My friend, my family, do you still love me? Stop this…

pleading-hands-1050x700Over the last week, I’ve spent a lot of time being angry. Angry at myself for not listening to my friends of color who told me that white supremacy was alive and well and more wide spread than I was willing to believe. Angry at my fellow citizens for choosing to vote for hate. Angry at the electoral college. Angry at Trump and his campaign. And especially angry at my family and friends who I thought were better people. Over and over I asked “Do you love me?” and you finally answered “No.”

So I’m using that anger as fuel; for creativity, for energy, for resistance. Because I will not let this go. Consider me a little more “woke;” I see the writing on the wall. You, my friends and family who voted for Trump, revealed yourselves as the bigots I didn’t think you were. No, you are not the KKK kind of bigot. You probably wouldn’t burn crosses in front of a person’s home or hang somebody from a tree. But you are the kind of bigots who feel no remorse in choosing politics over human lives. You chose promises of money over the well-being of immigrant and minority families. You chose to protect your own privileged skin while throwing black and brown people under the bus.

You are probably thinking: “How dare you call me a bigot! I voted for the lesser of two evils! I was only voting for Trump to shake things up! I voted for his economic plan! I voted against the establishment! I voted against Clinton! I voted pro-life! I voted my conscience! I voted for America!” And sure, you voted for those things. But you also voted for hate and for that I am holding you accountable.

In my life, many of you have helped me remember who I was when I was on the wrong path. You loved me enough to tell me when I hurt you. You also loved me enough to hold me accountable for messing up; and forgave me as I made amends. And my friends and family who voted for Trump, I love you so very much and I love you enough to tell you, you are on the wrong path. And this is an intervention.

Whatever you may think of Clinton, she ran a campaign platform of “stronger together.” She did not run a presidential bid on hating people. She did not call for violence against anybody. But on election night I turned to my partner and told her, “I’m ashamed of it, but I’d never thought that I would be so very grateful our son has your skin.” Because you voted for the guy whose platform was based on the belief that all Muslims were terrorists, all Mexicans are rapists, all Black people are thugs and that he would deal with all of them through registration, deportation and “law and order” execution. And perhaps you never really listened in history class but there are striking similarities between this populist platform of hate and that small man in Germany who made the same promises, only to deliver them at the price of millions upon millions of human lives.

Because your vote, your choice, will cost real human lives. And it has already begun. Since last Tuesday, hate crimes have surged across the United States against the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans and women. Your choice made hatred legitimate. You gave people permission to assault already vulnerable populations with impunity. And since then, I have not heard a single one of you repudiate these hate crimes. You have stood by your president elect. You’ve said, “Give Trump a chance!” And he goes and selects as his closest adviser an unabashed white supremacist.

I refuse to accept this man and his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, hateful administration as the leaders of my great country. I will be on the front lines of the protests. I will march and vote with my fellow Americans in rejecting this surge of bigotry. I will preach from my pulpits against Trump, and against you and what his campaign and your votes represent. And I will be standing on the side of love because that is the only place to stand. To stand anywhere else is to stand on the side of death.

To my loved ones who voted for Trump, I now stand in prophetic judgement against you. I am asking you to turn away from your fear and your hate. I am begging you to remember what it means to be a Christian. And if you are not a Christian I am begging you to remember your humanity. I am begging you, as people who know me and know my heart, to choose love.

Because if you don’t, you are turning this country down a path which will end up in more bloodshed. And that blood; the blood of Black children gunned down for a traffic stop, the blood of the immigrant dying in a detention center, the blood of the Muslim beaten on a bus, the blood of a woman raped on her way home from work, will be on your hands. And may all that you hold holy and sacred have mercy on you then. Because you will be remembered as Cain to your families, your friends, and your fellow citizens.

I am here asking you, pleading with you, “Do you love me?” As a person of color. As a Mexican American. As a nephew. As a cousin. As a friend. As a fellow citizen. Because I love you; and I will not give up on you. Please reach out to me; talk to me. Help me understand. Prove to me that I am wrong about you, for the sake of love. For the sake of life. For the sake of our country. And for the sake of our children.

