Writing for the Revolutionary Love Project with one of my heroes, Valarie Kaur, and her team of Revolutionary Love Fellows these past three weeks has been nothing short of exhilarating. Every night I find myself writing an op-ed, article, or blog post that speaks what my heart is feeling: that love needs to go further at this moment in our world. I have been reading stories of love overcoming fear and pain and hate. The stories I am privileged to read from other “love” enthusiasts like me always demonstrate a difficult decision they face and ultimately the choice to act rather than stay silent.
I have learned through these stories and reflecting on my past that “loving our neighbor” must mean more than loving only those who agree with us. In fact, as a practicing Zen Buddhist, I believe that that revolutionary love is about demonstrating compassion for those with whom we completely disagree, those whom we believe cause harm to ourselves and our world.
A few years ago, I was on a bus to Columbia, Missouri, to visit a friend working at the University of Missouri. Since my bus wasn’t direct, I connected in St. Louis. My first bus was almost two hours late arriving and in order to make the connection, I sprinted what felt like miles through the terminal, throwing myself on the steps in the bus just as the doors closed. “Whew,” I gasped for breath. “Made it.” I took the only seat open next to a young man wearing an old baseball cap and tattered jeans. “Ma’am, would you like the window seat?” My partner stood up to move before I could even refuse. I slid across the faux leather seats and thanked him. “On my way, see you in two hours!” I texted my friend.
The first half an hour or so, neither of us spoke. I tried reading John Rawls’ Political Liberalism, but my stomach began to feel queasy. Luckily, my polite seat partner began a conversation at that moment, asking me what I do. He explained he was on his way to Denver to become a truck driver. He had been traveling for over 30 hours by bus already. “I’m studying religion,” I started to explain, when he interrupted excitedly:
“Well thank GOD for that! Finally, I meet someone who is spreading the word of Jesus and being a good Christian. I’ll tell you, all these Muslims and gay folks contaminating our country, it is sure a relief to meet you.”
My heart sank to my feet. No words. I looked down at my lap, and stared at my backpack for a moment- the very backpack that held my UChicago Spiritual Life Council folder decorated with pictures of my friend Sunil (a Hindu-Buddhist classmate), my mentor (a lesbian Quaker woman), and my partner (an atheist international student). This man, a perfectly polite individual, had just shattered my hope in humanity for the moment. I was faced with a choice- I could say nothing, or I could tell the truth. If I said nothing, I could let him assume that I was a Christian, that I believe Muslims and gays sully our society, and I could guarantee we would have a seemingly pleasant conversation.
Or, I could tell him the truth. I could tell this man that I don’t believe in God, at least not the one he does. I could tell him that one of my best friends (who happens to have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do) is a Syrian-American Muslim. I could tell him that my family includes a two gay uncles who adopted a son years ago. I could tell him that I vehemently disagree with his assertion that Muslims and “gays” are detrimental to our society, and that in fact, I believe they are essential.
I took a deep breath and explained that my master’s program was an interfaith one, that my classmates included Christians from several denominations, an agnostic playwright, a Lesbian seeking ordination, and that I don’t actually spread the word of Jesus as my messiah- though I do love his message and works. My explanation wasn’t smooth, or confident, or perhaps even completely comprehensible- I fumbled with my words and used “like” and “um” far too much. Silence followed. The man grumbled something about the next 1.5 hours of his life being wasted. I closed my eyes pretended to sleep. After an eternity, I arrived in Columbia and never saw this man again.
Yet, I did see this man again. I see him every day. I see Islamophobia right before my eyes when people stare at women wearing hijab on the train and grimace. I see homophobia and transphobia and plain ignorance when perfectly well-meaning adolescents use the words “gay” and “fag” as insults, or when people in my community mis-gender my trans colleagues and friends. I see the oppression my own mind, body, and existence are implicit in, and know that more often I don’t see it and no one calls me out because that’s what privilege is. The man on the bus is everywhere, and this is why I am a Revolutionary Love Fellow. The reason I chose to tell him the truth is love. Love for my friends and my family, and also love for the human being who invoked such harm. Revolutionary Love is not perfect, it is a process. It’s about compassion, for ourselves and for others.
My call to action is to share your story with me. Every time I read a story of someone choosing love and taking action, I am deeply inspired and motivated to continue the hard work and long hours. I want to know what Revolutionary Love means to you. What difficult path did you choose in order to put love in the world, and what has come of that decision? You can comment, email me, find me on social media. I won’t share your story unless you give me permission. Please consider sharing- your story matters to me and to the world.
For more info on the Revolutionary Love Project, visit http://revolutionarylove.net/ and look at the three calls to action. A little time can go a very long way. Thanks for your support and love.