Sunday, June 30, 2013

Slaves No More

"For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not again submit to a yoke of slavery."--Galatians 5:1

This seems like a fitting epitaph for the grave stone on the struggle against the Defense of Marriage Act.  The body hasn't quite arrived to be lowered into the ground and put six feet under in the annals of history.  Places, such as most of the southeastern United States,  are still question marks as to how one grants federal marriage benefits to people whom the state refuses to recognize as married.  More lawsuits to come.  Stay tuned.

And as we, in those 37 unequal states, gather up steam to fight for our rights which we know are now overdue, we might consider the other parts of the Galatians reading for today, specifically about our single commandment to love one another... but "if, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."  I think there are several ways a person might interpret what Paul is saying here, but here's how I understand him in the context of "the next steps" for our movement, specifically in Florida.

Back in 2008, when the horrible Amendment Two passed on the same night that the country elected Barack Obama the President of the United States, our community, statewide and nationally, were plunged into a pit of despair.  I know I certainly was bitter.  First, there had been no attention given to our struggle against Amendment Two by any of the national LGBT rights groups.  Instead, all the energy went westward to California to defeat Proposition 8.  As we know, that didn't turn out well, either.  Secondly, I was furious with our own statewide rights group for the campaign it had waged against the Amendment.  Instead of fighting fire with fire and saying to the public, "Do you really want to single out LGBT people for discrimination in the state constitution, too??" they put up this ridiculous argument that Amendment Two would be a detriment to "police officers, fire fighters, and the elderly."  There were messages sent out to the community: whatever you do, don't say this is about 'gay marriage.'  I was even chastised by a reader of this blog for daring to say that it was about 'gay marriage.'  All we had to do to defeat Amendment Two was keep the vote for it below 60 percent.  We couldn't even do that.  Later, I had learned that there had been much in-fighting with wealthy white male gay Republicans wanting control of the messaging and so forth. So, in other words, our campaign was, as they say, "a hot mess."

As we approach this new era and new campaign to topple Amendment Two, we can't make the same mistakes again.  The leaders of our statewide rights group are organizing a campaign to Get Engaged.  I am taking that to mean that, this time around, there will be an actual coalition of various groups standing up for our rights.  That's what it's going to take to take down Amendment Two, and topple the state statutes.  This cannot be just the LGBT community's fight, or just Tampa Bay's struggle.  And it's not about political parties, or religious affiliation (or lack thereof).  Everyone, no matter who they are, who cares about liberty and justice for ALL must be enlisted to get engaged in this march toward light and liberty.

My hand is to the plow in this, and I am not looking back.  How about you?


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rejoice and Rev Up for More Equality

I am currently in New Hampshire on another pilgrimage to visit the Anonymous Peggins.  And so I am 1,100 miles away from my partner and my friends in Florida.  Having that distance between us was killing me at about 9:45am as I logged in for my final dose of SCOTUSblog.

The ruling yesterday on the Voting Rights Act broke my heart.  I was juggling my iPad on my lap with a cup of coffee and my boarding pass as I saw the Shelby case come down, and I let out an audible gasp and an "Oh, no! No!"  I have spent enough time covering redistricting and reapportionment in Florida to know that those states that required adult supervision for how they conduct themselves with political district maps and voting are still looking for ways to undermine the rights of minorities to vote.  To say that we have somehow, magically, reached Nirvana in voting rights, especially after the stunts pulled in this last election which resulted in people standing in line for 8-10 hours to vote, is ridiculous.  

With that in mind, I was quite anxious about what was going to happen to the marriage equality cases this morning.  My hosts were celebrating their youngest child reaching the grand age of 21 with a breakfast of eggs, bacon and blueberry-banana pancakes.  I apologized, but said I really needed my iPad to be a dining companion.

"Of course!" said my hostess.

Eating was not first and foremost on my mind.  What was in those boxes that the court reporter had delivered to the bloggers was all I cared about.  And then it showed up on the blog feed.  The first case would be DOMA (also known as U.S. v. Windsor).  Section 3, which deals with the federal benefits portion, was struck down.  I announced it at the table.  Everyone thought that was bad.  

"No, no!" I said, "That's good!  That's good!" And I put my eyes back on the screen.  

As I saw more, I started to cry.  It was amazing.  We'd won.  We really had made the case and we'd won.  Now, the win does come with the asterisk that the benefits apply to couples who reside in states where marriage is legal.  That leaves Florida, and 36 other states, in an awkward place.   Then Prop 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry) dismissed for lack of standing.  California had won!  Marriages for LGBT people were upheld again.  

