One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Are You Ready?

            On Tuesday, I started to wonder if the universe had some plan.  You see the theme for this Sunday was set several months ago- before I even went on family leave.  Guess what it was? Living with uncertainty.  Surely, I thought, as I hit refresh on Equality NC’s twitter feed and checked my own email account...surely I thought the universe has a cruel sense of humor.
            So here is what a study of living with uncertainty looks like in the 21st century:
            On Monday elation fills our home as we read of the Supreme Court’s decision.  I’ve never been so happy that the Supreme Court didn’t do anything!  The emails and status updates all proclaim that marriage equality is a done deal in North Carolina, just a few small details to resolve.  Nothing big.
By Monday evening, however, the clouds start to form and the first doubt of when marriage equality will come appears.  Tuesday morning arrives and since I am a plaintiff on one of the cases challenging Amendment One, I receive a string of emails that it could be that afternoon.  There is hope that a judge in Greensboro may rule.  The clergy begin calling one another to plan a celebration.  I am up until well past midnight Tuesday writing a press release.
By Wednesday, hope is lost as Speaker Tillis goes on stump speeches and then Thursday hires a very expensive attorney to the fight the court’s decision- to the tune of 400 dollars per hour (thanks to us taxpayers). 
Friday morning arrives and just before the judge’s deadline, Tillis files a motion.  Our case seems dead in the water and the Greensboro case, well it seems it could be weeks.  At 5:00 pm we decided to head home.  Rev. Jay Leach, his family and I packed it up.  Maybe it would be Monday.  Maybe it would be Tuesday, but marriage equality certainly wasn’t coming to North Carolina on Friday.  We left the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds.
The car ride back to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte was quiet.  I said a quick goodbye, shrugged my shoulders and got in my car prepared for a long drive back to Salisbury.  I stopped to get something to eat when my phone started ringing and then buzzing with tweets, emails and texts.  I opened my email to quickly- before my phone froze- to catch the words “We won!” from our lawyers Jake Sussman and Luke Largess.
I sat there staring.  My phone rings.
            “It happened.” Ann Marie said.
            Marriage equality had come to North Carolina.
            Two and half years ago, 29 months to be exact, the voters who showed up to a midterm election voted 61% in favor of Amendment One.  I remember watching the numbers ticker across the television until it was done. 
As one of the leaders of the statewide faith coalition against Amendment One, all I could think was that the Amendment would mean years and years of inequality.  I thought that morning of the brave couple in Asheville, Carol and her partner Betty who were together for 39 years.  I wondered, as they did, would they live to see marriage equality in North Carolina?
I remember sitting down to my desk that dark morning.  Dan Furmansky, the then director of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign, asked me to write a word to the thousands of UUs across the state and country who had helped fight Amendment One.  What on earth could I say at that moment?
            I wasn’t sure what would happen.  I certainly would not have told you we would be here today.  In response to the natural question “Are we defeated?” I responded that the better question was, “”Are we ready?”
In the most uncertain of times, when there is no guarantee for the future- there is the sacred spark. 
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and author, spent two years learning about darkness and uncertainty.  She wanted to understand why in American culture we so fear the uncertain, unknown, and the metaphorical darkness.  As part of her exploration, Taylor descended into literal darkness by exploring caves.  In one of her cave walks she details the experience of absolute darkness.  She began near the mouth of the cave where her guide instructed her to adjust to the lights.  After about twenty minutes they proceeded to the next room, even darker than the first. Deeper and deeper they went into the cave until at last they were in the heart of the cave, without a single light-from the outside world or their headlamps.  They felt their way to a seat on the cave floor.  After about twenty minutes, Taylor describes the experience of suddenly seeing in a new way as the pitch darkness began to shimmer.  And from that shimmer, soon it looked as if diamonds lined the cave walls and floor.  Taylor blinked.  She couldn’t believe the beauty.             
