The Wonder of Love

As told from the pulpit of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside on April 13th, 2014:

“Love is a form of work or a form of courage”: This is the quote that was in our Wayside Pulpit this week. I was walking through downtown Riverside this past Sunday, heavy of heart and chastising myself for never seeming to know when to let go of something or when to surrender. I was also wondering if those two things are actually the same thing—surrendering and letting go. As I was thinking about this, I walked by the church and saw that quote. The truth of it struck me, hard. “Love is a form of work or a form of courage.” What a powerful truth. And exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. Well played, Universe, I thought. Personally, I think it’s an ‘and/or/both’ thing. Love is a form of work and a form of courage/love is a form of work or a form of courage/love is *both* a form of work and a form of courage. That got me to thinking about love and our theme this month of wonder. There are so many things in this world that are wondrous, so many, but one of the most wondrous things is love. Love in all its forms.

The ancient Greeks gave names to four different types of love: Agape (spiritual love), eros (romantic love), phillia (mental love-love of community/virtuous love) and storge (family love). Love is one of the surest things that make us human. Has anything been more written about, talked about, sung about, lived about than love? Of love, the poet Maya Angelou, who just celebrated her 86th birthday, says “In the flush of loves light we dare be brave/And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet, it is only love which sets us free.” We’re going to come back to this idea in a minute.

It’s been my experience that love is the hardest emotion to feel, the hardest to express. Especially on any kind of grand scale. Hate is easy, anger is easy, apathy is easier still. It’s really easy for us to give into negative emotions. But Love? Love is hard. Love is the emotion that leaves us most vulnerable. The things we do for love. The compromises we make, the bargains we strike, the things we sacrifice, lengths we’ll go to, what we can achieve! For love.

I’m reading a book right now called “The Demon’s Surrender” by Sarah Rees Brennan. It’s the third book in a young adult trilogy. In one scene, one of the main characters says something really profound about love that stuck with me. Before I tell you what he says, let me give you a little of context. In this series, this young man, Alan, has spent his entire life protecting his little brother, Nick, who’s actually a demon in a human body (just go with it) from the world. Mainly from magicians who are always trying to kill them. For several reasons. He’s always been on the run and has had to become a really dangerous person with no other relationships in order to protect his brother. He was disabled in an attack and he’s lost all his other family. Love has cost him literally everything. In a scene where he has just been tortured, another character remarks that the price he had to pay to keep his brother alive, this torture, was too high a price to pay. Especially for a “brother” that is a demon and he has no blood ties to. In response, Alan, the young man, then says, “Love always costs more than you can afford to pay. “ But then he says, “And it is always worth the price.” Let me repeat that.*repeats* Imma let that sink in for a second.

A show of hands: How many of you have loved someone who can’t or won’t love you back? How many of you have felt that love was a burden? How many of you have wished that you didn’t love something or someone? How many of you have loved something it hurt to love? Or someone? How many of you have had to walk away from something or someone *because* you loved it? Think of that saying about if you love something, you have to set it free. Now, taking all that into consideration, how many of you loved anyway? Fully. Knowing it would hurt, knowing it would change you, for better OR worse, knowing that it would not be returned, or maybe not in the same way. Knowing it would cost more than you could afford to pay? Or, conversely, pay back. And yet who among you would still love, and gladly, and think that it was worth it—even if it cost you everything? I thought so. And isn’t that wondrous? Isn’t that a miracle?

The Christian Bible says that we humans love because God loved us first. That’s said explicitly in 1 John: 4. God, in the Christian religion our faith claims as one of our sources of truth and meaning, loves us when we are wayward, when we hurt each other, when we are not being our best selves. We are hard beings to love, we humans, and yet we are told that our Creator, if that is what you believe, loves us anyway—always. Even though we are imperfect and continuously fall short. Maybe even because of that. In fact, the Bible claims that one cannot be of God or know the divine unless one has love and extends it to others:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the “soothing” for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother

Love terrifies me. “It is a form of work and a form of courage”, remember. So I am grateful when it is extended to me for free with no strings attached. I think we all need love, and we all deserve love. But that’s hard to believe about ourselves sometimes, right? We think all of our flaws and our past mistakes make us unworthy of love, think maybe love is not something we deserve. Or maybe someone has told us that we are not worthy of love. Or that we are unlovable. And we believed their lies. And they are lies. We deserve it because we live. Because we are human. That’s all. We are part of the story of creation and all things and that alone means we should love ourselves and each other. All of us are walking wounded. We all hurt sometimes. Let us remember this today and all our days to come so that we can pay it forward, all that love we didn’t have to earn or win, to someone else. Someone who is in pain and just trying their best to simply live and who maybe falls a little short like we all do sometimes. This is what our faith calls us to do. To love. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. When it hurts is when you have to push forward, not retreat. You have to believe that love is worth it. That you are worth it. That WE are worth it. Do you believe? I said, Do. You. Believe? Good. Than go forth and love this entire broken world with all your heart and let this world love you back. Because we are ALL worth it. Amen and blessed be.

