Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Still Small Voice: Have Faith

Yesterday, I posted "We Still Hold a Responsibility... To Ourselves," in which I expressed the sentiment that no matter how dehumanizing the Prop 8 campaign and vote were to me, they could not ultimately strip away my humanity. That was my effort to put on a good face in the wake of a very demoralizing result in California.

But then I saw the picture of the Prop 8 organizers in the L.A. Times on-line, laughing and cheering and holding up clenched fists upon learning that their referendum to strip me of my marriage had succeeded. And I read on the Northern Lights blog the arguments in support of Prop 8 that struck me, at base, as heartless, as inconsiderate of the real-life, flesh-and-blood effect that these kinds of referendums have on me and my family. I felt wounded. I don't want "social acceptance for my lifestyle." What I want is to be able to care for my own, for the ones I love, without having to deal with the kinds of social hurdles that exist when the tax code and health care and powers of attorney are structured around marriage. What I want is the moral and spiritual support that marriage provides for nurture and fidelity.

My marriage last summer was one of the most joyous occasions in my life, if not the most joyous. It was a loving and intimate time with family. A time when my father prayed for me, put his arm around me and encouraged me. A time when the man I love was embraced by my family. A time when we deepened our relationship with our foster son, laying the groundwork for incredible struggle and growth since. The fact that we had to sacrifice for that event, and the fact that it had meaning beyond what a merely private ceremony would have offered helped to make us more of a family. And the clenched fists and the laughing faces in the L.A. Times and the cold arguments on Northern Lights felt like a kind of heartless mockery in the face of something I experienced as truly sacred.

I felt a sort of creeping depression descend on me throughout the day. Yesterday evening, I was cheered somewhat volunteering at the local homeless shelter, preparing and then serving a meal of sloppy joes, mac and cheese, corn and salad. We talked cheerfully about the Obama victory. Still, my heart wasn't in it; I felt like I wanted to cry. I felt drained. I ended up having to leave early. This morning we had a paralegal meeting at work, and my interactions in the meeting were crabby and short, to the point that I felt obliged later in the day to apologize to the meeting organizer. I felt sad. Just deeply sad.

My marriage had been invalidated by a popular referendum of a majority that was convinced by lies and fear-mongering. The certificate that hangs on the wall of our bedroom and that has given me joy every single day I have looked at it, voided by the successful campaign of people that felt strongly enough about relegating my family to second class status that they donated millions and worked tirelessly just for that. And then they laughed and cheered and celebrated at what they had taken away from us.

Yes, the words I wrote largely to comfort myself in the immediate aftermath are true. They can't take away my humanity no matter what. They can't take away the significance of the act that we sacrificed to make a reality last summer. They can't take away what changed in our hearts as a result.

But I still couldn't help but grieve. And feel angry. Why do they hate us so?

This morning, my prayers, usually peaceful and focussed and centered, were just a kind of mournful outcry: God, please help me! Please! And the day that followed just dull and gray and tired. I know it seems melodramatic. Honestly, believe me, I wished I hadn't felt that way. I wished I'd had the strength to just shrug it off, but I didn't.

I found a certain comfort reading Scot's post, and Mohohawaii's. They were grieving too, and the solidarity of shared grief helped me. And then there were the friends. The real friends at work and at the homeless shelter last night, and of course family, who didn't try to minimize the sadness I felt. They expressed genuine shock and sadness and outrage that a majority of voters in California had done this. How could they!? And their expressions of solidarity were a comfort too. But it still didn't take away the deep sadness.

But then I was heading home after work today, walking down the Minneapolis skyway that connects all the major buildings downtown, toward the parking ramp where my bike was locked. I was walking and thinking and feeling sad and basically just sorry for myself. And in that moment, quite unexpectedly (why then? why not earlier today when I was on my knees begging God to Help!?) there came the still, small voice of the Spirit.

It said simply, "Be not of little faith."

That got my attention. I interrogated the Spirit. "What, what do you mean?"

The Spirit replied, "Don't be angry. Don't be afraid. Everything will be well. Everything will be made right."

And that was about the extent of it. I wanted more than that, but it was clear to me that if I wanted more, I had to be, for the time being, content with merely that. What I did understand is that Being Not of Little Faith meant making a conscious effort to set aside my feelings of anger and self pity. It meant remembering the covenants and promises I had made to my partner in that ceremony, being ever true to them in thought, word, and sentiment. And most of all, I needed to let go of my feelings of resentment toward anybody and everybody (especially those Latter-day Saints) who contributed to the victory of Proposition 8. I needed to let go of those feelings, and Right Now. If I just made that conscious movement of heart, if I simply prayed that prayer of forgiveness and letting go, the Spirit would help me do the rest. It would give me the healing that I needed to make it real. To turn the outward motions into true forgiveness and true inner peace.

And there has been a blessed presence of the Spirit since then as well. The best way I can describe it is it as if time has just stopped. Göran called me and asked me to do an errand for him, and I was walking down the street, feeling the cold damp, the end of Indian summer, smelling the fallen leaves. It felt beautiful. I felt beautiful inside and out. I felt blessed peace. And genuine love. Even for those people with the laughing faces, jeering my loss from the image posted in the L.A. Times on-line.

