Unconditional Love. Radical Inclusivity. And Doing Your Part.
GLIDE Church has a long-standing tradition of featuring voices from the community in a segment of Sunday Celebration called “I Am GLIDE.” Personal testimonies on the strength and power of unconditional love from our program participants, congregants, donors and volunteers. We feature these inspiring stories here when we can. Emily Cohen, Co-Chair of the GLIDE Legacy Committee, spoke to our congregation on April 29.
I grew up in Petaluma. I was raised Jewish and secular. My father is Jewish and my mother is I think what she would call a “recovering Protestant”. My childhood was good. It was safe. And I felt loved.
One thing I did not do growing up was go to church. I did go to Hebrew School but about a year before my Bat Mitzah I told my mom I wanted to be a Buddhist. I was 12. So I have always been spiritually curious. I have always believed that there is something much more magical and important to us than us. But I never believed it could be found in the walls of any church or religious institution. I never believed a church could be the vehicle for me to have a meaningful spiritual human experience… Until it was.
The first time I came to GLIDE was with my father. We had no intentions beyond just checking it out. But after that service I felt like I had found something I had been looking for my entire life.
I continued to come back on Sundays , even when it meant skipping Sunday brunches with friends. I think it was confusing for people — all of a sudden I was going to church. “What has happened to Emily?”
But I was inspired by the message of GLIDE. Of their work for social justice and equality for all. Of unending compassion. And a commitment to serve people at the very margins — the places other religious institutions do not go.
For me, GLIDE has been a kind of mentor. It has shaped my sense of the world. Of what it means to be connected to humanity.
At GLIDE I’ve seen unconditional love through their work in harm reduction. In their free meals program. In their programs for survivors of abuse. For men unlearning violence. In their programs for children. In the Walk-In Center where someone can get a clean pair of socks and speak with a person willing to meet them where they are.
We live in a society that TALKS about being compassionate and loving your neighbor and serving and giving back. But we also live in a society that tells us every day to reject that message. To consume more and give less. To turn away from the things we don’t want to see or feel. To explain to ourselves that you are not my problem. Your suffering is your own fault. We live in a society that gives us every excuse to explain away our selfishness.
For me, GLIDE has been a kind of mentor. It has shaped my sense of the world. Of what it means to be connected to humanity. Of what it means to be compassionate. To understand that it might seem that I have nothing in common with the people sleeping outside of this church or waiting in line for their next meal. But the truth is, we have everything in common. For someone who is privileged , that can be a painful truth to face. Because then you know you’ll have to do something. GLIDE gives me a place to recognize how privileged I am and then to do something with it.
It is easy for people of privilege to talk about poverty. It is easy to talk about mental illness. It is easy to talk about affordable housing. Or homelessness. Or addiction. Or suffering. Or violence. Or racism. Or sexism. Homophobia. Xenophobia. It is NOT easy to work to change these things.
We have enough people in this world — and in this city — who do nothing. Who don’t give their time, energy or money to anything outside of themselves. We see this every day in the glaring inequality and disparity that we accept right here, right underneath our self-proclaimed “liberal values.”
Am I listening to the voice inside that reminds me that the men and women suffering outside are still a part of me?
Too many people believe it’s not up to them. But you are not one of those people. I know that because you’re here at GLIDE, a place that values and inspires action above everything else.
I call on the people sitting here today and the people listening at home to ask yourself: “Am I walking the walk? Am I listening and RESPONDING to the voice inside me that is trying to remind me of what it is to be human? To be connected? To love unconditionally and to give back in all the ways that I can? Am I listening to the voice inside that reminds me that the men and women suffering outside are still a part of me?
I look around this room — full of so many different types of people — in color, religion, upbringings, down-bringings, in age and gender, all here because we believe in or are curious about this idea of unconditional love and radical inclusivity. And I ask myself “am I giving enough back to this incredible place? Are you?”
GLIDE, to me, is radical because it does not wait for a better, safer, kinder future for the world. It creates that future.
GLIDE has provided an avenue to focus my energy, time and money towards something much more important than me. GLIDE has taught me what it really means to be just one person. Which is that I AM ONE PERSON! GLIDE has taught me what it means to step up and step in and say “I am somebody with something to learn and something to give.”
I use GLIDE as my vehicle because it is reflective of my values, beliefs and my desires for making this world — and our community—a better place. GLIDE, to me, is radical because it does not wait for a better, safer, kinder future for the world. It creates that future. But GLIDE can’t do it without you and me. So I’m asking you this morning to give more than you ever have. Whatever that means to you. Whether it is your time, your energy, your money. Step up. There is much work to be done.
I read a quote a few years ago and for me, it embodies GLIDE’s mission:
“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
Being an active part of GLIDE has changed my life and I am certain it will change yours too.
My name is Emily. And I am GLIDE.