Mustard Seeds of Revolutionary Love

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The experience of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in theirs field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ Jesus told them another parable: ‘The experience of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

“The future is dark. But what if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb?”
–Valarie Kaur

Those words from Valarie Kaur are echoed in her new book: See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. I have certainly been enjoying this book and I think it is timely. Keep in mind that Valarie’s book and this movement is not about feelings, not about the status quo, not about ignoring the evils and suffering in the world. In fact, the Revolutionary Love movement faces up to pain, encourages grief and anger, and even includes the love of opponents alongside the love of self.

In short, this movement is not sanitized, nice, or easy. It is a raw, annoying, difficult movement.

So what is revolutionary love?

According to Valarie: It’s about reclaiming love “as a public ethic. Love has been captured by greeting cards and pop songs as personal and romantic — too fickle and sentimental to be a revolutionary force. But the greatest social reformers in history grounded entire movements in the ethic of love. When we reclaim love through a feminist lens, then love is a form of sweet labor — fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving. That means love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. Revolutionary Love is the choice to labor for others, our opponents, and ourselves.”

I told you it wouldn’t be easy.

And why is this timely? Because we are now living in an era of incredible rage and resentment and heaviness—around the world, and certainly in the U.S. There are government policies and hateful rhetoric that threaten and in some cases attack those who are most vulnerable. This has been the case historically [sadly] but now it’s really in our faces. Resistance to these harmful and hateful policies and rhetoric is not enough. If you’re like me, it’s exhausting. I’ve been involved in social justice work for as long as I can remember. I get tired, I get burned out, I lose momentum—especially when I start to wonder if I’m really doing any good or if I’m just part of the same systems that I’m seeking to dismantle.

So the call to Revolutionary Love is beyond resistance. It is an intervention, not in order to simply tweak the awful systems in place—but to birth a new future. It’s a focus on love of self, love of neighbor, and love of opponents. It’s loving when it’s hard, it’s committing oneself to that love. It’s acting it out and not just saying it. It’s having difficult conversations and engaging in long-term work for systemic change. There are no easy fixes. There are not small changes to be made. It’s a dismantling of and a leaving behind of the systems that make us sick, hateful, heavy, and depressed. It’s a new foundation, a new growth, and it all starts…

With a Seed.

That’s right—any movement that actually creates change always starts with a tiny little seed. I’m sure you’ve seen this in your own life. Any significant change you made that was positive started with a tiny little decision, a small little step. And as you kept on making little decisions and as you continued with your small steps, the seed was planted; germinated; watered; given sun; the seed started to grow.

But maybe right now in this time of a pandemic, and the cries against racial injustice, and the ever-increasing poverty in our cities, and the violence against the most marginalized like trans people of color, oh, and the looming election—maybe you don’t think that you are capable of planting this seed of revolutionary love. Perhaps you see anything that says “love” as an impossibility or an inadequate sentiment. I get it. I also feel that way sometimes. But remember, this is not a feeling movement. This is a movement that embraces your and my anger, our grieving, and our uncertainty. This is a human movement that is necessary, honest, and unprecedented. We cannot fall back into our old habits. This is a movement beyond our religious traditions. A seed of Revolutionary Love is a mustard seed.

It’s obtrusive. It interrupts our lives. It infiltrates. It is spicy. It is annoyingly hardy. It grows wild and free—it cannot be contained. It is a mustard seed of revolutionary love.

Friends, we won’t plant and nurture such seeds, though, as Valarie says, if we don’t have Wonder anymore. You know, Wonder? That thing we used to do when we were kids and everything was amazing and cool and awe-inspiring? The Wonder of nature when we hear birds sing and wonder what they are saying. The Wonder of seeing the Philly groundhog eating pizza and taunting a dog. The Wonder of rain and wind and water. The Wonder of our own human being, and the Wonder of other human beings. It’s a sacred curiosity, built into our bodies, minds, and spirits. It’s Wonder, and we cannot neglect it or scoff at it.

Because if we don’t Wonder, then violence and suffering ensue. If we don’t wonder about others, for example—wonder about someone’s story or life experience, then we stop seeing them as like us and they appear less human. Every time we intentionally harm another living person we have shut off our ability to wonder, and our ability to love. Wonder and Revolutionary Love go together.

This is echoed across spiritual traditions and cultures. The Mayans of Mesoamerica had In La’Kech, You are my other me. In parts of Africa, Ubuntu: I am because you are. Abraham of ancient Israelite tradition: Open our tent to all. Buddha: Practice unending compassion. Muhammad: Mirabai take in the orphan, love without limit. Guru Nanak: see no stranger. Jesus of Nazareth: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Open yourself up to the universal reality of this: we are all human beings made of the same stuff. We all share a common ancestry on this planet. We breathe the same, we have elements, minerals, and compounds within our physical bodies. It is a biological, scientific, and cosmic fact that we are each other. And this is a wonder, is it not? Because society tells us something different—that we are separate, that we should fear each other; that we are all strangers. But we don’t have to be.

Seed it, friends. Water it. Give light to it. Grow it, curate it, care for it. That Seed in you is there, it’s possible, it’s tangible. And it’s gardening season.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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