Amen.

 

My friend, my family, I love you; please don’t do this…

13567_tallTo my friends and family who are supporting Donald Trump: I love you. Which is why I’m writing this open letter to you. If you continue supporting this man for president, you are putting a strain on our relationship. You are jeopardizing our connection to each other. And I want to tell you this before it is too late and our bonds are broken.

I believe we are in each other’s lives because, at some point, we connected deeply. Whether it was through genetics, things in common or a shared experience, you are more than just a random person on the bus or a person I’ve just met in a bar. I saw something amazing and awesome in you and you saw something similar in me. This spark has allowed us to share our lives in intimate ways and I know it’s still there. Which is why I feel it is crucial I tell you this now: you are supporting a very dangerous hatred and it is causing me to question our relationship and friendship.

This is more than just a political disagreement. Most likely we’ve disagreed with each other in the past over a lot of unimportant and very important issues. Whether it was about economic policy, taxation, or parenting styles, we’ve had our arguments and our connection has survived. We’ve shared food and drink and debated religion and are still able to hug each other. Our bonds of friendship make it possible that we survive deep divides. And I think it is healthy to disagree and still love each other. It shows that we can be vulnerable with each other; listen to and perhaps even understand each other a little more each time we’re together. Our disagreements have made our relationship stronger.

But this is more than just a disagreement in politics or religion. You have made this about us; or rather, what you think of me and people like me. By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist and a bigot who overtly supports racism and bigotry.

And your first reaction is probably, “Bullshit! How dare you call me a racist! I’m not racist! I have black friends! I treat everybody equally!” But you’re lying to me and to yourself. You see, I’m a racist too. I was socialized in a society that was built on slavery. I am aware that I have an inherent bias that equates white with goodness and black with evil. I have inherited racism from my family system and I have participated in it with thousands of macro and micro aggressions. It’s inside you and inside me because we were raised in the United States and in systems steeped in racism and bias.

The fact that racism is a part of me and most likely will never go away terrifies me. But I am committed to challenging it with every fiber of my being because I believe racism is wrong. I believe bigotry is wrong. And you, my beloved friend, are wrong. By supporting Donald Trump you are telling me that you believe every Muslim is an American hating terrorist, every Mexican is a rapist drug dealer, and that every African American is a lazy welfare criminal. That you agree Russia should have a role in our political system and that Hilary Clinton should be assassinated because she is a political opponent. These are the policies you want for our country. This is who and what you are willing to vote for. This is what you want for the United States of America.

By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist, a bigot and that on some level you hate me and people like me. You know that I am a person of color. You know that my grandmother was a Mexican immigrant. You know that I am not a Christian. You know that I support Black Lives Matter. You know that I am a feminist. You know who I am and for the life of our friendship you’ve been willing to accept me and love me even if these are all things you haven’t agreed with.

Yet when I see your support of deporting Hispanics and Muslims, I see your support of deporting me.

When I see your support of abuse against Black Lives Matter protesters, I see your support of abuse against me.

When I see your support of an America that would hate me, I see your hatred of me.

I see where this political narrative is going. I paid attention in history class. My friend, my loved one… you are beginning to sound like a Nazi. Which terrifies me. Not only because I know that this isn’t you, but I can envision a day when you would support my arrest, detention, and execution. Just for disagreeing; just for dissenting.

Perhaps you think this is a bit hyperbolic; perhaps you think this would never happen in the United States of America. But take a long, hard look at the candidate you are supporting. On what he has said. On what he wants to do. My beloved, this is not you. Please tell me this isn’t you.

I get it. You hate Hillary Clinton and what she represents. You hate the idea of another Democratic administration. You hate progressive politics. You hate marriage equality. You hate taxation. You hate Black equity. You hate gun control. These are all issues we’ve struggled with in the past. But it has become bigger than just the issues.

