Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tongues and Souls on Fire

For many people of faith in Minnesota,
last Tuesday's signing into law of marriage equality legislation
involved a pouring forth of the Spirit of Pentecost.

When you joined with thousands
standing side by side,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

When you knew you'd won
what so long was denied,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

Was your soul on fire like mine?
Was your heart on fire like mine?

We gathered in the sunshine, spoke the truth in love.
We with tongues and souls on fire.

– Adapted from "Hearts on Fire"
by Bret Hesla.
Available on What We Do: Good Time Songs
for Peace and Change

According to a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who chairs the U.S. Bishops' Conference Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, finds it "ironic" that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill making same-sex marriage legal in the state the day after Mother's Day.

In Cordileone's view granting civil marriage rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples makes mothers and fathers "superfluous." He also believes that:

The Minnesota legislature's decision to redefine marriage weakens motherhood and fatherhood, and so strikes a blow to all children who deserve both a mother and father.

Of course, given that the Vatican has been summoned before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child over its ongoing worldwide sex abuse crisis, it's highly questionable if a member of the Vatican's ruling class, such as Cordileone, is in any position to be lecturing on the rights and safety of children.

Furthermore, how exactly does granting civil marriage rights to same-sex couples deprive children of their mother and father? That's something that, to my knowledge, has never been adequately explained. Is it because some gay couples adopt children? Do the bishops think unwanted children should only be adopted and raised by heterosexual couples? If this is the case, why all the focus on gay marriage? Shouldn't they be pushing for constitutional amendments against gay adoptions? That would be the logical step given their concern for the safety, welfare, and "rights" of children. Another logical measure would be their advocating for children to be removed from families headed by same-sex couples. Yet on such matters the bishops remain silent. Why is that?

I think one of the best responses to the bishops' fear-mongering about children being raised by same-sex parents was offered last year by comedian and writer Jim David:

As far as the [fallacy] that children are best served by a mother and a father, we all know a lot of really screwed-up people who came from a mother and a father. The adoption and foster-care agencies of the world are jam-packed with babies discarded by mothers and fathers. A same-sex couple I know recently adopted a son who was thrown into foster care like a piece of trash, abandoned by every heterosexual parent he had. The child was a wreck when he arrived, and now he's a happy boy in the second grade, on the softball team, with a quality of life he did not know before age five. This scenario has been repeated thousands of times in thousands of other same-sex families. The only problem that children of same-sex couples routinely report is dealing with the bigotry of children whose parents believe the lies told by organizations like NOM.

. . . and by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, unfortunately.

As for the bishops' complaint about "redefining marriage" . . . well, as far as I know the Roman Catholic hierarchy is still calling the shots on who can and cannot marry in the church. Thus nothing can be said to have been changed or "redefined" within their domain. This is because, as Jay Michaelson so succinctly puts it: "We’re not changing religious definitions; we’re expanding secular domains of equality."

A Spirit-filled event

The presence of the sacred, however, is not absent from individuals and families that live and operate within any number of "secular domains." Mother's Day is a secular holiday. Yet that fact did not prevent Archbishop Cordileone from using it to make a theological point.

I'd like to take this opportunity to make a theological point of my own. And that is this: For many, if not the majority of the 7,000+ people who gathered last Tuesday at the Minnesota State Capitol to witness the signing into law of marriage equality, the occasion was a Spirit-filled event. This is not surprising given the significant role that people of faith – including Catholics – played in defeating last year's anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment and in advocating this year for marriage equality as a social justice and faith issue.

I don't find it ironic that Tuesday's bill signing took place so close to Mother's Day, I find it appropriate – appropriate for all mothers, including those who are partnered with another woman. I also find it fitting that Minnesota's marriage equality law was signed just five days before Pentecost – the feast of the great outpouring of God's Spirit of love, clarity, and courage.

Traditionally, Pentecost is the "birthday of the Church." But what do we actually mean by this? Well, as I've noted previously, Pentecost signifies our recognition of the gift of God’s spirit of transformation within and among us. It’s a recognition that, time and again, births community, births “the church.” On the feast of Pentecost we recall how at some point early in the life of the community of followers of Jesus, those beyond this community came to recognize something wondrously transformative and inspiring about the things that this community was saying and doing. Regardless of where they came from or what language they spoke, people recognized and responded to the sacred that they experienced as present and active in this community that we now call the early church. People where amazed, inspired and changed by this sacred presence embodied by and mediated through this community.

