Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Opposite of Love -- Sermon 9/30/12


Exodus 7:3  God is speaking:  “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.”

Elie Wiesel at the 1989 Bucknell University commencement:

One of my mottos has been that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

That means the opposite of education is not ignorance, it is indifference.

The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, but indifference.

The opposite of life is not death, but indifference. Indifference to life and death.

So whatever you do in your life, indifference is never an option.

Indifference is never the beginning of a process, it is the end of a process.

The Opposite of Love

Eli Wiesel says that the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.  The point is that hate is another kind of deep engagement with another person; it runs close to love, but on another track.  

And as you know, I have been thinking a lot about love, all of the ways that we think of love, all of the meanings that we put on that word.  

Our previous intern, Kim Hampton, once wrote that she was put off by the Unitarian Universalist Association’s slogan “standing on the side of love” because she didn’t think anyone would stand on the side of Hate.  Which is probably true.

But indifference?  There’s a lot of that going around. 

Conscious indifference is a short-lived emotion.  

For example, you see a person panhandling by the freeway exit.  He has a sign, or she has a sign, and it lays out the general story of the life that he or she has.  “Out of Work”, “Homeless Veteran”  “Pregnant”  -- Please Help -- God Bless You. 

And for a very short time, you find yourself thinking about that person’s life -- where do they live?  What is it like to come home at the end of the day with a pile of bills and coins in the bottom of a big gulp cup, and to count it out, budget it out for food and whatever.  For a very short time, you are engaged with them.  And then, in the length of time it take for a thought to flash through your mind, you decide that you are not going to care about  that, the life they lead, what it looks like and feels like. 

Maybe you decide that you are going to care, and maybe you do something with that care, in which case, God Bless You.  

But most of the time, for most of us, you put all their grim details out of your mind, and you decide that you are not going to care about that today.  And maybe decide is too strong a word -- sometimes, it feels more passive than that -- you accept the fact that you don’t care.  A door is closing in your mind, and on the other side of that door is what you know or imagine about that person and their life, their pain, their frustration, their compulsion and necessities.

And then, the moment is gone, and something else takes your attention.  The light has turned and you are on your way to wherever you are going.  And in seconds, all of it is gone from your thinking.  Completely forgotten.  

You are indifferent to that person’s life and suffering.  And the essence of indifference is NOT thinking.  But right before the not thinking is the thought  -- I am not going to think about this.....   

And in that moment, indifference is an act of will.  You watch a mental door close.

If the opposite of indifference is love, then love interrupts us at that tiny split second of thought when you decide not to care, or think about another’s suffering.  Love puts its foot in the door that is closing.  

Do you get what I am saying -- your tendency is to close the door on someone else.  You are deciding that you are closing the door, pulling the curtains down, putting up a screen to block the view and love interrupts that motion.

Think of it this way: the three most critical words of love are “wait a second.!”  The words with which you stop yourself from moving on, closing the door. 

Indifference is saying that “I am choosing not to care what is going to happen next to that person.”  

There are different kinds of indifference. 

There is an indifference that comes from ignorance.  

I remember reading some left-wing environmental magazine a long time ago.  It was at the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill up in Alaska -- there are probably people who don’t remember that at all -- this big oil tanker ran aground in March 1989 and spilled crude oil all over Prince William Sound in Alaska.  A real mess. I think that it was the captain’s fault.

And this article started out with “The problem is that many middle-class Americans who use oil everyday are not paying any attention to the subsistence fishing communities that depend on these Alaskan waters for their livelihood.”  Or something to that effect. 

We had not “been paying attention to subsistence fishermen”.  Well, I resented that accusation but then I thought about it and I realized I was guilty, guilty, guilty as charged.  In fact, you could say that I was so inattentive that I had fallen headlong into complete and total indifference.  

Of course, I knew nothing about it, had never thought about it, and was completely indifferent to their fate.  But then, I read the article, and was taken by their plight, but still I decided that I was not going to found a chapter on the Alaska Fisherman Solidarity Committee and then there was that split second moment where I decided to be indifferent to their situation.  In my defense, I did not know them and had enough in my life, and had been ignorant of them until a few moments ago.  I did wish them all the best and I hoped that things would turn out well for them.  But I was going to be indifferent.  

I hope you can understand my position, but It was not love that I felt for them. 

