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an essay for Anglicans Online
Reflections on the Way of Love
Last March 15, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting in North Carolina, USA, unanimously passed a resolution committing the bishops individually and corporately to living the Way of Love. This is of course the means proposed by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to move The Episcopal Church forward. The Way of Love is the heart of "the Jesus Movement", which is in other words the Church universal, "the blessed company of all faithful people" (BCP 339). The fruit of the Jesus Movement is "Beloved Community", the visible growth in "loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with each other".
The reason I proposed the resolution to the House of Bishops was primarily because I was concerned that the Way of Love not be considered and treated as a program. After 34 years in ordained ministry, I have seen programs coming out of the Church Center and the General Convention come and go. There was the Economic Justice movement with its Loan Fund, the only vestige of that program. There was the Decade of Evangelism. And my favorite, the 20/20 Vision. And many other Considering how much work and resources went into these, the result was always like an elephant giving birth to a mouse.
Moving the Episcopal Church forward requires, well, a movement. This is exactly what Bishop Curry has been proposing, complete with revivals, a word that gives hives to many Episcopalians, but has proven to be an effective way of proposing the Way of Love to thousands of people (see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/episcopal-revivals). In particular, the Way of Love is a method for daily living as a follower of Jesus that was created for the Presiding Bishop by Episcopal monastics, among others. Its steps, turn-learn-pray-worship-bless-go-rest, harken back to the earliest days of the monastic movement. When Saint Antony of Egypt came out of the desert, the idea of a rule of life became popular: a daily discipline of prayer, study, confession, and care of the poor. And of course, the Acts of the Apostles describe following Christ as "the Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
So there is nothing new at heart to the Way of Love, other than the""packaging". Bishop Curry enlists his formidable gifts as preacher to bring this ancient discipline to contemporary people, not just Episcopalians but across the spectrum of churched and unchurched. And there are those revivals…
What interests me specifically is the theology behind it, which is something that is not discussed much. Bishop Curry has said that the Episcopal Church is too interested in what he calls "Abstract Jesus." During the March meeting, he also said that the Episcopal Church has "an ambiguous relationship with Jesus". When I asked him what he meant, Bishop Curry turned the question around, asking me what I thought it meant (yes, I fell for it — he knows me).
N. T. Wright, in his book How God Became King, calls the four gospels the foundation documents for a new movement. That movement is about the gospel Jesus who now reigns here on earth, not just in heaven waiting to return. Through Jesus God has returned to the Temple that is Jesus, thus fulfilling the expectations of Israel for the Messiah. The Reign of God is nigh, challenging every human power (and the dark forces behind them). Those who would follow Jesus must live as if the Kingdom is not something to be expected on earth at the end of time, or that it is waiting for us in heaven (if we make it), but rather is here and now and we must live it if it is to continue to grow.
Here is where I would locate the theology of the Way of Love. Followers of Jesus are "the royal priesthood who will take over the world not with the love of power but with the power of love…" (p. 239) "If it’s not about love, it’s not about God" Bishop Curry routinely says. And God has asserted the Kingdom through the life and death of Jesus, and has confirmed it by raising him from the dead.
Wright’s book is provocative and even hyperbolic at times concerning the Church’s failure to read the gospels. However, he is on track when he says that the creeds which outline the doctrinal truth of the Gospel are not meant to replace the richness of the polyphonic story that the gospels tell. St. Paul is not inventing new truths that the gospels omitted. We need to focus anew on Jesus: his life and teachings first. This is the message of the Way of Love: follow by living a rule of life that pushes you into the world in the power of Jesus’ Spirit. We are not to be "of the world" but Jesus said we are not to be "out of the world" either. "Turning" or converting (which means "turning toward) is an ongoing event; formation is never finished; the direct relation that is prayer to God through Christ in the Spirit builds us into the family of Jesus’ little sisters and brothers. Jesus bears our prayers to the Uncreated Origin, whom he called "Abba, Father". And as it is a family, we need to prioritize the community’s relating to God, through our "worth-ship"—showing that following Jesus as Savior and Lord in the baptismal covenant is "worth it" to us.
The outcome of this worship is to be sent into the world to do the work God asks each of us to do, which is always "to love and serve as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord" (BCP 366). Carrying the blessing forth from the liturgy into the world we live in is the essence of our work. And where Jesus goes, we go. He tore down boundaries we erect (Eph. 2:14); we too must go out of our comfort zone, recognizing the artificial walls that separate us, and thus making the peace of the Kingdom.
And finally, we rest. "Come away and rest a while" Jesus tells us as we need it (Mark 6:30-34). And having been refreshed we start again. We turn once more to Christ for new growth in love. For new power to give life, not only to people but to the creation itself. We turn for the courage to set free the bound, the enslaved. The Way of Love helps us become ever more loving, life-giving, and liberating—starting with ourselves.
Bishop Curry avoids spelling out the theology behind the Way of Love because people are not ready for it until they start to "turn." Our age despises what it calls "dogma." And "institutions." And too many are ready to repeat the propaganda that claims that nothing good ever happened before the late 18th century.
But there is always something inherently attractive about Jesus, as the four gospels tell his story. People find him fascinating, even if they recognize all too well the fallibility of us clergy who try to bear the message. Once people hear the stories, they are able to begin considering "turning." To engage the Way of Love for themselves.
If they become committed Episcopalians in the process, so much the better. But that really isn’t the point, is it?
Bishop Whalon welcomes comments or questions about this article. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.