We use the word "love" a great deal in UU circles. Standing on the side of love. Loving the Hell out of the world. Love being greater than fear. Love, love, love.
And I've begun to wonder just what kind of love it is that so many UUs are touting here.
The love I grew up with was demanding, calling on us to do our best, to rise to our potential. It didn't demean by labeling the other person "worthless" or "stupid," but it did challenge by expecting better.
The love I grew up with was responsive, listening and adapting to needs. It started by setting boundaries, then allowing those boundaries to be tested and stretched, and options to be made available. When my brother and I asked a question, for example, my parents didn't just give us the answer, or dismissively bark at us to "go look it up"; they’d walk us over to the bookshelf and say: "Let's find out."
The love I grew up with was trustworthy. When my parents said something was so, you could rely upon it. When they said: "You'll get desert when you finish dinner," or: "We're leaving the house at six to see that movie that just opened," that's exactly what happened. Likewise, if we made promises or commitments, we were expected to keep them.
The love I grew up with was also a love of language. I was raised to believe that words have meaning, just as people have value. Language was important for conveying feelings, exchanging ideas, or asking for help. If we said something that was vague or incomplete, we were asked to make it more clear and precise. Yet we also learned to appreciate the dance of prose and poetry, and the sideways logic of a good joke.
The love I grew up with said: "Don't put anyone down just because they’re different." And my parents meant anyone. If you shouldn't put down someone for having another shade of skin color, you don't put another person down just for being white. A person's attraction to one or the other gender, or none at all, has nothing to do with their ability to be a good friend, do a good job, or hold public office. When I learned in college about how racism, sexism and other oppressive "isms" permeate our society and culture, my mother responded by saying: "Yes, but cultures change as people change, and your task is to ask yourself what kind of society you want to live in, and set the example."
The love I grew up with was many things – and not many things. It was not sentimental. It was not overly indulgent. It was not about surface politeness.
The love I grew up with led me to see in the principles and values of Unitarian Universalist how my parents wanted me to live. And yet, when I see other UUs use the word "love," I sometimes wonder …