There is a much more hostile kind of indifference going around.   It is a punitive indifference and it is involved in all forms of punishment.  Something unpleasant is going to happen to someone, and for a brief moment, you can imagine how difficult it is going to be for them, and you decide that you are not going to care about that.  The door closes in your mind, and while you don’t want to think that what is going to happen on the other side of that door, because you are glad that it is going to happen.  

A violent criminal is being sentenced to prison.  For a second you think that his days are going to be filled with violence and fear and boredom and noise -- a life that you would avoid any way you could -- and instead of pity or concern, you say to yourself:  I don’t care how unpleasant his life is going to be.  He is being punished.  

Leave aside for a moment all the internal arguments you may have about the criminal justice system and the rights of prisoners and the inherent futility of punishment, and just hear me.  

If we think that another person deserves unhappiness and suffering, we are indifferent to it.  Even if it is just that we don’t like them at all.

There is indifference that arises of ignorance and there is indifference that arises out of antagonism.   And while we can argue over where they are justified, we have to say that they are not love.  

Sometimes a punishing indifference is cloaked by a thin thin coating of supposed concern, which gets us into “Tough Love”.

This culture loves “Tough Love”.  

It started out as a strategy and tactic for dealing with rebellious teenagers.  Even though you love your child, you have to be tough enough to let them suffer the consequences of their actions.  You can’t always ride to the rescue.  

And “tough Love” gets used for dealing with friends and families who have problems of addiction or alcoholism.  You can’t keep rescuing them because they seem to have no control over what is happening to them.  You have steel yourself and let bad things happen to them.  You have to be indifferent to some of their suffering.  All in the interest of your greater love.  

The whole theory of Tough Love contradicts Elie Wiesel’s proposition that the opposite of love is indifference.  Sometimes Love demands indifference -- Indifference to some suffering and pain is an expression of a greater love.

But you can’t exercise “Tough Love” with someone you don’t love.  Being indifferent to people for whom you feel no love is just indifference.  The Love part is just a self-justification.

The ethic of “Tough Love” has moved beyond child rearing and caring for addicted or alcoholic people.  It has become a part of our debates about social policy.  It is believed that Tough Love is the antidote for dependency.  If people are not self-sufficient then the thing to do is to deprive them of help.  

Let’s take a little side trip into history for a minute.  This is a peculiar little obsession: the strange belief that the reason why someone dies of kidney failure is because they are dependent on dialysis machines.  

 Americans have been contrasting self-sufficiency vs dependency for a long long time -- back before the Civil War.  Independence and Self-sufficiency are a part of the American character, we are told.  We know the stories: hard working men and women who were poor but proud -- never interested in anyone’s charity -- never looking for a handout, just a chance to give an honest day’s for an honest wage.  These themes are part of many of our families’ stories and legends. If you listened or watched of either party’s convention, you heard a variation of this story over and over again.  

I hate to break it to you, but these stories, like most things American, have a forgotten racial subtext.   The contrast between the independent white worker or farmer and the supposedly dependent African American slave started to get made before the Civil War.  The worker and the farmer paid cash for everything they got -- their food, their house, their basic living conditions.  The slave on the other hand, got everything from the slave master: their housing, their food everything just given to them, as long as they lived.  

There has been a conflict and competition between white workers and farmers and African American former slaves, and in that conflict, one theme has been that blacks want for nothing, what whites have had to work for. 

You have to remember for the poorest farmers and the poorest urban workers, their living standards were not significantly better than some slaves.  

There’s a lot here to study and learn about the economic history of the country and the development of its political thoughts, but all I will say today is that there is a long history of people thinking that African Americans have been getting a free ride in this country, and have become dependent on the largesse of others, generosity that they don’t deserve.  

It’s not surprising that in this country, there would be a consistent confusion of poverty with dependency, and that would be a persistent belief that all attempts at supporting poor people only makes more poor people.  That all of our social programs would be designed first and foremost to guard against people who might want to get something that they don’t deserve.  And that the main structure of the social safety net is designed to look like a savings plan and an insurance plan instead of what it really is -- an income transfer from current workers to those who can no longer work, or cannot work due to disability.

There is a whole ideology that justifies indifference to what happens to other people.  It starts with the assumption that everyone could be prosperous and self-sufficient if they wanted to be, and people have needs because they choose to be dependent rather than that they are dependent because they have unmet needs and that tough love is the only answer, and so it best to not to think about what happens to people who are poor and unlucky and needful, as we make their lives harder and harder, while all the while saying it hurts us more than it hurts them.  

Whatever you want to say about it, it must be said that it not love.

