In the safety of my white privileged backyard, in my town mired by white privileged real estate development, the stress of high achieving schools, and the complicity that results from being able to take a break from the toxic news, I have a few moments to reflect on the last few months of my sabbatical activities. There are three threads that have been braiding together toward one messy cord that I’m holding onto for dear life.
1.) I have facilitated a series of “Beloved Conversations” with a small group of Unitarian Universalists in my community on the topic of racial justice and how to achieve it. 2.) My husband and I are homeschooling my 14 year old daughter in preparation for her upcoming life as a high school student. 3.) I am filled with rage and hopelessness around the state of the world and, in particular, the United States.
Something crystallized when I listened to the sermon of Reverend Michael Curry during the Harry + Megan Royal Wedding (everyone needs fairytale entertainment once in a while). He spoke about the power of love as a healing and powerful universal force. Now, I am not naturally the most loving, affectionate, or patient person. I am as strong as an ox. I am resilient. I have a temper. I have an edge – a “dark side” as my husband points out here and there. At the same time, I am extremely sensitive to the emotional pain of others, a “feeler” some call us. It is the quintessential and mercurial artists’ personality stew. My DNA, my experience, my surroundings, my pain and joy have been cooking up all who I am. But as I have spent these last few months discussing and reflecting on my own white privilege alongside the community I have found myself in, I’ve been forced to see that both my strong reserve as well as my fragilities need some shaking up.
Dr. Martin Luther King said “…the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this kind of love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” And we need some miracles.
The challenge of juggling the roles of mother and teacher as my husband and I homeschool our daughter has held up a mirror to my influence on her developing outlook and sense of self. I am learning that the world will do a great job of criticizing her, nagging her, pointing our her mistakes, punishing her, and challenging her. My job has to be to love her. Love her unconditionally. Love her enough to disagree and talk and argue and complement and protect and do everything I can to maintain my relationship with her. Love her enough to not let go. Love her enough to remember to tell her how awesome she is. Love her enough to protect her even when she make a mistake, says something hurtful, or doesn’t tell the truth. Love her towards her independent future self even when it hurts me.
I’m feeling less clear about the love I must find for those that are complicit in, as well as explicit in, their support of the current administration and the ideology that is holding it up. I am not seeing the path towards the reconciliation that MLK proposed.
If I hold up a mirror to my role in this sorry state of US politics, what do I see? I see outrage, sadness, anger, fear, impatience, and even hatred. I’m pissed. Essential environmental protections are being rolled back. Safe and affordable family planning policies are being replaced by the draconian, criminalization of abortion. Racist mentalities are at the core of police brutality, economic disparity and anti-immigration policies. Innocent children are being taken from their parents and warehoused in vacant big box stores in the south. The people in the top jobs of this country lie as a rule and too many Americans don’t care. My activism – letter writing, fundraising, volunteering, marching, and, yes, even Facebook venting – is not enough. Or at least, my actions are built on top of a shaky structure. I am losing hope that it will do any good in making real, lasting change.
How can I love those in support of all that I believe to be wrong with the world of humans. This is both a political and spiritual question. And it is at the heart of the pursuit of happiness Americans have come to see as their individual right.
MLK wrote about three different types of love in his 1967 Christmas sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia:
“There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word eros. Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.
Then the Greek language talks about philos, which is another word for love, and philos is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.
Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word agape. Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I’m happy that he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can’t ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.”
First-class citizenship – we can not achieve this ideal unless we love. And it starts at home – when we are late for school, when the teeth aren’t really brushed, when illness keeps us away from our jobs and obligations, when the dog bites, when the dinner is burnt. When someone you don’t know beats up an innocent person because of the color of their skin. And when someone you love votes for Trump.
I have to come to love my enemies, my neighbors, my students, my mothers and fathers, my sisters and brothers, as I do my daughter. I am not yet there. I am still trying to collect all the tangled fibers and smooth them into that braided cord of survival and hope. And I am not giving up.
Love is not only the answer, it is the only option.