During the Next Level Speaker Series in October 2022, Bishop Easterling had a conversation on fierce love with the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, who shared stories filled with mother-wit, growth, setting boundaries, making bold choices, and opting to live and love outloud. Together, the pair illuminated what it means to love – God, the world and ourselves – with ferocity and grace.
The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, the author of Fierce Love, A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World, is the Senior Minister for Public Theology and Transformation at Middle Church in New York City. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Fordham University, Lewis created two national television programs: Just Faith, an on-demand television program on MSNBC.com, and Chapter and Verse at PBS. She uses her gifts and her national platform as a speaker, Presbyterian pastor, and author to create a world based on a public ethic of love.
Questions for Reflection and Extending the Conversation
This podcast is taken from a conversation Bishop Easterling had with the Rev. Jacqui Lewis during the Next Level Speaker Series in October 2022.
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling: I'm so grateful to be able to sit here and talk with my sister, my colleague, this great woman of God, and go a bit deeper, again, in this wonderful book that she wrote. [Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World] She said she made herself vulnerable in this book. Vulnerability, as we know, helps us to more deeply grasp empathy for one another. It helps us to be able to see one another, that Ubuntu that you were talking about. It takes us on a journey. I thank you for your vulnerability. Your vulnerability is our strength.
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis: Thank you, Bishop.
Bishop: Our vulnerability is someone else's strength down the road. That's why we can't be afraid to tell our story. We can't be shamed into silence. We can't be told, "Oh, don't talk about that. People will then perceive you as weak." Know the fear, the silence is the weakness. The strength is in the sharing and the vulnerability, that others might find healing.
I was very intrigued by your sharing about when you were seven years old, I believe, and the Holy Communion was coming by, and your mother, as you said, was your first pastor, all of those things for you. The deep theologian that she was said to you that this body means that God loves you, this cup means that God will never leave you. Speak into that just a bit more, please.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Thank you for that. We were Presbyterian, I would say Baptisarian. Mom and Dad were Baptist, so we're Baptisarian. We ended up in the Presbyterian church because it was around the corner and my aunt played the piano. I did not have a theological understanding, but I did have a feeling, an understanding that the Baptist church that we had gone to was, high-spirited and joyful, and I wanted some of that, but I also had this feeling, which I would now call grace, but I didn't know what it was.
I had this feeling that there was space for me as a child in this Presbyterian church. That we could dance downstairs in the basement, that we could read Scripture. We learned both gospel music and also Broadway songs. That was the container. In that space, when your parents thought you were ready for Communion, you're ready for Communion. Mom and Dad were like, "She's ready."
I'm sitting on the pew, our pew, because in that church, that's our pew. I'm sitting next to Mom. Dad was a deacon. He was serving. The plates are gold with the red velvet. Everybody knows what time that is.
The cups are glass, they're little. When you're little, you like little things. The bread is that Hawaiian bread that we now put the dip in and it's all chopped up.
Here comes the bread, my dad passes it. I'm not first on the edge of the pew, but when it gets to me, my mother whispers, "Jack." she called me Jack. "This bread means God loves you." I'm like, "Wow, okay cool." Then the bread in my mouth -- Bishop, there was this explosion of that sticky, sweet honey. There was this sensual experience of the love, your mother's smell, Jergen's lotion.
Bishop: Take us back. Take us back.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: So you can smell your mom, her soft shoulder and her voice, your ear close to her lips, and the bread's sweet, and I am in love with God. I was so like Helen Keller learning how to read, that I thought, "What? Oh, my goodness, this is so great." Quite quickly behind it comes the tray, and your fingers are just a little awkward. I remember Mom helping me get it loose, but she let me get it, and I got it. She says, "Now this cup means God will never leave you." What? It's Welch's Grape Juice to my delight.
I didn't know what was going to be in that cup. Was it grape Kool-Aid? You know what I'm talking about. You know.
