Monday, February 27, 2012

Sermon - Disordered Love

Disordered Love
As we finish our month of talking about love, today we are going to talk a bit about the direction of our love, or the orientation of our love. One way to think of it might be the difference between love and lust, one being good and the other being destructive. But rather than think of two different types of attraction, I think the question is more one of orientation. What are we drawn to, and how to we respond to that attraction.
Obviously there are sexual and romantic overtones to this discussion of love or lust. But our love guides our lives far beyond the bedroom. Our love, our desire is what rests at the root of nearly every decision we make. You see what we love is what we value. Put another way, our love shapes our values and the way we live our lives in the world. For that reason it’s important to be aware of our loves. As our responsive reading said earlier, what we are worship, we are becoming. And I argue, what we are loving, we are encouraging in our world.
“Disordered Love” is an odd name for a Unitarian Universalist sermon. It sounds more like the name of a rock band, but disordered love is actually the formal name of a very specific piece of Christian theology. No one on the street would use that name for it today, but it is a pervasive belief in Christianity, and subsequently throughout our country. In fact there is a whole line of Christian bumper stickers and clothing that rest on this theological principle. You have likely seen cars with a bit NOW on them. Or young people wearing clothing.Well that NOW stands for not of this world. It’s an assertion that this world is not important. What is truly important is a focus on the next life and relationship with God.
Now before I get too far into this description of disordered love and what it means to Christians, please know that I’m talking about it only as a point of comparison for Unitarian Universalists. In fact it is pretty much diametrically opposed to the sort of orientation that we celebrate.
So disordered love… what is it? Well it comes from a very, very important Christian thinker named Augustine of Hippo. He is responsible for the Christian idea of original sin as being passed down from the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, and a bunch of other pieces that are central to Christianity. Obviously we’re not going to dive into all of his ideas today. But this disordered love idea is important for us to understand.
For Augustine, original sin is the result of disordered love. He thought that we as humans are fundamentally mixed up in our orientation. Instead of loving God, as we all should, we love earthly things around us. We can’t help this state. We are stuck with this disordered love by the sheer fact of being human. Our disorientation is part and parcel of original sin. We are stuck focusing on this world instead of on God above.
Living in the 4th and 5th Century, Augustine was in a very black and white world. For him there was this world, the material world that is inherently sinful and removed from God. This world exists below a more pure world, and perfect realm of the divine. For Augustine and the Christians that would follow him, this dualism of the profane material world and the sacred spiritual world shaped everything. Our love was disordered. We humans were too focused on this world, when we should be focusing our love on the only worthy object of our love, namely God.
Now do those “Not of this World” bumper stickers make more sense? It is a founding principle of Christian theology. It is anchoring oneself in a promised land beyond, rather than opening your eyes to see and love the promised land that we inhabit here and now.
What we are talking about today is a matter of orientation. Christians have argued that God and the other world are the only thing to set our compass by. For us as Unitarian Universalists, we also orient our lives toward the sacred, whether that is God or our highest ideals, but we orient with a focus on this world and this life.

