Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent, a Poem by Marjorie Lorenz

On this first day of Advent, a time of waiting for the metaphoric arrival of the Christ child on Christmas morning as well as his literal second coming, and a time that privileges taking time amidst decaying light, stressful family interactions, and relentless nostalgia (not to mention those interminable Christmas songs EVERYWHERE!), I am comforted and supported by the poetry of my dear friend, the late Marjorie Lorenz, whose poem by this title captures so much beauty and depth, and gives us the priceless gift of knowing that our true vocation is waiting.


One Advent—
in its shorter darker days
merchant’s glitter
the subtle tones
eyes find in fasting.
Who would guess
that darkness could extend
a healing hand?

Only the instant
receives our homage.
Seconds shower like sparks
shaved away
from the whirling wheel,
brilliant and gone;
our rush unhushed
as if we wished
to split time
like the atom.
Who knows that our true



The hardest of all the arts.

--Marjorie Lorenz

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blast Some God-forsaken Closets

"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

--Harvey Milk


Prophetic words only become so when experience proves them. Sometimes that experience comes soon, and sometimes it takes lifetimes, deathtimes, and a lot of mundanity and action in between.

Tonight, Gus Van Sant's biopic of Harvey Milk premiered across much of the nation, including at the art deco landmark theater, the Uptown, which is 3 blocks from where I live in Minneapolis. It's a fabulous movie, and I hope it wins wide crossover support, like Milk himself did. Go see it if you can!

But it reminds me that there's been a movement for equal gay rights for many, many years now. It is growing closer to winning certain inalienable rights, those rights which cannot be "alienated, surrendered, or transferred," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Alienated. A word that stands alone to describe the condition of a human being without community, whose community has been taken away, or has cast her out.

Human beings are alienated when their rights are abbreviated, rescinded, withheld, or just plain laughed at, particularly when these rights are supposedly inalienable.

One might say there's a big difference between rights being surrendered and rescinded, voted down, taken away, trampled on by the big wheels of popularity. Since when are rights open to a popular vote?

Prop 8 passed. Prop 6 was defeated *thirty (30) years ago*. What's wrong with this picture? The same tactics were used then as now, only then they didn't work. Why now?


Milk's words were prophetic. He was assassinated. And yet the bullet did not shatter all closet doors.

It was in carefully-crafted closets that Prop 8 developed its power, because the authentic voices of faithful gay and lesbian people that opposed it were too few, unheard, or just plain silenced.

"Milk" helped to make the point that the "leaders" of the movement at the time considered Milk's unabashed faggotry too much, too out, too embarrassing and provocative to change minds and win people over. They were wrong, and 30 years later, they are forgotten. What about the people who are our leaders today? Who even are they? And where are they in the church? God’s forsaken some closet doors, so let’s hear about it.

My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, supposedly prides itself on inclusivity and living the words of Christ, but instead supports closets more than it supports gay and lesbian people living openly, unafraid, and completely mundane lives.

It was these closets that helped pass Prop 8.

Church closets passed Prop 8. And I don't mean closets where the communion plates and candles are kept, the choir robes and the acolytes' torches, the stale wafers and banners, the vestments and other finery that helps make church what church is to people, no matter their traditions.

I mean those closets that "well-meaning" persons of power and privilege throughout the church put their pastors in in order to "not disturb the waters."

I mean those closets that bishops put their pastors into when they make them choose between being pastors or being people.

I mean those closets that suffocate the very people who wish to serve Jesus and his people, who love their people and would lay down their lives for them, but who are given the command by their church to sacrifice their humanity instead of their lives, to bury themselves in their service, and to make themselves less than 3/5 human.


Church closets passed Prop 8, because without the enforced silence of great numbers of gay and lesbian people of faith, the lie would stand revealed, and this is the lie used against us: that we are out *en masse* to harm children and families, that we hate God, and that our families and relationships are not of equal worth. Once this lie is shot to the ground as it should be, the case against full, equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people would fall to the floor and only a handful of people would vote against equality for us and our families.

It is clear that we need a voice around which to unite, like Harvey Milk’s. Such voices exist, and some of them are calling out with similar words of anger, hope, and kindness. Milk said, "You gotta give 'em hope," and he was right.

Hope comes from realistically dealing with anger, meeting it with love, and directing loving anger into constructive paths of action.

Anger can drive hope in a way that nothing else can. Because anger points out the space between the words that elevate and the actions that denigrate.

