Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Valentine's Day Appeal to my Community

Letter to the Editor; Statesboro Herald; Published February 13, 2013

As we celebrate Valentine’s  Day, we celebrate romantic love.  I’m writing this letter to encourage folks in our community to be open to a more inclusive celebration.  The Unitarian Universalist Association has a long history in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people dating back to the early 70’s.  And in 1996, our General Assembly passed a resolution that urged member congregations to proclaim the worth of marriage between any two committed persons and to make this position known in their home communities.  Our little congregation, the one on East Grady with the welcoming rainbow flag out front, has been attempting to do just that.  

Having grown up here in Statesboro, I know acceptance of marriage for same sex-couples may be difficult for some people in this community.  Some may wonder why gay people would want to get married.  And some may be afraid of what these kinds of changes may mean.  Opponents of same sex marriage often use these fears and spread false information.   But I also know that our community has a good history of making progress in difficult areas.  I remember the motto:  “Statesboro – where nature smiles and progress has the right of way!”  So I’m taking this Valentine week opportunity to share some facts that may help folks make that progress.  These four questions and answers are provided by the organization Why Marriage Matters for Americans as they consider what it means to allow same-sex couples to join in civil marriage.

Does this change the definition of marriage?  No. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not change the meaning of marriage. It simply allows same-sex couples to marry the person they love, to establish and protect a family and to make a lifetime commitment in the same way that other couples are able to.

How would gay and lesbian couples marry?  All couples who marry get a civil marriage through a license, usually obtained at a courthouse or City Hall. States could make civil marriage available to same-sex couples. Some couples also choose to marry in a religious setting. This would not change.

Does civil marriage for gay couples affect churches or other religious institutions?  No. It does not affect religious marriages, religious institutions or clergy in any way. No religion would be forced to marry same-sex couples, or recognize same-sex marriage within the context of their religious beliefs.

Aren’t there other alternatives to marriage for gay and lesbian couples?  There have been attempts to create marriage-like relationships, but they don’t work. For example, Domestic Partnership and Civil Union laws still don’t qualify a spouse or children for health care coverage that employers only extend through marriage. If a loved one is sick and needs to take time off from work, same-sex couples are not eligible for family leave.

Our Supreme Court has agreed to make a ruling regarding marriage sometime in the future.  I am hopeful that this ruling will allow me to officiate at the LEGAL marriage of our gay and lesbian members and friends.   Meanwhile, I am happy to officiate at the marriage of these loving couples and share blessings on their union, whether it is recognized by our state or not!

Standing on the Side of Love!
Jane Altman Page
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Evolution of Love

I LOOOOOOOOOOVE  the theory of Evolution.  Well, I love Greg too --- and all of you; but today I want to focus on my love for Evolution AND the Evolution of Love.

For those of us who have questioning minds about why the world is the way it is, the theory of evolution has become a strong and useful tool!  Indeed, I probably think about it EVERY day as I wonder why something or someone behaves in a certain way.   So several years ago, when I was asked to sign on to the Clergy Letter Project and agree to lift up evolution in our worship services, I did so without reservation.  And we are joining thousands of other houses of worship in lifting up evolution this weekend - the weekend closest to Darwin's birthday on February 12. 

Now - It's easy for us to see the part evolution plays in the makeup of our bodies and how we use them.  But what does it have to say about our SOULS, about our SPIRITUAL CONNECTIONS, and more specifically for this service, about LOVE.

I found several sources that were helpful to me in doing my research on this but the most helpful was a book by Israeli Professor of Human Evolution Ada Lampert called The Evolution of Love.  And it's the primary source that I am drawing from today.

Lampert says that:
Love is one of the most intense, dramatic, powerful experiences known to humans. It is some times perceived as stronger than life itself. Our thirst for love is so intense that it seems as if our entire lives are about what happens to us during the restless pursuit of love. That is why we wish so much to discover the story of its evolution.

Now Lampert has given a lot of study and thought to this, and I have just 15 to 20 minutes for my sermon slot.  But I'll make an effort.  Because Lampert's focusing on EVOLUTION, she's primarily focusing on the love that brings forth offspring and the love that raises offspring.  We normally think of that as the love of mates and the love of parents, but of course that same love can be expanded beyond those partnerships, and indeed we have done that.

