Bonus: Fierce Love with Jacqui Lewis

Jacqui Lewis shares how a fierce love that starts with loving ourselves well will change the world. We are fully who we are--fully human--when we realize that we belong to each other. Everyone's success depends on everyone's success. So we are called to love one another as we love ourselves.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is a public theologian and the senior minister at the multicultural Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan. She’s appeared on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC and more. She’s written several books, including the just-released Fierce Love--which is a kind of manifesto for offering a healing antidote to our divided culture.

 

Listen and Subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Google / Amazon / Spotify


TRANSCRIPT:

Ryan Dunn:

This is the Compass Podcast where we disrupt your every day with glimpses of the Divine. It's Divine Will that the world comes together. When I think we have to admit that the world is a little bit of a hot mess right now.

Ryan Dunn:

So, how do we bring healing into the world? Well, our guest is Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and she talks to us about bringing healing into the world by, guess what, loving ourselves well. Our way forward starts with self-care. And from there then, we're able to cultivate superpowers. Do we have you interested? It is truly exciting stuff as I got to talk with Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis. She is a public theologian. She's also the Senior Minister at the multicultural Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan. She's appeared on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, and more. She's written several books, including the just released, Fierce Love, which is a manifesto for offering a healing antidote to our divided culture. So she's got a lot of wisdom to share with us. We're going to talk with Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis.

Ryan Dunn:

Dr. Lewis, you've noted that the world is a hot mess, as you've written. And in large part, that's because of our self-imposed human divisions. Now you present as a remedy for this, the idea of [foreign language 00:01:30]. Can you explain for us what [foreign language 00:01:33] is?

Jacqui Lewis:

I can, thank you. It's so good to be with you today. I'm going to butcher the Zulu, but its [foreign language 00:01:40], and that means, a person is a person through other persons. A human is a human through other humans, which is to say, there's not even a kind of singular humanity in that. It's all the people that belong together. And I first found this concept in a book called The Fifth Principle. Maybe you read that book too. But it was a business management book, trying to teach managers to teach their folks everyone's success depends on everyone's success. [foreign language 00:02:15] is the greeting that says, I see you. Meaning actually me and my ancestors and my deities, we all see you. And the response is, [foreign language 00:02:25], I exist. So we see each other into being. We are inextricably connected. Your suffering is my suffering, Your success is my success is what it means.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay. Well, your way forward in bringing some of the healing into the world, it might be surprising to some of us. It struck me a little bit in that it begins with loving yourself well. For you, why is that the starting place?

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah, because the other concept that's running through the book is this ubiquitous neighbor love call in all the world's major religions. Ours, Christianity, "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.", A rabbi Jesus' call when asked about the most important law, to love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. Scriptures that he picked up from Deuteronomy and Leviticus and put together as a nice sermon about how to get along in the world.

Jacqui Lewis:

So love neighbor, right? We both had to do Greek in the seminary world. The love neighbor, love self clauses are connected by [foreign language 00:03:31], which is an equal sign, we're to love our neighbor in exactly the same way as we love ourself. Now, Ryan, if we don't love ourselves, we are going to love our neighbor poorly. And I think that's part of what's with all the conflict and the strife and the divisiveness, is there's a lot of folks running around who don't love themselves, making decisions, making policies, in boardrooms, at the law table, at the Supreme court.

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

I think the revolution has to start with us.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, how do we begin to cultivate that love in ourselves? It's fairly easy to say, "Okay, I know I should love myself a little bit better", But...

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah, but it is hard. It is hard work. I wish we could be having this conversation with parents of six-months-old kids. You hear parents say, "I don't want to spoil my child". Spoil your child. Hold your child. Let your child have the time of magical feeling of omnipotence, by showing up on time with bottles and diapers and cuddles. Because they need that time of omnipotent feeling that they take in as confidence. "Look at me. I was hungry and I ate.", And they need that space. And I think all along the developmental cycle, we need a space in a holding environment, in which our superpowers are encouraged. And instead, in our nation of faithful people, Christian people, we teach that that love of self is narcissism, or hubris, or pride. And so there's a poverty of self love. Instead, sacrifice yourself. Instead deplete yourself. And that's what service looks like. But that's not what Jesus said. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Ryan Dunn:

So how in your own personal life, Jacqui Lewis, how have you cultivated a love of self?

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah, it's been hard sometimes, to be honest with you. I see in the book I can fall in and out of love with myself every day.

Ryan Dunn:

Fair.

