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Standing on the Side of Love- Re-imagining Valentines Day
Standing on The Side of love is a campaign initiated by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) but which we hope will have far broader implications. We hope it inspires us all to reexamine who is really included when we discuss or even simply use the phrase "the beloved community.” This year and every year from now on I invite you to join with me in pushing the boundaries when celebrating Valentines Day, push the boundaries to include a broad and life sustaining love, the love that the authors of the Christian scriptures would call Agape, and abundant and broadly felt yet deep love for humanity. Agape is quite different from the romantic love often envisioned by our own English language's word love.
Valentine's Day Reimagined is simply about the power of love to stop oppression. Valentine's day could be some might even say should be about justice more than romance. Valentine's day could be about the kind of love represented by the word agape as opposed to the phrase romantic love. Why should we or anyone feel left out because they didn't have a date, or get chocolates from a single special person for valentines day? Why have we created another holiday in which individuals find their worth in things. I prefer a world in which we find our true valentines meaning in doing the work of advocacy, whether it is sitting at the computer writing letters to law makers or offering a meal to a stranger there is always a way in which you can offer a valentines day gift of love if you like me make the choice to stand on the side of love by reimaging valentines day.
And that is not to say there is not in this world a place for romantic love, there is. Romantic love is a treasured gift when we are able to find it. Romantic love is something we should always treasure and celebrate, but each couple can do that on whatever day they want to. Some couples celebrate the anniversary of the first date, of the proposal, of the wedding of birthdays there are numerous opportunities to celebrate romantic love for each and every couple…what other opportunities are there to celebrate the beloved community and the urgent need to harness love to overcome oppression throughout our own community and the world?
The most radical teachings of every faith and every great religious master include love, yet none of them focused on romantic love. As people of faith the time has come to reclaim Valentine's Day as an opportunity to serve the wider world. Let's celebrate the radical call to love our neighbors as our selves, and to reach out in love to help end oppression. This is not only the way to celebrate valentines day although I believe we should use Valentine's day as an annual opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to a world in which are all standing on the side of the beloved community, taking radical actions in the face of fear to stand on the side of love. The focus of this service, as I hope you have gotten by now, is the new Standing on the Side of Love Campaign.
As a life long Unitarian Universalist, and the agreed upon conservative member of my family I was raised to believe we must always care for the welfare and well-being of all people. I have heard over the years many people basing their political and social decision on how they personally were doing. The standard that my parents raised me with was to consider how all the children of the world were doing, and today I would expand that to all the people of the world, and if they were all being taken care of and their basic needs were being met then I could worry about my own personal wants. Well, I can honestly say there has not been a single day in my 46 years when I could without hesitation say all the world's people, and especially the children were being taken care of. To me the message that standing on the side of love as a campaign speaks directly to is the need for all people to reach beyond their comfort zones and to go beyond themselves and immediate circles as much as they can until they find needs that have to be met. Some of us will find those needs in our own homes, and some of us are blessed or fortunate enough to be able to go out several levels of connections before we encounter true needs, not just wants, but where ever we find that need in our personal orbital pattern we must seek ways to improve those situations even if all we have to offer is a smile, or a hug sometimes those are the most treasured gifts an individual may receive in a day, a week or even a lifetime.
I would like to suggest that it takes all people in all communities and cultures standing on the side of love to make sure that all people are loved and cared for with dignity and respect and not just in times of crisis. When we as a world look after one another’s children, weak and impoverished as our own we will really be able to understand what it means to offer true acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. I do not believe that it is possible or even safe for most people to worry about spiritual growth until they are physically and emotionally in places where they are accepted and nurtured.
Our spiritual selves are often our most tender and vulnerable and we guard them first, with our physical being then with our emotional and mental armor and maneuvering. Our job as individuals and as members of a community of faith is to create here a safe place for people to gather once a week or more often if they desire to find strength, to be nurtured and loved, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We know that the community at large is not yet a safe place for the weak and the vulnerable, the creative and different souls… so we try to create here one of the few places where we are all safe. The quirky and the earthy, the grounded and the groundless we should all be able to check our armor at the door when we come to church, to our sanctuary from the world as it is, and enter this place where we try to create a microcosm of the world as it ought to be. Here we can put our weapons of self-defense away or even leave them at home.
Because so many of us have found here a safe haven, it also means we must be extra cautious here to guard one another. Think of the crab that has left behind its shell and is waiting the growth and hardening of the new shell, how vulnerable they are at that time. We who come to church come with our defenses down, because we know that here in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church of Greater Bridgeport we preach , teach and hopefully model acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth, so we must always remember to be gentle. That message is to me exactly why we as a religious association have finally hit on a fabulous public message with our new campaign standing on the Side of Love.
