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Love Reaches Out

A little over a week ago, a contingent from our congregation walked in Salem’s Pride Parade for the first time. It was a fun-filled and beautiful day, well worth the sun burn I got for it. I hope it will prove to be only the first event in a long and steady tradition. I want to say thank you to the many folks who attended, and special thanks to Paul and Lynn Willenbrock for donating the banner we carried. That banner included the title of our tradition’s social justice campaign which turns five this year: ‘Standing on the Side of Love.’

I spent the week after the parade in Providence, Rhode Island, where the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations was holding our annual General Assembly. The theme for this year’s gathering was, ‘Love Reaches Out.’ One of the most popular t-shirts being worn around the convention center was being sold by the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship: ‘Love the Hell Out of the World.’ Together we sang songs like Salvador Cardenal Barquero’s “Busca el Amor” (Seek Out the Love), and Ziggy Marley’s “Love Is My Religion.” You may see a pattern here.

There’s good reason for love to be our watchword. Our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors both sought to re-center religion in love and compassion in the face of inhumane and spiritually-corrosive doctrines. They pointed back to the instructions of the teacher Jesus’, including the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” – a quotation he invoked from the book of Leviticus. Countless other religious voices sing in similar chorus. The ancient rabbis taught that the world’s existence relies on three things: the Torah and its study, prayer, and acts of loving kindness. The Buddhist tradition similarly holds loving kindness among the four greatest virtues. And the mystical Muslim poet Ibn Arabi wrote 800 years ago,

O Marvel! A garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

            At, the same time, love is hardly the only value of our faith. We have a duty to champion freedom and to search for truth, to employ reason and to seek justice, to cultivate wonder and to struggle for peace. None of these things contradict love – at their best, I believe each implies the other. But my critical mind can get a bit worried at times that we are leaning on love too hard; a religion must be more than just slogans, after all. And love is already among the most burdened words in the English language, worn and weary from over-use.

Ultimately, the test of who we are and what we are about does not come in the language we use and whether it is perfect– it comes instead in the actions we take. Will we live in the way that I hope we mean when we sing in church together, “Love Will Guide Us”? I hope that we will keep reaching out – to help one another, perhaps, but more so even to connect. To affirm, in the midst of the illusion of separateness, that we are all, in truth, profoundly interrelated.

Marching in the Pride Parade was a small act in most ways – a part of a single morning, a distance of only a matter of blocks. But in another way it was big. We stepped out together, beyond the walls of our meetinghouse so that our circle could include our transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay neighbors – and our TBLG members and friends. Love’s a fine explanation for that, and I’d like to think it’s the right one. But one of the chief qualities of love is its endurance. To be worthy of the love we proclaim, we are going to need to keep showing up, not just once, but again and again. I look forward to it.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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