My phone was buzzing, the emails were flying, the Facebook messages were everywhere.   One of the PFLAG-Tallahassee officers asked me to put out a statement to our chapter.  I was not able to be at our rally in Tallahassee, the one that I worked to pull together.  So, sending an email to everyone was my best way of being present while being so far away.  

Here's what I said:

Today's rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court were truly an historic moment in our long march toward full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in this country.  Admittedly, after yesterday's decision in the Voting Rights Act case, I was more than just a little nervous about what we where we were going and what we would hear from the Court.  And while this is not a sweeping victory that says, "Everybody can get married in the United States," it does continue to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

But we are not done.  What these rulings seem to say is that those people living in the 13 states and the District of Columbia that have marriage equality will now have full equality under both the state and federal laws.  However, couples that live in a state such as Florida, which constitutionally and in statute ban marriage equality,  will not receive the full benefits of marriage.

Increasingly, it seems we are not living in America, but rather something more like George Orwell's "Animal Farm" where all marriages are equal, but "some marriages are more equal than others." This is not the America I want to live in.  It is not OK to have a country divided by geography this way, where 90+ million people live in an area with full equality.  And I am tired of receiving the smiling postcards from these equal states with that phrase, "Wish you were here!"

For those LGBT Americans who benefit from these rulings, my heart is full and I am so proud and excited for all of you.  This is a remarkable day for justice for our community.  Now, we must carry this momentum to the south.  Please don't forget us!

For our straight friends and parents, thank you for standing with us.  Now, more than ever in Florida, we need you to join with your friends and your children to keep us marching toward light and liberty.

I encourage everyone on this list in Tallahassee to attend tonight's rally outside the Old State Capitol building and Get Engaged in the movement for justice in Florida.

Now, it's time to go visit with my mom and tell her the good news!  She worked so hard as a PFLAG mom to have victories like this one.  It'll be good to give her a hug on this day.

In celebration,

I did tell my mom, the Anonymous Peggins, who happened to be in one of her PFLAG shirts today, about the court rulings.  "So, SO!" she said.  And she smiled.  She understood this was a good thing.

In New Hampshire, where equality for LGBT people has long-since been settled, there were no rallies planned to react to the ruling.  So my celebration was a Celebration of a New Ministry at my childhood church home.  A perfect way for me to mark these victories by being in a place that embraced my mom when she told them her daughter was a lesbian.  And while they didn't sing the hymn at the service, I privately gave my own thanks to God for this latest victory in the words of Hymn 390:

Praise to the Lord, o let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him.
Let the "Amen!" sound from His people again
gladly for we all adore Him. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Anticipation, Waiting, and the Prophets

It is a very good thing that nobody has thought to start a drinking game based on the phrase, "No decision today in the Prop 8 or DOMA case."  

I, like so many other lesbians and gays of all kinds, am waiting for the United States Supreme Court to give us a sign.  Tell us: are we able to legal marry in this country or not?  Can we receive federal benefits if we are legal married to a person of the same gender or not?  Yes, of course: there are many gradations of how they might rule, what their ruling will ultimately mean.  And I have no doubt that we are going to be at this, again, in the very near future with another case here, another constitutional challenge there.  This is the price of fighting for freedom and equality in this country. 

And I am in this for the long haul.  Whether I will ever get to see all relationships between consenting and willing adults treated with the respect and dignity they should be accorded is really immaterial to me.  I don't care so much about "me" as a sole individual.  I see "me" as being part of a living, breathing organism called "humanity."  And that, really, is my concern.  I want humanity to be infused with holiness of human rights, and for all people to be able to step onto a level playing field.

Today was supposed to be "the last day" for the Court to release opinions.  Of course, they have extended and now we are on a "day-by-day" basis for knowing when there will be a decision.  This is causing high anxiety among many in the LGBT community, and everyone is speculating as to what will happen, how the votes will fall, and who will write what opinion.  For activists and organizers like myself, this has been a time of going hat-in-hand to the authorities to say, "Please sir or ma'am: may I have another day on that permit request I put in for my rally?"

There are those who wonder why we are rallying.  What's the purpose of getting together in front of our various symbols of power and raising our voices either in praise or disgust for the actions of the high court? 

It is about prophecy.  And when I say that what I mean is that it is about being like the prophets of old who would tell the people and the nations, "You must make amendment for the way you are treating the least among you!"  That is what a rally is all about.  It's not about getting the powerful people together and giving them a platform to make stump speeches and promises.   It's about pulling together our community, from the youngest baby dyke to her grandmother and grandfather who love that child dearly and want her world to look better than theirs. 

