Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reflections on an Amazing Wedding Day

We're here! We're queer! We're getting married!

It's not often that activism gets incorporated into the celebration of marriage. But if there is one thing that I know to be true of the new world order of same-sex couples getting married it's that our ceremonies, especially when done in a civil context, have no rules beyond the basics of vows and the pronouncement that the couple is now legally hitched. And, let's face it: when your relationship has been grounds for candidates to raise millions of dollars to defeat you, has been bantied about in the halls of the state legislature, has been placed on a statewide ballot for a thumbs up or down vote of the populace, and requires a federal judge to overturn the laws so that you can get married...well, the marriage itself becomes a politcal statement.

You can view our ceremony, beautifully captured by Diane Wilkins Productions, HERE

There were two overriding comments that both of us kept hearing this past week as friends and family relived the moment. One was that, for many, they had more fun at our wedding than they'd had at many others (save for their own, which was only right and appropriate!) The other comment that most of our straight married friends made was that witnessing our marriage reminded them of the sacred nature of their own relationship with their spouse and how important that bond has been in their lives. Unlike our heterosexual colleagues, gay people have not lived in a world where our unions are recognized, celebrated, appreciated, and uplifted by the state and many cultural institutions. While most straight people have endured the anxiety and the butterflies in the stomach feelings on their wedding day, they were able to arrive at the occasion without the bruising battles we've encountered along the way. Recognizing that fact helped to give hope to some that this institution which has been such a political football for the past decade may, in fact, come out stronger in the end for both gay and straight people.

For me, this may be the place where God resides in the mix of excitement which has survived such a struggle. As we stood on the stage of the Warehouse before a packed room, I could feel the waves of love washing over us. Love is not only the language of God; it is the true identity of God. Love becomes the manifestation of the Holy in our midst, and I could feel that Presence gently resting on me to keep me in the moment and reminding me that this was the day of God's own making finally being allowed to burst forth from the state's prison of fear and loathing as our relationship was sanctified. To have this happen in the back room of a pool hall was also a Godly thing. For the Holy is not confined just to the churches or the gorgeous landscapes; the Holy is just as at home in the dusty corners where Love is alive and real between people. I mean, our Christian tradition teaches that Jesus was born in a stable, so why not have a wedding in a place noted for pouring the best black and tans in the city?!

Our wedding was a joyous occasion, and full of suprises;we had no idea who our bridesmaids were or how many of them there would be. In the end, fifteen people took up our invitation to dress up in a bridesmaid outfit of whatever color of the rainbow they wanted. Some marched around Tallahassee's Railroad Square in the ArtiGras parade as part of the Bondi's Banished Bridesmaid Krewe, a thumbing of the nose at our Attorney General who worked so dilligently to deny marriage equality. They were a marvelous and motley and magnificent mix of women and men striding up the center aisle to Bach's Air on G String. Both of us were tickled and touched. More reminders of Love's playful presence in our lives.  My brother Tom's toast was a demonstration for this very left-leaning political crowd that conservative Republicans can be very funny and charming because they, too, are part of the Love that surrounds us. We broke lots of rules of traditional weddings (we were seen by our guests ahead of time, and our guests dove into both our wedding cake and our "Spouse Two" cake before we'd had a chance to get to them ourselves). We didn't care. The real rule of the day was accomplished: we were married.  And it was good.

We're here! We're queer! We've gotten married! And the next generations will be more used to it. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Wedding Day

This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it

Those simple and yet profoundly loving words have been in my head all day as I bounce between the emotions of excitement and fear like a tennis ball being volleyed back and forth. Every time I start to feel anxiety, I can hear these words in the sweet, even slightly out of tune singing of children who nonetheless give the song all the gusto imaginable to fill the space of a church sanctuary. 

This is the day that the Lord has made for sure!

Today's readings for the daily Morning office were from Deuteronomy and Titus. Those aren't really my favorite books of the bible, and the lesson from the former is some of that violent language that often puts people off reading Scripture. God is going to allow the Israelites to pummel the people's around them, and destroy their Gods etc. etc. If I were to read that all literally, I would find it...well, depressing and nasty and awful. 

But today I read it and thought about all those who have... and are still in some places... standing in the way and attempting to block the sun from shining on me and the others like me who are part of the LGBTQI community. Instead of a literal, physical destruction, what I read in the words of the Deuteronomist was the confirmation of things I have believed about God for some time now: namely, God will never abandon me or the other "queer" people. Our time of oppression was not ignored, nor was it the design of God. This was a very hard thing for me to hang on to back in November of 2008 when Florida voters so cruely implemented Amendment Two which banned same-sex couples from marriage. I felt greatly challenged in my belief. And yet, the remembrance of that feeling and sensation I experienced on the day of my "wake up call" told me that as horrible and awful and bleak as I felt and as vicious as the world was feeling at that time, I must not let go of the belief that God is watching and will work God's purpose out, and that Jesus Christ, my brother in struggle, would be with me even now. Especially now. 