Anger can drive hope 12 blocks down Market Street to City Hall and blow open closet doors without bullets. It can fill those 12 blocks with thousands and thousands of people to grieve and remember when bullets are brought to bear. And it can turn apathetic hearts to action that makes certain dignity doesn't go down without a great fight.


It almost seems like movements are most effective when they are small but well-organized, when a thousand people can be called together in fifteen minutes (as was said in “Milk” the movie), when the soapbox is just a foot off the street.

So what is our organization to be? What our voices? And what is impeding them? How can we organize to blast those closet doors off and find the liberation that just about any of us can struggle to achieve, hope that a boring financial worker can transform into a brilliant political career, and hope that any couple may have the same mundane respect for their relationship as any other couple?

What shape will this movement take, that will give hope to millions of gay and lesbian people who are still told that their relationships, that their lives together and their individual lives, are at best second-class, and at worst worth destroying?

That hope is out there, and it lies in the prophetic future that will prove the dreams of thousands of people and hundreds of years, to be free, to live in a state of basic, human respect, in which you don't have to choose between your work and your husband, your calling and your family, your integrity and your willingness to make this world a better place.

You gotta give 'em hope. You gotta love your people, too. Let's do it. Tell me your ideas for this movement, for finding voices, for channeling loving anger, for acting in ways that are not just a blip on the nightly news, but change hearts and minds, and finally, change laws.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Times that Try...

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."

--Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 23, 1776


Crisis, as my esteemed Greek professor used to say, is a moment of judgment. Some like to judge; indeed, maybe all of us do. But some like to judge excessively, and they judge that which they have no business judging: the humanity of other women and men.

Others loathe judgment, wishing only that others will choose for them, and pray, whether the proxy choice be wise or foolish, the stress of ambiguity might be ended.

Now is the time for true patriots to stand up and plead for the rights of all their people, the validity of the Constitution of the United States, and the protection of body and soul of all citizens of our nation.

For 7 years, we have heard that true patriots are those who fight the war on terror by any means necessary, even by vitiating and violating those very rights that at least 4193 American service persons in Iraq and at least 626 American service persons in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) have died to protect and defend with their very lives. But true patriots do not fight to limit, vanquish, or deny freedoms guaranteed by their fellow Americans. True patriots do not ACT like such "patriots" as those who destroy the rights that took 200 years and more than 1.2 million lives to build and defend.


Last week, in a moment of civic judgment, 53% of the American electorate chose between two men of intellect and integrity the one who will lead this country into a very uncertain and shaky future. And it was a judgment that shortened the arc of justice, though race relations are only at a beginning, not a point of completion.

Last week, similarly, after a particularly ugly and distorted campaign of alarmist fear and bigotry, 52% of the electorate of California voted to take away Constitutionally guaranteed rights from gay and lesbian persons with the passage of Proposition 8. Citing the California equivalent of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia (1967), the California Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage as being a fundamental civil right for all citizens. Hardly "activist judges," these four judges, in a "crisis" moment, landed on the side of equal rights, and also shortened the long arc of justice.

Equal rights. Not special rights, not calling for rights that others did not have. Equal, civil rights.

And now the aftermath, the foremath, the beginning of a period in which second-class citizenship no longer belongs only to those who have historically been, and still are often treated as, second-class citizens. Many still ride in the steerage of the ship of state.

The angry reactions of many whose rights were taken away, against those whom they thought took them--Mormons, Blacks, Catholics, and others--have caused much anger in return. Some have been called "terrorists" for expressing such anger, and some of this anger has been inefficiently directed.

Throwing around terms like "terrorism," "rights," "patriot," and the like, do not necessarily lead to civil conversation. Civility is often a lost art, but may not have been such a reality in times past as we think they were. But I pine for civility like the return of love that may not have ever been there.

And I pray that, as I wish my own humanity to be realized and respected by those who oppose it in word and in deed, I might respect their humanity, their fears, and their rights to oppose me in speech, if not by opposing me in the murder of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, the denigrating of our primary relationships, and the uncivil labelling of us as terrorists.


Our country is in a pivotal, critical moment: will we fight for the rights of all citizens, Black, White, Gay, Straight, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Intersex, American Indian, elderly, and young? Or will we limit our regard to the people whose characteristics we judge to be appropriate based on our traditions, tastes, and plain prejudices?

These are the times that try men's and women's souls. But...

These are also the times that prove the promises of 230 years and 1.2 million lives not to be empty, but ripe for the picking.

Come, pick with me, but may our rites be civil.