"Making Change"

Worship Script 2


 

Worship Script (2 of 5)

Revolutionary Love Makes Change Possible

 

OPENING WORDS

#184 in Lifting Our Voices by Rebecca Ann Parker

 

Even when our hearts are broken

By our own failure

Or the failure of others

Cutting into our lives,

Even when we have done all we can

And life is still broken,

There is a Universal Love

That has never broken faith with us

And never will.

 

HYMN #129 Let Love Continue Long

 

FIRST READING
Excerpt from Valarie Kaur’s “3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage” TED Talk

 

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate. Because when we are free from hate, we see the ones who hurt us not as monsters, but as people who themselves are wounded, who themselves feel threatened, who don't know what else to do with their insecurity but to hurt us, to pull the trigger, or cast the vote, or pass the policy aimed at us. But if some of us begin to wonder about them, listen even to their stories, we learn that participation in oppression comes at a cost. It cuts them off from their own capacity to love.

This was my second lesson in revolutionary love. We love our opponents when we tend the wound in them. Tending to the wound is not healing them -- only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents: the terrorist, the fanatic, the demagogue. They've been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change. I looked back on all of our campaigns, and I realized that any time we fought bad actors, we didn't change very much. But when we chose to wield our swords and shields to battle bad systems, that's when we saw change. I have worked on campaigns that released hundreds of people out of solitary confinement, reformed a corrupt police department, and changed federal hate crimes policy. The choice to love our opponents is moral and pragmatic, and it opens up the previously unimaginable possibility of reconciliation.
 


SECOND READING
Excerpt regarding the “love ethic” in “Love as the Practice of Freedom” by bell hooks

 

Choosing love we also choose to live in community, and that means that we do not have to change by ourselves. We can count on critical affirmation and dialogue with comrades walking a similar path. African American theologian Howard Thurman believed that we best learn love as the practice of freedom in the context of community. Commenting on this aspect of his work in the essay "Spirituality out on The Deep," Luther Smith reminds us that Thurman felt the United States was given to diverse groups of people by the universal life force as a location for the building of community. Paraphrasing Thurman, he writes: "Truth becomes true in community. The social order hungers for a center (i.e. spirit, soul) that gives it identity, power, and purpose.
America, and all cultural entities, are in search of a soul."

 

HYMN #1031 May I Be Filled with Loving Kindness

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
“Combating the Hate of the Westboro Baptist Church” from Building Bridges, found in Tapestry of Faith

The following account is one young person's encounter with a fundamentalist extremist group.

In June of 1998, I lost an uncle to an AIDS related illness. He was brilliant, he was Christian, and he was gay. I was only five years old when he died and I didn't know anything about AIDS. I just knew I was sad to lose such a great uncle.

Today, I find myself fighting a hate group in his honor.

When my friend told me the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket my high school, I didn't know much about them, so I dug into stories about the group's ideology on the Internet. The so-called "church" (based in Kansas with no real Baptist church affiliations) goes around the country protesting at fallen soldiers' funerals, saying their deaths are paying for the "sins" of the country. The church is anti-Semitic, anti-homosexual, anti-government and a downright hateful group. They've even picketed President Obama's daughters' school in Washington, D.C. (their website calls the girls "satanic spawn" as previously reported in The Huffington Post.)

The Westboro Baptist Church website says they picked my school, Henry W. Grady High in Atlanta, Georgia, because of our tolerance for homosexuality. They sometimes bring signs to their protest rallies that read, "Thank God for AIDS."

I cried when I read that.

How could a group of people thank God for a disease that has affected millions of people and left the families of the victims, families such as mine, devastated? I have never attended a protest in my life, and I contemplated ignoring the picketers and not giving them the attention they crave, but I knew this rally was my call to action.

Today, I'm holding a student led demonstration of my very own—a complete antithesis to Westboro's—and it's at the same time as theirs. I've created a group on Facebook that has 2600 fans and counting. People from all over the country, who I have never met, are posting words of encouragement to me.

Our actions today are about unconditional love, tolerance, and acceptance towards others. My friends and I coined the name A-T-L, standing for Acceptance, Tolerance, and Love. We will congregate with signs devoted to love, have stations for participants to make shirts with the A.T.L. logo on them, and collect donations for AID Atlanta, a non-profit organization helping people living with HIV/AIDS in the Atlanta area.

As soon as school gets out today, the Westboro Church is scheduled to be on our sidewalk. Our rally will be across the street, in Atlanta's 185-acre Piedmont Park. This experience will no longer be about Westboro. Grady High students are taking the story away from the church to tell a different one.

