Love is not about mushy-gushy feelings. It's not about "getting" or being fulfilled or completed by another person (as that is not humanly possible). Rather, instead of feelings, love is more about choices. Some say we do not choose who we love, but I would have to disagree. While I don't think we have much choice in who we are attracted to, we absolutely choose who to love because love is about commitment, which must be chosen. In order to love someone, you have to know them, and getting to know someone takes dedication, perseverance, and patience.
But loving someone also does not mean forgetting or neglecting the self, as we often think. Love is the acknowledgement of two "selves" who know each other intimately and yet still say "I choose you because you are worth it." This does not always equate to the destruction or diminution of one for the sake of the other, but involves both parties seeking to be their best and challenging each other to be even better than when alone. This is not merely in the context of romantic love, but love in all of its equally valuable forms.
The love between two people is a union that builds up both "selves" as well as their surrounding community. It is a state that takes time, tenderness, and intention. Anger, resentment, insecurity, and fear are fleeting in such a union, which is founded on openness and trust. Because of this, there is no doubt for either "self" that they are truly loved, exactly as they are. And nothing is more beautiful than that.
In "The Wounded Healer," Henri Nouwen talks about faith relying on promises and the unknown, not on concrete results - which can be immensely discouraging, frustrating, etc. to diligent folk. This made me think of Hebrews 11:39-40 which suggests that none of the heroes of faith received what was promised during their lifetime, but held on to the promise of something better after that.
This makes me also think of the cathedrals of Europe, many of which took more than one lifetime to construct. I imagine the builders and artisans spending their whole life working on something and not getting to see the final result, which so many of us enjoy today.
How painful and yet how beautiful it is to know that our work is not ours alone and will be continued by others when we are gone. And how beautiful and painful that our work will affect the lives of countless others, though we may never see it. And what a relief to know that I am not responsible for the fate of the world - and at the same time what a privilege it is that I am responsible for how my thoughts, words, and actions affect the fate of the world.
And so it reminds me that our work matters and thus each of us matters, and yet we need not worry about the future or about accomplishing this or that or being recognized as the results-producer. We have the joy of working to make our world a better place.
When we view others with anger, bitterness, suspicion, and prejudice, we erase their humanity - and along with it any chance for unity and reconciliation. We live in a time when it is hard to trust - perhaps we always have. How do you have unity when there are so many different ways of thinking, living, acting, and being? How can we have democracy when some view others as inferior?
As soon as we start “othering” people we’ve already created sides, teams ready to fight till one rules the other. We need to stop separating an “us” and “them” and refer to the collective as “we.” As soon as we start seeing ourselves as connected to everyone (which we are), we can start moving toward unity - not necessarily full agreement, for unity does not equate to singularity, but rather a joining together.
And I do believe it is possible for vastly different people to join together because I’ve seen it happen - I’ve done it. But it requires us to see each other, to listen, to put each other’s needs before our own (without ignoring our own), to find something greater than ourselves that we have in common to unite us. As long as we stay within the walls of our camps, raining ammunition on our opponents, we lose the opportunity to have meaningful, mutually beneficial conversations with human beings.
So who raises the flag of peace first? Those who can afford to, who are in positions of power, leadership, authority, privilege. We all have more influence over others than we realize. Be a part of a positive change - not a change to “the good old days,” not a change to “suit my agenda,” but to putting other’s needs before your preferences for a change, to considering the well-being of those who are struggling. We are responsible for the best and worst parts of our communities - not in the sense that it’s anyone’s fault, but in the sense that we are responsible to each other.
It’s a sunny MLK Day in Boston and I, for one, have hope.
As an empath and an entertainer, my favorite aspect of work has always been meaningful connections with others. I'm an Enneagram 2 (the helper) and a Myers-Briggs INFJ (the social worker), both marked by a desire to bless, heal, encourage, inspire, challenge, and love people with open arms.
As an introvert, I think I've often underestimated how much I define myself by my interactions with others - even while recognizing that all of us are shaped so much by the people around us. I looked at quarantine initially as an opportunity to write, to journal, to compose, to rest, and to work on projects, but the longer it's gone on, the more I've found myself craving connection. And while I've gotten to connect via technology and even a few visits, there isn't the regularity from before.
