Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Leverage the Voice of Love"


Nocturnal walks have always been helpful to me. Walking out in the rain tonight, just now, a phrase came to me, I have no idea from where, but it is something that quivers with possibility: "Leverage the voice of love."

What does this mean? What is the "voice of love," and how is it to be leveraged?

The need for the voice of love today is greater than ever. On this 9th anniversary of 9/11, we seem to be threatened from so many corners: terrorism, extremism, racism, homophobia, sexism, overpopulation, environmental disaster, natural disaster, and the list goes on.

And I hear: "Leverage the voice of love."

What a concept! The voice of love, which seems to have been drowned out by voices of fear and hate, needs help. It needs each of us who hear it to say that we're hearing it, and that it must be brought out from its closet of fear, from underneath its bushel, and placed where it will shine as a beacon in the night to all who live in despair.

"Leverage the voice of love." Don't let it go out. Don't let it get so quiet that it is no longer heard. Don't assume that it will speak for itself. Don't assume that it is not your voice, or that someone else will say what is in your heart to say.

The cadence catches my ear--the assonance, the meter, the symmetry. "Leverage the voice of love."

This is a call to act--and the action is one which does not take so much work or thought. It does not take a genius to be loving, or a master of divinity to realize that it is within our souls to speak at such a time that needs to hear the voice of love, reason, and grace. It only takes one to speak up and say, "I love."


In particular today I am thinking about the need for this voice leveraged strongly in the Anoka/Hennepin school district area, where the suicides of 7 students, some of whom were gay or perceived to be gay or lesbian, have bereft dear people of their loved ones, much like several thousand were bereft on a 9/11 many years ago.

Tonight, I was fortunate, indeed blessed, to share the table of Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, and their sons who remain, as they and I were interviewed on the death of their son, Justin, to suicide, and to some extent the relation of his death to the Anoka/Hennepin policy of "neutrality" on matters of sexual orientation within the curriculum of the District. I brought the voice of a concerned outsider to their lives and the district, but they shared what was rending their hearts at the most personal loss anyone can experience--the loss of a child.

Their hospitality to me and the interviewer was as moving to me as their story. I, a stranger in their home, was treated as a welcomed guest. It is hospitality that was given to us freely and gracefully and lovingly as the hospitality that Jesus offers to his own.

I did not know Justin, but I would have walked through fire for him, to stop those who were tormenting him. Never underestimate the voice of love within you, and know that there are those out there who would walk through fire for you, whom you do not even know. Never forget that your voice might be the one to save a life.

The story of Justin's loss will soon be known more widely within the gay community through this interview, and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul community through a report that will be broadcast on WCCO news in the Minneapolis metropolitan area this coming Monday night (9/13/10) at 10pm. More will rise up who would walk through fire for Justin, for Tammy, Shawn, and their remaining dear sons, for every student of Anoka/Hennepin who still lives in fear and abuse and for whom despair is a daily diet, for each person who hears that God hates "their sin," which is indeed a message in the case of many that God hates them. You, dear reader, may be one to rise up.

"Leverage the voice of love."

The voice of love, that which has touched my heart through so many voices in my life, starting with my own parents and sister, through so many family, friends, teachers, mentors, ministers, and even through people I have hardly known, this is the voice that we must raise to the highest rafters of torture and pain, the voice that cuts despair, the voice that destroys terrorism by transcending it, because the power of love is stronger than the power of hate.


The voice of love too is the voice that God speaks when God says, "This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased." This is the voice that God speaks to each of us, in our desolation and torment, the voice that God was quietly yet persistently speaking as Jesus, God's own son, was dying on the cross, lost, isolated, forgotten, and ashamed, in his own crucifixion.

"Leverage the voice of love."

This is the voice that my cinematic hero, Father Barry in "On the Waterfront," raised from the depths of a death ship in which one was killed for the cause of justice. Father Barry said of that death: "That is a crucifixion."

Anytime a policy takes precedence over peoples' lives, that is a crucifixion. Anytime people put their ideas over the lives of others, whether those ideas are religious or political, whether those voices are Christian, Muslim, Liberal, or Conservative, that is a crucifixion. Lives will always be more important than ideas or policies, which should only serve to protect lives and not help to end them, although sometimes lives must be lost to defend the ideas and principles of freedom that our country was founded on, that all were created equal, all.