So I walked down the street and reflected on the fact that the same Spirit that encouraged me and mine to head out to California and get married, the same Spirit that has blessed me with so many spiritual gifts in the aftermath of that marriage, that same Spirit is telling me to "Be not of little faith," and commanding me not to be angry, not to be resentful. That was my task. If I would make some effort in that direction, the Spirit would help me. And it has. And I feel at peace. And I trust that ultimately all will be well, as the Spirit has promised me. It feels slightly miraculous to me. It is as if this enormous burden has been lifted. I feel free, truly free from that burden of sadness and anger I've felt for the last 36 hours or so since the moment I first logged onto the L.A. Times on-line and read the bad news at about 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning.

Does that mean I won't continue to talk about Prop 8, about marriage, and about this very strange journey of mine? Of course not.

But it does mean I need to be ever attentive. And ever faithful.


MoHoHawaii said...

This is a beautiful post. Thanks.

I also have had an outpouring of a sense of peace today. I'm filled with the sense of rightness in our cause. Our cause is just. We shall prevail.

Those who oppose us do so with a perspective that over time can be changed. The coming generation will be the agent of that change.

Jay said...

Thanks for this post John. I really needed to hear your words today.

Knight of Nothing said...

I saw the picture in the LA Times to which you refer. I actually downloaded it to my computer. It fascinated me, and I had intended to write a post about it. In that photo I saw an unapologetic, un-ironic depiction of schadenfreude in its ugliest form. It was sickening.

But it also made me laugh. And feel sorry for them. There is something truly pathetic about people who would cheer so openly and robustly for that victory - especially because I think it will prove to be a pyrrhic and short-lived one. Justice and morality and reason and history are not on their side.

I know this is small comfort right now, but as surely as the sun rises, so too with the dawn of equal rights be upon us. A man from my office, a middle-class suburbanite who is married with three kids, and has no great interest in politics, and who has no gay friends or family to speak of, expressed disappointment in Proposition 8.

My point in that anecdote is, there are so many cracks in the armor of hate! I think we will yet live to see the day when this form of discrimination perishes.


J G-W said...

Mohohawaii, Jay, thanks.

Sam, thanks. Thanks for being part of the supportive family I refer to in my post.

I understand that for many of those on the "other side" of this issue, they are the ones who feel "we" are trying to take something from them. And I also understand that many folks on the other side of this are sincere when they claim not to feel animus toward me or others in my situation.

Still, just because southern white racists felt that integration would destroy their cherished way of life, and just because many of them honestly believed they weren't racist and expressed what they believed to be sincere affection for black folks who "knew their place," none of that negates the fact that segregation was profoundly wrong. Obviously I feel this situation is analagous...

Beck said...

Your constant faith and spiritual intuition are a source of strength for me. You are a better man than I.

If I were in the same situation as you, I'm not sure I would have listened to the spirit. But you do! That is inspiring!

J G-W said...

Beck - thanks as always for the expressions of love and support.

GeckoMan said...

I once again have hope in the political future. Perhaps it may be dashed again, as it was by GWB, but for now I want to believe that we Americans can be inspired to change and build something of substance by great leaders.

The right to marry regardless of orientation will succeed by the witness of human stories such as yours, and the the realization by the majority that this is truly a civil right. Love and justice will prevail. The still small voice of decency and faith will prevail.

You have put into words for me many of the feelings of my heart--thanks, John.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Gecko, both for the kind words and the kind sentiments. I miss your posts, but am so glad you are still around!

Ty Ray said...

John, thank you for your heartfelt feelings here. It was hard to hear that the Northern Lights remarks--which were mine, and which I take full responsibility for--were perceived as cold. My hope is that you can appreciate how hard this has for those in my situation as well. I often feel torn by the love and affection I feel for you, and other feelings and impressions I have.

I feel so much solidarity with you, and such a deep appreciation of your goodness and friendship--while I'm conscious of my yet many faults and weaknesses, I count myself a better person because of you, your faith, your example, your spiritual attunement--that it wrenches my heartstrings to feel that other impressions I've had or things I've said (and likely not well articulated according to all I feel in my heart) would be perceived as cold, or which would cause you pain. Sometimes the paradoxes and tensions of faith I feel around this issue are almost too much to bear. The passage of Prop 8 was not a joy even to many who approved it. I cringed at the LA Times picture. The nearly two weeks since the election have left me feeling extremely heavy and keenly aware of the hurt and anger that many have felt around it.

I hope only to continue to be nurtured and educated by our friendship--and that me and those like me will continue to experience the grace you so freely offer others, even in your hurt. You are a good, good man, John. I count myself truly blessed to call you a friend.

The message of your impressions, "Everything will be well. Everything will be made right," a message I've been impressed with in recent days as well, are balm to my soul. I pray for that day when ALL is made right, and long to continue traveling that road with you until it happens.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Ty. I'll respond more fully off line!