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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Love: Not Just a Good Idea - It's the Law!
Article ID: 10540
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,813
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Posted: March 19th. 2006
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For the Vespers service, 2/15/06
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta
Matthew 5:43-48: ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
From The Book of the Law (Aleister Crowley): ‘Come forth, o children, under the stars, and take your fill of love! For I am divided for love's sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all. There is no bond that can unite the divided but love: all else is a curse. All words are sacred and all prophets true; save only that they understand a little. Love is the law, love under will.’
Yes, folks – it’s the Lupercalia today – time to celebrate! Oh, that’s right…most of you celebrated it yesterday with valentines, candy, flowers, and all that other stuff. But like virtually all of the holidays that most people think of as being Christian in origin, the early church fathers pulled the ol’ switcheroonie on you. They devised St. Valentine’s Day to replace the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia. But what made Valentine's Day as we know it now truly popular only a couple hundred years ago was when the boring Christian religious content of the holiday (which was celebrated by drawing the name of the saint whose life you were supposed to study over the next year – and no, I’m not making that up!) was replaced with some of the old practices of the holiday – pledging sweethearts and so forth.
Of course, the ancient Romans really did it up right. According to ancient texts, the holiday was celebrated by naked priests first sacrificing a dog and two goats and then skinning the freshly-slain goats, this all being carried out in the cave on the Palatine hill where Romulus and Remus were supposedly suckled by a she-wolf (a note to you non-Latin scholars – lupus is Latin for wolf, so Lupercalia roughly translates as “wolf-festival”). The actual ritual was so ancient that even the Roman authors of late Republican times weren’t sure of the significance of the holiday or the meaning of all the elements of the ritual beyond that it was some kind of fertility ritual, and had some sort of tie to shepherds – but the Romans kept right on celebrating it anyway. I’m glad we modern Americans aren’t like that…
Anyway, the fun continued as the priests sliced up the goat skins. Some of the relatively larger pieces of the skins were wrapped loosely around the priests’ loins, and the rest were cut into strips called februar that were bound together to make flails. That’s where our word for this month comes from – that’s right, folks, when you get out your checkbook and write “February,” you’re actually writing, “month of the bloody strips of goat hide”. Now, aren’t you glad I shared that with you?
To continue…the still nearly-naked and now blood-smeared priests then raced through the crowded streets of Rome, striking anyone in reach with their raw goatskin flails. And people rushed forward to be flagellated, as it was thought to bring good fortune for the coming year – especially for barren women, who were supposedly made fertile by being so struck, and the bloodier the blow, the better. I expect to see this as a new reality show on Fox any day now.
Oh, and the part we picked up for our modern Valentine’s Day – afterwards, children drew names to determine their sweethearts for the coming year. Early records show it to be just about what we do today – totally innocent and even including very young children in the name-drawing, with maybe a few stolen kisses by the teenagers afterwards (like they needed an excuse!). In later times, the names drawn supposedly directed who your sexual partner for the year was – but then again, the only records surviving from that particular era were those of Christian writers explaining why that bad, nasty, immoral Pagan holiday had to be replaced, so who knows if that’s really true or not?
What any and all variations of this drawing of names had to do with the rest of the festival, no one is sure – but then, I have no idea why one of my neighbors has Santa Claus, Rudolph, garden gnomes on steroids, a giant red and white striped stick rising up out of a pile of fake snow, penguins, a polar bear holding up a bottle of Coca-Cola, palm trees, wise men, shepherds, camels, sheep, Lil’ Baby Jesus in a crèche, Big Bleeding Jesus on a crucifix, a Star of David, and a menorah all piled together and covered with blinking lights in his front yard while a scratchy recording of Bing Crosby rhapsodizing over roasting chestnuts and Jack Frost plays on endless loop over distorting loudspeakers every year, either.