Love puts its foot in the closing door.  Love stops and interrupts our split second thought that when it says -- I choose not to think about what it going to be happening to, or what has already happened to another human being.  

I am a minister, and you pay me to tell you ridiculous, unimaginable and idealistic things.  You pay me to tell you that you are loved by a universe that only seems to treat you with harsh indifference  You pay me to tell you that you are acceptable as you are, and that you have much good work to do to save this world from itself, you, weak, frail, distracted, narcissistic you.  You pay me to tell you that there is a good chance that all of this will somehow work out.  You pay me to tell you can make a difference and that the arc of the universe is bending toward justice.  You pay me to say these things because you, in your heart of hearts, do believe things and you want to be reminded of them every week.

Well, today the wild and ridiculous thing I have to say is that one of the obstacles to love in your life is the hardness of your heart -- a hardness that shows itself in choosing to be indifferent to others.  to let the door close and hide what suffering comes -- 

The ridiculous and crazy thing I have to say today is that you can build the habits of love, with yourself and in the network of your friends and fellow citizens, by choosing another way.  You can choose to let love put its foot in the closing door in your mind -- to think more clearly and with more focus on the pain and suffering of others that in the past you have chosen to not think about.  Choose today to love. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dreams of Flight

I have often dreamed that I could fly.  Not like Superman at high altitudes and over long distances, but a much more convenient form of flying.  I can zoom around a few feet off the ground, maybe as high twenty feet or so.  Sometimes, I have to kind of  touch the ground and run a little to propel myself back into the air.  I don’t have to flap my arms, but it helps sometimes to swim with them through the air, especially on an acceleration.  There are no wings involved.  I'm not angel, just me who can fly.

Flying is exhilarating.  It’s wonderful, everything you would imagine it to be; fun, freeing.  I frolic in the air.  I zoom everywhere and do flips and turns and loops.  These dreams of flying are very happy dreams. 

In the dream, I am usually remembering that I can fly, as though I had forgotten, but something brought it back to me.  And I am usually trying to explain to someone else that they might be able to fly too, and how I do it.  

I do it just as you might expect.  I just plant my feet firmly, lower my shoulders and push off from the knees, lifting the shoulders as you do.  You steer with your head.  Your body  follows the top of your head, so you just point your head where you want to go, and push off and away you go.  Just remember it is the crown of your head that leads, not your nose.

Usually, afterwards, I wake up in an elated state and while I lie there gathering myself for the day, I slowly remember that it was a dream.  I cannot really fly, but I can remember flying.  I can remember what it felt like.  And then, the air goes out of the balloon. 

But this morning, for the first time, I realized in the dream itself that I was only dreaming of flight.  I remember saying to the student flyer in the dream that I could only do this when I was dreaming.  That it was wonderful and exhilarating and very very cool, but it was not real.  

I did not wake up elated, but sort of sad, to start another day of letting go of this stage of my life. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rights and Power; Life and Death September 16

On the November 6th ballot this year, here in Massachusetts, there will be a measure to permit physician assisted suicide.   

According to the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, the Act would allow terminally-ill adults with six months or less to live to receive and self-administer a prescription for life-ending medication. To qualify, a patient would have to be an adult resident of Massachusetts who is "medically determined to be mentally capable of making and communicating health care decisions; has been diagnosed by attending and consult physicians as having an incurable, irreversible disease that will, within reasonable medical judgment, cause death within six months; and voluntarily expresses a wish to die and has made an informed decision."

Doctors would be required to inform patients about other end-of-life care options, including palliative care, pain management, and hospice care. Two physicians must verify the mental competence of the terminally ill patient and the voluntary nature of the request, and three requests must be made by the patient for the prescription: two oral and one written. The Act would also allow the patient to change his or her mind at any time. No person would be civilly or criminally liable or subject to professional discipline for actions that comply with the law.

I have been increasingly of two minds on this question, and have been reflecting on my indecisiveness, comparing and contrasting the ethical standards that I am applying when I think one way or the other.  

The argument FOR it is a straight-forward “rights” argument.  People have the right to choose the circumstances of their own death, especially when they are facing an inevitable and imminent death.  It is a private and personal decision, and the government should not be involved.  It is our right. 

The government is all ready involved in one’s death, but only in this manner.  Were your physician to prescribe life ending medication to you, he or she would be criminally, civilly and professional liable.  It is against the law to help people commit suicide.  So the real teeth of the measure is the last sentence:  no person would be civilly or criminally liable or subject to professional discipline for actions that comply with the law.