This now involves people; specifically people like me. This is a deep wound you’ve created and most likely will deny. And I don’t want to believe it either. But your actions and words are like cards on the table; I see your real hand and in this game, nobody wins. So please, try to understand what I am saying to you. I love you. I want you to be a part of my life. But you’ve proven to me that you hate me, you hate people who are like me, and that you want us beaten, arrested, deported and dead.

So I’m writing you this letter. Please don’t do this. We loved each other, or at least I thought we did. And I’m willing to keep trying. My hands and heart are open to you. Please turn away from your hate. Please, my friend, my family, my beloved: will you not stand on the side of love with me?

I pray we can learn how to love each other again. Amen.

First, they came for the immigrants,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigrant.
Then they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for people who were Queer,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Queer.
Then they came for the people of color,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a person of color.
Then they came for the protesters,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a protester.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me…
-inspired by the words of Martin Niemöller

 

Vocare

“Vocare” originally appeared as a sermon delivered to University Unitarian Church. The associated readings that accompanied the sermon were from three sources: Tess Baumberger’s meditation “Let us Make This Earth a Heaven,” Rev. Theodore Parker’s sermon “Justice and the Conscience” and 1 Kings 19:7-13 from the Hebrew Bible.
Click here to listen to the audio recording of the sermon.

To my siblings in faith and action. I say these words in the spirit of love and I pray that you receive them in the same spirit. These last two weeks have come with more reminders that our world is in desperate need for justice, peace and most of all, prophetic love. With Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five police officers killed in hateful violence (in addition to the attacks in Nice, France, the attempted coup in democratic Turkey, and this morning’s events in Baton Rouge and so many other similar news stories coming almost every day), it seems to me that no matter how many loving steps forward I take in pursuit of justice, our shared path keeps getting longer; increasing in grade with the summit seeming to always be on the horizon. I am angry, heart broken, frustrated… and I am ashamed to admit it but I am also exhausted by it all.

I am ashamed because I take pride in being strong; physically, mentally, emotionally. Yet I continue to fail at the responsibility I put on myself of holding the weight of being an ally to people and communities who are so much stronger than I am. Not because they want to be; but because they have to be. Yet just like the Hebrew prophet Elijah, I hear their voices in that quiet whisper of God, questioning me: “So Justin, now tell me, what are you doing here?” And I have to cover my face and look away because this is HOLY work and holy ground to which imperfect I, and we, are summoned.

The Latin word meaning to summon or to call is Vocare. And it is from this word that we get Voice, Vocal, and Vocation. And I say all of these words with a capital “V.” Because they are calling out to me from the wilderness saying “prepare ye the way!” And yes, they are demanding. They demand my time, attention, money and hands. They demand that I use my Voice to shout “ENOUGH” alongside our siblings of color in all public places. They demand that I be Vocal, calling out in love both strangers and friends who persist in their rose colored glasses that #AllLivesMatter. They demand that I use my Vocation, as a person pursuing the ministry, to challenge the powers that be to dismantle and reform all our systems of inequity and oppression.

In essence, Vocare demands my being. And so here I am, proudly a Unitarian Universalist, responding to the summons of our time; saying from this pulpit that Black Lives Matter. Because not to respond, to let that phone continue to ring just to keep leaving a message on my machine, would be to reject that which I call most sacred; my humanity.

Not just my individual humanity but my shared humanity. Which I never really understood until I found Unitarian Universalism. You see, I grew up Catholic in a mixed race family. My miscellaneous brown skin and my social location in a mostly white suburb gave me the privilege that I didn’t have to think about race. And I was a progressive liberal Catholic who believed in equality and inclusiveness. I believed in hate the sin and love the sinner. I believed that non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) could also go to heaven. But in my heart there was always an “us” and a “them.”

Because I was the religious type I even went so far as to pursue the ministry, which at the time meant to study to become a Catholic priest! But nobody told me that seminary is a dangerous place. That it may end up razing my faith to the ground before it would even start to build it up again. I lasted two years before leaving. Still cowardly identifying as Catholic even though I was already doubting everything that the Church taught me. I was afraid to announce my apostasy. Because, what would the members of my Church community who I had known my entire life, say? What would my family say? If I were to suddenly come out and say “I do not believe in your systems anymore!”

