(On Making Sure) Love Never Fails: Some Reflections on Feminism, Faith, and Holograms

I have made no secret with y’all that I’m a church girl and that the church remains profoundly important to me, even though I have walked out of it in anger, been disturbed and therefore refuse to be contained by much of its stifling theology, and generally am completely over the shenanigans of church folks, who have perfected the art of concern trolling in the name of Jesus.

But church is still the place I go when I need to get my mind and my spirit right, when the work I want to do in the world has me vexed, perplexed and ready to fight!

I am always reminded that there is a bigger picture and it ain’t about me.

 That is as true about my Christianity as it is about my feminism.

 What I know for sure is that the things that I love most about feminism and the things I love most about the church when we are all on our best behavior are deeply connected.

 I want a church where my intellect and my politics don’t have to stay outside the door while my holy hologram worships inside.

 

This was my show back in the 80s!

Feminism doesn’t need holograms, either. Cyborgs, yes. Holograms we leave to Jem, Jerica and childhood.

 In both spaces, I want to be fully human; fully myself, sinner, saint, struggler, soldier of love. All of it. At the same damn time.

 What my social justice crew and my Christ-loving crew agree on is that the world is broken. But so much better than that, we all believe that a different world is possible, that a world with more justice and more mercy and more love is possible.

 And we believe that the hardest work happens as we transform ourselves openly in community with other people.

So in this month that we here at the CFC begin our third annual Love series, I thought I would kick it off with a brief reflection on a classic passage on love.

 

 
 
1 Corinthians 13
New International Version (NIV)
13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
 

Though we are most familiar with verses 4-8, the real challenge of this passage comes in the verses that we often do not quote (1-3).

 We can be eloquent, prophetic, self-sacrificing, generous, movement builders, who move mountains on a daily basis, but if we don’t do it from a space of love, we gain nothing.

Feminist movement work, like the church, is full of eloquent, generous souls, souls that are prophetic in their courageous willingness to call out B.S., folks who ask us to envision a different way of seeing, folks who show up believing that this ish can really change, folks who are powerful enough to move us to a different place.

But it doesn’t matter how gifted, how visionary, how courageous, or how motivated we are if we can’t speak a kind word, if we can’t forgive wrongs, if we reside in the space of (unhealthy, unexpressed, un-righteous) anger, or we refuse to call out evil for what it is.

 Yes, the intellectual in me asks many questions of seemingly “easy” and “black-and-white” passages like this. Because of course, we should stay mad at injustice, and sometimes we forgive wrongs done to us too easily, and sometimes what church folk call “truth” does all manner of evil.

I don’t know how we politically operationalize love in social justice movements.

But I do know love brings us back to the table when we would otherwise walk away.

 Love requires us to step in palms up when we would rather go out guns blazing.

 

A scholar-pal once mentioned that the other possible title for Toni Morrison’s novel Love was War. If you’ve read the book, you’ll see that both could easily have fit. Sometimes, as Tamar Braxton reminds us, love and war seem indistinguishable.

But. And this is a big but.

Love is life-giving; war is death-dealing. Critical difference.

 

Hollywood has indeed done us a disservice because it has romanticized all love, making us believe that love is all about fuzzy feelings, clouds and bunnies, and passion and chemistry. If the movements we want to build are ever to grow up, we must grow up. We must put away childish ways of thinking. Our biggest generational challenge will not be how to organize, how to fundraise, or how to sustain ourselves. It will be in the words of Lil Wayne, “how to love.”

How do we love when shit ain’t lovely?

How do we love?

We don’t mate for life.

We aren’t brand loyal.  

We do not spend 30 years at one company.

We believe in our right to have and pursue the next best thing.

How do we build movements in the era of 140 characters?

 

I don’t know.

But this passage of scripture reminds us, challenges us always to take the long view. In this super information age, we still know “only in part.” We therefore, “prophesy,” (advocate for change, call out injustice), “only in part.”

Feminists academics might call it partial and situated knowledges. That’s the theory.

But the practice: the art of it –the heart of it— is the ability to say, “however right I am or think I am, I don’t know everything.”

Love creates the space for us to acknowledge our limitations, to trust that our acknowledgements will be handled in care, and that the parts we bring can fit together with the parts others bring, to build the world anew.

 

Skeptics will say, “never say never.”

 How can we say that Love never fails?

Perhaps we should think about it the way that the family of Ana Marquez-Greene, the little brown girl killed in the Newtown shootings has chosen to say it nearly every  day since she died.

Love wins.

Or perhaps rather than expending our energy proving that love does fail, we should spend our time, our life and our activism making sure it doesn’t.

 

 

 

 

Note:  for the church-loving folks among you, here’s a link to the sermon that inspired today’s reflection. Hat tip to Rev Dr. Leslie D. Callahan and the good folks at St. Paul’s.

 

crunktastic

12 thoughts on “(On Making Sure) Love Never Fails: Some Reflections on Feminism, Faith, and Holograms

  1. Thank you so much for this reflection on love, church, and feminism. Sometimes I have felt so cut off from all three. There’s a complicated intersection between my church and my feminism. I haven’t been to a church service proper in years; I’ve walked out of services too, angry and dismayed at a theology that found more ways to exclude and hate than accept and love. This essay fed my soul, as did Rev. Dr. Callahan’s sermon.

