“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 2010, I was hired by the Unitarian Universalist Association to help coordinate their LGBT Ministries Program, supporting congregations in their journey of living into inclusiveness while also bringing a religious voice to legislative efforts locally and nationally in support of equality. Though my position did not work out, I am proud of the sermon below that I shared with a fellowship in Minnesota in February 2011. The queries raised are ones that I continue to wrestle with today…what inspires me and all those in la lucha to be welcoming and to sermonize on the side of love? What sustains us in this struggle for living out Dr. King’s passionate proclamation of “free at last” for all? At the core of our commitment to welcoming the “stranger”, who are those individuals who embody courageous love that serve as prophetic trailblazers and examples of embodied witness?
[Sermonizing] on the Side of Love…from the Pews to the Public
Buenos dias to all, I would like to express my thanks to *** for this opportunity to share with you all this morning. We can get overwhelmed in this work with meetings, planning of events and actions, conference calls, and the endless stream of emails–not to mention the barriers and challenges that resist voices of change. It gives me comfort and inspiration to know that there are individuals such as yourselves who are committed to justice–it is people who keep me going and bring meaning to my work. Many thanks for all you have done, for all you continue to do, and for all you will do.
I am a firm believer in the transformative power of stories, especially children’s stories, and I would like to start our time together with a story…
The Story of Starfish (from http://www.connectwithsynergy.com/the-story-of-starfish/):
An old woman was walking on the beach one day. She saw that during the night, a lot of starfish had washed ashore. Hundreds of starfish lay glistening, out of reach of the receding waves. Then, she noticed two children on the shoreline. They were gathering up starfish in their hands. Carefully, they threw handful after handful of starfish back into the ocean. The old woman looked around and realized that a crowd of people had gathered to watch. No one said anything to them, so finally the old woman asked, “What are you doing?” The children answered, “These starfish will die if we don’t get them back into the water.” All the grownups chuckled at the naive answer. After all, everyone knew that everything dies. Who cared about a few starfish? What did it matter anyway? The crowd began to move away. But the old woman stayed, hoping to teach the naive children a lesson. She told them, “You’re wasting your time. There are hundreds of starfish lying around out here. It’s not going to make a difference.” The children each picked up a starfish. They showed the old woman the shiny, prickly side of each fish, with the beautiful colored ridges. They turned the starfish over. You could see movement as the starfish gasped, as if pleading for water. Then the children turned and threw the starfish gently back into the ocean. The waves carried the starfish away, floating it back into the deep, green water. They turned to the old woman and said — “See? I just made a difference. I made a difference to that starfish.” The old woman blushed. She saw that she had been wrong. These children were wiser than she was. So, she bent down and began to pick up the starfish. She threw them into the sea. They moved slowly in her hands as if trying to thank her. Then the starfish sank below the surface, back to their home in the sea. Eight hundred twenty-two starfish were saved that day, thanks to two children who showed an old woman that one big heart has the power to move many, many hands.
to love courageously from the pews to the public
I share this story with you as it truly captures the essence of our commitment to [sermonize] on the side of love. As UU’s we hold and strive to embody the principles of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations”… These first two of our 7 principles, I believe, are at the heart of what it means to be a Welcoming Congregation not only to the LGBT communities but to all who live on the margins.
Like the children in the story, our UU principles call us to be at the beach, to be in the trenches, to be in la lucha, or the struggle, as latin american theologians call it…to courageously live and be love in the world.
One of the things that attracted me to the UU was our willingness to wrestle with questions and grapple with answers…and in this wrestling match, we discover new questions and engage answers. Through this dance of queeries, we honor the insights gained from other traditions…traditions in which many of us ground our calling to courageously and justly love.
As I shared last night, we abbreviate standing on the side of love to sizzle. In continuing this habit and to play on the words, some of our inspirational sources for sizzling and being in solidarity with others…
- Judaism…tikkun olam… is a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.” Tikkun olam encompasses both the outer and the inner, both service to society by helping those in need and service to the Divine by liberating the spark within…it is a movement that begins with the person and spreads to the world.
- Satyagraha…an embodied belief developed by Gandhi of active and engaged non-violence in response to oppression. This belief inspired Dr Martin Luther King who stated: “Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.”
- And lastly Christianity…in following the example of Jesus of widening the circle to welcome and embrace the outcast; an itinerant teacher who ate with lepers, prostitutes, samaritans…all who were deemed to be unworthy, impure, and un-human.
In looking to our own UU tradition for sparks that gives fruit to sizzling, we come to know the witness of Thomas Starr King, an abolitionist during the Civil War. UU theologian Rebecca Ann Parker quotes Starr King in her book Blessing the World as having said, “I may be small, but when I am mad, I weigh a ton…we are not intended to be separate, private persons, but rather fibers, fingers, and limbs… there can be no such thing as justice until men in large masses are rightly related to each other.” These are some of the sources that inspire us to love, not the tokenized fluffy hallmark card sentiment, but an embodied and lived action whose ripples can transform society in real and just ways.
to love courageously from the pews to the public
The children in the story inspired a old woman to join them. Who are the individuals who inspire us? I must admit I do like the mental gymnastics and the headaches that follow of theo-ethical quandaries. Its the sort of thing divinity school students thrive on. However, what grounds me in my passion for social justice and commitment to just welcome are the people who embodied the concepts of tikkun olam, satyagraha, welcoming the outcast, and Starr King’s belief in relational justice. It is the walking testaments of just and courageous love that abound in this world that inspire us to continue the work started by prophets like Mother Teresa and Rabbi Heschel…living and imperfect and holy people who teach us, motivate us, guide us, and help foster the spark to sizzle.
