Yesterday, like many of you, I came to Ordinary Life to hear Bill’s prophetic, loving voice following the not so loving decision of the United Methodist Church to uphold its ban on gay clergy and same sex marriages. It took it one step further to institute harsher punishments should those bans be violated. Like many of you I was wondering what United can mean in the midst of a deep philosophical divide. Is it necessary, as poet & playwright Claudia Rankine put it, to stay in this car together?
I sat next to someone I am newly acquainted with, a beautiful, tender man who is married to a man. A man who has felt welcome in Ordinary Life in part, I imagine, because of Bill’s openness about his stance of full inclusion. We both got there late and slid into the back row. At different points we got teary, we grasped hands, we spoke aloud, “What do we do now?” Do we stay in a church body whose broader stance closed and locked a door, or do we go? My husband, a black man, said he’d have to consider heavily whether to continue supporting an institution who is essentially cloaking racism in a different form. Keeping homosexuals from fully belonging is exactly like the laws that once had whites and blacks drinking from different fountains, using different bathrooms, sleeping in different beds in separate homes.
On the one hand, no one, not a soul - neither your mother, your father, nor your granny; neither the laws nor even religion - needs to give you permission to be exactly who you are. You are not an accident or an abomination. You are an expression of the stars becoming beautifully, wonderfully human. You are that whether an institution closes its doors on you or not. Trust nature, trust how it has unfolded to make YOU.
On the other hand, the desire to belong to a loving community is real. The longing for the whole body of humanity to catch up to nature’s way is deep. The pain of having to raise a fist, a flag, a voice again and again is exhausting. When we push something into the darkness it is a form of denial, a form of lying to ourselves about what is. The global UMC has done exactly that. It is in denial of nature. It would be easy for me, a white, heterosexual woman, to continue on as if nothing has changed. After all no element of this decision affects me personally, right?
I firmly believe that someone else’s suffering or exclusion does impact me. We are individual bodies that live together on a singular planet in a singular galaxy. Like the interior of our own bodies we need the heart, lungs, blood, and bones - all separate by definition - to work in unison to keep us fully alive. Remember, “Thou canst not stir a flower without the troubling of a star.” We are in this together no matter how hard we try to tuck away that which we do not understand. A video I love reveals what happened in Yellowstone when the wolves were removed. The entire ecosystem changed - rivers flooded, birds left, deer overpopulated, grasses were barren - just because of the missing the wolf. The lesson here? It all belongs. We all belong. If we opt to exclude any one of us, our lives are only a half life, myopic and apathetic.
Bill said we can build walls or we can build tables. It’s hard to sit at the table with someone who has hurt us, with someone we don’t understand or agree with. A dinner party is so much more fun when we laugh and agree and affirm. But maybe right now it’s not about fun. Maybe right now it’s about grief, sitting in silence together, not rushing into empty optimism with “oh it will all be fine!” platitudes. Grief gives way to hope. Hope is an arm, a hand extended in the dark reaching into the unknown, but reaching nevertheless.
The root of united is unus, Latin for one. It is the concept of an underlying unified reality from which everything emerges and to which everything returns. However hard we fight against it, we are already one. I hope we can reach into the darkness as such.