Tag Archives: Marriage equality

On being a fish in the School of Love

Update on June 15, 2017:
I wrote the post below nearly six years ago. This past Tuesday, I learned that Z., the parishioner I wrote about, died last week. She had been in a nursing home for the past few years, which resulted in a huge improvement to her health. Two years ago, she re-connected with long estranged family members who, until they heard her voice on the phone, thought Z. had been dead for years. They continued to visit her at the nursing home regularly up until her death. Emmanuelites also continued to visit her and sent her cards.

Tomorrow Emmanuel will hold a funeral for her, this woman who both taught us and learned from us how friends accompany each other: doggedly, imperfectly, earnestly, generously, with forgiveness, patience, admiration, and whatever else we can muster, in service to each other and to the mysterious force that is the gravity of love. We’ll sing, pray, and eat with her one last time (while Z. came to and ate at every potluck, she steadfastly refused to participate in communion because she was afraid of germs). Then we’ll send Z. along to the burying ground, and to whatever is next. I hope her version of heaven is a place where, among other things, she is the only one allowed to smoke. She loved smoking, but hated when anyone else did.

This poem I read recently is for Z.

Enriching the Earth
by Wendell Berry

To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. Against the shadow
of veiled possibility my workdays stand
in a most asking light. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind’s service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.

Original post, dated July 25, 2011:
All the churchgoing I’ve done in my adult life has been in urban settings. When I compare this to the churchgoing of my childhood, the biggest differences seem to be that, as an adult, I’ve attended churches with a lot more people who are either visibly mentally ill, or homeless, or both.

Listening to the radical teachings of a homeless rabbi to the marginalized people of a land occupied by a hostile foreign army is a lot more intense when some of my pewmates are marginalized people who stink to high heaven because they don’t have a regular place to bathe or wash their clothes, and/or who are clearly struggling to keep any sort of grip on their minds. Some have been given to what I think of as Liturgical Wandering, where they get up and mill about at inappropriate moments. Some have come storming down the center aisle, hollering incoherently and angrily. Some have panhandled during communion. You get the idea.

We have a few regulars at my church who are in the category that PW refers to as “the least, the last and the lost.” Like all the rest of us who more easily pass as “normal” (even though in our own ways we are also “least, last, and lost”), some are higher functioning than others. Recently, one of our “least, last, and lost” responded to an announcement in the worship folder that offered pastoral care services to anyone who needs them.

I will call this person Z.

Z’s pastoral care needs include help with laundry, grocery shopping, and getting rides to and from church. I don’t know if there’s any diagnosable condition involved, but Z is consumed with fear and suspicion. This results in incredibly tense situations at church, especially around personal contact (touching) and food. I’ve seen more than a few well-meaning people tenderly touch Z on the shoulder while trying to find out what it is that Z needs, only to find themselves on the other end of Z’s outraged, “Get your HANDS OFF OF ME! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE??”

Yesterday, I volunteered to give Z a ride home from church. Well, I didn’t exactly volunteer. PW asked if I would do it. I didn’t want to do it, but when my inner Bartleby the Scrivener muttered “I would prefer not to,” I took a deep breath and said “too bad” to it. Then I responded to PW with, “Okay.” There were at least a thousand other things I would rather have done, but it’s a shallow, flimsy, and ultimately worthless commitment to a difficult and demanding faith tradition if I only show up for the people I enjoy. There’s at least one thing I’ve learned in all these years of church-going: if we’re really following the example of our homeless rabbi, being a Christian is less like a garden party, and more like mud wrestling.

At the exchange of the peace during church yesterday, the co-chair of the pastoral care committee, B, hugged me and wished me “many blessings” on my afternoon adventure with Z. B knows how important those blessings are. She recently spent something like 5 hours sitting in a laundromat while Z did laundry and refused all help. I didn’t realize that such a simple exchange with someone I love would end up becoming a life preserver that I would cling to desperately in order to get through the afternoon.

Giving Z a ride home was excruciating – it took way too long, it overwhelmed every one of my senses in bad ways, and it tapped the bottom of qualities I think of myself as having in abundance: patience, kindness, compassion, empathy, and good humor. I completely underestimated the effect that an hour’s worth of Z’s paranoia would have on me. I knew that I was only experiencing a sliver of what it is like for Z to navigate the world on a daily basis. This simultaneously comforted me, made me feel ill, and shattered my heart. I squeezed the life preserver of B’s blessings and hung on tight.