I've been wrestling with loneliness and feelings of worthlessness and futility - what use am I to my community if I can't smile at them, hold them, laugh and cry with them, sing and play with them? And as these feelings have coalesced into words, I remember Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" and Nouwen's "The Inner Voice of Love," both of which say much about the importance of community and solitude.
And so now I'm looking at quarantine not only as an opportunity to do the aforementioned, but as a reminder of the following:
1. I have worth because I am, not because I do.
2. I can still do things for my community even when not with them.
3. My identity is not defined by others, only influenced.
4. I am fabulous and worthy of love and respect.
5. I want to surround myself with fabulous people who remind me of points 1-4, and find creative ways to be in community with them.
Competition is a healthy motivator for high achievement, performance, and growth. We experience competition when being surrounded by peers and colleagues with similar tasks and goals that challenge us, whether athletically, artistically, academically, professionally, or otherwise. This process usually sharpens our drive and ability to succeed as individuals and as a community.
Rivalry is competition taken to an unhealthy extreme. It is "othering" the competition, diminishing the humanity of opponents instead of learning from them. We see this happen with violent sports fans, cutthroat artists, mudslinging politics, and consumerism. This process tears our broad and local communities apart, destroys empathy and communication, and puts all of us in a foul mood.
If we truly wanted to achieve equity, those of us with more power would actually have to be willing to give up some of our own power. The Law of Conservation of Mass teaches us that people can't create something out of nothing as God can; thus we can't just make those with less power suddenly powerful, but must give them some of our power till they are actually at an equal position. Sadly, most people seem to prefer the idea of equity over equity itself.
Violence ≠ Masculinity
Physical Strength < Strength of Character
I was physically assaulted on my way home from work last night. A crowd of rowdy teenagers were goofing off and as I took my usual route home, they started taunting me and throwing rocks at me (thankfully with poor aim). One boy started to follow me and kept shouting, harmless till he ran at me and knocked me to the ground. He immediately ran off, celebrated by his "friends," indicating that his goal was not to hurt me (which he could have done far worse), but rather to prove himself to the other teens.
What hurts the most about the incident is the reminder that boys from so many backgrounds (including my own) are taught from a young age - both verbally and visually - that they achieve manhood through violence, domination, and physical prowess. Our culture emphasizes strength of body when it should be emphasizing strength of character.
This emphasis must change.
We need to teach boys that wisdom, self-control, patience, emotional honesty, loyalty, gentleness, and perseverance are the true marks of a man. It is all of our responsibility to teach this, because our current culture of "masculinity" propagates not only violence, but rape.
Our bodies are crucial components of our identities. Think about all of the comments you've received about your physical appearance since you were young, and how those words and attitudes have shaped you - whether positive, negative, or neutral. Now imagine if everyone had told you instead that your worth doesn't depend on your beauty or strength or physical appearance of any kind, but rather that you have innate and unique worth because you are the person that you are, and every other person has worth because of who they are.
I apologize to everyone to whom I have said careless or hurtful things regarding your body or appearance. Furthermore, I know that women and non-binary people have had at least as many negative experiences with culture's treatment of bodies, and though I cannot speak to all of those as personally, I want to acknowledge and apologize for your mistreatment.
Above all, I want to encourage all of us to treat each other with love and respect. If/when you hear people harassing each other about appearances (or anything, really), remind them that there's more to each person than meets the eye. And when talking about someone's body or physicality, remember that words have power, and be sensitive. And when your body has been talked about, remember that words have the power that we give to them, and so you can strip negative words about you of their power and walk on in the full knowledge that you are beautifully and wonderfully made.
Tonight for a concert I dressed in drag for the first time ever. I'd be lying if I said the thought of wearing a dress and makeup didn't make me a little nervous at first. I grew up in a town that celebrated physical strength, sports, hunting, manual labor, aggression, emotional stoicism, and big trucks as "masculine." So naturally a scrawny, nerdy, artsy, emotionally-attuned countertenor was frequently labelled "feminine." I don't think anyone actually meant to hurt me with this label. Honestly, the label didn't hurt much at all. What hurt was when people suggested I should be more "masculine" or that they thought I wanted to be.