We are standing on the side of love when we seek to house the homeless. We are standing on the side of love when we seek to feed the hungry. We are standing on the side of love when we seek clean water for those who have none. We are standing on the side of love when we make health care available to those in need of preventative medicine and medicine to heal their bodies. We are standing on the side of love when we offer education to those who have gone without knowing the joys of learning. We are standing on the side of love when we reunite families separated by war and government policies. We are standing on the side of love when we all people the choice of marrying their partner in a civil ceremony. We are standing on the side of love when we recognize that love makes a family. We are standing on the side of love when open our hearts to all people as they are accepting one another and encouraging each other’s spiritual growth.
These are particularly tough times for our Gay Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered brothers and sisters in Uganda and they need us to stand with them on the side of love. If you are unaware of what is occurring in Uganda today let me share with you these words which headlined a recent press release: Courageous Ugandan Uus fight "Anti-Homosexuality Bill".
We tend not to think of Uganda when we think of Unitarian Universalists, but in Uganda and all over Africa Unitarian Universalist congregations are thriving. On Friday February 12, 2010 the Unitarian Universalist Association of the United States released the following information:
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Uganda is preparing to take a strong and courageous stand against the Ugandan government's proposed "Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 (PDF, 9 pages)." This hate-filled legislation, proposed in the Ugandan Parliament, would criminalize homosexuality and enforce penalties of life imprisonment and capital punishment against gays and lesbians. Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender (BGLT) allies would also face drastic punishments.
We are then told by the press release that: "The UU Church of Kampala is one of the few religious organizations in Uganda that is welcoming and supportive of the BGLT community. During a visit with the congregation in 2008 UUA representatives met with both gay and straight Ugandans who offered powerful accounts of the terror that the Ugandan Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender (BGLT) community faces, and the importance of the congregation's support." This visit occurred many months before the current legislation was proposed.
The current plan among Ugandan Uus is to hold a conference today, "to highlight the need for an end to discriminatory treatment of the BGLT population—and their allies—in the country. The BGLT Conference also has set forth these goals:
- To achieve permanent, fundamental, real equality for bixexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people by affecting fundamental changes in the attitudes of society
- To defeat discriminatory legislation and exclusionary policies and practices
- To build a strong social movement of BGLT people with a fully representative and activist Base.
Finally in this notice we are told that: "The conference will include programs about Promoting Equality and Access to Justice, Research, and Lobbying/Advocacy. More than 200 Ugandans from various faith traditions are expected to attend.
"Ugandan Uus will be joined by Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, the minister of their partner church, All Souls Unitarian Church (Tulsa, OK) and by Rev. Patricia Ackerman, BGLT Advocacy Director for the UU-United Nations Office. Other religious leaders from Uganda and as far away as France are also expected. Rev. Peter Morales, President of the UUA, wrote in a letter to the UUA of Uganda, "Your courageous stand on behalf of gay and lesbian citizens embodies the heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith, and your example is a source of pride and inspiration for Unitarian Universalists in the United States and throughout the world."
This along with the continuing needs in Haiti, along the Gulf Coast and in so many other parts of the world impacted by natural and human disasters is serve as painful reminders of the pain and suffering that exist in our wider community, may they also serve as reminders that we can all reach out to the beloved community. No act of kindness or love is ever too small or to late.
Uus around the globe have been invited by the leaders of the UUA of Uganda to spread the word about this important event and to remember the courageous steps that Ugandan Uus are taking.
The Unitarian Universalists in Uganda are standing on the side of love in a world of hatred, and it reminds me how remarkably far our own nation has come in a few short decades. From segregation and the illegality of marriages across racial lines to a country in which we have worked to embed civil union and now marriage equality in the language and ultimately the laws of states and hopefully someday of the nation.
These are remarkable times, and UU's have been standing on the side of love throughout these many cultural shifts, but there remain many shifts to be made….so we must continue to stand on the side of love. I am proud to bring voice to the campaign that hopefully, one day, will have us all Standing on the Side of Love. I hope our congregation will embrace this campaign as we work toward our future a future of increased visibility. I hope one small aspect, side effect and really benefit of bringing life to the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign here in Stratfrd and Greater Bridgeport is that we will finally have a tool to help people to really understand who the Unitarian Universalists of Greater Bridgeport are, and what we stand for…because we have been for nearly 175 years standing on the side of love. I am working to help us prepare for the next 175 years of being a beacon of liberal religion by standing on the side of love with you and anyone else who choses to join us. Bring your friends along for the journey. Shalom, Salaam, Amen and Blessed be!