Two Bishops visit Morning Edition to talk about keeping the faith in these troubled times
India is more than half a world away for Joseph "Jos" Tharakan. Born in India, raised as a Catholic, ordained as a Franciscan monk and then received into the Episcopal Church, he is now the first person of color to be the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho.
“I’m still totally overwhelmed by it,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to hold my tears, not because I’m not happy with it. It’s just … I see God … so real … so many times.”
It was an emotional conversation when Tharakan and Bishop Michael Curry, chief pastor, president and chief executive of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. sat down with Morning Edition host George Prentice in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Boise.
Their wide-ranging conversation included thoughts on the fragility of democracy, the epidemic of violence and the quest for what Curry says is the light that breaks through “the midnight in our hour in the world.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. And I believe that. And we must be people of light.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. For this segment of our program, we have made our way to St Michael's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Boise. The first Boise Episcopal Church was opened in 1866. The church's history is indeed Idaho's history. The Episcopal bishop started St Luke's Hospital in 1902. The Episcopal Girls School would ultimately become Boise Junior College, which evolved into Boise State University. And on this beautiful summer morning, the sun streams through some spectacular stained-glass windows. We should note that some of the stained-glass windows are memorials for individuals or perhaps soldiers that never made it home. But they are ultimately symbols of beauty and strength. Regular listeners will know that we embrace the opportunity to talk about matters of faith on this program, and where or how they fit into the 21st century. We are honored this morning to welcome two voices: the most. Reverend Michael Curry is presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States. He serves as the Episcopal Church chief pastor, president and chief executive. And by the time this conversation airs, the Reverend Jos Tharakan will have been consecrated as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho. Gentlemen, good morning to you both.
BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY: Good morning.
RT. REV. JOS THARAKAN: Good morning.
PRENTICE: Reverend, I've heard that people “Jos.”. And how far back does that go?
THARAKAN: Well, my name, you know, baptismal name is Joseph. But in India, baptismal name, who has the name Joseph…they are also called the Jos. which is Jose in the United States. So when people call me Jose, I don't hear the name Jose, because that's not what I grew up with and I spell it as Jos. So it took a little while for me to actually get used to being called Jose. But then my family and other people really did not recognize exactly when I'm called Jose. So I thought, you know, I should change my name from Jose when I became a citizen to Jos by taking out the last letter of “e,” and I just put it as Jos. I thought, It's pretty simple. Well, I was called “Hos.” So you know what? So I got used to the idea. You can call me Jos, Hos. Jose, Josh, whatever fits. And I'm going to go with it. I'll answer.
CURRY: And Bishop.
THARAKAN: That's right. It's easier. It's easier.
PRENTICE: That's right. Indeed. You are the first bishop of color for the diocese. Let's see. Born in India, raised in the Catholic Church, ordained as a Franciscan monk, and then received into the Episcopal Church.
THARAKAN: That's correct.
PRENTICE: In reading your bio, you said in your ministry you are “called to walk with the other”
PRENTICE: Talk to me about that. Talk to me about “the other.”
THARAKAN: You know, people are all from all different types and persuasions and beliefs. And I grew up among Hindus and Muslims and Zoroastrians and Baha'is. That's my history. That's where I come from. So, anyone who is walking their journey, it's a journey that I haven't walked. I've been told many times, you know, if you could walk in the shoes of someone else, you will be kinder. And that's what I find. I think if I could really understand where people are, how, what is going on in their lives. And so the other is not necessarily Episcopalians, Roman Catholics. No, the other is the other human being who is in front of me, regardless of all the divisions and distinctions.
PRENTICE: Bishop Curry, we hope that you are having a warm and pleasant visit here in Idaho.
CURRY: It's a wonderful visit and the sun is shining.
PRENTICE: Indeed. We are reminded that Bishop Curry's leadership includes focus on racial reconciliation, climate change, evangelism, immigration and marriage equality. There is so much there. But let's start with marriage equality. What is your message to any couple who are deeply in love… and are in search of…to coin a phrase, “a more perfect union.”
