Speaking Truth: Media Silence

Today Governor Snyder made a statement that he will not appeal the ruling to uphold our legal marriage on March 22, 2014. I met with a friend who also got married that day and talked with Amir from WZZM-13. Here’s their segment, featuring my friend Art:

Gov. Snyder: Michigan will recognize about 300 gay marriages

As you can see, they didn’t use any of my interview, but they showed footage of our marriage license. I guess I didn’t cooperate for the story they wanted to tell. For what it’s worth, I wanted to document what I said to Amir and his camerawoman today. As close to word-for-word as I can recall, it went something like this:

Amir: What is your reaction to the news that the Governor isn’t going to appeal the ruling and is going to uphold the legal marriages of the 300+ couples who married in Michigan last March?

Me: That we are celebrating the lack of one more legally sanctioned obstacle to equality simply informs us that we have much work to do for true equality.

Amir: How do you feel about the fact that now the State of Michigan will extend all legal marriage benefits to you and the other couples married that day?

Me: I expect nothing less. That’s what equality looks like.

Amir: What has this last year been like as you’ve been waiting for this all to be done?

Me: Primarily I’ve just been living my life. I’ve been taking care of my kids, doing my work, studying, loving my wife, caring for my home. This whole process has been a waste of time. Marriage is important, but not the most important. And maybe after the Supreme Court makes its ruling this summer then all of us who have been spending time, energy, and organizing efforts on marriage equality can shift our effort to other realms of injustice. After all, just because slavery is no longer legally sanctioned doesn’t mean it no longer exists.

Amir: What is this going to mean for you going forward?

Me: We can file our state taxes together. And now we can put more energy into other fighting against the bigger kinds of injustice and oppression that are so present in our nation.

So let’s get on with it!

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Anniversary

My beautiful wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary last month. We went up north and had some drinks and good meals with her parents. We spent an entire day with no agenda other than to enjoy each other and our beautiful state as we meandered our way back home. We did distillery tastings and winery tastings and brewery sampler flights. We walked through an old car and boat show, tasted smoked fish snacks, and sampled fudge. We explored old cemeteries and strolled down cute streets with fun shops where we bought gifts for the kids. We detoured to a lighthouse and wave-crashing beach where I searched the pretty rocks and she took pictures of the water. Later, we ran for two blocks to just barely make it to the Lake Michigan sunset before catching our breath and walking back to indulge in decadent desserts of local homemade ice cream. The next day we slept in, we revisited the park where we made our vows a year ago, and read them aloud with only one another and nature as our witnesses this time. We are deeply in love, we are an excellent team, and every day we are more committed than the next. We are married, thrilled to be, grateful to be, and working hard to keep our marriage healthy, beautiful, and producing good fruit. Yet I find myself grieving, and here’s why.

What does it mean to be married? Acceptable definitions might be:

1 – the possession of a legal marriage license with our names and the signature of a person from the appropriate certifying office within church and/or state;

2 – to have stood publicly at a socially recognized event generally called a “wedding,” wherein we make vows of love and commitment in front of witnesses, exchange a symbol of the commitment, and party;

3 – to be socially/culturally recognized as a married couple;

4 – to be legally recognized as a married couple.

So…three out of four ain’t bad?

I’ve filled out lots of paperwork this year. Medical and insurance paperwork, paperwork for my kids’ new school, financial aid paperwork and internal paperwork for my seminary, and this is just off the top of my head. All of it asks my name; much of it asks my marital status.

What is my name? Is my name my current legal name? That name is the name of my youth, the name I initially relinquished when I got married the first time right after college. I love my family of origin, but I don’t identify as this name. Is my name my sons’ last name? That would be the name of my ex-husband. I shared that name for a decade. I love my sons dearly, but their last name is not my last name. Is my chosen name really my name? The name I accepted for myself when I married my wife? The name I would like as my consistent, legal name but cannot change without excessive cost and process because my marriage isn’t recognized by the state I call home? So then, am I married? Am I single? Am I divorced? Which label defines me? Which is most true? Which box should I check?

If I’ve had a ceremony, made a commitment, exchanged rings, publicly vowed, applied for & signed a legal marriage license, and live with & love my wife every day, but can’t proceed with all of the benefits of a socially & legally recognized marriage, then am I actually married? Am I philosophically and psychologically and emotionally and circumstantially married? How many kinds of married must I be before I can stop asking these questions?

And what does it mean to celebrate an anniversary? It becomes an arbitrary landmark. It’s the anniversary of the day we did a public ceremony committing our love to one another, that’s true. But what is that worth? Does that make us married? Every day we commit our love to one another. Every day we choose, again, our life together. Every time we face a challenge together or make up after an argument, every time we reach out to support each other even when we’re tired, every time we put the other person first, we create our marriage. Every family meal time and dog walking routine, every hug and kiss when we see each other again after a day apart, every time we make a choice about which house project to tackle next, we are making our life together; we create our marriage.