Jacqui Lewis:

Maybe more like once a week now.

Ryan Dunn:

Good for you.

Jacqui Lewis:

Because I'm working on it, I'm getting better.

Jacqui Lewis:

But seriously, Ryan, the journey of, I am not my successes and my failures. I am not my good hair days. I am not my bad hair days. I am not the worst thing I've ever done in my life. And also I'm not just the best thing I've ever done in my life. I'm a complicated human like you are a complicated human. And to be able to take the kind of good and the bad look at ourselves, love as a non-possessive delight in the particularity of the other, or unconditional delight even. Our therapists have better regard for us sometimes than we do for ourselves. I am going to fall down, and I'm going to get up. I'm going to make a mistake, and I'm going to shine. I'm going to be sparkly, and I'm going to be not-so-sparkly. And that's all, honestly, made in the image of God. This is what I have rehearsed for myself for decades.

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

I'm a [foreign language 00:06:50] of the Holy, the psalmist says, "Made a little less than God." The psalmist says, "Awesomely and wonderfully made." The writer of First John says, "Everywhere love is, God resides." God is love, and God takes up residence in us when we love. How do we not love ourselves? So I have really tried to make it a spiritual discipline that when I'm not loving me, I'm not loving the God in me. And that's actually a bit blasphemous, right?

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

So how can I cultivate, that just like Sabbath is a part of how to honor God, loving ourselves is part of how to honor God.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, your voice is out there as a writer and as your own host. You have your own podcast. Anytime we stick ourselves out there, we open ourselves up for criticism.

Jacqui Lewis:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

Pastors know that well too, and you do some of that as well. So are there certain practices that you utilize on a regular basis to, shut down both the outside voices of criticism and the inner voice of criticism?

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah. Thank you Ryan, I love that you're pushing me to be really particular, because I think it's ethereal otherwise.

Jacqui Lewis:

So one practice, which I think is really good for clergy, period. Faith people, period. Helping professions, period. Is to be in a therapy practice. I have a wonderful therapist who's a focuser, and that's a relational therapy practice. But what you just did with me was focusing in a way. Where is that? What is that? Say more about that? Find that, find the source of that, and journey into the space of where it really lives, the story where it really lives. I'm a narrative psychologist person. So, where is that story living in you that you're not good? And how do you amplify the story that you are?

Jacqui Lewis:

And it isn't that the, I'm not good story actually has, I believe, wisdom about what's good about you. Let's say a person has survived domestic violence. And someone could say to them, "You stayed there too long." Maybe what's in that story, a therapist, a spiritual director would help you find is, actually, you were determined to love your babies and you stayed there for that. And then you got out when it was time. You resourced yourself, you knew you could do it and you stayed. I'm not saying folks should stay in those relationships. But you know how we shame on people when they don't make the choices we think they should make?

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

Instead, how can we as helping others find the superpower that's growing in the broken place, find the muscle of goodness and love and resilience that's growing in the broken place? And I put it my book, Fierce Love, an exercise of interrogating your own story.

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

You could do it with a therapist, but you could do this exercise for yourself. If my life is an ongoing book, where am I at? What's the current chapter, and how did I get here? And what was funky about that, excuse my language, well what was great about that? And can I see that, outsiderness, that vulnerability, that mistake as a place where God showed up and I got wisdom, or I grew compassion? There's gift in the sadness, there's gift in the fire. And if we can get in the habit of rehearsing those stories with candor, but also compassion, I think we can develop eyesight. We can learn how to see ourselves as more loving, as opposed to people who are worms.

Jacqui Lewis:

Secondly, let's get some better theology, period. So that we stop trafficking in, God created us, we screwed up, therefore we're unworthy and unloving, therefore, oh my God, Jesus had to die for our horribleness. And that atonement theory just permeates everything. That's like, I'm not okay. And actually I am okay. And maybe Jesus died because people were not okay and they killed him.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Jacqui Lewis:

And maybe we could learn to love ourselves because God resuscitated the murdered one on our behalf. And not, he died on our behalf, but he lived on our behalf, so that we might live. That's a different orientation.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Jacqui Lewis:

So those are two thoughts.

Ryan Dunn:

That's so hopeful. You've brought up resurrection, certainly a superpower, but you've brought up superpowers in relation to us as well. What are you referring to there?

Jacqui Lewis:

That's good [inaudible 00:11:28].

Ryan Dunn:

I want to know my superpowers. That's where this question is going.