This year, the UUA through “Standing on the Side of Love” wants to honor all those people who have been examples of courageous love. President Obama recently wrote a children’s book dedicated to his daughters titled “Of thee I sing.” In it he gives tribute to individuals such as Georgia O’Keefe, Cesar Chavez, and Albert Einstein…individuals whose lives helped shape the United States… Honoring the variety of peoples in our country, the president writes…
“Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind…People of all races religions and beliefs…people from the coastlines and the mountains…people who have made bright lights shine by sharing their unique gifts and giving us the courage to lift one another up, to keep up the fight, to work and build upon all that is good in our nation.”
Who are our heroes and sheroes? There are the biggies such as Jesus, the Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Bishop Gene Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Alice Walker, Harvey Milk, Bishop Oscar Romero…However who are the people who don’t have streets, buildings, or plazas named after them? What about people like Bayard Rustin, a black civil rights activist who happened to be gay that organized the famous March on Washington of the black civil rights movement…or the drag queens, transsexuals, people on the fringe of society who sparked the Stonewall movement? Who are the unsung walking testaments of courageous and just love?
It is people like my mother, who would kill me if I did not mention her…when I came out to her about 8 years ago she practically disowned me as my being gay was not compatible with our Cuban heritage and Roman Catholicism…today, after many many difficult conversations, arguments, and much patience she has become a proud PFLAG mom who is working to start groups for Hispanic and Latin@ parents who have LGBT children. The woman who sent me to reparative therapy and who thought my partner was the devil and evil incarnate, now lifts up signs with “I love my gay son and his partner” and is currently allowing my beloved to live with her while I get settled in DC (the dynamics of the relationship between mother and son-in-law are for a whole other series of conversations…that will be next year’s visit!).
What about Minnesota’s Desiree Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom who in the midst of tragic loss of students to suicide, courageously took on school officials at Champlin Park High School. Through their determination and witness, Desiree and Sarah were able to proudly walk hand in hand as a couple at a school event, something that school officials attempted to prevent. Their testimony rippled onto their classmates who rather than be silenced, rallied behind these two brave young women believing that their classmates deserved respect, dignity, and the right to be recognized as a couple, and most importantly the right to be who they are.
What about military officer and UU Zoë Dunning, who despite the risks and challenges of being a lesbian in the military, continued to work within military circles to create a movement that ultimately led to the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”
It is people like my mother, like Desiree and Sarah, like Zoe, every day people, who in their own unique ways do ordinary things with extraordinary love. In this space, please share those who have inspired you…Who is it in your life that motivates you to stand on the side of love? Who are the people in the life of the congregation that inspire a commitment to [sermonizing] and living on the side of love?
[people share openly]
Thank you for sharing…It is these trail blazers whose prophetic embodiment of just and courageous love inspire us to journey with them and in many cases continue the journey for them.
to love courageously from the pews to the public
Those individuals we have named today in this space and those whose names we carry in our hearts and souls…they each in their own way started revolution that sizzled and rippled with love…their prophetic reverence for life recognized and honored the intricate and complex intersections that exist in acts that fully love and welcome one’s neighbor and that fully embrace the stranger. Like our heroes and sheroes, courageous and just love can be a response to an injustice or tragedy like Hurricane Katrina, constitutional amendments that define who can and can’t love, the inhumane wages and conditions of migrant workers, the disparities in reproductive healthcare endured by pregnant women in prison…or like the children in the story, responding to the storm that washed innocent victims ashore.
We are called to respond to injustice through a courageous acts of loving justice… however, I want to leave you all with a challenge. Reactive love is not enough… reactionary love can be the start of a movement and revolution that creates counter narratives that resist dominant discourses that oppress. But to make our love whole and inclusive, our witness must also be a proactive reverence for life in its multiple shapes, sizes, and colors. A wholistic, courageous, and just love seeks to create programs, policies, and practices that keep all children safe in school–not only after the tragedy of suicide…seeks to plant the seeds that all relationships are equal in the hearts and minds of individuals who when elected to office can pass legislation that recognizes same-sex and same-gender loving couples–not only after amendments are passed…it is adopting practices that care for the earth now such as recycling, reducing our consumption of materials and resources–not only when we run out…it is creating spaces for conversation around our bodies that engages comprehensive approaches to sexuality, gender, identity, and expression across all ages, creating safes spaces for people to ask questions and to learn to love their bodies as beautiful and sacred–not only when there are reports of scandal or abuse.
This is the challenge I give you and that I give myself…a calling to love courageously and justly from the pews to the public is one that is both proactive and reactive…an organic, evolving, mindful ethic of welcome and embrace that builds a colorful beloved community. Rebecca Ann Parker states it best …“let us be a shelter for truths that the dominant culture would rule out…let us make love the first–not the last–resort…” This is an audacious task for a small movement of progressive people of faith, but to paraphrase Thomas Starr King, “we may be small but when we are mad, we weigh a ton…the weight of our passionate caring can help turn the world around.”
I close with this prayer written by Rev. Peter Morales … Spirit of Love and Life, On this second Standing on the Side of Love Day, we gather again in spirit across boundaries of time and place. We gather once again in a world torn by fear, by hatred, by violence. Dear Spirit, remind us once more that we are one, that we are connected, that we need one another. Remind us again that love is powerful, that love endures, and that ultimately love prevails. Teach us to allow the love that lives deep within each of us to express itself. Teach us to feel, to share, to form strong bonds of love. And may the love that lives among us grow so strong that we are compelled to take a stand. Let the love among us be courageous, strong and bold.
May love fill our hearts and guide our path. Que asi sea…Amen.