So we celebrated our anniversary recently. We celebrate our marriage every day. And we wait, and pray, with hundreds of couples across Michigan and so many more around the world, for equality.

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That Crunchy-Looking Leaf

Every evening after dinner my wife, my two boys, and I take the dog for a walk around our still-new neighborhood. The evenings are shorter now that we aim for early school-night bedtimes, but we squeeze it in between some forced vegetables and the sunset. The sidewalk “crunch” gets louder every night. First it was only shed bark from the sycamores. Now the trees are all dropping leaves: maples and sycamores and oaks and ginkgos.

I once saw something on Facebook that said, “I will go slightly out of my way to step on that crunchy-looking leaf.” I think of that phrase often, as those crunchy-looking leaves beckon. I also go out of my way to step on the crunchy-looking ice, just barely hovering over the edges of the sidewalk like thin glass shelves, but that’s a story for another season.

Going out of my way to step on the crunchy leaves says, “I delight in the sensory pleasures of this world!” It says, “I’m present, I can hear my passage through this world.” It says, “I’m attentive; I seek out opportunity.” It says, “It’s fall!”

I suppose one could argue that it also says, “I’m bigger than you. I win. Nature is to be oppressed under my All-Stars. You’re dead, leaf, but I’m alive!” Even so, the truth is that the leaves are already dead through nature’s causes while we are naturally delighting in our aliveness.

Perhaps it sounds like some kind of behavioral justification, but on some level I think when we step on those crunchy leaves we are actually supporting a natural process of leaves returning to the earth, helping them break down and enrich the soil in some way, giving that bit of earth a shot of nutrients that will provide a few calories for the still-growing things. My wife is a scientist and we often find ourselves in cyclical conversations regarding what is “natural.” She argues that if we recognize humankind as part of the intended natural order of creation, then all we are, and all we do, and our direct or indirect impact on this world is also natural.

Another angle for justifying the “out of the way crunching” behavior comes from the behavioral psychologists in my family: “It’s FUN, Mom!”

Unthinking about our role in the decomposition cycle or humanity’s destructive tendencies with regard to having dominion over nature, we simply delight in the crunch. Arguably no more or less natural than the fallen leaves or even the sidewalk from which we stray in order to crunch yet again, we seek out those leaves, our feet slapping the sidewalk as we chase the ones blown by fall gusts. We celebrate that we are alive, that we are here in this fleeting moment of crunchiness, and that we are part of the percussive music of this dying, living world.

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Ring Raising

I wrote some time ago about the loss of my wedding ring, and here’s the next chapter. Something beautiful was made out of the whole mess, and it’s something like grace.

I didn’t know what to do in my space of sentimental loss. I wrote about it, I filed a police report, I contacted pawn shops. With such a small item missing, searching for it seemed impossible. I lost hope in humanity – who takes a ring from a dressing room and doesn’t turn it in? But I had to let that go. Eventually my anger and sadness faded into a dull, disappointed numbness. I resigned myself to never relocating it, and preferred not to think about where it might be other than on my finger. But this, too, shall pass, I realized. Imperceptibly I grew determined, unwilling to be the victim of anger or disappointment. I contacted the jeweler who custom made our rings in the first place and inquired about the process of remaking it. With a dollar amount and a timeline in mind, getting my ring was no longer a daunting task equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack. Instead, it was simply a matter of finding the resources. A surmountable task, certainly.

Granted, we were in the process of purchasing a home and beginning to pay tuition, so financially there were limitations. I then did something really hard: I asked for help.

I was raised to believe in the value of independence. Raised to be capable, I learned early on that I shouldn’t expect things to be done for me. Maybe it was my parents’ way of subtly teaching me to pay attention to any perception of entitlement, but I somehow became one more stubborn adult who has a lot of trouble asking for and accepting help from others when I think I ought to be able to do it myself.

My desire for my ring (my precious!) was strong. Unlike Gollum, I had no “selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Philippians 2:3) with regard to my ring. It was simply a beautiful symbol of a beautiful love, a physical representation of my connection and commitment to my wife. Without it, I felt untethered.

