Sunday, February 12, 2017

Standing on the Side of Love: a sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, Feb. 12, 2017

            LOVE!   When I was a kid in Sunday School, I learned that the Greeks had four different names and definitions for love:  Eros---you know, the one that makes your heart go pitty-pat when you look at someone appealing; Philia, the brotherly sisterly attachments we have with family members; Platonic, the affection you feel for  friends for whom you DON’T get that pitty-pat feeling but for whom you care a lot; and Agape, the love that is compassionate, selfless, and directed at humanity broadly.
            Checking out St. Google just to refresh my memory, I discovered that the Greeks actually have a few more categories that are kinda intriguing:  Ludus (loodus), the flirtatious and teasing kind of love that you express through laughter and gentle affection; Pragma, the longlasting love between couples which develops over a long period of time, coming from understanding, compromise, and tolerance; Philautia, (philosha) love of self, expressed in two ways---selfishly and narcissistically, only seeking pleasure, fame, and wealth, or the love of self expressed in self-respect and self-acceptance which is how we learn that we can love others; and Storge (storgay), the love between parent and child which helps us learn to forgive, accept, and sacrifice in another’s behalf.
            It’s helpful to be reminded, as we head into this conversation about Love, that there are nuances to Loving, that a human being is capable of many kinds of love.
            As I think about my own life and my history of loving and being loved, I recognize in myself most of these nuances of Love.  We’ve already mentioned the “pittypat” love for that certain person, and, like you, perhaps, I learned that Eros is dangerous, as well as romantic---or maybe that’s why Eros is so much fun.
            There’s Philia---my sister Jean has always been my best friend, even though when we were little kids we just annoyed each other, but as adults, we’ve formed an attachment that seems unbreakable, even with religious and political differences.
            And Ludus, that playful, teasing love---it’s so much fun to laugh and goof around with friends, with the understanding that this kind of caring is lighthearted and kind, not overbearing or mean.
Storge, that Love between child and parent---like many of you, I was lucky that way and learned the joy of that bondedness, but I also have seen the pain caused by a lack of that bond.  When my son was born, I realized that I had never ever loved in that way; to realize then that my parents loved me that completely was a foundation that helped me grow and even separate from them religiously.  I never feared that I would lose their love.
Then there’s Philautia, which allows a healthy self-love to grow out of that bond and though we might lapse into occasional mild narcissism in our lives, it does not usually turn into an obsession with wealth, entitlement, and fame, as we have seen in our recent national news.
I’m reminded of that Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways… 
Here at the Fellowship, we observe and we experience many nuances of the ways of Love, don’t we?   We see the romantic relationships within the congregation, the long-term partnerships and deep connections within families, the playful, teasing sociable affection between individuals, the sibling-like friendships which undergird our community life, the respect and acceptance that is offered and received mutually  in our times together, and our concern and compassion for the sorrows of humanity which direct our social justice efforts as a Fellowship.
I want to speak today about what it means to Love as a community committed to making the world a place of justice and equality.  Cornel West, scholar and prophet in today’s world, has said this: “Never forget that Justice is what Love looks like in public.”
Our faith tradition, UUism, has a long-standing advocacy masterplan known as “Standing on the Side of Love”.  You may have seen the banner in UUA publications or read about its outreach in the UU World magazine.
SSL started as a recognition of the love between same-sex partners and became known for its advocacy for Marriage Equality, back in 2004. 
As that campaign moved ahead, immigration issues in our southern border states came to the forefront and the program expanded, as it became obvious that Love meant something more than helping people get married, important as that was.
Love, from an immigration standpoint, was clearly a matter of justice as well.  Families trying to support themselves, making risky runs across the border, were acting out of a desperate and dangerous need to stay together, to stay alive, to shape a life for themselves and their kids in a safer place.
What we could supply was advocacy for justice for immigrants caught in a web not of their own choosing.  And immigration, at that time, was pretty much confined to Mexican nationals in the US without the necessary documentation.  “No human being is illegal” became our slogan, as border officials and law enforcement cracked down on those without the proper papers, detaining people and splitting up families.
And now, in the past several months, our entire country is caught up in a struggle between compassion and oppression, justice and injustice, equality and marginalization.
We thought we had made progress over the past several years---and we had---but that progress is now threatened by a new federal administration and the danger of losing much of the ground gained is real---unless we act to preserve that higher ground.
In my remarks at the beginning of the Astoria Women’s March last month, I offered these thoughts.  Some of you will have heard or read them, but I would like to repeat them today for those who have not, to remind us of our power as American citizens inspired by our faith community.