As I waited for news of the court today, I was recalling some of the Scripture assigned for June 24th, St. Jean Baptiste Day in Quebec, or John the Baptizer Day for the rest of us.  We hear, repeated again and again, that John knew he wasn't "the one," but he was "the one" who was preparing for the coming of things greater than himself.  He talks about how the Messiah that is coming must increase, and therefore John must decrease.  This passage from John's Gospel can be taken in many ways, but for me, on this day, it is about the role of being focused not on myself or my own self interest, but seeing how the work I am doing now is in preparation for greater things to come.  Being part of this movement now, standing upon the shoulders of drag queens and stone butches, and Harvey Milk's and Adrienne Rich's, is all part of "the plan" to have justice roll down like a waterfall. 

And so we wait.  We anticipate what nine people will do with two landmark cases: one which could lead to marriage rights for lesbians and gays in California and the other could put a significant dent in the Defense of Marriage Act by allowing married LGBT couples access to 1,186 federal benefits that come with marriage.  We will still have the problem that Florida refuses to recognize, nor allow in any way, marriage between people of the same gender.  As I've said, I'm in this for the long haul.

I would like to live in an America where all marriages are equal, and not a dystopia where some marriages are more equal than others.  We can get there, if the prophets stand up and speak out.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pigs Should Fly

This little piggie went to market.
This little piggie stayed home.
This little piggie ate roast beef.
This little piggie had none.
And this whole herd of piggies went wee, wee, weeeeeeeeee.... SPLASH!! Gurgle, gurgle!

OK, that's not exactly how the story goes in Luke's gospel.  But the herd of pigs, filled with the demons that Jesus released from a man named Legion, racing off a cliff and drowning themselves is just too bizarre an image to overlook!

This is not one of the stories they tease out of the Scriptures to share in Sunday School.

Of interest to me was that I wasn't as fixated on the drowned pigs or the aftermath with the swineherds begging Jesus to "Please, leave. Now!" What caught my attention this time around in the story was the description of Legion.  He has gone for a long time without wearing clothes and he lived "among the tombs."  And the part that really stood out:

"...he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds."--Luke 8: 29b

He is naked, and shackled, and the thoughts raging inside him are tormenting him.  And along comes Jesus who confronts the man wrestling against whatever it is in his brain and his body.  After driving the demons out of this man and into the pigs, Legion is restored to his right mind.  He wants to follow Jesus on his journeys, but instead, Jesus sends him back to his home town with instructions to tell everyone what good has been done for him.

For those reading the story of Elijah out of the First Book of Kings, this is a little bit like what happens to our hero, the prophet Elijah, who is on the run from Jezebel.  He is at the end of his rope and he lies down under the broom tree to die.  Ah, but then an angel of the Lord wakes him up, and encourages him to eat.  There just happens to be a cake baked on hot stones and a jug of water.  He does this a couple of times which gives him enough strength to go on... not back to confront Jezebel, but to a cave.  Here, the Lord poses the question, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" And Elijah tells of his zeal for God, and because of that, he's basically a marked man with his people.  God has him stand on Mount Horeb, where the Lord will pass by.  There's fire, and earthquakes, and wind. None of those noisy disturbances contain God.  But it is in the silence after all that upheaval that the Lord comes to Elijah.  And again, the question is, "What are you doing here?"  He repeats his fears of what will happen to him because he's made himself an enemy of Jezebel.  And God tells him to go back.

These two stories, with their themes of one shackled and one on the run in fear, are eerily familiar.  I had said to my spiritual director this past week, that I don't know what shackles me and prevents me from going forward with following my call.  But, imagining all the demons running around in Legion's head, or the fear of confrontation that sent Elijah off into the wilderness after eating his cake, seems fitting for my circumstances these days.  I have tons of thoughts, excuses, really, for why I am putting off moving forward. I have lots of "I'll do it, but after I've done..."  In my heart, I know none of my excuses hold any real weight.  And in that way, I'm no different than those who said to  Jesus they'd follow him, "But first, let me bury my father..."  My spiritual director has become fond of the question, "What are you waiting for?"   And now, she has added another one: "What are you afraid of?"  Both of those sound a lot like God saying to Elijah, "Dude: why are you in a cave?"  And Elijah's answers sound an awful lot like my internal monologue: 'Yes, God, I want to follow you, and I desire to do what you ask.  But what if...' And then, litany begins from there starting with "What if I am making a terrible mistake?"  I can create more obstacles to my own progress than I know what to do with.  I don't think I'm unique in having that gift.  I think there are plenty of us who are being called to respond in ways that take us beyond our comfort zones, and rather than do as we feel ourselves called, we find ways to procrastinate or otherwise avoid the calling.  Elijah shows us how regular ol' human we are in that way. 

