Say Hello to Love

This week when my friend and professor Dr. Gabriella Lettini posted a link to a Huffington Post article by Marilyn Sewell titled “Saying Goodbye to Tolerance” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marilyn-sewell/saying-goodbye-to-tolerance_b_1976607.html), I was very excited.  Earlier this week, I had used Rev. Sewell’s words  in the Starr King School for the Ministry chapel service:

The shadow side of our free faith, with its ultimate measure being the individual conscience, is seen when we interpret that freedom as simply “freedom from” and not “freedom for.”*

And I love her observation about Unitarian Universalism that “we are a religious movement that no longer takes religion seriously.”

But as I continued to read the article, I found my attitude shifting.  I was struck by what sounded like the same diatribe I hear time and again from bitter ex-Christians in UU congregations who rant about Christianity (and that is clearly reflected in the affirming comments on this article…ex: “I hate xtianity even as I “love” the xtian.”)  Of course Marilyn Sewell is a bit different on this front.  She was raised a Baptist and clearly and frequently references her Christian roots.  But someone from her particular position making the statements contained in this article seems like giving red meat to the anti-Christian lions among UUs. “If she is against Christianity…”  In all fairness, Rev. Sewell is very clear through most of the article that she is specifically talking about conservative evangelical Christians, although she occasionally drops both the words “conservative” and “evangelical” at times, so I get the impression she is trying to make a distinction of sorts.  But then she invoked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy … was not the strident clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people.”

These are deeply prophetic words and quite possibly Rev. Sewell finds her justification in using them in a call for intolerance toward conservative evangelical Christians because King used similar words in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” which is a rallying cry to not wait for the “inevitable” but rather to play an active role in creating change.  But I think she’s missed one important point, as do some Unitarian Universalists and other liberals.  That is the point of love.  And that is a point that was at the core of every action, every word and every deed that was carried out by Martin Luther King, Jr.

My purpose with this blog is to show the link between our spirituality and our bodies.  I work with all kinds of bodies: large, small, fit, healthy, ailing, old, young.  As I touch someone’s body, or as I ask them to move with their body, I witness the greatest motivating factor that we have in our human existence: that is the power of love (pardon the 80’s cliché.)  I would never ask a client to hate or be intolerant of their fat.  I would never ask a client to battle their tense neck.  The best trainers and therapists understand that you must ask people to meet their challenges head on, without judgement, with total love and appreciation accepting the challenge as part of the totality of who we are.  For it is only without judgement that we can elicit change in ourselves…both physically and emotionally.  If we are able to have enough tolerance with our failings to understand where they come from, we are able to find a way to confront them honestly and clearly.  I believe it is very much the same with the “body” of human kind.

MLK said in his sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (Montgomery, AL, 1957), “hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe.”  Just as Rev. Sewell states that oppression is a continuum, I would argue that hatred of any kind, whether it be in violent action or mild intolerance, is just as much of a continuum.  Those Unitarian Universalists, existing in a head centered cloud of “me-ligion” may have a lot of trouble grasping what I am trying to convey here, but I guarantee you that even the most conservative southern Baptist understands that we are nothing and nowhere without love.  Dr. King’s sermon uses the word “love” 95 times.  He goes on at length about the Greek words for love…describing where love can come from, and the power inherent in love…both in regard to Jesus Christ and to all people in general.  He is not afraid to base his theology and his hopes for a better world on love.  This is the corner stone of Dr. King’s radical philosophy and it comes from his personal relationship with Christianity.  Reverend Sewell uses the word “love” only twice…once in the quote “hate the sin, love the sinner” and then as a verb speaking of same sex love.  She never once asks us to explore what happens when we abandon tolerance.  She never gives us the chance to confront the sickness in the body of our common humanity.  Where is the love that compels us to want more from those who hate us and would kill us?  This is what was appalling to Martin Luther King, Jr. when he spoke of the silence of the “good people.”

I call on Rev. Sewell, our Unitarian Universalist communities and people of all religions and non-religions to start where Dr. King started, with love: love and compassion for ourselves, and our failings and our limitations and even love for our intolerances.  I do not pretend that Christianity or any organized religion is innocent and pure.  Certainly, hate crimes are carried out  by people who claim to be acting in the name of Jesus Christ.  These are despicable acts.  They are crimes that deserve punishment and protection from perpetuation.  But it is more important to understand that these criminals have supplanted love with fear.  The real battle for the “silent good people” is to start with unconditional and transformative love.  It is impossible for some, but Dr. King asked us to try.  That was the beauty of his vision.

“Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.” – MLK

I have chosen to be a part of a religious community, although many of my friends do not desire to be part of religious communities.  I also have people in my life that do not believe in my politics or civil rights for my sexual orientation.  But in my world, I must find a way to love them all for as Dr. King says, “hate destroys the hater as well as the hated” and my goal is to build a healthy world that ultimately thrives and communicates based on love.

I am glad Dr. Lettini brought this article to my attention.  She is a radical liberal Christian theologian who I admire and who I know understands the power of basing theology and social justice in love.  In closing I say to Reverend Sewell that I am grateful for her insights in this article and her other writing and sermons I have heard her preach.  But, in response to our many “shadow sides” I would ask that we all strive to light a chalice so that it casts no shadows shining bright with the light of love.

*Unitarian Universalists: Who Are We? What Do We Aspire to Be?,” a presentation at the 2011 Minns Lectures by Marilyn Sewell

Text – Loving Your Enemies
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957

Audio – http://archive.org/details/MlkOnLovingYourEnemies-trueLove101

Dr. Gabriella Lettini is Dean of Faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry and co-author of the book Soul Repair http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13532187-soul-repair

A Binder full of Ubuntu

“We need to learn that unleashing the power of women has the potential to transform our world in extraordinary and many as yet unimagined ways” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I did not watch last night’s debate.  Nor did I watch last weeks…or the one before that.  Several pundits in criticizing the Romney-bot, summed up this phase of thecampaign very well in stating that this is all about salesmanship.  We are being force fed a choice between two parties that both have fairly icky records, not just in recent history, but throughout the history of their existence.  I will not watch the next debate.  I have chosen my candidate based on a combination of personal feeling, aspirations for our society, political and social record and what I see as a viable and sustainable future for the United States on a global stage.  This blog is not about endorsing “my” candidate (although I’m sure it will be pretty obvious who that is.) Rather, this entry is about the total audacity of placing not just women but anyone in a binder.

If I were asked to come up with 10 friends who were attorneys, at least half of them would be women.  If I were asked to come up with 10 friends who were artists, half of them would be white.  If I were asked to come up with 10 friends who were in the church, half of them would be latino, and so on.  I wouldn’t have to try to fill these demographic quotas, it is simply the color, shape and size of my world; what/who they are is secondary to why they are in my life.  When I hear that a Governor-elect had to “search” for qualified candidates to fill his cabinet so that it didn’t just look like a white male house of mirrors, it says more about how truly whitewashed his world is.  Not to mention the god complex of idly leafing through a binder that says “women” or “blacks” or “Jews” to carefully place these poor underlings in key spots because otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

Yuk.

This morning, I’ve been reading and listening to the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.  My word for the day is Ubuntu.  Not the computer operating system (thank you Dad) but the southern African philosophy:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is the cornerstone of everything I believe and everything I believe our world actually aspires to be.  In one of his addresses, Archbishop Tutu mentions how Western capitalism has often highlighted the antithesis of this concept, stressing individual wealth, success and position.  It is therefore no wonder that our hearts are empty and that our communities fail…we are working against nature in the most basic sense.  I’m not talking about the dictates of any one scripture or theology, for these will never all agree.  Although they are all the word of God (if we believe as such), we must first understand ourselves as part of a great interdependent existence before we can get to that God, by whatever name we call God.

We have a tremendous opportunity in our world.  We have come to an age of re-enlightenment where science has taken us so far that we are now coming full circle.  We are not satisfied by reducing and reducing life from tissue, to cell, to molecule, to atom, proton, electron, quark…no, not satisfied.  Even the greatest scientific minds of our time get to a point where they say “we don’t know” and more and more of us are okay with that.  Instinctively, we know as human beings that there is a level on which we function that cannot and will not be explained by a formula.  It is the “knowing that he or she belongs to a greater whole” that cannot be quantified.  Some call this spiritual connection, some call it Ubuntu and some even dare to call it love.

Personally, I am thrilled to live in a world where all women…cisgendered, trans, lesbian, queer, etc. do not live in files.  Where I know that every day and every moment of my life is intertwined with theirs and affirmed by theirs and where we aspire to hold each other up and celebrate our greater whole as one humankind.  Let us strive to live today and every day with our own personal and cultural Ubuntu. Whole and connected human capital is the only really valuable commodity we have.