Our emphasis today is on the positive, what we want to achieve despite the challenges of our current national situation.  But the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes , “we were made for these times” resonated with me and got me to thinking about just HOW we were made for these times.
We have indeed been training for these times all our lives, from the moment we discovered the power of the word NO, at age 2.   As we grew older and faced challenges we did not choose, we said NO over and over again.  As teenagers, we used NO to separate from our parents, well-meaning as they may have been.
            We have said NO to countless useless wars and our NOs have resounded down the halls of academia during VietNam, in the streets during the Gulf and Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  And some of us are old enough to have said NO to Hitler and his Nazis.
            We have said NO to offshore drilling, fracking, desecration of sacred land, and misuse of our waters and our beautiful natural lands.
            We have said NO to mistreatment of women, children, and men.  NO to sexual violence.  NO to hurtful drugs and cigarettes.  We have said NO to unjust laws.  We said NO to HIV/AIDS and homophobia and transphobia.  We have said NO over and over again to gun and domestic violence.
            Often our NOs seemed to fall on deaf ears, but every NO we said in an effort to maintain human rights, dignity and justice for all, and to stop offenses against the land fell upon those ears that could hear, opened pathways of YES as more came to join us in our cause.
            And the more times we said NO, the more YESES we heard from other people who felt the same way and came to join us.
            The Power of NO is a slow-moving power, whether we’re two years old, rebellious teenagers aching to be independent, or protestors in the streets.  It takes time for NO to become visible, to take shape in our national consciousness.
            And here we are, saying NO once again, because we have learned that NO has power, that NO brings change, that NO may take longer than we wish to bear fruit, but it does bear fruit.
            We have chipped away with our NOs steadily and determinedly at the world’s and our nation’s problems, even though sometimes the way was dark and many delays occurred.  In the process, we have turned many a NO into YES. 
            For every time we stand up and voice our concerns and our hopes, we turn NO into YES.  We watch the foundations of oppression begin to crumble and fall, as Ns turn into YES,  as the light dawns in human consciousness.
We can do this.  We were made for these times, we have honed our voices and our skills and our resolve.  And the world and our nation are watching.   YES!  Let me hear you say it:   YES!  YES!  YES!

As 1400 women, men, and kids took to Astoria’s streets January 21, a spirit was rising, a spirit that has infused millions of us with the strength to resist oppression for fellow humans worldwide and here in our own community, for ourselves and our friends, family, and neighbors.
A couple of weeks ago, UU ministers received a letter written jointly by the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA and the Honorable Thomas Andrews of the UUSC, asking us to discuss with our congregations what stand we might take, as UUs and friends of UUs, to let the world know how we intend to respond to hateful words and actions by our governments and by individuals who would take away our civil rights.
In your O/S this morning you received a copy of the Declaration of Conscience which Rev. Morales and Mr. Andrews are asking us to consider.
I’d like us to read it aloud together, so that we can taste the words we are considering supporting.  After reading it aloud, I want us to have a short discussion time to clarify what it means to us and to answer questions about signing such a document.


At this extraordinary time in our nation's history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion, to truth and core values of American society.

In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
In opposition to any steps to undermine the right of every citizen to vote or to turn back advances in access to health care and reproductive rights, we affirm our commitment to justice and compassion in human relations.

And against actions to weaken or eliminate initiatives to address the threat of climate change - actions that would threaten not only our country but the entire planet - we affirm our unyielding commitment to protect the interdependent web of all existence.

We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil.

As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.

We welcome and invite all to join in this commitment for justice. The time is now.

At our potluck this morning, I will have a copy of the Declaration of Conscience available for those who wish to sign it.  There is no requirement to do so.  You will be able to sign it later if you are not ready today.  You need not sign it at all, if you are not comfortable doing so.
The signed Declaration of Conscience will be part of our history as a Fellowship.  We can look back on it in the future to remind ourselves of today’s challenges and how we responded.  We will not be sending signatures to “headquarters”.  However, you are invited to share this declaration of conscience with others who may wish to know about it.  You may copy it and share it, post it on social media, mail it to friends.  It is a personal commitment for signers, not a requirement for anyone.
As we come to the end of our service this morning, I want to share some valuable thoughts from author Ariana Huffington, writing about the marathon of resistance we are engaged in. 
She warns of the dangers of perennial outrage; we’ve only been at this for a few weeks and already it’s tough---we have to have ways to keep outrage from exhausting and depleting our creative energy.  We need to find the eye of the hurricane, as she puts it.
To act from a place of inner strength, she refers to the scholar and philosopher Archimedes, who said “give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.”  It’s the centered place from which Judge James Robart issued his historic order to reverse the executive ban on refugees.  And it’s the place from which Viktor Frankl, who lost all his family in the Holocaust and spent years in the camps himself could write: 

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedomsto choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…(in the camps) every day, every hour,(one was) offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”

Let’s not get stuck in the outrage storm.  We have the power to step out of the storm, think carefully about how best to channel our energy, and then take action.  Find your niche, the place you can stand for a long time and let’s get started “standing on the side of love”.
Our closing hymn is #1014, “Standing on the Side of Love”.  Our choir will sing the verses and we’ll come in on the chorus.

BENEDICTION:  Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that the principles of our chosen faith are very clear about our commitment to love and justice for all.  May we not get caught in the outrage storm but may we find our centered place from which we can draw strength to outlast the threats to freedom and our beautiful planet.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.