Hearts and flowers. These are typically thought of as indications of romantic love. Sixteen year olds who are falling into their first love draw fancy hearts and decorative flowers all over their notebooks. On Valentine’s Day, we might exchange cards with hearts and flowers drawn on them. But I want to talk about love in the context of friendship, of relationships that we have with others that we care for. All people that we care about. Friends, relatives, spouses, people here in our community.
I understand that the word “love” is freighted with scary baggage for some people. Baggage about false expectations. Love is a word that some people don’t trust. So, I’ll try not to use that word. I’ll try to use the word “caring” instead.
Caring for others who share different values and interests can often be a very hard thing. My friend might really like to have a cup of coffee in the morning and read the paper and might prefer to be quiet. But I love to have tea and sit and talk in the morning. I like to take a long walk in the mornings before it gets hot. Other people hate to get up early in the morning.
Here in our community we have a very diverse group of people. We have people who are teachers, health professionals, accountants, naturalists, a lot of computer geeks ( I mean that in the most respectful way, of course), people who are students, and people who are caring for their children at home. We also have a lot of differences in how we see the world. Some of us are agnostics and humanists, some are Buddhists, pagans, theists, Jews or Christians. Some of us see a spiritual practice like prayer or meditation as important in our lives. And some of us see our social justice activities as their spiritual practice. And some of us don’t like the word “spiritual” at all.
In all of our diversity, sometimes we don’t agree. This is true in every relationship we have with people we care about. We care deeply about the person, but we don’t necessarily agree on everything. And sometimes we feel it’s necessary to share why we don’t agree.
When we share our disagreements, we can sometimes get tangled up in saying what it is we don’t agree with, and sometimes it comes out that we don’t approve of the other person. When that might not be what we mean at all. Marilyn Sewell, one of our UU ministers, says that we sometimes need to look at whether we are attempting to hurt, or attempting to heal. We have to look at our intention.
And when we are in relationship and we mean to stay in relationship, then we need to look at how we act with love, even when we are hurting. Because that is how we stay in relationship. When we’re in a relationship for real, we find a way to stay in even when the going gets tough.
I recently read a book called Same Kind of Different As Me. It’s about a homeless man and a wealthy man and the friendship they create between each other. Here’s an excerpt about when they first decided to be friends. Ron, the wealthy man had met Denver at the homeless shelter where Ron and his wife were serving dinner every Tuesday. Ron, noticing how unusual Denver seemed, asked him if they could be friends. And he invited Denver to have coffee with him.
Then his smile faded into seriousness, as if he’d had a rare light moment then someone had closed the blinds. He stared down at the steam rolling up from his coffee cup. “I been thinkin a lot about what you asked me.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. “What did I ask you?” “Bout bein your friend.”
My jaw dropped an inch. I’d forgotten that when I told him at the Cactus Flower Café that all I wanted from him was his friendship, he’d said he’d think about it. Now, I was shocked that anyone would spend a week pondering such a question. While the whole conversation had slipped my mind, Denver had clearly spent serious time preparing his answer.
He looked up from his coffee, fixing me with one eye, the other squinted like Clint Eastwood. “There’s something I heard bout white folks that bothers me, and it has to do with fishin.”
He was serious and I didn’t dare laugh, but I did try to lighten the mood a bit. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you,” I said smiling. “I don’t even own a tackle box.”
Denver scowled, not amused. “I think you can.”
He spoke slowly and deliberately, keeping me pinned with that eyeball, ignoring the Starbucks groupies coming and going on the patio around us. “I heard that when white folks go fishin they do something called ‘catch and release.'”
Catch and release? I nodded solemnly, suddenly nervous and curious at the same time.
That really bothers me,” Denver went on. “I just can’t figure it out. ‘Cause when colored folks go fishin, we really proud of what we catch, and we take it and show it off to everybody that’ll look. Then we eat what we catch … in other words, we use it to sustain us. So it really bothers me that white folks would go to all that trouble to catch a fish, then when they done caught it, they just throw it back in the water.”
He paused again, and the silence between us stretched a full minute. Then: “Did you hear what I said?”
I nodded, afraid to speak, afraid to offend.
Denver looked away, searching the blue autumn sky, then locked onto me again with that drill bit stare. “So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: If you is fishin for a friend you just gon catch and release, then I ain’t got no desire to be your friend.”
The world seemed to halt in midstride and fall silent around us like one of those freeze-frame scenes on TV. I could hear my heart pounding and imagined Denver could see it popping my breast pocket up and down. I returned Denver’s gaze with what I hoped was a receptive expression and hung on.
Suddenly his eyes gentled and he spoke more softly than before: “But if you is lookin for a real friend, then I’ll be one. Forever.”
Denver and Ron couldn’t be more different. But once they decided to be friends, they found a way to honor those differences. They liked each other more because they were so different. The differences never stood in the way of their deep commitment to each other.
You know, I feel that way about the members of this congregation. We are all so different. But I’m in this for real. For good. I don’t give up on people I care about, and I hope you don’t ever give up on me. I hope you’ll find friends within the congregation that you feel the same way about. That as a community, we honor our differences. We say what we mean with the intention to heal not to hurt. And that we honor our friendships with that same kind of commitment.
The origin of the Flower Communion, having been created by Norbert Chapek, has the same intentions. Each flower represents our beauty and our diversity. The flowers that we exchange represent what we offer each other. And the ritual is one of communion – deep sharing. It’s a communion of friendship – forever friendship.