Bishop: What is it? We know it was Welch's Grape Juice
Rev. Dr. Lewis: You know what I'm saying? You all weren't trying to drink the wine. I said, "Is it Kool-Aid?" "No, it's grape juice." Whoa. My mouth is puckery, my tongue is blue, and the bread is good, and I was in love. It was to me, the beginning of my calling, was the feeling of soft mother, serving father, loving God trio. They were the trio of love and in a container where we children were seen and loved and valued, and taught to read Scripture, to memorize stuff for Easter, and all that kind of stuff.
That's my theology that and also, I went to seminary, got a MDiv, did well, got some awards and what not, went and got into a PhD, all that in psych and religion. That's what I come home to. I come home to that. Not systematic theology, not anything, but God will always love you, and God will never leave you.
Bishop: That full-body, immersive, tactile, awakening all the senses experience of the divine early in life …
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Early in life.
Bishop: … gave you, again, this robust experience of God, loving your seven-year-old self and carrying that. I want to juxtapose it that, and I'm so glad you said that you took that understanding to seminary and that understanding comes back. I want to juxtapose that now against a 50-plus, 60-plus-year-old postmenopausal woman, right?
Bishop: Not talking about her. I'm just in general.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: It is me. That is me.
Bishop: Body that has borne children, and perhaps, again, women of color, we know that fibroids are so present in us. Many have had hysterectomies, right? Breast cancer, perhaps all of that. Juxtapose how you understood that God loved you in the totality of who you were over against what the world tries to tell us about beauty and acceptance and fitting in. What is the facade that is supposed to be love versus one that is supposed to be shamed?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's the whole word. That question is a whole word. I went on a journey. I went on a journey from a seven-year-old, embodied, seen, known, loved, long-legged, skinny, overbite, lot of hair, no body shame. None. Just “this is what it is.” To be honest, through getting my period very late, my little sister got hers and I was like, "What is happening to me?" I grew like seven inches one summer, so my body went through a thing. Kind of late to develop.
The sexual abuse happened around nine. That seven-year-old innocent, embodied, immersive, central love went through some tests. To where, by the time I'm 22 and I have that confidence, and I think this is about me, that would, for me, have been my lowest body time of just not understanding my own self, not understanding what sex is really about, really. Not understanding, if I can be so blunt, they should even have to really do it or enjoy it, or if I have permission to.
Bishop: Right. We know as females, often we're not given permission to enjoy this gift that God has given us of intimacy.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Unless you're going to make a baby, which I, by the way, couldn't.
Bishop: My goodness. Okay.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: A journey of infertility.
Bishop: My Lord.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: What is all this? That, I think, was a journey till I was about 45, really. It coincides with getting to New York and getting to Middle Church. I think it's not a coincidence, really, but some way of doing finishing the PhD, get a new church in which the radical love and welcome of God is my job, that I think I turned on myself. You too. You too. With your used to be flat-chested, not anymore. With your used to not have curves and do-- I did have a hysterectomy. That is my story. I did never have fibroids and then I had them and couldn't be in the pulpit, so had to take care of all that. All that stuff right around 45.
Then there is this immersion into a culture, a church culture, maybe even a New York culture of art and beauty and multi all the things. My activism took me to Albany and to D.C. and to Africa, traveling in a way that was different than being a younger person traveling. Noticing more knees, feet, arthritis, body issues, that I had to learn to love myself. I found God in myself and I love too fiercely. I found a partner at that age that I wouldn't have found at a younger age. I found joy in myself. I found joy in my girlfriends. I found joy in my loud laughter, in my red lipstick, in my red hat.
I just accepted me. That seven-year-old Jacqui came back …
Rev. Dr. Lewis: … Is what I'm trying to say. I regressed. I began to think about what is it like to have a grown-up relationship with a grown-up God. I realized, actually, what I wanted was a grownup relationship with my child of God.
Bishop: Amen. A grownup relationship …
Rev. Dr. Lewis: … With the God I met as a child, who is still there.
Bishop: Right. We could park right there. We could hover right there for a minute. A grownup relationship with a grownup God. I love-- again, you talked a bit about, I call him Fabio Jesus, by the way.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Oh my goodness.
Bishop: That's Fabio Jesus-
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Oh my goodness.
Bishop: -that she was describing. All right? This Fabio Jesus. We either want to continue to worship the infant Jesus or the Fabio Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: The Fabio.
