What's Love Got To Do With It?
by Lena Gardner
In a war there are perceived winners and losers; in a war there are friends and there are enemies. A war is driven by the desires of greed, of power, of domination, of control of resources, of hatred, of fear. In a war there is wounding beyond description and imagination, there is wounding that will never heal quite right. After a war one cannot sit next to the person who was once an enemy and see them as a person—forever more they will be an enemy.
I do believe that love is more powerful than fear, than greed, than power, and control. I do believe in love—and a not the fluffy white love that most people conjure up. I believe that being a truth teller requires sacrifice, that it does create wounds and it does create conflict but in a much different way than an enemy in a war would. Through love one can make peace with the sacrifice, one can heal their own wounds; one can manifest a new way of being out of conflict—in war no such peace exists with the sacrifice that was demanded. No such healing exists, and the way is closed.
In November 2012, Minnesotans will vote on two proposed changes to the state constitution. If successful one proposed amendment would define marriage as between one man and one woman only. The other proposed change if successful would make photo id a requirement in order to vote. These amendments, if adopted into the Minnesota state constitution would help enrich the lives of no one and would be harmful to many people.
These constitutional amendments are not war. We are in a struggle for justice. There will be no clear winner and losers—there will be the hurt, the wounded, and the hardened hearts of many. If we defeat this marriage prohibition amendment and the voter disenfranchisement amendment, the struggle will not end. Just as it did not being last week or last May and indeed the struggle may be ever lasting so long as we continue operating in it as if we are always at war with one another.
As a child, my conflicts with my brother closest in age to me became so intense that I told my older brother I hated him. My Dad overheard, and responded: “Lena, you are not allowed to say you hate your bother or anyone else because you are not allowed to hate. Period.” I protested, “But he hurts me and I do hate him.” My Dad’s response was hours of lecturing, but what came of it was essentially this: if I started hating everyone in the world who hurt me, I wouldn’t be able to love anyone. Because everyone in different ways, but in one way or another is sure to cause me hurt at some point in my life just by being human—that includes me causing harm to myself by making decisions one way or another. After that conversation with my Dad, I never intentionally tried to cause my brother harm in retribution born from hatred. Slowly I found something different began to grow in my heart after I actively decided to stop hating him. It was love that grew. And yet I have also never stopped struggling with my brother, we both have had to and continue to learn how to struggle with each other in a loving way.
It took me years to really fully understand the weight of my Dad’s words. But when I found myself as a person of mixed racial heritage hating white folks for the way they treated me and hating black folks equally as much for the ways they have outcast me, slowly I had begun to hate myself and everything I was made up of. Similarly in the aftermath of a violent sexual encounter when I was 19 years old I chose to hate men for a while. I ended up so alone, in such a dark place. I had no place in the world. Thankfully I played rugby and after some good therapy, years of spiritual seeking and growth, and really amidst the grief of my Father’s death I realized—Dad had been right all along. I cannot hate someone because they hurt me—intentionally or unintentionally, I cannot hate men, white folks and black folks and...and…and…and In fact I cannot allow myself to hate at all, because the cost is too high. I realized the immensity of my Dad’s words: I cannot hate because there will be no room for love in my heart if I do.
In this work for marriage equality and voter rights, in this work for justice for women, for minorities, for the LGBT community I do not allow myself to hate and I do not go to war. I link arms in a struggle to find a new way to be in the world. I link arms with generations of outcasts, of alienated, of oppressed that have gone before me and sacrificed their lives in one way or another. I link arms with those who are courageous next to me in this world and I move in the direction that as best I can see, is toward justice. I am afraid and I am scared in this justice work. Each time I get up to speak my knees are weak and my voice trembles. It is tempting to hate those other people for bringing this into my world, yet again, just this time in another form. And I have stumbled and I will continue to make mistakes—I will in one way or another fail. And I am afraid of facing the hatred, the intolerance but I find my anchor in love. Not a fluffy snow white love that does not take seriously pain and wounding, but the love that comes to me through chains, through hangings, through my shades of darker ancestors that holds me and tells me the way of the truth is not easy—it never has been. It is love that comes to me through the cold, watery, dark, unmarked graves of the Atlantic, that reaches me from afar. And it tells me love is the gift and it is a choice. But I know where there is hate, love cannot be, and where there is no love, justice cannot be because the way is closed by hate.
It is with the words of activist, poet, and writer Audre Lorde ringing in my ears: “Your silence will not protect you,” that I speak. There is no light for this path I am on, save the light from within my own conscience. When I shine it into the past I see I am one of many—and that is comforting to me. When I shine it forward, I see little clearly but hope vividly. So each day and sometimes each moment I refuse to hate and I turn to love so that I do not close the way for justice. I will not go to war, but make no mistake about it; I will not be passive and silent in the face of injustice. Make no mistake, I will not hate you but I will call you to be accountable for your actions in love. Make no mistake, I am not a soldier and I will not ruthlessly slay you as my enemy but I will hold you uncomfortably close and fight you as though you are my brother—and you can go ask him if I ever give up. For those who have gone before me, I struggle. For those who are oppressed in ways I cannot know, I choose love and that means I will struggle.
Perhaps it came as a dictate from my Dad, but I now know it as a lived reality in myself-I have to choose love. As a middle-class African-American woman, I cannot perpetually be at war with the world. Perhaps it is the privilege of those within the dominant power structure to pick and choose when they go to war and who is the enemy, the next target but for the rest of us, we struggle—every single day. In this world I live in the United States, in Minneapolis, my people are the worst of the worst. New immigrants gauge their status based on how far away they can remove themselves from my people, the black people, from me. Consistently throughout time and history, the people that I know and love and the cultural heritage that I claim, the family that I know and love has been thought of in subhuman terms. Some of my folks have given up, some folks try to assimilate more and more into dominant culture claiming as their own a class and hetero power and oppressing others to pseudo-heal their own wounds, and some folks keep struggling. But we are not at war because if everyday is a war, if everyone around you is an enemy then life very simply, becomes miserable and unbearable and there is no hope. This is a struggle for justice and it didn’t begin last week or last May and it will not end on November 6th—even if we are successful.
We are not at war. I commend you if this is the flashpoint that has moved you to join the struggle for justice. Love is the way and it is not easy but I sure am glad to have your company.
Lena Gardner is a graduate student and intern with the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance. She helps take care of her very sweet and unfortunately ill Mother; she also loves a good romp at the dog park with Atty.