hey guys, remember, we really are on edge, all of us, me too, so let’s be gentle with each other as much as we can.” Brené, that’s exhausting.
MC: We’re cut off, not completely, from the very sources that give us life right now. And we’re having to find new roots to them in new ways. And so what you’re feeling is real. There’s also just the exhaustion with our politics, with our divisions, which are deep. Let no one fool you. These divisions are real, and they do stem from past generations and decisions that were made… Have been made about how we were going to be E Pluribus Unum or not. And so, it’s hard to exist, much less really live right now. But it’s not impossible.
BB: But it’s not impossible.
BB: I wrote down something you just said, that God is mediated through community. And you write about that a lot in your book, about the importance of community. And it’s funny, I talk about this publicly a lot, it’s probably… It’s kind of scary when you’re an Episcopalian and you’re talking to the leader of the leader of the leader of our church. But I always say I go to church for three reasons: To sing with strangers; to pass the peace with people I normally would not like or I’d want to punch in the face; and to go to the rail and break bread with people that I need to understand better. Those are the three reasons. I’m sure there should be better theological reasons I go to church. But I never thought about, that’s where I find God, in love.
MC: Yeah, you got it. That’s awesome.
BB: But it’s impossible right now. Okay. So I want to go through the new book. So again, the title is, Love is The Way: Holding onto Hope in Troubling Times. So I want to read a passage to you, from you.
BB: And I want to dig into it with you. “The way of love will show us the right thing to do every single time. It is moral and spiritual-grounding, and a place of rest amidst the chaos that is often part of life. It’s how we stay decent in indecent times. Loving is not always easy, but like with muscles, we get stronger both with repetition and as the burden gets heavier, and it works.”
BB: We get stronger as the burden gets heavier.
BB: Are you sure?
MC: Well, I’m not sure theoretically, but I have seen it experientially. My grandmother is one of my heroes, a heroine. She was a character, but she wasn’t like always a saint, believe me. But I watched her endure a lot of unbearable stuff. I didn’t see her bury young children in childbirth early on, I wasn’t born yet, but I saw her bury her daughter. And then in her mid-70’s, turn around, and as old-folk used to say, “rear two more children.” And she did. And I’ve seen her… I saw her bear unbearable burdens, as the song says. And when I think about, how did she do that?
MC: Some of it’s personality, I’m sure there’s some of that. Some of it’s having lived through enough hard times that you stop and realize… There’s a gospel song that Aretha used to sing, “How I Got Over.” And I don’t know if Grandma actually reflected on how she got over the last time she had a hard burden. But she clearly learned something from having gotten over or gotten through somehow, some hard times previously. And that learning was a building block. Like I said, this is me, projecting back. But I don’t think I’m off base, that in some way, she was learning, how did I get over? I was talking to a rabbi friend of mine who was telling me, he said, “One of the things you have to do when you’re going through a real hard time is stop and say, “Okay, when was the last time I went through a hard time? How did I get through it?”
BB: That’s right.
MC: And by doing that, it’s like it stops you, and you realize, “Wait a minute, I did get through it. It wasn’t pretty, and it may not have been the way I wanted to get through it, and it may not have been… Things may not have been solved the way I wanted to, but I got through, I survived.” It’s like, whose was that song, “I Will Survive, I Will Survive?”
MC: At some point you realize, “Well I did survive, I did make it through.” And you build on that. That’s what I mean by “you actually do get stronger.” That doesn’t mean you don’t get weak and fall back, doesn’t mean… None of us are super people, we are not Übermensch, we are not super women, super men, and wonder women, we aren’t; we’re normal human beings, but we have the capacity to do super and wonderful things beyond what we can imagine. I just think that some of that just comes with building… God, I’m talking to you now. Now, I don’t want to get out of my territory. But building that internal spiritual and emotional muscles for the times when we’re going to need them and won’t have the strength to do it on our own. But I’ve got to tell you, the other thing about Grandma, she loved her some God. Let me tell you. In fact, it was a butt of jokes when I was growing up. I remember my father used to tease her all the time. He said, “You talk about the Lord so much you would think He lived next door.” I mean it was just…
BB: I read that…
MC: Was that in the book? Oh yeah, I think that it is in there. And it’s true. But what I’m beginning… What I’ve realized and I’m beginning to realize is that somehow she built on strength of experience. But somehow she was in a partnership with God, in a partnership with the source of real energy in life.
MC: And then she was in a community. I mean she lived in a different world than we live in, community was right around to the point they were always in your business. She grew up in a world where you really did live in a community, and that wasn’t just the neighborhood or a hood. It was actually a community. So she had three of the sources, community, building on your experiences, and God. Those are the sources of the strength to get over. And I saw that in her. Grandma had a high school education, and that was it.
BB: I’ve seen what you’re talking about. I’ve seen it. I guess when I say, “Are you sure?” I want to believe that as our burdens get heavier, our love gets stronger, and, oh my God, reading about your mom and your grandmother were just like spiritual experiences for me in this book. I can’t wait to talk to you about Dorothy Strayhorn. I just cannot dig into Dorothy Strayhorn, like your mom just is… What a… I don’t know what the good word is for badass, but man, what a fierce woman. Yeah.
MC: Yeah, she really was.
BB: But I want to go back to… People are going to listen to this and they’re going to listen to you explain to us why we’re tired, and I think I have a new understanding just in you saying like we’ve been cut… Not only are we facing trauma after trauma driven by White supremacy. Not only are we facing trauma after trauma driven by Covid; pandemics inside of pandemics, everyone’s hard lives just keep going, right? People are getting diagnosed with cancer and people are dying, and babies are being born, like life is happening in the midst of all this.
BB: I feel like people will listen to love being the answer, and in my most cynical moments I’m one of those people and say, “No, fighting is the answer. No, organizing is the answer.” But you don’t think fighting and organizing and love are mutually exclusive?
MC: No. Oh no. No, not at all. The Civil Rights Movement at its best and strongest was motivated by love. It was a fight for justice and equality that was not a fight to destroy, but a fight to build up. It was a fight to create a new world. So you know Mahatma Gandhi used… And I know this is a debatable proposition, what I’m about to say, but used militaristic language to talk about those who engaged in the work of non-violence, because you are struggling against something, but not against people.
MC: You’re struggling against systems and ways of being and ways of living and organizing a society that are putting some down, and the people who think they’re benefiting from it, they’re being put down at the same time. So you don’t struggle against the people, you struggle against the system, the issue, the whatever it happens to be. You seek to convert the people, you seek to transform, not only oppressed, but oppressor as well, because that’s the only way we’re all going to get free. But he used language of fight and struggle to talk about that.
MC: Frederick Douglass, “Those who would seek freedom without agitation and struggle are like those who want crops without plowing up the ground.” I mean, the nature of existence is struggle. You get Jesus on the cross, He didn’t… That wasn’t The Wiz; he didn’t just “ease on down the road.” It was bloody, it was torture. It was horrible. I don’t know how much Jesus… Jesus gave up a whole lot to come here, to come among us. And I don’t know that Jesus was on that cross saying, “Well it’ll be alright by Sunday.” Uh Uh. That brother was dying when he hollered, “My God, My God.” He was, “Help!”, he was crying. And to watch his mama watch him die. It was horrible.