  2. You have written a strong clarification and exposition of what is dear to you. I, a non-believer, am often annoyed by the saccharine descriptions of their faith and its meaning to believers. You do not do that. I do not know if we could have a conversation, I am convinced that I understand you and your position. Congratulations.

    My process, once I realized I could not remain as a member of my Christian denomination, was to embark on a personal voyage of observation, study, and practice of world religions that went beyond “books,” into the basis of religion, spirituality. Sweat lodges, Hare Krishna chanting, and visiting many lands are wonderful opportunities to be com- fortable in myself as a non-believer. I like to say, “I think, I do not believe.”

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful and indeed, loving piece. You know, I think about this subject a good deal, from a different vantage point but with similar feelings and desires. I’m an atheist. I am not part of an atheist-socialist meeting group (those two tend to go together politically) or consider my atheism and related beliefs to be any more reasonable than people of faith. And it seems very strange to me when people are clannish and dogmatic about atheism. It shows that people and make a “religion” out of anything if they feel righteous enough about it.

    What makes me atheist is the most basic thing – I do not believe in the existence of one or multiple conscious, free acting higher power(s), i.e. God(s). I also do not believe in spiritual judgement upon death – heaven, hell. I am not agnostic. I am not confused. I am atheist. I repeat this because often times people do not believe me. They worry for me and so they fill in the blanks of my existence with their own narrative of spirituality, especially if they care about me. I once had a close colleague who I knew to be very harsh in their critiques of Islam as a faith ask me why on earth I am not at least a Muslim? They needed me to be something, even something they hated, just so I would not be left floating out there, unaccounted for in the push and pull of spiritual loyalties and ultimate (end-of-world) judgement. I get it. I am sympathetic and I know they do it out of a type of love for me. But if I am wrong and there is a higher power, and it or they judge me harshly for not believing, I am willing to take that chance – because I have as much faith in my ethical foundations as a person of faith.

    But at the same time, I resent the claim that religion is some sort of delusion or a system of pure oppression. Secularists have made claims since the scientific revolution that religion is on its way out. That once we have all the knowledge we can cram into our intellects, we will no longer need our gods. Clearly, they were wrong. Because even as religious institutions do in general seem to have decreasing direct political and social power, people’s individual and collective ideas about spirituality, and of the love they generate through their spiritual lives, have not changed. As problematic and violent as that love can become, it is still love – just as flawed and complex as the people who practice it. So, thank you again, for attending to that love in this space, where so many of us become too accustomed to a common, secular language of political and justice-based love.

    You know, Mike Gravell said something similar in the 2008 Presidential debates, and it is the only time I have ever seen a candidate in a televised debate speak in this way. When the candidates were asked how their faith’s influenced/affected their political lives, each of them said something to the effect of – My belief in Jesus Christ leads me to be a better person and make good decisions. Fair enough. Even Hilary Clinton? But, okay, fair enough. Mike Gravell answered (I am paraphrasing here) – You are asking the wrong question. Because I know plenty of people who have a whole lot of faith that they practice in their places of worship and in their own families and communities, but those same people also think it’s okay to go bomb a bunch of people in another country, and are okay with the state administering death through capitol punishment. So instead of asking me about faith. Ask me about love. I believe in love – in people taking care of each other and treating each other with respect. Love guides my politics.

    I jumped out of my seat with excitement and thrust my fist into the air – not just because Mike Gravell so skillfully expressed the ridiculousness of Presidents needing to be practicing Christians, but also because into this very mainstream political venue, he brought to the discourse – LOVE. Of course Dennis Kucinich is the only one who agreed with him and in the end Mike Gravell got about 1% of the primary vote. But it was a great moment. After that, I never again felt awkward about expressing in a setting where people are talking about faith, that I am a non-believer. Even in the South, where I grew up and where I will live until I am as old as Mike Gravell. Because if you can’t say you don’t believe in God to the people and in the places you love, then when can you say it?

  4. Thank you for this beautiful, honest piece. It resonates with my struggles to integrate my feminism and my hunger for a spiritual community. I have found that community with the Quakers, who believe not in hierarchies or intermediaries to God, but rather in contemplation and the need for social action.

    I also keep going back to Leela Fernandes’s book “Transforming Feminist Practice: Non-Violence, Social Justice and the Possibilities of a Spiritualized Feminism.” (http://store.auntlute.com/Transforming-Feminist-Practice-p222.html)

  5. Yes. YES. Thank you for posting this. I constantly struggle with my roles as both a church girl and a feminist/social activist/forward-thinker, especially lately. This is what I needed today. Much love your way.

