It’s time to start acting up, acting out to create the change we need
We live in a troubled, deeply divided country — a fact that is frightening when you stop to think about it. Like many others, I find this current presidential election perturbing and dissonant. Sometimes the only resolution for me is to turn everything off, to retreat into writing or reading or something until the cacophony is stilled.
I pray for our country, for our world, our planet every day. I hope you do, too. Because based on my observations, I am convinced our lives, our American society, are systemically flawed — flawed to such magnitude that only authentic, radical change can facilitate healing and reconciling transformation within all creation. And once I reached this conclusion, an epiphany found its way into my view: Only! Authentic! Radical! Change!
This led me to a study of the many definitions that exist for the word “radical.” Among all of them, there is one that suits me on every level and that describes most eloquently what I’ve always experienced as a challenge from the Universe, God, Higher Power, Allah, Brahma, Greater Good — whatever or whomever you cherish as the focus of your faith — to live freely and generously, with radical vision, unconditional love, radical acceptance and open-arms hospitality. There’s one definition that allows us to merge as revolutionary healers and reformers.
That definition? “Radical: relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something.”
When I was a young gay woman, I became part of a radical movement called The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. Our goal — and we were passionate, arduous and determined about it — was to, affect the fundamental nature of something, specifically the way church, state and society oppressed/still oppress GLBTQ people.
I was newly sober, had just renewed my friendship with Jesus, and had just discovered activism, freedom and splendor of being queer. I was welcomed into this huge community of queers who loved God and had been liberated from their fear and shame of being queer people, refusing any longer to live in shadows denying the wonder and wonder of our beings.
The Rev. Elder Troy D. Perry helped us trust, believe and finally accept that God actually created us to be the queer people we are. Far from being the abomination we had been told we were, we knew we are loved because of who we are. I can say, with humility and astonishment, that with God’s help the work we did in those days, alongside other allied communities and organizations, brought us to where we are today.
Today, queer people are free to marry, claim each other on IRS returns, serve openly in the military and more. When I go to see a doctor and DebiSu comes into the exam room with me, I can say, “This is my wife, DebiSu.”
I can’t begin to describe the joy this gives me.
Still, the struggle continues. Racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and so many other barriers continue to separate us. We are seeing their stubborn durability, as they influence profoundly the behavior of some of the candidates battling it out for our country’s highest office. And it is profoundly disturbing.
Something queer religious activists understood nearly five decades ago is that peaceful yet loud, demanding action partnered with “in your face” street demonstrations can work again a system that was and still is diseased. It is a system continuing to function in oppressive, denigrating ways toward queer folk, people of color, women, old people, children and other others.
Our radicalistic vision at the time, again coupled with humility, empowered healing and liberation across our nation and beyond. I love radical movements. Without them we would grow stagnant and die a painful, ugly death. Had queer folks, and our allies, not been Acting Up and Out nothing would have changed in our laws or society to improve the lives of literally millions of queer Americans.
Obviously, we weren’t the first ones to resist injustice or oppression in America. People of color, women, working class folks others on the margins of society had worked for change before. There have always been radicals among us who believed change could not occur unless they acted in ways which would affect the fundamental nature of whatever they envisioned as broken or detrimental to humanity and the society of their era, consistently pushing past the parameters of the status quo, no matter the consequences.
History shows us that those desiring to transform society typically have had two or more opposing ideologies driving them. Hitler, for example, took radical beyond radical. He was consumed by a maniacal desire to change the fundamental nature of Germany, of human beings and the world, through his dream of an Aryan race.
Thankfully, Germany today is a parliamentary democracy demonstrating the power of a nation, in partnership with its people, to heal, overcome the past, having chosen a path radically different than the one Hitler trod.
There has been more than one Hitler. Indeed, a few of his contemporaries, though not all aligned with him, were brutal dictators responsible for the torture, massacre and displacement of millions of people, including Joseph Stalin in Russia, Benito Mussolini in Italy and Emperor Hirohito in Japan. In the 20th and 21st centuries alone there have been dozens of them: Pol Pot in Cambodia’s killing fields; Kim Jung-II in North Korea where no one actually knows how many millions of people have died; Saddam Hussein in Iraq; Bashar al-Assad in Syria; Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
I could go on and on. But the point is, the radical violence perpetrated by people like this throughout history seems unrelenting, impervious to resistance or love.
And America has had its share of killing fields — slavery of African people, genocide of native peoples. So shame on us if we dare believe we are somehow unique among peoples and nations. What continues to be a disturbing conundrum is why we keep on fighting, killing, conquering, forcing, oppressing, controlling. Surely the brokenness, sorrow and tragedies of war should have convinced us by now to focus due diligence and all our resources on negotiating, listening, breaking bread, developing equitable relationships with those whom we disagree and/or are different than us.
Jesus wanted to affect the fundamental nature of human beings and our societies. He pushed the boundaries of radical, modeling something profoundly new. And both government and religious authorities persisted in trying to jail or kill him because his teachings were so radically different from the status quo.
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a Christian these days. But I am still a dedicated follower of Jesus. It doesn’t really matter what version of his story you read — and I have ready them all — Jesus advocates some radical stuff. Even today it’s radical, because the world Jesus envisioned and called people into has yet to be fully realized.
