Hi, I'm Ken Breadner. I've been lurking here off and on, casing the joint, you might say, for about a year. Feeling more and more comfortable each time I stepped through these doors, gradually coming out of a shell.
I'd like to thank two people before I even begin: first, Rev. Jess, for seeing something in me and giving me this opportunity in the first place; and second, Melissa Rockenfield, without whom I wouldn't be here. Thank you to Matthew Gartshore -- what a pianist you are -- and thank you to each and every one of you for coming today.
When I first heard that 'love is the doctrine of this church', I knew that I had found what I'd been searching for throughout my adult life. I would have shouted "Hallelujah! Praise be to....(trail off, look confused)...but instead I just felt a peaceful settling in my heart. "Honey...I'm home."
Probably like many of you here, I've been to churches that had lots of doctrine and which mentioned love...but it always seemed like the doctrine came before the love. I was told about an "all-loving" God who would judge you, condemn you, and burn you for all eternity if you died in a state of sin. And I was told the worst sin you could possibly commit, the Most Unforgivable, was to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. Apparently Almighty God simply can't take it if you call him a name. He hates that. He lashes out.
Maybe...God is Donald Trump. (shudder in revulsion) (pause)
But no, this is what I was told, again and again and again: God loves you UNCONDITIONALLY, He (and there's another problem) loves EVERYONE unconditionally...but yet there's this huge list of CONDITIONS to satisfy or you're going to burn in hell. Forever.
And the churches I went to? They were pretty big on the conditions. I remember being told to "walk in the way of the Lord" and to "hate every other way". That didn't square with my own idea of Godly behaviour, in which the word "hate" doesn't make an appearance. I began to think the idea I had of God, back then, was so much BIGGER than the idea the Church seemed to have. At first I felt guilty thinking that: it's clearly blasphemy. Then, little by little, I grew defiant about it. Eventually I just stopped going.
I'd say I never looked back, but that would be a lie. I looked back often. And thought, if only there were a place where love came before doctrine. Better yet, if only there were a place where love IS the doctrine...
(spread arms) Ta-da!
But what does it mean to say that "love is the doctrine of this church?" That's one of those questions I think we can spend a lifetime answering...and to quote one of the hymns we sing here, "to question truly is an answer." In that spirit...
First question: what is love? (sung: "Baby don't hurt me...")
Isn't a pity that we've got this one, single, solitary word in English that describes how you feel about your life partners, your father, your pets, your children, your favourite sports team, Oreos, your closest friends, the colour purple, the movie The Color Purple...and on and on and on? Our language here is tremendously limiting. Greek has seven words. Arabic has eleven. Ancient Sanskrit supposedly had over a hundred. In the words of the Reverend Led Zeppelin, that's a whole lotta love.
Ask the Internet what love is and you'll get a hundred million hits about romance and sex. Once again we're confronted with the quirkiness of the English language. A preacher preaches, a runner runs, a finger fings, and a lover...has sex. Sigh. We've got this one word to describe a myriad of emotions, and people keep trying to reduce it still further. Not that there's anything wrong with sex, or romance, but I don't think either is the doctrine of this, or any, church.
No, I think the kind of love that is worthy of being called a doctrine is a little more...all-encompassing.
I've thought and thought about how to define it, because I've been struggling and aspiring to live a doctrine of love long before I ever set foot in here. I have nice pat definitions for personal love that have served me well, like "feeling vulnerable safely". But when it comes to love for the wider world...it's a little harder to capture. And so, it was another epiphany for me, reading the first two principles of Unitarian Universalism: affirming and promoting "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" and "justice, equity and compassion in human relations".
That, right there, is love. Worth. Dignity. Justice. Equity. Compassion. Of -- and for -- every person.
But respectfully, I'd add one more word: enjoyment. In order to express love, you have to en-joy.
Look at that word, "enjoy". That word has two syllables. I propose that whenever you see or hear that word from now on, you put a hyphen in it: EN...JOY. That prefix, "en" means to "put into".
To enjoy means to put joy into. THE JOY....COMES FIRST.
In this, I think many people have it completely backwards. They try to derive joy FROM things, experiences and people. You can't do that. You can get pleasure from things, but pleasure is to joy as like is to love. Real joy comes first. When you greet each day with an attitude of joy, you are expressing a doctrine of love.
Do you know how to increase your joy and your love?
That works for any emotion, positive or negative, by the way. Share it...and you'll feel more of it. That's because sharing reinforces that which is shared. You recognize, in the act of giving love away, that you had that love to give...and you'll then recognize you still have it! Love isn't like money: go out and spend some here, here and here, and then you're broke. No, love behaves in exactly the opposite fashion. The more you spend...the more you save, and the more you have to spend. You will never go broke expressing love. Instead, you will feel whole, and make others feel that way as well.
Those things, as we all know, aren't always easy. Some days we don't feel like the highest version of ourselves. And it seems like every day we find people who aren't showing us the highest versions of THEMselves. It's particularly difficult, I've found, when we're confronted with hate, or what we perceive to be hate.
What is the purpose of hate, or evil of all kinds? People have struggled with this for millennia. I don't know what the official answer is, but an answer that works for me is: hate is an invitation to love. Often a very challenging invitation to answer...but an invitation nonetheless.
I think that hatred is actually a necessary thing for love to exist. How would we define the good without something bad to place in opposition?
That sounds kind of abstract, so let me apply it to the real world. If you meet hatred with hatred of your own, what you’re actually doing is reinforcing that hatred. SHARING REINFORCES THAT WHICH IS SHARED. You are not just augmenting your own hatred, but also the hatred you’re seeking to oppose.
