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