All You Need is Love? — UUS:E Virtual Worship, November 14, 2021


Two years ago Paul Cocuzzo purchased a sermon at our annual goods and services auction. On three separate occasions I planned to preach this sermon, and each time I had to postpone. Today is the day. Paul’s sermon idea fits well with our November ministry theme holding history. It fits well with the national observance of Native American Heritage Month.[1] For me, it’s a two-part “big picture” sermon. First, Paul offers an analysis of the root cause of virtually every problem we face as a nation and a planet. He identifies that root cause as capitalism or capitalist settler colonialism and its insidious, relentless commodification of everything—land, natural resources, animals, culture, even human beings. Everything is for sale. Everything can be owned in some way.

Second, he asks: If we as individuals, as a congregation, as residents of Connecticut and the United States are going to effectively resist and transform the legacies of capitalist settler colonialism, what values must reside at the heart of that resistance? Paul is wary of love as such a central value. We asked Dan and Sandy to sing Sally Rogers’ “Love will Guide Us” from our hymnal, and the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” as a general reminder that people of faith—especially people who locate themselves under the broad umbrella of the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—typically identify love as the most essential value in the work of confronting, subverting, resisting, transforming all forms of oppression. In Unitarian Universalism, the second source of our living tradition is “Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.” Our fourth source is “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.”[2] Like so many other faiths, we center love. Paul feels strongly that love is not enough. He prefers respect.

Part I

In her poem, “Rabbit is Up to Tricks,” United States poet laureate, Joy Harjo (Mvskoke/Creek), says In a world long before this one, there was enough / for everyone,/ Until somebody got out of line.[3] Rabbit got out of line. Rabbit created clay man and taught him to steal—a chicken, then corn, then a wife. Stealing made clay man feel important and powerful. (It makes Rabbit feel that way too.) So the stealing continued. Clay man wanted all the chickens, all the corn, all the wives. He was insatiable. He wanted all the gold, all the land, all the trade, all the countries. His wanting only made him want more. The results were devastating. Says Harjo: We lost track of the purpose and reason for life. / We began to forget our songs. We forgot our stories. / We could no longer see or hear our ancestors, / Or talk with each other across the kitchen table. / Forests were being mowed down all over the world. Rabbit tried to call clay man back, but he realized he’d made clay man with no ears, so he did not listen.

I don’t believe I have to convince anyone here that, although Harjo tells this story in the language and style of myth, it is a true story. It describes precisely how capitalist settler colonialism has operated in the world from its origins, stealing, plundering, owning and selling for profit with insatiable hunger. Indigenous people across the Americas have been telling versions of this true story for five hundred years. Those of us who read Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’ An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States last year became more intimately familiar with this true story as it has played out here on Turtle Island. Descendants of African slaves have been telling versions of this true story for hundreds of years. Across virtually the entire world, wherever capitalist settler colonialism took root, people continue to tell versions of this true story. Even in Europe and among people of European descent in the Americas, you can hear stories about the way capitalism destroyed ancient cultures, folkways, systems of healing, crafting, worshipping; destroyed the very concept of the commons—land not owned by anyone, but held by the community for everyone to use as needed.[4]

Those who’ve been following the negotiations at the United Nations’ 26th Climate Change Conference in Glasgow are hearing yet more versions of this story. Capitalism is as hungry as ever for profits and makes no genuine apology for plundering the planet. The capitalist settler colonial world-view allows, encourages, authorizes capitalists to own and commodify the land, the trees, the crops, the livestock, the water, the mountain tops, and the ancient underground remains of plants and plankton extracted as fuel to power all the ways wealth continues to generate wealth. Rabbit’s trick has backfired. Young people from across the globe were screaming in the streets of Glasgow. Dignitaries made promises. Is capitalist settler colonialism listening? Only, I fear, if the solution can be owned, and even then, only if the solution earns a greater return on investment than the problem.

Part II

Given the power of capitalist settler colonialism globally, the power of corporations, their alignment with governments, their control of the media, how does one realistically begin to imagine and work toward a world where there is enough for everyone? One place to start is to learn everything we can about the societies, cultures and nations that existed before capitalist settler colonialism arrived, and that have survived in a variety of ways throughout the ensuing centuries. Paul notices a basic difference in attitude regarding ownership when comparing indigenous American world-views with capitalist settler colonialism. We were talking about land management in response to the western wildfires. He said “I was [originally] duped into the belief that Indigenous people didn’t manage the land. They did manage the land. But there was a limit. They might set a fire to maintain grassland; but they didn’t fence in the buffalo and selectively breed them. They didn’t take ownership. [Land] wasn’t just a resource or a priced commodity. It was a relationship.”

I hear Paul wondering how we move from a society grounded in the capitalist settler colonial world-view, and whose highest, most sacred value is ownership; to a new world modelled on indigenous practices and wisdom that views all life as related, as sacred; a world where ownership may exist but isn’t a fundamental driving force; a world that centers the commons; a world where there is enough for everyone. What value must take hold in humanity so that such change is possible? Change in individual hearts, in communities, in nations. From ownership to relationship. What gets us there?

