Sunday, June 16, 2013
The committee that asked me to present, the Mission Committee, gets to invite someone to come in and do what they call a "mission moment". It's a short period in the service, roughly 3-5 minutes, to present whatever the cause may be, and what we (the presenters) would like from the congregation of United Church. Sometimes, that's money. Sometimes, that's time. For me, it was about people power. Particularly straight people power of those who believe in changing our world through the spread of unconditional love.
This being Father's Day in the United States, I framed my remarks, appropriately enough, around my father, Edward "Bud" Gage. Those who have been reading this blog for a number of years know how integral my father is to my spiritual journey. How appropriate, then, to reflect upon the moment I "came out" as gay to my dad. I had told my mother already, and she had been sitting with this information for about six weeks. She decided it was time to tell my dad, and so, she arranged the phone call.
I was scared to death. My dad, the former Navy officer, the former Exeter District Court judge, the life-long, staunch Republican, raised a Calvinist in the Dutch Reformed Church, was a looming presence in my psyche. The thought of telling him about my sexual orientation was incredibly frightening. I thought, "There's no way he'll understand this." He would hate me. He would disown me. And, more crushing in my mind, I would have been a disappointment to him.
My mother, very helpfully, set up the conversation in this way:
"Bud, Susan has something she wants to say to you."
I was crying. My partner, probably harboring many of my fears as well, was standing by, holding my hand. I pushed past my tears for the big reveal.
"Dad. I'm a lesbian."
There was a pause. And in that dead space on the phone, I was conjuring up the image of my dad, ready to explode in anger about the dishonor I had brought upon him, the family and myself. Every really bad after-school-like special was colliding in my brain as I waited for his answer.
"Well..." he said, slowly. "Who's to say Jesus Christ wasn't gay?"
I was stunned. And I started laughing, not so much at the remark and the suggestion that maybe Jesus and John the Evangelist did have a little something special going on between them. But it was more at the release from my fear of rejection, and the recognition that what my dad was really saying in that statement is: "I love you unconditionally."
Though my father didn't march in Pride parades, or wave a banner proclaiming, "I love my lesbian daughter," I know he did. He would demonstrate that love in so many ways by engaging in laughter and conversation with my partner about legal topics, and basking in the attention of all my lesbian friends who helped celebrate his birthday one year when my parents came for a visit. He would go to PFLAG conferences with my mom and enjoyed learing about the transgender community. One day, he got a phone call from his cousin Fred, a very conservative and homophobic man, who demanded to know why I, Bud Gage's daughter, was on a radio program talking about "those homosexuals." Fred's son had heard me on "This Way Out" and called his dad to find out if that was me. Fred was furious. And when he called, I think he expected a much different reaction from my dad than the one he got. I think Fred was hoping my dad would share his "grave concern" about me. Instead, my father reiterated that he loved me, he was proud of me, not only for being who I was in my sexual orientation, but being a voice that people heard on the radio! Needless to say, Fred never attempted to discuss this topic with my father again.
It is this kind of unconditional love that my father modeled which is reflective of the love I see in all the parents who come to PFLAG, especially as they attend, listen, and share with one another. They want to do right by their gay children in the same way other family members and friends want to do right by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in their lives. This group provides them a safe haven to come and ask questions where they won't be judged, and they will also feel that same unconditional love, which they then can carry with them back into the world.
This is the same unconditional love that I believe comes from the one who I call Love. This is the lesson that I believe Jesus Christ lived, preached, died, and was resurrected to demonstrate to all people, believer and non-believer alike.
My big ask of the United Church community is the one I ask of all people who are not self-identified as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer community: join us in our struggle for full equality. Become active in PFLAG. Keep us on the path of moving equality forward, one family and individual at a time.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
I was invited to address our Outreach Commission about a lack of printed materials that offered an explicit welcome to LGBT visitors to the parish and our straight allies. The genesis for me going to this meeting came about a couple months ago when I was setting up the PFLAG table at the annual Pride on the Plaza festival. As always, we provided space for St. Stephen Lutheran Church to put out their literature advertising themselves as a welcoming congregation. However, this time, I found that their flyer was making me angry. And I couldn't understand why. Then it hit me: I was frustrated that there was no similar flyer from my church, the church where PFLAG has been meeting for four years! I took my outrage to the head of our Outreach Commission, who promptly asked if I wanted to be on the agenda. And I agreed, and then recruited a gay friend to also come to the meeting.
I had gone to the discussion in the hopes that I might get the Commission to recommend to the vestry and clergy that we develop a pamphlet which could be handed out to show our welcome to all people, especially gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people. But after a short discussion, with some sharing around the pain that was once present at St. John's in the form of a homophobic rector, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend that there be an LGBT Outreach ministry. For such a thing to work will require support of the vestry... and the clergy. I have no doubts that such support is there; I do wonder how that can be achieved in this diocese which has absolutely refused to have any discussion about human sexuality at all. But I trust God, and God does move in mysterious ways.
With this historical witness in my mind and my heart, I found that as I shared with the Outreach Commission the work of PFLAG, how we have helped parents become more loving and less apprehensive about their gay kids, and how St. John's willingness to host our PFLAG chapter has done much to improve the church's image in the community, I was not afraid or nervous. I was acknowledging that St. John's has made strides in the direction of being inclusive within its walls; now, it needs to take that out more into the city. I have made this case several times before to various clergy and others at the church to no avail. But something inside me told me, this time, things are different.
