do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our
hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace
and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted
dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son
Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The words of the collect from this past Sunday caught my attention, especially as I continue to move through this morass called, "Grief" and the loss of my mother. Love, as I have noted before on this blog, is a synonym for "God" and is the active, and the only language that I believe God speaks. This love is something different than the excitement one feels with a kiss and that electric energy between lovers. This love, as I have experienced it, is the sensation of feeling at ease, even in the middle of chaos, confusion, anger, and rage. It's the centering of peace in the deeper places of my being, often achieved by using my sacred word which is my simple short-hand prayer. These are the moments that I am "in Love," capitalization intended. And, as the collect notes, the more that my actions can be coming from a place of being "in Love," the better those actions will be.
Couple this with the portion of this past Sunday's Gospel lesson, one of the many moments of Jesus speaking in counter-intuitive ways:
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may
be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.--Matt 5: 43-48
This statement must have baffled Jesus' Jewish audience, a people who were under the thumb of Roman occupation, as much as it tests our intellect today. How can I love someone who wants to do me harm, or goes out of their way to make my life a living hell?
"Loving the enemy" has been an intentional practice that I have been doing for awhile now. I use the words found on page 816 in the Book of Common Prayer, a Prayer for Our Enemies, which has allowed me to navigate and channel my feelings of wanting to exact some kind of punishment on the one who is doing me wrong or the entity that wants to oppress me. "Loving" my enemy does not mean that I accept their ways, or how they are attacking me or not respecting me. And the prayer in the BCP works its wonder by acknowledging that the conflict is not one-sided: there is "the enemy" who I pray is led "from prejudice to truth" and is delivered from "cruelty, hatred, and revenge." BUT the prayer also says the same thing about me, or "us," in its effort to pour Love back into my heart and wash away the fears that arise when faced with an "enemy." "Enemies" gain the upper hand when their actions generate fear and loathing in my heart. If I meet them "in Love," I'm in a better place to face whatever it is that comes my way.
And so all of this brings me to the news of the past few days with regard to Arizona and now Uganda. Like many people who are LGBT, it is horrifying to think that states and countries are passing laws that target us for discrimination, criminalization, and basically create an "open season" on us for those bent on bigotry and hatred. Worse is that in Arizona, the legislature passed this proposed law, called "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act," because they fear that LGBT couples are going to insist that small business people, such as wedding photographers, take pictures of the loving couple at a wedding ceremony that is currently outlawed in Arizona, and this might violate the "religious freedom" of a photographer to discriminate against LGBT people.
Please note: they passed SB 1062 and sent it Governor Jan Brewer because they feared what might happen. Marriage equality hasn't reached Arizona. Yet. Clearly, it will face a massive challenge when that day comes. But already, the lion of fear is on the prowl and infecting the hearts of the people there. Much as it has in the African nation of Uganda.
It is no secret that right-wing evangelicals such as Scott Lively and Rick Warren have been making trips to Africa to export homophobia. There are documentaries, and testimonials from the brave LGBT people and their allies in Uganda about the kind of efforts these men have made to feed the fear of people like me. Now, the President of Uganda has signed the bill into law which calls for seven-year prison sentences for LGBT people, as well as persecution of anyone who is associated with LGBT people. Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have already announced that they are freezing assets with Uganda. And there are calls for the United States to also sanction the country in response to this anti-gay legislation. Personally, I would like to see Scott Lively, Rick Warren, John Ashcroft, and any number of others who have stirred up this poisoned pot in Africa to be put on the "No Fly" list.
It would seem if there were ever a time for me to step up my prayers for my enemies, now would be it! And I certainly have. My faith, my hope, my confidence is in the knowledge that for every time someone or something chooses to attack the LGBT community, we, like so many other minority people, have overcome. Because our love, especially when grounded in Love, is stronger than those whose hearts are filled with fear. Do I love that Uganda wants to jail LGBT people? Of course, not! I would encourage those countries that value the freedom and dignity of every human being to bring pressure on the Ugandan government to rethink this decision, and to allow those who must escape this tyranny a safe harbor. Do I love that Arizonans opposed to LGBT equal rights cloak themselves in the mantle of Christ to pass discriminatory bills? No, I don't love that either. But it isn't in my hands to do anything to them except to see them as followers of fear and not faith, and meet that fear with the Love that pours into my heart.
And that gets back to my mother, and my father. While they never made much ado about their faith, they lived lives that exemplified their Christian beliefs. Jody Huckaby, executive director of PFLAG National, shared with me a story of how my mother, in her subtle yet firm way, made it clear that she wanted to meet Jody's partner and their dog, Buddy, right now, while they were in Washington, D.C., at a national board meeting.
"She and I walked outside and in no time Stephen and Buddy were walking up the sidewalk. The look on her face was priceless. Buddy ran up to her and around her leg and nuzzled his head between her legs with his head facing Stephen--Buddy's way of saying that he knew she was someone special to me/Stephen. Peg gave Stephen one her her big hugs and she told Stephen, "You don't know me but you must be special if you are Jody's partner." She then pointed her finger at him and said, "You had better be good to him!"
Although I had enjoyed getting to know your Mom in my first year at PFLAG in the context of her work as a Board member, it was in that moment with her that I saw how much love she has, and that it was her love that made her fearless in telling anyone her opinion."
Perfect love casts out fear. May I be filled with love so that it perfects my heart. Amen.