Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The morning after

Now that Governor Dayton is about to sign into law the bill that includes same-sex couples in the state's definition of marriage, a lot of us are celebrating. The roar in the Capitol rotunda on Monday was amazing! It could be heard in every back office and conference room on every floor of the building. It's a beautiful day when God's eternal grace breaks through the particularity of our time. Moments like these are pure crystals refracting rainbows of light into every dark corner of the world.

I want to bask in the glow for a while.

The thing is, I'm not very good as basking. I can't shake the conversation I had on my way up the Capitol steps. I had dropped Jackson off so he could get in the middle of it all while I went to  park. As I crossed the street, I came up alongside a woman who glanced at my blue "Vote No: Don't Limit the Freedom to Marry" shirt left over from the amendment campaign in November.

"I like your shirt," she said. 

"Thanks," I said, "I'm so excited about today. As a pastor, I'm really happy we're about to do the right thing in this state."

She looked at my shirt again and must have realized the No on it was about last fall's amendment to limit marriage to one man, one woman, not on the marriage bill that was about to pass.

"You're a pastor?" she asked. I nodded, proudly. Her voice turned cold, "Then how can you possibly support this sin?" Yow. That was when I realized she'd misread my shirt.

By now we were at the steps of the Capitol building. She launched in. "I don't know how the gays can adopt the rainbow as their symbol. You know what it stands for?" As I started to reply, she continued, "God was so mad about sexual sins, corruption, perversity, and disobedience that he found the one righteous man living and saved him from the flood." I tried again to interrupt, but she kept going. "The rainbow is the sign of God's divine judgment on their sins and a warning against those who keep sinning."

I replied, "Don't you think the rainbow is a sign of God's promise never again to destroy creation? Isn't it a sign of unconditional love and grace?"

"How sad that you're a pastor," she said. "Satan has blinded you to God's word. Just wait. God has terrible things in store for us. You'll see God's judgment coming on us soon."

We parted ways.

Business professionals tout the benefits of the walking meeting, and Aaron Sorkin popularized it on his TV show West Wing. Decisions are made on the fly. Dialogue sparkles. But the walking meeting is a lousy way to listen to each other and discover in the conversation someone's true humanity. It lends itself to stating opinions and positions. It doesn't help anyone connect.

I kind of wish the two of us had given time and attention to each other, but of course that's not why either of us was there. I was there to celebrate, she to chasten, to pray for what she would have considered a miracle, and perhaps to mourn. 

In the weeks and months to come, I trust that many of those who mourn what Minnesota did yesterday will come to see marriage equality as the blessing it is. I have no doubt the light of love will shine.  But for now I wonder if I missed an opportunity to experience God's grace in the dignity and integrity of a genuine connection with a hurting human being. Did I miss the chance to embody and experience God's love by listening to another person's anger and pain? The chance will come again, no doubt. 

For now, I really am basking in a great justice being done. This is a banner day for Minnesota, as the Governor prepares to sign full marriage equality into law in a few hours. I am proud to be a pastor who serves a church that speaks out for the fullness of human dignity for everyone. I only hope I won't let basking turn to gloating. I can rejoice in the good we've done without taking joy in someone else's pain.

I just heard last night that a group of pastors is planning to assemble on August 1 to officiate at free public weddings. I hope to join them that day in the warmth of the sun and the rainbow refractions of God's unconditional love.

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, May 10, 2013

Marriage and Mother's Day: Witness for Peace

It isn't common knowledge (but it should be) that Mother's Day came from the women's anti-war movement. After the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to organize a World Peace Day, a  feminist clarion call to teach every mother's son the ways of peace, not prepare them for the carnage of war.

Anna Jarvis' mother worked to promote Howe's vision, and when she died in 1905, Jarvis honored her mother's work by promoting Mother's Day, leading to Woodrow Wilson's declaration of it as a national holiday in 1914. It morphed quickly into something other than her founding vision. She so opposed the commercialization of the holiday she created that she was arrested in 1948 protesting it.