MC: And all the Disciples… God bless Mary Magdalene. See, Mary Magdalene was like my grandma. She was going to stay at that cross no matter what, even if she didn’t understand what was going on. Peter, I identify with Peter and the brothers. Okay, I’m going to stay at a nice, safe distance, because I don’t know what’s going down now. This is some real stuff. And yet, something happened, Pilate did not have the last word. The Empire struck back and lost. Brené. I don’t know how all that works. I just trust and believe that it does.
BB: Is that faith?
BB: Is that what faith is for us?
MC: Yes, yes, you got it. That’s it. Because when Dr. King quoting at 19th… I’ve forgotten the abolitionist’s name who said it first. King made it more pithy so we could remember it, but, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it is bent toward justice.” The only way you can believe that you can actually work for justice and not give up when it gets tough, not give up when there are setbacks, not give up when, “Doggone it, we’ve been through this battle, and here we are fighting it all over again.” Not give up when it’s… I remember the riots of 1965 and 1967 and ’68. They were precipitated by police violence.
BB: And here we are again.
MC: And here we are again. Here we are again. But to not give up because that moral arc, it is long, and I don’t know why. When I see God, I’m going to ask Him why. “Couldn’t You have clipped a little bit of our free will and just done something? How long?” But to believe that in the end, justice will, in the end, as some folks say, love wins.
MC: To believe that and not have proof of it, but just to take the leap is Kierkegaard’s leap, and I’m going to trust it even if I can’t see it. Believe that is… Brené, sometimes that’s enough to keep you going, which is why folk need to go to church and synagogue and mosque, because see, you need to get the energy to keep believing that, because like that old Broadway play, our arms are too short to box with God. We can’t handle this kind of stuff completely, just solely on our own. We need each other, we need God, we need sources of strength and energy and vitality that come from within us. We’ve got something to give, but we need each other to get some of that other energy and strength, and we need the source of life and love itself to infuse and energize us. I remember when I was in seminary, where this would’ve been in the ’70s, and it was, well, the energy crisis happened in the early ’70s, I guess, and…
BB: Yeah, ’70s.
MC: Was it? It was the early ’70s? Somewhere, it was in that period.
BB: I think it was the ’70s, yeah.
MC: Well, there was… Krister Stendahl, who taught New Testament at Harvard Divinity School, later became a Lutheran Bishop in Sweden, and he was a great New Testament… I mean he was like the New Testament. I mean he was the Dalai Lama of New Testament scholars, and he published a little monograph on the Holy Spirit, and I don’t remember anything else in the monograph, except that he said, “The Holy Spirit is the energy of God. To go against the current, to live as healthily as you can and witness to health and vitality and love.” I don’t have enough; Michael doesn’t have enough. I got some, I’m not diminishing myself, I got some, but I ain’t got enough to do it on my own. It takes the energy, the energies of God, what Teilhard de Chardin called, The Energies of Love. And the Bible says God is love. We’re talking about the primal energy of everything that is. That energy, being in partnership with that energy, what Dr. King called cosmic partnership, that is how you begin to get over it. And that’s what my grandma figured out without having to go into one day of a seminary and not reading any theology, but just listen to a preacher talk about the Bible.
BB: And loving God like he lived next door.
MC: Yes, like he lived next door.
BB: So let me ask you something, it’s really interesting when you talk about spirit and the Holy Spirit, because one of the stories that made me laugh so hard in your book, it was so crazy reading your book, to be honest with you, because I fought it. I was resistant when I was reading it. I’m like, “Love is not the answer, meanness is the answer,” and then you would quote one of my favorite people or my favorite lyrics or my favorite book, and I’m like, “Love is the answer.” Your book for me was a thin place.
MC: Oh, wow.
BB: You want to tell people what a thin place is? I don’t know how to describe it, but for me, your book was a thin place, like you on the flight when you saw… Weren’t you on a flight in the book?
MC: Yeah, yeah, oh, yeah. The easiest way to think of a thin place is, it’s those places, those moments, those people, those experiences that don’t happen all the time, but those moments when you get a sense that… There’s an old Gospel song that says, “Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.” Those moments when you sense, “Wait a minute, God just touched me. Wait a minute, something beyond me is just happening here.” Those moments when… I mean as Howard Thurman and folk used to talk about, those moments when time is intersected by eternity, when the human is touched by the divine, when God gets real, and…
BB: When God gets real, yes.
MC: And they may only… It may be just momentary; you know what I mean? I mean Moses on Mount Sinai with the burning bush, who knows how long he was on there? Was it two seconds? Hours? Days? The Bible doesn’t say, because it’s those moments…
BB: Yeah, you’re…
MC: It doesn’t actually say.
BB: And those moments are outside of time a little bit, I think. I don’t know that I was in a constant thin place when I was reading all of the pages, but I was reminded as I was reading… I’m a huge follower of bell hooks.
MC: Oh yeah, oh, yeah.
BB: And she talks about… When she talks about poverty and injustice and White supremacy, she talks about the problem ultimately being lovelessness, and that’s why love is the answer because the problem is lovelessness. And when I was reading your book, I felt so much connection between… I don’t know, I just felt I had a thin-place moment of, “This is true, but love is really damn hard. Love is not easy.”
MC: No, no, it’s not. Anybody that says it is is lying. [chuckle]
BB: Yeah, and doesn’t get it then. If you think love is like Hallmark cards, it’s not… Okay, so we’re talking about the Spirit, we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, [chuckle] I have to laugh because… Okay, so there’s two stories I want you to tell us, if you don’t mind, because they were so… Okay, so they’re so good. So first of all, your dad, your grandfather, your dad’s dad was a Baptist preacher, is that right?
MC: He was a Baptist preacher, oh, yeah, yeah.
BB: Yes, okay. But there was a moment when your mom… And this is in the ’40s, I think, Dorothy Strayhorn, right?
BB: Your mom is at the University of Chicago studying mathematics and introduces your dad to the Episcopal church.
BB: Okay, tell me that story about your dad’s first time in the Episcopal… In the Anglican communion, as it were.
MC: It really was. And it was… I don’t know the year, because she had… She probably had graduated from Chicago and was teaching math at Wilberforce University, an HBCU in Xenia, in Ohio, Southern Ohio. And she had become an Episcopalian when she was in Chicago, or soon before that… When she was there, I think. And actually, I’ll say I’m putting all this together after the fact, I never asked them this stuff while they were alive, but anyway, so they met. He was at the seminary because he was studying at the old Payne Divinity School to become a preacher, and he was Baptist. He was already licensed but not yet ordained. And so they started dating. She was teaching at the undergrad school and he was at the seminary. And, I don’t know, at some point he found out that she had become an Episcopalian. And he didn’t know anything about the Episcopal… I mean everybody was Baptist that he knew.