 

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Life, the Universe and Everything

There are days when the ‘verse is trying extra hard to get your attention. If you listen carefully and pay attention, wonderful things might happen. Today was one of those days for me. A series of seemingly small, but meaningful things lead me to one of those moments that hits you over the head and stops you in your tracks.

This afternoon, after church service, my congregation was having a forum to discuss an issue of importance to the congregation. While I was listening to the discussion I was also thumbing through our hymnal. I don’t have a copy of my own, so I like to take the opportunity to read it when I can. I happened upon a call and response reading by the poet Edwin Muir and adapted from his poem “The Way.” I was so moved by it, I read it several times and meant to take a picture of it (so that I could have it for this blog post). Here’s the original poem:

“The Way”

“Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.
Is there another way?
The way is one.
I must retrace the track.
It’s lost and gone.
Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.
Then I’ll make here my place,
(The road leads on),
Stand still and set my face,
(The road leaps on),
Stay here, for ever stay.
None stays here, none.
I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.
Oh places I have passed!
That journey’s done.
And what will come at last?
The road leads on.”

I knew this was meant for me today. There was a reason why I kept coming back to it again and again.

Later, I had lunch, briefly met with a friend then headed to the library to enjoy my book in the (free) AC. The book I am currently reading is the 3rd in Diane Duane’s “So You  Want To Be A Wizard” series. This series is to me what “A Wrinkle In Time” is for so many others I know. I can honestly say that this book series has changed the way I look at life, the universe and everything. Science is magic and magic is science in a very real way. In the chapters I was reading our very young protagonist, Dairine, a new wizard on her Ordeal creates a sentient species on a far flung planet then must convince them to spare the “slowlife” (humans and the other non-computer based life in the universe) when they logically deduce that entropy must be stopped until we can get our crap together (which will likely be never). She and The Lone One (basically the Power of death) are trying to sway these new beings to their respective sides. The fate of the universe literally depends on who “wins.” In the last part I read before leaving, Dairine had one last card to play. I won’t give it away, but it was very profound and moving.

As I was walking out, my head was still on that planet with Dairine, The Lone One, and the young beings she created. A church friend of mine who I happened to run into twice in the span of a couple of hours and whom I had been sitting and reading quietly with, bid me goodbye. As I watched her walk away I thought to myself, “She’s beautiful.” Not in the traditional way (she is not what most would typically consider attractive), but in a deeper, richer way. It’s like I was looking with different eyes.

Further on my way out the door, I stopped and picked up a displayed book that had an interesting looking cover. The book was “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi. This is the summary I read from the jacket:

“John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce–and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living.”

I can’t explain what happened next, but when I stepped into the sunshine I was overcome with emotion. I had such a strong desire to live and be alive that I could barely breathe for it. The thought that came to me was “I want to get old!” An odd thing for a fairly young person to wish, but in that moment I wanted to someday have the wisdom and appreciation and joy of a long life. I understood it for the gift it is. I could see the old woman I wanted to someday be. I’ve never wanted to live as much as I did in that moment. It actually hurt. I could barely keep my composure. That was a revelation. In that moment I felt like I got it. Just a tiny bit of all there is to get, mind you, but I got that one little bit of it. The universe is amazing and wondrous and so is everything in it. The connectedness I felt with the whole of creation in that moment was indescribable.

Now, you would think that after all that the ‘verse would be done with me for the day, right? Nope. It had one more thing to show me. I drove to Target for a window fan recommended to me by a friend. While I looked around for the fans, I saw some of those big wall decals for your home with inspirational sayings. One in particular said: Don’t let the world change you. My first thought was to agree with this. It reminded me of a beloved quote by Isodora Duncan: “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.” However, my second thought was, ‘Wait, no. That isn’t right AT ALL.” Don’t let the world change you? You MUST let it change you! You must let it teach you to see with new eyes, to open your heart, to touch the souls of others and be the person you need to be. That the ‘verse needs you to be. Not allowing oneself to be changed would be horrible. A tragedy. Every moment of every day the world changes you. And you are BETTER for it. We are better for it.

A bit of song by one of my favorite singers, folk singer Marian Call, is often running under the surface of my thoughts. In it she says, “If ever love astounds you, you have to let it. You have to let it. And if love ever surrounds you, you have to let it. You have to let it.” I think today I did Marian proud.

Marian Call’s music!

Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 2

This is a continuation of my first post on this topic.

Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 1

The last post was mostly about my decision to pursue ministry and the specific type of ministry I would like to do. This post is going to go back to the beginning. To my childhood, that is, and explore my faith journey from there to here. Hmm. Maybe I should subtitle this entry There And Back Again–A Faith Seeker’s Tale.

My childhood experience with religion and faith is quite a bit different than the experiences of a lot of people I know. For one thing, I was never forced to go to church. My family is traditionally Apostolic Christian, but that was really in my great-grandmother’s generation. My grandmother HATED being forced to go to church and broke her own family away from it when she had children. My mother, aunt and uncles grew up in a non-religious setting–as did I.

That said, I was always drawn to the church as a child. I yearned for whatever it was that I thought church and religion was. I went to church quite often–on my own. If anyone invited me to go with them to church, or to visit their church, I was there. I even recall dragging my mother with me a time or two. I find it funny that most kids had to to be dragged kicking and screaming and I eagerly went (most of the time).

I wasn’t drawn to a particular faith. I wanted to experience them ALL. As an adult, I can clearly see where my interests in interfaith work stems from. I loved the differences of various denominations and churches. How one dressed, the music played, the size of the congregation, how one listened to the Word was all different depending on where you went to worship. It was all so fascinating.

I never had a bad experience with faith as a kid. That’s important. Everyone was so nice and welcoming to me. So pleased and happy that I wanted to learn more about them and their idea(s) of God. It was always especially impressive to them that I was a youth and would come on my own (without family support). In my later years of high school, I carpooled to school with my very devout neighbors. They were a true patchwork American family! Black father, white mother and a gaggle of multiracial kids–biological and adopted. Everyday, while waiting for their kids to get ready (I was always on time 😉 ), I would read this Bible for teens their middle daughter owned. It was called “God’s Word For Students.” I really liked it. It was very accessible to teens and was full of daily lessons for guidance. Of course, the parents noticed my interest and got me my own copy as a graduation gift. That and a little stuffed graduation owl. I was so pleased. It was the second Bible I had been given as a gift. The first one was from a friend’s mother. I would go to her mostly all-Spanish speaking Apostolic church several times a month. She gave me an adorable Precious Moments Bible with my information lovingly written in her beautiful, almost calligraphic handwriting. I cherish both gifts. They truly came from the hearts of the givers.

Now, I should make it clear that I did not always actually agree with what was being said in all these churches I visited. These were often quite conservative congregations and denominations, especially my friend’s Apostolic church. This eventually created quite a conundrum for me. On the one hand, I LOVED the communities I was welcomed into. Like I said before, everyone was so warm and genuinely welcoming and loving. But. I couldn’t always make myself agree or not question certain beliefs and teachings. This was especially true as my feminist identity emerged in high school and college. This conflict didn’t make me angry or bitter, but it did make me feel deeply disappointed. I tried so very hard to reconcile what I felt with what I was being taught.

I can recall being in college and joining a Bible study group for young adults. The young men and women were so nice. I really liked them. Problem was, I was really having a hard time at this point with what I saw as rampant misogyny in the Bible. My devout friends explained to me that saying the man was head of the household, for example, was NOT an invitation for a husband to rule like a tyrant. In fact, it was the opposite. He was supposed to “rule” benevolently with wisdom and kindness. They were sincere in their beliefs.And the men were very kind. But, again, I could not reconcile what they told me with what the text actually said. So I told them that some things I could never accept (from the Bible) and they told me, not unkindly, that I would have to in order to be a Christian. This was devastating. I felt like such a failure. I wanted so badly to believe, to be a “good” Christian, but I could not push myself that final step.

Later in college I did my work-study hours with Claremont’s Office of the Chaplains. This is the religious center of the Claremont Colleges. There are three chaplains that serve the religious needs of the students, faculty and staff of the five undergraduate colleges (5Cs): a protestant minister, a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest. It’s a great example of three mainline faiths coming together in harmony. This experience was incredibly important to my developing religious views. First, it was wonderfully interfaith. Second, it exposed me to nothing but positive experiences with these three faiths.

I often tell people that the Catholic priest who was there at the time, Father Wayne, single-handedly redeemed the Catholic faith for me. He was one of the best men I have ever known. He was extremely warm, very funny and a true activist. Totally anti-war AND pro-choice! I knew a faith couldn’t be all bad if Father Wayne was a willing member. When he eventually lost his decades long fight with cancer, the entire community mourned deeply. We all knew that something precious and unique was now gone. His family spent their time not mourning the passing of their son, brother, uncle and so on, as one would expect, but hanging out with his colleagues and the people he served. They brought photo albums with them and told us stories of Father Wayne’s life. They were so pleased to see how much he had been loved and the impact his life had made on others. That’s what I thought ministry was. I could imagine no higher calling. To be trusted with a person’s soul is such a precious thing and such a huge responsibility.

