Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this sermon.
When we are engaged in acts of love, we humans are at our best and most resilient. The love in romance that makes us want to be better people, the love of children that makes us change our whole lives to meet their needs, the love of family that makes us drop everything to take care of them, the love of community that makes us work tirelessly with broken hearts.from Humans’ Core Function Is Love by adrienne maree brown
Perhaps humans’ core function is love. Love leads us to observe in a much deeper way than any other emotion….
If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders, it would have a massive impact… If the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression. We would suddenly be seeing everything we do, everyone we meet, not through the tactical eyes of war, but through eyes of love.
We would see that there’s no such thing as a blank canvas, an empty land or a new idea—but everywhere there is complex, ancient, fertile ground full of potential….
We would understand that the strength of our movement is in the strength of our relationships, which could only be measured by their depth. Scaling up would mean going deeper, being more vulnerable and more empathetic….
So, who is adrienne maree brown? She is known in resistance work for the book she wrote in 2017, Emergent Strategy. She is a Black post-nationalist feminist and is often quoted by UUs, especially those who did their graduate work in the last decade. She was invited to and spoke at our 2022 General Assembly. I was there in Portland, but I didn’t hear her. But I do hear her quoted, often. She is from the generation of organizers and artists much younger than those who educated me.
I based the title of this sermon on John Lennon’s song from 1967, “All You Need is Love,” a Boomer anthem, for sure. Boomers believed (for a time) that love should be all we need to get along with each other and make this world what it could and should be.
We of course learned it isn’t true, that love is not all we need.
Or is it? Maybe it is that we need a new definition of love, love practiced with a new and deeper version of boldness and courage.
My daughter (who is 8 years old) and I watched the HBO special “Lizzo: Live in Concert” after we had watched the “Big Grrls” competition series. If you don’t know already, Lizzo is a very popular singer who struggled with body issues as a young girl and teen. She has become an advocate for “body positivity” and self-love. Diversity is the focus of her music, especially in regard to one’s body, sexuality, race, and gender expression. Her group of backup dancers, called the Big Grrrls, are all plus-size dancers. The tryouts were amazing to watch, at least for me. Grrrls—big girls—dancing. Some of them made it to the end. Then if you watched the concert, there they were, live with Lizzo, who is also a Big Grrrl, who can sing. They were all amazing!
It is interesting how much things change over time. I watched the “live” film with my daughter, all the while knowing I was having thoughts in my mind of what my southern grandmother, even my mother and my sister, would have said out loud if they were watching with us. I was glad they weren’t watching with us! I asked my daughter several times what she thought about it all, about Lizzo and the dancers. She said, “They are beautiful, mom.”
All you need is love.
And the courage to be who you are as fully as you dare to be. Yes, Lizzo gets shamed on social media all the time, but she moves ahead anyway, making her way and making way for others.
This month we are talking about resilience. The dictionary definition of resilience is flexibility or pliability; the ability to bend and thus survive, like a willow tree in a storm.
Yet we are learning there is more to what the term resilience means as a spiritual concept.
Your Touchstones Journal this month had this to say:
“…current definitions of resilience need to be redefined and reconceptualized, particularly in settings dominated by white middle-class voices that define what ‘positive emotions,’ ‘successful traits,’ and ‘coping mechanisms’ entail.”
“…resilience can also mean ‘resistance,’ i.e., resisting bad treatment and racism, as well as reflecting agency, identity, and ownership of one’s own life and choices….”
“Only when individuals and communities are heard, taken seriously, and their needs engaged with, is it possible to truly make sense of what resilience entails and what support is required to facilitate the development of resilience in different social and cultural groups.”
It is not just about “Buck up and be strong.” Touchstones also says:
“Our theology of resilience can only meaningfully evolve through the power of listening far beyond our understandings, far beyond our assumptions of what good and evil mean in the lives of others, especially those who have been broken yet yearn for healing and wholeness.”
The power of listening far beyond our understandings.
That’s not easy to do.
But that is what community is for, particularly spiritual community. The more diverse and pluralistic our communities, the better.
This is what is meant when you hear UUs say we work to “center the margins.”
It means that those who possess a sense of self that is different from our own or different from what we have been taught; a sense of what is positive, rather than negative; of what is big, rather than fat or unhealthy; what is beautifully black, rather than dark and even evil, are “truths” we may need to relearn, that we may not find to be self-evident; maybe we can’t see these truths with our own resources, but yet we must listen to, look at, learn to really love each other.