Bishop: I think we also want to then infantilize God --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Yes, we do.
Bishop: -- and keep God at that very basic place. Again, the notion that you talk about a fierce love, and God is love.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: God is love. God is fierce.
Bishop: There we go. That's what I was about to hook up together. God is fierce, and that God wants us to tell the truth in love. One of your quotes, "Telling the truth is an act of love, an act of resistance, an act of courage. Its end is liberation, freedom, and if possible, reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without truth." If we're not even willing to live into this grown-up God and the truths of the things of God, talk about then how we all remain imprisoned. We all remain in this less than courageous full-bodied self.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: We're not fully who we're supposed to be. We're not fully who we're supposed to be until we get to the fierce truth. Let's just modify the word truth with fierce because I think a lot of us think we're being very, very honest. Sometimes we're being mean, but we're saying that's very, very honest. Sometimes we're being condescending and patronizing. We think that's being very, very honest. In fact, we fear the truth. The teaching about “the truth will set us free” -- there's no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. That whole theological construct I think is real.
Look, we're human. My background is in psych and religion. That's what I studied. We're human developmentally. We are taught early, first how to love; first, how to be brave; first, how to be courageous. I can do it. I can walk, I can toddle. The whole room is like, "Go. Go, Jacqui. Look at you walking." There's a lot of love and affirmation while you are learning how to toddle, learning how to talk, learning how to be, until you get to two. You are not yet able to hear no.
We've already given you a sense of omnipotence. I cried when the bottle came.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Woo. I was wet and I dried myself. This is what children get. Then when they get to testing boundaries, we put a lot of “no” in their lives. How we survive that depends on what the environment is like. All of us get a lot of no, and a lot of fear. I'm going to say, especially Black families end up protecting our children from the appropriately fear-filled world with some fear. I think that happens in lots of families.
Now I'm afraid, and now I'm insecure, and now I don't really love myself. We have to fight our way back to the God that loved you. We have to fight our way back to just as you are, your beloved. It's a journey. That to me is the grown-up God. The infantilized God is angels, devils. The infantilized God is the boogeyman, the big white man in the sky. Do you know what I mean?
Bishop: I do.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: The polarities.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: The concrete level of intellect would be yes/no, good/bad, angel/devil, boogeyman/angel. That God is either good when he's in the mood to be good, or he's not. We, psychologists and religious, would say, of course, God is real but we're also creating God all the time. We create the God of our experience because mommy might be nice, but she might withhold that if I'm not good. Daddy might be good, but when he gets home, he's going to spank me.
We're building this God of our new experiences. Please don't get mad, child, but that God might have a temper tantrum and might flood the world.
When you're little, you hear that, and you get to sing Noah, he built an arc. Also, God has a temper – he didn't use a belt, he used a storm. The disciplining could be good, could be not good, you're not sure. God loves you sometimes; might let you have a car accident; might let you not have a baby; might let you be a slave. Might, might. We were creating that God, and that God is the God of some of our childhoods because our childhoods have that kind of violence in it.
The grown-up God is the baby God who had no boundaries, who brought the people together. Angel, shepherds, all y'all come. That baby God who grew up to be a multicultural, fully loving person in Jesus, that God is the one who's a grown-up with whom we can have a grown-up relationship.
Bishop: Amen. Who loves us as we are. Again, understanding that God said to Christ right at that moment, coming up out of that water, "This is my beloved son." …
Rev. Dr. Lewis: "This is my beloved. In whom I'm well pleased."
Bishop: … "In whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." Hadn't done a thing, hadn't earned a thing.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: No.
Bishop: Hadn't healed anybody. He was just there and said, "I love him. He's my beloved. Listen to him." That's the God …
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's the God.
Bishop: … of our salvation.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: It is.
Bishop: I want to play off this motion. There are so many places that I want to go and we can go. I want to hear more about this multicultural church. I want to hear about your multicultural family. I want to hear about so many things, but I'm going to stick right here, just one more time, with this grownup God.