In her book, Lampert does discuss evolution in general, but she really gets down to love when she gets to the mammals. Now Lampert has the whole detailed description of how she thinks mammals evolved, which includes the evolution of some sweat gland possibilities, but I don't need to share those specifics for this Love Story.  I will share that the the parental role became more important, of course, since the mother had to feed and nurture her young.  But WHY would Mama give up her independence and hang around to take care of her little offspring when she could be off playing in the WARM SUN.  What evolved that kept her there?   WARM FEELINGS!

Lampert says that:
Evolution selected EMOTIONALITY together with intensive motherhood. The placenta and milk are expensive investments that mothers make for the sake of their kids, but they are worth nothing unless they are part of a caring, devoted, alert mother. To watch the child eat is a joy; to watch it sleep is to dissolve in pleasure. To think of any threat to the little one's well-being gives rise to deep fear; to know that the threat is over brings forth deep relief. This is the new emotional world of concerned, caring, loving mothers. In the same way that evolution selected milk glands, the womb, the birth canal, and so forth, it selected the urge, the concern, the joy and the satisfaction that motivate mothers.

The mammalian mothers were the first in evolution to feel concern about others, and they set the cradle for the evolution of love, the dependence of every individual on proximity, belonging, being cuddled.

Throughout evolution, love, first as touch and then as a rich cluster of loving behaviors, has become a need, and even a prerequisite, for physiological and psychological well-being.

Now Lampert goes on to describe how motherhood was responsible for many other aspects of our evolution, and we don't have time for all of that.  But I did want to share one thing I found interesting that I, for some reason, had not thought about.

If someone hands me a baby, I hold it like this (holding Tiny Tears doll)  - on my left side.  Most mothers are not even aware of this.  But Lampert says that if we lined up 100 mothers, 70 to 80 percent would do the same  - embracing the babies to their hearts.  She says if you give the babies to men, some would swing the baby over their heads and the rest would distribute equally between left and right.

Taking baby to the left seems to be a genetically implanted phenomenon. She shares that it is not due to right-hand dominance because taking infants to the left side came first in evolution. Yes, laterality came later. In fact, left-handed women also hold their infant on their left, as do apes who have no significant preference of arms.

Apparently, cuddling the infant to the left side was selected because it allows the infant's ear to be next to the mother's heartbeat, to make it feel better, and to give it the feeling of returning home (to the womb where the sound of the heartbeat was evident).  THEN the mother's right hand was free to gather the grapes and do lots of other handiwork.  And that work demanded rather logical directions from the brain.  And the area that developed was the left side of the brain which was connected to the right hand.  Sounds logical! 

Speaking of the brain,that's the where the real evolution of LOVE takes place. We may pin up pictures of the HEART on Valentines day and it and other body parts play a part, that's true.  But the BRAIN is the LOVE machine.

So let's take another look at the evolution of the brain and how the effects on LOVE.

The eminent brain researcher, Paul MacLean, spent a lifetime of work on understanding the evolutionary layered human brain amassed from fish to humans. He calls our brain the "Triune Brain" and says it is made of three major strata. 

Reptilian brain controls the instinctual behaviors necessary for basic survival.   Now if we see two lizards mating, we might say,  "Oh look, they are in love."  But for them, it's just SEX.  I know some humans may end up sometimes just making that lizard love too, but we strive for something more.

The 2nd part of the triune brain is the limbic system (also called the mammalian brain) which includes emotions; all stimulated by chemicals.  Yes, our brain IS on drugs but naturally produced.
These allow us to feel, to empathize and to love.  And MOTIVATE us to perhaps volunteer to be a part of our Feeding Statesboro team and serve in other ways.   Lampert shares that this area has been found to be rich in opiate receptors. The brain produces endorphins, morphine like matter, that affects the brain much like opium. Endorphins give a feeling of a "high," inducing a sense of well-being, relaxation, satisfaction, and pleasure when we perform acts such as feeding, protecting, and caring. As a result, we feel joy and satisfaction and a euphoria much as if she were on a "trip."   SO  -no need for drugs; just come volunteer with us!

Now many of the hormones that connect with this system can be stimulated by connecting physically with others - hugs really can heal.  And I used to think of the term MAKING LOVE as a euphemism for a couple having sex.  But in reality, the act itself stimulates a release of chemicals that DO cause that LOVING feeling and can, in fact, help a couple to form a closer bond.  So if you feel that that loving feeling has drifted away from your relationship, I have a solution.

Well, I better move on to something more highly evolved, and that would be the cerebral cortex. 
In the human brain, the new cortex takes up about 80% of total brain volume, and therein lies the human's preeminence, notably, the ability to use words and other languages, the language of computers or music or mathematics; the ability to think logically and to learn rules; the sophisticated ability to measure space and time.  And all of these can and should take LOVE to a higher level.
Now all of these brain systems work together sending messages back and forth. 

