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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Helping Love

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with John Sebastian, Worship Associate, Erica Shadowsong, Director of Religious Exploration, and the combined choirs of PBUUC and Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda


Helping Love

A sermon by Rev. Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

February 12, 2012

When I heard that the choir was to sing a love song, for Valentine’s Day and our celebration of marriage equality, I really hoped it wouldn’t be one of those sappy “Oh, baby, I can’t live without you” songs.

So what did we get but “Withouten you, no rose can grow; No leaf be green If never seen your sweetest face.” …The song was lovely, but really… such dependence is not healthy in committed relationships, … gay or straight…

Kahlil Gibran was my kind of romantic. The Lebanese-American poet in the early twentieth century wrote of marriage, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another, but make not a bond of love.” He’d have none of this “without you, there is no beauty” and neither do I.

But, wait, “Little Elegy” is the title, not “Little Love Song”! An elegy is a mournful ode to the dead!

So maybe the song is about our profound sadness when a long-time lover, spouse or partner dies. Like in the story for the Together Time, after Mouse died, and Cat looked around the house, everything Cat saw reminded Cat of Mouse. It happens that way sometimes. We mourn, for mourn we must, and if there had been love, there is pain. Pain is the price we pay for having loved.

And, for a time, the lover that death left behind really may feel that no rose can grow, no leaf be green, no bird have grace or power to sing… that’s what grief sometimes does.

But life does goes on. Life goes on after death, after divorce, after unfaithfulness… because “Oh, baby, I can’t live without you” is just not true. We can live on our own.

Or maybe the song is not about human love at all. Maybe it is a song about how it feels when we feel the spirit of life has not come to us in ages, when God or the Goddess is hiding from us, when we feel utterly, despondently, all alone. Maybe the song is not about human love. Maybe it’s about the dark night of the soul. When the rose may grow, the leaf be green, the bird sing, but we cannot see it or hear it.     

Whatever, however you take it, it’s not just a sappy love song.  I think it’s about long-time loving one another… with spaces in your togetherness and the winds of the heavens dancing between you. It’s about the kind of love that makes a family, and makes a home of a house or apartment, condo or townhouse, and nurtures any children in that home to grow and become loving, secure and productive citizens.  It’s about the kind of committed relationships that we are trying to support in extending the rights and responsibilities of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

Those commitments are rarely easy to keep. That’s why state law here still has approximately 400 provisions that help married couples, married heterosexual couples, that is, stay married.  These same supports would be available to gay and lesbian couples if they are allowed to marry, and to the children in their homes.  

It’s not easy to stay committed through the hard times of married life, but if you’ve signed that marriage license and perhaps declared your vows before family and friends, you might be more likely to make the effort – usually involving honesty – that gets you through the hard times to a deeper, more intimate, more joyful place. Don’t we owe gay and lesbian couples the same reinforcement when the going gets rough for them?

Our Worship Associate today, John Sebastian, outlined the reasons for supporting equal marriage, so I won’t do that, except to add another:  that our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, in which ceremonies of union for gay and lesbian couples have been performed for decades, is currently denied its constitutional right to practice its religion because our clergy are not allowed to sign marriage licenses for our gay and lesbian members. This bill is a freedom of religion bill for Unitarian Universalists!

But I will tell you a story. A few weeks ago, in Annapolis, clergy supporters of equal marriage, both black and white, from many different faith traditions (Islam, Judaism, UUism, and many kinds of Christian including Roman Catholic) met for a prayer breakfast and lobbying. A lot had changed since last year’s prayer breakfast. For one thing, obviously, we didn’t pass the bill last session – nothing like a failure to galvanize commitments! But also, this year, it wasn’t just coffee, tea and pastries; it was a real breakfast, paid for by the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, I’m proud to say.

And the prayer breakfast speakers were not just clergy this year: the governor spoke in favor, as did the Speaker of the House Mike Busch. That’s a change from last year! What I want you to know is that both of them, and one of the Black Baptist preachers as well, mentioned that coming to support marriage equality had been a journey for them, rather than something they just knew was right from the first time they heard of it. That’s the point of the story – coming to support marriage equality is a journey.

That it’s been a journey must be true for most of us, too. But once we are there, too many of us (including myself sometimes) seem to forget that it had been a gradual process for us and judge others for not being there, too.

And that’s what I want to talk about today in my remaining minutes:  How can we put aside our judgments and talk with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors who are opponents in such a way that they move forward in that journey? How can we do that if their opposition is faith-based?