One of the things I lament that is not present enough in our congregation, in our talk of God, all of this theology, is being able to ask God questions, being able to wrestle sometimes in our doubt, in our anger. People say, "You can't get angry with God." I say, "Why not? Why can't we? God can handle it." You talk sometimes in the book about your questions, your doubts, places where you went. What did Mother Theresa call it? “The dark night of the soul.”
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Right.
Bishop: You didn't use that term, but you talk about it. Talk to us about how you and that grownup God could have that kind of relationship.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Yes. Look, Bishop, quite frankly, I almost lost my faith.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I just did. I was 30, looking for love, looking for a place to call home, looking for a church to call home, trying to figure out who I was, depressed, working hard all the time as a young adult trying to get it together, running from my call. I was like, "Why? Where are you?"
Honestly, this is a story telling about that. I was in a breakup, and I was really depressed about it. I felt like everything that had been explained to me about how good I was supposed to be, I had failed. I found myself sitting in my bedroom taking a bunch of Tylenol. I don't think I wanted to die, but I was definitely thinking, "I'm going to take these Tylenol and this mofo is going to be really upset what I did to myself and it's going to be a lesson for him."
Bishop: I'm going to teach him a lesson by hurting myself. Understood.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: "I'll show you. One hour." I'm taking this Tylenol and I have a little bit of a stomachache. I was like, "That's kind of weird." I called him and said with my dramatic self, "I just took these Tylenol and -- " He's like, "You did what?" My stomach gurgled one time. I was like, "I got to go." I was having this feeling. My mother, my father, are going to get a phone call because my little Black behind is on this floor in this bathroom having taken some Tylenol. Oh, hell to the no.
I was like, "No." I called the emergency room, and I went to the doctor and I got my stomach pumped. I said, "Do you guys recommend therapists?" They were like, "Yes." Introduced me to this guy and I went to see his office a few days later. The first thing he said to me is, "Why are you here?" I said, "I want to live." He said, "Why'd you take the Tylenol? I said, "I was being dramatic." By the way, that's not all the time the case. If people are acting suicidal, we should really pay attention.
Bishop: Amen. Thank you.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: He said, "Well, okay, then, let's talk about live." That was the beginning of finding God in myself and finding the Jacqui that God loved already. Then, also having the relationship where I could tell the therapist the stuff I needed to say about my parenting and da, da, da, da, but also the stuff about God and to pull them together. The conversation that I wanted to have was having a real relationship with my parents and a real relationship with my God. The psychologist prescribed more home time.
I went home all the time ahead of my siblings to see my parents, and we built a new relationship. Then I think I went to seminary to build a new relationship with God. I got what I prayed for, which is not a God- - I don't think God gives one gosh-darn about whether I curse or scream or wear red lipstick or none, or pants or not. You know how we grew up?
Bishop: I do.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: You were Jezebel. You can't wear yellow. Whatever. God is too busy. They, He, all the ways we call God, is too busy to worry about my outfits. I got a relationship that I needed to keep God because I wanted to keep God.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I couldn't keep angry, punitive, nefarious if you didn't God, I just couldn't keep that God. The one I have, we kick it daily and I feel quite loved by God.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Exactly as I am.
Bishop: Amen. Exactly as she is. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I'm not saying God doesn't want me to do better --
Bishop: No, no, no. Understood.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: -- but I am fine.
Bishop: We needed to hear that. We needed that because again, that oath, that equal sign -- can't love neighbor if I don't love self. That is an equation that we all need to come to grips with. You also talk in the book, again, about love and truth and that sometimes there are hard and difficult conversations that we need to have. Your father -
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Taking it to my father. Oh, no.
Bishop: Indeed, I was intrigued and shared with the Extended Cabinet in one of our meetings how you and your father had to have an adult conversation. For you, that conversation was rooted in love, and as I interpret it, a multi-faceted love, enough love for yourself to speak up for the love that you had for another human being, enough love for the human being that you were in love with to demand respect, and enough love for your father, if I read it correctly, to try to help open his mind and eyes to something that he was not yet ready to receive. Talk to us about that kind of fierce love.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I was afraid of my daddy. That was all of us. Tiptoeing around and was afraid. I organized my whole life to not get spankings or yelled at. I was super good. ET says, "Be good." I was super good. If you look good up in the dictionary, I was right there, sparkling with some bows and being good, but it wasn't good enough. Dad could be in a bad mood, and you weren't doing good enough. He just always had a temper. I think he did the parenting he got. Kind of tough and -- Got that.
