Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Things We Do For Love

My friends, Dustin and Raymond, are in New York for a few days. They got their marriage license today and will be legally married (in the state of New York) tomorrow.  I am vicariously celebrating them and remembering my own wedding in July 2004.  This post is dedicated to them.

In 2004, Massachusetts was the only state where a gay couple could legally wed, and the "rules" had changed saying you had to be a resident of the state in order to be married there.  Oregon had briefly legalized it, and California had not yet come and gone.  Certainly, I celebrate the progress that has been made since 2004, and the number of states that now allow same sex couples to share in both the commitment and the legal benefits of being a married couple in the US.  In 2004, though, Canada seemed to be the most stable option, and I even opined that foreign marriages might be recognized in the states sooner, and more broadly, than those of other states.  So, we went that route.

Plans were soon underway to travel to Vancouver, BC, which is a beautiful and welcoming city, with absolutely lovely weather in the month of July (farewell midwest heat!).  Because of the distance, we didn't presume that any of our friends or family would be able to attend.  While we would have much preferred a small, local church affair, attended and witnessed by our friends and family, we resigned ourselves to a civil ceremony in a country where we are not citizens.

I alerted our hotel to our plans, asking if there was a small courtyard or public area where we could have our ceremony without being disruptive to other guests.  I also offered to provide a gratuity to any two of the hotel staff who might be willing to serve as witnesses.

The hotel was more than gracious, providing an upgraded room for "honeymooners" with a view of the harbor, leaving champagne and chocolate covered strawberries with a congratulatory note in our room, and reserving a courtyard balcony for our ceremony that also overlooked the harbor, in addition to two staff to witness the ceremony.

Our only on-site task still to be accomplished was to obtain our marriage license.  In Canada, these are typically procured at insurance agencies, and the one agency open on Saturday was in Chinatown - the Jack Chow Insurance Agency (across the street from the Sing Along Salon).  We managed to locate Jack Chow, secure the license, and return to the hotel in time to change clothes and meet the Marriage Commissioner who would perform the wedding and our new hotel staff friends.  The weather was beautiful, and the ceremony itself was meaningful, but would have been more so if we could have shared it with those in our close circle of family and friends.

Friends, marriage is a commitment.  And it is a public statement of a commitment two people have already made in their hearts to one another.  I don't think the ceremony "makes you married" any more than I think baptism "makes you a Christian." These are outward signs of a wonderful change that has already taken place in your heart. And the PUBLIC part of that is sharing the joy of it, putting it "out there" so that you will be accountable for that commitment.  It is the "Amen" stamped on the act.  An "Amen" that says between two people who love one another - "and I mean it!"  And the "Amen" by those who witness it to say "and we will support you!"  For my friends Dustin and Raymond, it also an "Amen" for the love they have for their son, Emmaus.  An "Amen" that says to him, you are loved and part of a secure and stable family - and we mean it!  Is there some reason why God would be against that?  Why only "one man and one woman" can enjoy this kind of commitment and support?

I am so happy for Dustin and Raymond - they will be celebrating with some friends and family, even if it isn't locally; they will be able to have their wedding in a church, which reinforces their commitment to God as an important part of their family and bond with one another. How nice it would have been, though, if all of this could have happened in their home town, in their home church, with all of their friends and family.

Following are some of the lines from my and the Frau's wedding ceremony.  Think how much more meaningful some of these words would have been for us if our witnesses had been our family and friends instead of hotel staff, and if our vows had been said before a minister in a church that reflected our faith and commitment to God. Our country is making progress, but we aren't there, yet.  Until then, same sex couples will have to do all kinds of crazy things to celebrate and confirm their love.

We are gathered here today to witness and to celebrate the coming together of two separate lives; to celebrate the joining of Gayle Reece and Cynthia Sheppard in marriage, to be alongside them, and to rejoice with them, as they make this important commitment to one another. . . .

The marriage commitment is one of faith.  Faith in one another is based on our commitment of loyalty and trust.  In marriage, mutual faith requires of both partners openness of expression and thought, freedom from doubt and suspicion and a commitment to speak the truth in love.

The marriage commitment is one of hope.  You must interpret each other's actions and words with understanding and compassion.  You have a vision of what you can become together.  Pursue that vision. Never let it die.

Finally, the marriage commitment is one of love in which both partners empty themselves of their own concerns and take upon themselves the concerns of each other.

It is into this high and serious estate that Gayle and Cindy desire to enter and be joined.

Cindy/Gayle, do you promise to unite your life with Gayle's/Cindy's life, to live together in the commitment of faith, hope and love; and do you promise to listen to her innermost thoughts, to be considerate and tender in your care of her, and stand by her faithfully, in sickness and in health, and leaving all others, to accept full responsibility for her every necessity until you are parted by death?

Gayle and Cindy, the vows through which you accept each other in marriage have no hidden power within themselves.  Only to the extent that they express in words your continuing intention and commitment do they have meaning.  In a world where the forces pushing people apart may often seem stronger than the forces drawing people together, your commitment to each other will need to be expressed and reconfirmed in many different ways in the coming days and years. The expression in today's vows is simply a visible milestone in your journey together.  

Thanks, Dustin and Rayms, for prompting me to revisit my own commitment and vows.  And I wish for you two, with Emmaus, a very happy journey to come.  Love wins!

Friday, December 21, 2012

When the World Does End - Making Sense of the Senseless

Well, here I am.  The world didn't end today.  Perhaps, if the Mayans were so smart, they might still be around to see the fallacy of their prediction . . .