My co-presenter for the evening shared his own experiences of not being sure if he could enter St. John's because there was nothing "out there" in any of the local gay publications that explicitly welcomed gay people to come and worship. And that opened the floor for the straight members of the Commission to air some of their own experiences, before "the split" of the congregation. Some said that after hearing one sermon laced with venomous speech, they couldn't think of raising their family in that parish. How many others might have had that same experience, and are staying away now? In the back of my mind I kept thinking, "Son of Encouragement, here is our second chance to make things right." The group meeting in the upstairs classroom that evening seemed to be on the same wavelength.
Second chances are part of the nature of Christ's work. In the Gospel lesson assigned for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost, we have Luke's account of the dinner party at the Pharisee's house when an unexpected, and uninvited, guest shows up. It's a woman with an alabaster jar filled with expensive ointment. She washes Jesus feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair, and then anoints him with the oil. The Pharisee, and probably others as well, were put off by this "public display of affection" because... well, y'know... we all know what kind of woman she is, a horrible sinner as opposed to the upright and proper man such as this host of the party. Jesus, himself a Son of Encouragement and definitely a believer in second chances, takes a moment to tell the parable of the two people who are in debt to a creditor. One owes 500 denarii; the other owes only a tenth of that amount. But the creditor, upon hearing that neither of these two can repay him, decides to just cancel their debt. Jesus asks his Pharisee host, Simon, "So, who do you think is going to love the creditor more?" And Simon, correctly, answers the one who was in greater debt. And Jesus goes on to note that Simon didn't offer to wash Jesus' feet, anoint him with oil, or even offer him a kiss. But this woman, who is scorned, has given fully of herself and has not stopped kissing his feet. Therefore, she, who has many sins, has been forgiven because she has shown great love and "the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."
Interestingly, the next line in the passage is how everyone then started bickering around the table about "Where does he get off forgiving people of their sins?" We have no resolution to that moment, because the next lines are about Jesus going out throughout the town, preaching, teaching, and picking up more followers, particularly women. Those women, too, like Barnabas, gave of their resources to aid in Christ's ministry. And why would they not? Jesus had recognized the faith and love of a fellow sister in a patriarchal society.
And he did the unexpected: he gave this woman with her alabaster jar and tears a second chance through forgiveness. This was a huge gift to this woman to restore her to a rightful place through recognition of her love and faith. This is the same gift God grants to each person in the hopes that we, too, might also extend it to each other. That's the lesson Jesus was teaching in Simon the Pharisee's house. When those who questioned "by what authority" did Jesus have to forgive this woman's sins, they had already shown that they failed to understand what he was teaching. They were still focusing on the black and white letter of the law, as opposed to what is the intent of the law. And in getting that wrapped up in the technicalities, they couldn't see that the "authority" is God, and God acts, exists, and perpetuates good in the world through "God's people" when they love one another the way God has loved.
In today's world, it is up to each one of us who profess a belief in Christ to be that one who is willing to do the unexpected, and forgive people who have messed up and give them a second chance when they come with their tears and their metaphorical alabaster jars. "By what authority" is simply answered: God's authority, working through us. It is up to us to see the sincerity of the heart, and offer forgiveness.
In some ways, I believe, that is what happened with the Outreach Commission. Another piece of the sin that was left behind by those who preached hatred at St. John's was made right, by proxy, by those who have remained and want to reconcile any differences that still exist with the community's LGBT population. Their unanimous vote to recommend an LGBT outreach ministry is a good, and right, and joyful thing. And I believe God, and all the saints... especially Barnabas... rejoiced.
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Nobody knows when, exactly, the high court will issue an opinion.
No one knows, exactly, what the justices will say in that opinion.
We do know there will be a ruling. And we know that we need to be ready to respond to said ruling. And this often leads to that tightrope walk called "Talking Points."
For instance, in Florida, a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that says the Prop 8 case should never have come before them because those defending the California law don't have standing to do so, will be great for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of California; it will not mean anything here. In the Windsor case, which is the one challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, there is a concern that the Court will only find a portion of the law unconstitutional and will turn the enforcement of DOMA over to the states. For Floridians, this will be highly disappointing because our state lawmakers have shown little to no interest in protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination. A "middle of the road" opinion from the Court will have the effect of being more like a "median in the road" of our country: there will be those who live, mostly above the Mason-Dixon Line, who will continue to enjoy the benefits of equality while those of us living in the southeastern United States will be on the other side of that median, stuck in traffic as it were. This growing gulf between gays and lesbians living in the north versus' the south can not continue if we are going to be one nation. And our LGBT brothers and sisters, as well as our allies in those places where they have already achieved equality by leaps and bounds, must not forget those of us who are not enjoying that taste of freedom yet. We will need your voices to join with our own to raise up the hue and cry that we want "liberty and justice for all" to reach us as well.
Ultimately, our voices will be "the thing" that will change hearts and minds. LGBT people, our family members and our friends, telling our stories and sharing who we are is the only way to persuade people who remain "unsure" to see that we are not to be feared. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." The more we keep showing up, presenting our true selves, and refusing to engage in a shouting match with those who would scream epithets at us, the more we will see a movement in our direction... even in the south. It takes courage. It takes the willingness to stand up and stand out. If we remain invisible, nothing will change. Tell your story. And do not be afraid... even when you're trembling inside.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Saturday, June 1, 2013
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God mySaviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth--
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world's first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.