We Unitarian Universalists take a radically different approach. Rather than thinking our world is somehow below the realm of heaven or less than holy, we start from a shared belief that this world that we share is profoundly good. The miracle of nature, the power of human compassion, the life that abounds on our planet, all of this stuff is good and it is worthy of our love. We have in our midst the possibility of fulfillment, salvation in this life. If we have the audacity to open our eyes, and open our hearts we can find the promised land not in some celestial heaven, but here in our every day.
This is the point of one of the most significant pieces of writing in my theology and ethics. It is an essay by bell hooks called “Beauty Laid Bare: Aesthetics in the Ordinary.” In this essay, she calls us to become aware of the beauty that surrounds us every day. She believes, as do I, that if we fill our lives with beauty that is life-affirming, beauty that comes from nature and gives back to nature, then our constant yearning for more material stuff will be curbed. Or in theological terms, this life offers us an opportunity to orient our love in the right direction, and create the promised-land here in our midst on earth.
She writes, “Beauty can be and is present in our lives irrespective of our class status. Learning to see and appreciate the presence of beauty is an act of resistance in a culture of domination that recognizes the production of pervasive feelings of lack, both materially and spiritually, is a useful colonizing strategy.”
So hooks argues, and I would agree, that rather than rejecting all material goods and all appreciation for the beautiful, we should recalibrate what we understand to be beautiful. We should make sure our love is oriented correctly. In the essay hooks describes her heroic grandmother as a style radical. She writes, “As a quilt maker she was constantly creating new worlds, discovering new patterns, different shapes. To her it was the uniqueness of the individual body, look, and soul that mattered.” What we are talking about is loving things that are good for our whole person and good for the world around us. Loving those things that are worthy of our love.
For me, appreciating the simple beauty, good beauty comes mostly through enjoying good food, real food. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is probably because good food, food that is good for the environment and enjoyable, is something that I can afford. Food is something that we have to buy. It is not a luxury item. But falling in love with a great heirloom tomatoes or seasonal produce, appreciating the texture of freshly baked bread or even better, occasionally spending the time to bake it myself, those are luxuries, expressions of beauty that I can revel in. They are objects of love that help bring about Beloved community rather than destruction and exclusion.
As bell hooks tells us about opening our senses to life-affirming beauty around us, I hope to encourage us to open our hearts to loving those things that are worthy of our love. Our lives are filled with beauty if we open our eyes to it, so too are our lives filled with the holy when we open our hearts.
Loving this life and this world is anything but disordered. Loving this world and this life is the way to saving it. Saving our lives from the abyss of meaninglessness, and saving our world from destruction. Loving is serious business. How we orient ourselves to love is serious business.
Two weeks ago I spoke about the sacredness of our bodies and sensual selves. It was a fun sermon and a fun topic to talk about. But as Unitarian Universalists we do our best not just talk about our beliefs. We try to make them manifest in the world.
In the case of loving our bodies and taking time to orient our love, one way that we practice what we preach is through offering our children, youth, and adults comprehensive sexuality education through the cutting edge religious education curriculum called “Our Whole Lives.” It hasn’t been taught here in several years. But Orange Coast, up in Costa Mesa is about to start up a class for elementary students and high-school students. The curriculum in each age group is twelve one and a half hour sessions that builds from basic information to decision making a mutual respect. I wanted to tell you about this not to toot our Unitarian Universalist horn. But because I think it is a shining example of the way we engage our world and how we orient our love with intention. Rather than seeing this world, this life, this body as somehow inherently inadequate, we see them as a gift to be celebrated and understood with great care. We want our children, youth, and adults to have information to make good decisions. We want them to have healthy, respectful and meaningful relationship with their own body and with their partners’.
What I’m trying to say is that we invest a good deal of energy into orienting our love of this world. Celebrating this life and this world is not disordered. It’s a path to fulfillment and a path toward healing. But we have to be honest, that it takes some focus and thought.

We are not inherently sinful; we do not have disordered love. But, there is a whole array of attractions in our world that pull us from what is most important in our lives. We should be honest about that.
We know the difference between the things that feed our whole person and the things that will make us feel better for the moment. It’s like junk food for the soul. We know that some of the things that attract us are actually quite bad for us, and bad for our world. It is important to remember that when it comes down to it, we are animals. We are designed through a tremendous process of evolution to want to collect, to feed ourselves and our families and to seek comfort and security. We are hard wired to consume and collect.
Some people hear that and assume that is tantamount to being hedonistic and self-centered. But that is only half the story. We are animals, but we are social animals. We are hard wired to share with the people in our family, the people we care about, our tribe. We have evolved not to live as isolated beings, but to live in cooperative communities. We are inclined to collect and consume, but we are also inclined to be aware of resources that we consume and how to protect them. As our world gets smaller, as our awareness of interrelated community expands, so can our capacity to care for the well-being of our brothers and sisters. As our shared resources become more scarce and fragile, we can learn, we can adapt to use them more wisely.
At its core, the effort to squelch our innate love for this world is misguided. We are animals. We are consuming and collecting beings with bodies that drive us. But we are also social beings, with a capacity to expand our circle of concern. Rather than rejecting this amazing world for another one, we can pay attention to where we orient our desires. Wanting things that are good for our whole selves, things that are good for the wider world.
But it’s not easy. Part of living in a capitalist society is living with companies that depend on selling us stuff, widgets and trinkets big and small, that we probably don’t need. These corporations do not have some evil plot to disorder our love or to create waste. They are trying to make a buck. And that’s okay. But we are trying to live our lives with integrity, trying to love with integrity, and sometimes those corporate voices can get in the way.