As time went on, you outgrow spankings. I probably only got two in my life because I was good, but you also outgrow feeling like somebody can talk to you a certain way. Dad and I had two conflicts that I'm going to tell quickly. One was a time he was having a temper with my sister, and I was like, "Hey, sir, that's not helpful." One year of college psychology. "If you're going to talk to her that way, she's going to be feeling some way like, 'Girl, you need to be quiet.'"
That went inside me, at 18, as something I would never do, as the way I didn't want us to be. Over time, Bishop, I would try to confront Dad, try to care for Dad, to ask for things I needed differently -- to some success or not. When I was 45, this all was happening around that time. I'm grown, I go to church, I paid for my own PhD, and I got it. He was being stank to my John, who is now my husband, but absolutely just ridiculously stank, stank, stank, stank, stank, rude, mean -- so much so that my friends then left my graduation party.
My dad just took a big old poop and dropped it on my party, just with his personality and his mood. I was like, "No." When John left the party, I thought, "Okay, this is the day the Lord has made for us to rejoice and be--
Bishop: Be good.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Exactly.
Bishop: Let's be in it. All right.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I just went there. I wasn't loud because I didn't think I would survive that. I said, "Daddy, I really need to talk to you." I said, "Dad, my friend just left my house, not yours, my house, because you, as my guest, were so incredibly rude that -- You never let us be rude. What was happening to you?" I'd say, "What? No, no." I just basically said, "That's not okay. I love you." I do love him so much.
"I love you so much, Dad but I promise you, I’m 45 now. There's not another moment in my life, not another moment in my life, where you will treat me like a child, like I'm not in charge of myself like I don't have agency. I'm a grown woman who runs a church, who runs my life. Here's where we are today. Today, you either decide you want to be in a relationship with your grown daughter or you don't.
"If you don't, I will be sad, but I promise you, we will not have this temper. We will not have this. Then the next time I see you will be when mommy asks me to your funeral."
I meant that for my own love of my own self. I just wasn't going to do it anymore. It was the beginning of my new dad relationship, which is full of love and tenderness and humor, and respect. I am his spiritual guru.
By the way, he loves him some John. "Tell John I love him." What the? "Tell John I love him." They play pool. John refuses to play cards with my father and Daddy likes that about John. He'll say this, "You know what? That John, he seems like he's quiet, but he don't take no mess. I tell you what? He don't take no mess from nobody," and he doesn't. Daddy really respects that.
We built a new relationship. I built a new relationship with God, and I'm making a parallel there. I didn't want that relationship with disease in it, with the fear in it, with the loathing in it, with the control in it. Now, my dad, I was sick a few weeks, my dad called me every day to see how I was doing. He called me on Valentine's Day to tell me he loved me. He called John on John's surgery. We all have a relationship built on fierce love and in the fierce love, you tell the truth. Daddy tells the truth-truth. He just got diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.
Bishop: Okay. Sorry to hear that.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Me too. He's 88. He has survived my mother's death. He has a girlfriend. His sugar, and they do shack up some.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Okay. Y'all don't write to Bishop about that either.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: They do hang out and each other's houses and they're too old to get married. She takes good care of him. I am the oldest child, so I am the one who pushes him. I got him to the doctor for the diagnosis, but when I checked on him and I say, "Daddy, are you taking your medicine?" That's like four times I did that. The fifth time he said, "I don't really want to take it." Because I love him fiercely, I had to let that go because he is still grown, and he is still my father and I love him.
I said, "Okay, Daddy, it sounds like you're making some decisions. The next time when I'm home we should sit down and talk about it." I'm the one who will talk about it with like, what is this going to look like then? Grown people having a fiercely loving, honest relationship is juicy and joy and laughter and play and also tears and heartbreak. It is not cocky. It's not that. It's not fake. It's real.
