The Love People
February 16 2014
Rev. Dr. Gaye W. Ortiz
Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta
The other week my mother, who lives at St John Towers, called me because she was planning to do an opening devotion for one of the meetings there, and she couldn’t find an article she’d saved about how Valentine’s Day began. So she asked me for help, and I found it on the Internet…and I told her, “it says that Valentine’s Day was started by Hallmark!”
That wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but most of us might well have believed that after this past Friday. If you wanted to buy a Valentine’s Day card, you had to wade through a slew of over-the-top, slushy, red-heart-covered cards.
You might have been less than impressed with the rhymes, but here are some maybe you missed:
“I’d give up all my savings, My credit card limit too, If it meant that I could get Some interest from you.” http://www.itsbullfrog.com
“Roses are red violets are blue, I love chocolate more than you!”
“I thought that I could love no other
Until, that is, I met your brother.”
“What inspired this amorous rhyme? Two parts vodka, one part lime.” (funny.com)
There is a Polish proverb that says “The greatest love is a mother’s;
Then comes a dog’s;
Then comes a sweetheart’s.”
We might associate that love for a sweetheart, especially on Valentine’s Day, with one of the six Greek types of love, eros; that’s romantic love, which has an element of desire and sexual passion. Eros is named after the Greek god of fertility. It is the kind of irrational love into which we can fall ‘madly’ – and that apparently scared the Greeks, because that meant a loss of control.
It may surprise you to know that we can find a healthy respect for erotic love and mutual desire in the Bible, as seen in the Song of Solomon, in which, as Marcia Falk says in the Harper’s Bible Commentary, ‘men and women praise each other for their sensuality and their beauty.” Here are just 3 verses from Ch 7:6-9:
How fair and pleasant you are
O loved one, delectable maiden!
You are stately as a palm tree
And your breasts are like its clusters.
I say I will climb the palm tree
And lay hold of its branches.
Oh may your breasts be like
Clusters of the vine,
And the scent of your breath like apples
And your kisses like the best wine
That goes down smoothly
Gliding over lips and teeth. (Song of Sol 7:6-9)
Probably not read in church as much as other verses from the Bible!
The second type of Greek love is still interpersonal in nature; philia is the type of love that is seen in deep friendship and even love for your family, because it involves loyalty and even sacrificing yourself for those you love. It was the type of love that Greek soldiers on the battlefield would develop for each other, as in the term ‘band of brothers.’
The third is ludus, playful affection, the kind of affectionate teasing we have as young children with friends as we play together, or as friends hanging out together.
Pragma is the type of mature love that exists between people who have been together for a long time; an understanding, tolerant, and patient love of the type that psychoanalyst Erich Fromm referred to when he said that “we expend too much energy on ’falling in love’ and need to learn more about how to ‘stand in love’.”
Of course, there is also self-love, the Greek word is philautia. This love of self can be a negative, narcissistic variety, or a version that displays security in one’s own skin, so that, as Aristotle described it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” It enhances our own ability to love.
And then the final type of love, agape or selfless love, which is given to strangers as well as loved ones. It has been variously described as universal loving-kindness in Buddhism, or having the meaning ‘charity’ in Latin. It is the highest form of Christian love, called ‘gift love’ by C.S. Lewis.
Thinking about these different types of love, we might realize that there is much more love in our lives than we would at first have thought, a consoling thought hopefully. And we might also realize that one person cannot personify all the possible varieties of love, unlike the saccharine sweet romantic ideal of our Valentine; what a burden to place on someone we love, when we expect them to provide all the varieties of love that we need in our lives.
Knowing about these types of love also helps us to think about the natural way our relationships can change, mature, and deepen over time.
And I’d like to go back to agape love, because when we experience agape love, and we join together with such powerful loving energies, we are capable of using that force for good. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote, “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/2102-love-does-not-consist-of-gazing-at-each-other-but)
And so, we could say that life is a balancing act, and that the more we integrate the six different types of love within our lives, the more whole and healthy we will be emotionally and spiritually. As our reading from Muhyiddin ibn Arabi says, “My heart has become able To take on all forms.”
Maybe having all those forms of love in our lives makes love ordinary, in the sense of being commonplace…not that we should take love for granted, but that love is a normal state of being, a normal part of being human. Ordinary love – when U2 sing about it, I think the meaning is pretty clear. "We can't fall any further if we can't feel ordinary love. And we can't reach any higher, If we can't deal with ordinary love.” Think about the two extremes of love – self-love, love that is only concerned with ourselves; “We can't fall any further if we can't feel ordinary love.” If we can’t get beyond self-love, how can we truly fall deeper into love with anyone else? “We can't reach any higher, If we can't deal with ordinary love”: and if we don’t love ourselves, we can’t then open ourselves up to loving others, or to use the transforming power of love for others.