But it also appears that health care providers have often have other reasons why they do not assist people in suicide.  Their work is to prevent death and assisting suicide seems off mission to many -- both from habit, and from ideology and from moral reservation.  

But understand that the impetus for this law does not come from doctors who fear that they are going to get into trouble for practicing medicine as they see fit.  The impetus is from the patient side, and even then from two groups: the families of the terminally ill, and people who are concerned about the future possibility that they might end up in that terrible place of declining slowly and inexorably toward inevitable death.  

The issue, however, gets framed from the point of view of a potentially terminally ill person who wishes to invoke his or her “right to die” under his or her own terms. 

Rights arguments assume a fundamental equality between all citizens.  If I have a right, then you have an equal and mutual right. 

Rights arguments also assume competence to make a free choice to exercise those rights.

You can see this in the language of proposed measure:  The patient’s mental competence must be established and documented.  Multiple medical professionals need to be consulted, to prove both that the terminal diagnosis is accurate and that the patient is of sound mind.  It must established that he or she has the communication skills to tell of their wish to die in more than one way, including written forms.  

All of these are to establish the equality of the person as he or she exercises his or her right to choose death over suffering.

Because this is a rights arguments and equal rights for all are a core value for liberal religion, the Unitarian Universalist Association has long been in favor of these death with dignity measures.  By which I mean, that it has passed resolutions in favor of them.

A different frame through which to look at this question, as opposed to a rights frame, is a power frame.  A power frame does not assume that individuals are equals in a social contract and thus entitled to equal rights.  A power frame assumes that in every situation, there are inequalities of power -- that there are the weak and strong.  Our job, as humanists (people who make moral judgements with an aim toward maximizing the good for humans); our job as humanists is to determine where the power lies and to ask if it being exercised compassionately, humanely and in the best interest of all of the people, especially those with limited power. 

Many of the opponents of the death with dignity ballot measure are basing their moral reasoning on this power frame. 

Some, like the Second Thoughts, an organization that comes out of the disabled community and opposes the ballot measure, see the government and the insurance companies as the powerful agents in the health care system as end of life approaches.  After all, they control the purse strings.  They fear that physician assisted suicide will become a mechanism for controlling health care costs by hastening people into voluntarily dying sooner.  And it can be used to push people toward earlier deaths.  After all, suppose you would be told that further treatments would not be covered by the insurance company, or Medicare. Your choice would be to seek those treatments impoverishing your children, or choosing death.  One conservative group called Physician Assisted Suicide “Death Panels on Steroids.”  

Power analyses do look at the financial incentives and possibilities in social arrangements.  That argument can go either way. One argument that I read this week in favor of the ballot measure pointed to the large financial interests that health care providers (doctors and hospitals) presumedly have in keeping people alive and continuing to ply them with expensive treatments, surgeries, medications and tests.  

My own concerns with this measure are exactly in this line, although I don’t fear the same institutions as threats to the well-being of the terminally ill.  

Let’s face it; the terminally ill and the elderly are among the most vulnerable people in our society.  Often bed-ridden, non-communicative and dependent on others for help in the most basic human functions, these are people entirely dependent on others.  

Dependency and vulnerability allows for abuse.  

While I have not been able to find numbers for the terminally ill, I have found statistics on the prevalence of elder abuse -- both those living at home with relatives and those living in nursing homes and other facilities.  Elder abuse, neglect and exploitation occur to somewhere between 2% and 10% of elderly people, by those on whom they were dependent for care.  

All of this -- the physical violence, the neglect, the financial exploitation are theoretically illegal.  Yet, the government and the authorities have limited capability to actually protect the powerless and vulnerable among us from their abusers.  One of the ways that you know that you are a powerless person is that you live in a zone beyond the protection of the law:  the only rights that you have are the ones that those you depend on recognize.  

Given this, the fact that the law includes a whole series of safeguards to protect the the terminally ill person from making a rash, uninformed and fatal decision to end their life -- well, I don’t think that they mean much.  

Suppose a person is coerced and manipulated into making a decision to end their life early.  What recourse will they have?  Well, perhaps if such a person’s children had access to lawyers and such, they could sue or seek redress.  But what is the point of that? 

The question that I have when I look at this issue from a power perspective is this:  can we sure that we are able to protect the powerless, the terminally ill, the dependent, in a situation in which their voluntary death is on the table.  Or have we invited the lions and the lambs to sit down at the same dinner table? 