I eventually remembered a few things about giving and receiving help. I remembered a friend telling me recently that when I asked for help from someone, they had the privilege of helping and of offering something needed. They reminded me that it’s a gift of grace, to be able to love someone in a time of need. I recalled times where I was able to do something meaningful for someone I loved, care for them or show up for them in a way that mattered, and I realized that I needed to love others enough to accept their love in return. The other thing I thought of was an Amish barn-raising. As a young adult I read Mary Christner Borntrager’s Amish series and loved the stories about barn-raisings. While my liberal self now recoils a bit at the binary gender roles, my pre-teen self loved the efficiency of their teamwork. The women gathered in the kitchen before dawn to get food started and the men gathered at the site of what would be a barn by the end of the day to begin the manual labor. With everyone doing their part, by the end of the day the entire community was fed and a family had a new barn.

So I asked for help. I chose to trust that people might love me/us enough that they’d want to help, and I challenged myself to let them. I wrote about my loss and the fact that I wanted to recreate the ring by our first anniversary. If we could contribute enough gold weight, we could defray the entire cost of materials. If we had a surplus, we could defray over half of the labor cost too. Did anyone have gold lying around that was no longer serving them?

They did. I received gold from as nearby as my sister and my father-in-law who each live a few blocks away, and as far away as Bozeman, Montana and Atlanta, Georgia. I received gold from people I’ve only recently reconnected with and from a family member’s ex. I received large, gorgeous class rings that simply weren’t being worn and I received badly mangled gold chains with broken clasps. And you know what? That disparate community, giving of what they no longer needed (although it had great value!) contributed enough to raise a barn.

Well, to make a ring, anyway. Thank you, community, for your generosity and for your love. I’m never taking it off, not even to apply sunblock.

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Back To School

I’ve been hurt by the church and by many Christians. I also have great love and appreciation for the church, and I identify as a Christian. I say this not out of pride or shame, neither to cast stones nor to redeem the church, but simply as context for my story.

I attended the Grand Rapids Christian Schools from pre-K through 12th grade, and then went to Calvin College. I had an academically rigorous, socially enriching, theologically rooted education. My sons attended a different school for a time, but this year we decided to look into the Christian schools again. Touring the elementary school, my mom and I were in tears, imagining how supportive, rigorous, relevant and nurturing a place it could be for my boys. We encountered several faculty and staff we knew, and spent a portion of time speaking with my former 4th grade teacher. Our admissions contact was warm and hospitable, our questions thoroughly answered, and we left grinning as well as tear-streaked, convinced that this was the best school for my boys at this time.

My wife and I met with the admissions director, the principal, and a service coordinator soon after. We discussed my children’s gifts and challenges, our hopes and goals for their education, and what brought us to this school. They discussed what they do, how they do it, and for whom they do it. As the principal spoke of the various kinds of diversity present amongst the enrolled families, I asked him directly, “How do you feel about having a lesbian couple enrolling their kids?” The principal didn’t miss a beat, looked me in the eye and said, “Honestly? I’m glad to have you here and honored to welcome your family.” I have to admit, while part of me expected this kind of response and knew we belonged, part of me was sadly surprised at his warmth and genuine welcome.

While my children’s dad is supportive of this school choice, my wife and I are the two taking responsibility for it. Due to our legal-but-not-recognized marriage, we run into all sorts of interesting challenges. Hammering through the financial details, the admissions director apologetically smiled and said, “To say that your situation is complicated would be a bit of an understatement.” I agreed with her, smiled right back, and said, “Think of this as the education you never knew you’d get!”

At every step of the way, every person we had contact with at the Christian school was warm, genuine, honest, and in a word, loving. There was never a hint of condescension or conflicting theologies, no “looks,” nothing to indicate that we might be any less than wholly welcomed.

Then the Superintendent personally called me. He wanted to meet with me and my wife regarding our enrollment, as well as some things the school was doing about which he thought we’d be interested. Are you waiting for the ball to drop? It doesn’t. He, too, was respectful, humbly apologizing if any of his word choices were inappropriate, eagerly extending love and hospitality on behalf of the Christian schools. Not only that, but he contracted with a local non-profit organization that specifically works to bridge the perceived LGBT-Christian gap. Every teacher and staff person in the elementary school will be part of this facilitated training, for which opportunity several of them have already directly thanked the Superintendent. There is a buzz in the administration, and an intention to keep the closet propped open with Christian hospitality and love.

A few days ago my mom and I took the boys to get their new school supplies. They eagerly picked pencil boxes and notebooks, water bottles and lunch bags, and paraded up and down the aisles trying on backpacks and sneakers. Excited about their new school and starting a new year, they are oblivious to the fact that our family, stepping proudly and openly into the Christian schools, is creating ripples of change. My boys will be warmly welcomed, taught well, and well loved.

I listen to the local independent radio station, and one of my favorite programmers always ends her show with: “Trust your hopes, not your fears.” When we first entertained the idea of looking into the Christian schools, I received some concerned comments. Families enrolled there and friends who used to work there cautioned me that it might be new for the school to admit a lesbian household. They hoped it would go well, but were ashamed to admit they had some doubts. As a child of the Christian schools and a committed Christian, I trusted that my family belonged there. I expected to be welcomed, and you know what? We were.