As you may have gathered from the description of the scene at the laundromat, Z moves at a glacially slow pace. After a complicated and time-consuming trip to the grocery store, where I thought Z might collapse from stress, we arrived at Z’s apartment. I carried the groceries up and stacked them precariously on one of the few available flat surfaces. Z thanked me awkwardly, and looked smaller than ever as I closed the door behind me. When I left the tiny, chaotic room that Z calls home, I got in my car and took a deep breath. I didn’t know if I would throw up or start sobbing, or both.

I sat there for a few minutes, bobbing in the sea of a wider world that was both roiling with the shock, horror, and grief of Norway – where my grandfather was born – and buoyant with the glee, relief, and wonder of the many same-sex couples across the State of New York, who spoke their vows to each other and got to hear the thrilling words, “By the power vested in me by the laws of the state of New York, I now pronounce you legally married.” I let the tears come.

That’s me, out of formation in the lower left corner

More and more, I think the practice of going to church is, basically, swimming in the School of Love. It’s about learning that sometimes love is as simple, and as difficult, as escorting a nausea-inducing person to your car, opening the door, and helping the person sit down on the once pristine passenger seat. It is about remembering to hold your breath while you reach across to help that person, who does not want to be touched, with the seat belt. It is about wielding a grocery cart and 20 bucks to buy diet soda, blueberry muffins, pita bread, hummus, and taboule. It is about choosing to be compassionate, even when everything about it makes you feel ill.

One of my swim coaches once told me, “You won’t get any better if you back off from the pain. So if you want to be better, when you get to the pain, just swim through it.” He made it sound so easy. Oh sure, la dee dah! Just swim through it! La la! Even when I knew there was an endorphin rush on the other side, I always found it terrifying to swim through the pain. That was several decades and two shoulders ago, before I found that most of life’s swimming doesn’t happen anywhere near a pool.

What do I want to be when I grow up? Better. Better at compassion today than yesterday. Better at love this year than last. Better at doing the next right thing than I was just a moment ago. And so I keep swimming in the School of Love, clinging to the lifeline of my many blessings.

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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.

The Algebra of Life

Only an infrequent blogger such as I would have ears so tinny as to pose a mathematical riddle on a Sunday. Today’s algebraic challenge?

When does 62 = 24? Show your work.

The answer is June 7. Today is a mixed bag in our house. In the algebra of life, each June 7 marks another year of marriage for my parents while also marking another year that PW’s dad has been dead. Today is my parents’ 62nd wedding anniversary. PW’s dad died 24 years ago today.

Isn’t that so like life? One person can be experiencing a transcendent moment of awe while the person right next to her can be staggering through the endless, rocky, unpredictable terrain of grief. Even stranger is when the same person is living in both landscapes.

I never met PW’s dad, but I’ve heard enough stories to wish I had met him. And not a week goes by that I don’t ask him, in case he’s hanging around within earshot, “Did you see that? Did you hear that? She’s stunning, isn’t she?”

160 PARTY BARB 01_0003.1

My parents on their wedding day in 1953.

As for my parents, well, in their 62 years of marriage, I’m pretty sure they’ve reinvented the institution of marriage at least a handful of times. Probably more. I’ve never understood why people are afraid of marriage being reinvented. It seems to me that every couple who enters into this covenant will reinvent it, shape it in their own way, learning how to love each other as they come, to paraphrase Kristin Diable’s “True Devotion.”

image001

My parents on PW’s and my wedding day in 2004.

I don’t know the particulars that have gone into my parents’ reinvention. I know some of the components that loom large: admiration, humor, and forgiveness.

When PW and I were watching the Belmont Stakes yesterday, we were both struck by how newly minted Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah finished the race–after a mile and a half, it seemed like he was still accelerating. That’s what my parents’ 62-year marriage looks like to me today,  as though their union has more forward momentum than ever before. I also happen to know that their church congregation gave them a standing ovation today, so there’s something else they have in common with the thunderous thoroughbred.

For some reason, this poem comes to mind on this bittersweet anniversary. It’s from Mary Oliver’s 2014 collection of poems entitle, Blue Horses, which PW gave me last Christmas:

RUMI (for Coleman Barks)
 
When Rumi went into the tavern
I followed.
I heard a lot of crazy talk
and a lot of wise talk.

