Love is Patient, Love is Kind…and Love is Not Control

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.” – 1 Corinthians 13

From the time I graduated from college, until the time I was married, I lived mostly on my own. Even when I had roommates early on, we had separate rooms and our own personal space. And I really liked my space. I was very particular about it. Which is why, when I found myself engaged and about to be married at the age of 36, despite all the love and excitement and certainty I was doing the right thing, I wasn’t so excited about sharing my space.

But, I believe in love, and so I told my spouse, who was moving into my house, this is our home. I don’t want you to feel like it’s mine. So make yourself comfortable, and do whatever you need to do to make it feel like home.

That wasn’t a good idea.

Only a few days after living together, I was at a daylong meeting, and I got home tired and hungry. I walked into the kitchen and opened the cupboard for a coffee mug. And my coffee mugs were not there. And then I opened THE silverware drawer. And the silverware was nowhere to be seen. And then tried to find a bowl, and the coffee mugs were where the bowls had been.

FullSizeRenderNothing was where it was supposed to be. And I made mention of that fact to my spouse, who quickly reminded me of what I had said about it being OUR house.

And that’s when I got, in a very real way, that as much as I was madly in love, marriage was going to be a whole lot different than living alone. It was going to be wonderful and exhilarating and fulfilling, and it was also going to mean I couldn’t find a thing in my kitchen.

I think about weddings and love and the marriage that comes after the wedding every time I hear this passage. Most of us have been to a wedding where these verses, “Love is patient…love is kind…” are read. And they’re very nice, very pretty words about love.

The problem is, they weren’t written for a wedding. In fact, I think if most would-be newlyweds knew where these words came from, they might be a little reluctant to use them in their wedding. Because, far from advice to new couples, this was Paul’s letter to the church in Cornith, and he was telling a bunch of church people to stop fighting with each other.

This isn’t about romance at all…it’s about churches behaving badly. And that’s probably not the vibe you are looking for at your wedding.

And yet, there is some good advice there for us all. Corinthians acknowledges the hard truth: to love somebody, or something, means that they are going to challenge your way of thinking. They are going to shake up the calm and complacency of your life. They are going to make things complicated.

But if it’s really love, romantic or otherwise, they are also going to make things better.

And that’s where the “love is” statements come into play. Listen again, because this isn’t just about how you treat your spouse. It’s also about how you treat your kids, and the rest of your family. It’s about how to treat your neighbors and your fellow church members. It’s about how to treat the world.
“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

I think you can sum these words up in another way too. And that is that if you truly love someone or something, you cannot control them. Love and control are not the same thing. Instead, you can only control your actions and reactions.

We all need that reminder at times. I do too. Just like getting married taught me that my life was in very real ways about more than just my preferences now, even if that just meant where things went in the kitchen, being a part of any relationship or any community teaches us the exact same thing. It’s always bigger than us.

This is especially true in the church, where it is never just about us, but is always first and foremost about God and God’s will for us.

And yet, we are human. And that means sometimes we struggle to love God, and to love one another. And Paul knew that when he wrote this letter to a church in Corinth, and reminded them what love looked like.

Now, I’m aware that me saying all of this on our annual meeting day might have some of you curious right now. “Uh oh, is something wrong?” “Is there some sort of controversy about to come up?”

Not that I know of. (And now would be a good time to say so if you do.)

But this is annual meeting day for a lot of congregations today, and I am praying hard for a lot of churches and colleagues today, because I know that this is going to be a rough afternoon for them.

That’s to be expected, because love, even in the church, is not always easy. And sometimes we love something so much that we try to control it. But that’s not real love. And that’s why even God in God’s perfect love, who could control this world, refuses to do so. God loves us too much for that.

Three and a half years after getting married my kitchen still looks very different from the way I used to set it up. But here’s the strange thing: I’m okay with that. Heidi’s the cook, not me. And she should be the one who sets up that space, because she’s the one who uses it. So now, I’m content to just know where things were moved to, and to eat all the delicious meals that she makes.

When I got married, I gave up some control of my life, right down to my kitchen cabinets. It wasn’t just about me anymore. But what I get in return from loving someone, is so much better, and so much more incredible.

Likewise, when I confessed my faith in Christ as a young adult, I began to let go of some my own ego and my own desires, and I put them back in God’s hands. I said, “God, show me your will for me…and help me to love you enough to follow.”

That’s what each of us does when we confess our faith. And that’s what each of us does when we become members of a church. Together we say that we will put the big choices in God’s hands, and we will love one another and love God enough to patiently try to figure out what God is asking us to do next. Patiently. Kindly. And lovingly. Because love is always worth it.

I’ll close with this. In a few moments, we are going to baptize a new baby, a new child of God. And I cannot tell you what her life will look like 20 years from now. I cannot tell you who she will become, or what she will believe, or how she will live.

We cannot control who she will become. Not even her parents can. And we shouldn’t. Because that’s not love.

But I can tell you this: God already loves her. And today we will literally pour the waters of that love over her.

And so our responsibility as the church is the same responsibility that we have for anyone who walks through those doors, and the same responsibility we have for one another: guide her, help her discern God’s will for her, and remind her that God loves her, and that her greatest calling in life is to love God, and love God’s world.

We will teach her this because God has taught us that love is always, always, worth it. Amen?

The Best Wedding Present Ever

Applying for our marriage licenses.

Applying for our marriage licenses.