She took a single glittering stone and placed it in her pocket before moving out toward the cave entrance.  Back in her room that night as she took off her overalls she felt the stone again in her pocket.  She brought it out into the soft light of her bedroom.  It was dull as chalked gravel.  She searched again and again.  No sparkle.
The next day, her guide explained that she had too much light on the rock.  It could only shimmer in the dark.  She concludes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
            I have learned things in uncertainty, things I could never have learned if I believed that world was done, neat and complete.  There really is only one logical conclusion. I need uncertainty as much as I need faith.
            On Friday October 3rd, I sat next to Rev. Dr. Mark Harris as part of a faith panel for the local Fox news station.  Dr. Harris is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church Charlotte, and was until recently, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in North Carolina as well as one of the vocal supports of Amendment One.  I watched Mark detail the world he believes we live in.  “We live in a sin-filled world,” he began.  He continued to draw a theological map.  It was neat.  It was certain. 
            Sitting next to Rev. Dr. Harris, I thought about how radically different those of our faith see this world- not a place to be contained, controlled because it is contaminated.  But instead as a place where chaos, creation, and uncertainty lead us into possibility, including heaven here on earth.  For without possibility, there is no hope.  When the world is neat, certain and complete, then how can the holy move across this land? 
Certitude says Sister Simone, the leader of the Nuns on the Bus, certitude is the enemy of faith.  For if you’ve never questioned, never wondered, never walked with doubt then how can you possible have a deep abiding faith- a sacred trust- in anything?  Is not trust a choice?  A choice, which implies options?
A true sacred trust, a deep faith like ours is built during the times of wandering and uncertainty.  It is built when neat, confined systems confront real people and theology runs smack dab into the forces of love and justice. 
This is the vast difference between progressive and conservative theologies- whether you trust people and the world enough to walk with doubt or whether your theology depends upon finite, unchanging and permanent rules—even at the cost of human suffering.
Ultimately, any of our systems will fail us.  But how are you positioned in the world to partner chaos and change as well as uncertainty?  This matters.
We know certainty stops revelation and that in the end, our faith teaches us, if nothing else then we are beings of profound possibility.
Are you ready?
Our faith asks us again and again.  Are you ready for the holy here and now?  For the rivers of justice that form the land in ways we can’t even imagine?  Are you ready for the mysterium tremendum or overwhelming mystery?  Are you ready for the holy coming not as clarity of light from the clouds but a shimmer in the darkest cave?  Are you ready for a love that carves out even within you new spaces and places for another?
Are you ready for a world you might not have imagined?
Are you ready?
Are you ready for moments that will make your soul ache and then return you to the glimmer in the cave- the words that only have meaning because of the darkness we have shared. 
Carol and Betty sent these words to the plaintiffs and lawyers on Friday evening: “After 41 years together, Betty and I have a marriage license in hand. There is no way to adequately thank you people who have made it part of your life's work to fix this. Our gratitude is profound. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Are you ready for creation out of chaos?  Are you ready for love?  Are you ready for a God that is not named by any one, controlled by one, contained by one?  Are you ready?
Will you trust the world and companion chaos and uncertainty, knowing the other side of the river is a land formed by love, the waters of justice still carving out new streams?  Will you trust the world or compel it to follow your arbitrary rules and neat, complete theology?
I close with the words of that letter sent at the edge of defeat 29 months ago on May 8th 2012, now read here on the brink of celebration,