Bishop: It's sincere.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I would not trade it and we would not have it. It's not for that conflict.
Bishop: Now, was it because you were in an interracial relationship that you think your father was not accepting of John in the beginning?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Oh, yes. He was like, "This White boy…"
When we confronted him on it, then we had that makeup, then he and John got to be friends. John and I wrote this Dr. Martin Luther King study, and Daddy read it. Inside the Dr. Martin Luther King study, I told this story of him and John. We’re reading the book together and I got to – “Though John was White and Dad didn't like him at first, they're best friends now.” Dad went, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. It's not because he was White."
Really? "It's because he looks like that man down south. What color was the man down South?” “White?” “I just don't want you to mischaracterize it."
Rev. Dr. Lewis: All right, okay. He did not want it to be on record that he didn't like John because he was White, but what's on record in this book is how much Dad and John found their way to a real relationship.
Bishop: You helped facilitate that because you spoke the truth in love.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Absolutely.
Bishop: I think part of our inability to sit down and have reconciliation around race, around what's happened in this country, part of why books are being taken out of school and we have that censorship going on is because we won't speak the truth --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Absolutely.
Bishop: -- to one another in love. Therefore, reconciliation is and will always be elusive. You helped through your speaking boldly, taking up your space and speaking boldly to your father, setting that boundary about what needed to happen. You help facilitate that kind of conversation. Talk to us about how we need to do that in the church so that we might then help lead the world. If we can't do it in here, --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: We can't do it.
Bishop: -- how do we expect the world to be able to-- Right now, again, you said keep it in our context. In America, we are on fire.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: We are on fire.
Bishop: We are on fire right now around this issue.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's right. I would say three high-level things that are about that, like if you're going to execute that story, I would say one, I advocated for kind treatment. It could feel like I was like, "Just be kind to him, Daddy, and you weren't. That's what you taught us. That's what you-- " What I'm saying is that I advocated for love. I advocated not for them to go on dates and hang out and go fishing, but I advocated for the kind of love that is honor and respect of just another human being. Ubuntu. I advocated for Ubuntu.
Two, my dad was willing to stay engaged. To stay engaged. That's the part he played. My younger dad wouldn't have stayed engaged. We would still not be talking. I'm 45, and he was 62, he was ready to stay engaged because neither of us wanted to lose each other. There’s something about staying at the table, which is what you would say, Bishop.
The third piece of that, and this is really mission critical, is my husband, the White Methodist.
Bishop: Yes, Methodist.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: The White--
Rev. Dr. Lewis: We're in a mixed marriage, okay?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I'm a Presbyterian and he's a Methodist. We got all kinds of stuff with that. Different polity but the White United Methodist minister, who has been a minister since he was 18, who has worked in Appalachia, who is my partner in anti-racism, that's how we met, took his White self to see my father after we got married. Humbled himself.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: He took a bottle of rum; took my mother some flowers. Said, "I'm always going to love your daughter and I want to be your friend." They sat in the backyard while my mother and I cooked and had their first date that they did have, where Dad talked to John about why he was upset, what happened to him in Mississippi. John didn't act like he didn't know what the deal was, but also acted like he was curious about my father's story because he was. They began to tell stories, and they found out that they have the same father, the same kind of father.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: The same kind of dynamic with their fathers. It built a bond between them. Then they found out that they both liked jazz. Then they found out that they both liked fishing. White people have a particular job to do in this racial, ethnic dynamic. Where even though, like we could say, "I didn't do slavery." We could say, "I don't know reparations." We could say, "I wasn't there." We could say, like John did, "I understand the wounding that my people have done to your people." That's a different context.
Bishop: Both caring enough, your father and your beloved, caring enough to stay engaged and to begin to have the conversation. That's all we need, is for persons to care enough to stay at the table and have the conversation. Once we have the conversation and see beyond all of our preconceived notions, see beyond all of some of the myths that we've been taught, see beyond some of the lies that are a part of the story, and get to know each other, we'll find those similarities and those commonalities.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I think that's right. I think if Daddy were here, he'd say also John came to him in love. Dad would say, he says, and I wrote in the book, John cured him of his prejudice.