CURRY: Hmm. Well, it's funny you would say that, because the more perfect union is actually marriage language. And that's probably appropriate because the same principles that apply in a marriage apply in a country and in a marriage. It's important to remember that love seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of the other as much as the self. And that if that is the principle on which a marriage is built, then I'm going to seek your good and welfare and well-being and our good and well-being. And that's true in a marriage, and that's true in E Pluribus Unum in a country. And so that that's the basic principle. Selfishness does not work. It doesn't work in a marriage. It doesn't work in a community. It doesn't work in a church, and it doesn't work in a country or a world. How do we live so that I'm as concerned about you as I am about myself and you? The same. And when we do that, it becomes possible for two to become one.
PRENTICE: I'm going to ask you both to weigh in on this. Our nation is indeed at a crossroads. Bishop Curry, I've heard you speak of “a midnight hour for democracy…” much like Dr. King spoke of “midnight hours.” Talk to me about where we are and what that “midnight” represents, before and after.
CURRY: The truth of the matter is democracy and our representative democracy like this one is an experiment in human relationships. It's not simply a political experiment. It's an experiment. Can human beings live together with profound diversity, with diversity of opinions and perspectives? Diversity as bishop-elect was saying, of of religious traditions, of political traditions, of all sort. Can we do that? In other words, is E Pluribus Unum possible? The Founding Fathers, whatever faults they had, they weren't perfect. But neither am I. But they weren't perfect, but their words were true. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That's true. But it takes the experiment and representative democracy, a democratic republic, to see if it's possible. And that experiment depends not simply on pure politics. It depends on our capacity to seek the good and the well-being of each other.
PRENTICE: But is your heart not breaking in these times? When there are significant wedges between us? Even our definition of democracy seems to be different.
CURRY: That's why Dr. King was right to say that its midnight. Midnight is the darkest point, and it's the point when the light has the potential to break in. So it is both. It is that that point where decisions must be made that will determine will we be people of light or will we perpetuate the darkness? And it's midnight in our social hour. It's midnight in our political hour. It's midnight in our hour in the world. The people of Ukraine, even as we speak, are seeking light. They just want to be free. But that tension between light and darkness always exists. And I'm mindful of the words of John's gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” And I believe that. And we must be people of light.
THARAKAN: You know, I couldn't have said better, honestly, what Presiding Bishop said about relationship. I think it is that breaking of that relationship that what we are seeing right now, people were neighbors, people knew each other, people loved each other, cared for each other and protected each other and did things to help one another. And that has been divided or it's been separated because somebody has instilled ideas that are not really scriptural, honest, beautiful. One of the best things I've ever heard in my life is that what Presiding Bishop says when he said it is not about if it is not about love, it's not about God. And that's what I see. I think we sometimes don't see that in relationships. If it is if it is not about love, then that love is broken. Because I don't like I don't understand the language. I don't like the way he or she behaves or he or she looks or how he speaks. I mean, there are all kinds of things that differentiates me from the other. And so if I can go beyond it, I think we came very close to losing this beautifully held democracy on January six. Beautifully. We came very close to losing it. But here we are reflecting and thinking and praying and working hard. It's easy to say, I'm thinking and praying about it, but working hard towards it requires heart breaking.
PRENTICE: I'm going to ask you a question, which I am certain is not fair, but I think I have an opportunity to ask men of faith this question: When a young man… thinks about and plans to do harm to others… and buys weapons… and kills children. Where…where is God in any of that?
CURRY: Well, an easy answer would be a trite answer, and there is no easy answer. And yet. Well. Mister Rogers.
PRENTICE: Fred Rogers?
CURRY: Fred Rogers. When he asked a similar question of his mother. She responded. “God is there in the helpers who come and help.” Where is God? Wherever light shines. Even in the darkness. Where is God? In first responders. Who come and help in some way. Where is God? And doctors and nurses and EMTs? Where is God and people who sometimes sacrifice their own lives to save other people's lives? Where is God? In a society where we try to fashion laws that help to make that not happen as best we can, where as God, when we provide services for people who are deeply troubled and have emotional distress, whereas you see them getting wherever there is light, even in the worst darkness, that light is God. God showing up. I believe that. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a person of faith. But sometimes the darkness is so dark, it's hard to see the light. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
PRENTICE: And this might be an easier question: Where is hope?
