Posts Tagged ‘love’

Election Day this year has been a long time coming. It’s as late as it can be in November, and this year it feels even later than that.  A great many of us are ready for this to be over.

As a minister serving a congregation, I always feel torn during elections.  There’s a delicate balancing act involved in speaking our values with all the passion that is their due without crossing the line into electioneering.  When we feel passionately about a candidate, and when that passion arises in part from religious conviction, it can be hard to set the work of the campaign apart from the work of the congregation.  I find myself speaking passionately from the pulpit about social justice and encouraging members to vote and help others vote in any way we can, while carefully maintaining the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

But elections like this one are difficult in another, more subtle way.  During especially divisive campaigns, we sometimes find ourselves wondering about our most treasured values.  Candidates may say and do things we find morally reprehensible, and supporters of one side or the other may do some things we consider even worse. Unitarian Universalists like myself affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, but we sometimes find it tough to concede the worth and dignity of candidates we vehemently oppose.  We speak of the right of conscience and of acceptance of one another, but may find it hard to be accepting of family, neighbors and frends who see things very differently than we do.  Other religions face similar dilemmas, perhaps viewing all people as children of a living God, while finding it difficult to acknowledge the divine spirit within those whose words or actions cause harm to others.  Those without any religious affiliation deal with the same issue, as all people do whenever our deeply held values come into tension with one another.  Language and beliefs vary, but the challenge is remarkably constant.

No matter who wins this election, on November 9 we will all have work to do.  Issues of racism, misogyny, homophobia, economic and environmental justice will still need to be addressed, along with many others.  We will have work ahead of us to rebuild the respectful community that has been damaged by the rhetoric of such a harsh campaign, and to create a new and better society that honors diversity.  This, as much as anything else, is the work of my faith and many others.

My prayer and my wish is that we enter this task with compassion and open hands, creating connections and
building bridges among people of every political stripe.  Despite our political differences, we and our neighbors have far more in common than divides us – love for family and friends, simple human compassion and kindness, the realities of human suffering and frailty, the experience of awe at the beauty of Autumn.  May we nurture our connections with every kind of person, so that we truly learn to live the spirit of love, this year and every year.

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Before the election, I made a personal promise to avoid immersing myself in the results.  This does not come easily for me – not only am I passionate about the causes I believe in, but I’m also a political junkie, born and raised in the Washington DC suburbs.  I follow every horse race and analyze the moves; if any networks would like to bring me on as an occasional commentator, I believe I’d be good at the job.  I’ll even get myself a pair of analo-glasses.

But, given my stands on the issues, I knew I’d probably be mostly depressed by the results of last night’s election, so I told myself I would stay away from the news.

Thus far, I have done a rotten job.  All right, I didn’t watch cable TV, but I did stay up way too late checking results as they came in, dying just a little inside with almost every race.   As a result, I’ve been depressed, impatient, and generally grumpy.  On Tuesday evening I caught myself snapping at people, and the results hadn’t even come in yet.  I’ve tried to keep a sense of humor – Tom Paxton’s Lament for a Lost Election has helped there (warning: not safe for work or children) – but when you’ve worked hard for something and cared deeply about it, it’s not that easy to just let go and accept that sometimes you lose.  Utah Phillips taught us to sing through the hard times and work for the good times to come, but he never said it would be easy.

As we navigate whatever emotional waters are for us tied up in current events, we need to remember that important as these events are, they are not all that is.  Ours is still a world of wonder and beauty no less than hardship and tragedy.  Remind yourself of the beauty.  Let it feed you.  If your soul is dry and parched, return to the well that nourishes you and drink deeply.

Go look at some art.   Listen to good music.  Sing.  Laugh.  Spend time with a child.  Read poetry.  Immerse yourself in spirit-filling prose.  Have lunch with a friend.  Walk into the November air and find the tree that has not yet lost quite all its leaves, but still shines in glory.  Discover the Autumn crocus and carry its image in your heart.  Replenish yourself, and greet the coming snows with gratitude.

There will be a time for the struggle; it has not gone away.  There will be a time to dedicate our energies once again to campaign for what we believe in.  Our work in that time will be far more effective if we come to it as whole people, spirits strengthened by the goodness around us.

Sometimes, the world can be hard.  Love it anyway.

Autumn crocus

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Update – 11:46pm, March 20:

This evening Michelle Shocked released a statement denying any intention to spout homophobia, saying that her remarks were misunderstood, that she was describing the opinions of other people, and that her statement about tweeting “Michelle Shocked hates…” was a prediction of how she would be misinterpreted.  She says that she supports the LGBT community and marriage equality.  Included in her statement: 

“I am damn sorry. If I could repeat the evening, I would make a clearer distinction between a set of beliefs I abhor, and my human sympathy for the folks who hold them. I say this not because I want to look better. I have no wish to hide my faults, and  – clearly – I couldn’t if I tried.”