Jacqui Lewis:

I'm going to tell you what yours are. One is patience. because we could not get my mic organized. So I noticed a superpower of patience with humor, right? I think my friend Otis Moss III is a senior pastor at Trinity United church of Christ in Chicago. And a bunch of us are fellows at Auburn Seminary. And when we got together the very first time, we actually talked about when did we do something, really, made us so proud of ourselves, We did such a good job. But also when did we really screw it up? And it was in the dynamic of the screw up and pride that he helped us name ourselves. So In the X-Universe, I am Storm. And they say, I can change the weather, right?

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

I bring the sunshine. We go to Mother Emmanuel after the murder of those nine beautiful people, and I'm get people singing.

Jacqui Lewis:

But on the other hand, I just made a phone call to one of my colleagues where I read an email and I was like, "I don't know that we should do that." And at the same time that I'm trying to celebrate his decision-making, I didn't mean to, but I poo-pooed on it. So I changed that weather too.

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

I am a weather-changer for sure. And I can feel that in the way that I can organize communities, and preach well, and make justice happen. But I have to notice also that every now then, I can change the weather in a way I don't want to. And I find that, to know that even is a superpower.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Jacqui Lewis:

To have insight about how your gifts can be problematic, and how your problematic can be gift. So your superpowers will show themselves to you as you interrogate your story.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Jacqui Lewis:

With a friend, with your therapist, your coach, you can help people in your congregation find their superpowers. As you say, "I noticed you lost your temper there, and right there where your temper is, is where your passion is."

Ryan Dunn:

So even in the negative situations, we're finding a source of strength.

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah. And something that might need to be turned. Say you had a temper, that's where your passion is, now how could you express that passion without slamming someone else's soul? Because that's not your intention, right? So that a coaching feeling of, let's take that part of you that likely isn't going to change much, and see how to excavate it for goodness.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. That's great. And cultivating your story a little bit, I'm always fascinated by people who have come to ministry as a second career. And you were pretty successful in the corporate side of things.

Jacqui Lewis:

Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

And then have gone into ministry as a profession. What drove you to go into ministry as a profession?

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah. Well, I finally just said yes to what was driving me. I started feeling called to ministry the first time I took communion sitting next to my mom on a pew in a church.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. When was that?

Jacqui Lewis:

I'm almost eight-

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Jacqui Lewis:

I could take it, I'm a Presbyterian, we could take it young. "The bread means God will always love you. The cup means God will never leave you." she said. And I started falling in love with the God who tasted like that sweet bread and who tasted like that grape juice.

Jacqui Lewis:

And then King got killed, Dr. King got killed, and I was both traumatized and catalyzed.

Jacqui Lewis:

So this saying yes at 30 to seminary to full-time ministry was, an it's about time, yes. And I don't have any regret for the corporate career that preceded that, because I think it taught me a lot. I used to sell copiers and professional photographic stuff, and now I sell Jesus in a worldview. Jesus and justice. It's a translatable skill.

Ryan Dunn:

It is.

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

In what way is it translatable? What did you learn before that you're employing now?

Jacqui Lewis:

Well, one is being able to discern a felt need. We were trained as sales reps to do something called SPIN that got a negative connotation, but it was Situation, Problem, Implications, Needs. And I think good preachers, good teachers, good counselors, know how to do SPIN, how to look at a situation to get to the problem in there, or the opportunity we might say today, and the implications for it. And the need, the felt need for love. The felt need for hope. The felt need for an answer to our existential questions that is love. I think most of us move in the world wanting to know that we matter. And so that's one translatable skill is to listen for where it is, and deliver the gospel, the Good News as an answer to the question. And that means for me, I've also changed my theology over time.

Jacqui Lewis:

So as a young person selling copiers, I was like, "Everything can be answered by the [inaudible 00:16:27], 300." That I make copy and whatever, right?

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

But the truth of the matter is, God has to be served up to people to meet them exactly where they are. Somebody needs to feel like God is judging them. I don't want them to need that, but they do. And we can intuit it, and we can say, God will forgive you, would be a leading talk, right? And somebody needs to know Jesus is our friend. And so you speak about welcoming the little children and the sinners. We can hear what the need is and find Scripture and hermeneutic to meet that need. And I think that's part of what is the translatable skill.

Ryan Dunn:

What led you then to Middle Collegiate Church? It's such an interesting congregation.

Jacqui Lewis:

Oh my God, that's a good word for it.