And I am not sure that legal guarantees in the measure will be sufficient to protect the powerless -- after all, if we cannot prevent grotesque forms of physical and even sexual abuse of elders, how well will be assured that the terminally ill may be coerced or manipulated into an early death by their caregivers? 

Liberal Religion in this century has been shifting its moral reasoning from a “rights” basis to a “power” analysis.  Creating a just society is not simply determining exactly what rights all people have on an equal and mutual basis.  Justice does not come from creating the perfect mix of rights and responsibilities in the abstract and then applying that schema across the board.

No, the obstacle to justice, say those who support a power analysis as the core of  creating justice, is not that we have not all agreed on a mutual and equal definition of rights and responsibilities, but history.  We have injustice in this world because we have always had injustice because we have always had power differentials and those with more power have used to it for their own benefit.  Injustice is not just inequality before the law -- it is inequality in power.  

The recognition that human society has always been unjust, and that those with less power are usually oppressed and exploited is a radical shift in social theology for liberal religion.  For the longest time, liberal religion was based on an enlightenment social anthropology.  It was a rebellion against the traditional Christian theology of a fallen Humanity in rebellion against God, a humanity which needed to be controlled by the combined power of the state and church.  

During the Enlightenment, liberal Christian theologians advanced a different argument.  The state was not created by God; it was the voluntary association of free human beings who joined into a social contract, in a pre-history beyond our view.  Good humans gave up their sovereign power to form a government, preserving however their basic God-given Rights.  Unfortunately, humanity has never been able to get these rights and responsibilities in exact proportion.  For example, is the right to die on your own terms part of your rights or not?  We are still arguing over that.  

But increasingly, we have come to know that the story of the social contract is a myth, and not a history.   It is not the true history of humanity.  Instead, powerful people have controlled, oppressed and exploited other human beings since the very beginning.  In fact, we may be still carrying out the social practices of pack or herd animals -- wherein some are dominant and others subordinate for no known reason, but they are.

Given a power analysis of the question of physician assisted suicide, it may be a minor skirmish.  Some people who have access to excellent health care, strong social support systems, and good legal advice want the power to end their life on their own terms when terminally ill.  While it may seem harmless enough when dealing with people of such station in life -- what will mean to those whose lives are less protected?  For those, who are not guaranteed good health care?  For those whose families are dysfunctional and abusive?  For those who are powerless and vulnerable?  

How will this affect what Jesus called the least of these?

These are the questions that liberal religion is turning ourselves toward. 
These are the questions that I urge you to consider between now and the November election.  
I make this prayer today:

“O God of Many Names, beyond all our naming, awaken us to the needs of this moment in time.  Let us know of our power, and of our powerlessness, and let us be guided by compassion for those who are vulnerable and at risk.  Let us seek justice, not in theory, but in practice, and with great humility......”

A Nameless Way of Living

By Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

'In the day I would be reminded of those men and women … considering a nameless way of living, of unimagined values."

Does what we want have a name?  

Can we imagine a healthy way of living, one of peace, of balance, of spiritual health -- what would it take to get us there, how would we live? 

It is not hard for us to imagine our own personal better world -- perhaps it is a job, or a better job, or a home, or a better home.  Perhaps it is a partner, somebody to share that home with, perhaps it is health.  Perhaps it is to be able to retire.

Somewhere, somehow, there is a better way to live than as we do, as individuals, as communities, as a nation and especially as a world.

I have held this poem in a book of my favorite poems for several years now.   It has been waiting for its turn.

I want to talk about this poem, today.

Now you folks know me and you know my spirituality, and some of you are not even sure that I have one to speak of. 

This poem is it.  

This poem has a lot of it. 
Let me explain….

"I lived in the first century of the world wars…"   The poem starts with a placement in time, and in history.   To me this is  essential to all understanding -- what time is it?   

I do not believe that time is endless or circular or that it is endlessly repeating.  I believe in yesterday, and I believe in today, and as a result I can believe in  tomorrow.  And just as I believe that while I cannot change the past, it could have been different, which means that today could have been different, which is not really worth dwelling upon except that it means that tomorrow could be different.  It could be worse, but it could also be better. 

Which means that I believe in Hope. 

And I believe in human agency, and don't you too? 

Don't you believe that it matters what we do, and that a new and different world is possible.  Don't you believe that it is possible for people to choose the good, to do the  work, to somehow make a difference?

I believe in time and I believe in hope and I believe in human choosing and human effort. 

