Thursday, April 2, 2015

Love and Relationship

by the Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith

I was very grateful to be among those participating in the Living Legacy Project's conference in Birmingham last month to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, which were so significant in the struggle to secure voting rights for all Americans. Each of the speakers at the conference added something to the conversation that left me moved and inspired. 

There were two ideas that resonated with me most, which I believe have particular relevance to our work in the Southern Region of our UUA. One was the primacy of relationships in the struggle for civil rights. As Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed emphasized in his keynote presentation, the people who responded to Dr. King's call to come to Selma were not simply compelled by the horrific televised reports of black people being beaten back across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The deeper truth was that there was a network of well-established relationships and friendships that led people take to time out of their already-full lives to march for justice and peace.

The other idea that remains with me is the importance of love as a source of power. Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian reminded the 450 of us gathered for the conference that loving people as they work together toward justice was critical to being able to sustain a movement over time. 

I had the opportunity to talk with some young activists who are doing some very visible and meaningful work to protest the killings of African Americans by officers of the law and vigilantes. A recurring theme I heard from them had to do with burnout -- the sense that they were working so hard for change and with such commitment to keep the focus on the issue that they were spiritually depleted. I wondered with them about the place of love in the midst of their efforts. How were they sustaining themselves and each other? Is there a role for allies and comrades from older generations to play in helping them stay healthy and whole? The quest for justice is a never-ending one, so our approach needs to be one that safeguards the well-being of each of us on that journey as much as we can. The experience of love has a lot to do with well-being.

The relationships I've developed over many years within Unitarian Universalism are what have kept me grounded in our liberal religious tradition and in our work for justice. Within it, there are people whom I love dearly and who love me that I can call upon in times of need, and who have also reached out to me when they needed support. 

A few years back when General Assembly delegates voted to go to Phoenix for GA 2012 rather than to boycott the state of Arizona, my friend Gini Courter, then the Association's Moderator, challenged all of us to make 'Justice GA' the most well attended GA ever. I took my friend's challenge to heart, and that opened a world of possibilities in my life and in the congregation I was serving at the time. Many of us had that background of relationship that made our witness in Arizona powerful. Because of it, we were willing to try new things and draw attention to the hardships of immigrants and immigrant families. 

This month, we have the opportunity to let the power of love and our trusting relationships guide the way. As we come together for our Annual Assemblies, we will take the next step to renew our governance, by voting on whether to dissolve our District governance structures under the larger umbrella of our UUA. The intention is to provide for more effectiveness and impact in the sharing of our Unitarian Universalist values. As with the civil rights pioneers of generations past, there may be differing strategies as we look to our ultimate goal. However the vote goes, I am confident that the love that moves among us and the strength of the bonds between us will continue to make a difference in the world.

In faith,