  6. I know exactly how you feel. I am always experiencing the tension all the time. Though I returned to the Catholic faith of my ancestors after rediscovering it while I was in college and after as a de facto Protestant Christian, I don’t necessarily ‘fit’. My faith is complicated. I have deep love of the Catholic Christianity and the sacramental life/imagination but I am also a bleeding heart ‘radical’ (I used that term loosely but liberal doesn’t cut it much), anti-imperialist, anti-kyriarchal, and pro-reconciliation. I am empathic to economic distributism and social anarchism yet I still believe in the potential subversive power of Sacrament of Holy Orders even when I continue to hear the fallout of Cardinal Mahoney’s role in covering up the sex abuse in my archdiocese. I maintained and strengthed my ecumenical mind/heart but remain firm with my Catholic faith and spirituality. Reading Endo’s “Silence” and “Deep River” and learning about his life as a Japanese Catholic helped me see that I and other Catholics like me are not the only ones struggle with the perpetual foreigner experience as Catholics with complicated experiences.

    During my time as de facto Protestant Christian, I always feel not at home. I always have uneasy feelings and love/frustrating relationship with the “Emerging church”, nondenominational churches (*gag*) and to the lesser extent American form of Mainline Protestantism (not sure about the rest of the world). I learn a lot fresh and robust theological ideas from them and I met cool people. But I feel that they tend approach spirituality in steps with an one-dimensional thinking of Christian spirituality/mysticism rather than a way of living not mention sometimes lack of girth in general. Don’t get me wrong.The people in mainline protestant denominations, several evangelicals and the Emerging church movement and others have done so much good work for God, theology and church in the name of social justice, love and truth. I own them very much including my alma mater. Otherwise I would never stand here today. Yet, I grew up in cultural Catholicism among some of my relative and my dad (we are from the Philippines) even though I never was directly raised in the Catholic Church (I was raised in nondenominational Protestantism off and on as well), I never find myself being at “home” despite being pretty much agreeing social issues. (Though I have retain and developed consistent pro-life ethic). If someone asked me ‘why didn’t I join a Angilican/episcopalian?” one more time, I don’t know if I can stay so gracious after that.

    Despite of it’s problems including self-inflicted internalized imperialism, I respect many aspects of the Church and believe the aspect of a living faith that can evolve is superior to one that is supposedly in an unchangeable Book (fundamentalist Christianity). With that being said,I feel that same openness to change like in Vatican II can open up the Church to take backward steps. Perhaps I’m too open to the truth of multiple religions as well as maybe too hopeful, but I do believe that the Catholic faith has some uniquely wonderful aspects that should not be lost due mistakes of the past (even some of those are very recent). When I see positive news of Catholics who challenge the system while making the world a better place, I still smile. Me returning and staying in my spiritual birth home in solidarity with those marginalized within in the Church is in sense a form of resistance for me out of transgressive, transfigured and life-giving love that changed me and people I know. I need to be a part of doing the dirty work in rebuilding and repenting. Trying to be a prophetic voice for more live-giving and just church while loving all the members of the body without being an enabler of hate is no easy task but it will be worth it.

  7. Thanks for this moving reflection on the centrality of love in faith and social justice. And thank you too for introducing me to Ana Márquez-Greene’s family– what astonishing people.

  8. This is my first time ever commenting on a blog and the reason I chose to do so was because I have noticed that in society today religion is sort of taboo. I think that the fact that you have openly made the decision to discuss the struggles you are having between religion and feminism is unique. Black women usually fall under the stereotype of being “faithful church-goers” but I have never read anything that discusses the struggles between the conflicting views of the two. An article I just read quoted a concept from Deborah K. KIng, the idea of “both/or” meaning that you are simultaneously a member of the group but you also stand apart from it. Its just what I thought about when I read this post. However, the common assumption is that people who are members of a movement are aggressive and do whatever it takes to get their point across, but you rarely hear people talk about it in a “loving matter”. The fact that the similarities between the church and the feminist movement are so close can open ones eyes to see that vengeance, revenge, etc. does not always have to be the main motivating force. I am a strong believer in my Christian faith and I know it can be difficult to look at a world full of hate and violence and have a hard time expressing love in a system thats so screwed. However, the point you make about love allowing us to acknowledge our limitations and understand that we don’t have to accomplish anything alone is a great refresher. The fact that love gives us to option to join our talents and experiences with others in an effort to accomplish a mutually beneficial goal is something that most people forget about. Society today has this inflated idea of independence and sometimes forgets that everyone needs help at some point, and love is where you can find the help you need. It is refreshing to see that other people are talking about religion and how it affects your life in all aspects.

    • Sometimes I am angered by the way many liberals, feminists and folks whose politics I agree with treat Christians as if they are non thinking, uncritical sheep and I believe that politics, feminism and the true Gospel go hand in hand. I loved your piece. I agree wholeheartedly with your position. I believe in God, Christ and my right to self hood and happiness. There are reasons to be critical of the Church and organized religion however there is so much real beauty as well. The Gospel is full of life affirming light and it calls us to action. Jesus of the bible is radical! I watched the sermon that inspired this piece and forwarded it along to people who I know can grow and move closer to their own healing because of it. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: » Love Lessons: Musiq Soulchild & Tressie Cottom The Crunk Feminist Collective

  10. Pingback: In which there are so many ways to love « everything I learned

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