I contend that last Tuesday's event on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol was the culmination of a similar experience. Over the course of the past two years, thanks to the whole 'marriage amendment' issue, gay couples and families, along with the people who know and love them, awakened to the need to share the reality of their lives, and thus potentially change the hearts and minds of others. Thousands upon thousands of Minnesotans undertook this endeavor in a myriad of ways. And, as a result, something quite beautiful and wondrous happened: For those attuned to the presence and action of the sacred, it became clear that in the lives and experiences of same-sex individuals, couples and families God is present.

Yes, for many of us who are people of faith, Pentecost came early this year in Minnesota. And last Tuesday it was the same-sex families who stood on the steps of the Capitol with Governor Mark Dayton who most powerfully embodied and channeled God's spirit of love and justice to the thousands gathered before them. One of those family is pictured above, and is comprised of Paul Melchert (right), his partner James Zimmerman, and their twin boys Emmett and Gabriel.

It was because of families like this, and the love and commitment they embody, that there were, in the words of Bret Hesla, "tongues and souls on fire" last Tuesday.

When you joined with thousands
standing side by side,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

We gathered in the sunshine, spoke the truth in love.
We with tongues and souls on fire.

I'm truly sorry for those unable or unwilling to see and lovingly respond to the presence of God in the lives, relationships, and families of gay and lesbian people, and who instead seek to find ways to deny, dismiss, or disparage such lives, relationships, and families. And make no mistake, that was the unspoken intention of Archbishop Cordileone's quip about the "irony" of the timing of last Tuesday's bill signing to Mother's Day, an intention that speaks volumes to the limited understanding of both "mothers" and "family" that this day represents for him.

If Archbishop Cordileone wants an example of irony (not to mention the wondrously mysterious ways of the Spirit!), he need look no further than to the role that his brother archbishop, the anti-marriage equality John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, played in ensuring marriage equality in Minnesota. You see, Archbishop Nienstedt made the passage of the 'marriage amendment' something of a personal crusade. Yet it was a crusade that served to galvanize people in their commitment to stand up and speak their truth. What followed was a transforming outpouring of truth and love that first helped defeat last year's 'marriage amendment' and then preceded to help win marriage equality this year.

For many of us, such an outpouring was and continues to be experienced as the work of the Spirit.

When you knew you'd won
what so long was denied,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

Is your soul on fire like mine?
Is your heart on fire like mine?

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Prayer for Pentecost
The Spirit and the Faithful
The Spirit of Pentecost is Very Much Present and Active in the Church of Minneapolis/St. Paul
Marriage Equality Comes to Minnesota
Karen Clark's Revolutionary Act: "Daring to Believe That People Can Change Their Hearts and Minds"
Strange Tongues

Recommended Off-site Links:
If This Video Doesn't Convince You to Support Marriage Equality, Nothing Will – Neetzan Zimmerman (Gawker, February 28, 2013).
Dayton Signs Marriage Equality Law on Capitol Steps – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, May 14, 2013).
Minnesota Ushers in Gay Marriage – Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, May 14, 2013).
For Minnesota Gay Marriage Sponsors, It's Personal – Patrick Condon (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, May 14, 2013).
Marriage Equality Bill Signing: History in the MakingCity Pages (May 15, 2013).

Image 1: Photographer unknown.
Image 2: Michael J. Bayly.


Sharon Willey said...

As the mother of a gay son and friend of gay and lesbian people (married & not), I must say I appreciate this reflection greatly. I, too, believe in the compassionate Christ and the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, Who loves great variety. May the Father bless this work.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful observations, Michael. Pentecost, indeed. And, in terms of Mother's Day,

Henry Huot said...

Great article ... a real gift.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful reflection. Mark

Joe O'Leary said...

It is the madness of the religious leaders and their fanatical followers that most persuades ordinary people that love and freedom are values transcending such dogmatic obsessions.

Laura Hetchler Kuntz said...

And Pentecost comes after fear and difficulty, despite closed doors. Amazing parallels . . .