About a month ago, I posted a Facebook status about the comfort there is in knowing spiritual leaders who are accessible; who, despite the busyness about the church and no matter our many failings as sinners among them, are reachable. Even greater: they’re thinkers, too —change agents.
It was a revelation of newfound appreciation, having found myself twice that month in the company of the Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael B. Curry who has served since 2000 as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. It is home to the Midtown church I’ve always known as my own, St. Ambrose.
Our second meeting was a chat in his office about his first book, “Crazy Christians – A Call to Follow Jesus,” published in December. Already it’s been a subject of study in churches nationwide, including in downtown Raleigh at Church of the Good Shepherd and in Durham at St. Titus Episcopal Church.
If you’ve ever heard or seen Curry preach, you’ll understand why. If you’ve never heard or seen him, it’s true; Curry is as enthusiastic and inspiring and profound in his presence and delivery as people say. His ministry can invigorate and transform, both the church and its flock, because he encourages and challenges our faith.
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“Crazy Christians” is no different. It is a bold call for all of us to DWJW – Do What Jesus Would – yep, be what many would call crazy: stand when most won’t, love the unloved – and our enemies, and repay evil with blessing.
“We will not align ourselves with those who shrink and fall back, as the Bible says,” Curry writes. “We will heed God’s summons for us to witness to the gospel of God’s compassion, justice and love even in the midst of a wild and restless sea.”
His commitment is obvious: Curry’s ministry, from a campaign to buy malaria nets to save over 100,000 lives to speaking out on immigration policy and marriage equality, the ideas for the book are beyond infancy. But the language that birthed its title, he said, crystallized in 2012 during his speech to the Episcopal General Convention.
A video of the sermon went viral. Curry was asked to write a book, so he did.
Curry culled the term “Crazy Christians” from translations of Mark 3:20-21, which refers to Jesus being called “crazy” or having “taken leave of his senses.” There was something wrong with him, others, including his family, feared, because he welcomed the downtrodden to free them of the devil and heal them of disease, even on the Sabbath.
That perception, Curry said, was and remains accurate.
Even today, Jesus’ steadfast call to Christians to “follow me,” is “intrinsically countercultural,” said Curry, 61, who led congregations in Winston-Salem, Ohio and Maryland before being elected bishop. “Far too often, Christianity equals cultural conformity when, in fact, it is the opposite. People who don’t conform to expected cultural norms are often called crazy.”
It’s a call the Rev. Bill Bennett extended to about 15-20 parishioners at Church of the Good Shepherd who took part in a weekly book club-type study group centered on Curry’s Crazy Christians soon after it was published.
“We’re inspired,” said Bennett, an associate pastor at Good Shepherd. “We really embrace it and want to be part of what he is doing in leading the diocese … and to present the sense of being a Christian that goes beyond just observing rules of good conduct and good behavior to being called to challenge the status quo.”
Loving God and our neighbors “far more deeply that we normally do,” Curry said, leads people to feed the hungry and it leads people to work for the abolition of poverty and work for justice.
“They thought He was crazy and He was – and He is, and those who would follow his footsteps, those who would be his disciples are called and summoned and challenged to be just as crazy as Jesus,” Curry preached in 2012. “We need some crazy Christians…crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God— just like Jesus.”
Answering his call to craziness, Curry said, will change the world as individuals, churches and other faith communities lead “civil wars” armed with goodness and decency to attack poverty and hunger, injustice and bigotry, and warfare and violence.
“We don’t have to all agree on our politics, but we ought to agree on the values that shape our politics,” Curry said, pointing to Jesus’ teachings through love, compassion and justice.
“This is clearly a countercultural lifestyle,” he said. “The call to follow Jesus, then, often means daring to be different.”