I Now Pronounce You…

800px-Hands_Holding1

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.

– The Impressive Clergyman

If you glance at the sidebar of my blog, you’ll notice my “Credentials of Ministry.” A word on that…

Way, way, way back in 2003, before I absconded with an open(er) mind, the church I was working at in Missouri licensed me to “marry and bury,” as the saying goes. Between then and my departure from the ministry, I performed two extremely Christian weddings (cord of three strands, Proverbs 31 woman, husbands love/wives submit, and all that).

Then, having packed my clerical bags, I assumed that was all in the past…

…Until a friend asked me, quite recently, if I would be interested in conducting a secular wedding ceremony for his dad. To my surprise, I found myself actually considering it. And in one week and change, I will be doing it.

However, being unsure as to the continued validity of that first license, I decided to update my status by applying for ordination to the Universal Life Church, a process which took about three minutes and which is accepted, with certain exceptions, in most of the fifty states.

So, now, have license, will travel.

The online approach is unlike me. On one level, I feel like I just shopped for a term paper. On another, though, this feels…important. Formality doesn’t carry as much weight with me now as when I was “Pastor Vance”; after almost seven years of what our families would call “Godless marriage,” I find that two strands, tightly woven, don’t really need a third. If the online ordination offered by the ULC allows me legally to bring  two new strands together, then it’s good enough for me.

It feels important because there are people, like me, who believe that the parties involved are more significant than whatever religious legitimation might be brought to bear on the proceedings. A strong commitment between loving individuals, whatever their gender, trumps commitment to any particular theological or philosophical system. The latter is neither necessary nor sufficient to a long and happy marriage, and sometimes only gets in the way.

Also, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, it seems to me that someone needs to stand for the right–legalized, perhaps, but still not guaranteed–of all people to build a relationship with the person of their choice. I was once told that, if a same-sex couple looks hard enough, they’re sure to find a pastor willing to marry them. To which I reply: No one should have to “look hard” for permission to celebrate their desire for commitment, as if their love were any less valid than anyone else’s. So, look no further: here I am.

This is a feeble attempt to express my feelings on this matter. And I’m definitely not the A-Team. But if you’re looking for affirmation rather than approval; if you’re more interested in your commitment to one another than commitment to any particular faith; if the only legitimation you need is your love for each other; if any of this applies to you, then I’m your guy.

Now…let us eat cake!!!

Poor Little Pooped On

Sulking_BoyNobody loves me;
Everybody hates me.
I’m gonna go eat worms…

So runneth the ditty my mother sang to me as a child anytime I gave in to sulking and/or personal pity parties.

It has been runneth-ing through my mind pretty much all weekend.

In case you missed it, last June the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, striking down bans on same-sex marriage in all fifty states. And, rather than celebrating with our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community, many of us have spent the last ten months bemoaning what this is really all about:

Ourselves.

One of the major objections to the Court’s decision is this: equal marriage rights for same-sex couples will infringe upon my religious freedom. For months I have heard this from presidential hopefuls (turning rhetorical somersaults to fit the phrases “created equal” and “no gay marriage” into the same sentence without exploding in a cloud of cognitive dust-onance), pundits, and others, over and over again. And I’m left with the question:

Your religious freedom to what?

Your religious freedom to condemn others? To marginalize whole sectors of society on a theological whim? To institutionalize your own beliefs (and rights) at the expense of everyone else’s?

Both President Obama, in his speech following the ruling, and Justice Kennedy, in the majority opinion of the Court, explicitly addressed the fact that some citizens of our Union(?) hold very dear convictions on the issue, and advised the rest of us to “go easy on them.” The whole “pastors who refuse to perform same-sex weddings will lose their licenses” thing isn’t actually happening. (You understand that, right?)

From where I stand, your religious freedom is right where it was before: plastered on church signs and Facebook pages, nestled in the bosom of your 501(c)3s, and coming out of your mouths any time a TV camera is pointed in your general direction. So, you’re good.

