The answer for me is, everything. Unlike the amazing Tina Turner, I’m not talking about protecting our hearts so we may reap all the benefits of platonic relationships. I’m talking about the fact there will always be pain and sadness on this side of the Jordan. It’s unavoidable, it’s tiring, and honestly, it sucks.
It seems this American summer was just as bitter as it was sweet. A lot was happening in our national community. I have to agree with those who don’t believe there was ever a simpler time. They’re onto something. I think that’s why Tina, calls love “A second hand emotion” and “sweet old fashioned notion”. Nostalgia binds us from acknowledging the painful truths of the past by just focusing on a good experienced by a dominant group.
I’m also not trying to fashion love as a fairy powder made from the gracious manes of unicorns (Although, if anyone has found love in this literal form, I want in!). It’s not the cheap, “everything is going to be alright” attitude that gives me solace about the state of things. Since oppression is inherently systemic and not just interpersonal, I find that phrase incredibly patronizing. It’s usually from someone who is well intentioned, but is neither queer nor a person of color. It’s another way oppressed people are silenced and treated as other. Nope, I’m not talking about that kind of love. I’m talking about the difficult, stubborn persistent love that’s in solidarity with the brokenness it sees.
There was a lesbian couple at GA who had been together for at least 30 years. They came to see if their beloved church would embrace their humanity with love and welcome. When they asked me if I thought the amendment would pass, I told them we’d most likely have to wait until next GA; the chances of the AI passing were far greater. I cannot imagine what they experienced when the amendment passed. As for myself, I bawled like a baby. Enough church representatives loved God, the church and their LGBTQ neighbors to see they too were made in God’s image. Frankly, that kind of love blows idealized fairy unicorn powder away. It is not an easy love; it is not a popular love; the love of true solidarity is hard and often comes at a tangible worldly price. However, I can honestly say that is one of the moments I was most proud to be a part of our beautifully broken denomination.
Let’s search for the solidarity of love in Ferguson. What happened to Mike Brown was tragic. No matter what he did, he didn’t deserve to be killed. His death along with Trayvon Martin’s, represent a fraction of people of color whose murders are given attention. Just in the time of the news coverage there was another African-American man killed by a police officer in Los Angeles, and 3 trans people (2 of color) brutally murdered in Detroit. Per usual, the airwaves were pretty much silent.
As a kid, my parents would tell my brother and I from as young as 7 years old, to always let a police officer know what movements you are about to make. Make them slowly. Tell them what you are reaching for, where it is, and why. Always stay calm and polite when an officer pulls you over and you did nothing wrong. Always be calm and kind when you are followed by security or the police. My parents never said “if”, they always said “when”. I’ve had those experiences multiple times. It’s simply a fact of life. Sometimes I’m angry about it, and sometimes I don’t even bother and just want to continue with my day. Either way, it’s a perfect example how saying, “everything is going to be alright”, is an inappropriate statement. It’s not. Its always a gamble. My grandparents had lynching, my parents had lynching and police murder, my generation has police murder. Both manifestations of racism occur with impunity. I’m sure people are tired of hearing about Ferguson, but I’m tired of having to live it from the day I was born, till the day I die. People of color do not have the privilege to move on, there is no day off on experiencing racism or any other kind of oppression.
So, what does the solidarity of love look like in the face of this particular manifestation of racism? One example comes from this amazing older lesbian woman. She is a member of my partner’s former congregation. One day she saw a police officer giving an African-American man a traffic ticket on a false charge. She boldly went up to the officer snatched the ticket out his hand, ripped it up and told the African-American man to continue about his way.
Now, I know this form of solidarity is radical. She truly loved her neighbor as she loved herself. She knew, because she was a white woman, that she could use her privilege to embody an act of love. In my experience, most people will not use their privilege, as a direct tool to love their neighbors. It’s too radical, too risky. Like it or not, for change to occur in the form of loving solidarity it must also come from our privileged identities. Stokely Carmichael, in his world famous speech, Black Power put it another way, “I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people… I also know that while I am black I am a human being and therefore have the right to go into any public space. White people didn’t know that.” Imagine if we all actually became aware of our privileges and how they impact others? Our white, lesbian friend did, and it was powerful.
What’s love got to do with Congregations? Rev. Randall Tremba, of Shepardstown Presbyterian Church in West Virginia, one of our newest More Light Congregations, put it beautifully in his sermon awhile back, “Do whatever you can, wherever you can, for whomever you can and don’t worry about things you can’t do anything about…There is no one great thing to be done to fix the world. But there are many small things to be done with great love.” As the world continues to spin, as we organize for ratification of LGBTQ marriage, while we rally in solidarity with people of color, and as we actively wake ourselves and congregations out of the comfort of complacency, I’m putting my trust in the solidarity of love. It seems to me, it’s what’s most at stake in all our mess.