I met many people, many young people, of deep faith at the Claremont Colleges. Considering how liberal the colleges in general are, it was of no surprise that these young people were also liberal and progressive. There was no conflict for them! They were feminists, activists, QUEER and faithful. They brought their whole selves to the table and were welcomed. It hurts me to see so many people damaged by the Church and faith. Religion is about all-caps ACCEPTANCE and HOPE and LOVE. If your creator can’t accept you, than who can?? In my experience, the people who have walked the hardest roads in life are often those with the most faith.

When I was a kid, I almost always had my head in the clouds. This hasn’t changed. I’m a spacey person. I have an insanely active and HUGE inner life. My dreams-waking and sleeping-are larger than life. I easily adjust my worldview when needed and I am always open to new possibilities. I think I have always been close to The Spirit. To me, faith isn’t about rules and dogma or restrictions; it’s about freedom and possibility and potential.

I think my next post will be on how I “lost” my religion when my mother died and how I found it again, years later.

 

 

Taking 32 Years To Answer My Call: Part 1

This post is inspired partly by a friend’s post explaining her Call to ministry. Her story is very different from mine and is a good example of the multiple roads that can lead people to ministry. Sarah’s Call: http://futurerevcaine.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/my-call/

My Call

Some people know this and some do not, but after a lot of deep thought, soul searching and observation, I have come to the conclusion that I want to be an ordained minister. I  specifically want to to do interfaith chaplaincy with sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors.

So. why ministry?

Since graduating from college in 2005 with my degree in sociology, I have pondered many post-graduate paths. I considered social work, counseling, therapy and other career paths, all with the intention of working with the same groups: survivors. I could work with survivors in any of the fields I considered, but I want to work with the mind, heart and soul.

I am a volunteer advocate with my area’s local rape crisis center. In that capacity, my job is to advocate for the rights and dignity of sexual assault survivors. I sit with them while they are in the hospital getting treatment, testing and/or a rape kit done. I am there on what is often the worst day of the person’s life with the intention of making it a little easier to bear. That might be with a sandwich, a warm blanket, a teddy bear or just someone to listen or distract them with meaningless chatter. Whatever the person needs from me. I am part of the S.A.R.T (Sexual Assault Response Team) group.

Everyone on the team has a specific and precious role to play: the S.A.R.T nurse collects physical evidence for a possible trial, the police investigate the crime, the hospital social worker takes care of things like getting the survivor into a shelter if needed or arranging transportation from the hospital to a safe location, and the advocate gives referrals, comfort and looks out for the survivor’s best interests and wishes.

A lot of what I personally do is what I think of as “soul work.” It’s very important for me to use the little time I have with a survivor (usually a few hours) to put their injured soul on the path to healing. Their body will heal–it’s amazing like that–but the flame in their soul can be extinguished. I try to make sure that this precious light does not go out. Sometimes it’s with a touch, a smile, or a word. It doesn’t take much to make a small difference. The last survivor I met with (before going on a hiatus with the center) was a young woman. She told me that I was the first person to tell her that she wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve what had happened to her. She sobbed when I told her that she was courageous, strong and worthy. Worthy of safety, of love, of respect, of kindness, of happiness.

It hurts my heart to think of all the souls that do not know this fact. I want to walk around and give smiles to those that need them the most. I want to tell people that they are AMAZING and compliment their choice of shoes and listen to the people who are not heard. I want to look into the eyes of all the people I can and tell them, like I told a mentor of mine, that I see God in them. I believe because they exist. How could so simple a thing change the world? I want to find out.

Now, it may seem like I’ve always known or wanted this calling.

No.

It hit me  with the force of a blow. And it may not have happened at all if not for friend and mentor Rev. David Helfer who saw in me what I did not (yet) dare to see in myself.

Several years ago, David and I were at a District Assembly in Pasadena, listening and interacting with a delightful gentleman who was expressing his gratitude to the local church for taking care of him when his mother died. This man clearly had some mental challenges and was very, very chatty. He was the kind of person that society overlooks everyday.

In the little bit of time we had, I gave him my full attention and consideration. He was the center of my world for ten minutes. Afterward, David turned to me and said, “I see a minister in you.”

I was shocked. His observation shook me to my core. I spent the next couple of years coming back to that simple statement. It took awhile before I could see a minister in myself.

Was I always destined for this path? Maybe.

Is this what I really want? Yes.

Is it going to take me another 32 years to get to the point of my title??

…I hope not.

In my next post, I’ll explain how I found my faith as a youth, lost it as a young adult, found it again in a way I didn’t expect, and what it means to me now.