Monday, February 14, 2011

Standing on the Side of Love

Today I was taken away in handcuffs as the battle ground for equal rights moves from the lunch counter to the marriage license counter.

It was part of a marriage equality action. As a way to highlight the injustice of marriage laws, which deny gay and lesbian couples the legal rights and protections which marriage affords, and to honor the anniversary of San Francisco's "Winter of Love" (2004) when Mayor Gavin Newsom surprised the world by allowing city officials to issue marriage certificates to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, marriage counter protests occur in city halls across America as gay and lesbian couples request--and are denied--a marriage license.

Heading into the marriage license office
 In San Francisco, clergy, gay and lesbian couples, and city officials held a press conference in City Hall.  Following the press conference, we clergy accompanied several couples to the marriage license counter. When they were refused a license, we sat down and began to sing, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love" until we were led away in handcuffs.

As an officer handcuffed me and led me down into the basement of City Hall, he guided me with his hand on my shoulder and back with the gentlest of touches. I remember thinking, "I have never been touched by a stranger--and certainly not by an arresting officer--in a way that had ever made me feel like I was something precious." That's how gentle he touched me.

We got to the bottom of the stairs and then he motioned for me to walk with him down a long corridor that ran the length of City Hall. Suddenly, he blurted out, "I didn't think this would be as hard as it is," and he burst into tears.

He looked at me, tears running down his face, and told me of how he and his husband had been married in 2008. He was grateful that they were amongst the lucky ones, whose marriage is still recognized by California. "But it hurts to know there are other couples who feel the same love we do, who can't get married."

By then, we were both in tears, held in the tension felt between our two vocations. He was doing his job, by arresting me. I was doing my job by standing up for justice and love.  Together, we saw how flawed our legal system is when it refuses to protect the loving relationship of all committed couples.

He led me into the holding room and before he uncuffed me, he blessed me with two simple words:

"Thank you."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

BART Encounters #1

She looked hesitatingly at the seat next to me before our eyes met. I smiled and gestured that the seat was all hers. Shortly after she sat down, I couldn't help but notice the most enticing aroma from a package she was carrying. I finally asked her what it was.

"Mussels and french fries," she said. "I just had an interview for a job, and it was so horrible! I decided I needed something to cheer me up."

We spoke about her interview--she worked in a downtown office and had been invited to apply for another position in the organization. The interview did not go as she had expected, and she felt depleted and betrayed. "Why would they invite me to apply, and then treat me that way?"

She told me that as soon as the interview finished, she called home. This was no quick call across town. The woman was from another country, an ocean away. But at that time, she needed to hear the voice of someone who would love her no matter what. Whether the interview went well or was horrible, whether she got the job or not, she knew to reach out to someone who would love her, not judge her. She called home.

The need for home runs deep in our souls. Whether that home is a physical one, or an emotional one we share with loved ones, we all need a place of safety, love and support. Dorothy clicked her heels, saying,
There's no place like home."  ET pointed longingly to the sky and asked, "Phone home?"

Too many people, however, don't have a place to call home. Poverty and foreclosures have caused many to lose their home. Others have been forced out or had to flee their home. Still others aren't even at home in their own skins.

How can we be home for each other? How can we create strong communities that are committed to ensuring a place of home, a place of safety, for the most vulnerable?  My faith tells me that there is a place, there is a home, for everyone in the body of Christ. Unfortunately, not enough Christian communities are willing to be a home--a place of safety, love and nurture--for all people.  Perhaps one sign of this unwillingness to be a home for all is reflected in empy pews, dried up souls, and tired faith.  Too many people outside the church have learned to read the sign, "You can't go home again."

What if our churches were committed to finding the lost parts of the body of Christ, reattach missing limbs, and protect and strengthen the most vulnerable parts of the body? What if our churches were to welcome each outsider with the same joy and generosity as the father who welcomed home the prodigal son? What if we truly recognized our brothers and sisters in the faces of those we meet every day, even on a BART train?