So in the end, the whole question of orienting our love boils down to one little question. “Why.” Why am I drawn toward this thing or this person? When you feel a yearning, when you’re got to have something, ask “why?” Is it because it will feed your whole self and the world around you? If that is the case, then embrace it, love it. Because loving this world and the fruit of this world is a path to salvation in this life.
Or is that yearning in your heart, that love, the product of a less productive voice? Or is it because someone else wants you to want it? Is it spiritual junk food? Is it because a commercial has convinced you are inadequate without this thing?
I want to close our month of talking about love in a very simple way. It’s an invitation to pause when we feel our heart being pulled. Pause for a simple question to orient your love. Pause and ask “Why?” Will the object of my desire feed my whole person and bring life to the world around me, or is it spiritual junk food? A simple pause to ask why can why, can harness the power of love to transform our lives and our world.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Sermon - "Loving the Body Electric"

Loving the Body Electric
We talk about love a lot in church. The whole month of February we are focusing on love as our worship theme. I make it a point to say “I love you” at the end of every service. It’s a core piece of UU faith and belief. Today I want to focus on the love that we don’t talk about as much in church. I want to talk about the love that we experience and celebrate with our bodies.
Last Sunday I visited St. Mary’s Episcopal Church here in town, to give a short talk on Unitarian Universalism. And someone there asked a very astute question. She wondering how, culturally, Unitarian Universalism grew out of Puritanism. How did we go from being the hallmark of all things stuffy, to being the free-wheeling bunch that we are today? And I explained to her that, while Unitarians are quite free in their thought, we are not always so free in our actions. We tend to live very intentional lives. We hold ourselves to a high ethical standard. It is sometimes a different standard from American majority, but nevertheless, we can be quite demanding about the way we live our lives and the way we understand ourselves.
We tend to be very free in our thought but not always so free in our body. That’s what I’m hoping to break through a bit of today. Freedom of thought is the foundation of Unitarian theology. We see that today in the theological diversity that makes up our congregations. But from the very roots of Unitarian theology, it was critical reasoning that separated us from the rest, particularly here in America.
Unitarians broke from Protestants of the 19th century in large part because we insisted on using reason to interpret the Bible. Yes, 19th Century Unitarians were deeply invested in the Bible. But as a relatively new idea of Biblical criticism came out of Europe, these Liberal Christians fully embraced it. They were eager to use all that knowledge and reason available to interpret the core of their faith.
The other piece of theology that set these early Unitarians apart was their rejection of original sin. They realized that we have a tremendous gift of reason and capacity for moral growth. Every person has potential to move toward more perfect living. We are not perfect, but neither are we inherently sinful. We are simply full of potential, and if we put to use our conscience and reason, we can develop into better and better people.
A belief in reason and human potential is the foundation of our faith. So much so that today, the one piece of our Seven Principles that just about everyone can recite, is that We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It’s a message we have taken to heart and live out in our daily lives. We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But sometimes I wonder if we also believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every body, especially our own. Everything I believe and know to be true tells me that we should.

We know that human intellect is a tremendous gift and should be used for the betterment of our world. We have amazing brains. We also have magnificent bodies. We are called not just to use our minds, but to use our whole selves in living life to its fullest. We are called to use our bodies, our wonderful senses to learn about our world. Not from books or lectures, but to learn what the world has to teach us in the way of senses. Filling our sights with the visual beauty that abounds is an inherently good thing. With world-class art galleries just a stone’s through away, and vistas of the Pacific Ocean or deserts in our back yard, it behooves us to stop and look. To feed our souls with the beauty that abounds, the beauty that we absorb through our body.
But not just visual beauty, our lives can be, should be awash in all sorts of rich experience. The titillating flavors of world cuisine, the ineffable emotional journey of music in our ears, the touch of a lover’s embrace, fine linen, of tree bark. Perhaps more than any one of these sensations it is the variety that stirs our soul in the world of beauty and wonder. An ever-present world ready and waiting to feed our souls if we but open our eyes, our ears, our hands. We come to experience the wonder of creation through our bodies. And in return we express ourselves in physical form.
These mounds of flesh and bone are the primary tool we have, to express what is stirring in our souls. That may take for form of creating an artistic expression, or singing a song. For most of us though, it takes the simple form of being with another person and sharing our thoughts in words. We share ourselves with one another through our bodies. We connect with one another, we love one another through our physical beings, whether that means a hug, a conversation, cooking a meal, making love, or marching for justice. We are able to connect to the world around us and we share our love because each of us was granted the gift of flesh and bone. It’s a gift worth celebrating. It’s a gift worth worship.

