“Giving, Receiving, As Love Shows Us How”
“What’s love got to do with it?” asks Tina Turner, but it’s not so irrelevant or second hand as she would have us think, especially if you look at the words we say together every week. Love is integral to this place, taking top billing! It is our source of power and emboldens us in all we do. Everything else follows out of love. This is the conclusion we came to a few years ago in creating a mission statement. We said we didn’t need to use the word love – it was instead the impetus for all the actions we valued and wanted to live into. It would be clear that in the end it all boils down to love. We embody love, giving it hands and feet, throw our backs into it, use our creative genius to come up with ever more powerful forms of expression. For those of you who need a little science to explain all this, it turns out that the hormone oxytocin has a role to play, vital to human reproduction, but also in human behavior. Certain kinds of love such as romantic love and care-taking love stimulate the production of this hormone which is also related to trust. This biological catalyst of trust allows us to give love to those to whom we are unrelated. And
oxytocin is unique in the hormone world because it has a positive feedback loop. The release of it leads to actions that stimulate the release of more of it. Love feels good! Not just on the heart level, but apparently throughout our bodies. So, when we do the loving thing, we are compelled to do more of it.
Detroit based women’s rights activist and black feminist, adrienne marie brown, suggests that, “If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders, it would have a massive impact… If the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression.” 1 The idea is to use the lens of love in planning what to do and in our interactions with others. She believes that love is our core function as human beings, that when we engage
in acts of love we are at our best and most resilient.
I see some – actually a lot - of that at play here among us. Think about the way we respond to need. It shows up in our social justice endeavors all the time. We hear about an issue, and we are right there, responding. It only took one mention of SNAP benefits being reduced post-COVID in a couple of weeks for us to determine that we could help out the local food pantry as demand increases. We do things like this on a monthly basis. That is love in action. Our pastoral care team and others as well keep a running list of members who we don’t often see and make calls and check in on them, bringing food over, transporting folks to medical appointments, just visiting. That is love in action. Our small groups meet people where they are with all of life’s joys and disappointments, sharing in safe space, holding one another. That is love in action.
This past month a group of us have been studying together the Trans Allyship Workbook in response to my invitation last fall at our Transgender Day of Remembrance service. We were moved to know more after hearing about the oppression and marginalization that occurs with transgender folks. And in the midst of that learning, lovely things have been happening. I want to invite Jon Nye to share a brief snippet of personal experience with us. (Jon shared about a recent contact he made with a old friend who he had learned had
undergone a gender affirming experience.)
That is love in action. We seem to have a handle on this giving as love shows us how.
How many of you will be watching the Super Bowl this evening? Because I find in this game an analogy for us! From what little I have observed of this sport, one or two things are critical. The ball needs to move, first of all, or you wouldn’t have much of a game. So, the quarterback gets the ball and throws it down the field. If all goes well, there is a receiver on the other end who catches it and runs with it. If the receiver doesn’t catch the ball, the clock stops. This is not a complicated analogy so I imagine you can see where I am going with it! Let’s pretend the ball is love. The quarterback is a giver, their main function, the thing they are made to do. But if there is no one to receive the love we are at a standstill! We here at UUMH are amazing hall of fame quarterbacks! But what about receiving? If we are all throwing the ball, never stepping into the receiving role, we are out of balance.
Receiving requires vulnerability – our theme next month, but here we are in February, the month of love. How ready are you to receive the love of this community, to let down the walls of independence and to lay bare your humanity? It’s not always easy to do, especially in our culture. Many of us are what we’d call “professionals” or have been in our careers. With that often comes a belief that we are the ones with the bag of techniques and fixes. We are the problem solvers, the helpers, the ones that people come to for answers. We begin to believe that there is weakness in being on the receiving end.
The Dalai Lama says that when we make a mistake, we need to ask, “Can I love this too?” Can I love all of me, even the peevish parts? The insecure bits, the anxious bits? We have no trouble extending love to those whose lives exhibit missteps or who struggle, but we have a harder time extending that love to ourselves. Our desire to appear like we have it all together sometimes overrides our ability to receive. 2 Recently I had occasion to consider a part of myself that I wasn’t always accepting of and to admit that I didn’t always love that part of me, but now could say, “I love that woman, too.” And it has become somewhat of a spiritual practice to notice all the parts of me and to say to myself, one by one, “I love that woman, too.” It is transformative to receive love, as much as it is so to give it.
I noticed something in a recent Radio Boston interview with Remy Lawrence, the mother of 13-year-old Tyler Lawrence who was fatally shot in Mattapan in January. She began with an invitation to “Come see me, come see about us, because we’re not okay.” So very vulnerable. So willing to engage this heart wrenching experience, to admit to the broken openness of the situation. She spoke for herself, for her family, but for her community grieving so deeply at another senseless loss of life. We all agree that it’s not okay – the motto of the Boston-based anti-violence group Mothers for Justice and Equality, but Remy Lawrence peeled back that comfortable layer of the onion and brought it home – we are not okay, as persons and as a people when tragedies like this happen and as a culture that is somehow able to turn a away from the truth that it is not okay. We are not okay and we need you to come, to bear witness, to bring love to the table and to stay a while.
Much of modern religion is individualistic, spiritualized instead of social, writes Richard Rohr. To be faithful to our promises to one another is to be in relationship. There is a social consciousness about what is good for the whole which will ultimately be good for the individual also. It is about reciprocity.
Each of us has moments in our lives when things are not okay – tragic events and those less so, but no less so important to be acknowledged. And we have this amazing pool of love available to us here in this community. This is what we are called to – this love that is the Spirit of our Meeting House – service to one another and to humanity foundational to our being as a faith community, love in action, this love that guides our seeking and enables us to help one another.
And love is the byword of our Universalist forebears, loved by their understanding of God and living conduits of that love in our world, no one beyond or beneath its grasp. “No one is outside the circle of love,” writes our UUA President, the Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, no one too broken, our purpose to guide one another toward love. Our Universalism asks us to speak love with our lives, a truly radical way of being and doing, becoming ever-more inclusive and compassionate. And our Side With Love offerings this month that I have been encouraging you to check out are all about receiving – meditations, blessings, reflections, movement – designed to let us know how loved we are, how worthy of receiving love.
We are reminded today as we reflect on love that it is a two-way street. Giving and receiving both necessary components to a full life. May we continue to find ways to bring the love that dwells within us to bear upon our world. May we open our hearts and let the stories of our lives – even the hard ones – pour forth to be received by the loving arms of this community and to receive back love and care. May we let love show us how in the giving and the receiving, both.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, February 12, 2023
1 From Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, pp. 9-10.
2 Excerpt from Stubborn Grace: Faith, Mental Illness, and Demanding a Blessing by the Rev. Kate Landis