At the end of the day, the problems this country faces are not because of homosexuality or abortion or the economy or politics, or anything so headline friendly as any of that. The real problem is:

Selfishness.

You heard me. ME. MY rights. MY life. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME.

As a sizeable portion of our fellow citizens celebrates new-found freedom, another sizeable portion cries over freedoms they haven’t even lost. And have the gall to claim that beloved symbols of LGBTQ community like the rainbow are really symbols of anti-Christian bigotry. We’ve never been big on self-awareness here in the United States of Take-a-Hike. But we’re certainly good at looking out for No. 1.

Because we’re more than willing to poop on others…so long as nobody ever poops on us.

Who We Aren’t

Arco_das_Cataratas(Photo by Newordertemple)

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.

– Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

In his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark decision that struck down bans on same-sex marriage throughout the fifty states, Chief Justice John Roberts asked:

As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?

In all honesty, I’m not always sure who we are as a nation, but I think I can say with some confidence who we are not:

We are not Han Chinese, or Kalahari Bushmen, or the Carthaginians. And, unless at some point we’ve performed a ritual human sacrifice on the White House lawn, we are definitely not the Aztecs. I’d like to think we’ve made just a little progress since then. Even if one rejects the idea of biological evolution, no one who’s read a history book (outside of Texas) can possibly deny the reality of social evolution. We are not who we once were. And this is a great good.

We are not even the nation we were a week and a half ago. As President Obama so eloquently noted in his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, the events that unfolded in Charleston have had an effect on us as a people that no one, from the shooter to the Fox pundits to society at large, saw coming: we have stumbled upon (or been thrust rudely into) introspection, a quality sorely lacking of late in our public discourse. We have perhaps for the first time in a very long time stopped to consider the feelings of others. When the son of Strom Thurmond advocates the demotion of the Confederate flag, you know a corner’s been turned.

In this groundswell of respect for others (fleeting as it may be), the Obergefell decision seems only fitting. Perhaps we are finally getting it through our collective head that our LGBTQ compatriots are not aberrations, not threats to the social order, not “less than” anything or anyone. That instead, they are just like us: people in pursuit of happiness, people in possession of human dignity, people entitled to all the rights and liberty the rest of us expect to wake up to in the morning. Perhaps we’ve finally realized that the worship of God doesn’t require judgment of others, or that these men and women simply want a share in our society, not to destroy it. Perhaps; perhaps not…

Here, though, is where the rubber meets the road. Neither the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, or the Civil Rights Act a century later, signaled the end of the racist streak that runs throughout our history as a nation. Charleston proved that. Legislation and/or court decisions get us only so far. And they are what truly show us who we are as a society, because they take what once was adherence to the law (call it “plausible deniability”) and transform it into circumvention of the law. Alleged innocence flies out the window: we’ve now reached the stage of egregious (and generally creatively underhanded) denial of our fellow citizens’ rights.

Before June 26, 2015, we could say that our attitude, our approach to the issue of LGBT equality, was about “the letter of the law,” about what’s written down on the hallowed papers and documents of our land. We could blame the Founders, pin it on the courts, whatever. Now, today, that ship has sailed: now it’s all about what lives in our hearts and minds, as individuals, as citizens, as human beings. Nooses on trees come from nooses in minds; hateful speech flows from hateful hearts. Who do we think we are? We are what we say and do.

Justice Kennedy foresaw the coming storm in the majority opinion: “Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.” Anyone familiar with Jim Crow feels the truth of those words, some of us in ways the rest of us will never quite understand. And the choice, now, is ours: who do we think we are?

If we take Justice Roberts’ words as binding, it would seem we are who we ever have been, that we cannot change, that we cannot grow as a people and a society. We must always think as we have thought before; we must always plumb the depths behind rather than plotting out the course ahead. And that’s a dangerous frame of mind: if we think we are who we used to be, we’ll never realize who we might become.

The real question, as we move forward, is this: Who are we going to be, now that we’re beginning to understand what it means to be who we are?

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

600px-Hrc_logo.svg

It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

– Justice Anthony M. Kennedy