You never know when the moment of decision will come. Perhaps it is on the school playground, when you see the class bully picking on a new victim. Or standing in the check-out line at the grocery store behind a young mother whose screaming child has her at her wits end. Or at a staff forum at work when your pledge to take some unpaid leave days could help save a coworker’s job.
Such moments come in different ways to each of us, but they do come. They remind us that the decisions we make in our day to day lives do make a difference. They point out the ongoing choices we make between standing uncomfortably on the sidelines of our messy world, unsure of what to do, and acting deliberately in small but concrete ways to help create a kinder, more compassionate reality. They return us to the powerful truth that in critical times it is possible to stand on the side of love, and, in the mystic's words, “to help its mighty power to surge upward and surmount every obstacle” by defending, supporting, and advocating for each other as if we all were equals in our humanity.
Or do they? After all, are we fallible human beings really that powerful? If siding with love is so significant, then why isn’t the world a better place already? Don’t most people already think of themselves as siding with love? Or at least as much love as they can manage, given that most of us cannot live as saints?
It is a spiritual paradox. It is precisely because we live in a world which knows the evils of greed and violence and the seas of human indifference that we understand just how sacred it is when our acts of love and compassion actually triumph. And it is precisely because we live in a world which knows such triumphs that we cannot fully give up hope on our imperfect humanity.
If there is one thing that I appreciate about our Unitarian Universalist Association’s invitation to siding with love in these current times, it is that the invitation invites love as an active force in our lives. So much of our understanding of love can be passive—we talk of “falling” in love, or of being “helplessly” in love, or we assume love’s automatic presence in a family or a home or a community and are shocked to learn otherwise. But I do believe that love is more than merely a power that claims us. It is also a power that we claim by choosing our response to the truths of our world.
Love is a choice. Whether we are at the bedside of a loved one dying, or at the side of a stranger we have only just met. The love which inspires the courage and commitment of such choices is not a sweet or sentimental kind of love. Rather it is a love which recognizes the greater good and the bonds of kinship of which we are a part.
But once we accept love as a choice, then we must also come to terms with where that choice leads us. This was the profound and radical insight of our Universalist forbears – that if Love comes from God, then there can be no exceptions. Love cannot be just for one, or some of us. If it is for any of us, it must be for all. Love cannot be just for those with loud voices, but also for the voiceless. Love cannot be just for those with power, but also for those who are marginalized. Love cannot be just for those who still hope, but also for those who despair that help and hope will ever come.
So take a moment to reflect on this particular time, in your own life, in the lives of your family and friends, and in the state of our community and our world. Who needs us to side with them, in love? What moral questions does our commitment to love call us to address in the coming year? I don’t have the answers, nor are the choices only mine to make. But I lift up these questions to spark a conversation – as individual people who care about this world and as a community of faith, memory and hope.
Recently, reflecting on the opportunities to stand for love, a friend of mine asked, why does it have to be a side? Must there always be a side? I understand her regret. The last thing our world needs is more division. One answer might be that the call to siding with ove is made in the spirit of inclusion. But I also think that we are being invited to occupy a new place, or on a new side, of understanding about what it means to live spiritually in our world. Love is a choice. It is a deep life-changing passion, not just for our hearts, but also for our souls.