MC: And so he was apparently curious enough to say, “Well, I want to go to church with you.” So there were two things going on. Remember, this is in the late ’40s. This is just after the war. So, basically, you’re in a White church in Southern Ohio, which was really up south at that point. So it was surprising to him, he was in a White church, and I don’t know if there were any other Blacks there or any other people of color, but it couldn’t have been many, if there were. And he had never been in a White church or predominantly White room with White people before. That was interesting.
MC: But then when it came time for communion, Mommy went up to take communion, and he had never seen people take communion drinking out of the same cup, out of the common cup, out of the chalice. Because, again, in the Baptist tradition, in many Protestant Reform traditions, you have the individual cups when Communion Sunday happens. So that’s the only way he had seen communion. So he sees my mother go up, who was very unambiguous, and my mother was even darker than I am, and I’m fairly dark. She was darker than I am. So there was no ambiguity about what ethnic group she was with. She goes up and everybody at the altar rail is White and the priest is giving the bread, but the bread was easy because that was, you know everybody gets their own. But when it came to the cup, he was watching with the cup. He said, “I’m waiting.” He would tell the story when we were kids. We got tired of hearing the story. But he would tell the story, and it did enlarge every time he told it, but…
MC: Any preacher story is going to get… That fish is going to get so big, it’ll be Moby Dick before it’s over. So he tells the story. The priest gets there with the chalice and Mommy drinks from it, and after her, there were White people. And he was waiting to see what happened. And the priest did, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation, whatever they said in those days, and nothing happened. And that’s where he would actually… And that really was the reason he became an Episcopalian. He said, “Any church where Blacks and Whites drink from the same cup knows something about the gospel of Jesus, that I want to be a part of.” And that was a thin moment for him. He never used that language. But that was a thin place. He saw something of the kingdom or the reign of God, the beloved community in that moment.
MC: Now, he later learned that the church didn’t live up to that completely all the time. But it was there, the idea was there, the vision was there, and he lived for that vision even to his dying day, after a stroke and all that kind of stuff, he was still the same character. And, again, when my mother got sick even. This was, I would have been like… Not teenage yet, like nine or 10, somewhere thereabouts, she got sick when we were visiting in New York, and she was in a hospital for, not quite a year, but almost. He would do church on Sunday, and Sunday evening he would take us to a family in the church, and we’d stay there for three days at the Bullocks’ house. He would drive to New York, from Buffalo to New York City was an eight-hour drive on the Thruway. And then he would be with Mommy and Grandma and all of them, and then he would drive back, sometimes Grandma would come with him, and do his church thing from roughly Thursday until Sunday. And then there was a point at which, when he was…
MC: Eventually they were able to bring her to Buffalo so that she was in a nursing home in Buffalo. At that point, it was just basically a feeding tube and that kind of stuff and… But at least she was in Buffalo. So it made it possible. But he ran out… I didn’t know this as a kid. He was running out of money, because once you get back… Once you’re in a nursing home, Blue Cross Blue Shield wasn’t paying anymore. And so there was a bill every week in the nursing home. So he started working a second job. So he had a church and then he was working a… Doing a second job, teaching and doing human relations in the city. And, again, he didn’t talk about… Folks in those days didn’t talk about… And I’m not sure he knew at the time, like the song says, “how I got over… ” But he kept doing the things of faith, I think, even when he… Whether he could feel them or not, the rituals of faith. It’s like they carry you when you can’t carry yourself. And he kept doing that stuff and kept… Family was around, and community was around, and family is a pain in the neck. But that’s…
MC: But God love them, can’t do with them, can’t do without them. But they were around and there was a community around. And I saw it again in him. And this went on for not quite two years but almost, this whole thing, for almost two years. And I know it wore part of him down. There’s no question. I could see when I was older.
BB: It had to.
MC: It did. It wore him down, but he kept going. You keep going. And while he didn’t say that it was love of his wife, his children, and ultimately his God, that kept him going. And he was not just existing off fumes, he had to have sources of energy. There’s an old gospel song that says, “somebody prayed for me,” well, somebody prayed for him. There were folks who prayed for him and kept him going. That’s why I say I’ve seen people live off of love, I’ve seen it. It’s not easy, it’s not always pretty. And at the time, you don’t know how you’re going to get through, necessarily, but it can see you through.
BB: Yeah, I’ve seen it.
MC: Like I said, it wasn’t a theoretical… I’m not a theologian, I do theology, I learned from theologians, but I’ve just seen it. Brené, we can make it, not just on our own, we need each other, we need God. But this kind of love has a power that I can only describe because I’ve seen it, I can’t analyze why, I just know.
BB: Yeah, I think that to me, that’s all of the pieces… When I read something that helps me put pieces of my thinking and my experiences together, that makes sense, that’s what I’m grateful for. And I think for your book, I think believing in love and not rainbow love and ponies, but like scrappy, gritty, fighting love, and believing that will get us… To me, that’s my definition of faith. Believing that is what faith is to me. As a social scientist, I can tell you right now, you’re not going to be able to quantify love, but my faith calls me to believe that love is the answer, again, the gritty fighting justice kind of love.
BB: And the other thing that I learned from your book… A couple of things. When your mom got sick… And it’s a very traumatic story because y’all were just hanging out and having fun and an ambulance showed up and took her away and you never saw her again until she was back in Buffalo in that nursing home. But it was for you, what I make from the book, so tell me if I’m wrong, the birth of the understanding of the beloved community, because people showed up all over your life, because your dad was gone going back, and they were just people who… And they didn’t love on you, like, “Oh, these poor kids.” They were like, “Where’s your homework?” And they…
MC: They were troubleshooters, let me tell you.
BB: Yeah, they loved, loved you. And so I’m a big… I don’t know if fan is the right word, follower maybe of Dr. Bernice King and the work she’s doing, from her dad’s work, from Martin Luther King Jr’s work, and the creation of the beloved community. I left the book thinking, my faith in love is actually faith, and I cannot do this alone. And those two things piss me off, just to be honest with you, because I want to do everything alone, and I like to judge people, and I feel hateful right now toward people, really, coming to the end of this national convention, Republican National Convention, thinking about Jacob Blake, and I made a commitment to his mom when I saw her speak that every time I said his name, I would say Jacob Blake, father, brother, son, cousin, uncle. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, that’s going to take a lot of love, how do we…
BB: You quote this movie, it’s really interesting, I’ve never seen the movie, it’s called The Hurricane. It’s the true story of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, one of the greatest boxers of the century. There was a quote from the movie that you share in your book that I want to ask you about. The quote is… In the movie, Carter tells Martin… Just reading that for the attribution, “We must transcend the places that hold us.” I’m going to ask a big question, and it probably doesn’t have an answer. I believe one of the things that holds us right now is White supremacy.
MC: That holds us?
BB: Yes, we’re held by this fear…
MC: Oh, I see what you’re getting at.
BB: Yeah, how do we transcend what holds us? He transcended in his jail cell in this movie, by reading and being… And transcending in the confines, his physical confines, and learning about the world, how do we transcend fear? I think love and fear, they don’t work together well, do they?
MC: Yeah. No, they don’t. It’s real oil and water, yeah.