But what about Romantic Love? We are honoring Valentine's day as well as Darwin today, so let me speak to that. I've been lumping much of this loving together, but romantic love IS a little different.
I watched one of those wonderful TED talks done by anthropologist Helen Fisher.  And she discusses how much more we are learning about Romantic Love with the advent of the MRI where they can look and see which region lights up when shown a picture of the lover, etc.  And they put two groups of folks through this experiment.

The first group consisted of couples who said they had fallen in love. Fisher and her colleagues found that the region that lit up with these folks were the cells that made and released dopamine which can give you the same rush as cocaine, and Love becomes an obsession.

The second group they put through the MRI had been dumped by their partners.   Three areas lit up:
1st, the same brain regions as in first.  They just loved them harder, and the craving and focus systems become more active.
2nd, the region associated with calculated gains and losses; also region active when you are willing to take enormous risks.
3rd, the region associated with DEEP attachment

Here is what she says she's learned from these experiments.
"Romantic Love is a drive (not like the sex drive which is focused on anyone)--- but focused on one person."
And -- "Romantic Love is an addiction.  It has all the characteristics of addition:  Focus, craving, willingness to take risks, tolerance, withdrawals, relapse."

Yes, "Romantic love is one of the most additive substances on earth."
Do they have 12 step programs for this?

Fisher's research team has also now begun to experiment with folks who have been together for decades and say they still love each other as much as they did when they started out. And what they have found is that these folks are telling the truth.  The same areas light up as the folks who were initially in love.  So how about that?

I'm glad biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others do these experiments to find out about love.  It's interesting and it informs me.  Perhaps it helps me to understand myself and others a little more.  But it does NOT in any way tarnish my worship, yes WORSHIP of LOVE and the power of LOVE.  Just because I know why we see a rainbow in the sunshine after the rain, makes it no less beautiful.

Much of this discussion of the evolution of love has revolved around family.  But we've all expanded our definitions of family and many of us have multiple kinds of family to help meet our needs for love and belonging and nurturing of others. My primary other family is the family of Unitarian Universalism and this congregation.  Indeed, I find that I can be more fully accepted JUST AS I AM in this family and in this place than perhaps even at my Mama's house --- and my Mama loves me with all her heart.  But I think there are some things about me she just doesn't quite get.  So I'm so glad I've got this family -- because you get me.  

When we march in parades carrying our LOVE signs, we tell people we are the LOVE people, the LOVE church.  And we continue to EVOLVE in our Love.

One final note:  Just as that couple I talked about earlier needed to MAKE LOVE a little more for their relationship to improve, I think some of you need to come join us here more often for worship and other activities.  When we sing together, share stories with our children together, learn together, meditate or pray together, share our joys and concerns together, enjoy coffee and refreshments together -- folks we are MAKING LOVE -- Good soulful love together that we can then go out and share with the world.
(Sing) -- And what the world needs now, is Love Sweet Love!
Oh, may it be so!

Building the Beloved Community in Statesboro

Building the Beloved Community in Statesboro, GA

Rev. Jane Page
January 20, 2013

This sermon was preached at a joint worship service at the Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church.  The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro celebrated the Beloved Community with their congregation on MLK Sunday 2013.  Their pastor, Rev. Francys Johnson invited me to share a message on "Building the Beloved Community in Statesboro."

Click HERE for audio.  (Much better "heard" than read.)

Text for sermon:

When I was completing my doctorate in the late 70's, some of my professors were puzzled that my husband and I were returning to Statesboro and Georgia Southern College.  "Don't you want to teach at a University?" they asked.

We replied, "Well,  maybe we'll just go back help others to make Georgia Southern a University."  And, you know - we did!

Similarly, when I was completing my time in seminary, some folks asked, "Are you sure you want to go back to that town in southeast Georgia?  Don't you want to pastor a church in a more progressive community?"  And I thought
 - here we go again, and replied,

"Well --- hopefully I can go back and help others in encouraging Statesboro to be a more progressive community?"  And here we all are together today - trying to do just that!

Besides - I couldn't go anywhere else.  I'm a very Place-Centered person - and Statesboro is my home.

Like some of you, I was born here --- back in 1950.  I'll give you a few moments to do the math.

