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.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Drum Major Instinct

It was a cold and windy mid-November morning when I walked from a hotel in downtown Atlanta through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. I kept my pace brisk as I crossed street after street, even walking under a major interstate. I passed by many a closed business, and bars advertising prizes for twerking. This was definitely out of my element. But I was on a mission: I wanted to go to Ebenezar Baptist Church, the church that launched the career of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I was not disappointed. The docent at the desk informed me that, in the church basement, there was a video playing of one of Dr. King's siblings telling the story of her brother and her family's involvement in the life of Ebenezer Baptist. King's father was the pastor and his mother was the organist and choir director. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was a child, he used to love to sing. He would grow up to be the co-pastor of the church with his father from 1960 to his death in 1968. The video also told the story of how violence rocked their church about six years after Rev. Dr. King's assisination. It was a Sunday morning. Dr. King's mother had just finished playing and they were starting prayers in the church when a man stood up on one of the pews, announced he was taking over, and began shooting. King's mother was killed in the melee along with a deacon. The 23-year-old who did the shooting said he did it because he was opposed to Christianity.

With that in my head, I ascended the steps to the sanctuary. There was only me, and one other couple. They left fairly soon after I got there, which gave me the entire space to myself. Me, an empty sanctuary with flowers and an old-fashioned microphone on the pulpit and the recording of the Rev. Dr. King's sermon, "The Drum Major Instict." 

I was deeply moved as I sat and listened to his voice filling the air. I knew the Scripture passage well, the moment in which the brothers are arguing and asking Jesus to give them the seats of honor on his left side and the right side. It is a moment in Jesus' ministry where I often wonder, "Did these guys who were following him here, there and everywhere have a clue as to what he was doing?" The presumption of these two guys, John and James, that they could ask Jesus to make them first ahead of the other disciples is pretty amazing, and yet, pretty typical of so many of us. That's what Rev. Dr. King referred to as "the Drum Major instinct."  I sat at times with eyes closed as I took in how Dr. King put this tale into his modern day situation in 1968. People putting themselves into financial crises by attempting to live beyond their means. Nations putting themselves and their people at-risk by asserting that their way is superior to the way of other nations. Racism, and how poor whites had deluded themselves into believing they are superior to blacks while suffering under the same oppression and injustice plaguing communities of color. And he turned his own sights back to Jesus for the role model of what real leadership looks like. I wept as I heard Dr. King say of himself that at his funeral he didn't want anyone to go on and on about him. He didn't want to be known for the many accolades he had accumulated. He didn't want them to talk about his Nobel Peace Prize. 

"Tell them I tried to love and serve humanity." 

Little did he know, he was preaching his own eulogy. His wife requested that this sermon be played at his funeral.

Little did I know this mission to find and visit his church would leave such an impression on me. I heard in his sermon many things I have felt for myself as one who has kept plugging away at the struggle for equality particularly for LGBTQI people. I don't work for justice so that I can get awards. I work for justice because I can't feel comfortable knowing that others are struggling. Yes, we have finally achieved marriage equality in Florida. But people are still able to be fired from their jobs if they get married to their same-gender partner. The Roman Catholic diocese in South Florida has made it clear to all its employees to "beware" of making public comments on social media about the marriage issue that might "contradict" traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. The Episcopal diocese of Florida has not even acknowledged that there has been this sea change in the civil marriage laws. We have made progress. But this march is far from over. And so I'm lacing up my shoes, ready to walk the path that is laid before me.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Marriage Happens

Overwhelmed. Goose bumps. Tears. Lots and lots of tears.

I'm frankly too spent and have no more words to describe what an amazing day this has been. All of our city commission and mayor, and the majority of the county commission stood in the entrance of the Leon County Clerk of Courts office to greet us, the LGBTQI community seeking marriage licenses for the first time in Florida history.

It was joyous. And a wonderful counterbalance to today's other activity; the inauguration of the people who have been fighting us every step of the way.

But today wasn't about them; it was about us. This is the day that Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Epiphany Brings Equality

At 12:01AM, January 6, 2015, the LGBTQI community of Florida will receive a gift. It won’t come in a box, wrapped in paper with a bow on top. It’s not something that can be contained in a bottle of bubbly, or put in a stocking. It’s a gift that comes in a legal opinion authored by United States District Court Judge Robert Hinkle declaring Florida’s laws, both in the state constitution and state statutes that limited marriage to heterosexuals only, to be in violation of the United States Constitution; hence marriage equality will be coming to Florida. In the words of Judge Hinkle:

"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage... will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held. The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society." (Judge Hinkle, August 21, 2014)

Pardon me while I wipe away tears.