We can see that very clearly in American politics right now. Both parties are mindlessly spewing hate at each other. It’s mindless, it’s tribal, it’s continually being reinforced…and it’s starting to tear the United States of America apart. We’re almost to the point where the people on the other side aren’t people anymore.
But they are.
We are all, every one of us, a product of our place and time; of our families, our friends, and our life’s circumstances. All of us see the world differently.
I believe humans are innately good. But I also believe we all have blind spots. We might think that we’re special, for instance, which makes anyone who isn’t us…not special. I believe that ALL of us are special…but none of us is any more special than anyone else.
Even the people you disagree with are special. Even the people who HATE you are special. Hatred is, after all, a gift: it is a very striking statement against which to define yourself.
And how do you do that? How do you take someone’s hatred and define yourself from it? Two ways. First, you take the hateful behaviour and say, “this is something I will not accept”. Second…you meet that hatred head on. Not with hatred of your own….remember…that just reinforces both your hate and the hate against you. No: you meet hatred…with love.
Daryl Davis is an American blues musician. His home is full of Klu Klux Klan memorabilia. Robes, hoods, crosses. He is not and was never a KKK member: he can't be. Darryl is descended from slaves.
The memorabilia comes from KKK members Darryl has met, talked to, befriended....and convinced to leave the Klan. Over 200 of them. Several of them very highly ranked.
The first time, music was the bonding agent. Daryl was playing blues at a honky-tonk joint when a white guy in the audience came up and told him how talented he was. "I never heard a black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis", the man told Daryl.
"Well, where do you think Jerry Lee Lewis learned to play that style?" The man couldn't believe Jerry Lee didn't invent boogie-woogie. Daryl gently educated him. Then the man said something that floored Daryl. "This is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black man." And he showed Daryl his KKK card.
The Klansman told Daryl to let him know next time his band was in town...and went home thinking that he just enjoyed black music produced by a black man. A seed was planted.
What do you do with a seed? You nourish it. Daryl nourished his seed with knowledge. He read up on the Klan...he ended up knowing as much, or more, about the Ku Klux Klan than the many, many Klansmen he would interview over the years. They respected him for that. They may not have liked him on sight but they respected him for doing his homework. And so most of them would listen to him.
Just talking. And letting them talk twice as much.
But when you're talking, you're not fighting. Engage your enemy without attacking and within five minutes you'll discover you have things in common. Nourish that seed and you can turn enemies into friends, and reduce the level of hatred in the world. Like Daryl Davis has.
It's not easy. Daryl has been attacked, sometimes by KKK members but even more often by people from "his own side" who can't understand why he would want to talk to "the enemy". That I find even more sad than a legacy of racism. But as Daryl says: "You're not going to beat the meanness out of a mean dog. You start beating a mean dog, he'll become more mean. You start beating racists, they're gonna become more racist."
"The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view, regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me, I've heard things so extreme at these rallies they'll cut you to the bone. Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don't challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform. So he and I would sit down and listen to one another over a period of time. And the cement that held his ideas together began to get cracks in it. And then it began to crumble. And then it fell apart."
You can't spread love very widely without engaging hatred. We often like to seclude ourselves in our own bubbles, with people who think like we do, vote like we do, live like we do. It's easy to love people like that. Much harder, but ultimately much more rewarding, is to, well, in the words of one wise man who may or may not have divine qualifications, "love your enemy". That, to me, is living a doctrine of love. In order to do that, you have to meet the enemy on their own ground.
As Daryl puts it,
When all they do is sit around and preach to the choir it does absolutely no good. If you're not a racist it doesn't do any good for me to meet with you and sit around and talk about how bad racism is."
That's the challenge I would issue: to spread the doctrine of love beyond your comfort zone. To recognize the inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person, not just those with whom you agree.
We are living in a fractious time, a time in which "common ground" is increasingly a dirty phrase. Both sides of any issue are not interested in engaging each other, and instead retreat into their trenches and hurl epithets like bombs. If you disagree with me, I must be evil; if I disagree with you, you must be stupid.
This is not sustainable. To quote Yeats, "things fall apart; the center can not hold". Well, I think it's our duty as Unitarian Universalists -- NO. It's our duty as HUMAN BEINGS -- to cling HARD to that center and MAKE it hold. You do that with passionate intensity. You do that by daring to climb out of the trench, waving a white flag of truce, and meeting your enemy halfway. If Daryl Davis, a black man, can make two hundred members of the KKK turn in their robes...think what a force for good we can be.
So let's meet disagreement with love. Let's meet anger with love. Let's meet HATRED with love. Let's encourage ourselves to be the next greatest version of the grandest vision we ever had about who we are...and let's encourage the same in everyone we meet. THAT'S how to live a doctrine of love.
Some deep and heartfelt thank-you's are in order.
To my friends Sky, Melanie, and Nicole, for your support today and always. Love to each of you.
To my father, Ken Breadner Sr., who travelled a long way to come see his son 'preach'. Who has been calling me "Rev" and "Father" for the past week or two. I love you, Dad.
To Jade, who woke up with a sore throat this morning and still came to hear me. I love you, Jade.
To my metamour Mark, for his loving support of Eva and myself. You are a good man, Mark, and I love you.
To Kathy, who got me to the church on time even though I forgot my sermon -- yes, I actually forgot a copy of my sermon on the day I had to give my sermon. For this and so, so much more, hon, thank you. I love you.
And finally and always, always, to Eva, who has stood by me for almost twenty years now and whose love is endlessly inspiring. THIS woman knows what it means to live a doctrine of love. I love you, Eva.