Delivered January 20th, 2013 - Rev. David A. Miller ©
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito
A Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation—Solana Beach, Ca.
What does love have to do with it? Love, oh my what a complicated word, what a complicated issue and for any of us who have ever been in love, my oh my, that can be complicated. Love is a thing that people have been writing about since the time people have been writing. Sometimes we are flabbergasted by love. We become speechless. The phenomenon of love at first sight can describe this very thing. There they are, across the room, the person that for the first time in your life has left you weak in the knees, who when they talk says the very things you were thinking, whose eyes you can’t stop staring into, or are too afraid to meet. These can all be descriptions of that moment when something strikes you completely different than before and for centuries this have been come to be known as love at first sight.
But all of us know, that although it does happen, this kind of love doesn’t always last. Love can take some serious work. Once again, if we are talking about relationships, I know many relationships where people who really love each other just can’t figure out a way to make the relationship work. Love can be pretty simple but when involved with another human being it can be unbearably complicated. I don’t have statistics, but I know that this happens plenty in this world. If love could be researched and predicted and totally based on facts, then every major internet dating site would have a 100% success rate. But as close as you may be able to come to predicting love, there is absolutely no way to be absolutely sure that two people will fall in love and if they do that they will stay in love forever.
There are so many things in this world that are not fact based and there are reasons for that, we can’t explain everything if facts. We can study people in love. We can measure things like blood pressure, respiration, or heart rate. We can do a statistical analysis of behaviors of those at various stages of love. We can even do some sort of longitudinal study about whatever to measure whatever and still you won’t be able to be sure about love. And yet, why would we want to? Because if everything were so sure in life, especially love, if it were all so scientific and factual, you may not have ever heard this.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Love somehow proven by science probably wouldn’t evoke the same response as this Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem. Love taps into something other than just our intellect, it taps into our emotions, our feelings, the rational and the irrational. And how often are we able to express everything about the world in just facts and intellect, it seems almost impossible. When I say that something comes from the deepest place in my heart, we all know that I am not talking about the place where a muscle pumps blood through my body, but with some individual variations, it invokes imagery about how deeply meaningful something is to me if I say it comes from the deepest place in my heart. We must have a way of using language and thoughts that move us beyond the things that we know or that we can prove or quantify.
Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t have factual based thoughts or ideas. I am not into living our lives in some form of constant magical thinking, I love science, I believe in science, and I certainly understand the need for facts, but I do feel that our experience of this mysterious and at times unexplainable life is richer, more interesting and more meaningful when we paint a picture, move from facts to metaphors and travel that short distance from the head to the heart.
The standing on the side of love campaign talks a lot about love. The subheading on the website says “Harnessing Love’s Power to Stop Oppression.” Of course this can lead to a discussion about what love is and what does it mean in this context. The literal way of reading that could cause some interesting discourse, for how do you in fact harness the power of love to stop oppression. I envision some sort of diabolical machine using the energy of young lovers sipping a drink from two different straws, which just goes to show how old my imagery is or that I lived in Utah for 14 years. And then, it would be so great to be able to inject a serum of love into oppressors that would suddenly stop them from their urge to oppress. This would be an awesome machine or elegant formula, something like love potion number 10 or perhaps number 20 because it took so long to develop.
What I think it means in a more metaphorical sense, or at least my take on it is, that this nebulous thing called love, has a certain power and this power may actually have the power to change hearts and minds. It would be hard to discuss this subject and not hear today the words of Martin Luther King Jr., especially because this is a man who talked a great deal about love. And as usual, the sages of history rarely just talk about their time or their age, they speak to the human condition which is timeless and needs to be repeated often. This is what he said as published in Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? in 1967:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. ... Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” What does he mean by love? Once again, I can only give you my perspective, but the kind of love he seems to be talking about may have some awesome power if it can drive out hate, if it can help bring light to darkness. Which makes me think, I can tear down congress, I can attack those whose political values are different than mine, I can sign every petition in the world I want, I can fight as hard as I want for immigration reform, but I can’t change the ills that cause injustice, discrimination, and all the isms in the world, especially acts of oppression, by using the language of violence and without the power of love.
Dr. King also spent a lot of time talking about our inner work, the work we need to do in order to know what love is ourselves and to know what love is of neighbor and to look into our own hearts to understand what triggers us and what triggers others. Here was a man who appreciated short-term gains, but especially in the service of long-term change. And that change didn’t occur by defeating or beating the other side. It seems that we spend so much time and energy right now on winning, on getting the victory, whether it is political victories in Washington, or things closer to home. Dr. King also spoke to this in his sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church 17 November 1957:
“Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all people. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
So to me, that is what it means to harness the power of love to stop oppression. It is about us doing this internal work so we know love and can rely on it when tested, which we will be by oppressors and those that promote a more angry and violent world. We must have this strength in ourselves and then take the campaign of love to the streets, to the gun shows, to the city councils, to those who oppose sane and humane immigration laws. It is about us holding this love in our hearts and minds, the profound understanding of goodwill for all people, so that we are opposing the systems of oppression and not the people who are caught in them, by helping breakdown those systems with our actions of love.
And when provoked we may want to attack, to payback, or to win. We will want to beat the other side, “beat” them. And I don’t think we can because I agree, that if these are our tactics, then things may never truly change. So, I think we need to continue to do what we can to stand on this side of love. I think that we need to continue to do our own work and do the work in community to get through the anger, pain and frustration that comes when dealing with systems of oppression. We must continue to support each other, everyday, to practice our Unitarian Universalist faith and constantly remind ourselves and each other what love means and how we can act from love.
It has been a while since I have used something from one of my own personal sages of wisdom, but this poem from Rebecca Parker might help us with this work.
Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or to curse the world.
The mind’s power,
the strength of the hands, the reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting
any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
bind up wounds, welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred, do the work of justice, or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door,
hoard bread, abandon the poor, obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice, or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
to search for the sources of power and grace;
native wisdom, healing and liberation.
More, the choice will draw you into community,
the endeavor shared, the heritage passed on,
the companionship of struggle,
the importance of keeping faith,
the life of ritual and praise, the comfort of human friendship,
the company of earth, its chorus of life welcoming you. None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility, waiting.
-‐Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker
At least for the next 30 days, I ask you once again to consider this question, what is the most loving thing I can do right now, and sure, run it through your head, but then run it through your body and run it through the deepest place in your heart, for alone none of us can save the world, but together in love, there are so many possibilities waiting to be born.
May it be so.