It wasn’t until years later when I found the courage to go my own way. It took travelling half-way around the world and back again to finally step through our church doors and sit down in these pews. But I can say that the experience of US filled me with such a deep resonance. With our values as a community; focused on the dignity and worth of every person, a commitment to spiritual growth and democracy in the world, and a deep connection to the Earth and all living things. I immediately knew this would be my community of faith; the spiritual foundation for my future.

But, siblings, Unitarian Universalism did not offer me a soft, safe, carpeted foundation. Yes, I found fellowship and friendship; I found a family and community. But I also realized the radical kinds of responsibilities that came with my choice to identify as a Unitarian Universalist. This is a faith with a history of powerful reformers like Michael Servetus; suffragists like Susan B. Anthony; free thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson; and abolitionists like the Rev. Theodore Parker! Many of our spiritual forebears were burned at the stake for daring to proclaim their truth to the powers that be. And even though they were afraid for their lives they still fought church and state, whether it was in the rejection of hell or in the demand for freedom. No, I believe that ours is not a faith of comfort. To me this is a faith that answers that quiet voice among us asking “what are you doing here?” by saying “we are here because we see too much corruption in our government” and “we are here because the blood of the Earth cries out” and “we are here because too many people are being killed” and “we are here because Black Lives Matter!”

Which I believe embodies so much of our own prophetic history and work. In the words of Alicia Garza, one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter:

“#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole.   When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.  When Black people get free, everybody gets free.  This is why we call on Black people and our allies to take up the call that Black Lives Matter. We’re not saying Black lives are more important than other lives, or that other lives are not criminalized and oppressed in various ways.  We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.”
“When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”

I’ve never been a part of a radical community like ours before. I found a faith in which I am constantly challenged to break my binary habits of “us vs. them” and “either vs. or” and to accept that at our best we are a people of “both/and.” We are Universalist and Unitarian. We are black and white. We are theist and atheist. We are trans and cis. We are gay and straight. I feel that at our best we have room enough to even be liberal and conservative. Siblings, you have inspired me to be a human being of radical action and prophetic love who is committed to rejecting the binaries.

And yes, I have made newbie ally mistakes along the way. In my very first Black Lives Matter march in downtown Seattle I tweeted out “All Lives Matter” with all the good intention in the world. And I was quickly educated that my good intentions had subversive impacts; that in reality by saying All Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter both unintentionally and intentionally erases the Black experience. That the truth of our country and systems of today is that Black lives don’t matter; not as much as others. And I listened, learned and I was changed.

And a few weeks ago before our UU General Assembly I was asked a question that nobody has ever asked me before: “Do I identify as a person of color?” And I did not know how to answer. Yes, my grandmother emigrated from Mexico. Yes, my father is Mexican American. And while living in the Northwest has bleached out my melanin you would be very surprised how dark my skin can get given enough sun. But being asked this question made me realize two things: first, that yes I am a person of color who, due to my social location, has had the privilege of not having to identify as a person of color unless I want to. And second, that my privilege was bought and paid for without my permission at the price of my family in terms of culture, language and identity. These my grandmother sold away when she came to the United States. Even though she never spoke English herself, she concluded, accurately, that the only way for her children to succeed was to remove their “Mexican” and replace it with “American.” And it worked because I am only now learning what it means to be an ally to my Latinx siblings. From deep within I am educated that my grandmother’s good intentions have had subversive impacts. And I listen, learn and I am changed.

