By Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane
Annual Meeting Keynote Speaker Valarie Kaur started by educating the 700+ crowd on how to pronounce the word Sikh. It’s ‘sick’ and not ‘seek’ as many people say, and it means students of truth.
Kaur - a Sikh activist - was encouraging the 700 Christians in the room get to know others, to see no strangers, and to choose to love even those who insist on hate.
Kaur, who is founder of the Revolutionary Love Project,
told emotional stories of how she grew up hearing others call her a ‘black dog,’ felt the hatred of a nation marking her and her family as terrorists after the 911 attack just because of the clothes they wore, and saw a member of her community killed in a hate crime. She told of her father, out with her four-year-old son, being told “go back to the country you came from” as a dozen bystanders looked on, saying nothing.
“I have been reckoning with the fact that there will be moments on the streets or the schoolyard when I will not be able to protect my son," she said. "He is growing up in a country more dangerous for him than it was for me. He is growing up in a country when Sikh and Muslim Americans are still seen as terrorists, just as black people are still seen as criminal, just as brown people are still seen as illegal, just as Jews are still seen as unwanted, just as indigenous people are still seen as savage, just as queer and trans people are still seen as immoral, just as women and girls are still seen as property and when they fail to see our bodies as some mother's child, it becomes easier to ban us, to deport us, to detain us, to concentrate us, to sacrifice us for the illusion of security."
“I am being inaugurated into the pain that brown and black mothers on this soil have long known: that we cannot protect our children from white supremacist violence. We can only make them resilient enough to face it, and insist until our dying breath that there be no more bystanders," she said.
Kaur said the way to turn back the tide in this country is through revolutionary love
as she describes it consists of three elements: love for others, love for opponents, and love for ourselves.
- Love for others means one does not see strangers. Kaur asked attendees to think about those whose stories they have not yet heard, and encourage them to proactively reach out to the community and talk to those who may be different than the people in the pews each week.
- Love for opponents means tending the wounds of those ‘enemies’ who are suffering. Kaur believes that for many, their suffering translates to hate because they don’t know what to do with their pain. She challenged the crowd to be ambassadors to tend to those people – even reaching out to those with supremacist thoughts. As an example, she spoke of her and her uncle calling the man in prison who years earlier had killed their friend. During that conversation, they heard him say for the first time that he was sorry for what he had done.
- Love for ourselves means breathing and pushing, like women in labor, who endure excruciating pain in the moments before experiencing the happiness of giving birth. When we breathe in, we let joy in, she said. She asked the attendees to be one another's midwives, to help remind each other of everything that is good, beautiful, and worth fighting for in the end.
|Photo by Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane
Kaur used the metaphor of birthing throughout her talk. She likened the world right now to the transition phase of birth – the stage of labor right before birth, when women feel like they are pushing through the fire and are in fear of death. After pressing through with courage and faith, new life is born.
“What if the darkness of the nation right now is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” she asked. “What if this is our time of great transition?”
She congratulated the attendees for having the courage to birth something new with their vote to replace the three historic conferences with one, the Southern New England Conference, and for their commitment to justice.
“You are the faith leaders, and the community leaders. You are the church leaders and the peace builders. You are the ones who have at your hands thousands of years of Scripture and story and wisdom that offers us guidance in how to labor in love for justice," she said.
“I've learned that the labor for justice will last a lifetime," said Kaur. "If we labor in love, then our labor becomes porous enough to let joy in. For we, we will be somebody's ancestors someday. And if we get this right, they will inherit not our fear, but our bravery."