Particularly to understand what centering LOVE means for this day and age.
It means, per adrienne maree brown, to be present to the conversation that the group you are with needs to have now, in the present. Being more vulnerable, more real, going deeper with each other at every opportunity.
It isn’t about finding the people you are comfortable with and instituting a cocoon of the like-minded, but rather it is about being the church where hearts are open, spirits are willing, willing to listen and to move, rather than asking who can help us stay who we have been.
Ask, “Who will challenge us to become who we need to be?”
Learn to listen beyond your current state of understanding.
Years ago, I was in Greenville, NC, in a church about this size, in the only UU church between Raleigh and the coast, both an hour away in different directions. In a college town, in my first full-time called ministry. One day after I had been there a couple of years, this tall, black “buff” (I found out later that this person was a bodybuilder) walked into the building for a Sunday service. They put their head down, listened (I guess), then left. They didn’t engage with anyone, barely looked up when I greeted them. Over the years, she kept coming.
I got to know this trans woman, who had grown up in eastern North Carolina in a very small town, with parents and grandparents who did not accept who she knew herself to be. She tried to “fight it,” and had enlisted in the military as soon as it was age appropriate, and became a body builder. She showed me photos of what she had once looked like.
She came to the UU church dressed as a woman, wanting to be treated as a woman. Most of the people there were very accommodating, trying to welcome her as best they could, but didn’t really understand why she came to a UU church. In that first year, she wanted me to pray, and she didn’t seem to understand why we didn’t use the Bible. It was as if she didn’t quite know where she was. She just knew we were okay. It took her at least a year to realize that she was in a UU congregation. It was interesting to me that her body brought her there, but her mind was in a much different place for a while.
So, I have now known this person for 15 years. I will get to the rest of the story in a minute.
Later, after serving five years there, I moved on to a different UU congregation. That congregation had always celebrated the Trans Day of Remembrance, to commemorate the trans lives that had been lost in the past year. Their practice was to contact whatever local LGBTQ organizations there were in town and ask if there might be some trans folk who would want to come to the service or speak at the service. I thought, that’s the way they have done it, so I will do that as well. In a few weeks, before the service was to be held (we had no trans volunteers yet), this person called me back and basically said, “How dare you? How dare you call us for a representative to come when you should be in everyday relationship with us?”
They went on and on, scolding me. Then another person called me from a different state, saying they had been “assigned” to talk to churches who did what I had done. They said they knew I meant well, but “we” were doing everything wrong. I felt terrible, stupid, and shamed! The congregation ended not having a service on the Day of Remembrance, but rather acknowledging the deaths in a Sunday service near that date.
Actually, I got scolded and schooled all at the same time by those younger than me quite often during those years. It was interesting times. Lots of us (boomers) had been thinking we are as liberal as they come. We had been liberally educated. We were there for the civil rights movement, even as teenagers. We fought for the right to abortion, even as teens, we had been feminists for years, etc., etc. And then to get called out by a younger generation saying, “Not good enough!”
Okay, okay, so what is good enough?
The answer is in what adrienne maree brown says: Be in relationship with us! Listen to us! isten to what we need!
Do this, not that.
So, to continue the story of the young trans woman from Greenville. About six months ago, she reached out to me, letting me know she was finally going to have her transition surgery, and it was to be in New York. She had been trying to find someone to offer her housing and care during the follow up time when she would need to be close to the city. She said, “I understand you are kind of close?”
“Yes,” I said, “we can see the city from our attic window!”
I invited her and she came to stay with us. I don’t drive in the city, but I did several times to get her to her appointments, to pick her up from surgery and to bring her my home to care for her while she stayed for two weeks for her recovery. I did wonder if somehow, I was vindicated.
You can’t be more in community, more responsive to need than this, can you?
But really, I didn’t do it to feel good about myself. I did it because she asked for help and no one else was saying yes. I thought I should do this because it was the right thing to do. I didn’t need to pray about it.
So, that is my story about how things change, and how long it takes for things to change. It is also your reminder and mine, that love is not just a romantic notion that we celebrate one day a year. It is the force that pushes us to make the world different. including making ourselves different, perhaps, in ways that maybe we never realized we needed to be different, until someone told us that to help them be liberated, we needed to do this and this and this.
That is love.
All we need.