BB: So how do we transcend fear right now? I know it’s a big question, but it’s like…
MC: You know, Hurricane Carter may have answered… And I hadn’t thought of that. Denzel Washington plays the character in the movie, it’s worth seeing.
BB: I’m going to watch it for sure this weekend.
MC: Yeah, it really… It should be on Netflix or something. He was bitter for a long period of time because he really was innocent, it was one of those unjust incarcerations, but he was really smart, he was really very bright, and he started reading, and he started reading a lot. And he realized as he was reading that the forces that incarcerated him and his incarceration, they were bigger realities, and that if he could tap into those bigger realities, if you will… He didn’t use the God language directly, but if he could transcend, if he could… That there was a freedom that was possible even in the midst of incarceration. There’s an old spiritual, it’s, “Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me, and before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.” That was a spiritual sung by slaves.
MC: “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.” That is a slave declaring emancipation before Abe Lincoln probably had been born. And that’s what Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was talking about. “I transcend my condition, I’m already free, now I just have to make it a physical, tangible reality by getting lawyers to work on it. But you can’t incarcerate my soul, you cannot hold my soul in chains.” See, that spiritual emancipation that precedes the physical… I think is it Walter Brueggemann, it was one of his early books, I’m going way back in time now, talks about the moment of liberation in the Exodus with Moses and all of that stuff, it didn’t happen at the Red Sea, that’s not when the Exodus happened. It didn’t happen in the plagues of Egypt, it didn’t happen when Pharaoh said, “Y’all get out of here,” and the Hebrews slaves got free. It happened when Moses went up Mount Sinai and saw an alternate vision of reality, that Pharaoh’s static vision of the world of slavery, slaves and masters, was not the only reality, was not the only vision. And Moses saw another vision, another, what Brueggemann called an alternate possibility to the static God’s enslavement of Egypt. When that happened, Moses was free, and it was only a matter of time before the Hebrew slaves would be free.
BB: Okay, I’ve got to stop you here. So I’ve got to stop you because I’ve got to ask a question. I believe that this emancipation happened in the heart and in the mind it transcended before the actual work of the policy happened. Do you think we’re in that moment right now? Do you think we’re in a moment where we’re like… I feel like we’re in a point of no-return right now. We have seen what’s possible, we have seen what’s happening, especially with the police. Now we’ve got to put the systems of accountability in place. But what is the pain and the work between the moment of seeing Brueggemann’s alternative possibility and the actual happening, the actual changes that affect our everyday life? Like what kind of faith and love is it going to take to get us between what’s possible and what the just shit work that has to be done to get there?
MC: Well, go back to the Bible. What happens in the story? Moses has this vision of alternate reality, and what does God say to him? “Now don’t just sit here and enjoy the vision.” He says, “Now, I want you to go back to Egypt and tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.” Now, what’s going on there is, first of all you got Moses who is a conflicted person, because remember he was born a Hebrew, but he grew up a Prince of Egypt. Remember he got adopted by one of the daughters of Pharaoh? So here he’s got what WEB Du Bois called that double consciousness?”
MC: He’s Black and American, he’s Hebrew and Egyptian. And he was actually… The reason he was on Mount Sinai was because he was running away from that. He was actually running away from his identity. God was sending him back into his very… The core of his identity to be a Hebrew again, to use the skills that he had learned as an Egyptian Prince. He had learned the military arts; he had learned the political strategies of the Egyptians. He knew how to negotiate with Pharaoh because when that woman princess took him out of the Nile River and raised him as a Prince of Egypt, she taught him all the arts and the skills of the Egyptians, and so he went back and negotiated with Pharaoh. Now, the Bible where… It’s in Biblical language. He goes back and says, “Let my people go.” Well, now, there’s more to it than just that one sentence, but “let my people go.” Here’s the program, we want to be free, we want you to release all the Hebrews dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, we want them to have provisions for their journey.” And you can imagine, there was a whole negotiating package.
MC: Pharaoh says, “No.” He says, “Okay, you say no, I’m going to go back to Montgomery and we going to have a bus boycott.” And then Pharaoh gets religion and says, “Well, maybe I’ll let y’all go now.” And so they relent on the… You see what I mean? Interestingly the plagues of Egypt were… Now, I have to admit they weren’t necessarily a non-violent means of protest, but the point is they were means of protest. They were actions that would push Pharaoh in the direction of eventually setting the Hebrew captives free, and the final plague is the night of the Passover. I mean there are all sorts of plagues, flies come on, frogs, and boils on… All sorts of plagues. That is God negotiating with Pharaoh. And so Moses had a program that would lead to the freedom of the folk. He went to Pharaoh, offered the program and said, “If you do this we’ll leave, we’ll be out of your hair.” Pharaoh said, “No.” He said, “Well, okay, then we’re going to… ”
MC: When the negotiations broke down… This is standard non-violent negotiating. When the negotiations break down, you have to do something that will precipitate a crisis that will begin to move the structure, the system to move toward the justice that you want in whatever it is that you’re trying to get. So Moses is negotiating… This is all in the Bible, he’s negotiating with Pharaoh back and forth, Pharaoh is resisting, another plague comes. Pharaoh resists, another plague comes. Pharaoh resists, another plague comes. Let me tell you what’s going on, the NBA may stop in its tracks, that’s negotiating with Pharaoh. If Major League Baseball stops in its tracks, that’s negotiating with Pharaoh. If the NFL which I love, I love sports, but I’m sorry that’s negotiating with Pharaoh. And you may see a ripple effect, who knows where this is going to… How this is going to unfold. But it’s not going to stop. And eventually, the night of the Passover is going to happen, it’s going to happen when all these forces, social forces come together. And Pharaoh… Again, it’s interesting, the Bible doesn’t name the pharaoh. We don’t know whether… Was it Ramesses Pharaoh, which pharaoh… It doesn’t name him.
BB: What does that mean, why?
MC: Because pharaoh is the structure, the system, power of the system, and you can put any name in that system and they’re going to function like a pharaoh. And that’s why it wasn’t personal. I mean, that’s the amazing thing, it wasn’t about the individual pharaoh, he wasn’t the problem… I mean, he was the problem, but he wasn’t the problem, it was the system and the structure that he represented symbolized and had control over, and it controlled him, and it wasn’t until the night of the Passover that finally it was over, and the next morning, the Hebrew slaves were set free. And that’s how social change happens, it doesn’t…
MC: There’s got to be pressure of some sort. It doesn’t… I had a… This was years ago, and I was like… When I was a young bishop, this was 20 years ago, and I had a woman named Suzie Miller, who’s now died and gone on to glory, but she was a wonderful coach and really spiritual director as well. And she used to say, and it was true… Coaches and people like that used to say this, I don’t know if they still do or not. But she said, “Nothing changes until the pain of remaining the same is perceived as greater than the pain of change.”
BB: Oh God, that’s hard.
MC: That’s hard. I know, it’s like, “Oh gosh, can’t we find an easier way?” Well, sometimes there is an easier way, but systems don’t change until remaining the same as… The reason the Montgomery Bus Boycott work was not just because of the moral values that the Montgomery Improvement Association was articulating. That was part of it, that was a part of it, but it was because business interests saw business getting hurt, and the business interest got to the political interest and said, “We’re going to change this.”