Now, in this time and place of social unrest and societal change, the challenge is to keep going. After the service today our Racial Justice Team has two places set aside to help us. First, honoring the practices that Black Lives of UU has called for, we offer downstairs in Howe, a sacred space for our Black siblings to gather in caucus. Second, members of the Care Team will be available in Nathan Johnson Hall for anyone who wants or needs to meet one on one with a member of the Team to discuss issues of the heart, mind and spirit. They will be wearing orange tags that say “Standing on the Side of Love.” Next Sunday after the service, we will have a Black Lives Matter stand in outside of the church along 35th Ave NE. Finally, we are responding as a community to a call to action, committing to provide for Black community organizers meeting and healing spaces here at UUC free of charge. In these ways, and in many more, we will continue to listen, learn and to change.

And believe it or not change is happening. Just last week, as I was considering deleting about half of the people from my social media connections because I was sick and tired of them not “getting it” with their Blue Lives vs. Black Lives vs. All Lives and their “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a bigger gun” a friend of mine made a simple statement on his Facebook page. He said,

“I’m ashamed to admit it has taken me this long to get it. The concept of Black Lives Matter isn’t a rallying cry to say that the life of an African American has more value than any other, it’s simply a reminder that the life of an African American has the same value as anyone else. Saying Black Lives Matter is just another way of saying Stop Valuing Black Lives Less.”

If my friend, a cis gender white male in his late 30’s married with children who lives in the suburbs who works in the tech industry who considers himself an enlightened liberal yet refused to accept the legitimacy of this most current Black movement can have a conversion of heart… it recommits me to keep doing the work. To keep speaking out on my social media channels. To keep engaging in loving dialog with those who disagree with me. To keep working in existing ways and finding new ways to not stop with the message that “the status quo has got to go.” And it is working; one person at a time.

Siblings, Vocare is a dangerous verb. It both summons the small voice inside and calls out through us as a louder voice in the world. To me Vocare is a powerful verb of Unitarian Universalism. We are an educated and privileged people with a history of justice and change, who do not let dogma or doctrine stand in our way, and who at our best have truly been one of the only real welcoming communities religion has to offer. Yes, I, and we as a denomination, have made so many mistakes along the way.

So what? We are a people who show up to listen, learn and to change.

I choose to believe that we are committed, whether we like it or not, to that prophetic vision that has spanned time from before the Rev. Theodore Parker to beyond the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is present in the now through the words of prophetic Black organizers like Alicia Garza. That we are part of an arc in creation that has been bending toward justice from the very beginning. And each and every hand placed on that arc, through word and action, through my imperfect ally-ship and our collective imperfect ally-ship, will keep bending toward justice for as long as it takes.

Do you hear that? That small, quiet voice, full of the potential of justice and peace and freedom?

“So Justin, now tell me, what are you doing here?”

I am here because “things refuse to be mismanaged long.” I am here because I was summoned. I am here to answer the call. We are here to keep answering the call.

Amen.

Today, love won.

Rally-for-Marriage-Equality-Brisbane-2012_25_Photo-Charlyn-CameronToday I woke up to the arc of history bending just a little more toward justice. As I left the gym at 7am my Facebook feed started blowing up with hashtags: #SCOTUS #equality #pride2015. I sat in my car for a moment to let the information sink in. I had a feeling it would happen; that this was on the right side of history. But hoping and praying and advocating doesn’t make equality real… this, right now, today. This was real.

I didn’t always believe in marriage equality. When I was a Christian I toted the line on “one man and one woman.” I bought into the “hate the sin but love the sinner” mentality that churches use to describe their gay and lesbian congregants. I thought that because Church teaching rejected homosexuality, I had to reject homosexuality.

4ecf8071d6f9d389bb_kym6bxvfxUntil my friends came out as gay. Until family members came out as gay. Until I started knowing and loving people who were gay. Slowly, what I had been taught in church began to feel wrong. On one hand, I was taught love and tolerance and community and forgiveness. On the other hand I was taught to reject, condemn, and exclude. Spiritually I felt the dissonance of what I knew was right, love, and what I knew was wrong, condemnation. Eventually, I had to make up my mind.