Nevertheless, as I listened to 26 bells chime this morning in memory of the Sandy Hook shooting victims, it occurs to me that a bit of the world did end a week ago for the families and friends of these children and teachers.  And not just for those who knew them. We have been a nation obsessed with this tragedy for the past seven days. While we have experienced and mourned other equally senseless mass shootings over the past few years, I don't think we have reacted with this intensity to anything since the Oklahoma City bombing where, again, the senseless loss of lives was compounded because the innocent victims were children.

Then comes the onslaught of folks trying to make sense of the senseless.  

  • Where was God?
  • Why did we push God out of our schools?
  • Too many guns
  • Not enough guns
  • Disarm the people
  • Arm the teachers
  • Help the mentally ill
  • Lock up the mentally ill
Sorry, my friends.  You can't make sense of the senseless.  You can't force God onto people and into schools. You can't create non-violence through violence. As for the mentally ill, we can't sweep them under the rug, or force them to take their meds.

God has never left us, and no one has ever taken away my freedom, or yours, to pray in or out of school.  I'm just old enough (and started school in the Bible-belt South) to remember my teacher reading a short Bible story (with no commentary) at the start of the school day, and students taking turns saying a prayer for our food before we went to lunch.  I didn't find it particularly meaningful then, and I doubt that God was particularly "honored" by our efforts.  When it disappeared, I hardly noticed, yet I continued to communicate with God throughout my school day, shared my faith experiences, and felt God's presence with me.  By the time I was in high school, we had moved out of the Bible-belt, and some of my most significant spiritual experiences involved being able to have an open an honest discourse with my favorite teacher on matters of faith.  Because I took several English classes with this woman, some of my writing for her involved personal position papers and analysis of writing in which I was never forced to separate my faith from my intellectual inquiry.  Yep, God was in my school.  And I'm sure in many others.  And hanging copies of the Ten Commandments up in the school, or starting each day with a knee-jerk prayer, would have enhanced none of those experiences.

And while we are considering God's presence or lack thereof in our midst, let's recall Jesus - often referred to as one of the greatest teachers.  Imagine with me for a moment that Jesus was teaching at Sandy Hook.  Now, imagine Jesus being trained to carry an assault rifle or even smaller firearm to "protect" the children in his class in the event of a similar tragedy.  Can't quite picture it, can you? What I can picture is Jesus hiding those children in a bathroom and telling them to wait for "the good guys."  And I can picture Jesus throwing himself in front of a group of children to take the bullets intended for them.  And I can picture Jesus telling his students that he loved them. Hmm.  Guess Jesus was at Sandy Hook, after all.  But he sure wasn't protecting with a firearm.  Please don't ask me to do that, either.  

We assume that the killer was mentally ill, because we simply can't make sense of anyone in their right mind doing what he did.  It may be that he was just evil, impulsive, or otherwise damaged. Regardless, there will always be evil in the world.  There will always be impulsive and damaged individuals who hurt innocent people.  We can't "fix" that.  As fallible humans, all we can do is our best to protect our families, the innocent, the elderly, the physically and mentally ill, and then, do our best to pick up the pieces and comfort those who are hurting when evil momentarily wins.  If we do this, then evil may win a battle, but Love will win the war.  Love must always win.  Just ask the Mayans.

Sunday, December 09, 2012


Ask me to identify my favorite season of the spiritual year, and I will answer Advent - that period of four Sundays prior to Christmas where we anticipate the coming of God in human form.  I have always found meaningful the symbolism of getting my spiritual house decorated and ready by representing that symbol through the decorating of my home for the holiday season.  

For the first time in my life, the first Sunday of Advent came and went.  My house and my heart were both unprepared for guests of any sort - holy or otherwise.  Chalk it up to unseasonably warm weather, an early Thanksgiving, wondering and wandering of late in a spiritual desert of my own making, or what have you.  My anticipation factor was not registering on anyone’s scale.

This past Wednesday, though, we took our freshmen choirs to Crown Center to sing, and the response of our largely senior citizen audience gave me a low grade buzz.  Friday brought a double whammy - first, my chamber choir dressed like characters from the Polar Express, rode a real train for 90 minutes with a 150 or so second graders, singing and entertaining them with the magic of the season, followed that evening with my upperclass advanced choirs singing for the Mayor’s Christmas Tree lighting.  Music has always been a crucial part of my Advent preparation. It was beginning to feel a little like Christmas.  

On Saturday, taking a few baby steps, we bought a tree and brought the decorations down from the attic.  No decorating, but a step in the right direction.  I began to think about gift giving, and that evening, thanks to a friend in the cast, we went to see “Christmas at Resurrection” at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.  I’m not usually one for church Christmas “pageants” or what I sometimes find as manipulative “productions,” but this was neither.  It was a production, but it was entertaining and tastefully done, and even the live burro behaved onstage.  More than a production, it was reminder of why I love Advent, and why my personal faith is expressed through the Christian spiritual tradition.  In spite of spiritual and theological questions with which I continue to wrestle, I was reminded why I anticipate God’s coming again in human form each year in the person of Jesus.  As Adam Hamilton, the COR pastor briefly “unpacked” the experience last night -  God gave us Jesus - God in human form - so that we might have an example of how to live in order to be fully human.

I don’t think I have anything wise to say that can top that.  

For the record, on this second Sunday of Advent, my home is decorated, and my spirit is anticipating. 

O come, o come, Emmanuel . . .