This is Atlanta: the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the cultural center of the South. Today, we'll live up to our city's slogan: "too busy to hate."
 

MEDITATION
#186 in Lifting Our Voices by James Baldwin

For nothing is fixed,

Forever, forever, forever,

It is not fixed;

The earth is always shifting,

The light is always changing,

The sea does not cease to grind down rock.

Generations do not cease to be born

And we are responsible to them

Because we are the only witnesses they have

The sea rises, the light fails,

Lovers cling to each other

And children cling to us.

The moment we cease to hold each other

The moment we break faith with one another

The sea engulfs us and the light goes out. .

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

Revolutionary Love, by Emily Wright-Magoon, minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Midland, Texas


When I gave birth to my daughter, I had already been laboring for days—not hours, but days. Later we learned we were waiting for her to turn so she was in the right position for productive labor. But at the time the excruciating contractions just kept coming and coming. The doctors call this part of labor “transition.”

Perhaps now our world is in a stage of transition. One of my classmates from divinity school, the Sikh activist Valarie Kaur asks: What if this [time] is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb?

That day in the hospital room, when our daughter finally turned in my womb, all of a sudden it was time. The doctor told me, it’s time to push. And I looked at my husband, Ethan, terrified: Could I do it? I couldn’t.

But he told me I could. He stood beside me and held my hand. So, I breathed and I pushed. And I breathed and I pushed. Ethan rooted for me so loud they could hear him on the whole floor. We all—he and the doctor and the nurses and even my own baby—we all worked together to bring that new life into the world.

Transition. “What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”

Valarie Kaur founded the Revolutionary Love Project. Years ago, a man she considered her uncle was murdered standing in front of his gas station, because he was wearing a turban. He was of the Sikh faith, and he was the first person killed in a hate crime after 9/11.

Fifteen years later, Valarie returned to the gas station where he was killed. She set down a candle in the spot where he bled to death. His brother, Rana, turned to Valarie and said, “Nothing has changed.”

Valarie then asked, “Who have we not yet tried to love?”

They decided to call the murderer in prison. In her talk, “Three Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage,” Valarie says this is what happened:

The phone rings. My heart is beating in my ears. I hear the voice of Frank Roque, a man who once said: “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel heads. We should kill their children, too.” And every emotional impulse in me says, “I can’t.” It becomes an act of will to wonder.

“Why?” I ask [him]. “Why did you agree to speak with us?”

Frank says, “I’m sorry for what happened, but I’m also sorry for all the people killed on 9/11.” He fails to take responsibility. I become angry to protect Rana, but Rana is still wondering about Frank. Rana says:

“Frank, this is the first time I’m hearing you say that you feel sorry.”

And Frank—Frank says, “Yes. I am sorry for what I did to your brother. One day when I go to heaven to be judged by God, I will ask to see your brother. And I will hug him. And I will ask him for forgiveness.”

And Rana says: “We already forgave you.”

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is freedom from hate. Because when we are free from hate, we see the ones who hurt us not as monsters, but as people who themselves are wounded, who themselves feel threatened, who don’t know what else to do with their insecurity but to hurt us, to pull the trigger, or cast the vote, or pass the policy aimed at us.

But if some of us begin to wonder about them, listen even to their stories, we learn that participation in oppression comes at a cost. It cuts them off from their own capacity to love.

We Unitarian Universalists talk a lot about love. Many UU churches say the words every week: “Love is the doctrine of this church.” My congregation preaches love from multiple sides of our building. The quote on our sign out front says: “We need not think alike to love alike.” The big yellow banner on the side of the church says: “We are Standing on the Side of Love.”

What does it mean to Side with Love?

Standing on the Side of Love was an official campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Recently it was changed to “Side with Love” to acknowledge that not all can stand. And the UU composer who wrote the song, “Standing on the Side of Love” recently changed his lyrics to “Answering the Call of Love”—also in response to concerns about ableist and exclusionary language.

The campaign grew out of our denomination’s support for same-sex marriage. We said that while some might side with judgment, discrimination, and shame, we side with love. As playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “Love is love is love is love…”

Over the decade since the campaign’s founding, it has evolved and expanded to include many additional kinds of activism such as immigrant justice and racial justice. Since love is clearly such a central part of Unitarian Universalist identity and theology, we would do well to consider what we mean by love. What do we mean when we say we side with love?