I am glad to take her word for what she meant to say.

The same evening, audio from the concert has been released.  (The relevant part begins at 4:40.)  To be honest, it’s really hard to say what she was trying to get at.  Members of the audience seem confused as well.  In my letter I tried to be very careful to speak from a place of concern, rather than judgment.  Hearing the audio, I remain concerned.

Here is the full text of her statement.

And here is my original post of the open letter responding to the initial news reports on Sunday:

Dear Michelle,

We haven’t met.  Or rather, we have, twenty years ago, but it was rather fleetingly backstage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and you wouldn’t remember.  That was the year that you sang “Kumbaya” and reminded the audience that “Kumbaya my Lord” meant “Come by Here, my Lord.”  You were right, by the way – that song was always meant to be an invocation to the Divine.  I interpret that word differently than you do, but you were definitely right about the origin of the song.  Maybe I’ll write about that some other time.

You’ve made some news recently, and for no good reason.  Your comments at a recent concert that you fear the world would be destroyed if gays were allowed to marry, and that your fans could all go tweet “Michelle Shocked says God hates f–s”) – well, they lived up to your chosen name.  It’s not even so much the views you decided to express, as the venue, and the manner of your doing it that has left so many of us outraged, speechless, and also worried for you.

I mean it.  Because a rant like that, in the place you chose, speaks of profound spiritual pain.  It is one thing to believe that homosexuality is wrong; many do.  I disagree, but it remains a widely held belief, especially among adherents to more conservative religious movements.  These are your views, and you have every right to express them.  But to phrase them as hate speech – and it was you who brought up the word “hate” – at a concert in San Francisco, of all places, speaks of deep inner turmoil.

Your words are not those of a woman comfortable in her own skin.  They do not speak of the strength of your faith, or of your idealism, or of your values.  They seem spoken more to reassure yourself and the world that you are not, in fact, the bisexual woman you once believed yourself to be, or the lesbian so many of your fans believe you to be.  They seem an attempt to claim an identity and hold on to it, when so much both within and around you threatens to pull it apart.

I don’t know if this is really what is going on.  Maybe you just don’t like people making assumptions about you as a person or an artist.  I get that – I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister as well as a folk musician, and I’m always afraid that people will stay away from my concerts because they think I’m going to preach at them (more than folksingers usually do) or that I won’t be able to get away with singing one of the saltier old ballads, because some folks can’t separate the music from the musician.  I’d like to just be me, and sing the music I love.

You’ve got it far worse; I understand this.  And you don’t want anybody else – not a record company, not a manager, not your fans – to tell you who to be.  And maybe you’ve got some things you believe in that you want to say.  That’s fine.  But before you say them, please let me suggest that you spend some time in prayer.

Yes, I said prayer.  One of the most powerful teachings of your church is that ordinary human beings can commune with the divine – and you need that.  You need to step away from the whirlwind of public and private identities, of fear and anger and self-doubt.  You need to let go of all of that for a while.  If you’re going to speak the truth of your soul, you need to be grounded.  So pray, and read the Bible that you place your faith in.  You won’t find hatred there, but you will find a Jesus who spent a great deal of time with people who were and are considered “sinners,” and who nevertheless respected them as human beings and as his friends.  Pray – not for absolute answers, but to still yourself and open yourself to the God of your belief.

You hurt a great many people with your comments, not least yourself.  But maybe this experience can move you forward.  Maybe it will help you find the right people to talk to about your spiritual crises.  Maybe it will help you ask for help in your emotional life.   You said yourself that “truth is leading to painful confrontation.”  Maybe the truth is your own spiritual crisis, and the confrontation is with yourself.

I don’t know, but I do know this much.  The only way to respond to hatred is with love and compassion.  And Michelle, though I don’t know you, and I detest everything you said at that concert – you have my love and compassion.  I offer you that much.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus would have done?


PS:  I still love Short Sharp Shocked, and always will, no matter what you say about anybody.  That album is brilliant from beginning to end.  Would that any of us could reach such heights of artistic genius.

Note:  Please remember the guidelines for comments in this blog.  As my friend at Sermons in Stones puts it, “Disagreement is welcome; disagreeableness is not.”  Comments that are not civil, or that express hatred for any person or group of people – including religious groups as well as the LGBT community – will be blocked.

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