My partner Heidi and I early voted a few weeks ago, but this morning we are going to do something else that’s important: apply for a marriage license. If you’re on the fence about whether to go vote, please remember your friends whose marriages could be greatly affected by who wins this presidential election. The next president will decide the Supreme Court for years to come, and the Supreme Court could pave the way for federal recognition of our marriage. There’s nothing you could get us at Crate and Barrel that would make a better wedding gift than your vote for equality for all.

Of Maine and Two Marriages: Lessons from a Grandmother I Never Knew

My grandmother was born in Portland, Maine, the daughter of Italian immigrants. She grew up in a Roman Catholic parish there that ministered to the immigrants and their families. The church was the center of my grandmother’s community, and a foundation of the family.

As a young woman she met a soldier stationed in Portland. He was from a family with deep New England roots and Protestant faith. They fell in love, and my grandparents were married in 1936.

Not long after the marriage my grandmother went to speak with the priest at her parish. He condemned her marriage, and her husband’s faith. He told her that her marriage was not real. And then he gave her an ultimatum: unless you raise your children in the Catholic Church, you will go to hell.

That story rippled down through the generations. My mother and her siblings were not raised in the Catholic Church, and neither was I. It took me years to understand exactly what that told me about my grandmother. The fact that a young, Italian-American girl in the 1930’s stood up to an authority figure whom she had been taught held the very keys to heaven and hell tells me all that I need to know about her, and about the courage one must sometimes have to stand up for love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Maine and marriage this year. I’ve been thinking about it because for the first time in American history, marriage equality for same-sex couples might be won in a state by a popular vote.
I have married same-sex couples who reside in Maine, but who have to leave the state on their wedding day in order to have their marriage legally acknowledged. I have seen how the lack of legal recognition of their marriage impacts everything from their taxes to their parental rights to their children. Their life is made unduly harder by the biases of others. And, unlike in the case of my grandparents, it extends beyond church walls and brings judgement and injustice into their very homes.

I believe religious institutions have every right to make their own decisions about whom they will marry. But I don’t believe religious institutions have the right to impose them on others; particularly when we are talking about civil, and not religious, marriage. I also believe that more and more religious institutions will start to see people doing exactly what my grandmother did: walking out the church doors because they trust love, their own or their friends’, more than threats and judgements.

Earlier this year my partner and I went to Portland and stood in front of the parish where my grandmother grew up. I was excited to be in a place that had formed her childhood. And then I remembered this story. I realized that the conversation with her priest that had so shaped her life, and my mother’s, and my own, had likely been in this place. And I felt sad and angry for all the pain that condemnation of her love had caused her.

I never met my grandmother. She died of cancer seven years before I was born, with a rosary under her pillow. She said the prayers of her faith every night. But my grandmother never returned to the religious institution of her youth. She lost her church, but she didn’t lose her faith. I find that kind of faith remarkable. I wish that I had known her.

I wish too that I had been able to send her an invitation to my own wedding this fall, just two weeks after the vote will be taken in Maine. My mother assures me she would have come, and she would have loved it.

I imagine that if she were there, voting results in hand, we would either celebrate the prophetic stand of her home state for love. Or we would mourn that they weren’t quite there yet. I hope it would be the former, but if it were the latter I imagine I’d know what she would tell me: choose your love. Don’t choose the judgement. And don’t let anyone tell you this marriage is not real.

How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is at Threat in Just Ten Quick Questions.

It seems like this election season “religious liberty” is a hot topic. Rumors of its demise are all around, as are politicians who want to make sure that you know they will never do anything to intrude upon it.

I’m a religious person with a lifelong passion for civil rights, so this is of great interest to me. So much so, that I believe we all need to determine whether our religious liberties are indeed at risk. So, as a public service, I’ve come up with this little quiz. I call it “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is at Threat in Just Ten Quick Questions.” Just pick “A” or “B” for each question.

Question One

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A)I am not allowed to go to a religious service of my own choosing.

B) Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing.

Question Two

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to marry the person I love legally, even though my religious community blesses my marriage.

B) Some states refuse to enforce my own particular religious beliefs on marriage on those two guys in line down at the courthouse.

Question Three

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am being forced to use birth control.

B) I am unable to force others to not use birth control.

Question Four

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to pray privately.

B) I am not allowed to force others to pray the prayers of my faith publicly.

Question Five

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Being a member of my faith means that I can be bullied without legal recourse.

B) I am no longer allowed to use my faith to bully gay kids with impunity.

Question Six

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to purchase, read, or possess religious books or material.

B) Others are allowed to have access books, movies, and websites that I do not like.

Question Seven

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious group is not allowed equal protection under the establishment clause.

B) My religious group is not allowed to use public funds, buildings, and resources as we would like, for whatever purposes we might like.

Question Eight

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) Another religious group has been declared the official faith of my country.

B) My own religious group is not given status as the official faith of my country.

Question Nine

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) My religious community is not allowed to build a house of worship in my community.

B) A religious community I do not like wants to build a house of worship in my community.

Question Ten

My religious liberty is at risk because:

A) I am not allowed to teach my children the creation stories of our faith at home.

B) Public school science classes are teaching science.

Scoring key:

If you answered “A” to any question, then perhaps your religious liberty is indeed at stake. You and your faith group have every right to now advocate for equal protection under the law. But just remember this one little, constitutional, concept: this means you can fight for your equality…not your superiority.

If you answered “B” to any question, then not only is your religious liberty not at stake, but there is a strong chance that you are oppressing the religious liberties of others. This is the point where I would invite you to refer back to the tenets of your faith, especially the ones about your neighbors.

In closing, no matter what soundbites you hear this election year, remember this: religious liberty is never secured by a campaign of religious superiority. The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less.