The person who celebrates the beauty of the physical world in a way that stirs my soul the most in Walt Whitman. I wanted to share with you some of the ways that he speaks about bodies in his poem, “I Sing the Body Electric,” from Leaves of Grass. It’s an amazing poem. Honestly portions of it would make me blush to read from a pulpit, but I encourage you to take a gander at the entire thing if you get a chance. It’s a great pre-Valentines Day read. He writes:
The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself
balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,

But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of
his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist
and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

Whitman is just getting warmed up with that little passage. But what I found striking in this, and why I wanted to be sure to share it was the idea that the body of man or woman balks account. It is a daring claim for a poet, and I suppose for a preacher, to say that one’s subject balks account. But it is true, the human body is far beyond description in the unending nuances of beauty and expression. Try as we may, in words visual art, the power of vitality held in each living person far exceeds any attempt to duplicate or describe it.
Two of the best-known attempts of that exercise are on the cover of today’s order of service. Michael Angelo’s “David” and the “Venus de Milo,” the most famous of all Greco-Roman sculpture. I have never seen these pieces of art in person. However I have heard that they are simply astounding. Still, in all the beauty they express, I contend that they fail to capture the visceral essence of a living human forum. As Whitman put it, “the body balks account.” It is a singular phenomenon beyond reproduction or adequate description. It is magnificent.

Whitman talks at length about the beauty of different types of bodies, men, women, children and the old. He writes so beautifully about each type, but he also speaks of the power of being in the company of others. He says,

I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round
his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I
swim in it as in a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them,
and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.

From a minister’s perspective, this description of being in the company of others is simply perfect. It “pleases the soul well.” I love that!
There is a unique sense of satisfaction that comes through connection with other bodies. The physical presence, the touch is something irreplaceable. Just like the beauty of the physical form balks account, the physical experience of encountering human flesh, is utterly unique in its power. Whether that be a first kiss of timid lovers, the decades old embrace of spouses, or the caring human touch offered to a soul in a hospital bed. It is satisfying; it is enough. Being with the right person is more than art or food or adventure; eing in the right company is enough.
As creatures, we are designed in certain ways to thrive. One of those ways that we are designed is as social animals. We are meant to be together, to live together in proximity. However, more and more we find that people live individual lives. We connect through technology, which is a wonderful gift, but it is NOT THE SAME. You can see through computer screens, you can hear through telephones, but you cannot smell or touch another human being. You cannot be with them.
We are social beings. We need one another and there is tremendous power in that presence. That is a part of why we hold hands here every Sunday. I know that not everyone likes it. For some people it is cheesy, it smacks of singing Kumbaya. But for far more people, it is simply uncomfortable. I understand that it is uncomfortable to physically touch a person you don’t know well. I know it’s particularly uncomfortable for men.
Holding hands is uncomfortable because it is powerful. In fact I think there are few things more powerful in our lives than the touch of another human being. From a lover or friend or a healer. If you are one of those people for whom holding hands is uncomfortable, I want you to know that I get that. But I also want to challenge you to think about what makes it uncomfortable for you. And, remember that while it may be difficult for you, for someone else in this room, it is a deeply nurturing, even healing moment.
I don’t know how Whitman felt about holding hands, but he clearly celebrated being in the physical company of other people. But this next passage is where he get’s really explicitly theological. Whitman talks about the body and the soul being one. He writes:

O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women,
nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the
soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and
that they are my poems,
Man's, woman's, child, youth's, wife's, husband's, mother's,
father's, young man's, young woman's poems,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or
sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the

The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked
meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward
toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the
marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of
the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

As Valentines Day approaches, let us to skip over the plastic hearts and grocery-store advertising. Skip over the giddiness or possible resentment that this holiday brings. And let this be an invitation to be at home in your body. Celebrate your magnificent soul of flesh and bone. This Valentines Day, celebrate the gift of a sensual body. Do something for yourself. Whether it is a nice meal, a massage, even wearing your most comfortable, favorite piece of clothing, or feasting your eyes on an image that stirs your soul. Do something your body enjoys, because it deserves some attention.
This Valentines Day, let us celebrate with a shared belief, and experience of the inherent worth and dignity of every body, including our own.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sermon - "Immigration: Standing on the Side of Love"

