Tag Archives: freedom

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.

A New, Revised Edition!

I celebrated my birthday recently.  We didn’t celebrate with quite as much verve as last year.  And by that I mean there was no pie in my face.

Prior to my birthday last year, I had been telling some friends about how all my life I had wanted to have a pie fight on my birthday, like that amazing pie fight from Blake Edwards’ 1965 classic “The Great Race.” Friends of mine in college obliged me of this bizarre wish at least twice during those four years.  The first time this happened, they snuck up on me and hit me in the face with a huge strawberry pie with whipped cream topping.  Then they poured a bunch of mashed potato flakes on me, presumably because I had a habit of singing the line “His name is Bobby, he looks like a potato” from the Frank Zappa song “San Ber’dino” that I had put on our basketball team’s warm-up soundtrack.  The mashed potato flakes soaked up enough moisture from the pie filling that they hardened and formed a starchy shell all over my clothes, face, and hair.  If you’ve ever stood in a shower with overalls on, trying to scrape strawberry pie filling, whipped cream, and hardened mashed potato flakes off yourself, well, then you know what a pain in the ass it can be.  Or maybe I’m the only person who has ever done this.

Since PW is deliciously inclined to help make my dreams come true, last year she enlisted a dear friend of mine (who was a perpetrator in one of my college birthday pie fights) to sneak up on me at my party and nail me in the kisser with a whipped cream pie.  I don’t think TK anticipated my taking the pie pan and shoving the remainder of it back in her face, but she took it like a champ.

This year’s birthday was considerably quieter.  PW and I went on a picnic, got ice cream, went out for $1 oysters at one of our favorite restaurants, and then headed off to prison where we volunteer once a week.  PW asked me if I wanted to do something other than go to prison on my birthday, but it seemed to me to be a perfect way to celebrate.  The women that we sit and color greeting cards with are so grateful that we show up.  Some are incredulous that we do it without being paid or somehow forced into being there.  One of them asked a volunteer recently, “So, are you ladies still nuns?”  We all had a good chuckle over that one.

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate how precious time is than to sit and color greeting cards with women who are “doing time.”  One of the women I sat with told me that she writes “Jailmark” on the backs of all the cards that she makes.  That cracked me up, and when I couldn’t stop giggling, she added, “Hey, you gotta make your own fun in here.”  That’s the understatement of a lifetime.

The air in prison is oppressively dry and stale.  It’s a wonder to me that more people — prisoners or staff — aren’t freaking out a whole lot more often.  I find it takes almost all my reserves to make it through the two hours that we’re there.  My eyes burn, and I feel like all the water, the life, in my body is being sucked out.  I can’t imagine having to live or work there daily.  So at the end of the evening when we step through the front door to walk to our cars, I’m reminded of how good freedom TASTES.  I’m a Taurus, remember, so freedom is a sensory experience for me, not an abstract concept.

The next morning, bright and early, we got together at church for what I half-jokingly call “Heretic School,” a.k.a. Early Morning Skeptics, a.k.a. Early Morning Bible Study.  I love meeting with this little group of people every other month, once a week, for an hour in the early morning.  We number as high as 11 on some mornings.  This week there were seven of us.  We’ve been plowing through what’s known as “Jesus’ Farewell Discourse” in John.  I find it mind-numbingly repetitive, ridiculously long, and annoyingly sexist and exclusive in its images of the divine.  In short, it’s my least favorite part of my least favorite gospel.  Once again, though, I came away in awe of my fellow skeptics who always seem to find gold in their pans after we spend an hour swirling this stuff around.

Our approach is to read the text three times, with a different person reading each time.  After each reading, we have a question to reflect on.  The first question is “What do you notice?”  The second question is, “What is speaking to you?” And the question at the end of the hour, almost always the hardest question to answer is, “How will your week be different as a result of this encounter?”  One of the men in the group talked about how each time someone reads a text, it is as though he is hearing it anew.  Another man picked up on that and said that he has been going back to read some of the classic literature that was required in his high school English classes.  I don’t know exactly how old he is, but I know he hasn’t been in high school for some time.  He talked about reading “Jane Eyre” again recently and being so transfixed by it and wondering, “Where was I when we read this in high school?  Why didn’t I remember how extraordinary this book is?”

You know how publishers often release a “New, Revised Edition!” of a book?  Sometimes they’ll re-release a book with an updated foreword, or with an appendix of questions for book groups to reflect on, or they’ll add new illustrations, or they’ll release it to coincide with a movie version of the book, with a new cover featuring actors or scenes from the movie.  As I was sitting in Heretic School this week, it occurred to me that a birthday can be a way to celebrate a New, Revised Edition! of our selves.  I certainly felt like a New, Revised Edition! of myself that morning, drinking my caffeinated coffee (which I only started doing in the last year), sitting in a cozy little circle with five people I didn’t even know three years ago, starting the day in a group with whom my skeptical self feels not only comfortable, but welcome and deeply cared for.  Listening to this man talk about re-engaging with “Jane Eyre,” it occurred to me that maybe the New, Revised Edition! of himself was resonating with it in a way that his earlier editions couldn’t.

On my birthday this year, my mom told me that I must come by my love of oysters from her father, who used to harvest and shuck them by the dozens, leaving a big pile of bleached, dried oyster shells in the back field of my mom’s childhood home.  The oyster shell pile was where my mom and her siblings were sent to sit when they had misbehaved.  As I think about the ways in which I am a New, Revised Edition! of myself this year, I know that a big part of it comes from inviting the writer in me to get off the pile of oyster shells in the back field and come home to me.  It’s not that my writer self misbehaved, it’s more like she kept getting underfoot and I had put her in time out because I couldn’t figure out how to include her in all the other stuff of my day-to-day life.  We’re becoming reacquainted now, and I’m reminded yet again of how good freedom TASTES.

Pie fight, anyone?