(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills
Please click here to listen to the message or see below to read it.
Many of you may have heard of Ru Paul Charles. After many years in the entertainment industry, he is now enjoying his greatest success and fame. Ru Paul is an internationally well-known African-American drag performer who produces and hosts the three time Emmy award winning TV show “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”. He’s written and performed several bestselling albums and songs, he’s acted in multiple movies and TV shows, and he was recently selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.
He was named Ru (R…U) by his Louisiana mother, after the creole word r…o..u..x which means a gumbo mixture or, for him, a blend of many cultures. He started in show business as a drag performer – a man who assumes the look, glamor, and identity of a woman to sing, lip-sync, act, or dance. Most drag queens, as they are known, are not men who want to be transgender. Instead, they are men who wish to remain male while finding fulfillment in expressing a feminine side of themselves – one that is strong and confident. A few women have also emerged who call themselves drag kings. They dress in male attire with short hair and fake beards and mustaches – as a way for them to express their masculine side.
Ru Paul says that drag performing is about putting on layers in order to figuratively take off layers – ones that have hidden a person’s true self. Doing drag is a way for some men and women to express themselves openly and with a form of in your face self-confidence.
On one of Ru Paul’s shows, a drag queen contestant emotionally described the vulnerability that lay just beneath his exterior. He vividly remembers being abandoned by his mother at a bus station when he was a child. Growing up knowing he’d been unwanted, and then realizing he was gay, this man saw himself as unworthy and unloved. When he turned to drag performing in his twenties, it was a way to both say, “I love me”, and to forthrightly demand respect.
As Ru Paul says, gays and lesbians often grow up, as do other marginalized people, knowing they are different and thinking the world despises them as freaks, perverts, or less than ideal people. Performing drag is one way some gay men and women embrace who they are without shame. For Ru Paul, we all have unique abilities that can improve the world, but the only way we can share them is if we have the self-love to do so. As a conclusion to each of his TV shows, Ru Paul tells the performers, and his audience, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Do I have an Amen?!?”
I spoke last Sunday about perfect love by examining seven famous verses in the Bible. Those verses beautifully define what genuine love for others is: it’s unconditional because it does not judge, it always forgives, and most of all it accepts another just as she or he is.
Today, I follow-up on that message by looking at a love poem by Khalil Gibran, a famous Muslim poet from Lebanon. In it, he encourages couples to love one another – but to do so in ways that do not forsake one’s own identity. The ultimate message of his poem entitled “Love One Another” is to love yourself – too.
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
I often say in my messages what I believe is our mission in life. We exist not to just please ourselves, but to serve others. Extreme selfishness, arrogance, and narcissism are not ways to live as truly compassionate and loving people.
Importantly, however, as some of you have pointed out during past “talkback” times, and as Gibran implies in the poem I just read, self-less-ness must be balanced by a measure of selfishness. The magazine Psychology Today says that everybody experiences the push-pull of connection and separation – whether to selflessly be in community with another or to pull away and serve just oneself. As infants, we connect deeply with our mothers and fathers. But after only a few years we begin the process of separating from mom and dad by asserting small levels of independence. We begin to form our own identities comprising personality, hopes, wants and opinions. Full separation comes when we assume the identity and responsibility of an adult – to fully care for ourselves.
But separation from our parents is usually replaced with connection to a partner, spouse and children. As humans, we yearn to love and be loved – and thus be connected. We do not function well as islands unto ourselves. We depend on other people for support, community, and, of course, love.
But, it is from our connected loving relationships that we encounter an ironic reality. In order to love others, as Ru Paul notes and as Kahlil Gibran implies in his poem, we must also love just ourselves. This is not the narcissistic love that the President seems to have for himself, but rather a realistic acknowledgement of our basic needs in life – as well as as awareness of our individual capabilities and deficiencies. Without an appreciation of our personal needs and our true selves, we can believe we are either so worthless as to have nothing to offer the world, or else we believe we are so great that everything should revolve around us. Both of these attitudes result from deep insecurity.
Mr. Trump apparently loves himself to an extreme. While it seems that he has a strong self-confidence, the likelihood is that he is so insecure that he uses arrogance as a cover for his fears and doubts. His bravado is, in truth, a sign of weakness. He has limited ability to show love, empathy or compassion since he showers it all on himself.
Other people, however, can be so insecure that they have no love, understanding, or forgiveness for themselves. They are at the opposite extreme of people like Mr. Trump. They often show little empathy, compassion or love to others not because they are selfish or arrogant, but because they are tooisolated and too timid.
As most psychologists point out, we must have both a healthy humility, and a healthy love for ourselves. We can and should appreciate our unique talents and personalities – all so we can use them for good. But we should also be aware of areas in which we need to grow – as well as areas where we should rely on the proficiency that other people have. This includes understanding where the needs of others take precedence over our needs so that we listen, ask for other opinions, cooperate, and give. Self-love becomes a way to ironically be others focused.
The magazine Psychology Today points out that being lovingly connected to others does not mean we should be totally merged with them. Their identity should not be ours. This is what Gibran emphasizes when he writes, “Fill each other’s cup – but drink not from one cup.” Love for another person cannot be so all consuming that it diminishes appreciation of our own beauty, power and uniqueness. If we do, we will have nothing inside us to give away.
We also cannot be so detached from a loved one so that the only affection we have is for ourselves. The challenge is to find a balance. We must love ourselves too – but just enough to enable our primary purpose in life to love and serve other people.
Finding the right balance between total selflessness and total selfishness is complicated and not easy. Indeed, connecting to and loving others is a way to ironically find love for oneself. When someone loves us, we find in them a mirror to recognize all of the good they see in us. Those who love us affirm our own healthy appreciation of ourselves. But other people’s love for us should not be a stimulant to our egos so that it destroys many of the reasons why we are loved. We are usually loved for our kindness, generosity, empathy and…….our self-confidence, which can only come from love of self. That is the challenging balance we must each find – to love ourselves too, but not too much.
As Gibran says in his poem, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” When we find the right balance between love for others, and love for self, we are not tied to either extreme. Our love will ebb and flow like the tide between two shores – some for me to sustain myself, a lot of love to give away.
The love balance I’ve mentioned is a third way, or middle way, between love for others and love for self. It is what some psychologists call inter-dependent love. We are neither all giving or all taking. We rely on a mutuality of love. If we each truly live out our purpose in life to serve and love others, we will each end up also being loved. This is a simple law of mutuality. When we all give, we all gain.
Inter-dependence therefore comes when everyone loves others to the same extent they love themselves. This is perfectly expressed in the Golden Rule – an ideal that all world religions teach. We are to love others as much as we love ourselves. And that is the challenging model for our culture and for us. Our task is to serve the common good while also advancing individual rights. The welfare of all depends on the welfare of each person alone. In other words, for a healthy society and healthy people, there should be no extremes of selfishness, and no extremes selflessness.
For Gibran and his poetic encouragement to married, partnered and dating couples, each should practice this balanced art of loving inter-dependence. They are neither a united couple, nor are they two separate individuals. They are both.
Since we are to serve and love others with at least the same intensity that we love ourselves, then the task before us is simple. If we can’t love ourselves, how the hell are we going to love somebody else? Do I have an Amen?!?”
I wish you all much peace and joy.