You may have already heard that last week, our guest speakers were unable to join us after the service. Instead of having them speak, we had a discussion about how we all felt about the issue of immigration. I was actually really moved by the depth of sharing and the openness toward other’s views.
But I want to follow up on that conversation with a little bit of vocabulary. Immigration is a complicated topic with lots of different viewpoints. It’s something that clearly isn’t settled. Even for folks who have a general inclination toward more leniency or stricter enforcement the conversation is still going. But to have that conversation we need to have some commonly terms.
Around political issues, sometimes we find ourselves using words without recognizing their full meaning. One very good example of that is the word “illegal alien,” of “illegals,” for short. It’s a word that was used several times in our discussion on Sunday. And I know it wasn’t meant to be injurious or to hold a particular political opinion. For many people, the word is very offensive. That’s because no human being is inherently illegal. Yes, they have violated immigration policy or been brought to the United Sates illegally by their parents when they were young children. These are illegal actions according to our government. However, calling a person illegal holds certain implications for their humanity.
The much preferred term for people living in the United States without permission to be here is “undocumented person.” There are many people living in the U.S. who lack proper documentation and permission to be here. However, labeling a human being as illegal is understood as a significant insult to their humanity.
You may or may not agree with the way this language has taken shape. But if you think about it, most of the language that describes groups of people is hugely charged yet somewhat arbitrary in its origin. Regardless of the what you think the words themselves should be, it’s pretty widely understood that “undocumented” is more respectful that “illegal.”
And that is what we are talking about today. And that is why language matters. It’s not for the purpose of sounding like you know what you are talking about. It’s not about an agenda. But if we can use words that make people feel that they are valued as human beings, it’s worth using those words. Standing on the side of love is about treating all people with respect, and standing up to forces that would reduce them to numbers and policies. Even more so, Standing on the side of love is about refusing to treat our brothers and sisters as if they were somehow less than human, just because of they sought a better life for their family.

We should understand that being in violation of immigration law is not a felony, it is a misdemeanor. It is a civil violation, much like a speeding ticket or a parking ticket that you or I would get. But the punishment is much, much harsher.
When an undocumented immigrant is detained, he or she is taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security. From there they go into one of two places, an Immigrant Dentention Center, which have virtually no oversight, or they are simply sent to jail. The Department of Homeland Security pays for “bed space” in over 312 county and city prisons across the country. The majority undocumented immigrants detained, 67% end up in local jails, mixed in with the local prison population (Detention Watch Network).
As the federal government has increased its enforcement, it has surpassed its capacity to detain undocumented people in any humane conditions or facilities. The growth in detention has resulted in often terrible conditions at Immigrant Detention Centers. Problems sited include: grossly inadequate health care, physical and sexual abuse, overcrowding, discrimination, and racism. NGOs frequently receive widespread complaints from detainees and their loved ones regarding problems like lack of access to necessary medications for persons with chronic illnesses; lack of proper nutrition and recreation; shackling; use of segregation or tasers for disciplinary purposes; inability to visit with family members and problems with access to telephones. Perhaps most importantly, access to legal aid is highly restricted in most detention situations, leaving detainees at a severe disadvantage in making a case for release or asylum (Detention Watch Network). You may remember last week I described a Federal Courthouse holding trial for over 50 undocumented people. They were represented by 5 attorneys who had prepared all 50 cases the same morning.
It is also important that we talk about the number of people who are subjected to these dangerous conditions. This is no small project, affecting a few immigrants. Over 387,000 men, women, and children are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) each year, the majority of whom have no criminal history whatsoever (Detention Watch Network). That’s about 16 times the population of Laguna Beach, detained and arrested annually. And obviously, this is massive expense is funded with tax dollars.

The other piece of inhumane treatment I learned about more recently has to do with deportations. When I went with some other UU leaders to learn about immigration and we visited Nogales Mexico. We went to a bus station just across the Boarder. This particular bus station was known for helping people who had recently been deported to find an inexpensive ticket back to their home of origin. Remember, Mexico is not a small country. Deportations only take you across the boarder.
Also at this bus station we met a young American who volunteered with the organization “No More Deaths.” We learned from him and from some of the people at the bus station how a good number of people who were ejected from the United States had NOTHING, not because they went in with nothing, but because in the shuffle from detention facility to detention facility, it was lost, including any source of personal identification. So a volunteer was there with a cel phone, helping recently deported people call their families to collect what little resources they had to get home.
I think the best indication of the helplessness of the situation, was that these folks couldn’t even get a Western Union money transfer from family, without and ID. So the volunteer, from a very trusted organization, also served to facilitate this process.
Our government treats undocumented immigrant men, women, and children like dirt. I don’t have the answer to immigration policy reform. I don’t know how to fix the whole problem, but I know, hopefully we know, that something is deeply wrong.
Hopefully by now, it’s not lost on you why I chose to tell the story of the Good Samaritan this morning. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the detailed questions of policy. It’s easy for us to feel constrained by social norms of who is supposed to care for whom. But, the Samaritan knew that another human being was in desperate need. So breaking all social norms he stopped what he was doing, lent a hand and some money. I didn’t have time to research this, but I’m fairly certain that these two didn’t speak the same language.