Recognizing the nagging doubt that raises its many voices in my head and contributes greatly to the fear that shackles and keeps me down, I also know that my cake and jug of water reside in the prayer practices taught to me by those who have taken the time to be guides and companions on this bizarro journey.  Andrew Harvey's book, "Son of Man," finishes with several prayer practices one can engage in to further open the heart and then, like upward falling dominos, release more light up the chakra chain to the crown, or 7th, chakra.  The more each of us engage in some form of prayer practice, the more we drive "the demons" out into the wilderness.  Or the herd of pigs on a hillside.  And then, we are in our right mind.

God be in my head, and in my understanding
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking; ;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and in my departing.
Hymn #694, 1982 Hymnal

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Unconditional Love of the Father

As a leader in our local chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), I'm quite often asked to make presentations to groups about the work that we do.  Today, it was at United Church.  Two services, with a total of about 50-60 people.  And in-between the services, I got to help out in the kitchen, chopping carrots and potatoes for the stew that the church was making to serve to the homeless later today.

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

Second Chances and The Forgiveness of Sins

Sometimes, a little anger can lead to something good.  And, in this case, my righteous indignation helped St. John's Episcopal Church take another small step forward in the cause of inclusion of LGBT people.

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.

All of this happened on Tuesday, which was the Feast Day of St. Barnabas.  What is known of Barnabas, one of the apostles, is that he once had a field, and he sold it and gave all the money for the  spread of The Way.  He was also the one who intervened on Saul's behalf after the former persecutor of The Way had his amazing conversion experience.  Barnabas encouraged the other apostles to accept that maybe, just maybe, Saul really was one of them and was ready to spread the Good News throughout the region.   Barnabas means, "Son of Encouragement," but I think of him as the one who always argues for people to have a second chance, having defended Saul... and later defending Mark when St. Paul wasn't interested in having Mark along on the travels to churches. 

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

Talking Points

As we have entered into the month of Pride celebrations--and the height of 'wedding season'--the advocates for marriage equality are eagerly awaiting the ruling in the two marriage cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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."
It's hard to know what to talk about when you don't know to what you are responding.  However, there are some who have begun developing a list of "talking points" if the Court says this, that, or the other.  As one who is among the many LGBT community leaders sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation of these opinions, I'm glad to be observing the conversations happening across the country via the internet about how and what we should say when the Court finally speaks.   And I've noticed that with all the groups that are engaged in this conversation, there are many nuanced ways to say what it is we want to say.
The difficulty I see, however, is that there is no good way to come up with "a" message that is going to work for everyone across the country. And, much as folks have made their cases for using the phrase "similar to" as opposed to "just like" based upon focus group responses to words, in the end, people will hear what they want to hear no matter how well you choose your words.  I think, as we all get ready for these rulings, the concentration should be on the issue--marriage equality---and the impact any particular decision is going to have on the local context.

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

Fun with the Nuns on the Bus

Raise your hands, raise your voices for meaningful immigration reform now!

That was the morning calisthentic lesson and corresponding chant as the ten nuns, known as the "Nuns on the Bus" met with activists, faith leaders, and social justice advocates of all ages, races, and orientations in a cross-country effort to get Congress to adopt an immigration reform bill this summer.  Strangely, the crowd of mostly Democratic Party movers and shakers, found themselves having to speak positively about U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, one of the co-authors of the Senate-version of the immigration reform bill.  One of the union leaders at the event admitted they disagree with Rubio on "97-percent of what he does," but this time, it was important to get behind him and give him encouragement in the face of much mudslinging from the racist elements in his own Republican Party.

The cross-section of people who came together to follow the nuns on their walk up to the Capitol all agree on one thing: the bill Rubio, and seven others, have put together is a "good start," but it is not, by far, the perfect bill.  It will, however, create a better path to citizenship for many in this country, and will allow children, born in the United States but with immigrant parents, to have access to our educational and health care systems in ways that, in some states, have been denied... based upon the parents' status.

