Home is Where the Love Is by Rev. Jonathan Rogers

My brother has a bumper sticker on his snowboard with the words of a Jimi Hendrix quote on it that says “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Love truly is a powerful thing. And for home to be a loving place is so foundational to us embodying the sixth principle of Unitarian Universalism, the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. As Laozi writes:

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

Rev. Makar spoke last Sunday about finding peace in one’s heart, about achieving states of zen awareness that allow us to be at home in our heart space. Today I want to talk about how and why we cultivate love in our homes, and there are so many ways we do this.

One of the ways to me that love shows up in our homes is through composting. I did not realize until my spouse Annie and I bought a home about two years ago, and I started my own compost pile for the first time, how much love and care goes into cultivating good compost. We had a compost pile at my house growing up, and one of the first things I learned is how much different composting on a quarter acre of land in Decatur is from composting on seven acres of land in Central Maine. I got one of those rolling bin composters and put it on our porch. I learned you have to carefully tend the contents to make sure there is just the right ratio of nitrous and carbonaceous materials. I learned the hard way how bad it can smell if you get that ratio wrong. When Annie put up with my stinky experiments, I learned that home really is where the love is! And this summer I have learned how rich, and pleasant, and earthy the aroma of a compost pile can be when you get it right. I can stick my head right down in the barrel now and take a big breath and feel connected to nature’s process of decomposition and recycling in a deep and special way.

They say smell is the sense most associated with memory, and when I smell my compost I am taken back to a place that feminist, neo-pagan author Starhawk describes by writing:

“We are all longing to go home to some place
we have never been—a place half-remembered and half-envisioned
we can only catch glimpses of from time to time.
Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion
without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands
will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter,
voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength
that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter.
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Someplace where we can be free.”

A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace we can be free. This resonates with me because in my teen years, our UU congregation was where I most felt these things. Sometimes it was literally in a circle, like at the annual solstice bonfire that some of our friends from church hosted. We would gather around, seeing each other in the light of the flames, writing our hopes for the new year on slips of paper we would throw into the fire. A circle of community that would join our strength to do the work that needs to be done.

And so I have not been surprised when, at turn after turn in my spiritual journey, I have encountered the teachings of Starhawk. Her home is a 40-acre farm in Northern California, where she cultivates not only food but Community. She practices and teaches permaculture, the art of designing beneficial relationships to produce systems modeled on natural systems. I bet her compost smells even better than mine does. She practices witchcraft, including the Spiral Dance, a ritual that she writes is designed to emphasize “community and rebirth”, and is also used “to raise power in a ritual”. She told a newspaper in 2004 “We have a saying: Anything you send out magically returns to you three times over. When I was younger, I certainly experimented by doing a lot of love spells. Eventually, it worked. But there were times when the Goddess seemed to be sending me anyone.”

A couple years ago, my professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dan McKanan, sent out a family newsletter citing Starhawk’s definition of magic as the art of changing consciousness at will. The art of changing consciousness at will. That is why if we as a congregation and as a movement want to promote a peaceful world community we must build that work on the foundation of a loving community. We know that if there is to be peace in the world it must start with peace in the heart, and in the home. Starhawk is a teacher who helps us envision and embody what it means to be a loving and transformative community. When I was growing up I received explicit messages about the power of the feminine divine and Goddess worship in nature. My family would go camping in the woods and talk about how what we were seeing and experiencing informed these beliefs. My friend Greg Boyd, one of the trustees of our Unitarian Universalist Association, told me this summer how he believes that one can count oneself as “growing up UU” if Unitarian Universalism is where you went through the synthetic-conventional stage of faith development, that is, if your baseline understanding of spirituality and belief was formed in a UU context. And that’s what happened for me, the belief in feminist, pagan magic was a big part of how I grew up knowing the world spiritually. And so when I think about why robust UU religious exploration for children and youth is important, I know from my own experience how powerful a gift it is to bake into one’s consciousness a belief in the transformative nature of magic and the strength of a loving community. Since that time, I have found spiritual homes in several different parts of the country, and have been able to truly affirm that home is where the love is. Home is where a circle of hands will open to receive you, a circle of healing and a circle of friendship. I can’t imagine UUCA not being that, and so I know that even though our physical location will move this year, we will still be a spiritual home for seekers.

Sometimes though, even with this background and support, I find myself doubting the power of love, and worrying that in the end it’s all just some feel-good nonsense that doesn’t make a difference in the world. Some of you might be thinking that right now. So to offer all of us some further evidence of the real-world power of love, let me talk for a moment about Dabo Swinney, coach of the college football champion Clemson Tigers. In an interview directly after the national championship game this year, Swinney said  “I told (my guys) that the difference in the game was going to be love. It’s been my word all year, it’s been love. I said tonight we’re going to win it because we love each other. We’re going to love each other.” It turns out love is not just a powerful force for spiral dances in the Bay Area, but for Deshaun Watson rollouts, also. It makes sense if you think about it. 13th century Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas observed that love is a commitment to selflessly will the good of the other. What better strategy for healthy teamwork or healthy religious community? And Swinney is not the only football coach who has preached the power of love. University of Houston coach Tom Herman kisses each one of this players on the cheek before every game, and any player on his team who scores a touchdown has to hug an offensive lineman. Another well-chronicled football coach when it comes to loving his players is Joe Ehrmann, who brings the team together before every game, asks them “what is our job?” and the players respond all together: “To love each other!” I’ve always wanted to do that and I wonder if folks would join me in giving it a try: I’ll say “what is our job?” and you say “to love each other!” Here we go: “what is our job?” All: “to love each other!” Let’s try that one more time: “What is our job?” “To love each other.”

Folks, whether we are drawn to feminist, neo-pagan magic, or to the violent bloodsport that is college football, whether you appreciate spiral dances or spiral passes, what we do and who we are must be grounded in love. And our home, above all, must be a place of love, warmth, compassion, and Community, a circle of hands and healing and friendship that opens to receive all who enter into it. In this way may we begin and continue the process of cultivating peace in our hearts and in our homes, so that the power of love can overcome the love of power. Here, and wherever we may go as a congregation and as a community, our task is clear. And so let me ask you: “What is our job?” “To love each other!” What is our job?” “To love each other!” “What is our job?” “To love each other!” Peace, salaam, shalom and may it be so!