"Ordinary Love" was a song written to honor Nelson Mandela and it’s included in the biography film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. After decades in prison, being freed and elected as the president, Mandela wanted to rebuild South Africa, but this couldn’t be possible if all the people of South Africa remained angry and full of hate.
So love is vital when it comes to transforming the world. But we know that when we open ourselves to love – loving ourselves, loving another, or loving the world – we pay a price in being vulnerable.
Both daring to love, and receiving love, bring us to a place of vulnerability. That is why it is so difficult to open up to love. But that is also why we come here – because it is a safe place, because here we try to model what it means to love and accept one another and to encourage spiritual growth.
Lisa Friedman writes about how the Standing on the Side of Love campaign began:
It “was born out of the tragic shootings in our sister congregation, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) in Knoxville, TN. On July 27, 2008, Jim David Adkisson walked into the church’s sanctuary during the performance of a children’s musical and began firing a shotgun, killing two and injuring six. Among the fatalities were members of TVUUC and Westside Unitarian Universalist Church, also in Knoxville. In a letter later found by police, Adkisson said that he targeted the church because of its liberal values—including its openness to gays and lesbians. He wrote of his beliefs that ‘The UU church is the Fountainhead [sic], the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations like Moveon.org, Code Pink, and other un-American groups.’
But after the shooting, both Knoxville congregations pledged to remain open and welcoming, and in fact chose to embrace their inclusive and loving spirit even more boldly in the days that followed, supported by their wider community and religious neighbors. In doing so, they also drew on their Unitarian Universalist heritage, which [like Nelson Mandela,] consistently urges us to choose love over hate and fear.
This was the profound and radical insight of our Universalist forbears – that if Love comes from God, then there can be no exceptions. Love cannot be just for one, or some of us. If it is for any of us, it must be for all. Love cannot be just for those with loud voices, but also for the voiceless. Love cannot be just for those with power, but also for those who are marginalized. Love cannot be just for those who still hope, but also for those who despair that help and hope will ever come.”
Since then, UUs have worn yellow t-shirts whenever they have been involved in public witness. They are the visible sign that we are standing on the side of love.
Some of you have heard me speak about the UUA General Assembly held in Phoenix three years ago, where we had a mass public witness at Sherriff Arpaio’s tent city detention center. When we arrived wearing our t-shirts, there were other protesters there, many of them relatives of those detained, almost every one Latino. They saw our t-shirts and described us as ‘the love people’ – ‘the love people are here’.
And so it is that we UUs are seen, and more importantly how we need to be seen, in a period in American history when the poor and disadvantaged are being targeted for cuts to services they desperately need, in favor of the bottom line of the almighty dollar; where working class people are ignored and ridiculed when they ask for a decent living wage and for states to allow them access to healthcare coverage that truly benefits not only them and their families, but the functioning of a fair and flourishing economy.
We need to be seen at a time when our environment is being threatened, when changes in the climate are being ignored at best and denied at worst; when our earth is being poisoned by Fukushima, our water supply is under serious threat of vanishing in some parts of this country and around the world, and our land is under threat of being ravaged by fracking and by ill-conceived and immoral projects like the XL pipeline.
Maybe people in powerful positions at all levels of government need to be challenged to show a little more love, and not just love for money or power. As Harvey Milk said, “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”
It simply takes love. So in case people ask us why we say we are standing on the side of love, and what possibly could mean, I commend to you the words of Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn:
We are standing on the side of love when we seek to house the homeless. We are standing on the side of love when we seek to feed the hungry. We are standing on the side of love when we seek clean water for those who have none.
We are standing on the side of love when we make health care available to those in need of preventative medicine and medicine to heal their bodies. We are standing on the side of love when we offer education to those who have gone without knowing the joys of learning. We are standing on the side of love when we reunite families separated by war and government policies. We are standing on the side of love when we give all people the choice of marrying their partner in a civil ceremony. We are standing on the side of love when we recognize that love makes a family. We are standing on the side of love when we open our hearts to all people as they are accepting one another and encouraging each other’s spiritual growth. (Standing on the Side of Love: Re-imagining Valentines Day by Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn)
Love is that radical. Love is that simple. Our hearts are big enough to give love and to stand on the side of love. We can stand together and say,
“I believe in the religion
Whatever direction its caravans may take,
For love is my religion and my faith.”
May we be the ones who make it so, Blessed Be, Amen.