Bishop: Yes, it does.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: What he's saying is he was prejudiced. Do you understand? This Black man from Mississippi has a right to be wounded. He experienced terrible things in apartheid Mississippi, but he also didn't want to stay. The people of color piece is also, do we want to be made well?
Bishop: Do we want to be made whole?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Do we want to be made well and whole? Do we, and can we, acknowledge that if we just stay also in, I'm just so angry, and I'm just so wounded that I might not be well? I'm not saying that I have married White people, I'll be best friends with White people. I'm not saying any of that. I'm saying the transaction among us humans around race is going to kill us.
Bishop: That's right.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Our souls. Do we want to heal the world as people of faith? Then there's something for each of us to do.
Bishop: It happened a few moments ago, but it's happening again now, you're reminding me so much of my mother. You talked about your father saying, well, it wasn't that John was White, it was that John reminded me of that White --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: -- That White person.
Bishop: My mother grew up in Sylvania, Georgia.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Oh, my goodness.
Bishop: Apartheid Georgia.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Apartheid Georgia.
Bishop: Okay, and I recall one time, she had come to visit and I had the Cooking channel on, and Paula Deen started talking. My mother was in another part of the house. She came out into the hallway and said, "Who is that?"
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Oh, wow.
Bishop: Just, her posture, her place, her voice, I thought, "What is --" She said, "Who is that?" That voice -- she didn't know who Paula Deen was. When I told her it was Paula Deen, she still didn't know. She didn't know who Paula Deen was, but that voice --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: She heard that voice.
Bishop: That voice took her back to lynch mobs in Sylvania, Georgia. That voice took her back to white and black water fountains. That voice took her back to segregated schools. Just hearing that voice, and she was the same woman who in raising us, told us, "You cannot hate." Yes, there's woundedness. Yes, we need to be able to admit that. Yes, we do not have to be ignorant or in denial of the past, and there is a responsibility on both sides to say --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I think so.
Bishop: -- and we can have the conversation.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I think so. I think that's what it is, Bishop. I think there are all kinds of strategies and tactics we need about race, right?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: I'm in a multi-ethnic, multiracial church, and our theology is biographical. I'm pretty sure that my Air Force-base raising, which is a whole kind of White with two Black people worlds.
Plus, my parents' Mississippi raising, which was Black and Black-Black, that they merged together for me to be the multi-ethnic girl. I am the Black girl who also is multi-ethnic. I am not mixed race, I am Black, and I have a border personality
Bishop: Border personality.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Not borderline.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Border- -
Bishop: Get it cleared, don't get it twisted.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: A border personality, and lots of us do. Most of the African-American people in The United Methodist Church denomination do because you couldn't survive in a denomination that --
Bishop: That's right.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: There's something about curating and cultivating our border personality. What W.E.B. Du Bois calls two double consciousness.
Bishop: Consciousness. That's right.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: We curate on purpose, the border. I don't lose being Black by being John's wife. Poor baby. Poor Middle Church, every Sunday, so what got nothing to do --
Bishop: They're blessed.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: -- with race. It's like the White people that go past the White church to come to the Middle Church are going to get some race talk every Sunday. Some little bit, because that's what we're working on, so that's on the border. They're on the border with me. John and I are on the border. We wash dishes, we talk about race. You were loud in the room. What's that? It's always in the room, because it's always in the room.
Bishop: Yes, it is.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: What I think has to also happen is there also have to be safe places for caucusing. That might surprise people that I would say that, but I'm in the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church, I'm called to it and I want to do it, but the Black women might need to go to tea, that's what I'm saying. The queer Black men needed a group. Hablamos, my Latinx people wanted a group.
When I first got to Middle, my boss then, the pastor, did not want anyone to caucus, and did not want separateness, but I think sometimes in a womanist way, you need separation for recovery. When I hang out with my Black girlfriends, that is a juicy feed for my soul. When I'm with my siblings, what we do with the music and --
I'm just saying everything isn't always going to be perfectly multi-ethnic and multi-racial, but I think it's our goal. I think on the way to it, we have way stations of Korean churches and White churches and the White church needs to make a goal of becoming the multi-ethnic future, because it has the power. I wanted to say all that so I could get to that.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Is that okay?
