We got next

This week. This life. I can’t believe what I’ve seen and heard this week. Really. It’s as though every cell of my body is simultaneously ecstatic and exhausted.

On Sunday night, at an interfaith prayer service to honor the Charleston Nine at the historic Charles AME Church in Roxbury, the attorney general of my state, Maura Healey, gave a rousing sermon in which she said this:

Today we talk of mourning, the hurt we feel, of healing, and coming together – and that is right. But that is not enough. That will not do. We have work to do. In basketball we say, “I got next” when you want to challenge someone. Tonight, I got next, you got next, our government’s got next. Each and every one of us has got next. We must challenge ourselves and our leaders, every day. Every day, every person must make this their own, to see the world through the other’s eyes, to live the world through the other’s experiences, the other’s circumstances.

Two days ago, the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, ordered all the Confederate flags removed from the grounds state capitol. In one of his statements about the situation, he said this:

“I said ‘we’re going to remove them,’ and I did,” Bentley said. “I’m the first governor that has removed a Confederate flag.”

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 ruling making marriage equality the law of the land. The concluding paragraph of the decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said this:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is Reversed.

It is so ordered.

Today, my marriage to PW is legal in every one of The United States of America. Today, I listened to my president praise this decision, with a challenge, when he said this:

Those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them.

As the news spread on the equal marriage decision, political people in opposition to it began their predictable chorus of outrage and rebellion. I felt compelled to write a post on Facebook, in which I said this:

Can you hear it? The reactions of people insistent on not obeying this new law of the land (equal marriage) echo the refusals to adhere to the 14th amendment when it first became the law of the land in 1868 (protecting newly free persons who had been enslaved). Are you listening? Are you paying attention to what you hear?

Queer people and allies, do not limit your joy today. But know this: our freedom is inextricably linked to freedom for ALL society’s disenfranchised. We cannot be rest or be satisfied until ALL are free.

In short, we need to work our asses off to end white supremacy and the myriad forms of racism it generates, from the benign to the murderous. It will be difficult. It will require our hearts to break open. It will require each of us to be willing to sit with and hold the justifiable outrage and despair of people we do not know and who do not look or think like us.

Love one another. Live for each other.

As I was typing that, our president began to sing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston Nine, cut down in the middle of a Wednesday night Bible study by a white supremacist.

Hearing President Obama lead thousands of mourners in that song gave me such a strong memory of my friend and mentor, the late John Shepherd, who died of AIDS on October 7, 1993, in Washington, DC. He was 48.

I remember a passionate speech John gave during a worship committee meeting on the subject of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” John said he would not play it unless the words “that saved a wretch like me” were changed to “that saved and set me free.” In his speech, John said this:

All my life I’ve been told I’m a wretch. Or if not told that, then treated like one. So while I love this hymn, and I believe in grace, I will not be labeled as a wretch any more. And I don’t want anyone to take that label on. Let’s focus not on who we are before grace arrives, but on what grace does. It sets us free.

Ever since that day in 1991, I have always sung the line that way. Thank you, John, for teaching me to focus on freedom. May we honor the millions who died, enslaved or free, to bring us to this place of a new kind of freedom. May we all find the strength, the wisdom, the grace, and the courage to go out of our way to bring freedom to those are not yet free. If you know what freedom tastes like, don’t you want it for everyone else?

We got next, people. We got next.

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4 responses to “We got next

  1. Tricia Bayless Browne

    Thank you for once again using your gift with words to express what my heart holds. You have blessed me and I am sure others. I am so happy to know what words to sing in the hymn, “Amazing Grace” as I would not sing it before. John Shepherd had a great idea. May this day be the beginning of more walls being rent asunder by the power of love, justice & peace. Blessings dear Joy.

  2. xxoo plus a million hugs.

  3. Thanks, John Shepherd, for your inspiring revision of “Amazing Grace.” And thanks, Joy Howard, for alerting me to this great improvement. But mostly thank you, Joy, for your moving celebration of SCOTUS’ ruling on same sex marriage. You rightly emphasize the call to lean into the future, to help bend the arc of justice and equity more fully into reality in our nation.I pledge to do what little I can to maintain membership in the “NEXT” band of pilgrim peoples.–Admiringly, dad xoxox

  4. I’ve read this about a jillion times since you wrote it. Your words, as always, say what my heart thinks. Often, when you are so present in my mind, I stop, take a deep breath, and say “Thank you,” to the Creator for whatever force in the universe, and in your father’s body and in my body, made possible YOU. To say I am grateful for you seems weak, but I am. To say I admire you, seems weak, but I am. To say you amaze me is the complete truth. To say I love you is absolute.

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