But the roses wouldn’t grow in my hair.

When Rumi left the tavern
I followed.
I don’t mean just to peek at
such a famous fellow.
Indeed he was rather ridiculous with his
long beard and his dusty feet.
But I heard less of the crazy talk and
a lot more of the wise talk and I was
hopeful enough to keep listening

until the day I found myself
transformed into an entire garden
of roses.

Which brings us to another math problem:

When does 62 + 24 = infinity? Live your work.

Alleluia

Receiving the blessing from the gathered community at our wedding

Receiving the blessing from the gathered community at our wedding

When marriage equality came to Massachusetts in 2004, PW and I celebrated the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision with glasses of wine. We sat together in our living room and cried tears of disbelief, relief, amazement, incredulity, and joy while I read excerpts of that remarkable ruling.

But we never thought it would apply to us. We had already exchanged rings and made promises at that point. We thought marriage equality was great for other people, but we didn’t see why we would need it.

Then, separately, each one of our daughters asked us, “When are we going to have OUR wedding?”

Our wedding? Our wedding!

My beautiful family

My beautiful family, circa 2004

You might think that since we’re celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary in a matter of days, we wouldn’t be as carried away by today’s United States Supreme Court victory for marriage equality. If you thought that, you underestimate the immense power of being granted explicit equality under the law, and the ripple effect that has on our children and extended families and friends.

As recently as last April, when PW and I flew back from London together at the beginning of her sabbatical, the customs form we had to fill out upon re-entry to the US reminded us of our separate and unequal status. The form allows families travelling together to fill out only one form. However, because the US government didn’t then recognize our marriage as legitimate, we were not, legally, a family. So we filled out separate forms and marked ourselves as travelling alone. It was a jarring re-entry, like how I imagined it would feel to be an astronaut splashing down into the ocean after floating around in space for a few weeks.

Today’s ruling removes the toxic sting of our marginalized status. There is still plenty of work to do on behalf of countless people who remain on the margins, who are struggling for equality under the law (as evidenced by yesterday’s Voting Rights Act ruling). But today–today deserves many Alleluias.

I voted for the future

On Sunday, I drove to church with a parishioner who struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. After I picked her up, I told her I was really glad that she wanted to come to church. She fixed me with a concerned look: “There’s so much fear about the election. I knew that church was the safest place I could be today.”

This particular parishioner is completely dependent on the universal health care we have here in Massachusetts. Among the many things that frighten her is Mitt Romney’s promise to do away with the national version of the same universal health care he signed into law when he was our “severely conservative governor.”

So when I stepped into the voting booth this morning, I voted for my mentally ill friend and everyone else who feels consumed by fear. I also voted for my marriage to PW. And I voted for a future full of elbow room for my three daughters, and any daughters or sons they may have, and any marriage commitments they may one day want to make. These are some, but not all, of the visions I voted for this morning—a future where:

  • Insuring a woman’s reproductive freedom is as important as insuring a man’s ability to maintain an erection for up to four hours.
  • Two people who want to make a lifelong and lovelong commitment to each other can enjoy the legal protections and responsibilities of marriage, regardless of their sexual orientation.
  • We join other countries as diverse as Mexico, Canada, Rwanda, Mongolia, Israel, India, and Bhutan in providing universal healthcare, and we compete with countries such as Germany and Singapore in making significant investments in scientific and medical research.
  • We heed the warnings that abound in our environment and begin working with other nations on the difficult task of ending global warming.
  • Any redistribution of income flows in the direction of abundance to scarcity, and not the opposite, which has been the norm for the better part of the past 12 years.
  • We make sacrifices on behalf and in honor of the people who put their lives in harm’s way to ensure our safety and security. In short, never again should we go to war without increasing taxes to pay for it.
  • Taxes are understood to be an investment that ensures the strength of our social fabric, and are not an evil to be avoided and eliminated.
  • Our elected representatives level with us rather than lie to us.
  • Our representation at all levels of government reflects our extraordinary national diversity.
  • We leave no one behind, regardless of their demographic descriptors.
  • We guard the right to vote with more fervor than we guard the right to buy weapons, and exercise it with reason and critical thinking.
  • Being smart and well-educated is something we want for every person, and seek in our elected representatives.
  • Everything is music.
[spotify http://open.spotify.com/track/23Bb7XkXXoDojT64AIsw7V]

P.S. Thanks to my friend Jason McStoots for the graphic at the top of the page.

