Recently, I was asked to discuss what inspired me to write this book and the goals I have for publishing it.
The simple answer is that I was moved to action after watching the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I heard the address of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church USA speak powerfully on the subject of love. What I took away from his address was him seeming to say, “Let us learn how to unleash the power of love”. That is why I dedicated my book to him and why I used the words I did in that dedication.
Bishop Michael was taking his lead from a 1957 sermon on the theme of “Loving Your Enemies”, delivered by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
There is a direct quote from that sermon that Bishop Michael picked up on. The full quote from the sermon is: “It seems to me that this is the only way. As our eyes look to the future, as we look out across the years and across the generations, let us develop and move right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make this old world a new world”. We will be able to make men better. “Love is the only way.” The words in italics are the ones Bishop Michael used in his address.
I was motivated by that wedding experience for several reasons. First, I am racially mixed (like Meghan) and I live in Los Angeles. Second, I am a lifelong Episcopalian – the American offshoot of the Church of England. That part of me is from my dad’s family heritage of old Virginia families. They had strong English traditions they brought with them and nurtured for so many centuries since, in the new world. I’m not saying I’m some kind of aristocrat. My dad’s family lost all its wealth from the shipping business in the American Civil War. He worked with his hands. The family members did what they had to do to survive. They did hand down to me, however, their precious English heritage.
My mom’s family also originally came from England, via the slave plantations of Barbados. They were Quakers. Thousands of them were tried, convicted and sentenced to bondage for the “heresy” of believing that all men are created equal. This abominable injustice was carried out with the urging and blessing of senior clergy of the Church of England.
Their punishment was to be transported to Barbados (men, women and children) to have their labor sold on the block to provide the muscle power needed to produce and process the sugar cane needed so the gentry of England could have sugar to put into their tea. They shared the ordeal with black slaves and intermixed with them. In spite of terrible oppression, some of them survived and become the first settlers in the then new colony of North Carolina.
What a contrast in heritage! You may think the two sides would be incompatible, but they were not. My parents and their families were some of the most loving people I have ever known. It was the capacity of all humans to grow in their ability to love that prevailed. I learned to honor all of my heritage, and take the best from each. In the words of an old popular song of the 1940’s I learned how to “Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on, to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mr. in-between”.
So my own synthesis of white Episcopalian and ethnically-mixed Quaker was being reenacted before my eyes at St. George’ chapel at Windsor, in front of a mixed audience of British royalty and American show-biz people from Los Angeles, complete with a gospel choir. Mine eyes have seen the glory!
I finally retired from defense work and was having a wonderful time singing – initially, choral singing with several groups. One was my parish, which had an excellent music program. In addition to supporting weekly worship services it also supported several performances of major high-choral works during the year in various venues around Los Angeles. Another group was the Episcopal Chorale Society of Los Angeles. You didn’t have to be black to sing in it, but it was short on light-skinned people, shall we say? It was not just a choir that sang gospel but also sang major works and has a wonderful reputation both within the US as well as abroad.
I had, once, also worked in parish ministry having attended a wonderful Seminary in the Los Angeles area, where I excelled in my studies. I then became, under license from the bishop, the lay vicar and pastoral care assistant of a working-class Episcopal parish in Baltimore, MD, but just couldn’t get ordained. Even so, my five years of ministry in Baltimore were some of the most successful and joyous years of my life. In reality terms, pockets of the evils of ignorance, prejudice and downright nastiness live on even in the church, although things have gotten a lot better in the past 25 years since I attended seminary. Even though I couldn’t get ordained, I got lots of support from some key church people who urged me to be true to my calling and let God work out the details.
Evangelism was my other specialty. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s the way things worked out in my faith. I learned so much from the school of “hard knocks” beyond my excellent seminary education. My faith kept me going through thick and thin. I saw so much misery in the world that I felt could be eased by good spirituality. I wanted to pass on what I learned to those who were hurting – thus, the focus on evangelism. Understand, It is not a goal of mine to “make” people into good Episcopalians or even good Christians. There are things that can be learned and applied at the human level that are not dependent on what “spirituality label” you wear. Labels can really get in the way of growth. In my perspective, what a person “makes” of themselves is a matter best left to them and their God.
In this context, I had boiled down a lifetime of personal experience to work out a strategy of presenting spirituality in a structured context. That strategy acquainted people with their basic human spirituality and how to grow that spirituality in a systematic way. It was based on using the human capacity to feel joy as the “guiding light” to lead you by your own experience into a life of love and fulfillment.
Understand that this was no invention of mine. Use of my Greek language skills learned in seminary confirmed to me that this approach was totally consistent with sometimes unappreciated teachings of scripture or parts of those scriptures whose meanings we “muddy” in the conventional English translations.
You could initiate this process in either a church or a secular setting. You start with a quality musical performance that brings pure joy to the audience. You then have someone stand up and explain what just happened, in human terms. You do this several times – music interspersed with good instruction. You then tell the audience how they can continue in this process by forming a small group of their choice with people with similar intent, so all learn together and share their experience. The book, “Walking in Love: Why and How” is designed to be a handbook to support that small group process.
In this way, any person can learn (or be reminded) of their basic spirituality and how fostering and growing that spirituality leads to a more fulfilled live, with more and more joy as you learn how to grow your human potential to love and handle your human limitations.
I am a product of this process. My life of joy and fulfillment in spite of significant adversity is a testament that it works.