CURRY: In the light. Bishop-elect… I'd love to hear him on that.
THARAKAN: You know, there is a movie that I watched over and over and over. I bought about 80 copies of that movie called Brother Sun and Sister Moon. In that movie, there is one scene where Francis Saint Francis was washing and cleaning the lepers at the time in a river. And some of the people who didn't really like what he was doing came in, burned down the church, and the priest got killed. They killed the priest in that church. And Francis great, holy, wonderful guy. The scene focuses on him and the scene. The reason for that is he is crying out why? Where are you? Why? And the cameraman focuses the camera to the cross. That's how the movie that scene ends. Why? Where was God? Where was God when Jesus died? Or so is the darkness and sadness and cruelty and sin and the wrong things we do. Is God absent in the midst of it, or is God suffering with us in the midst of it? I think so. I think if my child is suffering, I'm going to suffer with my child. I'm not going to run away. I'm going to be part of that suffering. So for me, I think God was really is fully present, even in that young man who takes a gun fully trying to get him to a different place. And so the hope is in the reality that even in the midst of the suffering, just as presiding bishop said, just in the middle of that suffering is the hope in the darkness is still hope because God is right there, which we are trained sometimes in darkness not to see, but God is fully present. Even in the darkness, in the thick of darkness, God is working with us. So for me, yes, I hate I do not like when these kinds of things happen. But that doesn't mean God is absent or was not present. Fully present. Just like my child doesn't see me when I'm not there. So doesn't mean I'm not. I'm fully present. It's in the right behind it. That's why, again, I come back to the idea it may walk. If you look at what happened to them is basically that the disciples were heartbroken and sad and they walked to the place and Jesus was walking with them and he broke the bread and in an instant he disappeared. Doesn't mean he disappeared. He was right there. And so I think that that pain is what I see when these kinds of things happen, not the absence of God, but the really the presence of God who suffers with us. I would rather have that kind of a God who is with me struggling and suffering and knowing my pain so that I can hold on to him, will hold on to her and say, Yes, that's my God.
PRENTICE: Well, on this eve of you becoming the bishop, what are your thoughts… especially when you think back to the young Jos…the young boy?
THARAKAN: You know, I saw that as my being brought up in the Roman church. I went to seminary when I was 15 and I was in the seminary till 30 when I was ordained. So at the time, I never anticipated this day coming. This is not in my radar. Preparing for being a bishop is not in my radar. I'm a monk at heart. That's who I am. And so coming to this place, this reality of becoming a bishop, I'm still totally, totally overwhelmed by it. But and when I say, I mean, it's difficult for me to hold my tears, not because I'm not happy with it. It's just I see God… so real… so many times. The Lord had touched me over the course of years, and I kept walking, taking different routes. And that's why I can understand people very well. Anytime the Lord knocks on my, you know, in my heart, I will take this route. I'll try to avoid him this way, and then he will push me again to this side, and then I'll go the other way. So it's like I'm taking a detour every second of the day and the Lord says, You know, it's about time that you quit taking detours. And I've taken so many of them, so I'm totally overwhelmed and I'm not ready for it. I thought, you know, there is a video, Presiding Bishop says and the College of Bishops at the right after the election that says, you guys think you know what you're going to what you're entering into because you had been a priest for a long time. No, you have no clue. It's a career change. I didn't believe it.
CURRY: I didn't believe it either.
THARAKAN: So I think it is a career change, but it's an exciting change, wonderful people that I'm walking into in Idaho, what I've gone through, getting to know the people in the Diocese of Idaho. My gosh, it's an exciting, exciting time. People are excited. I'm excited for it. There is a tremendous hope, real future. And I think we are going to employ all that is available to us after this pandemic to expand that experience of God, people who can love and care for one another. That's our hope. And so that's what I am. I'm ready to get to work.
PRENTICE: Reverend Michael Curry is the chief pastor of the Episcopal Church in the United States. And Reverend Jos… can I call you Reverend Jos now? Congratulations to you. And we look forward to more conversations over the years. And for now, thank you for giving us some time this morning.
CURRY: Thank you George.
THARAKAN: Thank you very much.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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