By the account of his parents and those who knew him, Justin's was a voice of music, laughter, and love for his friends, his parents, his brothers, and many others. A voice any one of us would have been privileged to hear. A voice that none of us will hear again spoken alive in this life.

But as the voices of those who could have spoken for him in the place of his torment, in his school, were silenced, so was his. For the neutrality on sexual orientation with respect to curriculum that staff are required to follow extends far beyond what the staff may or may not say or do with respect to curriculum, and, I think, far beyond what the School Board may realize as its intended reach. The consequences of this policy impact the lives of its students.


I appreciate that the Anoka/Hennepin district has begun to take concrete measures to stop the violence against its LGBTQ students. It is to be commended on beginning to take these steps. My last blog entry elicited the response from the district that I was acting on misinformation, which could be true to some degree, but I am not mistaken about the effects of their policy, one which existed over a year ago when two teachers were called out on their torment of one of their students, based on their student's perceived (and not actual) sexual orientation.

The district paid out $25,000 a full year ago to this student because of their torment of him, but did not admit that there was a problem beyond this supposedly isolated case, and one of those teachers in fact sought compensation for being "outed" as a tormentor. My hope is that her outing did not subject her to the same treatment that she visited upon her own student.

By treating this harassment as an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem, caused in great part by the neutrality policy, the District enabled the harassment of others to continue, which it does to this day.

The real kicker with this policy is the sentence: "Staff are encouraged to take into consideration individual student needs and refer students to the appropriate social worker or licensed school counselor."

Although this sounds wise and professional, unfortunately conversations with social workers and counselors are subject to a higher degree of confidentiality, unless these conversations approach topics of harm to self or others, while conversations with teachers are at a lower degree of confidentiality. Teachers could inform parents of warning signs and bad experiences far ahead of the time that social workers and counselors could. This was the case with Justin, and may have been the case with many others.

As long as the policy of neutrality exists, no step the district might take will be able to topple the wall of abuse that meets many in the course of their daily lives. No action will be sufficient to allow people who are experiencing despair to reach out in trust to their teachers and speak the words that they must speak to stop the violence from happening to them.

For, let's be honest, what really is a policy that enjoins its staff to be neutral on matters of sexual orientation actually saying?

It is not telling staff or students that they cannot mention matters of heterosexual sexual orientation. Because if that were the case, they could not talk about anyone, gay or straight. Sexual orientation is a deep part of everyone, no matter the particularity of their sexual orientation.

Neutrality on "sexual orientation" is a polite euphemism for not saying anything about homosexuality.

Imagine if teachers could not mention their opposite-sex spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends in class. Imagine if they could not display a picture or wear a ring on a prominent finger. Imagine if their sexual orientation were considered by parents as a disease that their kids could catch.

This is the real meaning of "neutrality"--silence on homosexuality. And, as was said in the 80s when thousands were dying from AIDS and the government was doing far less to stop it than Anoka/Hennepin is doing to combat bullying, silence = death.


"Leverage the voice of love." The phrase continues to sing in my mind's ear. Who are the voices of love in your life? What do they have to say at this time of crisis, which for many is a crisis of faith as well--faith in others, in God, and in a system that proclaims itself a protector of each of its students? How can we work together to bring these voices together, to leverage their love and the power they have to transcend hate?

We've all got work to do in getting these voices of love together, of focusing them at a problem that will not go away by mere dint of thought. At the very least, we can raise our voice, to let one other person know about what is going on in the Anoka/Hennepin school district, or in the district closer to you, to raise the voice of love that says "I do not hate you, my brother/sister," or to say "I will not burn your sacred book," or to say "I will walk through fire for you."

As another of my heroes of faith said, "Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn." Father James Otis Sargent Huntington's voice of love speaks clearly some 75 years after his death. And he is right: Love must act.

Leverage the voice of love--of your love, and of the love of all whom you know. Bring these voices together into one powerful tool of healing, that will not let terrorism, whether it be from without or within, have the final say.

For this is the time when the voices of love must come together and act.

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