I want to tell you the story about a trip I took this last week and the love that carried me through.
Monday this last week was the anniversary of my grandma's death. In the course of her life, I learned from her to use my white privilege for good, to love people no matter who they love (and to stand with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer), to drink coffee black, and to choose to see travel issues as an opportunity for adventure.
On Sunday, I was supposed to fly very early to Louisville, through Chicago, for a meeting. Late, late Saturday night I learned those flights were canceled. I was able to rebook and flew into Chicago on Sunday mid-afternoon, in time to learn that my second flight was canceled and that I was rebooked on a flight that would get me to Louisville more than halfway through the meeting where I was supposed to be.
So, I rented a car, with the thought that I'd drive from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday night, arriving by 1am. However, I'd texted my mentor, who lives on the way to Louisville. I drove there first, hoping to get tea, dinner, and a charge on my phone.
The snow was coming down, so I stayed the night....and my heart was full with the unexpected gift of time with my mentor and his wife. Monday I left very early and drove to Louisville, cup of black coffee in hand.
When I arrived at the meeting, two sessions of the meeting had already happened. It was a gathering of PhD students and post-docs, all of us recipients of fellowships from the same organization. Our meeting was to help us learn more about inter-religious conversations and to connect with each other across our different fields.
In the first session I missed, the Jewish scholar who had been invited to speak to the group had dismissed all of liberation theology, saying that it denied her identity as a Jewish woman and the right of the State of Israel to exist in the middle east. Several of my colleagues had studied in the middle east, and several more are students in and experts of liberation theology. One in particular studied with James Cone, the father of black liberation theology. My black colleagues felt that our Jewish colleague had denigrated black theology, missed the struggle of Palestinians for liberation, and refused to be in respectful dialogue.
I arrived after the second meeting of the group—when my small group of colleagues had tried to make sense of what their responsibility was. How could they name the hurt they felt? How could they honor both the experience of our Jewish colleague but also hold her accountable for how her dismissal of a whole field had racist, sexist, and colonial implications?
When I arrived, my colleagues immediately told me their perspective of what I’d missed in this huge conversation.
Later on in our meeting, we had a panel of people from different faiths sharing about their experiences. The Jewish scholar was asked to speak more about which liberation theologians she did not agree with. She dismissed the question, and I could feel the tension in the room rise. One of my colleagues asked all of the panelists to talk about ordination of women, and when the catholic panelist started to speak, I realized that my own heart wouldn’t be able to take this conversation. I left the room, furious that these hard conversations were making the space unsafe, furious that we were missing each other and harming each other. When I returned, our Jewish colleague was sharing about how much of her family was lost to the Holocaust. My black colleagues shared that many of their ancestors were lost to slavery and lynchings.
There was anger and loss and hurt in the room.
Later, my black colleagues held the executive director accountable for what happened. They called on the executive director to see them and to see the hurt that had been inflicted. He listened to them. He saw them. He apologized.
Late on Monday, it became clear that my flight back was going to be affected by winter weather in Chicago. So I rerouted my flight to go through Denver. Early Tuesday morning, I got on a plane. This plane ended up needing a jump. We waited on the tarmac for an hour and a half, with me sitting next to someone who said he didn't believe in climate change (I’m only telling you this detail to illustrate that this flight was not very fun for me!) We flew, finally, to Denver, landing 10 minutes after my connecting flight had left. We pulled up to the gate. The jet bridge didn't work. We moved to another gate, and when I got off, I waited 4 hours for my next flight.
Why am I telling you this story of adventure and scholastic heartache?
Throughout the journey, I thought of my fierce Gramma several times. Gramma taught me to be resilient. And she also taught me that we become what we are called.
One morning, not long before she died, I arrived at her hospital room and she told me she had been up all night. She couldn’t sleep because she wanted somehow to convey to me that we need to be careful how we refer to other people. People matter and they are loved, just as they are in all their diversity.
She wanted me somehow to understand that we must be troubled when other people are hurting, we must be troubled into speaking up or acting when the belovedness of another human is at stake.
This conviction does not belong just to my grandmother.
In the gospel reading today, we are reminded that love holds all the scriptures together and that love holds everything together in times of trouble.
Jesus is asked by the religious teachers in his time to tell him what the greatest commandment is. It’s supposed to be a test, a way to determine if Jesus knows the scriptures.
His response is two-fold.
First he recites the shema, the prayer that all pious Jews are to recite every day. He starts with the law. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
Then he continues, saying that if we know the law, we know that we are to love each other: “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
He ends this teaching with: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” And here he means to say that love is the test of all other teachings—we love God and we love each other.
The teachers of his day are asking Jesus this question because they want to know who he is. In the larger story of Jesus’ ministry, they ask this question in the midst of one of Jesus’ journeys, one of his last. Just days earlier in the story, Jesus has entered Jerusalem. His travel into the city was by an unexpected route—not as a great teacher coming into the city with riches, but on a donkey.
Jesus is not safe in this part of his life… how he answers this question posed by the teachers of his day matters. These are teachers who have opposed Jesus’ ministry and have sought to end his work. He easily could have heard their questions and walked away.
Instead, he listens to them. He sees them. He speaks the truth.
His response is very Jewish and very faithful. Probably not what the teachers trying to test him wanted to hear.
He calls on them to love one another, just as they love God: with all heart, soul, and mind.
He continues to teach, and he continues his ministry of loving everyone with whom he comes into contact. He loves people as he heals them, feeds them, teaches them, corrects them. He loves people as they face trouble. He loves people in all their diversity.
Later in the week, his journey ends. The week that begins with a trip into Jerusalem ends with Jesus’ crucifixion and death. He loves through the deep pain of his death—letting the law of love guide his last breaths.
This week, the United Methodist Church is meeting to talk about whether people who are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and/or queer who are called by God to be ordained will be allowed to be ordained. It is a time of deep pain for the denomination. Whatever they decide will have lasting implications for individuals, churches, the whole denomination. More conservative Methodists (and Christians, for that matter) argue that the Scriptures say that homosexuality is wrong, that the scriptures and religious laws forbid it. More liberal Methodists say that love is love—that people who are not straight are beloved by God.
There’s a cartoon that has been passed around this week among my friends who are United Methodist and my friends who are queer.
It reminds me, of course, of what Jesus said to the teachers of his time. Love is central. Everything else must go through the lens of love.
So: we must stand with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, tran* and queer. Love is love is love.
The first wedding I ever went to was when my Uncle Paul married my Uncle Steve, in the early 90s… still during the AIDs scares. Nothing about the wedding seemed unusual to me—well, actually everything about it felt unusual because it was my very first wedding! But the love I saw at that wedding is the love that is the lens I see every other wedding through.
Years later, my sister found a picture of my grandmother at this wedding.
She’s dancing with my uncle, celebrating him and the love that sustained him as he got sick with HIV and AIDS.
Love carries us through.
In just a moment, we’re going to pray for several parts of the world that need love in times of trouble.
The Scriptures tell us to love God with all that we are. That we should love our neighbors—love each other—as we love ourselves and as we love God.
My grandmother showed me how to live out that love. I’m still learning. My grandmother also taught me to be stubborn, to keep journeying when that path gets hard or the flight gets canceled or when our hearts get furious from injustice.
What is at stake is the belovedness of other people. So: let us love one another and let us love God with our whole selves.