When I was a kid, I was pretty fast sprinter. I remember participating in only one track meet, held at the athletic fields behind our local high school on a raw, windy spring day. I was a skinny nine-year-old kid with gangly arms and legs. As I was shivering, my bony arms and legs felt like clattering wind chimes.
My parents were in the bleachers, and I guess they couldn’t bear watching me shiver, so my dad came down to the fence between the track and the bleachers and called me over. He had a bulky, corduroy coat in his hand, a hand-me-down from my older brothers. It had a big hood that zipped onto the back. Dad told me that he and my mom wanted me to wear it.
I happily put the coat on and waited for the heat of my race to be called. Seeing the other kids shivering made me even more glad for the coat. Then our heat was called. I looked for my dad, to give him the coat back, but I had no idea where my parents were sitting. I assessed the other shivering kids in the race, and knew I was much faster than all but one of them. That one kid was a stranger, so in my magical nine-year-old thinking, I figured he’d be eating my dust even with the coat on.
We got in our starting crouches. Five freezing nine-year-olds, and one perfectly warm one wearing an enormous coat. It must have looked ridiculous.
The gun went off and I hurled myself down the track, legs churning. The coat restricted my arm movements, so it was hard to find a good rhythm. And then there was that zip-on hood.
As I labored down the track, I apparently compensated for my inability to move my arms freely by turning my torso in an exaggerated manner. The result was that the hood slapped me in the face with every other stride.
I came in last. I couldn’t hold the tears back, as I saw my parents approach me. “Why did you MAKE me wear THAT COAT?!?!?” I asked incredulously. My dad smiled and said, “Well, honey, I didn’t think you’d wear it while you were running.” I blurted, barely coherently, “BUTYOU [sob] TOLDME [sob] IHADTO [sob] WEARTHECOATAAAAAAUUUUHGH….”
This was the story that was running in my head like a movie this morning as I sat on the bus and read my Facebook news feed of people reacting to the passage of North Carolina’s Amendment One.
What I want to say is enough. Enough with the shame. Shame is like that heavy corduroy coat. It restricts our movement, weighs us down, and slaps us in the face with the regularity of a metronome. Stop casting “Shame on North Carolina.” Stop wearing shame like that coat. It is shame that enables short-sighted people to win small, temporary victories like the passage of Amendment One. But shame will not overturn Amendment One. Only Love will do that.
At Heretic School yesterday, one of our band of scripture strugglers referred to the passage from John’s depiction of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” as being written with a key signature of farewell. In the passage we read, the most repeated words were “you” and “love.” My friend’s lovely musical metaphor enabled me to wonder whether the “Farewell Discourse” is Jesus as musical conductor, teaching us how to sing in the key of Love.
The opportunities of shucking off the coat of shame and singing in the key of Love in the face of Amendment One are enormous. In fact, by virtue of having Amendment One on the ballot, the work of Love has already begun. Disparate constituencies have found allies in each other, conversations about justice have erupted. People are talking, openly, at a NATIONAL level about marriage between same-sex couples. That, in and of itself, is victory. It is a sign that the shame that kept queer people and our allies silent for centuries is being cast aside, right now, right here, in our lifetime. We all know how toxic shame is, which is why it’s vital to not give into our desire to cast it on others as we remove it from our own shoulders.
Amendment One is the death rattle of a species on the verge of extinction. Or, if you prefer a baseball metaphor, how about this: In baseball, a player who gets a hit 30% of the time is considered a good hitter. That player is even better when s/he routinely does little things that don’t show up in the batting average, like moving runners over, or scoring runners while making an out.
In losing the battle over Amendment One, forces of justice and equality may have made an out, but we moved the runner into scoring position. So if you need a pick me up this morning as you read the stories about Amendment One, read some of the baseball box scores from last night, along with the little news descriptions of some of the games.
Then get back out there and sing in the key of Love. Find others to sing with, too.
And whatever you do, NEVER attempt to run the 100-yard dash while wearing a heavy coat with a zip-on hood. Unless, of course, you feel your track meet needs some comic relief.