Talking point

Biblical standards of marriage (because you can’t have just one!). Click on the graphic if you want to go to a site where it’s a little more legible.

I can’t believe it took me so long, but it occurred to me this morning that the Biblical standard of marriage could best be described like this: Marriage is between one man and whatever woman/women he wants to marry. I could be snarky and add that it’s strikingly similar to the marriage standard of a number of prominent conservative male talkers and thinkers. But I won’t.

Now that the issue of equal marriage is once again front and center, there’s a lot of handwringing among progressive/liberal friends of mine, across a broad spectrum of religious and non-religious affiliations, regarding how to engage people who cherry pick verses from the Bible to justify their opposition to marriage equality.

Here are my thoughts on this, heavily influenced by my gaymarriage (we like to say it as one word in our house) to PW. Let me tell you, being able to love and live in gaymarriage with a Bible scholar, who mines both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament in their original languages, is like living in a research laboratory for religion. I find it thrilling, but then you probably already knew that I’m a big gaymarried weirdo.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing people reduce scripture to prop up arguments that condemn people for love. As people are wont to say these days, “I know, right?!” This sort of scripture mumblety-peg seems to me to be an extremely unfaithful use of these ancient texts we have inherited. And, I would argue that even if you’re an atheist, you have inherited these texts, since they inform (for better or for worse) so much of the literature, art, music, language, laws, and architecture that surround us.

More and more I wonder, whatever happened to Jesus’ very simple teaching, “With God, all things are possible”? It seems to me that Christians who explain resurrection by citing this verse, but then suddenly exile it when the topic is queer people being able to be ordained or to marry each other, show an extraordinary lack of both faith and imagination. I would go so far as to suggest that the willful exclusion of one of the most expansive verses in the Christian testament demonstrates willful opposition to what the Bible relentlessly shows that God wants for all of God’s people: freedom, justice, and fullness of life. “With God, all things are possible” also happens to be the state motto of Ohio, a big swing state. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a particularly delicious gaymarriage coincidence!

As I think I’ve said before here, I believe that the progress toward full inclusion of queer people in the Church and in society is God speaking to us, here and now, through a relentless urge of redeeming Love.

My suggestion to those of us who will find ourselves in these sorts of conversations–whether in real life or on the Internet–is: don’t get sucked into arguing with people who abuse scripture this way. Save your tootsies from scripture mumblety-peg. Stand tall, be out and proud (whether you’re family, ally, or queer), and represent all that is possible in Love. But if you’re tempted to  to cite a Bible verse, feel free to lean on that expansive teaching from an ancient and still prominent unmarried, homeless, rebellious Jewish rabbi who, from the stories we have, never seemed interested in playing scripture mumblety-peg with anyone.

Thus ends my locker room pep talk. Now let’s get out there and win one in the name of Love!

Correcting my scorecard

In an earlier post today, I likened what happened in North Carolina yesterday to a baseball player moving the runner over while making an out.

I’d like to correct my scorecard. Based on today’s news out of the White House this afternoon, I think we did more than that. I think we scored a run on that play.

The Internet has been aflutter all afternoon with people complaining about President Obama’s statement today in support of same-sex marriage. It’s too calculated, it’s too late, it’s distracting to the “real” issues that are plaguing our nation, it’s not enough, it’s a ploy to invigorate his base, it’s cynical.

Whatever. Some folks, when given the opportunity to see a glass half-full or half-empty, will maintain that we’re all out of glasses.

One small step, one giant leap

For me, watching the sitting president of the United States, who is a biracial man with an unusual name, come out in support of my equal rights — well, this is as riveting as the moon landing. I’ve watched the clips several times, with that same  combination of awe and disbelief that I had when I watched Neil Armstrong make his way down that ladder.

I still can’t believe I have lived long enough to see the kind of progress on queer civil rights that have happened in the past 15 years. I wish Maurice Sendak, who never came out to his parents, and who made a home with the same man for 50 years, had lived to see this day. I wish Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde and Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk had lived to see this day.

My hope, my prayer, is that those of us who have the good fortune to live and love in these times will continue to live and love in ways that honor the mighty ones who came before us.

Thank you, President Obama.

Update at 9:56 pm Eastern Time: feel free to use the comments to add the names of friends or family of yours who you wish had lived to see this day. Thanks for the idea, Miss L.