Bishop: Absolutely. I appreciate that. You've given me something because I wrestle with -- I understand the need to caucus. Sometimes I think we remain in the caucus.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Yes, we do.
Bishop: Right? We remain in the caucus.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's not a caucus.
Bishop: We don't come --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's a silo.
Bishop: There we go.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: We're working that out.
Bishop: We're working that out.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's a silo.
Bishop: It's all right to caucus-
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Come all out.
Bishop: - but it's not all right to silo.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Come ye out from amongst that caucus and get back the truth.
Bishop: If we give back --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: That's right.
Bishop: -- into the beloved community.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Amen.
Bishop: Struggling and wrestling, and I'm sure Middle Church has its struggles --
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Oh, my goodness
Bishop: -- wrestling as you are.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Yes, it is, but it's fun. It's fun to wrestle. We're there for a reason. We've grown because of who we are. We're not growing because we're in silos. People want the dream of coming to the Beloved Community, where the music is diverse and the people are diverse, and you get to learn from people that are different from you, is why people come. Of course, it is different, and it sometimes has conflict because we're not the same, but we are all God's chirrens [children] trying to get to the promised land.
Bishop: Did you hear that -- Chirren. You say that word all the time. We're chirren. We're chirren of God trying to get somewhere. Oh my gosh, we are so over time, but I have to do one more thing before we go to taking questions. You have so often, throughout the discussion earlier and even sitting here now, you have blessed us with names that are hard to pronounce because you are weaving into this conversation other voices. Again, I want to go back to this grown-up God that created all of us in the imago dei. All of us.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Yes.
Bishop: Which means all of us represent God. All of us have something to speak of in terms of who God is to us and whatnot. Talk to us about why it's important to have different voices in the conversation, not just, and this is a phrase that's used in seminary all the time. not just the voices of dead white men teaching us theology. Why is that important?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: It's so important because if each of us is created in God's image, then it is the multiplicity of ourselves that show us fully who God is. I see a little God in you. I see a little God in Lydia. I see a little God in our lunch table. There is a way in which we won't fully know. It's like looking at an elephant. If everything is over here, then you think it's a tail. If everything is over here, you think it's a trunk. The Indian theologist talked about elephant theology.
Bishop: That's right.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: This idea of seeing the whole of God is to have a kaleidoscope of perspectives, speaking Mujerista, speaking Korean, speaking Black liberation, speaking community-based Catholic, speaking womanist, speaking feminist, speaking agnostic. What do the doubters teach us?
Speaking Islam and teaching Buddhism, what do these Eastern theologies, philosophies have to round out our life? Speaking Tony Morrison, speaking John Coltrane, speaking The Beatles. Where is our theology being lived in the world that reminds us that everybody's a theologian? Anybody thinking and talking about God is a theologian. If we stay at the tail, we don't know all of this beautiful diversity that is God.
Bishop: Amen. Let us be curious.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Curious.
Bishop: Let us not just read the authors that look like us or think like us. Let us be challenged by the multiplicity of voices that are there for us to stretch, to grow, to maybe get angry with, and again, not run from that, but to sit there and go, "Why am I angry? What does this moment have to teach me?" Amen. I could talk to you all day long.
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Let's do it again.
Bishop: We need to.
Bishop: This is going to become part of a podcast that I've been doing called Thursdays at the Table. One of the things-- I want to have conversations that I would have sitting down at a coffee table or a breakfast table. One of the questions that I start the podcast with is coffee or tea?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Coffee.
Bishop: Coffee. Amen. Amen. Straight up or decaf?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Straight up.
Bishop: Amen. Amen. Little cream and sugar?
Rev. Dr. Lewis: Cream and sugar.
Bishop: All right, there we go. She's talking my language. I also often then read something from the cup. I try to use different cups that have different sayings on them, and this just so happens to be from the Annapolis district. I just want you all to know that. It says, "I give you a new commandment. Love each other just as I have loved you, so also must you love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other." That's what Reverend Doctor Jacqui is teaching us how to do, is how to love each other.