I chose to stand on the side of love. This meant that, for me, church teaching about homosexuality was wrong. I struggled with this for a long time, but it formed a crack in my spiritual life. And like a chip in the windshield, the crack just kept getting bigger. I began to question women’s role in the Church; beliefs about other religions; contraception and life issues… eventually my windshield had to be replaced. Choosing love had a snowball effect that eventually led me to the Unitarian Universalist church; a faith that doesn’t teach that homosexuality is inherently evil; a church that affirms the dignity and worth of EVERY person.

4096314549_205480c9f9_z
(Stephen Masker/Creative Commons)

The recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage has huge civil repercussions. However, as many rainbows as I see in my newsfeed, I also see the mostly religious dissent of “NO!” “SINFUL!” “DAMNNATION!” Which frustrates me. The ruling doesn’t force churches to marry gay couples. It doesn’t change church doctrine. It doesn’t rewrite the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t force people to become homosexual or even like homosexuality. All it does is guarantee rights to a group of people who deserves them; not because they are special but because they are human.

We live in a country of diversity. Almost every ethnic and religious tradition on earth today resides in the United States. This means that we are bound to find people who are unlike us in tradition, faith, physical appearance and language. We will most definitely disagree on a whole bunch of issues. But one thing we should all want is the acknowledgement of our own humanity; which comes with certain rights that go beyond pen and paper legalities. One of the most important being the right to life and dignity.

Supporters of gay marriage fill the rotunda as they gathered to rally at the Utah State Capitol Friday Jan. 10. 2014, and  deliver a petition with over 58,000 signatures in support of gay marriage to Utah Governor Gary Herbert.  (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
 (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)

To live freely, openly, with kindness and compassion and community and without fear. Today the Supreme Court helped remove just a little bit of fear and replaced it with love. And for that, I am thankful. Because today is a day about which I can tell my son, “I remember when I came home, looked you in the eye, and said, ‘Toby, today your world just got a lot bigger. Today, love won.’”

Life isn’t (un)fair…

universe-hd-photo95-JPGA long time ago I stopped believing in a fair universe. From everything I’ve observed, life is a mix of intentionality, chance and inevitability. I have a small amount of agency; I work hard and pay my taxes and volunteer all of which come with their own rewards. But for the most part, life is just as likely to kick me in the balls as it is to let me win the lottery. Nature has no sense of justice outside of its laws of cause and effect. It is up to me to create fairness from an otherwise apathetic life.

When I believed God was in charge of everything, I had mantras like “it’s all part of God’s plan” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” to fall back on whenever undeservedly bad things happened to good people. (let’s be honest, bad people deserve it, right?) Eventually they all became platitudes. Because as more curses and blessings stacked up, most of which without any catalyst, God’s plan began to look like trying to read tea leaves and God had a funny sense of what people could handle vs. what they should have to handle. In the end I was forced to reject the notion of a just God because a just God wouldn’t stand idly by in the face of so much injustice.

free-willNot just the kind of injustice that people intentionally cause; not crime or war or corporate greed or any of the millions of ways we dehumanize each other. I’m talking about the stupid everyday injustice, like car accidents and slipping on a patch of ice and breaking your leg. Accidents with horrible consequences. The butterfly effect of causality that reaps human life. I can’t even buy into the “free will” answer: God doesn’t intervene because he loves our free will more than he loves starving children. It’s bullshit, because that’s not love or justice, that’s an excuse. Therefore, I was left with either rejecting my preconceptions about God or believing in a lie.

Recently, my father-in-law passed away. While he was not perfect, he lived a good and clean life. He didn’t smoke. He drank less than occasionally. He was a runner. He attended church, was married more than 30 years and was an overall good man. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, which spread to his brain and eventually to the rest of his body. The doctors originally gave him 6 months to live. He fought for over 4 years until May 11th, 2015. There it is; blessings and curses all wrapped up in a whole ball of intentionality, chance and inevitability. If a just God did exist, this wouldn’t have happened.