Tomorrow morning, we will rise and wake to a new day. We will make coffee or tea, and 
drinks sips with loved ones. The dogs will need walking and the cat will need feeding. We will 
go to work and stand around the water cooler. We will hold hands and hug. We will smile and 
see our people, God’s people, everywhere. We will go home, call a loved one. We will relish in 
food that is simple but shared. We will walk forward together making this world a 
better place. We will listen for the call will come again. We will make love, nurture our 
children, read bedtime stories, laugh and at last just before our eyes close to the day know 
that we could never be defeated. Hope lives on.

Hope lives on in this place we all call home. From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the rolling 
Piedmont and out along the coasts of the Outer Banks, hope lives on in North Carolina and 
her people stand ready to step into its legacy.

The faith and devotion of those who have gone before us beg us to step forward.            

From Stonewall to today, they urge us onward and ask a single question:

Are we ready?

Take heart friends… Hope is our promised companion, and equality for all our            
promised land.

Friday, October 10, 2014

You Can Bring a House Speaker to Water, But You Can't Make Him....

Before our children were born, my partner and I talked about the world into which they were being born.  We discussed how we would explain to them why we couldn't get married and why their parents were "different."  Two nights ago as I got home late and rushed up to their nursery to catch them before their eyes closed on another day, I realized.  They won't know this world.  At least not in the way I have known this world.

That's the thing about justice.  That's why the Hebrew Bible compares justice to flowing water.  "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24

Once you release the floodgates, there is no going back.

No matter how hard Speaker Tillis tries, you can't bottle up justice once you open the floodgates.  That's why they've fought against marriage equality so viciously.  They know: once justice starts flowing, no one can stop it.

Having grown up near water, I know the power of flowing water.  It will erode the hardest rocks over time, shaping the land to its pattern.  It will take out any obstacle in its path, moving homes, roads and even mountains.  Even those trying to take us back to the stone age will not be able to do so.

So take your 1 hour, 1 day, even 1 week.  Hold up the courts with our money.  Rant and shout against the tidal waves.  Scream into the streams.  Stand firm and harden your heart as the rivers break loose.  In the meantime...

Justice is flowing.

My children will never know the world that Thom Tillis and others so want to enshrine and cement.  For the world is already changed.

Justice is flowing.

Love wins.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Two Weeks Notice: A New Grace for Liberal Religion

When my partner and I were preparing for the arrival of our twins, we made a pact.  For the first two weeks, we would suffer from selective amnesia.  If things got tough (which they invariably did) and one of us was short-tempered with the other one, or said something unkind, then we would apologize, forgive and MOVE ON.  For weeks before their birth we jokingly called this "two weeks notice."

In that first 48 hours home when the twins cried again within 30 minutes of their last feeding and my beloved slept peacefully through it, I said something best not put into print.  The next morning as we huddled over our coffee I looked up and said, "I am sorry for what I said."

"I don't know what you are talking about," she responded.

"You know, around 3 am when they were crying..." I nudged.

"I said, 'I don't know what you are talking about," she smiled.

Two weeks notice.  I'd almost forgotten myself!

Anyone who has suffered from sleep deprivation knows that it will bring to the surface your least attractive qualities and most inward thoughts.  Perhaps, this is why it is used as a form of torture.  As it would happen in those two weeks there were moments of lost tempers as we feared losing our minds to 45 minute intervals of sleep.  At about day 13, we realized our naivete.

So, we extended our two weeks notice for a week.

And then another.

We are now in two months notice.

There is something to be said for long processing after serious injury or misunderstanding in a relationship.  There is most definitely a place (and need) for the complex process of forgiveness.  And there is desperate importance in not forgetting or forgiving in the context of continued abuse.

But is there also space to understand each other beyond the contractual negotiation into covenantal behavior?  I understand contractual behavior to be "you said you would do this, I will therefore do that."  Covenantal behavior would be "I see you in the context of a larger promise of who are as well as who you are becoming."  Giving each other freedom to be not only who we are but also who we might become is sometimes called grace.  As humanists with a 21st century mindset, the grace we receive is ultimately given by human hearts-our own and those with whom we covenant.

Of course, grace must not only be given but also willingly received.

She repeated a third time, "I don't know what you are talking about."

"Oh right," I said.

I took a bite of my toast.

After all, we'd already said grace.

Friday, May 2, 2014

On the Road Again for Equality By Reverend Robin Tanner, Rabbi Judy Schindler, and Reverend Nancy Ellett Allison

We’re back on the road again journeying for full equality.

It seems like it was just yesterday on April 1, 2011, that we brought seven couples to Washington, D.C. to be legally and religiously wed. We made this eight-hour journey baffled that equality could be defined by passing through the borders of just two states. Three years later we return with six couples who have collectively been together for 100 years.

