I’ve started this post a number of times trying to find a way to share the experiences I have had this past week without sounding superficial, forced, or like a bad greeting card. Nothing has worked and so I’ll just get to the point.
It began last Saturday with a workshop I did on racial justice for a faith community in the Twin Cities. Lots could be said about the content of the day, about the exceptional commitment of its participants, or about the deep import of social justice within so many spiritual belief systems, but as I drove away after a very long day what stood out the most was how deeply folks responded when we spoke of love and how essential it is for racial justice work and living a spiritual life (at least in this tradition). Importantly, these were not orchestrated moments of written reflection about “the connection between racial justice and love”, but rather spontaneous and heartfelt ones when I, or someone in the group, would make such simple but down to earth statements about the role love plays in our work. They were extemporaneous and quick, but they registered for all of us, often with a collective pause or a breathing in, and then we continued on. Of everything that was shared over the course of 8-plus hours of training, those brief moments of authentic connection to love were what stayed with me…because truth be told that is what I am hungry for right now. And I think it’s what others are hungry for too. Not the saccharin-y sweet, dime-a-dozen blither blather we constantly hear about love in this society, but the kind of love that says, “I’m here too. I’m not sure what to do either. But, together, and I mean truly together, I believe we can figure it out.” And so, I left that training reminded that I need more of that kind of connection if I am to do this work well, and appreciative of this congregation’s example of how to try and make it happen in their church.
Then, on Sunday I attended the wedding of my two friends Pete and Steve. The church was completely packed with family, friends, and colleagues all awaiting the marriage of two men who have been together almost 20 years. It was certainly not my first gay wedding, but there was something particular with this one. I know that many in the queer community question the efficacy and equity of placing marriage at the forefront of the LBGT mainstream political movement, I do too, but this is not a commentary about that. It is a commentary about the feeling in the room: the undeniable harmonics of the heart and the way 200-plus people resoundingly supported Pete and Steve’s love. When they were pronounced husband and husband the room exploded with cheers, applause, foot-pounding, and everyone jumped to their feet for an extended celebration. The ceremony wasn’t over yet but the crowd had chosen that moment to punctuate the day – love is love. The two of them were in tears, the family was in tears, the ministers were in tears, and the congregants were in tears. It seemed to me that the sheer size of the assemblage and its powerful support for Pete and Steve’s commitment allowed the room to slip one layer deeper into the life-giving truth about love…and we all surrendered to it. These are tough times, there is uncertainty lurking around too many corners, and in the midst of it we cheered like mad for these guys and the love they have for each other and that we have for them because we all needed it. Love is a salve, there can be no question about that. And last Sunday it certainly was for everyone in the room. Pete and Steve were just the “official” reason we were there, but what we really wanted perhaps without even knowing it was the love of community, of hope, and of what it means to live in a world where it really is all that matters, even for just a moment. I cried and cheered and was so happy, grateful and relieved to be present for such an unabashed display of love. What a gift they gave us.
On Monday I was training again and this time had only three hours to do some sort of racial equity training for a room of just over 200 teachers. Not an easy task, but made a little more challenging by the fact that they had already done various degrees of initial training and therefore were wanting something more compelling, more challenging, and “new”. I have learned over the years that when majority White groups suggest that they have “already covered a lot” of racial equity content it often means that they have “learned” a lot but perhaps not “integrated” all of that information. So, I went ahead and covered some of the basics, but from a different angle and then complimented that with stories from my own journey (mostly my mistakes) and where I am today. And it is here that I did my best to toss in elements of what bell hooks calls “a love ethic”. I shared about the love that master teachers have for the art of teaching, for their students, and for the deep human promise that education holds. I shared about the love that grows when we do racial justice work and that gets snuffed out when we do not. I talked about the way the soul can atrophy under the listless and isolating influence of White privilege and how it can shine like the sun of Hafiz when it is arcing toward racial justice. I did my best to be real and to speak truth to a tough subject with 200 different souls sitting in the room. When I was done I noticed again that what stayed with me were the audience’s reactions to the comments about care, compassion, and love. Maybe I imagined it, but the group seemed to lean in a little more and the room became slightly more still when we honestly broached the topic of love.
Given how challenging social justice work can be, and certainly how fraught this current social / political / economic moment in time is, the importance of deeply caring for one another and grounding our work in love cannot be overestimated. It’s what those people of faith wanted in their congregation, it’s why the crowd at the wedding raised the roof with cheers and tears, and it is what our teachers need as they help our youth prepare for their future. All too often I get “caught” in my head and so I’m grateful for days like these where I am reminded to lean more into my heart and come back to center. It is said that the best teaching, training, and organizing always has a solid balance between the head and heart and I saw the evidence of that in the groups I had the privilege to be with this week. I’m grateful for their example.