But today, like every other day, I claim that I am a man,
no matter what size my muscles are,
no matter how high I sing,
no matter how emotionally expressive I am,
no matter how I walk or talk or dress,
no matter who I am physically or romantically attracted to,
no matter how I fit or don't fit your idea of what a man "should" be.
I don't need to fit anyone's mold of what it means to be a man, because every man is different. What matters is that I am working to be the best I can be and encouraging others to be the best they can be, because we are beautifully and wonderfully made.
I like attention. I think we all do, some more than others. We want to be seen, heard, liked, loved. It is part of what makes dating so appealing - knowing that someone is interested in you, thinking about you, looking at you, touching you, perhaps trying to understand you or getting to know you. This is a validating experience. People are relational and, though some need more time with people than others, we all need people and thus attention.
Without attention, a baby cannot survive. And yet even as most of us grow to be more independent, at our core we are still dependent on others for physical and emotional survival. Nobody likes to be ignored and those who feel most consistently ignored seem the most depressed, in my experience.
That is why it is important to pay attention to others, not to be buried in our phones or schedules to avoid awkwardness or challenges. Working on social skills is healthy for all of us.
We live in a culture where instant gratification has become the new norm. Everyone walks around with devices in our pockets that can answer almost any question within seconds. These machines are full of apps that allow us to talk to anyone immediately (even face to face), find places instantly, check the weather and news worldwide at a whim, date or not date people with a mere glance at their picture and a swipe of the finger, respond to emails remotely, scan social media to see what everyone we know had for lunch today, and purchase all the things our hearts desire. The list goes on of all the things that we now expect to have and know instantly.
This is unhealthy for us, because instant gratification diminishes patience. When we spend so little time waiting for things, we do not build up the discipline of patience and we lose touch with the beauty of delayed gratification. Like all skills, patience requires practice - and how better to practice patience than by learning to appreciate waiting as opportunities to grow. Instead of complaining about slow internet, perhaps we can rejoice that we have such a valuable resource. Instead of searching desperately for love on a dating app to cure our loneliness, perhaps we should invest in our friends more and enjoy the wait of finding someone - or better yet, enjoy the possibilities that being single provides. Instead of breaking our bank accounts to buy all the things we think will make us happy, perhaps we should learn to enjoy what we have and what we can afford in the time of life and financial situation we find ourselves in.
When we are used to getting our way all the time, we do not tend to have much patience or grace when things do not go our way, making us generally grumpier and less-pleasant people. But when we learn to be comfortable with waiting for people, resources, and situations to happen in their own time and manner (if they happen at all), we will grow to be content and even joyful with what we have, and we will be all the more pleased when something or someone we have waited for comes to fruition. And when things do not happen as we want them to or in our preferred timing or manner, we will not be easily bent out of shape, instead able to respond with grace and understanding. Waiting gives us the opportunity to listen, to learn, to grow in empathy and understanding for others, and to build up patience and endurance.
"Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." - James 1:19
We do not tend to see growth while it is happening, but rather after it has been happening for some time. It is a slow process, taking its own time. Trees do not appear to be growing; they seem rather stuck, not budging in the least. That is, until we remember that a massive oak used to be a tiny seed, then a fragile sprout, a small tree, etc. until it became the giant we all recognize, able to provide for the needs of its community.
And how did the tree get to be so huge a blessing? By enduring harsh winds and rains, relishing times of sunshine, and patiently waiting in the soil for its roots to establish a firm foundation so that it will not be torn up when storms do arise.
So it is with people. If we do not have patience, joy, and endurance to grow, then we will be torn up when storms strike. But if we wait and work and trust, then when we compare where we once were to where we are now, we will see how tall, strong, and beautiful we have become, and we will see the many ways we have blessed others and can do so even more since we have taken the time to grow.