Too often, the kind of love our culture talks about is actually “emotional bosh,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it. There are so many ways that commands to love can in fact be abusive, manipulative, weak, or condescending. For example: “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” I find this refrain is most often used by those who are vehemently anti-gay, both in their attitudes and in their efforts to deny gay people basic rights and dignities. How is that loving?

Likewise, after the death of so many unarmed black boys and men by police, Regina Shands Stoltzfus reflects on her fear for the life of her own black son. In an essay entitled, “I cannot speak of love to you today,” she wonders whether love is enough to save his life:

The systemic nature of oppression means that oppression functions despite the good will, intentions, and yes, the love, of many, many people. …At the end of the day I am more interested in my son coming home alive than I am with someone learning to love him.

So if we are going to rely on love, it must be a radical love, a revolutionary love. What is that? The psychologist Erich Fromm said that mature love has four characteristics: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.

Likewise, the feminist writer bell hooks says, “Embracing a love ethic means that we utilize all the dimensions of love—care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect, and knowledge—in our everyday lives. We can successfully do this only by cultivating awareness. Being aware enables us to critically examine our actions to see what is needed…”

So love requires us to lean in, to listen, to learn deeply, to be transformed, to act. Valarie Kaur talks about revolutionary love having three directions.

First: Love for others means that we “see no stranger.” Think of what you might do for a family member in danger. Think of the ways you stay in relationship with family even when you don’t like them, or even when they hurt you. What if we fought for every one on this planet as if they were family? If we see everyone as a part of us, we can then wonder about them. We can jump in to protect them when they are in harm’s way.

Second: Love for our opponents means “tending the wound.” Valarie says: “Tending the wound is not healing them—only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents: the terrorist, the fanatic, the demagogue. They’ve been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change.”

Third: Love for ourselves—breathe and push. Valarie asks: “How are you breathing each day? Who are you breathing with? …How are you protecting your joy each day?” We cannot do this difficult work of loving others and our opponents if we are not continually grounding ourselves in the reality that we are loved, deeply and unconditionally.

Finally, let’s dig a little deeper into what it means to side with love. Given everything we’ve just said about love, it seems we should have abandoned the idea of “sides.” But, as with most spiritual truths, here we come to the paradox: revolutionary love calls us into the fray, where we must take a side in order to create a world where sides are dissolved.

As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

Radical love allows us to see that we are all interconnected, and so any action or inaction we take mends or tears that fabric. There is no “neutral” position. No way to stay “out of politics” or stay on the sidelines while the bull in the ring is slaughtered, while the Jews are hauled away to Auschwitz, while people of color are treated as second-class citizens. Staying on those sidelines implies that we approve.

The really tricky thing is how we can work to love our opponents—such as torch-bearing white supremacists—while still stopping them from murdering our siblings of color. Or: how we can love ourselves unconditionally, while still holding ourselves to high standards of accountability?

The late writer and activist Barbara Deming wrote about “two hands of nonviolence”:

With one hand we say to one who is angry, or to an oppressor, or to an unjust system, “Stop what you are doing. I refuse to honor the role you are choosing to play. I refuse to obey you. I refuse to cooperate with your demands. I refuse to build the walls and the bombs. I refuse to pay for the guns. With this hand I will even interfere with the wrong you are doing. I want to disrupt the easy pattern of your life.

[And] then the advocate of nonviolence raises the other hand. It is raised outstretchedmaybe with love and sympathymaybe notbut always outstretched… With this hand we say, “I won’t let go of you or cast you out of the human race. I have faith that you can make a better choice [than] you are making now, and I’ll be here when you are ready. Like it or not, we are part of one another.

So radical love requires that we resist and dismantle the systems that oppress some of us more directly than others, and all of us in the end.

As we resist these systems, we hold out a radical love for all the people within the systems—which is all of us. That love isn’t just “emotional bosh.” It’s a commitment to listen, to wonder, to “tend the wound,” to act, and to humbly consider that we can just as easily be hardened by hate, immobilized by indifference, or stifled by ignorance.

As Valarie Kaur says, “Love is more than a feeling—love is sweet labor that can be modeled, taught, and practiced.”

So let us lean into this time of transition. May we know that we are assisted by partners and midwives of many kinds. May we be brave when it’s time to push, and remember to breathe. For when we side with Love, when we labor for Love, something revolutionary can be born.

 

HYMN #325 Love Makes A Bridge

 

BENEDICTION
#195 in  Lifting Our Voices by  W. M. Vories

Life is too brief

Between the budding and the falling leaf,

Between the seed time and the golden sheaf,

For hate and spite,

We have no time for malice and for greed;

Therefore, with love make beautiful the deed;

Fast speeds the night.