To me, these are spiritual truths: the bedrocks.  

Still, like Muriel Ruykeser, "most mornings I would be more or less insane."  

Why?  Because if we believe in time and history, we need to know about the world that we live in, what's going on out there, the state of our planet, our world, this world of world wars. 

The newspaper would arrive with their careless stories
(do you notice how much of the news is actually wrong?)
the News would pour out of various devices
(she should see it now!)
interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.

I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.

Oh, the insanity!  The incessency!

Even I want to escape. 

Muriel Ruykeser says that she turns to paper and pen and her work of writing poems: for the unseen and the unborn, she says -- that phrase not yet politically loaded -- the unseen and the unborn -- the vastness of humanity that we do not know personally -- we only know that they are out there, even in the future. 

And here is the heart of the poem: 

In the day I would be reminded of those men and women, 
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances, 
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values. 

Here we are on this our day of homecoming, the day when we start our church season again, gathered here under this slender steeple signal tower, brave men and women (and both and neither) sending out a signal  to the unseen and the unborn, at this time, and in this place telling that there is another way to live, we do not have a name for it yet, but there is another way to live, and no, we can not yet fully imagine it, but there is another way to live.

Because there is yesterday, which cannot change, but could have been different, and there is today, which could have been different, there is tomorrow, and because there is tomorrow, there is another way to live, and so there is hope.  And today is the day, we choose. 

Can we choose?  Is today the day when our choosing will make the difference?  Perhaps not.  Maybe not. 

Muriel Ruykeser knows that, too, and must turn, as we do, to the imagination. 

As the lights darkened and the lights of the night brightened, 
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other.

Who?  The brave men and women (and both and neither) signaling across the vast distances, the unseen and the unborn for whom she writes her poem, and because I am reading this poem to you, she is imagining you, here beneath your slender steeple signal tower, here trying to imagine a nameless way of living, the scarcely imagined values we are trying to find and build and uphold, here in Worcester 43 years later.  

To construct peace…..

To make love…. 

Ok, let's talk about that for a minute.  Let's think about that phrase, not in its usual sense, as the preferred polite euphemism for, for  you know what I'm talking about..

Let's take it literally for a minute.  To make love, in the same way that people Make Dinner, or Make a sandwich, or make a chair.  To create something that did not exist before.   To assemble something into its final form.

Ever since the UUA started talking about "Standing on the Side of Love", I have been thinking about Love as a proper noun, than as a verb that expresses a strong emotion of affection.   I have been trying to imagine Love as a collective accomplishment, as a set of social habits, a way of living for the whole body.   I have been trying to imagine Love as an Institution.  We speak of Justice as a general social condition.  We say "that is just society, that community lives under a system of justice."  What would "Institutionalized Love" look like?

Like Muriel Ruykeser says, we are brave souls, seeking each other across vast distances, reaching almost unimagined values

She goes on…"to reconcile waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other, ourselves with ourselves."  

At the core of my spirituality is this:  that our task is to awaken our whole selves to the historical moment in which we live, to answer in the here and now the question asked by prophet:  What does God require of thee? 

Awaken our whole selves, in the sense of knowing who we are, and what we want, our full selves, self-differentiated, possessing a free mind.  "We would try by any means to reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves."  

To awaken our whole selves in a world that is too big to know, too complicated to summon up in a single phrase, a world whose complexity defeats every dogma and ideology, a world we know only from the careless stories and news that pours out of various devices, interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen, a world that makes us more or less insane and our friends more or less mad for similar reasons. 

We wake up in the middle of story, in the midst of such confusion and complexity, and yet we must figure out who we are and where we fit in a vast and unfolding story of which we are a star to ourselves and yet a bit player in the whole. 

What does God require of thee?  What is the next right thing for me to do?  What do I know? How do I fit into this world's story?  What time is it? and Who am I?  

Again and again, that question has come before me in my life. 

Muriel Ruykeser, a mid-century modern, Jewish, atheist, a left-winger would never pray as I do, but these are the words I turn to make my signal across vast distances to all those others, including you, who are considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.

O Great and Gracious God, beyond all our naming, who speaks to us  not only through the still small voice within, but also through the intricate detail of nature, and also through the terrifying scrolls of history, grant that I might see myself as You see me, loved as I am, imperfect, needy and yet wondrous.  Help me see my story as a part of a greater story, of the adventure of the  reconciliation of all humanity to ourselves, the story unfolding all around me.  Awaken me, O God.