T. Thorn Coyle recently posted a blog entry where she talked about a dream she had where the phrase “Love > Fear” was tattooed on her and others around her as a reminder that, “Love is greater than our fears. All of them. Even the very real fears. Even the imagined fears. Love is greater.” It’s a simple but profound sentiment.
I’ve felt an affinity for the Love > Fear phrase ever since I saw it on a bumper sticker several years ago. I bought that sticker and had it on my car for several years (you can too!). Since then I’ve kind of adopted it as my personal slogan. I listed it under the “Rules by which I live” section on my “about” page for the Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence website. I’ve also used it anytime I have to sign my name as a Sister. Many of the Sisters have personal tag lines. Mine is, “the nun that got nailed.” But I’ve unofficially added Love > Fear to that because I resonate with it so much.
Yeah, it’s short enough to fit on a bumper sticker, but when you get down to it, the phrase has some deep meaning. When we think about love, many of us think about the emotion of love. We think about how love feels – warm, fuzzy, affectionate. However, when I say that love is greater than fear, I’m not speaking about the emotion of love. Emotions come and go. Love, I believe, is an action. Or, as DC Talk says, love is a verb. It’s something you do.
When I was a conservative Christian I remember hearing the story about a Christian minister (the story might have been about Billy Graham) who was asked what would happen if they fell out of love with their wife. Their reply was that they would get on their knees and start to pray and that they wouldn’t get up until they could act lovingly toward their wife.
I no longer share a common theology with Billy Graham (believe it or not, I used to), and I no longer believe that all relationships are meant to last “’til death,” but I do think the story illustrates a couple powerful points. First, that sometimes relationships are as much about commitments than they are about emotions, and second, that sometimes love is a behavior we choose to engage in. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should stay in bad relationships out of some sense of obligation. I’m not saying that it’s all about commitment and that emotions don’t matter. But ALL relationships require some effort and compromise, regardless of whether we’re talking about a marriage, a friendship, or even a work relationship. All relationships have those moments where you don’t feel the emotion of love. Instead, in that moment, you may feel frustration, resentment, anger, bitterness, or whatever else is going on. Those are all fear based emotions. Choosing to love is stronger than fear.
Love is a choice. When I am in a moment of anger, I can still choose to act lovingly. It’s hard. It’s much easier to be tossed around and let our behavior be dictated by whatever emotion is on the surface of our being at the moment. Love becomes stronger than fear when we choose, in those moments, to let our actions reflect our own Divine spark and respect the Divine spark that we know is present in those that are angering us. The question isn’t how can I feel love in this situation, but rather, how can I *be* love in this situation? How would love behave?
And to go off on a another Christian tangent – I used to be a Lutheran minister, after all! I believe that this attempt to *be* love in every situation is one the core messages of the Jesus myth. The story of Jesus is, in part, the story of a man who was so at-one with the Divine that he was love in every moment. Even to the point where they were killing him, he was love. It’s not that he felt this overwhelming emotion of love towards them. But, I believe, that he was *being* love even in those moments. So the real question for a follower of the Christ is how can you be love in every moment?
(Yeah, I’m a Pagan, but I’m also a Nun. I gotta get my church on every now and then!)
To flip this around, if we are going to say that love is a verb, I believe the same is true of hate. I see lots and lots of anti-gay bullies out there who want to say, “love the sinner, hate the sin!” Or they want us to believe that they really don’t have an issue with me as a person. They truly love me. But they just don’t think I should have the same rights as every other American citizen. Since they don’t feel the emotion of hate when they think about me, or they aren’t wrapped up in hateful emotions, they think that their standing against my “lifestyle” is somehow made more legitimate. I call bullshit, honey. you can practice hate without feeling the emotion of hate, just like you can practice love without feeling the emotion of love. When you vote to deny someone their fundamental rights, or vote to enshrine discrimination into law, then you are practicing hate, simple as that. And when we act in any way that diminishes another human being, whether through words or actions, we are practicing hate.
I believe the mission of the Sisters to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt is a way that we have chosen to state that love is greater than fear. The actions of love will win out against the actions of hate. Stigmatic guilt is the guilt and shame that has been placed on you by acts of hate from outside sources. We all get these messages from our families, church, school, government, or society in general. You’re a fag. You’re a dyke. You’re a tranny. Your marriage isn’t as real as mine. God doesn’t love you. You’re a whore. You’re not good enough for this family. And on and on. We’ve all heard the messages to some degree or another, and so we all have some stigmatic guilt. The Sisters are here to expiate that. Expiate is a fancy shmancy word for “fix” or “repair”. And how to we do that? By promulgating universal joy. For me, I see universal joy as something similar to the agape love that Christians speak about. It’s pure unconditional acceptance. It’s a radical acceptance. To break this all down into plain language. I’m here to tell you that you are not defined by the labels that other people have placed on you, or that you place on yourself. You are loved. You are worth loving. Period. No exceptions. And I’m here to remind you of that as often as I can.
In other words, love > fear.