BristleconeThe ironic part is I wish I still believed in a just God because right now I could really use something to blame. I want to look God in the eye and say “You are wrong! You did this! This is your fault and how dare you proclaim love and justice and mercy and compassion when you let good men suffer and die!” I am angry because Andy didn’t deserve to die. Not this way; not like this. He deserved better from his God than he received. There are millions of other people in the world who are more deserving than he was to die of cancer. This is a horrible statement but right now I feel horrible and selfish and hurt and confused and broken. And tired.

Right now I am just. So. Tired. Because what is the point? Why should I work so hard for ideals that go against the very fabric of the universe? Why should I care? In a just universe I’d be able to look at my son and tell him that life will be kind. But right now all I can tell him is that he will never know his grandfather; that he was robbed of having a good man in his life because life isn’t fair.

Life just is.

It is a hard lesson and I’m left with one lonely realization; if there is going to be justice in this world then I’m going to have to be the one making it happen. It’s up to me to create justice where it doesn’t exist. Because that is what I want to do. The responsibility has been passed from God to me and it’s a heavy load. 11238228_10153338843751934_1951030714927036305_nFortunately I know a whole lot of other people who are working to lighten that load. I know miracle workers on the margins of society who squeeze justice from life like blood from stone and I want to be just as strong and powerful and tireless as them. And maybe if I can just keep trying, keep believing in love and justice, I can make my father-in-law’s death mean something.

Because I think that’s what he would have wanted. And it’s what I want. Rest in love Andy. I’ll keep working on the justice.

I’m not good at radical love.

(I’m not good at radical love first appeared on the blog Loved for Who You ArePlease visit them for more stories on living and practicing radical love!)

training wheelsI’m not good at radical love. Scratch that. I don’t think radical love is something I can be good or bad at. It’s something I need to learn. Not to be confused with the radically easy love, such as my affection for my friends and family with jobs, education, well-read opinions and good taste in beer. I love a lot of people who are safe, comfortable and encouraging. I support them and they support me, without judgement or hesitation. This is love on training wheels and at close to 40 years old it’s time for me to grow up.

In my experiences of volunteer work in Romania and Mexico and the United States, I’ve learned that for love to be radical it can’t discriminate; it “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13: 7) and not just for people who are easy to love. If I truly want a just and peaceful world, radical love is required for the homeless man who hits me up for cash every time I go to Whole Foods for my organically grown and fair trade sourced bread. Or the mentally ill woman on the bus who smells horrible because she hasn’t showered in weeks and wants to talk to me about how the police have ruined her life. Or the fundamentalist Christian at the gay pride festival holding a sign that says “Burn In Hell.” Or the drunk guy who lives under the bridge in my neighborhood. Or the African American woman who comes into my office because she saw the sign outside that reads “Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center” and thinks that we have money to give her so she can turn the lights back on for her three kids in her studio apartment. I need to learn how to love the hard way; to grow out of my comfort zone to embrace people who need love the most.

69766d03f350498d6f6b73b525dcf2c0Radically hard love is the price I pay for being a father. My first child will be born around Christmas this year. My partner and I didn’t know if we could conceive. Now a baby is around the corner and the world is suddenly smaller because it is filled with baby-potential. And just like I would hate to have somebody come over with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and dog hair everywhere, I am ashamed at the state of my world for which responsibility will fall on my child. The only way my son/daughter is going to succeed where my generation has failed is if I can teach them radically hard love, and I can’t teach something I haven’t experienced.

Radically hard love is the price I pay for faith. My Unitarian Universalist church demands radically hard love. Its seven principles challenge me to move beyond my safe relationships into the scary realm of solidarity with people on the margins of society. If I truly believe in “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” than I have to act for peace and justice in the world for every person, not just the easy ones. Otherwise the principles of my faith are just more words in a meaningless creed. Working at my non-profit I’m confronted with child trafficking in cocoa supply chains, human slavery involved in electronics manufacturing, mass migration due to global climate change, and what seems like a world going to hell in a hand-basket. It’s easy to succumb to compassion fatigue because everything is urgent and one man can only do so much. The only way I recharge is by going to church in solidarity with other peacemakers. But if I’m going to be honest and effective in my spiritual community, I have to learn radically hard love.

vocationRadically hard love is the price I pay for vocation. Years ago I had this crazy notion that I may be called to serve in some kind of ministry. Now that I’m studying at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, I am learning skills that help me connect with the prisoner, the beggar, the homeless, the gentile, the mentally ill, the foreigner and the outsider. There is a drive somewhere inside my head and heart (and maybe spirit?) that demands I overcome my unease and fear of people who may ask for more than I am comfortable in giving because these are the people who need radical love the most. If I’m going to true to this mysterious call to Vocation, in order to be true to myself, I have to learn radically hard love.

