Sunday, November 25, 2012

thanksgiving wedding homily

Without a doubt my favorite ministerial activity is marrying people.  For me it is more than simply the ritual and the single day of joining them together; I delight in the months of planning, the meetings and getting to know the couple, their histories together and apart, their concerns and hopes.  There is little more exciting than sitting together with them over coffee and talking about why they've decided to make their union an official and legal one, why they choose one another.  Then the sitting down part, writing the homily.  Below is my most recent, written for a couple whose male half I've known since teenagerhood.  Each of them has had issues and difficulties they've had to process and, after confronting their problems alone, have realized another person will meet them with them.  I've often said it's an honor to be with someone as she dies; it's equally an honor to be with people as they come together.

Marriage Homily
There is a symmetry to marrying a day before Thanksgiving.  Doing so ensures that in the future you will never be able to celebrate the one without thinking about the other. Both of you have celebrated other thanksgivings in the past with other families—your families of origin, families of friends, and for both of you, families composed of other partners.  But from today forward you will celebrate this time of year with a new family composed of the members you are responsible for having brought together.  The two of you plus your children you bring to this union. 
How similar this is to the legend of the First American Thanksgiving.  We’re all familiar through repetition of it in school and in popular culture.  How the Wampanoag tribe, neighbors of the early settlers, took pity on their starving neighbors and showed them better and more efficient crop-planting procedures, and how the grateful Pilgrims repaid that kindness with a huge shared feast.  Whether or not this is accurate is beside the point:  it makes for a good story.  Sometimes a good story is better than history. 
In the future you will tell other people similar good stories.  The story of visiting the bar with friends where the other was DJing and realizing the two of you were the only sober people in the place.  The story of your little week away from the world in Amsterdam where you decided to betroth to one another but not to tell anyone else.  You may have had some indication as you grew closer that your growing relationship would become this melding of two separate tribes, a sort of contemporary Brady Bunch.
But like the coming together of the English and Dutch Pilgrims and the Native Wampanoag, you will have periods of discord and fights.  As all tribes come together there are problems.  You are two individuals who have made your own ways in the world, raised children on your own, lived your own lives.  You are too strong to submerge all your choices and opinions in favor of the other.  As you’ve put it, you don’t feel a need to front for each other.  You recognize your own selfishness for your time together.  Sometimes that selfishness will require you to have some of that time apart.  That’s as it should be.  You’re like two trains that have come cross-country separately, each with your own complement of baggage cars, and now are joining to make the rest of the trip together.  Such a union is expected to have creaks and groans and periods when nothing fits.
But if there is one thing I would wish for you it would be that you always remember it’s better to be happy than to be right. In the future I hope you give thanks for the blessings of relationship and love.  Human beings long to be in community, yearn for companionship, but keeping it is never easy.  In the years ahead there will be times of conflict and sometimes of trial.  That is as it should be.  There will also be times of joy and exultation.  That is also as it should be.  I hope for you that the joys will outnumber the trials.  The two of you are become a union.  The six of you are become a union.  Keep your union strong. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

teach naked


I've no clue where this quote came from--I've done a cursory background search and, aside from this quote, there seems no information on Alexandra K. Trenfor otherwise--but that doesn't diminish from the truth of what she, or someone who attributes it to her, said. 
Similarly, I'm rereading Parker Palmer's Healing the Heart of Democracy, and came across the following wisdom:  "No educational task is more important than helping students reflect on realities larger than their own egos."  This was always, although I never articulated it the way Palmer has, the impetus behind my teaching and I hope that came through to most of my students.  I'm learning to translate this now to everyday life; that's harder and less often rewarded, I've found, but no less rewarding.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

it is time for us to be prophets

I am an unabashed liberal.  I have been reading in a number of places and hearing from a number of people that now, on the other side of political victory, it is time to lead our nation to heal, to draw us back together into a single community. 

It is not. 

No, it is time to press our advantage for all it is worth and remind our opponents--by which I don't mean Romney-supporters but supporters of hurtful policies and beliefs who may have supported Romney or not but certainly supported the losing side--that they are finally, undeniably, irrecoverably wrong.

We should model ourselves on the prophets of the Older Testament who did not suggest that the way to save the Hebrew people was for everyone to get over their differences and see one another's point of view.  Deborah reminds the general Barak(!) that victory comes to the one who takes presses a situation's advantage.  Amos directs his angry words at the "fat cows" who "oppress the poor and crush the needy."  Jeremiah railed against the false prophets and their followers, "They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush...I will pour out their own wickedness on them." 

It is time for us to be prophets, to tell them that they are wrong.  Those who believe Fox News tells them the truth; they are wrong.  Those who are convinced the president was born in a foreign country and is an illegitimate leader; they are wrong.  Those who behave as if "God helps he who helps himself" is a Biblical teaching; they are wrong.  Those who are certain that a ring and pledge of purity will somehow keep teen pregnancy at bay; they are wrong.  Those who think that their casual racism is somehow protected self-expression; they are wrong.  Those who feel themselves "taxed enough already"; they are wrong.  It is time to stop being humble about our views, as if they are somehow less-realistic, less-rigorous, less-accepted by the American people. 

We won and we won big.  We saw more clearly where the country is headed and what people are concerned with.  We must not be embarrassed by our having been right.  We are the ones with vision and we are the ones who have been proved right.  We may not be right in the future--in fact, about some things we are as certain to be wrong in the future as we are right now.  But we are right today.  Own that. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

homily in a time of soul-stirring victory

I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are conservative, both politically and religiously, and many of them crossed party and denominational lines to return President Obama to office and to overturn some poor legislation that limited others' rights.  For them, the benefit to other people trumped their own views of sound economic policy or morality.

This is hope of my faith, that when it comes down to the edge of the knife, I will do what helps rather than hurts another person.  The point of a faith or a moral code is to help you learn to live a better life, and most say the way to do that is through providing a better life for others.  In very practical, desert-island-type terms, we have nothing if not one another.

Most people understand this.  It's why they vote in the first place.  I'm convinced the policies of the Obama Administration are beneficial to the majority of American people, even if, in the words of the Reagan soundbite, I'm worse off than I was four years ago.  Bad as things are for me, they aren't all that bad.  I'm voting to help the people worse off than I am. 

A lot of people don't see it that way and that's all right.  To paraphrase something from my tradition, we don't have to vote alike to love alike.  A lot of those people are hurt and bruising this morning, the  same way me and my friends were hurt and bruising in 2004.  It's part of our faith, not just as social and religious liberals but as people who care about other people, to be kind to them.  That does not mean we don't point out to them they're wrong because everyone, all the time, needs to give what he and she believes a thorough airing-out, especially after a resounding public defeat.  But it does mean we don't rub their faces in it or taunt them.  It's hard not to do that; I'm already guilty of it myself.  It's a human response to celebrate victory over an opponant especially when that opponant has led you a hard race.  So while we need to get that out of our systems, we can't let it become our sole response to this victory.  We learned something from the way the president responded to his victory, tweeting, not a snide dismissal of the opposition or a glorification of himself, but the words "four more years"--no emphasis--and a photo of he and his wife embracing.  That is what an election ought to be about: embracing one another.  There's a time for celebration--we've earned it--and then there's work. 

If you were on the victors' side, take this opportunity to cheer.  Cheering is good for the lungs.  If you were not, be as gracious in defeat as you would have expected of us.  And then smile, embrace, and get to work.  We have a hell of a lot to do.