Well, now we know – in the name of romantic love, we’re celebrating an ancient Roman fertility festival with the Pagan god Cupid somehow playing a major role in a holiday named for a Christian saint, the red color of blood all over the place, and stylized body parts that more nearly resemble another portion of the anatomy than the heart prominently displayed. And I’m not even getting into how Valentine’s Day has been taken over by obscenely rampant consumerism. Ahhhh…where’s a goat when you need one?
But to have a holiday celebrating love, whatever its origins – that’s not such a bad idea. John Lennon to the contrary, love may not be all we need, but it’s awfully important. And we don’t need to love just our sweethearts. Let me explain…
I have been dealing with a really bad situation with my former employer recently. I won’t go into all the details, but it was bad enough that a member of their board resigned over how I was treated and there’s now a lawsuit filed with the EEOC. It’s not just that I was one of several people in less than two years to be terminated after making a complaint about treatment or, as in my case, a request for an accommodation of an existing disability – it’s that I worked for a not-for-profit agency supposedly advocating for the disabled. I’ve never sued anyone in my life, but I feel I can now best advocate for the disabled by making my former employer responsible for their actions. As the old Latin saying goes, “Who will guard the guardians?” (Juvenal of me, I know).
However, not only was the actual loss of my job upsetting, as it would be to anybody, but how the whole situation was handled by them was pretty traumatic for me, including the lying, hypocritical CYA by people I had once respected, and even considered friends. I went through the all the classic stages of grief – denial, bargaining, anger, and so forth. I got to where I alternated between being terrified for my future job prospects since I wasn’t going to be getting a reference from there anytime soon, to furiously angry over how I had been treated, and totally depressed over how my belief in the goodness of people spouting high-minded liberal ideals had been crushed (getting a real lesson in the Unitarian Universalist concept of “deeds, not words” there).
I got to where I was barely functional in many ways, and was pretty damned miserable to boot. The worst part was late at night, when I’d be unable to sleep and would then obsess over what had happened to me in self-righteous fury. Well, I truly HAD been treated extremely shabbily, they WERE wrong all the way around, I WAS an injured near-innocent, and why SHOULDN’T I be hurt and angry? (Well, that’s what I was thinking!)
But all that didn’t make it feel any better for me, and I’m sure all of my late-night agonizing really showed them something, don’t you think? As a friend of mine says, holding onto resentment is like you drinking poison and waiting for them to die.
I finally got my answer when I went to a 12-step recovery meeting with some friends to get a perspective on things. A woman there brought up something that I’d heard often enough in those rooms – that if someone had injured you and you were having trouble getting over it, the best thing to do was to pray for that person every day for two weeks. So I did.
And surprisingly enough, it worked. I saw that I had had a role in it – primarily, that I had seen other people treated badly there and other moral corners being cut, but I had neither said anything about it beyond some furtive words shared with co-workers, nor looked for another job - as long as it wasn’t my ox being gored.
So I had no business being hurt that none of my former co-workers were sticking up for me. I had been just as guilty. And though it took longer, I eventually began to understand that the person who had treated me so badly had ultimately been operating out of fear. They had not deliberately set out to hurt me – they had acted out of panic under pressure and one bad decision had led to another. So if I could just learn from the whole experience and then put it behind me, I would be better off in the long run.
I have not yet reached that level of healing where I can say that I love that particular person most of the time. However, I am still making the effort. I can’t like them, and don’t intend to try. That’s not the issue. I don’t need to like her – but I must love her.
That revolutionary 1st-Century Jewish rabbi and rabble-rouser Joshua ben Joseph was absolutely right-on with one of the central messages of his ministry – that we must love our enemies. If not for their sake, for ours, so we can get beyond the hurt, heal, and move on. I have found for myself that, if necessary, I need to will myself to love, most especially when it is difficult to do so. Because sometimes to find love in any of its many forms requires the application of will.
In the spirit of the holiday I pray that love, light, and laughter may come to you all. Good night, and go in peace.
Lay Minister for Pastoral Care
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta
The blessing of truth be upon us
The power of love direct us and sustain us
And may the peace of this community preserve our going out and our coming in
From this time forth, until we meet again
Location: Stone Mountain, Georgia
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