So -- I grew up with Jim Crow laws.  But of course, I was among those privileged by those laws.  Nevertheless, I noticed.  I've shared with my congregation last week about my experience at the Dairy Queen in line with my dad when I questioned the need for two lines.  He told me the colored people were in one line and got chocolate ice cream and that we were white and got vanilla ice cream in our line.

Of course, I told him I wanted chocolate.  He told me that I was white and I got vanilla and would just have to accept that - because that's the way things were.

And I didn't question him much about the differences after that.  Jim Crow laws were not just about separating folks, though.  I can also recall our old worn out textbooks being boxed up at Mattie Lively - my childhood elementary school.  And I asked the folks doing the boxing what they were going to do with them.  And they said  -- why, they were taking them over to the colored elementary school for those children to use.  Separate but equal was never true in Statesboro, GA - nor anywhere else.  These old Jim Crow laws and practices were designed to oppress and keep folks in their place by denying all kinds of privileges.  Then in the 60's and 70's, with the help of the Civil Rights Movement and the courts - those laws were thrown out - and Jim Crow was no more - at least not officially and legally.

But you know --- change is not that easy for some folks, and we still have lots of prejudices and discrimination here in Statesboro. 

Rev. Johnson asked me to speak on Building a Beloved Community in Statesboro.  And I thought - that building is going to take some hard word based on some of the hateful comments I've heard in this town recently.  And especially if we are thinking about Dr. King's vision of the Beloved Community.  According to the King Center website, Dr. King's vision of a beloved community is one in which "poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because. standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries. And love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred."
That's the ideal --- but is it possible?  I don't know that we can ever be there 100% -- but we can move toward it.  Just because something is going to be hard, doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

So - how are we to do this?  Well --- perhaps we begin right here, with us.

For indeed, if we are honest and open about it, probably everyone sitting here today is has to work through some of the things - that perhaps their head knows isn't a right way to be --- but it gets deeply ingrained in us, and we have to work and pray and gain greater understanding to move toward redemption.   Yes, the isms and the phobias are still present in Statesboro - though hopefully to a lesser degree in this room.    It's hard to KNOW that we are privileged in certain ways when we are swimming in that privilege.  I never thought much about being white when I was growing up ---- I didn't have to.  So our prejudices sometimes don't seem wrong; they may even seem natural - if we are in the group doing the oppressing.

It's only after our awareness is raised, and we try to walk in another's shoes, either through hearing their stories or sharing in their lives, that we begin to understand.  So the more Hispanic people and people from other parts of the world that I get to know - really know - helps to diminish my xenophobia and prejudices.  And the more gay folks that are OUT and that I come to know and love diminishes my homophobia.   The more I get to know people of other faiths or of no particular faith at all -- and work with them to help heal and nurture our world, the more tolerant and accepting I become.  As that little children's song says - "The more we get together, the happier we'll be."

And that is exactly what our two congregations are doing.  Here we are - Unitarian Universalists - people with many varying beliefs, theologies, and world views - worshiping today with the Baptists.  And perhaps more importantly working with you to help our community.  Our members and your members came together this past Tuesday and served a good meal to over 120 folks at the Luetta Moore Park, and had a good time doing so ---- AND getting to know those folks we served.  We also are trying to tackle problems like mass incarceration together with our study group focusing on Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow.  And together we can work with other groups focusing on other matters of importance to our community.  Yes, we have our differences --- and you know, we celebrate our diversity.  But we come together in LOVE.  We are all children of the same family - and together, and with the help of others, we can build that beloved community here in Statesboro.
The late Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley wrote a piece that is in the back of our Unitarian Universalist hymnal which is a favorite of mine.  She was one of our wonderful African American Unitarian Universalist ministers who had a way of bringing different folks together.  This piece was written as a responsive reading --- and the congregational response - your response is "It will not matter."  Say that with me.  "It will not matter."

Here are her words:
If, recognizing the interdependence of all life, we strive to build community, the strength we gather will be our salvation.

If you are black and I am white,
 it will not matter.
If you are female and I am male,
it will not matter.
If you are older and I am younger,
 it will not matter.
If you are progressive and I am conservative,
 it will not matter.
If you are straight and I am gay,
it will not matter.
If you are Christian and I am Jewish,
it will not matter.
For-- If we join spirits as brothers and sisters, the pain of our aloneness will be lessened, and that does matter.
In this spirit, we build community and move toward restoration.

And in the spirit that is here in this room, perhaps we can build the beloved community in Statesboro.

Oh, may it be so!