That’s basically what Standing on the side of love is about. It’s not standing on the side of affective federal policy. It’s not standing on the side of multinational trade agreements. It’s not standing on the side of intellect. Standing on the side of love is about seeing our brothers and sisters in need and offering what we can to help.
We’re s smart bunch, Unitarian Universalists. A highly educated bunch. But frankly that gets in the way sometimes. There are a lot of smart people in our midst, but this is not a think tank, it is a faith community. Our values are our platform: The inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person, compassion, support for families, real family values that actually value keeping families in tact. Those are the things we stand for.
Standing on the side of love is about recognizing in our gut that there is a deep problem, that we will not turn away from until it gets better. And it’s also about seeking a resolution to that problem in a compassionate way.

You’ve heard me say this before. Too much of our public discourse is driven not by love, but by fear. Day after day we read newspaper articles that pit one team against another, as if the goal of politics and government was competition, rather than serving the people. This is not football, this is our government we are talking about, the institution that educates our children and provides for our seniors. It is the institution that safeguards our food and transportation. And what we hear, is who beat who in the latest battle.
Too much of the public discourse is driven not by love, but by fear and competition, which usually scapegoats particular people and deems them somehow less than human. Now it is easy to think that we stand on the side of love, because of course what we care about is right. But to actually stand on the side of love, to bring love and compassion to the forefront of our conversations is a much more demanding task. Partly because that football game we call politics is fun to watch. And because we get so angry at those other people. You know, the ones who just don’t understand. The ones who are mean and want to make money off of us. Those people who don’t care about children or the elderly. Those war mongers. Those bigots.
I think you get the point. It’s easy to go down that road when we care passionately about something. But assuming that our adversaries are mean-spirited, rather than misinformed is not standing on the side of love. And it’s not helpful.
For one, when we scapegoat someone, we don’t take them seriously and we don’t understand them. Absolutely no progress is possible when we don’t make an honest attempt to understand the hearts and minds of the people we engage with.
And second and more importantly, standing on the side of love is more than good strategy, it is who we are as a religious community. We believe in the inherent good and dignity of every person. We believe, even when it is hard, that people act out of good intentions and not malice. We believe that just becomes someone is ill informed or disagrees with us, that does not make them any less of a person, or any less worthy of dignity.
My goal, our goal as Unitarian Universalists is to change the public discourse, change the focus from hatred to love. It is a huge goal. Ambitious, maybe even naïve. But I refuse to accept the alternative. I refuse to accept that solving problems looks like a verbal boxing match, or that our fellow human beings are either with us or against us.
I find that when a problem feels overwhelming, it’s often because we pose it in an either or situation. And we make both of those options the extreme. Either we open up all the boarders and freely welcome anyone and everyone who would come to the United States, or we shut down all the borders and invest Billions of dollars to hunt down undocumented immigrant and deport them immediately. Well of course that is overwhelming, because the choices offered are ridiculous. There is meaningful change to be made that doesn’t swing to either of these extremes if we can keep our hearts open long enough to make it happen. I’m not sure exactly what that middle ground is, but it is there. I am sure that even when we don’t know the answer, especially when we don’t know the answer, we are called to stand on the side of love.
Before we wrap up, I want to let you know that I will be working with the Social Action Committee to organize ourselves to speak about immigration to our elected officials. Not to say that we have an exact answer, but to say that compassion must be a part of whatever answer is found.
It has also come to our attention that there are several programs that offer English language tutoring to children in our area. This sort of work obviously helps the kids themselves. But it also helps their classmates as the whole learning environment is improved. And perhaps most importantly, it helps us build relationships across cultural boundaries. We will bring you more information about how you can help the Social Action Committee to stand on the Side of love in our local community.