Love calls me to speak more slowly, and I try to respond when love calls.
When I am about to speak of the place where my religious community meets, I pause. I meditate on the history of the way the church has oppressed Jews and Pagans. I remember my internship on Long Island and the conversations I had with children of holocaust survivors and with students of history. I recall the way I used to lock down my protective boundaries when talking with a professed Christian. I reflect on my recent visit to the UU congregation in Salem, housed in the same place of worship that housed the puritans who oversaw the Salem witch trials. And I say “congregation.”
They say “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” but as a child who was teased, a fat teenager who was ridiculed, a lesbian who was threatened, a woman who gets cat-called, a queer Pagan minister who can be the subject of curious gossip… I know different.
Learning to say congregation was fairly easy for me. But once I started listening to other people’s stories I found more reasons to speak slowly.
I often speak publicly hoping to invite more love and justice so I talk a lot about how we are connected, how we are one human family. When I am asking people to notice their relationships with others I pause say an internal prayer for those whose gender assigned at birth does not fit, and I say siblings. This shows up a lot in songs. “Come on people now, you’re my only sibling, try to love one another right now.” If the song is in copyright it is an opportunity to talk about the word choice. Out of copyright? Easy to change a word or two! And when singing I invite low voices and higher voices, rather than men and women.
I find myself pausing when I speak about you in the third person. What pronoun do you prefer? She? He? They? Per? And then I meditate on the way you have been mis-gendered, not valued. How your family may not have accepted you or you may be unable to keep a job or the bladder damage you have incurred because you are afraid to enter a bathroom where you are not welcome. I remember the times you got pulled over for driving while gender-queer, the ritual you were not welcome at, the tension of having a brain that know you are a man and a body that telegraphs “I am a woman” and the millionth time someone said “sir, I mean ma’am, I mean sir, … what are you?” Then, even though the pause in our conversation has gotten very awkward by now, and my sixth grade English teacher is yelling at me in the back of my head, I try to use a neutral pronoun, or if I know it, the one you prefer.
When I ask you to rise to sing together I mention that you may want to do so in spirit and not in body, or both, and it is your choice. And I remember the time you could not get in the door to join us at worship. I see the path to the outdoor ritual space that was impassable to your walker, and then I hear the person who insisted they didn’t need the mike and you missed their words, or the time you overheard me say “that’s crazy” to describe dumping toxic waste the day after your meds stabilized enough for you to try leaving the house.
I want to call upon others to act in solidarity with a movement for social or climate justice. And since I know that standing hurts, and you do your justice work from your chair or your bed…I slow down. Again. The word I want… May be clumsy to find. May not flow or feel right at first. Or, it could be even better!
We are traveling together on the side of love. Let us rise to the invitation … To BE more love. Let our dancing for justice be of heart, mind and soul. I pray that I can slow down enough to receive your story and to respond with care and compassion. And I pray that we will forgive each other, again, and ourselves, again. Let us begin, slowly, in love.