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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My Coming Out Story

….As told from the pulpit of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside for National Coming Out Day on 10-13-13

*Note: This is as-written. No adlibs added during the presentation are here*

My Coming Out Story

 One complaint I hear all the time from straight people, generally after someone famous has come out, is “why do they have to announce it? I don’t go around announcing my sexuality to everyone. Why make it everyone’s business?”  Then usually someone asks where the Straight Pride parades are and all the eye-rolling from the non-straight people and the allies commences. It takes a lot of privilege and a lot of ignorance about that privilege to ask such a question. If you didn’t know, let me tell you, every day is Straight Pride Day. Straight people don’t have to make announcements because straight is considered the default, the golden ticket, your Hogwarts letter. The norm.  Everyone and everything else is considered deviant. You are considered straight until proven otherwise. If you are straight you get to have your orientation celebrated and rewarded. From tax benefits, legal privileges, the media etc. And it’s everywhere. You announce your orientation everywhere you go with wedding rings, holding your partner’s hand, putting up family pictures in your office, casually discussing your partner with friends, family, coworkers and strangers and it’s never called “flaunting” or ‘shoving your lifestyle in everyone’s face.’ Such behavior is so commonplace and ‘normal’ that it goes without comment. But when someone who is not straight does it, it’s “flaunting” and trying to make a statement.

Coming out is a revolutionary act in our society. It takes courage and conviction and unbelievable strength. Coming out can mean homelessness, loss of a job, loss of family, friends, community standing, reputation and death.  That makes coming out a privilege for many people. People often stay closeted for good reasons. Important reasons. necessary reasons.

Coming out is a multi-step process. Sometimes the first step is coming out to yourself.  I envy those people who have always known who they are and who they want.  Just knowing must be so nice. This is not to trivialize the struggle that generally follows this knowledge, we know that you accepting yourself and the rest of the world accepting that truth are two different things, but at least being sure in your own heart must be a comfort on some level.

Let me tell you my story now.

People tend to think of sexuality as fixed and polarized. You are either gay or straight.  It’s fixed, it doesn’t change and it’s very clear. That has not been my experience. In high school I was straight. I was not in denial. I was not closeted. I did not struggle. I was, to the best of my knowledge, only attracted to boys.  No crushes on female classmates or fantasies about women. This, however, changed in college.  I started finding myself attracted to women. It wasn’t about experimenting or curiosity. My attractions simply changed, but it was not about choice. It was about evolution. This threw me into some confusion.  I didn’t know what to do or what to think. I was clearly no longer straight, but I also was not completely gay. You might be thinking, ‘well, duh. You’re bisexual’ but bisexual implies a 50-50 split. Someone who is equally attracted to both men and women. I am not. This is a long time before I heard of the spectrum of sexuality or monosexuality versus non-mono-sexuality. In some ways, being gay, lesbian and straight are really easy. It’s either attraction to the same sex or the opposite sex. Neat boxes. Those are monosexualities. Non-mono sexualities are bisexuality, pan sexuality and queer (depending on how one defines it).

Bisexuality is a fraught identity. You have one foot in each world and you aren’t accepted in either.  There are so many stereotypes and barriers if you are a non-mono. Bi-phobia is the term used. Bisexuals are considered slutty, not able to commit, greedy, indecisive, risky and sexual unicorns.  I’ll explain that one later. Many do not believe it’s even a real identity. Ever heard ‘bi now, gay later’?  Bisexuality is often seen as either a stop rest on the way to Gay Town or an experimental phase, at least for women, until their college hippie days are over and they are back safely in the arms of heterosexuality. It’s a weird place to be. I get some hetero privilege because people assume I’m straight. I’m safer than others. I can “pass”.  On the other hand, I’m also usually invisible. To everyone.  Gays and straights. This is called bi-invisibility. And it sucks.

I spent so many years being torn over a label. It was so important to me that I find something that fit. I was desperate for a community, for something real and tangible. I used ‘lesbian’ for a bit and felt like a total fraud. I used queer for a long time, but that took a lot of explaining. I’ve recently started using bisexual. Boxes are so important to us. We don’t do well with gray lines and people who refuse to play by the standard rules. People demanded that I label myself for THEIR comfort, not mine. Why don’t you just pick a side! Why do I have to?

I have to come out a lot as someone who does not generally ‘look gay.’ Most people assume that I am straight.  I am selectively “out.” I do not lie. I will tell anyone the truth if they ask me. But they usually have to ask. I don’t generally volunteer. I live and work in a conservative part of SoCal. I spent the last 4 years working mostly with youth with Planned Parenthood. Disclosing that I was queer could have easily jeopardized my relationships with needed community contacts, schools, teachers and so on. I was once called a “faggot” and had my car vandalized by a homophobic teenager who saw a “Diversity” sticker on my car. With my family I am very selectively out. Most of my family is not what you would call “gay friendly.” I take a very passive-aggressive approach and post things on Facebook, hope they will see them, and then tell everyone else. Work done for me.  That’s actually how I came out officially. I announced it at the end of a post about something totally different on my LiveJournal. It was on National Coming Out Day—and I didn’t even realize or know. The universe was clearly speaking to me. All my friends know.

So who am I? Sylvia Plath said, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”  At the tip of the iceberg I am a female identified rather femme bisexual.  That’s my current label. What does that mean to me? For me? I am generally attracted to real women and fictional men.  If you are a woman, call me. If you are a man?  Call me if you are Benedict Cumberbatch. If you are still a man, but are not Benedict Cumberbatch, never fear. You can totally be a different British actor. Matt Smith, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Radcliffe…)

Finally, why my coming out mattered?  It mattered because I will not, cannot live a lie. Not even one of omission. I need to live an authentic life. I love being part of the LGBT community. Or something  bigger than myself. It mattered because as an activist I need to take the same risk as those I stand with and fight with. If they can be brave, so can I. It matters because I want you to see me. All of me.

Anais Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’

I needed to come out.