MC: So it was a combination of moral courage with tangible reality that, “Look, this is bad for business.”
BB: That’s why I think these sports boycotts really matter right now.
MC: Exactly, exactly.
BB: God, do you think… I’m just having this weird… Like I am… I’m like y’all, I can’t host this podcast right now because I’m at church. I am listening, I’m at church right now.
MC: We’re having church, we’re having church.
BB: I’m in church with Bishop Curry, y’all. Y’all are on your own with this podcast, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m fixing to start singing, but… Okay, I think about Moses, and I think about… He’s got the… What do we call that thing again, where you can see what’s possible? You had a term for it. Is it Brueggerman? The alternative reality?
MC: [0:47:18] Brueggerman, the alternate possibility. Yeah.
BB: Alternate possibility, okay, yeah. And I’ve seen that term invoked recently while we’re talking about… When we were talking about defunding the police, like people just don’t have the alternative possibility right now, the mind to do it. But when you’re telling that story, I’ve goosebumps, because I’m thinking, “Okay, we’ve got our own version of plagues right now, like the coronavirus, the police brutality is as a public health pandemic, it is like it is not a… We have our own… The virus doesn’t discriminate, but Americans do, and you can tell by who’s dying and who’s being ravaged, so it is the alternative possibility, the spiritual imagination of something different, but then a program in place of accountability and also to your point about the Montgomery businesses, talking to people where they live, which is money sometimes, right?
MC: Yeah, yeah, they get that. Then everybody… As they say, “Everybody comes to Jesus. Everybody gets religion then.” Oh, yeah.
BB: I’ve got to ask this question because I keep thinking about your grandmother about when she asked… I don’t know if she asked your dad or your mom, but she asked someone like, “How do y’all know when the Holy Spirit gets to church, because everybody’s just real quiet and shuffling around and sitting down and standing up?” She’s like, “Nobody’s singing and jumping up with… ”
MC: That’s right.
BB: That was so funny because Episcopalians are so reserved.
MC: I know, I know. We used to be God’s frozen, we’re thawing, but yeah, it’s… Well, and in those days, I’ve got to tell you, this was before… This would’ve been like 1965, ’66, somewhere thereabout, and the Episcopal church began to thaw a little bit when they experimented with… They were called trial liturgies at the time, that included a new innovation that was very much resisted, called The Peace.
MC: Because up until that time, there was no point in the service where people interacted with people. Maybe the offering, I guess, but there was no interaction with people. You didn’t talk in church, you just said the prayers and that kind of stuff, sang the hymns and you stood up, you sat down and you kneeled, and that was… If there was any talking, it was when you got out of church. Even when people came in, there was no talking, the churches were quiet, and people said their prayers and nobody… So there was no… That’s just the way it was. So grandma was actually describing the way the church acted. This was before again, The Peace broke that down, where people started talking to each other and shaking each other’s hands and greeting each other at The Peace. But before that, she was right. So she used to say, Y’all look like zombies walking around.
MC: And she and Daddy would go back and forth. Oh they would… They used to banter back… That was a standard banter.
BB: It’s really funny because I took… When I did a talk on Martin Luther King Day last year at Ebenezer Baptist, Bernice King invited me to go and give a talk. And I took my son, who’s 15 now, and he had never been to an all-Black church. There was some diversity in there, but he had never been into a Baptist church before, and there was like… There were people with tambourines and sequined suits and people would jump up when the Holy Spirit got them. I had experienced that many times. But when we got into the cab to go to the Atlanta airport, my son was like, “Look, if you really want me to go to church and get confirmed, we need to move to this church, that was good, I understood.” And I was like… And so, I could see your grandmother thinking, I wonder sometimes just between you and me and the people listening, let me just say what I’m thinking, and then if it’s not good, you can tell me it’s not right.
BB: I’ve also been to traditionally Black churches or Baptist churches for funerals, and I see people wailing and crying and holding each other. And then I go to our church with funerals, and mostly, the White folks just sit. And could you like ordain a decree or something from your position where it says, “We need to move around some more.” And I wonder if all that reserve gets in our way of… If you’re saying we recharge with community, I wonder if all that reserve means we’re not fully charging our spiritual selves on Sunday. Do you know what I’m saying?
MC: Sometimes. I am learning, there can be power in the shout and there can be power in the silence.
BB: That’s true, that’s really good.
MC: There really… It’s like the spirit has wings in both… You know what I mean?
MC: I have to admit, I’m not somebody given to… I’m my grandmother’s child, I know that. So I’m not naturally given to the silence, but boy, Brené, I can tell you the times when I get away on retreat and in silence, except for the prayers and I can slip off to a monastery and just be… The first day is hell, because I’m looking, “Can I find a TV or something?” But then there’s a point of turning, where you’re just present in a different kind of way.
BB: That’s true.
MC: And I know God’s around, whether you can feel God or not, I don’t know. I just know that I’m being present to that moment in a very different way. And there’s a… That’s a thin place, thin. And I’ve known it. And every once in a while, I’ll… There were moments when I would just take Aretha’s album, Amazing Grace. It’s that old one? Well, it was probably… I don’t know when she did it. In the late ’70s. They did it live.
BB: Yes, I got it. Oh, I got it. Oh yes.
MC: Oh, do you have it? There are moments when I just put that on and play, and somehow I feel like the energy that gave Grandma energy infuses me when all I have to do is listen to it. And I don’t know, I have no… There’s something about her voice, when she talks a little bit. And there’s something. It’s almost as though it takes me back to a world that’s not really here anymore, that’s actually changed. Even in the black church, the reserve has gotten real, not completely, not everywhere, but it’s just the culture is changing.
BB: The culture’s changing, yeah.
MC: I remember, gosh, as a kid, more on my father’s side than my mother’s side, but more on my father’s side of the family, family funerals, you just knew somebody was going to shout, somebody was going to pass out, and there was going to be a lot of catharsis. Now, sometimes people would go overboard, and you know, “Okay, she does it every funeral. And families know who’s going to shout and when they’re going to shout, there’s all of that. But there was something about it that was healthy. I remember getting to seminary and taking pastoral care courses and that kind of stuff, talking about the need to get stuff out, just let folk express stuff, don’t hold it. And I said, I’ll be doggoned, I guess my family did have something right that we used to get giggles about and say, “Oh Lord, there she goes again.” But we are human, and we do feel stuff and we hurt.
BB: And we hurt. And let me tell you what, when I’m in pain, I want to scream, I don’t want to numb it, because then I carry it forever.
MC: Yeah. I’m way out of my field, but I know that there’s sometimes when you just get it out, just… There’s some freedom in that, the weeping and the wailing. I can hear those screams. I can hear them. I can’t hear them much anymore, not as much.
