Monday, March 3, 2008

Love Comes of Its Own Accord

There are the days when spirit flags,

when I listen to a playlist of songs I’ve named Soul Songs—Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome,” Joan Baez and “Guantanamera,” Sweet Honey in the Rock and that passionate political ballad “I’ve Got to Know,” “Nella Fantasia,” “How Can I Keep from Singing?” “Calling All Angels,” and, of course, Mercedes Sosa rendering “Gracias a la Vida” as if the song is welling from the earth’s depths.

Singing heals the spirit, when too many words threaten to wound it.

I suppose I’m down in a quite specific way because of the apparent futility of talking to church folks about the damage the churches do to gay hearts, minds, souls, and lives when the best pastoral responses churches seem able to provide us is to render judgment on us.

I should say “church folks” rather than “churches.” Churches are people, after all. The frustration is that people—other human beings—seem so oblivious to the harm done to fellow human beings when they are capable of interacting with us only insofar as they have tagged, controlled, and dismissed us.

My aborted conversations with some of these church folks in my own religious communion (but they’re in all churches) continue on threads at National Catholic Reporter. What strikes me as so curious about some of these folks is their ravenous need to tie everything in life up into neat little packages, to wrap those packages tight and then dispose of them—as they imagine God would have them do. Tie, wrap, dispose: the divine plan for salvation!

Several of these people talk always in binary opposites: Truth (always capitalized: they own it) as opposed to falsehood; true love as opposed to false love; natural as opposed to unnatural; the saved vs. the unsaved. It grows wearisome attempting to speak to anyone whose worldview is so neat, so contained, so . . . false.

Because life itself is not like that. Human beings are not like that.

Christianity speaks about the incarnation of God. To me, this means that God enters the human condition, becomes like us—beset with uncertainty, groping to find a path, seeking the best way possible in a world in which there are few best ways.

Last week’s Christian Science Monitor has an article on what constitutes good theology, in the religions of the world. The article cites Karen Armstrong, who notes that the heart and soul of the various religious traditions of the world is one simple and yet frighteningly complex concept: practical compassion.

From a Christian theological standpoint, when God took flesh, Love took flesh. For Christians, God is to be found in the world not through clutching a scrap of paper that contains The Truth, not through sweeping the churches clean of contaminating presences and drawing insider-outsider lines, not by defining everything in the world as we vs. them.

God is to be found by love. And the love that is God is enfleshed. There is no separating line between loving God and loving human beings. Rather than splitting all of reality into binary opposites (controllable opposites, hierarchical opposites), in taking flesh, God unites the opposites: to love humans is to love God; to love God is to love humans.

And so the very deep wound church folks inflict on gay persons: in telling us that what we do is separated from “real” love, in telling us that who we are is not about love in the divinely approved sense, church folks not only deny our love: they deny our humanity.

When the experience of love opens one’s heart to further love; when the love of one person disposes one to love all persons; when love makes one more generous rather than more closed; when the love of the beloved sharpens one’s vision of the many hungers of the world (for food, for water, for knowledge, for freedom from oppression): then one is experiencing the kind of love that is redemptive, liberating, divine.

Rumi says, “Remind those who tell you otherwise that love comes to you of its own accord, and the yearning for it cannot be learned in any school.” To me, this speaks volumes about the vocation of gay believers: to witness to the authenticity of the divine love that we find in our lives and relationships.

Against all odds, no matter what the deniers of love wish to say, we must keep on loving. To do otherwise is to die. When words fail us, when friends betray us, when political allies prove not to be worthy of our hopes, we still have the strongest resource possible: we love, and no one can take this from us.

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