Celebrating the Spirit of a People
The first principle of our Unitarian Universalist faith is a covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We know Life’s creativity expresses itself through many forms. By claiming, and naming, and celebrating diversity, we are in harmony with that vibrant creativity.
I find myself more pliant and comfortable in a diverse world than I was thirty years ago. That greater at-homeness is largely the gift of my non-heterosexual friends, colleagues and acquaintances. As I think about the many ways my own life has been “enspirited” by this engagement across differences, I know what I most want to say today. It is very simple: Thank you!
Members of the community we celebrate this week have enriched my life with gifts of courage, compassion, complexity, and community. These are all spiritual gifts.
Take courage. If one fits comfortably into the society in which one lives, it is possible to go a long time without asking the question, “Who am I?” Perhaps it never gets asked. But for those who realize they do not fit in -- and most Unitarians feel that lack of fit for one reason or another -- for those who realize they do not fit in, the question is inescapable.
Seeing the courage it has taken for friends and acquaintances to come out of the closet over the years has helped me to risk more authenticity with the areas of my own being that feel vulnerable. In Hebrew tradition, when Moses asked the God speaking to him from the burning bush for a name, the answer he received was, “I am who I am.” The spirit shines most brightly in each of us when we, too, can say simply, “I am who I am,”
Take compassion. Jesus asked us two millenia ago to consider the question: “Who is my neighbor?” The GLO -- Gay Lesbian Outreach -- group within my home Unitarian Universalist congregation in San Diego, California had well over 50 participants. The tragic cost of the AIDS epidemic was inescapable to all of us. My daughters grew up knowing and caring about people who died far too young. Lauri, my eldest daughter, joined a program delivering meals to home-bound AIDS patients as soon as she received her driver’s license.
One of my vivid memories is of an AIDS benefit concert put on by a Gay friend, Chris Hassett -- a singer -- together with an HIV positive artist who had painted large panels representing his spiritual struggle with mortality. The beautiful music and powerful paintings opened our hearts. Towards the end of the presentation, someone came running down the aisle and whispered to the singer. He dropped his mike and took off running out the door.
Our choir director, himself Gay, told us that Chris had gone to be with his partner Dan, who lay dying of AIDS in the hospital next door. Dan had taken a sudden turn for the worse. We were asked to open our hymnals to the song “Abide with Me.” Not a song the Unitarian Universalists in the crowd sang very often. But among those hundreds of people there was not a dry eye in the house. “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide -- the darkness deepens, still with me abide.” For those of us who knew that Chris entered this relationship knowing that Dan faced death -- dared to love him and deepen that love knowing what loss loomed in the future -- our open and vulnerable hearts in that moment learned more about compassion and courage than we had known before.
Courage and Compassion are obvious spiritual values, but complexity? Traditional religious people may not think so. But for me, one of the most important spiritual questions is whether we live in an open-ended or a closed universe. Whether it is growing and unfolding. whether transformation is possible. I have been gifted by my non-traditional friends with an increasing freedom from narrow, culturally defined boxes. For example, It is easier to see and honor simple friendship across gender lines.
Yes, opposite sex heterosexuals can be friends! As can every other combination of people. One of my collegial friends calls herself “ambi-sexual” -- she has had two long term committed relationships, the first with a man, the second with a woman -- and considers both to be equally valid. She is comfortable and at home with her reality, and shows patience and humor towards those who do not understand. Her gender identity embraces both male and female – she would consider herself transgender – meaning including both. I have learned much from her.
Finally, Community. Back in San Diego, I did a number of memorial services for AIDS victims. Quite often, family members who had come from far away commented to me about how warmly they had been welcomed by their son’s “chosen family.” They felt nurtured and supported by those who had loved him, and extended that circle of love to include these “outsiders” who shared their grieving. Another core religious question is “To what am I connected?” I have seen that community answer -- “We are connected to the entire human family in grief and in celebration.”
We know homophobia still lurks in our society despite our celebrated progress in legalizing same sex marriage. It hurts everyone. Just to give a couple of reasons:
*Homophobia locks all people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self-expression. . .
* Homophobia inhibits one’s ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one’s own sex. . .
Homophobia inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned. (Source??)
So we need to demonstrate our liberal acceptance and tolerance, right? Make it clear our doors are open? Not so fast. Someone has suggested that “acceptance” and “tolerance” are the two most subtle forms heterosexism, and other isms, can take. If we choose to stir out of our passive acceptance into more active solidarity -- and I hope we do! If we choose to be more proactively welcoming, it can’t be just for “them.” You see, it can’t be “us” and “them!” That, too, is a subtle form of homophobia.
We need to combat heterosexism and homophobia for all our sakes -- because those of us who are heterosexual are also cut off from our full humanity. A diverse community enriches and frees us all. It helps us to combat sexism, which also effects everyone!. It helps us to move away from stereotypical male values that have put our planet at risk.
My mentor, Tom Owen-Towle, wrote to a Gay friend in their co-authored book called Friendship Chronicles:
My friendship with you . . . has been one of the unspeakable blessings . . Ours has been what a lesbian colleague calls “revolutionary friendship.”
The word “revolution” comes from the Latin meaning “to roll back, to unroll.” That’s what we embody in our evolving friendship: rolling back the assumptions, biases, backgrounds and tyrannies that keep us humans apart, specifically men apart, more particularly gays and straights apart.
Then opening up our hearts and minds, we unroll ourselves to one another, sharing the joys, missions, lulls, and impasses of being genuine buddies.
Rolling back the negatives so that positives might be unrolled is the rhythm of revolution. We are practicing revolutionaries.
So, how about it? Shall we come out of our respective closets together and do something “truly religious, even revolutionary?” It is clear to me that this is one thing we can do to change the world. One thing we can do to bridge the isolation that heterosexism imposes upon all of us, to one degree or another. By challenging heterosexism publicly and privately, we attack sexism, privilege, power and patriarchy -- primary roots of injustice and lack of compassion in our world. At the same time, we open our own lives to greater flexibility, richness and diversity.
Religion has been a primary culprit in inflicting pain upon people who do not fit narrow, accepted stereotypes. Doesn’t that place upon us a moral obligation to become a part of the healing? I’m ready to “come out” more publicly as a practicing revolutionary. How about you?