If someone is a vocal opponent, what can we say to move them toward being a silent opponent? If someone is a silent opponent, what can we say to move them toward being undecided? If someone is undecided, what can we say to move them to being a silent supporter? If someone is a silent supporter, what can we say to move them to being a vocal, activist, engaged supporter?  

Start your conversations with a story of your own, about your journey toward support for marriage equality. The more personal and from the heart you are, the more likely someone will be to listen. If they just throw the Bible at you (so to speak), don’t argue chapter and verse. Instead say, “There are things in the Bible most of us don’t accept today, and I think discrimination against gay and lesbian people who love each other should be one of those things we no longer accept.”

With the vocal opponent, tell your story and then say something like this:  I can understand that you may be uncomfortable with gay people, but there are children in our state whose parents are gay or lesbian, who are providing them with stable homes, but those children would be so much more secure if their parents could be legally wed and benefit from the 400 or more provisions in state law* that support heterosexual married couples. Jesus welcomed the outcasts of his time and he is not quoted in the Bible ever mentioning gay or lesbian couples. So, I ask you, even if you cannot support marital rights for those couples, I hope you won’t advocate that we continue to discriminate against them and their children. I feel like discrimination is just unfair; how do you feel?

With the silent opponent, tell your story and then:  I wasn’t always a supporter of marriage equality for gay couples, but then I realized I didn’t feel right about discrimination against the gay and lesbian couples I know. I started thinking about it from their point of view: who’s to say that their love and commitment is any less real than straight people’s love and commitment? That made me really question myself and I realized I was no longer so sure of my opposition. At that point, I thought discrimination was wrong but I wasn’t sure gay marriage was right, but now I do. How do you feel about discrimination?

With someone who is undecided, tell your story and then:  I used to feel ambivalent, too, until I learned that, without the right to marry, gay and lesbian people do not have the legal right to visit in the ICU or participate in medical decision making for their partner at death’s door. Are you aware that long-time committed gay couples can’t benefit from 400 or more provisions in state laws that are now applicable only to married heterosexuals? Hearing all this, would you now say you lean more toward discrimination or toward equality?

With someone who is a silent supporter, tell your story and then:  I’ve never been much for politics, as you know, but I recently contacted my state delegates and senator to ask them to support marriage equality, because we are so close to winning it this year and I heard that they all need to hear from supporters. It only took a few minutes and you can even do it after office hours and leave a message, to which their staff will listen and then record your opinion. Could I ask you to call, too? Also, do you want to come with me to Lobby Day in Annapolis tomorrow night at 6 pm at Lawyers Mall? We can join my church’s carpool. And on Tuesday nights from 6-9, my church is hosting a phone bank where an organizer trains you on a script, so that when you dial a number, you know exactly what to say. There will be pizza for dinner; do you want to come with me? We’re so close to winning; we need everybody’s help!

With someone who is an activist:  Hey, it’s really great what you’ve been doing for marriage equality! What’s been your favorite thing to do so far?

Here’s mine. Several weeks ago, the three UU congregations in Prince George’s County came together for a UU canvassing event. After lunch and an excellent training at Goodloe Memorial UU Church in Bowie, we went out door to door in a neighborhood of townhouses nearby. It was the district of Delegate Marvin Holmes, an opponent last year who said he needed to hear from constituents this year. We knocked on 209 doors that afternoon. Only 13 people refused to talk to us. We identified 6 new volunteers. And, most importantly, we succeeded in getting 35 people to sign postcards addressed to Delegate Holmes saying, “I support marriage equality and want you to support it, too, with your vote.”

There was one woman, an African American woman probably in her thirties, who came to the door, listened, and when I asked if she supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, slowly said “yes.” But when I asked if she’d sign the postcard, she told me she was busy cooking right then, could I come back? I said “sure,” gave her the card, and figured that was the last I’d see of it. Well, I got to the end of her row and I headed back. She’d been watching for me. She came out the front door, apron and all, and down her sidewalk to meet me, and handed me her post card. It was filled-out!  When I thanked her, she nodded and said simply, “Glad to. Thank you.”

It seems to me that people just need to be asked. It’s a journey, but we must invite them to move forward on that journey. I think they will come to understand that what this is all about is, simply, love.

It’s about the long-time loving-one-another kind of love that we mean by the word “marriage” … with spaces in your togetherness and the winds of the heavens dancing between you… It’s about the kind of love that makes a family, that makes home of a house or apartment, condo or townhouse, and nurtures any children in that home to grow into loving, secure and productive citizens.

It’s about helping everyone’s love to be the best love it can be.

*Source:  Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach, by Francis DeBernardo. New Ways Ministry, 4012 29th Street, Mt Ranier, MD 20712, 301-277-5674. www.newwaysministry.org.

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