The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, who became the first female and first Black minister at the progressive, multi-cultural Middle Collegiate Church in New York City in 2004, has hosted conversations about theology, culture, and divisive current events on MSNBC and PBS. Now, in her new book Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness that Can Heal the World (Nov. 9, Harmony), she reflects on experiences with childhood trauma, racism, and her career in the church to build a case for how love can heal the profound discord she sees in the world.
What is ‘fierce love?’
Sometimes love gets a bad rap for being tepid and squishy and co-dependent. Fierce love is the kind of love that acknowledges that we're inextricably connected to each other. It's the kind of love that made people wade into the water during Katrina and risk their own bodies to save other people's lives. It is the kind of love that made a man run into the fire on 9/11 knowing he might not come out. I believe fierce love is hardwired into our DNA. If we can remember it, I think we can heal the world.
Why do you believe telling our life stories, as you do in the book, is so important, both for yourself and for others?
There's lots of ways to think about identity, but the stories that shape us actually tell us about our relationships, our experiences. If we can mine our own stories, be experts on our own stories, we can find nuggets that will help us all turn toward a better future.
What makes you think divisions in America can be overcome by anything, much less by love?
My mom and dad are from Jim Crow Mississippi. How do Black Southern Christians experience racial discrimination and then raise kids to love everybody? I see it all the time—communities like Middle Church, where we are multi-all-the-things, race, gender, age, abilities, who fiercely love each other and love the world. There's nothing more beautiful and difficult, frankly, than these places that remind us that our differences are gifts from God, and so is our relationship to each other.
You describe racial justice as a spiritual practice that involves choosing fairness and equality every day. What does that look like?
Every day, turn the lens on yourself. Turn the lens outside. What do I want the world to look like? What do I want myself to look like? What's the best me I can find? Let's make that our religion. Let's make that our spiritual discipline. Every day, choose the loving thing. Ask, what would love have me do right now?