As I look into the face of my partner of 23+ years, I will be reminded that Love is the only truth and it is made evident not only in her willingness to commit to me, but in the support of all who are in attendance and the messages from those who will be unable to be with us for one reason or another. I will think on the power of Love as we say, "I do," and slip wedding rings onto each other's fingers. Love is the source of life. My life: my queer, crazy, not-always-perfect life.  

This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Alabama and Absalom

Monday was to be a joyous day in Alabama. A federal judge had found their ban on lesbians and gays getting married was unconstitutional. The Eleventh Circuit refused to step in and halt the forward progress for marriage equality. The U.S. Supreme Court also turned away the state's appeal with only Justices Scalia and Thomas saying they would have entertained hearing the case. It was a scenario very similar to Florida, only minus the antics of an attorney general and private law firm that couldn't grasp the meaning of the word, "Unconstitutional."

But Alabama has a chief justice of the state Supreme Court. And Roy Moore, no stranger to controversy and thumbing his nose at the federal courts, ordered probate judges in the state of Alabama not to issue marriage licenses and defy the federal mandate. And sure enough, many of them did as Moore said. Marriage license offices in 53 of the state's 67 counties on Monday refused to open and probate judges declared themselves out of the marriage business. I'm surprised Moore didn't stand in the doors of the courthouse to proudly proclaim: "Discrimination now, discrimination tomorrow, discrimination forever!"

Now there is a report that the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi plans to join with those in Alabama protesting marriage equality. The KKK won't be parading in their bed sheets, but they will provide behind the scenes assistance and ensure that no "infiltrators" get in to disrupt their message branding of hatred and intolerance.

This chaos has caused enormous pain, and not just for the lesbians and gay men living in the counties which are openly defying the federal government. I spent a long time on the phone with a straight friend who sounded demoralized by the whole thing. Add to that the frustration with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama. Yes, they will allow for the blessing of same-sex couples...if a vestry, which is the lay governing body in a church, votes to approve making their church a welcoming congregation for such activity. If the vestry votes "No," then not only is the church not available, the priest or priests associated with said church are not allowed to bless any same-sex couple anywhere, even outside of the diocese. Suddenly, it seems priests are now slaves to the vestry instead of slaves to Christ.

Since all the upheaval, the same federal judge has ordered probate judges in Alabama to comply with her ruling and begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. Almost all of the counties in Alabama are complying. I guess the ones who are not just want to be sued. Or perhaps they're waiting until after next Monday's federal holiday.

It was quite fitting to have had this wrangling and resisting occurring as a backdrop for today at the 12:10 Eucharist where we were remembering one of the towering figures of black history within the Episcopal Church: Absalom Jones. Jones and Richard Allen were regular attendees of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in the late 1700s in Philadelphia. Blacks and whites worshiped together amicably for years. Then one Sunday, the white members decided that they wanted the blacks to move to the balcony. This was done in secret, so that the black members didn't learn of this decision until an usher tapped Jones on the shoulder during the opening prayer and signaled for him and the others to get upstairs. Instead, Jones and Allen walked the blacks of the congregation out the door and formed a new church with the blessing of Episcopal Bishop William White. Jones was made a lay leader, and eventually ordained to the diaconate and then priesthood. Allen, on the other hand, had wanted to remain a Methodist and he left to start the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

The Gospel lesson assigned for today was from John 15:

"‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father."

I could feel myself wanting to cry as I listened to this, the great commandment, and what it must have meant for Jones and Allen, and what it means for me. There is no more complete expression of the love of God for all of us than for us to love one another as Love has done for us. And how far did those white Methodists fall from that grace by telling their black brothers and sisters to get upstairs. What a betrayal of Love! 

The same can be said of all the shenanigans in Alabama this week over marriage equality. People who are maintaining that they are Christians and doing "the Lord's" work by denying their gay brothers and lesbian sisters their civil right to get married have somehow missed the main message of Jesus. Letting vestries decide the fate of their church...and their priests...on the question of blessing a same-sex couple is the same terrible scenario that led to the laws that a federal court has struck down. Allowing people to vote to nix the whole thing means, in a place like Alabama where the Klan can get away with publicly supporting a bigoted chief justice, guarantees that only a very few churches and only in large urban areas might bless couples. If the bishop had wanted to give the naysayers on the vestries a sense of power, he could have limited the "No" to just covering the use of the church and its grounds. But for it to extend to the priest, too? Not only does that give the vestries too much control; it will be the kind of intoxicating power that could make the bullies on vestries who don't like all this "progressive stuff" find other areas of the priest's actions they'd like to control. Should the vestry decide they don't like unwashed homeless people, perhaps they could vote to tell the priest not to visit the homeless shelter or make any overtures to people on the street. Maybe they think the schools can handle all that literacy stuff the diocese has been promoting. They could vote to pull out of that, too.  

Perhaps we should think about the collect that goes with Absalom Jones Day:

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear: that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servants Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  

Perhaps that's what Alabama's secular and religious leaders need: a little dose of courage. The courage to love one another as the Divine has loved them. And in feeling that love, take the bold step to share it rather than keep it as if it's a finite resource. 

Or perhaps they just need to have Neil Young sing about them one more time.