Jacqui Lewis:

I went to study Middle. I was in grad school, working on a PhD in Psych and Religion, and I was studying, how can congregations be not segregated at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning? What kind of leaders know how to do that? And [Gordon 00:17:33] was on my list to study. I had such a beautiful experience in Middle, in all its multi-everythingness and the diversity that was then, but is now increased, was the stuff of my heart. So they hired me, and I got to stay. Yay.

Ryan Dunn:

All right.

Ryan Dunn:

What is it about Middle Collegiate that is able then to be diverse? I think so many churches claim a value of diversity, but aren't able to practice it. How has Middle Collegiate been able to actually walk the talk?

Jacqui Lewis:

I really do think it's about leadership, Ryan-

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

And my study was, what is it about those stories? I really do believe in the power of stories. So I'll tell one. One of the leaders I studied was a White, Southern guy named [Randolph 00:18:22]. And I won't say his last name, but he was this Virginia Southern gentleman raised by wealthy parents, a doctor and a stay-at-home mom. But he had a Black nanny, he would say in my interview with him that the nanny really raised him.

Jacqui Lewis:

So inside his story was a Black woman who sheltered him from storms, right? Who protected him, who cuddled him when he fell down. And I really do believe that he interjected her, he took her in, like you and I take in our moms. And that she was a poor, Black woman with kids who loved this rich, White boy, stayed inside his story. And he loved juke joints, and Black music, and barbecue, all of that. But really what he loved is her.

Jacqui Lewis:

So I think what it is, is we have to, in order to do these multiracial, multicultural churches, we have to develop a border personality. Not borderline, but a border personality that says, I'm going to traffic in that theology. I'm going to study that music. I'm going to listen to that podcast. I'm going to consume that media. I'm going to live in an integrated neighborhood. I'm going to disrupt my silo. And those people then will be able to hold the diversity that is in a congregation. So I'm an Air Force brat who grew up with White folks. And I moved to Chicago and lived with Black folks. I've cultivated my Latin ex-self with my Spanish. I forced them to let me study Spanish, even in grad school again. To read theology and Spanish is different than to read it in English. To seek out Asian friends. I'm seriously right to get in touch with my own, indigenous roots.

Jacqui Lewis:

All of those things make all of us more diverse. And that's why segregation had so much power that whiteness did not want to be diluted, or disrupted, or changed. Because when you go to the border, Ryan, you change.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, and that's the fearful thing, is we talked about the love of self, there's a danger in loving ourselves in a way that is detrimental to the other, right?

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

So are there ways within the community of Middle Collegiate Church that you're able to help people love themselves in the midst of loving others well?

Jacqui Lewis:

Thank you, Ryan, that's an excellent question. And I would argue maybe the White Supremacist doesn't really love themselves. I would argue that the homophobic football player doesn't love himself, maybe is a little bit nervous about his own something.

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

I would argue that the Christians who killed the Jews didn't love themselves. The ones who lynch the Blacks, didn't love themselves. The ones who hate the women don't love themselves, because we are all connected. And there's a part of you that you see over there that you don't love. I would argue that. So one of the things that we try to do at Middle is to teach back to [foreign language 00:21:34] actually, as you love yourself, you see your neighbor as a part of you.

Jacqui Lewis:

So that when your neighbor doesn't have healthcare, you feel sympathy, empathy. When you're neighbor's child is hungry, your stomach growls. When the young adults in your church can't pay their college bills, it sends you to the policy table, to the voting booth, with their self-interest as though they're your child. That's the kind of love we're trying to do. That it is, you complete me kind of love. I am you and you are me, and we are one organism in the name of God, moving toward freedom and liberation together.

Ryan Dunn:

So as you think about the forward movement of [foreign language 00:22:24] and bringing more healing, what are some ideas that come to mind? What's next for you?

Jacqui Lewis:

I feel like this Fierce Love book has been cooking in me for a long, long, long time. And I got this said, love yourself, love your neighbor, love the world. Three concentric circles of love, and nine chapters. And what would be next for me is I would love to be able to say, fierce love and freedom, fierce love and justice, fierce love and parenting, fierce love and romantic relationship, fierce love and sensuality, sexuality, that I'm so convinced that love is the answer. And you can feel it in the air.

Jacqui Lewis:

And [Ferguson 00:23:08], the young adults were like, revolutionary love, love, love. My friend, [Valerie Cor 00:23:11], a rabbi [Michael Learner 00:23:13], who's actually not feeling well right now, so we could pray for him, wrote a book about revolutionary love, both of them. Love is everything. Love is what we need. And so, I would like to keep pushing this, both in our faith communities, as the religion. In the end of the book, I call us to believe assiduously in love, because God is love, right?

