STLT#6, Just as Long as I Have Breath

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.

Just as long as vision lasts, I must answer, “Yes,” to truth;
in my dream and in my dark, always that elusive spark.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to truth.

Just as long as my heart beats, I must answer, “Yes,” to love;
disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.
If they ask what I did best, tell them I said, “Yes,” to love.

It is a bit of a relief to turn to a hymn I know well, whose lyrics are very familiar.

Which also makes this day an interesting challenge, because it would be easy to sing through without paying attention. If yesterday’s hymn was like learning the steps of a complex dance, today’s is a dance I know so well I have forgotten its actual form.

And so I sang it a second time, paying attention to the lyric – and I noticed something difficult and uncomfortable in the third stanza: “disappointment pierced me through, still I kept on loving you.” Now on one hand, this is the beauty of our covenant and of unconditional love – despite the hard times, disappointments, struggles, love still abides.

But the political atmosphere right now – with sexual assault being headline news and many women struggling with the doubts and traumas of their own assaults (physical and emotional) – this line screams out to me. I think of the women who believed their partner’s abuse was somehow their fault. The women who lean on “but I still love him” as reason enough to stay. The women who are told they are a disappointment and it’s only because no one else will love them that he stays.

And then I think of the same kinds of manipulations that can happen in our congregations: Those who excuse bad behavior, because “well, he is a longtime member.’ Those who threaten to take their pledge and their membership if a vote doesn’t go their way. Those who believe the bad behavior was because of something the congregation did/didn’t do.

We are struggling, in this time and place, in our homes, communities, and in the nation, with a callousness that demands love despite disappointment, that blames rather than takes responsibility, that gives too long a rope to bad behavior and is unpracticed in the art of calling in and recommitting to covenant.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what kind of radical, global epiphany we have to have in order to wake up and stay woke. I don’t know what kind of personality characteristic we need to collectively unearth to stand up to that which we know in our guts is wrong, abusive, or harmful. I’d like to think that we’re practicing it in our congregations – churches, synagogues, fellowships, mosques, and circles should be the places where we build these muscles and gain a little bit of courage. But the harm has permeated our walls too – and so what should be safe havens, practice spaces, and soul gyms, become just as harmful, hurtful, and distressing.

“Disappointment pieced me through” – and then I named the problem, I called you back in, we talked about the harm, we developed a plan for reconciliation, we kept each other accountable – and then, “I kept on loving you.”

Let’s not mistake “love” for permission. And let’s stop using “love” as permission. Let’s make sure “love” means calling for, expecting, and giving, the very best of ourselves.

Words by Alicia Carpenter
Music by Johann Ebeling

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