Jesus, and others before him and since him, have in their own ways all proclaimed a simple, though admittedly difficult, directive: Love each other.
Love as you desire to be loved. Share your resources with others. Let no one be hungry, homeless, afraid or isolated without community. Be mindful of those who are ill, whether in mind, body or spirit. Be loyal and faithful. Welcome strangers while visiting poor souls in jails and prisons. Love your enemies. Should one strike you on the face, turn your other cheek to them as well. Be trustworthy.
This is radical stuff. It was when Jesus began teaching it, and it’s even more radical in the first quarter of the 21st century.
Had the Christian church lived into its call and embodied Jesus in the world, our planet would look astonishingly different than it does today. Jesus demonstrated with his life and death that absolutely all that matters is love.
I’m talking agape love here — love that is whole, that desires nothing in return for the gifts it brings. This is how the Bible defines agape love: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (From I Corinthians, Chapter 13).
Americans are being bombarded by radicalism from the extreme right. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are passionate about changing the fundamental nature of the Constitution of the United States. They are driven by an obsessive-compulsive rage to overturn the changes enacted by moderates, liberals and even a few progressives.
Though I admire and respect Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, neither of them advocates for truly radical, life-transforming change (although Sanders comes closest).
I am mindful, as I’m certain others are, that usually change requires a lot of time, a lot of coaxing, nurturing, insisting, pursuing, compromising and challenging, as well as massive amounts of determination. But because I’ve been a radical all my life, I also understand that the radical transformation our world and society so desperately need require people to be involved.
We must vote, demonstrate, act up and act out with peaceful credible action. We must connect with each other. Unity among the marginalized, oppressed, castaways, queer people — whether they are straight, gay, black, white, men, women, poor, rich or working class — is absolutely necessary.
We must love each other first. We must push past our own issues and explore issues disconcertingly different from our own. I promise you, if there were a roundtable consisting of representatives from every oppressed group in America, each of us describing how “The System” has exploited, denied and used us, we would see that all of our issues are connected, all equally important. I believe if we could successfully unify the folks who are authentically struggling for freedom, justice, righteousness, truth and love, we could radically, lovingly transform and heal planet earth and its inhabitants.
Sadly, just as do our oppressors, we remain trapped by our prejudices; we are broken and divided religiously, politically and socially, insisting on holding onto antiquated values that probably never really existed.
Radicals I know personally, and others I have admired have tried for decades to facilitate such unity. I believe an authentic Rainbow Coalition of radicals the only hope we have. When I first truly believed, the Source of life, goodness, love, justice and righteousness loved and accepted me, and I soon realized that if society, church and state had lied to me about the very essence of who I am as a human being, then maybe everything else was a lie, too. I was left to explore, discard, renew or eliminate until truth became evident. It is still my responsibility and the responsibility of likeminded folks to decide what is good, true and right, then to live as though we agree upon and believe our decided truth.
We, the people, have allowed our democratic republic to corrode into its current form of oligarchy. Even if we deny it, America is run for the most part by white men who control the wealth and resources of not just our country but much of the rest of the world as well. Exact numbers are debated, but regardless of debate, somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of our government’s budget is funneled directly into the military complex.
These same men want to control “we, the people.” They want to control what we believe, whom we love, and what we do with our bodies, minds and spirits. When we the people allow ourselves to be divided on the basis of race, class, gender, age, and sexual orientation, we blindly waltz directly into the control of those who would destroy us.
Most of us like to direct our anger and disappointment at particular people — the president, Congress, drug companies and so forth. By the way, individual inability to accept responsibility for how society functions in our lives and government is another symptom of our corroding system. It’s like Christians claiming Jesus died to atone for our sins so we don’t have to accept responsibility for the many poor choices we make.
Though neither Clinton nor Sanders truly fit my concept of “radical,” they are at least identifying and grappling with the issues affecting real people.
What’s apparent from the madness erupting across our country is that radical change approaches, although it is yet to be seen from what philosophical camp it will erupt.
I read a post from Black Lives Matter announcing the movement would not be endorsing a presidential candidate. Though I understand and even agree with their analysis, I wish they had thrown their influence behind Sanders or Clinton, because, they too, are calling for radical change and we need each other, no matter our unique identities, partnering in solidarity which each other to achieve the systemic radical change needed, in our country, indeed the world.
I would encourage everyone who is reading this to reconsider your positions. Join forces with other disenfranchised people in our communities. Let’s run headlong into the streets with the same kind of love, courageous determination and sense of justice and equity that the Rev. Martin Luther King and all those unsung sheroes and heroes who marched with him, had.
Years ago I stopped participating in LGBT Pride parades because they had become parades instead of marches. When we are ready to march again, old though I may be, I will venture into the streets again, Acting Up and Acting Out, giving my last breath, if need be, to this dream for freedom, this vision that people, though radically different in lifestyle, religion, politics and culture, can live peacefully as neighbors, colleagues, friends and family.
M. Shelley Hamilton, MDIV, was ordained MCC pastor for many years. She served on staff at the Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas in several different capacities for a cumulative 12 years. She retired from professional ministry in December 2014 and now lives with her wife, DebiSu Yelverton, in East Texas, where she is writing her spiritual memoir.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2016.