BB: I can hear them, too. And I can remember, for me, as a young person, for the first time in a Black church, at a funeral, when I heard the wailing and the weeping and the screaming, for me, it was the first sense of God congruence in my life around grief, because it matched what I felt. It wasn’t like, “Pull yourself together, gain control, emotional stoicism.” I’ll tell you why I ask about this, it doesn’t seem a random thing from our conversation for me, because I think people in pain cause pain, I think people who hurt hurt people. And we don’t know what to do with our pain, and we’re so not allowed to express it or feel it or wail or weep that we end up working it out on other people. And I think that’s also part of the great divide in what’s happening today. I don’t know if it’s 25 years of doing this research, but it’s like instead of beer goggles like we used to talk about when we were in college, I got fear goggles. When I see people enraged, I see fear and pain. And I’m like, “Work that out. Wail and weep and gnash and fall to your knees. But don’t club over other people over the head with your pain.” It’s like, “We’ve got to be better at that.”
MC: Yeah, you are so right. And it’s like you do… And being present with each other to… I mean, it’s like, you know The Bible passage that says “bear one another’s burdens,” But I got a feeling some of that is just holding each other’s pain, just holding each other so we can… When you’ve got to weep, weep. And we won’t run away.
BB: Yes. No shame, no judgment.
MC: No. And when I’ve got to weep, I’ll weep. That’s community. That actually is… It’s funny when you were talking about funerals… I think there are a couple of funeral stories and they are in the book. But the one thing that’s not in the book, I don’t think. I can’t remember if I actually wrote it in there or not. But the old-time funerals… It’s a little bit different now. But the old-time funerals, there are all these sensorial experiences I have, and it’s the shout, which is almost like an invocation of, “There’s something transcendent going on here, there’s something beyond the normal happening here even as we’re burying Aunt Callie,” or whoever it is. And that’s a suggestion of transcendence for me. There’s also the family dynamics going on in the family which is always a soap opera in and of itself. That’s guaranteed. But then there’s this… And I don’t know why I just thought of this, but I can smell frying chicken. The smell of frying chicken somewhere else in the church building. That’s just part of the funeral experience. And it’s like, “That’s life.”
BB: That’s life.
MC: It’s all in there together.
BB: You write a lot about food in the book. Yeah.
MC: Yeah, not the healthiest food. I try to keep it healthy because I’m…
BB: Oh, I’m going to give you a solid C-minus on keeping it healthy because I was getting so hungry, at some point, I was like, “Okay, grits and all the stuff that… ” I have to tell you this funny story because it’s so part of what you talk about, about the love and the sameness that we have that I… When I was working for AT&T, I guess in my late 20s, they sent me to Kansas City for a month to do work, and my co-facilitation partner there was a Black woman, and we became really good friends. And she said, “I’m going to invite you over to my house.” And I said, “That’s great.” And she goes, “No, you’re the first White person I’ve ever invited to my house.”
MC: Oh, wow.
BB: And I said, “Oh my God, that’s so… I’m honored, thank you.” Yeah. She said, “I’m going to cook for you, too.” And I said, “Oh my gosh, what are you going to cook?” She said, “I’m going to cook soul food.” And I said, “Oh my God, this is so exciting. Great.” And we were going to go out that night dancing with a bunch of her friends. And I said, “That’s so fun.” So I get to her house and I’m spending the night… I’m spending the night at her house. This was the first like this, so I got my bag, and it was just great because I’d been up in a hotel for a month, which was terrible. And so, when I got to her house, she put dinner on the table, and I was like, “Oh, this looks delicious. I thought we were going to do soul food.” She said, “This is country ribs and greens.” And I said, “This is Sunday dinner at my house, every Sunday.” And she goes, “What?”
MC: Yeah. You grew up on soul food.Yeah.
BB: Yeah. And I was like… She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “This is country ribs and greens made with… I’m assuming you make it with bacon grease because that’s what we use out of a tin, out of a Folgers can that we collected when we fry bacon… She goes… And she just looked at me and she goes, “And your name’s Brené. Are you sure you’re not Black somewhere?” And I said, “I’m sure.” So, when you were writing about food, you wrote this sentence, that your family left the South, and Jim Crow, the Great Migration. And you have the sentence that made me laugh that you said, “We lived North, but we ate South.”
MC: Oh yeah. It really was true, in those days, you could buy grits but only in Black communities.
MC: Now you can get them anywhere in Buffalo. You may.
MC: But back then, you had to go into an ethnic community to get ethnic food. And it was imported from… I don’t know where they got it from. But, oh yeah.
BB: That was the imported food. Yeah.
MC: And now, healthily, soul food is the new art, it is coming. When we had the family, the Thanksgiving dinners. And my wife’s aunt would always come and she would always bring the greens. But she transitioned from the ham hocks to smoked turkey, the smoked turkey wings and necks and…
BB: How did that go with the family?
MC: Everybody adjusted because everybody needs… Because they want to live.
BB: They want to live.
MC: Yeah, they want to live. And everybody adjusted.
BB: Yep. I was reading Grits and Grits and it was like… My grandmother actually coated our fried okra in grits, not cornmeal. So our fried okra was cooked in grits. So it was grits three times a day. You got it in the morning, you got it with eggs, you got it… Okay. So let me… So I want to… Two things before we go into… I have a 10 rapid-fire question I want to do with you. But before we do that…
MC: Oh, no, it’s… Okay.
BB: Yes, it’ll be fun. You talk about one of my favorite philosophers and theologians in the book, Howard Thurman. And you talk about his first brush with the divine when he watched Haley’s Comet. And it was 1910. You write, “There were no lights in his town to dim the heavens. He and his mother watched the comet fill the darkness with light as it made its journey across the sky. Thurman felt terror for a moment. After all, for weeks, everyone had been talking about the possibility of a terrible aftermath of the comet falling from the sky. But his mother was calm, reassuring him that God would keep them safe. Something shifted in Thurman and the fear left him. He felt one with the comet and a sudden awareness and awe of what created and controlled the comet. In reflection, Thurman gave name to his awareness. The Givenness of God.”
MC: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
BB: “The Givenness of God, which the human heart by its very nature hungers to connect with. When we succeed,” you write, “we feel it. He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
MC: In His hands. Yeah. Yeah.
BB: That is so beautiful. And then to make things even more amazing on this page, you write, I’ll leave you with the hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” made famous today by the singer, Lauryn Hill. The lyrics you share with us in your book, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” You conclude by saying, “God’s love is everywhere in all things, and that includes you.”
MC: Yeah, it’s true, it’s really true.
MC: Brené, it’s really true. And just living life out of that, whether you feel it or not.
BB: Whether you feel it or not, dang it, that is… Say that again. What do you mean, whether you feel it or not, like, are you saying that like really take the mystery of faith leap and just say, I don’t feel it right now, but I believe?”
MC: I believe it, yeah. Yeah, it was Karen Armstrong in one of her books, talks about her struggle with faith and believing. And she’s a historian, theologian, but a historian primarily.
BB: So good, yes.
