June 4, 2011

This is what Loving-kindness looks like

I acknowledge that The Good Raised Up has taken a bit of a turn lately. Recent blog posts--which are more rare than even a year ago--are less about explicit Quakerism and more about marriage equality in Minnesota* and the White Privilege Conference that was held in April.

These topics and my involvement in them are more about social change than they are about conveying our Quaker faith to one another. At the same time, my life and where I am called is still about faithfulness as a Friend and, now more than ever, about Love.

Since late May 2011, I've been keeping a list of creative ways to respond to organizations, individuals, and messages that promote stereotypes of GLBTQ people, that denigrate us and our families, that distort the truth, prey on fears, and undermine the very nature of who we are and how we love.

I keep this list because the struggle over marriage equality is coming to my state, in the form of a proposed constitutional restriction that "marriage" be reserved for only a man and a woman. Granted, the struggle is already in my yearly meeting, though in much less strident form.

So I make lists of what a public witness, a campaign, an act of civil disobedience, a movement might look like, to interrupt the perpetuation of unchecked, unquestioned straight privilege.

One theme that recurs throughout my list is this:

    If we could be socialized from a very young age with a message of our choosing, what would that message be?
It probably wouldn't be a message about getting the most toys by the time we die, or about traveling the world, or even about "living happily ever after." Probably not a message that would be dependent on our station in life or on the color of our skin or on the dollars in our bank account.

If I could choose the message that I would have been socialized into, it would go something like this:
    Above all else, love one another. Treat others with loving-kindness and insist that you and all others also be treated with loving-kindness. Everyone is worthy of love; each of you is capable to give love; and each of you is to do your best to give it--and give it generously--while respecting and loving yourself as well.
Nothing earth-shattering. Nothing even truly remarkable, when you think about it.

Yet I have the faith that this simple, fundamental message of unconditional love, of loving-kindness, can and ultimately will transcend the negative and subversive voices that are coming to Minnesota soon. Love is a powerful transformative force of its own, if we but choose it over and over and over again.

I have the faith that a message of love will make us want to turn toward the Light and give energy toward love rather than spend energy on refuting million-dollar ad campaigns that distort the Truth and hurt both the participants in and the targets of the campaign.

I have the faith that God loves love, that the yearning to love, to be loved, and to share in the expression of love--and to do so generously--is universal, regardless of gender, political party, age, or even legislation.

The way I see it these days, the fastest way to implement meaningful social change is to socialize everyone we meet--whether adversary or lover, for each is our sister and our brother--to reprogram all of us to "download" messages of loving-kindness and delete internalized, socialized messages of meanness, exclusion, and scarcity.

I believe God calls us, all of us, to greater love, to our greater measure of Light.

How do we reprogram ourselves, then, how are we to reboot our lifelong internal system and insert a new message, a new HTML, for us all?

We do so bit by bit, mindfully and with the intention to answer that of God in everyone, according to the Loving Principle that is innately within us. Many of us already know this...

I was heartened recently by an article I saw about a progressive political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry. In the article, she advocates that, when speaking on a number of social justice issues and to counter the rhetoric that is out there, we can do so by drawing on our own faith-based message of God's love and the overall liberation narrative of Scripture.

I like her message. It has nothing to do with sin, ex-gay therapy, or vying for scarce resources.

Indeed, if we are going to speak from a renewed center and grounding of Love and of loving-kindness, we are going to have to know what it feels like in our own body; what it sounds like to our own ear; what it smells like and what it looks like.

We must be on the lookout for it. Nurture it. Cultivate it. Teach it to our children, to our parents, to our neighbors, to strangers, to one another--for we are our own sisters and brothers, and we have been socialized over many generations to forget that universal connection.

I'll end this post with two lists: The first is about how we have been taught to disregard loving-kindness. The second is what loving-kindness looks like. We all have an opportunity to choose which one to pay attention to.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Signs of being taught to disregard loving-kindness
(In no particular order)

Invalidation of someone's personal experience or the cumulative experience of a group.
Division, separation, avoidance, alienation.
Lack of deep, meaningful connections.
Certainty of one right answer, one way to be.
Better than/less than thinking.
Increased defensiveness.
Name-calling and stereotyping.
Blame or responsibility placed on those who have less or on those who have fewer privileges.
Rigidity and long-time refusal to consider alternate possibilities.
Black and white thinking; either-or rhetoric.
A longer view of history is used to distort current issues and to undermine facts or cumulative experience.
Use of religion, history, legislation, etc. to tear down, divide, and coerce.
Exploiting doubt in order to cause harm or make others less-than.
Anger that is disproportionate to a given situation.
Guilt is evoked or exploited to tell others what to think, how to act, etc.
Limited or no direct, meaningful experience with members of the group that is or will be affected.
Behaviors and words that indicate it's okay to disparage a group in the name of "Truth."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Okay. Deep breath.

