Choose love, always, always, choose love. Love is not the easy choice. As Archbishop Tutu has said recently on the subject of forgiveness, those who believe forgiveness is only for the weak – have never tried it. I would say the same is true of Love. To choose love is an act of courage. It takes a belief in the self, in the strength within yourself to give and to sacrifice, and to be vulnerable; and it is a belief in the strength to receive, to love another with all that is beautiful and all that is ugly, and see only Grace.
I spent several years in a parish where many members of the congregation had been asked to leave other churches, or who were made to feel unwelcome in all those subtle ways that polite company has to let you know, your presence is distasteful to them. These members of the congregation had the courage to Love, to love themselves enough to live with the dignity of being fully and openly who they believed God created them to be – loving individuals who were meant to share that love with another. Some of them were couples who were in long-term relationships.
One of the men in a long-term relationship was a WWII veteran, awarded medals of bravery as a pilot. He and his partner had been together for over 40 years. Now this was before civil partnerships were made possible, and I believe this brave veteran died before they were able to legally celebrate their love for one another. The courage of their relationship also deserved a medal for each of them. Their relationship would have begun when it would have been illegal for them to be a couple openly. Such long-term devotion in the face of persecution is rare indeed.
And yet even during the time when I was living in Brighton, I would occasionally walk through Kemptown, an area known for its gay bars, of an early morning – and there would be police tape along the street. Some poor chap woul have been beaten up. You would have thought at the time those days were over – but they clearly were not. I would think about the time my father admitted that when he was younger, along with several others, he would go to where the gay men would hang out and they would beat them up. Gay-bashing. I don’t think he told anyone else in the family. I still choose love. I loved my father, the ugly side as well as the beautiful side that taught me to respect myself as a woman and to speak my mind. Loving him is still an act of courage. Sharing his vulnerabilities is an act of courage, to dare to tarnish the memory of him, out of the love for the shame he felt.
So here we are now, in a week within the history of the world when so much hatred of some people for other people for who they are has been made rife in the world – hating people for where they come from, where they were born, the danger they are so desperately trying to escape, for the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, their religion. In this week we remembered that Holocaust that took place in living memory of so many, in living memory of my lovely veteran, in living memory of so many other genocides, in Vietnam, in Rwanda, in Srebenica, of the countless genocides that happen every day in the violence we do to one another. In the midst of this, I choose to love.
I choose love and I challenge to love. I challenge the House of Bishops to Love. In a world where Love is so very difficult to find, so elusive, courageous love so rare, I challenge the House of Bishops to celebrate Love, celebrate Love wherever and however it happens. Let us shout it from the rooftops, let us acknowledge and respect the love one human being has for another, and let us bless it. Love is sacred, and has God’s blessing already. It is us, as church, that needs to bless, for our own souls we need to bless what God has already made sacred in the gift that is Love.