We do well to remember the holiday's origins: mothers working for peace. Daughters honoring their work. All of us, born from the womb, to witness to peace..

I am deeply moved each time I read Julie Ward Howe's words:
Arise, then, women of this day! 
Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears! 
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. 
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. 
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God. 
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions, The great and general interests of peace.
It is peace that I pray for on Mother's Day, recognizing that each of us who was carried in our mother's womb has within us more innate capacity for love than for violence, more inner craving for relationship than for isolation.

As the Minnesota legislature sandwiches its votes on marriage equality around Mother's Day, I am especially moved to think of the mothers who soon will be able to marry their partners and model for their children even more fully and with public and cultural support the ideals of love and relationship. Maybe someone will even design Mothers' Day cards (note the position of the apostrophe)! Peace modeled in families of every configuration has the potential for even greater witness to world peace.

How much greater our capacity for peace when we proclaim a justice rooted not in violence or exclusion but in love! How much deeper our reservoirs of compassion when children raised in same-sex couple's homes can, without fear of reproach, talk with friends about "my moms"! The personal becomes political. Peace privatized is not really peace.

The vision of peace we see today is not the same as the vision of Julia Ward Howe. It is deeper, richer, broader, greater, certainly more diverse. Yes, our capacity for violence has grown. But so has our awareness of our responsibility for the world's divisions and our commitment, I hope, to reconciliation. 

Howe may not have been able to imagine a day when a mother would be the chief diplomatic officer of the United States, but surely she would be pleased to see how Hillary Clinton helped negotiate an end to several overseas wars. She might not have imagined a world where same-sex parents could raise children together, but surely she would be pleased to see children raised by families of any stripe as long as they were grounded in love.

I am grateful to God for my mother, Jeanne, for Katy, the mother of Jackson, and for the ongoing witness of all those who stand up to violence in ways that give birth to peace. May each of us live to see the day when our families—yes, gay and straight, mothers and fathers, mothers and mothers, father and fathers—will all be models of an inclusive and powerful love that shows the world the ways of peace.
Blessings and, yes, Peace to you this Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Names on My Heart

When Katy and I first married, we lived in a parsonage. Our bedroom window looked out at the church's stained glass. The living room was brightly lit by a picture window. Anyone walking down Center Street could tell if we were watching TV, two-stepping, or having a guest for dinner. It was a classic fishbowl, and we couldn't afford curtains. You could say we were exposed.

It was one afternoon in that bright, open living room that a clergy colleague in our cluster of churches came out to me. He wasn't out at his church. But he could talk, and I could listen and learn about the hurts and hazards of serving God while hiding an essential part of yourself from  God's people.

His name is the first one I wrote on my cut-out heart at the marriage equality vigil last night at the Minnesota State Capitol. Other names quickly followed.

  • a gay college friend who married straight but couldn't keep up the facade
  • a classmate from divinity school who never went into ministry
  • Michael Kinnamon, who showed me at the beginning of my ministry the risks and courage of publicly being an ally
  • Roger Weddell, who hosted the first local chapter meeting of GLAD I ever attended
  • Mel White, who let me be his pastor for a time, but who, in that relationship, taught me more about the power of public witness than anyone I've known
  • Audrey Connor, with whom I was honored to serve on staff in Lynchburg, and who helped me be honest about my convictions out loud
  • Dan Adolphson, with whom I'm walking as he journeys toward ordination
  • The names of every same-sex couple I've married in church but whose licenses I couldn't sign
In the rain, their names washed off my paper heart, but they are indelible on mine, even as they are eternally on the heart of God. 

They and others are on my heart today as I head up to the Minnesota State Capitol for what looks like a historic vote for marriage equality.

My prayers are rising up today with the names and faces not only of friends and allies in ministry but of those whose only fear of exposure, as their relationships begin, should be a few curtainless windows, not the baring of their identity or the stripping of their soul.

Blessings and Peace,