That list was hard for me to write, but it's also been empowering for me to articulate all of that and to have the veils of harmful, disconnective socialization come off of my face. Thanks to the White Privilege Conference experience in 2010 and 2011 to help me "wake up"!

And now to the brighter side of Life:

This is what loving-kindness looks like
(In no particular order)

Unity in heart and spirit.
Caring for one another.
Affirmation of our wholeness.
Kindness in the face of adversity and hatred.
Belief in our own and in each other's fullest potential to do better, to do right by others.
Unconditional acceptance of another's inward and outward condition in the moment.
A value of expansiveness; a growth-oriented spirit; a desire for mutual liberation.
Generosity of spirit, time, and energy.
To be in deep, meaningful relationship, even with those who are different or who disagree with us.
A lifting up of a higher, universal Truth.
Use of religion, history, legislation, etc. to build up and enrich society.
Allowing and encouraging one another to view history, experience, and even Scripture as pointing toward faith, hope, and love.
Willingness to struggle with gray areas, for out of the compassionate struggle comes new Light.
Being gentle with oneself and with others during challenging times.
Compassion for those who do the hurting and oppressing.
Solidarity with oppressed peoples and individuals.
Light, light-heartedness, unrestricted joy.
A glint in one's eye, just because.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks, as always, for reading me.


*The video to which this link connects is raw footage of the scene at the Minnesota capitol just as the final vote of the House was being taken and immediately afterward. ...Does this look like a group of people defeated? Jeanne and I were inside the House's chambers, in the balcony ("gallery") as the entire event played out. We could clearly hear the chants "Just vote No! Just vote No!" inside. In the foreground of the first few seconds of the video is a White man holding a sign that says "Same-sex couples supported our marriage. Let's return the favor." He's a Quaker, and he and his opposite-sex partner, along with about 20 other straight Quaker allies, were at the capitol nearly the entire week, shouting and singing their hearts out. Despite the outcome of the week, Love was there, and it was palpable.


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hi, Liz!

It was good to see a new post from you, good to read this reaffirmation of your basic values, and a pleasure to catch up with your latest experiences.

Your question, “How do we reprogram ourselves...?” strikes me as central —

Your list, “Signs of being taught to disregard loving-kindness”, gave me a little pause, however. If I am not mistaken, Jesus did most of the things on that list.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful, Liz- I really appreciate your insight, willingness to be vulnerable and personal about divisive issues, and your ability to connect different pieces of life together. So often the world is artificially fragmented, so it is refreshing to be reminded that it all really is connected.

I find myself doing a disheartening number of things on the 'disregarding loving-kindness' list far too frequently, and failing in my strivings to truly live and practice 'what loving-kindness looks like'. But we do it a day at a time, right?

I would love to post these lists (with proper credit of course) on my own blog, with your blessing.


Liz Opp said...

Marshall - Thanks for continuing to read me, despite the slower pace of my posts! As always, I appreciate how your comments make me think.

Can you say more about "Jesus did most of the things on that list"? I of course have lots of blind spots around Scripture!

And if the list "gave you pause," it might give others pause, too--which is partly why I wrote the list.

I wrestled with it and with the whole blog post for quite some time. In the end, I published it in its current form, rather than get bogged down with striving for a perfect piece, since "Perfect is the enemy of good."

Lauren - Hey there! Thanks for stopping by!

I appreciate that you want to re-post this piece on your own blog, and I really appreciate your thoughtfulness to ask permission. Here's my thinking:

1. You are welcome to quote a portion of this piece and put it in whatever context you want, within your own post.

2. You are welcome to mention this post and provide link to it.

3. Mostly, though, I want to encourage you to write your own post about what came up for you when you read this piece (again, you can link to it and quote short pieces from it), because what you discover may help me understand more of what is trying to come through me. ...In Quaker parlance, I'm asking you "What canst thou say...?"

If/when you do write something related to this post, I hope you'll come back here and leave a link to it. I look forward to reading more of you!


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