Mar 262013
 

“One Voice” by the Wailin’ Jennys

This is the sound of one voice
One spirit, one voice
The sound of one who makes a choice
This is the sound of one voice

This is the sound of voices two
The sound of me singing with you
Helping each other to make it through
This is the sound of voices two

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

This is the sound of one voice
One people, one voice
A song for every one of us
This is the sound of one voice
This is the sound of one voice

Last fall, I had the chance to be with a good friend on her wedding weekend. While at the rehearsal dinner, I asked one of the bridesmaids (with whom I was having a delightful conversation) about why she and her husband decided to get married. In reply, she told me a lovely story about the day they got engaged. I smiled as she told me the tale – both because it was a good story, and because it didn’t really answer my question at all.  My smile came with the realization that most straight people aren’t asked why they decided to get married.  They may be asked about how, when, or where they and their partner made a commitment to spend their lives together; but, seldom are they asked why.  For most straight folks, getting married is just what you do when you hit a certain point in your relationship. You meet, you date for some period of time, you get married, you have kids . . .

I won’t try and speak for all queer folks, but I’d venture to bet that many non-hetero people who make the decision to get married are at some point asked the “why” questions: “Why did you decide to get married?” “Why, if you know it doesn’t make any difference legally, did you make the choice to make that commitment?” or, “So, why was it even important for you to get married?” or, “I just don’t get it – why would you even want to get married?” (It varies a bit, but the idea behind the questions is often basically the same.)

One of the things that was most definitive for my partner and I in making the decision to get hitched is that it was very much a decision – we made the decision that ours was a relationship worth fighting for, worth working through, and that our desire to make a commitment to one another in front of other people was not only about celebrating our relationship as good and just, but was also a means of holding ourselves accountable to the commitment we were making.  We wanted to do it publicly.  We made the decision to address head-on, as much as we could, the wedges that would try to work their way between us: laws that don’t protect us, people who don’t understand us (and will sometimes repeatedly ask us to explain ourselves), a lack of acknowledgement by those, even within our families, who don’t agree with our “lifestyle” choice.

Many LGBTQ people decide not to get married, and with very good reason.  The institution of marriage is one that has been used to perpetuate and restrict gender and class norms, to treat women as property and hold them in their “place.” For my partner and I, the decision to get married was one we made together and with a great deal of thought and care about how we want to live in the world.  We both, in mutual respect and care for one another, felt it was the best way for us to be intentional about bringing our separate lives into into one life together; and, we wanted to do that as part of a larger community.

Because we live in a state that doesn’t recognize our marriage, my partner and I had two ceremonies: one legal wedding in DC, and a covenant ceremony in our church, where our marriage was blessed.  Because we’re church-going folk, it was important that we have communion during our covenant ceremony.  My partner and I sat on the front row of the church as people came to the front to take communion, while a few of our friends sang the song above.  Though I recognize that there’s no such thing as a perfect analogy, If I were to look for a single experience that represents our relationship, it would be those ten or so minutes as people came to the table for communion, blessed us with their touch as they headed back to their seats, as the building harmony of voices and guitar played in the background.  We were there together, sharing a simple meal with the people we love, offering a gentle acknowledgement that we are part of something more.

Part of what has been so beautiful to me about our relationship is the recognition that it is something that needs constant care and love – that the opportunity to spend one’s life with another person is not something to be taken for granted or taken lightly.  We have to acknowledge that we are learning as we go, and continue to check in with one another to communicate with as much clarity as possible – even when it is difficult.  However, it’s also important that we not take ourselves too seriously – that we dance in the living room when necessary.  At the end of the day, I know that my partner is in this for the long haul, that she has seen the worst parts of me and loves me still.  I also know that we are only two people, and that our broader community is an essential aspect of the health and well-being of our relationship.  There are times when we have to be willing to lean on those we love, to ask for help even when it requires a certain amount of vulnerability.  We have trust that we are part of something more, that our relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum – that while a two-part harmony is nice, a chorus of three or four voices together is what gives a song the greatest depth.

This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three

This is the sound of all of us
Singing with love and the will to trust
Leave the rest behind it will turn to dust
This is the sound of all of us

(The beginning of this post is from a post I wrote last fall about the what the church might learn from engaging those on the margins, and brought in my experience of deciding to marry my partner.  Given that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Proposition 8 today, it seemed appropriate to share some of those thoughts again. . .

Mar 252013
 

Flannery_O-Connor_Southern_Writer_Fiction_1

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” – Flannery O’Connor

Mary Flannery O’Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was born in Savannah, Georgia.  Writer of two novels and 32 short stories, O’Connor’s writing often reflected her Roman Catholic faith Southern upbringing, drawing from regional settings and grotesque characters to examine questions of morality and ethics.