MC: She talked about wrestling with depression herself, and she said the intersection of her faith and all of that, and it’s really… The Spiral Staircase is the name of the book. And at some point in the book, she talks about realizing that faith and belief… That belief, that even the word “believe,” is not about assent to a set of propositions. They may be true, but that’s not what it means. Actually, the root of it is in the words, the Latin Coeur doux, heart, that to believe is not necessarily, first off, to give my mental assent to. To believe it’s really… Coeur doux is related to cardia, to give my heart to.
BB: Oh man.
MC: And just that realization that that’s the root of the word of credo, to believe, it’s just, “I give my heart to.” I got my doubts, I got my fear. All that stuff’s going to crowd in, that’s human, but darn it, I give my heart, here, you got me. Brené, that’s…
BB: That’s life right there.
MC: That’s life. Yeah.
BB: That’s life changing.
MC: Yeah, it really is, because none of us… I don’t know. Although I think about going time travel, it’s probably not a good idea because I got a feeling there were viruses and all sorts of things back in other ages that we couldn’t handle if we got. Plus, I got a feeling the world really probably stunk a couple of centuries ago. I mean people were not into deodorant.
BB: Yeah, no. Yes.
MC: So it’s probably not… We would not survive long, I suspect. But I think you go back, and even the stories of people in the Bible and all that kind of stuff, if you start looking at them as people… And how does a normal human being react? People like me, how do I react? And then look back at the Biblical descriptions, you actually start to see, “Wait a minute, I put a stained glass there, that wasn’t a stained glass. Look through the glass. Oh my God. Oh, I get that reaction. That’s the reaction.” You know what I mean? That there actually are human emotions…
BB: Human. Yes.
MC: And reactions and very human stuff, we’ve just put stained glass on them, and you can’t see it through that, you can’t see through stained glass. You’ve got to take the stained glass away, look at the real people, I mean the Moses who tries to get out of going back to Egypt, the Mary Magdalene, I mean not Mary… Not Magdalene, the other Mary, the other Mary fussing with Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother, would not have died.” She is pissed off.
BB: These are real people. Yeah.
MC: She said, “Where have you been? You are supposed to be the Lord. Show your stuff.”
BB: Lord it up. Yeah.
MC: Yeah, you get the… These are real people. And to realize they somehow did walk by faith, not by sight. In the end, they gave their hearts and just said, “Here, take me, warts and all.” That for me is freeing, for me, because I know Michael, and Michael ain’t no saint, I know when I get mad, and I’m a pretty good guy most of the time, but hit me and you’ll find another side of Michael. You know what I mean?
MC: That’s people.
BB: Yeah, and we can’t give up on us… We are all we have. It’s like this… We’re it.
MC: Yeah, I know, I tell you. Yeah, it’s good news and bad news. We’re all we got.
BB: Yeah. Okay. Alright, are you ready for the quick 10?
MC: I’m scared to death. Okay.
BB: Oh, please. Come on. Alright, number one, fill in the blank. Vulnerability is…
MC: Just getting real.
BB: Okay. Number two, you’re called… You, Bishop Curry are called to do something really difficult and you have to be really brave, but your fear is real, you can feel it right here in your throat, what’s the very first thing you do?
MC: Sit on it.
BB: Sit on it?
MC: Actually sit on it. Yeah, yep, don’t decide to do anything, just sit on it. Sit a while.
BB: Okay. What is something that people often get wrong about you?
MC: That I’m wise. No, they don’t get that wrong, they know I’m not. They know that already.
BB: I don’t believe it, but I’m going to keep going. Number four, last show that you binged and loved. What’s something on TV that you’ve watched that you really loved watching?
MC: Oh, well, the Jack Ryan series, the…
BB: Yeah, Jack… It’s on Amazon Prime, right?
MC: Yeah, it’s on Amazon. Yeah, yeah.
BB: One of your favorite movies.
MC: You know what? I’ve got a new favorite movie, it’s Night Shift with Kevin Hart and Tiffany and Tiffany Haddish. I know I was supposed to say a Fellini film, of course I would’ve. No, but actually, I love that movie. It’s…
BB: It’s funny.
MC: It’s pure comedy, but it’s also a guy going back to get his GED. And it’s all this awkwardness and craziness.
BB: Oh, Night School.
MC: Yeah, Night School.
BB: Yes, Night School, Night School. Okay.
BB: Oh my God, that… Yeah, okay, got it. That’s funny that that’s your favorite movie. I love that. Tell me a concert you’ll never forget.
MC: I was in high school, we went to a concert, and I can’t remember who the headliner was, I mean who we actually went to see, but there was a warm-up, a guy doing the warm-up… You know how they…
BB: Yeah, sure.
MC: How they would have up and comers. I don’t remember who the headline… I really don’t… Whether the Ojays or The Temptations, I don’t remember, the warm-up was Barry Manilow, and I’ve never forgotten it.
BB: I love Barry Manilow.
MC: He came on and they said, “And now we introduce Barry Manilow, and everybody was like, “We came here to see The Temptations or The Ojays or somebody, who is this?” He tore it up, people went crazy. They said, “We don’t need to see whoever we came here to see, it was… He hadn’t gotten big yet.
BB: That’s awesome.
MC: He was the warm up.
BB: That is awesome.
MC: I’ve never forgotten that.
BB: Okay. Favorite meal. And you don’t have to be… Favorite meal, like in heaven. It has no calories, no carbs, whatever you want.
MC: That would be fried chicken, chitterlings, macaroni and cheese… My wife is going to kill me for saying this in public. Macaroni and cheese, collard greens cooked the old-fashioned way, cornbread with some jalapeno in it, sweet tea…
BB: What’s for dessert?
MC: Some sweet potato pie, real sweet potato, the kind we ate in the spring, you know? That kind.
MC: Oh yeah, oh gosh, yeah.
BB: I wish I could meet you for dinner.
MC: Oh, yeah.
BB: Okay, What’s on your nightstand?
MC: Eddie Glaude’s book on James Baldwin.
BB: Oh, got it.
MC: I’m reading through it now, yeah.
BB: Yeah. Give me a snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that brings you joy, just a single snapshot of a moment that just really brings you joy.
MC: Oh, playing with my grandson, when he’s on good behavior.
MC: When he’s not, “Okay, go back to your mama, go back to your mother.”
BB: Okay. What’s one thing that you’re deeply grateful for right now?
MC: I have to admit I’m just grateful to be alive. At this stage of life. I jokingly will say to my family, “But if I drop dead tomorrow, I’d have nothing to complain about. I really wouldn’t. I’ve been blessed and I know it. In the good, the bad and the ugly, I’ve been blessed.” And just knowing that and getting up the next morning and you keep on going.
BB: Keep on going.
MC: Like old folks used to say, “Woke me up again, he woke me up again.”
BB: I’ve got to ask you this last question. We’ve got a playlist that we’re going to put, of yours, on Spotify. It’s got your six most favorite songs. “The Impossible Dream” by Roberta Flack, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, “Glory” by Common and John Legend, “If There’s a Hell Below” by Curtis Mayfield, “Mary, Don’t You Weep” by Aretha Franklin, and then the outlier right here would be “Old Town Road,” which is also on your list that you gave us.
MC: I love that song, I love that, and I love the video. It is just the greatest. It’s beyond absurd, it’s wonderful.
