“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…” -Wilferd Peterson
As Catholics, and for many people of faith, we honor the communion of Saints, our transcestors, our ancestors, nuestra familia…all those who came before us whose legacies we continue to build on and expand on. With this as a sparking off point, I have been reflecting a lot on who are the individuals who inspire me … inspire you … inspire us?
Who is in this misfit posse of quirky folks who officially and/or unofficially are saints? I invite you and myself to reflect on those individuals who are sources that inspire us to love, not the tokenized fluffy hallmark card sentiment, but an embodied and lived action whose ripples can transform society in real and just ways.
President Obama wrote a children’s book dedicated to his daughters titled “Of thee I sing.” In it he gives tribute to individuals such as Georgia O’Keefe, Cesar Chavez, and Albert Einstein…individuals whose lives helped shape the United States. In honoring the variety of peoples in our country, the president writes: “Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind…People of all races religions and beliefs…people from the coastlines and the mountains…people who have made bright lights shine by sharing their unique gifts and giving us the courage to lift one another up, to keep up the fight, to work and build upon all that is good in our nation.”
Who are our heroes and sheroes and theyroes and insert-gender-inclusive-term-roes? There are the biggies such as Jesus, Malcolm X, the Buddha, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Bishop Gene Robinson, Dolores Huerta, Nelson Mandela, Hildegard of Bingen, Alice Walker, Harvey Milk, Pauli Murray, Bishop Oscar Romero, Gloria Anzaldua, and Beyonce. However who are the people who don’t have streets, buildings, or plazas named after them? Who are the unsung walking testaments of courageous and just love?
It is people like my mother, who would kill me if I did not mention her… When I came out to her about 18 years ago she disowned me, as my being queer was not compatible with our Cuban heritage and Roman Catholicism. Today, after many, many difficult conversations, arguments, and much patience she has become a proud PFLAG mom who is working to start groups for Hispanic and Latinx families who have LGBT children. The woman who sent me to reparative therapy and who thought my partner was the devil and evil incarnate, now lifts up signs with “I love my gay son” (and in very fine print, his partner). My mother has a hard time with my trans identity but I honor her journey of evolving affirmation; also the dynamics of the relationship between mother and son-in-law are for a whole other series of blog posts. My mother immigrated to this country when she was 20 years old. She placed herself through graduate school twice while working full time and raising 4 kids as a single parent… she is learning to live with depression and the impact of trauma, not just as a survivor but as someone who is thriving by not letting her past define her now. She has experienced confusing liberation after breaking free of the coercive rigidity of fundamentalist Catholic teachings that gave shame instead of wholeness. She is grounding her faith as a Catholic on her terms with inspirations from Buddhism, the practice of Reiki, and now studying the Kabbalah. Her sarcasm, her accent, her kicks in my butt, her stubborn “I don’t need anyone to help me mentality.” her nagging and new found passion for emojis… all of this and more are sources of revolutionary chutzpah and of sacred sass, to do what we can to help others in whatever ways needed and requested.
Who are the folks who inspire you to love courageously from the pews to the public and from the public to the pews? Who are the imperfectly holy people who teach us, motivate us, guide us, and help foster the spark to side with love?
I want to leave you all with two challenges.
In an interview with Katie Couric, Laverne Cox reflected “I would never be so arrogant to think that someone should model their life after me. But the idea of possibility…the idea that I get to live my dreams out in public, hopefully will show to other folks that it’s possible. So I prefer the term ‘possibility model’ to ‘role model.’” We each have had many possibility models of folks throughout our lives. My challenge to you to reflect on how you are a possibility for and with others. What are you inspiring and possibiliti-cating in others?
Second, reactive love is not enough… reactionary love can be the start of a movement and revolution that creates counter narratives that resist dominant discourses that oppress. But to make our love whole and inclusive, our witness must also be a proactive reverence for life. A wholistic, courageous, and just love seeks to create programs, policies, and practices that keep all children safe in school–not only after the tragedy of suicide. It is adopting practices that care for the earth now such as recycling, reducing our consumption of materials and resources–not only when we run out of livable space. It is creating spaces for conversation around our bodies that engages comprehensive approaches to sexuality, gender, identity, and expression across all ages, creating safer and braver spaces for people to ask questions and to learn to love their bodies as beautiful and sacred–not only when there are reports of scandal or abuse. It is joining the fight to create sanctuaries for displaced communities and individuals fleeing violence in our country as well as acknowledging AND addressing the issues the US has caused (intentionally and unintentionally) in other countries—not just after we see a picture of the bodies of father and daughter in the Rio Grande.
These are the challenges I give you and that I give myself…a calling to love courageously and justly from the pews to the public and from the public to the pews is one that is both proactive and reactive…an organic, evolving, mindful ethic of welcome and embrace that builds a colorful beloved community.