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.
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. 2 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. 3 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.4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.8 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. 9 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.
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.