BB: So tell me what this play… In one or two words, tell me what this playlist says about you.
MC: Well, there’s a fun side. It’s just something that’s just pure joy, just pure fun, joy, or whatever. There’s, “Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn. Tell Martha not to mourn. Pharaoh’s army got drowned.” There’s a faith side. I think of a God who’s pretty deeply integrated, but that’s when I was… I grew up in… It was in the book. I had to share that story from Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, when one of the daughters said there’s no God, and the mother slaps her. And we had this debate with the publishers while we were doing it. They said, “She slapped her, should we include that? Because that sounds like parental abuse?” It’s in the play, I don’t know, it was like 50 years ago. She was an adult; she wasn’t a little kid.” It’s just where the mother hits her and says, “In this house, there is still God, there is always God.” I grew up in that, where just Addie saying to grandma, “You talk about the Lord so much you would think he lived next door.” It was like Jesus was next door, was a neighbor, which in a weird way, I think my grandmother had this integration where there wasn’t separation of church and state in her, so to speak, but she wasn’t saccharine religious, she could be goofy, she loved Moms Mabley… And if you listen to Moms Mabley’s jokes, now they would be nothing, but they were borderline. They were on the edge…
BB: Cutting edge, yeah.
MC: They wouldn’t let us listen to albums of Moms Mabley when we were kids. Of course, when the adults were gone, we listened to them. But Grandma loved those things, and she would go out, sneak out in the back and smoke her cigarette, so there were all these just real human things, and yet God is in that mix. That’s incarnation, that’s integrated. That’s just God… “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And I got a feeling that list is part of that.
MC: There’s God in that mix, but there’s just pure human joy and entertainment, and there’s… I mean, the Frank Sinatra thing is funny because my father loved Sinatra. Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, there were a whole bunch of them that he loved. And when you’re a kid, you really don’t want to hear your parent’s music. And in 1967, Daddy got a new car. This was after Mommy had died, and he decided, “I’m going out to get me a car.” And he got a 1967 Chevrolet Caprice, and it had air conditioning in it. Oh my God, it had air conditioning. And we drove from Buffalo to Birmingham in air conditioning. And it had an eight-track tape in it, and one of the eight-tracks he listened to half… Almost all the way was Frank Sinatra, I Did it My Way. He loved that song, “I Did it My Way,” “That’s Life,” “Fly Me to the Moon.” I can hear those songs, and yet there’s a part of me, they’ve actually… They’re in…
BB: They’re in.
MC: They’re in here. Yeah, they’re in here. I just love some of those old Sinatra songs now. And there are two young guys on YouTube, they’re two black kids, they’re twins, and they listen to music that they haven’t heard before…
BB: Oh my God, I’m obsessed with them.
MC: Aren’t they incredible?
BB: Oh my God, they listen to like… I watched them watch “Bohemian Rhapsody” from Queen for the first time.
MC: Yes. The first time they ever heard it.
MC: It’s like a religious experience. It’s amazing to watch the two of them. I love these kids. And you can tell they’re not just enjoying it, they’re experiencing something.
BB: So pure, it’s so pure.
MC: It’s incredible. I don’t know what their names are, but once in a while I’ll go and see what they listen to now, and it’s… But that playlist, no one’s ever asked me that before. When Nancy sent me that, I said, “She wants to know what?”
BB: Music is a thin place, right?
MC: You know it is. I’m not flying on airplanes now, so I’m not writing sermons on airplanes, but there are times… There’s some music, and I don’t know… Well, I haven’t tried to figure it out. There’s some music that I can write sermons to, and I don’t know completely why, but I’ve got the soundtrack of The Ten Commandments. Now, part of that, I remember as a kid watching The Ten Commandments. It used to come on around Easter Sunday or…
MC: Yeah, it was Easter, I guess. And Grammy used to love to watch it, it would be on ABC, I think. I used to sit down and watch it. My sister and I would watch it with her and all that, so it may hark back that, but there’s something about that. There’s a romantic, a 1950s romantic in me, that in those movies that were made in that era, they’re hokey now and… They’re a little bit hokey when you look at them now, but there’s something about the music that says, you know something… Everything you see in this world ain’t the whole world, there’s more to it than what your eye can see, and there is a God, there is a God. And I think that I had no idea… All I know is, Brené, I have written more sermons on planes with my earphones on, listening to stuff like that, just stuff like that… As long as it doesn’t have too much singing, if they’re singing…
MC: That interferes; but the music…
BB: The sweeping music, the sweeping-ness of it.
MC: Yes. And I get lost and swept up in it. And I actually… And I have literally flown for hours and not even paid attention ‘til a flight attendant comes or something. I’ve flown through turbulence and don’t even think about it. And you’re right, music is a thin… I hadn’t thought about that.
BB: It’s a really thin place for me. And that’s why I’m so glad you shared this with us. And let me tell you that this was one of the greatest 90 minutes of my life, talking to you. I am grateful for you, I love your book, this was so important for me, personally, so I’m really thankful for you spending this time with us and with the Unlocking Us community. Thank you.
MC: Well, thank you, you have no… This was just extraordinary to talk with you. You have a way… We were just sitting in your family den talking.
BB: Well, if it feels like it, maybe that’s what we need right now.
BB: All we’re missing is the food, which your wife won’t hold to.
MC: No, I’m having salads for lunch. I’ve lost weight, which is also good, but I’m going to get some fried chicken at some point.
BB: We won’t tell anyone. Alright, thank you, Bishop Curry.
MC: Thank you, Brené. God bless you.
BB: God bless you.
BB: I don’t know about y’all, but for me, just hope, love, fresh air again, like going to church, singing hymns from Roberta Flack, Frank Sinatra, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, a hymn, Old Town Road, did not see that coming, y’all. Check out his book, Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. And if you want a daily dose of love, you can find Bishop Curry on Twitter, he’s at @pb_curry on Instagram, again @pb_curry, and on Facebook @pbmbcurry. You can find all these links on our episode pages on brenebrown.com, it’s much easier, I think. It has been a big week. We announced our partnership with Spotify. You can continue to listen to Unlocking Us for free, and there’s going to be so much music, including these mini mixtapes for all of our guests, which are really fun. You can link to the mixtapes again from brenebrown.com, where you can listen to the episode and link to the music.
BB: We also announced that I’m launching a second podcast, Dare to Lead, coming October 19th. I cannot wait for this podcast. We’re just going to… Between Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead, we’re going to cover living, loving, leading, and parenting, we’re going wrap this up y’all. And Dare to Lead is going to be real and actionable things that we can do, that are tactical and practical. And just in case you missed it, I had a great conversation with Jada Pinkett-Smith, Willow, and Gammy on the season premiere of Red Table Talk. Three generations, one table, and let me tell you for sure, no filter, you might want to check out that, too. I’ll put a link on this episode page.
BB: Thank you friends. Look for the love, stay awkward, brave, and kind. And don’t give up on people, we’re all we have, y’all. And thank you last to the team that puts this together, this is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, and Carleigh Madden, and by Cadence 13. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo. Y’all take care of each other.
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