One of the glaring neglects in the bill, for me and others, is the lack of inclusion of binational LGBT couples.  There are many men and women in same-sex relationships in this country who are treading lightly for fear that, one day, the federal immigration authorities will knock at their door and tell their partner to "go home, you furriner!"  There don't have to be reasons; they can just kick them out.  And, in a lot of cases, the immigrant partner will be kicked out to go back to a country that will persecute them for being an LGBT person.   The organizer of yesterday's event with the nuns acknowledged that, as has happened many times in the political arena, we LGBT people became the casualities in order to secure the votes of people like the Marco Rubio's... and even the nuns.  Sounds an awful lot like "living in a crucified place," doesn't it?

Still, having witnessed the nuns in person, and their utter amazement at the rock star status they've gained since they stood up to the male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and insisted that their mission must be about working with the poor and disenfranchised, I think they are not as likely to fall into the stereotype of the Roman thinking.  But they know the climate on Capitol Hill, and they know the depth and breadth of the problems that are occuring right now in America with immigrant families getting torn apart because of our lack of clarity on becoming a citizen.  And they know you need to get a foundation laid, and then you can build up from there.

Most importantly, they know that what gives them the strength to travel and speak and stand in front of the powerful to make their case is a source beyond themselves.  As one of the sisters noted, they think about the parable about the mustard seed.  And when they see a room as they did yesterday of many people gathered in support of their lobbying effort, they know the mustard seed is planted, and it is growing into a movement to get things done to make our country more hospitable to the stranger, to the weak, and to the friendless.

"You kind of call us like Johnny Mustardseed, going around planting these seeds, and look what grows up?  An amazing opportunity to do comprehensive immigration reform."

And when do we want it? Now!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Blessed Visitation: Moses Returns

Many of you may recall the story of Moses that I posted HEREon this blog. That evening did much to transform me, and it has bothered me to no end that I had not seen Moses again since that night. I have wondered about him, and worried that the whole experience might have turned him away from ever coming on the St. John's property again. If it had, I would not have blamed him. But it made me very sad.

So, imagine my great joy and delight when I processed in at noon day to serve as the Eucharistic Minister, turned around and saw Moses sitting in the back of the chapel. He smiled and waved, and I nodded at him in recognition. The difficulties of being in an "official" role at the service is that you have to maintain decorum... even when your inner impulses are saying, "HEY!!! How's it going, man?!"

The timing of his return could not have been better. For Moses to make his reappearance on the feast day of the Blessed Visitation was too perfect. The Church was celebrating that moment when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with John the Baptist. In the account in Luke's gospel passage, Elizabeth warmly greets her cousin:

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.

I thought, "I have no child in me, but my heart has leapt for joy, too, because one who I thought was lost has returned!" This feast day, a moment to celebrate all the underdogs and misfits and easily ignored and marginalized people, brought back Moses for a noon day service. At the passing of the peace, the two of us made a purposeful bee-line for each other. We greeted each other, and he leaned into me.

"I want to thank you for what you did for me that night."

"You're welcome. I'm so glad to see you, Moses."

Strangely, I wanted to thank him for what that experience with the cop outside the church had done for me. It really took me well out of my comfort zone and pushed me passed the fear of going up against an authority figure like the security officer to do what I believed was the good and right and joyful thing to do: namely, stop an unnecessary arrest and trip to the Leon County jail. I could have just gone on my way and stayed out of the situation. That was an option. But deep within me, having sat for an hour in meditative prayer, and gazing upon that window of Mary with its darkened features, I was unable to turn away from such an injustice. The words of the Magnificat seemed appropriate:

And Mary said,
‘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.

Some who have heard the story immediately want to blame the cop for his behavior and see him as a thug with a badge out to mess with a black man. But I spent time with that officer after Moses was released and allowed to return to the chapel. I let him tell his side of the story, the pressure that was on him in his role to keep people safe. And he is also a black man, and even tried to assure Moses that race had nothing to do with the complaints that he'd been hearing about "that man" in the chapel who was making some people feel unsafe. What we all didn't realize in that moment standing out on the street corner was that the concept of "safe" really is in the eye of the beholder. Removing Moses in handcuffs didn't make anyone safer; instead it stirred the Spirit within me to leave behind what I would have called "safety" to stand up for the weak. And I vouched for Moses, assuring the officer that he really was OK and to just let him pray however he was going to pray. I gave my name to the cop. If anything backfired, it would be on my head.

As he left the chapel, Moses asked me what is my full name.

"Susan Gage."

He repeated it, and we said our good-byes.

I hope he comes back.