Because of my commitments to my children, faith and self, it’s time for me to stretch beyond the safe walls of my middle class life. I need to put radically hard love into practice in order to be the father, neighbor and minister I feel called to be, taking risks with my heart by connecting it to people who need it most. That being a Unitarian Universalist comes with a responsibility to creation and neighbor that mirrors the responsibility I learned as a child in bible class:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

lovewithoutexceptionssquare-500x500Now that I’m an adult, I’m no longer looking for salvation or eternal life but I can hear the wisdom in this story; that the whole world is my neighbor and the whole world needs merciful acts of radical love.

What Christmas is (supposedly) about…

Seriously, making
Seriously, making beer is hard work…

For the past seven years of our marriage, Heather and I have given alternative gifts for Christmas. Usually we make donations to non-profit organizations in the name of friends and family. This year, we’re adding home crafted items to the mix. Heather is making tasty treats, we have quite a few bottles of homemade raspberry wine, and I have some home roasted coffee and homebrew that will be given out.

Ok, I may have purchased a few presents... but they're VERY functional.
Ok, I may have purchased a few presents… but they’re VERY functional.

It’s not that we’re anti-capitalist or don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas. Gift giving is an important human ritual that solidifies relationships and strengthens bonds. We also haven’t gone native and decided that a hipster Christmas is better. I just believe modern American gift giving is redundant in our instant gratification society. My friends pretty much have everything they really NEED, and within my modest budget, they already have everything they really WANT. I also don’t want to add to their “stuff.” (Which I am decidedly against)

That’s why donating money to deserving organizations was a no brainer. We take the money we would otherwise have spent on stupid stuff and allow that money to make the world a better place. It’s like paying Christmas forward. Our intent is to honor our loved ones with a gesture of charity. This year, we’ve chosen three organizations which we believe are making positive contributions to our home in Seattle, our home in Las Vegas, and to the overall world.

Man, I may have to be naughty this year...
At least it’s local?

The crafted items for this Christmas happen to be byproducts of where we live. Seattle inspires people to make local, and the more homemade the better. While we are far from knitting beanies sheared from our backyard herd of sheep, it’s pretty awesome to give a bottle of wine made from raspberries grown in our garden, fermented in our home, and bottled in our kitchen. (Hopefully the wine is good–it won’t be ready to open until August 2014!) I’ve also been making some pretty decent homebrew and I haven’t met a coffee drinker who doesn’t like fresh roasted coffee. The best part is, we made these things by hand: we’re not only giving a product, but our time and passion. Now THAT’S love.

It really is the gift that keeps giving...
It really is the gift that keeps giving…

My belief in gift giving works both ways, too.  There are only a few things I really want for Christmas. First, I want people to donate. It doesn’t have to be in my or Heather’s name. Just do it. Find a great organization you believe in and drop them a Benjamin or volunteer some time. I will enjoy that a lot more than any DVD or collector’s edition velvet Elvis. If you MUST get me a thing, then get me something I can eat or drink. Small batch craft spirits are a great choice, but so are rare beers, coffee, and chocolate. Heck, make me a tray of smoked chocolate coffee cardamom brownies.

Best gift ever.
Best gift ever.

Really, make me some of those brownies. Pretty please. With sprinkles.

In any case, just rethink your gift giving. Consider what you REALLY want/need. The world is already filled with too much stupid crap and there are too many people who need things like food, shelter, clothing and most importantly, love. Which is what this season is supposed to be about, right?