This has been a long slog for many of us. When my partner and I were first dating and I asked about having some kind of a commitment ceremony that was all we could hope for. It wouldn't come with state and federal recognition, so that we might have benefits and protection of our property. And certainly, neither of us at that time conceived of having our union blessed. (Neither of us was active in a religious community, and the Episcopal Church wasn't
anywhere close to blessing same-sex couples!) When the movement for marriage equality began in Hawaii, and then had success in Massachusetts, it was intriguing, but still seemed a far-fetched notion that this would catch on, especially in Florida.

Then came Iowa.

And Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, California (on again, off again, on again) the District of Columbia…

As marriage equality was becoming a reality, opponents continued their fight. It wasn’t enough to have marriage outlawed in four places in the Florida statutes; they needed a constitutional amendment. 

And they got it…with just over 61-percent of the vote in 2008. It was a moment of bitterness to realize that a majority of those who cast ballots in an election that helped put Barack Obama in the White House also brought out voters who were willing to make me and my partner second-class citizens. It was devastating.

And so we marched. We shared our lives and our stories. We organized. And we filed lawsuits.

And we won a victory in June, 2013, in the United States Supreme Court with the Windsor decision.

Quickly, the dominoes began to fall. State after state, some by popular vote, many by court order. Secular and religious leaders were standing up for our rights. Even President Barack Obama arrived at a place where he was comfortable saying he had no problem with marriage equality.
Still, as all this happened, those of us in Florida kept wondering, “When will this be our reality?”

That time has arrived. Not without pain and suffering through the attempts to stall Judge Hinkle’s order. But it has now really arrived.

That this moment is coming to pass on the day that Christians celebrate the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi bearing frankincense, gold, and myrrh, could not be more perfect. These wise men following a star in the east come bearing gifts to one whose purpose will be to spread the Good News of Love. They are overjoyed at the sight of this child, born in exile, and unpack their treasures for him. 

This is very much what this moment in our state’s history feels like. The courts have followed Wisdom that has led justices to bestow upon a community, singled out for who we love, with the gift of equal rights in marriage.
It is also not lost on me that our wonderful happy day is coming on the same day that the opponents of the LGBTQI community will be taking the oath of office for another four-year term. John Stemberger, the man who put the noxious anti-marriage amendment on the ballot in 2008 is on the guest list for the pre-inaugural prayer breakfast. There are clerks of court in Baker, Clay, Duval, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa Counties who have responded to the ruling by ending the tradition of courthouse weddings for anyone rather than be compelled to marry a lesbian or gay couple. Without statewide, or in many places county protections from discrimination, we may get married, but we aren’t necessarily protected from losing our jobs, housing or access to public accommodations. After the Magi left the manger, Mary and Joseph had to stay on the run with Jesus because King Herod was out to kill him. Love seems to never know complete peace or absence of fear and loathing in the world. We are still a long way from reaching full equality.

For now, however, the celebrations are on. My partner and I will be heading to the clerk’s office to make our application for a marriage license. It will be a lovely step forward in this 23+ year “courtship” and the start of the state-recognition of our marriage. Let the wedding bells of freedom peal out over the Sunshine State.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of 2014

Here in the United States, we're hours away from saying, "Good-bye!" to 2014. I am fine with seeing this year go away and become part of the history books. The year had a difficult and sad beginning for me. Multiple airplane trips north with delays, cancelled flights due to ice and snow in Atlanta, and unexpected stays in Baltimore and Jacksonville...all were part of the difficulties and trauma associated with the eventual death of my mom. She passed away on February 7th, and I was back with my partner in New Hampshire for my birthday for her funeral a week later. 

Losing my mom was different than when I lost my dad. Dad's death awakened my faith; mom's death put it more to the test. This might account for why I haven't been posting as much on this blog during the year. She was my most avid reader and would comment regularly. With her gone, this space has sometimes felt as if I'm talking to the trees, and just another reminder of her death. I started this blog in the wake of my dad's death and as a way of processing my faith journey, particularly as I returned to a church that had a reputation for homophobia before it split in October, 2005. With my mom's death, I also experienced something of a more symbolic death in having left that church in Tallahassee to join my new congregation, St. Thomas in Thomasville, GA. There I am opening to new life. I'm singing in the choir, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, lector and will be leading an EfM group. And my discernment process continues. In Georgia, it's allowed to continue because my sexual orientation doesn't pose a problem. 

Which brings me back to my faith. It has suffered some knocks but it hasn't waivered and, in fact, has been sinking deeper roots to draw up the Source to keep me centered. Something about having lost an important and central figure in my life has made me reflect on the importance of letting go of certainty and holding onto things. The worst pain seems to come from becoming overly attached to people, places or things and expecting that nothing will change. The one thing that will always remain is that Source which continues flowing like a constant river and even as all other things fall away and become part of my memories, I can continue to drink from that river. Without it, I don't know how I'd manage.

This blog will continue. I will post as I am moved to share that drink with all of you. Happy New Year and may 2015 bring new lessons.