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Jacqui Lewis:

But also in secular spaces, Ryan. What if the way I'm going to tell a story on my staff is [inaudible 00:23:43], but my staff is traumatized, right? I mean, they all did COVID with all of us, and they also had a fire. And so sometimes there's can be, Cranky Town is what I call it. You know, Cranky Town, like you are Cranky Town.

Ryan Dunn:

I've been there. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

Right? And though they're at a church, they're also at a workplace. And so to get the one who's feeling Cranky Town, whose anxiety is causing them to be Cranky Town, to say, "Your colleagues are affected by your Cranky Town."

Jacqui Lewis:

I want that to happen in secular spaces. When you are in the boardroom, how do you going to talk to your colleagues? Because the church people don't not go to work, they go to work, right?

Ryan Dunn:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jacqui Lewis:

What if we had, Ryan, a love revolution that happened at school with kids, that happened at work with parents, that happened at PTA meetings, that happened at church meetings, that happened at the voting booth, that happened in the grocery store, that happened at Christmastime, Black Friday coming and it's going to be crazy. That I don't have to just think about me. I don't have to hoard my resources. I don't have to be rude, because I love myself, and it's contagious. My other figure were to [stank 00:24:57]. If I'm not stank inside myself, about myself, I can take a breath, and I can see right over there is a person who's vulnerable. It just needs a minute. That's the kind of hope I have for Fierce Love.

Ryan Dunn:

I thank you for giving us that perspective. And for your book, you dive into a lot of personal stories. You share yourself very authentically through the book. This may be our final question-

Jacqui Lewis:

Was I crazy? Why did I do that? Let's come back and talk about that.

Ryan Dunn:

Maybe it might feel that way. But then, from the reader perspective, you're able to take large ideas and put them into practical experience. So-

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

One of the sayings that I've heard is that people can always argue your theology, but they can't argue your story.

Jacqui Lewis:

That's right.

Ryan Dunn:

So was your idea behind sharing so many stories?

Jacqui Lewis:

Yeah. I had written a book of stories about getting a grownup God. Like here's how I came to a grownup faith and a grownup God. Here's how I let go of crazy judgements about myself and others. And I had written this whole memoir type of book. And it really wasn't what my agent and I decided was needed in the world. What we thought was needed in the world was a kind of calling in to love. And I had a couple of readers, [Paul Tuff 00:26:17] is a friend and a great writer. He said, "I know that other book, because I read that book." What if these stories were here that were illustrative of these points to your point, Ryan. How? This way. So I decided to pull some of the stories over that would illustrate the points. If I can't tell the truth when I'm saying, be honest, that's a problem, right? If I can't say I've had trouble loving myself, when I say you should love yourself, then who am I?

Jacqui Lewis:

So I just decided, I'm 62 years old. I have friends who tell me, don't tell that because you don't look 62, but I'm 62 years old. And life is short, and the world's on fire, and I had a fire. And if it's the last things I do on Earth, I want us to love each other better. And I just thought it was worth the risk. I'm passionate about no more Black killings by police. No more children pulled away from their parents under anybody's administration, right? No more kids in the bathroom. Go to the bathroom, who cares. No more hating each other because of politics and religion. Why? How can we do that in the name of God? So I told some truth, just to be straightforward, so people will also tell the truth and get better.

Ryan Dunn:

That's a beautiful benediction for us.

Ryan Dunn:

Dr. Lewis. Thank you so much for sharing-

Jacqui Lewis:

Thank you.

Ryan Dunn:

Your story with us and for sharing this time with us as well,

Jacqui Lewis:

Please call me Jacqui, and thank you so much.

Ryan Dunn:

You bet.

Jacqui Lewis:

Bye.

Ryan Dunn:

We've heard our call to action. To learn more about Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis, go to jacquijlewis.com, or you can go to middlechurch.com as well. Big thanks for you for listening to this podcast episode. If you'd like to learn more about the Compass Podcast, go ahead and check UMC.org/Compass. You'll find lots of other relevant episodes there. We would appreciate you listening to another one. Thanks to United Methodist Communications for making this podcast possible. Thanks to [Reed Gaines 00:28:38] for piecing this thing together. And of course again, thank you, listener. We'll be back in a couple weeks. In the meantime, peace.