Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage Equality:Personal is Political, Political is Personal

It's not often that we get to watch history being made. But as I watched the news this morning and saw colleagues standing in front of the Supreme Court, my heart thrilled knowing that inside the Justices were hearing the first arguments in a Supreme Court case that the Religious Institute was participating in as an "amici"--a friend of the case. Today, the Court will hear a case on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California law that bans same sex marriage. Tomorrow, the Court will hear the case on the constitutionality of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, the bill that Bill Clinton now wishes he had never signed.

I've been working on marriage equality for more than a decade, although I remember distinctly that after the attempt to legalize marriage in Hawaii was turned down, it seemed more realistic to work for civil unions than marriage.  The first version of the Religious Declaration on Sexuality Morality, Justice, and Healing called for clergy to support "the blessings of same sex unions" because civil marriage seemed like too remote a possibility. That was only 13 years ago.

My commitment to marriage grew when I went to New Paltz, New York in 2004, under threat of arrest, to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. Two of my Unitarian Universalist colleagues had been arrested the week before, standing outside of Mayor Jason West's office in the tiny upstate New York town. This week, six of us went, fully garbed in clerical robes and stoles, prepared to be arrested to marry six more couples.

The first couple we married were two men in their late sixties in matching ties and blazers. They had been together 35 years. One of their 93-year-old mothers had flown up from Florida. Clutching her purse in a borrowed winter coat, she cried as my colleague pronounced them married. She said to me, "I've waited all my life to see my son married."

I knew at that moment that civil unions would never be enough.

That same year, I led a meeting of theologians to develop the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality. It declared, "where there is love, the sacred is always in our midst." The Open Letter has now been endorsed by more than 2800 clergy from more than fifty faith traditions. It's been used in historic battles in California and Maine, and echoed by religious leaders in states across the country. The Religious Institute has played an active role in educating faith leaders about marriage equality and providing them with the theological framework to use in their pulpits and in the public square. 

I cheered when Massachusetts became the first state to have marriage equality in 2004. I was thrilled when I finally got to say the words, "by the power vested in me by the state of Connecticut" when I marriage two women shortly after Connecticut made marriage legal. I had the honor of marrying two 87-year-old men who had been together for 57 years when marriage became legal for them in New York.

And one day, I hope to officiate at the legal marriage of my son and his to-be-chosen future partner, knowing that he will have the same rights as my daughter and her soon-to-be husband, as I have had with my partner of now 31 years. And that those rights won't only be in Connecticut and New York and 7 other states (plus the District of Columbia), but will be recognized everywhere.

My prayers today and tomorrow will be with the lawyers and the Justices and all those who have worked so hard to get to this day. Where there is love, the sacred is in our midst.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Meditations on the Good News: God will again have compassion upon us

I’ll be posting excerpts from Meditations on the Good News over the next few weeks.

I hope you enoy this excerpt. There is a special offer at the end of this post for those interested in reading the whole book. 

God does not retain his anger forever....God will again have compassion upon us
Micah 7:18–19

I once gave a talk at a major university on sexuality and religion. At the end of the speech a teenage girl and her mother waited in the line where I was signing copies of my books until everyone else had left.

The (about) sixteen-year-old came forward and whispered, “Do you think God forgives the sins that people commit as teenagers?”

I asked her if she believed in a God of love and forgiveness. She answered “Yes.” I told her I did too, and that I believed that there is nothing we could do — young or old — that would alienate us from God’s love.

I wish I had remembered this passage from Micah in that moment. It not only doesn’t imply that all people are sinners, but that God forgives people when they do sin and shows mercy and compassion to us.

Some of you have a different idea of sin than I do. My theology does not believe in original sin, the idea that all people are born as sinners, or that sin is transmitted by the very act of sex that brings us into being. I often talk about “original blessing” to illustrate that all of our births are miracles, beginning with a sexual act and hopefully conceived in a loving relationship. How different the history of religion might be if St. Augustine had conceived of “original blessing” rather than original sin! My own concept of sin is about broken relationships, causing suffering, and not honoring the gifts of life. Almost all faith traditions teach that there is always a possibility for love, healing and restored relationships.

This passage from Micah emphasizes healing, forgiveness and compassion from God. I also think it’s a call to us not to stay angry, to forgive, to show mercy and have compassion for those who have angered, crossed or hurt us. It reminds us when we have been hurt by another to reach for compassion rather than return the anger.

My own senior minister, Rev. Frank Hall, often ends his service with these words from poet Miller Williams:
“Have compassion for everyone you meet even if they don’t want it. What seems bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
I often remind myself of these words when I’m behind an angry passenger at the airport or a person who pushes me in the supermarket line or a driver who cuts me off cursing me because I’m driving the speed limit. I don’t really know what is going on with them, so rather than responding with returned temper or ill manners, I try to remind myself, “Compassion. I don’t know what else is going on in their lives today.”

It can even be with someone you think you know well. Perhaps a dear friend or even your spouse is insensitive to your feelings or rude or sarcastic to you. Before getting upset with him or her, it may be useful to ask what else happened that you don’t know about. You could say something like, “You are usually so loving. I feel hurt (or angry) by what you just said, but I wonder what I don’t know is going on in your life.” I once had a major falling out with a dear friend. Months later, as we met to reestablish our friendship, we learned that we had both been going through deep stress during that time that we had taken out on each other. We chose to forgive each other and move on in order to reclaim our friendship.

A minister friend of mine taught me the spiritual practice of saying “fascinating.” She told a story of one person blowing up at another person at a staff meeting and walking out of the room. The woman who was the recipient of the anger said aloud, “Fascinating,” and continued on with the meeting. When my friend asked her how she could respond so neutrally, she explained that when faced with such situations, she had trained herself to say “fascinating” aloud and wonder with intention what could be going on behind the other’s behavior.

What if for today, like God in the Micah passage above, you responded to every negative interaction with forgiveness, mercy and compassion? What if you trained yourself to think and say “fascinating” in such circumstances, being curious about what causes a person to act that way? How might that change your way of being in the world?

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Meditations on the Good News. Please feel free to forward it to anyone you think may be blessed to read it.

Special Offer: For a limited time, you can get a signed copy of Meditations on the Good News for just $12, shipping and handling included. If you like, I will personalize your copy to you. Click here to order your copy.

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Thank you!