·         It’s Leslie and Marni’s 10th anniversary of when they sanctified their union in Beth El’s sanctuary.
·         Pauline and Barbara celebrate 14 years since that first spark flew at an ACC game.
·         Elaine and Elaine rejoice in their 16 years together of building a home, family and life.
·         Shelley and Dianne honor their 16 years as partners and best friends.
·         Larry and David, who were a bit apprehensive about being the only male couple on the trip, celebrate 23 years of a soulful journey as one.
·         Lastly, Sally and Alice, our resident wisdom keepers, rejoice in 31 years of togetherness, dancing, and light.

This weekend celebrates their collective…
one-hundred years of commitment
one-hundred years of love
one-hundred years of faith, patience, honesty, joy, humor, respect, and trust

With tears of joy, we just picked up each of their marriage licenses as the courthouse.

Even after one hundred years, it was difficult for most of them to imagine a day such as this. 
Today we’ve experienced full equality in our nation’s capital.

Tomorrow we will bless and seal their unions in their respective traditions in the sanctuary of All Souls.

May the day soon come when we do not need to leave our home of North Carolina
to legally recognize and bless what is clearly already so sacred.

Mazel tov to the couples...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Prayer for the Earth

I recently attended a Moral Monday interfaith prayer service and offered a prayer for the environment.  We certainly need more than prayers to turn climate change around, but on this snowy North Carolina day (what?!) it seemed appropriate.

Spirit of Life,
Known by many names,
We give thanks this night for the air we breathe,
For the water which flows to quench our thirst, and
For the earth upon which we tread.
We walk humbly within a creation we did not create.
We gather with lives made possible by gifts we’ve been given.
But we, who love the earth, are called to more than gratitude in this moment.
More than thanks for what has been given
More than words to protect what is now under attack.

Spirit of Our Lives
May we who gather listen to the call for courage, coming from our children’s lips.
To protect the air
To protect each breath from those who seek pride and power from the profits of pollution
Protect each drop of precious water from those who would dare preach the waters are owned by anyone.
To stand in witness to the unnatural rumblings of the mountain and to resist
all short term gain for generational pain.

For we, who love this earth, are called to step forward now.
For our children’s children
To stand up now.
We who believe in the dream
Are called to gather together now
Beyond the paralysis of politeness
The narrowness of politics
The identities that have divided us
Into the confidence to build the beloved world we hope for,

With assurance from the cloud of witnesses for the world not yet seen.
Apart from the color of our skin, the dialect of our tongues or the particularity of our God
We are called by faith

Faith, trust, in the human breath, the human thirst for justice, the human path of righteousness
Faith, trust, in the love and unity which will be
Our very survival.
So it is we must go..
Forward together
Not one step back.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why We Actually Want It to Work

Religion that is.  I believe at some level even my generation-who has been disproportionately disenchanted and disinterested in religion-want it to work.

Consider the case of Pope Francis.  Whether he turns out to be the saint sought after or not, the public interest in a compassionate pope shows some desire by people to see even the worst cases redeemed.  I mean this is the church of the crusades, inquisition, no women priests, gays are horrible and the sex abuse of children.


it's also the church of Dorothy Day, the Catholic Social Worker movement, a living wage, liberation theology, Mother Theresa and the badass Joan of Arc.  Oh and Catholic Charities- one of the single largest social services provider in the United States.

Now, I am still a Unitarian Universalist not interested in converting back. Reconversion?  Hmm.

But the point remains that for all our distance from religion, there is this something in it.

We long for the good story again, the religion that goes back to the essence of it all.  Not superstition or oppression but the religion that enlightened and lifted.  The one that even made some saints, that brought individuals into the insight we are still uncovering.  It's more than the spiritual experiences we have alone.  Spirituality is defined by the experience of a person in relationship with another (God, Buddha, nature...) but religion is distinctly about the community (from religare binding).  It is about being bond together for something greater than our individual selves.

But Pope Francis isn't the answer.  If and when he disappoints us, let's use it as a moment for something greater.

To start to really dive in.  Get off Facebook and into the trenches together.

None of us can do it all alone.  That's sort of the point.

The question in this new year, I suppose, is not only what we will decide to do for our lives, but perhaps more importantly what we might do for all of our lives- together.