When she was six years old, O’Connor had her first experience with celebrity: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

Regarding her emphasis of the grotesque , O’Connor said: “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”  Her texts often take place in the South and revolve around morally flawed characters, while the issue of race frequently appears in the background.  Most of her works feature disturbing elements, though she did not like to be characterized as cynical. “I am tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic,” she writes. “The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism… when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.”

She said: “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

O’Connor died on August 3, 1964, at the age of 39, of complications from lupus, and was buried in Milledgeville, Georgia.

(Thanks to Wikipedia and The Writer’s Almanac for today’s references.)

Mar 182013
 

My beloved and I are tangentially connected to a documentary film project called “Out of Order,” which “is a feature length documentary following the journey of three queer members of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”  She and I are not in that group of three, but have been trying to help support the Indiegogo campaign they have begun to raise funds for the next phase of filming (we also appear briefly on the trailer for the film).

The hope for the film is that, through the sharing of our stories, we might not only subvert some of the assumptions about lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, but also that we might offer a new paradigm for how to live into one’s call.

Below is a piece my partner wrote for the project. . . If you are so inclined, please consider making a donation so the filming can continue.

 

Some things in life are like ripping off band-aids; you have to rip them quickly, in one breath, before you change your mind. This is how it was for me when I first decided to share my story and a genuine part of myself, with a minister at a church I was attending in Chicago. “IwanttoquitgradschoolIwanttogotoseminaryandIthinkI’malesbian….”

There’s a physical response that comes with facing your biggest fears. Even as I was putting it out there, that moment of sharing me, I could feel myself sucking the air in, like I was being punched in the gut. You see, I was afraid to be myself, afraid that the genuine me was not lovable. I was 24 and on the run from my life. I’d left a job in a church I didn’t trust and moved to a city where I knew no one because I had no idea who I was. I ran away from everything I knew, and all the expectations others had for me, and I spent some time in the wilderness. Ok, maybe Chicago isn’t the wilderness, but it sure is cold, and for a city full of people, it can be painfully lonely.

You can learn a lot about yourself in the wilderness: in three months I realized I was gay, I didn’t want the degree I’d moved to Chicago to attain, and I was pretty sure God was calling me to seminary. Here I was, a girl on the run from her family, from her church, from her friends, yet I was visiting three to four churches a week. I couldn’t not go. I needed to be in the midst of a worshiping community, even if they were strangers. I was anonymous in those sanctuaries, and yet I was seen and accepted as a child of God.

It’s strange, how being accepted by strangers allowed me to accept myself. In accepting myself, I began to accept my call. In sharing myself with the people who loved me, I began to live into my call. In the nine years that have passed since I pulled off the band-aid and shared my story with a pastor I barely knew, I’ve come to see the value of sharing our stories and our genuine selves with one another. In that intake of breath, I was so afraid of the way he might respond. As I stood there, feeling sucker-punched, he smiled, and said, “That’s wonderful!” The way he heard and responded to my story was nothing short of a gift of grace.

This is my story. I had to stop trying to be what I thought the world, the church, my family, and my friends wanted me to be. I had to live into the person God created me to be. Shedding the expectations of others allowed me to listen for the still, small voice of God. It allowed me to see myself as me, for the first time. In embracing my story of being a lesbian alongside my story of being a beloved child of God, I was emboldened to stop running away, to take steps on the path of my calling, and to encourage others to embrace their identity as God’s beloved children.

One of the places where I have found support and care is through a community of LGBTQ individuals, organized by an organization called Presbyterian Welcome, who are pursuing ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). We gather together in an undisclosed location once a year for a retreat, where we share our stories, encourage one another, laugh, weep, and grow together.

One of the co-founders of the retreat, Mieke Vandersall, called before the 2012 retreat and said: “I want you to be a part of this documentary film, Out of Order, that will tell your story and the stories of a few others who love our church and want to serve it. People need to hear your story.” When she called I felt that intake of air, even as I was saying yes. This would be another band-aid moment… being vulnerable, sharing my story to a camera… to all of you.

But sharing my story and listening to the stories of others has changed me. It has opened my heart in ways I didn’t even know it was closed. Hearing the stories of Alex, Jessica, Kate, Mieke, and all of the people I’ve met through the retreat and this film project inspires me to live fully into my own story. I believe the Holy Spirit is at work within and among us when we speak and hear one another’s stories, weaving all of our stories into God’s story, emboldening us to live into our callings, to be the people God created us to be.