Paul contends love won’t get us there. He prefers respect. He sums it up with this statement: “You can love a person and own them, but you can’t respect them and own them.” He feels the same way about animals and says that was his motivation for becoming vegan.

“You can love a person and own them, but you can’t respect them and own them.” I struggled with these words when I first heard them, and I still struggle. My only frame of reference is what I studied in college about slave owners prior to the Civil War who claimed to love their slaves, yet continued to hold them in bondage. I suppose there are business owners who claim to love their employees yet who also exploit their labor. I imagine the owners of factory farms might claim to love their livestock, but nevertheless house them in inhumane conditions, exploit them, and accelerate climate change in the process.

Paul offers respect as more important than love. He points out “There are people who love their partners, but who can also abuse them. If there was true respect, the abuse couldn’t happen…. Respecting them as a person forces you to see their point of view….” He says “love is a feeling. You can’t make yourself have a feeling. [Feelings] can swing either way…. Respect is a decision.” In this sense, respect is a more stable, more reliable value in the struggle to change hearts, communities and nations. Paul’s comments reminded me that so many public expressions of love seem overly sentimental, sappy, saccharine—the Hallmarkification of love. Great for selling greeting cards, but not capable of revolutionary social transformation.

I asked Paul to define respect. He said “to respect another living creature is to consider their feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions to be as important as your own. Since we cannot [fully] know their feelings, wishes, rights, and traditions, we must listen … to them, try to put ourselves in their place, and imagine how we would want to be treated.” It’s a great definition of respect. It’s a beautiful, potent, necessary value, a value we need for the social change we’re contemplating this morning. I like that Paul emphasizes listening, mindful that clay man’s primary failing is that he does not listen.

But I struggle with Paul’s critique of love. Love is the central value in the Abrahamic religious traditions, perhaps best articulated in the Christian scriptures when Jesus, quoting the Hebrew scriptures, says “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  A second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”[5] For thousands of years religious and spiritual leaders have challenged the powers and principalities of the world not to exploit, but to love; not to enslave, but to love; not to oppress, but to love. Our Universalist forebears preached an all-loving God who would condemn no one to hell, a love that inspired many to work for a better world in this life. So many of us who engage in social justice and antiracism work today, when asked why we do what we do, point to Martin Luther King’s vision of a beloved community. Knowing the value and the power of love in the lives of so many of our interfaith partners, I can’t find in myself any wariness towards love as a fundamental guiding value in the struggle to build a world in which there is enough for everyone. Certainly the kind of respect Paul describes goes hand in hand with a deep, abiding, world-changing love. We’re not talking about two opposing values.

Having said that, I do think Paul is accurately identifying the way in which love—or any significant value—compassion, equality, reciprocity, sustainability, democracy, justice, respect—can be coopted by capitalist settler colonialism, commodified, corporatized, manipulated, re-defined, bastardized, watered down and used to sell products such that the true power of the value, its subversive power, its power to change hearts, culture, society—that power is easily lost. When slave owners said they loved their slaves, love lost its world-changing power. When administrators at Indian residential schools said they loved their students, love lost its world-changing power. When employers say they love the employees whose labor they exploit, love loses its world-changing power. When European capitalist colonizers sailed to the Americas, Africa, India, Asia with priests and ministers proclaiming Christian love, love lost its power. It became a tool of conquest, a vehicle to promote ownership, not an inspiration for revolutionary social change. When Paul expresses wariness about the power of love, I think he is referring to love worn down, emasculated and coopted in the crucible of capitalist settler colonialism. That wariness certainly resonates with me.

All we need is love? It’s not that simple. How do we know the difference between a coopted love that regards ownership as a higher value vs. a love that boldly confronts structures of evil, a love that atones for past atrocities, makes amends, makes reparations, returns stolen lands, prioritizes the commons, a love that can be measured by the way people respect each other; the way they listen to each other, learn from one another.  Perhaps that is one of our most important spiritual tasks—to know the difference between these two versions of love, and to discard false love and embrace that genuine, world-changing love.

Jo Harjo’s poem ends in a bleak place. Rabbit has nowhere to play. Clay man has no ears to hear that his insatiable hunger is destroying the world. But we can hear (and see, taste, touch, smell). We can learn. We can change. We can be respectful. And we can bring a genuine, justice-seeking, planet- saving love to bear in our hearts, in our congregation, in our communities, in our nation; so that, in a world beyond this one, like the world that came before this one, there will be enough for everyone.

Thank you Paul!

Amen and blessed be.

[1] For information on Native American Heritage Month, visit

[2] For the list of sources for the Unitarian Universalist living tradition, visit:

[3] Harjo, Joy, “Rabbit is Up to Tricks,” Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2015) p. 8.

[4] Dean, David, “Roots Deeper Than Whiteness, Parts 1 and 2: Remembering Who We Are for the Well-Being of All.” 2021 Blog post. See:

[5] Matthew 22: 37-40.