With whom are you in relationship?
This question lies at the heart of every successful justice movement, and the work cannot be done effectively or sustainably without an answer.
And, because of that relationship, what does love call you to do?
It’s not enough to reason your way to action, or to argue your way, and you can’t even believe your way to action. You can only act for justice from a place of love. And your actions will have more power if you are able to articulate that, because it connects your humanity to that of the people with whom you are striving for justice.
On Friday, our speakers have all emphasized this point in their work with us.
Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed started us off on Friday morning by talking about racial justice in the UUA. He pointed out that during the Civil Rights Era, when Dr. King put out the call for people of faith to come march in Selma, some ministers decided to go — and other ministers were sent by the board of their congregations, who pooled their money and bought plane tickets so their minister would represent them in the important struggle.
What do you do when someone asks you to go? You go.
Rev. Morrison-Reed asked us: With whom are you in relationship — so they know they can call on you? And what of your relationship to yourself?
When someone is asked, “Why did you go?”, it’s not about being careful or rational. It’s all about feelings. When the answer comes, people will say, “I went because I was compelled to go.”
And when we go, we don’t act for others — we act with them. But we do it for ourselves, because we dream of living in a more just and loving world.
Morrison-Reed continued: Placing the cause first will always lead you astray, because it places right belief before right relationship.
“When my life ends,” he concluded, emotion trembling in his voice, “I want to know I poured it out for the values I hold dear, and for the people I love. Because it’s all about being in love. That’s what compels us to do anything to protect our beloved community.”
Our workshop speakers throughout the day echoed these ideas in their stories, but the power of relationship was never more evident than when we held a brief ceremony to honor the families of the Civil Rights martyrs — the surviving family members of Jimmie Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo. We invited these families to the stage and presented them with a token of our love, the audience standing to recognize the tragedy of their loss, and to celebrate the way justice was made possible because of the sacrifice their loved ones made.
And amidst the clapping, these people, who have lived with the aftermath of these murders for fifty years now, approached the microphone and spoke gentle, heartfelt words:
“Thank you…thank you for not forgetting by brother…my sister…my husband…my grandfather. Thank you for bringing us here and showing us that the Unitarian Universalists still remember my loved one, whom I still miss every day. Thank you to the congregations who, year after year, sent money to our mother to help her pay the bills when she was struggling. Thank you for remembering her name, his name, so that when I walked into a UU church and said I was her daughter, his daughter, everyone knew what I meant, and I knew you were keeping them alive in your hearts. When you remember him, I feel like I’m held in my father’s arms. When you remember her, I feel like I’m walking in my mother’s light.”
That is what it means to love your way into relationship. That is how justice is born — because of the choices we make, every day, to keep reaching out, to keep holding each other close.
There is no other way.
That evening, the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, one of Dr. King’s closest friends and whose preaching and ministry is held in high esteem by both Dr. King and President Barack Obama, also emphasized the importance of love in his keynote talk.
He told us that there are three important concepts in religion — justice, truth, and love. You can’t talk about these things with your words without living these values in your heart.
“You think you can fool God?” Dr. Vivian challenged us. “The central value is love. And how can you call yourself Christian [or religious] if you don’t embrace that? You have to ask yourself — if you don’t love the people you’re working with, then are you really in this at all?”
He continued, “Until we are ready to love people — and I’m talking about people as a whole human race — then we’re just playing games with ourselves. You’ve got to act like you believe what you’re saying. Until you show people that you love them — nobody will follow, no one will come back. Love has to be at the center of every revival. It can’t just be about fighting back — it’s got to be about love.
“We can change the world, if people know that somebody loves them — because that’s what makes the difference. That’s the group people will want to be with.”
And so that’s the question: Do you love?
If you do, make sure you proclaim it for all the world to hear. Get the message out that your heart is breaking with the love you feel, and that you will not rest until those you love can rest with you. Make it known that you will put your body on the line to protect the bodies of the people you love.
And always — always — keep expanding that circle to love more people, to invite them in.
And listen for the people who are saying, I love you, too.
That’s the way the community becomes truly beloved.
(I am told that both of these keynote talks, by Mark Morrison-Reed and by C.T. Vivian, will be made available for viewing at the Living Legacy Project website.)