Trusting in our collective hopes for a better world, the Christian schools are welcoming the lesbian parents, and fears about the perceived LGBT-Christian gap are crumbling under my boys’ new sneakers as we all go back to school.

(I was approached by the Editor of The Network News, the newsletter of our local LGBTQ non-profit, to contribute a monthly column. I will post the links to each online newsletter as they are available, but I will share my articles as they are written. This was the fifth one, for the September 2014 issue, titled “Back To School.”)

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Summertime

There’s a picture in my house of a piece of birthday cake. Sitting on a red plastic plate, it is held by an old woman with sun- and wind-kissed cheeks, her silver-white, tightly permed hair somewhat windblown. She is wearing a red, white, and blue t-shirt and a wreath around her head, like a crooked halo, made of twisted grapevines by some of the grandkids. She’s grinning a cheesy grin. Joy radiates from this photo.

The old woman in the photo is my dear Grandma Hermine. She died before my now 8-year-old son turned 1, and it’s still not quite summer without her.

Grandma Hermine had a summer birthday, hence the cake in the photo. The best (only) gift for Grandma was family, so we celebrated every summer at my aunt & uncle’s cottage with all the extendeds. Grandma sat in the shade, smiling at the loud busyness of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The grit of sand permeates every memory, along with the faux-tropical scent of excessive sunblock on the mostly Dutch fair skin, smelling like too-sweet pina coladas. The meal that day was always a potluck featuring grilled hotdogs, brats, and burgers with Kraft singles sort-of melted on. Side dishes included every kind of salad: corkscrew pasta salad, shell pasta salad with peas that got stuck in the shells like lost pearls, potato salad with capers, potato salad with mustard, potato salad with bacon. There were also salads with Jello, salads with Cool Whip and Snickers and apples, salads with green leafies and strawberries and nuts. Fresh picked Michigan berries of blue and rasp and straw varieties adorned the table in large bowls. The aunts drank iced-tea, the uncles drank exotic imports like Labatt’s, and the cousins drank pop till they had high-fructose mustaches. Grandma asked for just “half of a half” of the few things she wanted; half a serving of anything was still too much.

After food there were Frisbees, squirt guns, and bubbles to play with. There were Sea-Do rides, swimming, and sand-castle building. We’d carry books we pretended to read on the beach while fighting the wind to keep our hair from our eyes as we watched the little ones near the waves. Sometimes we’d get a bonfire going on the private beach, in which case marshmallows and s’more stuff emerged, and usually a bottle or three of good wine from the cousins with dreadlocks. Maybe there’d be sparklers from the post-4th-of-July sales that would have happened just a week or two before this gathering.

Every good summer memory can easily be swept up into a snapshot of Grandma at that cottage in late July. All the love and prayers, the laughter, the chaotic bustle of family as she grins from beneath her grapevine halo and holds a piece of cake far larger than she’ll eat. She probably gave the frosting to the nearest great-grandkid. “Be good to each other,” Grandma said to all of us, directing it to all the rest of us; family was everything. She’s been gone 8 years, my aunt and uncle no longer own the cottage, and I don’t think we’ve gotten everyone together since Grandma died. But every summer, every beach visit, every potluck of summer salads invokes her mighty spirit.

As I write this, my wife is packing for our week-long summer vacation which starts tomorrow. We’re going to family camp with her parents and siblings and their families, for a new iteration of summer memories. This camp is my wife’s family summer tradition, one my boys and I now get to join. Instead of a day at the cottage, we’ll have a week of archery and horseback riding, nature center lessons and arts and crafts, swimming and boating, cabin porch sitting and reading good books. Evidently there is even a camp tradition involving a unicorn.

We’re bringing sheets, towels, and everything necessary to make our cabin home for the week. The sheets we will be sleeping on are those that belonged to my dear Grandma Hermine.

Grandma would be so proud of the expansive love being practiced by her extended family today. And while she’d “pooh-pooh” the idea of me writing this article about her, she’d love it simply because I wrote it.

Now I’m going to go help my wife pack. Enjoy your summer, y’all, and be good to each other.

(I was approached by the Editor of The Network News, the newsletter of our local LGBTQ non-profit, to contribute a monthly column. I will post the links to each online newsletter as they are available, but I will share my articles as they are written. This was the fourth one, for the August 2014 issue, titled “Sweet Summertime.”)

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The Home of the Brave

Home is the place you belong, where you live, the space into which you can invite others and extend your hospitality. It’s your turf.

Sometimes home is a physical home. My wife and I are in the process of purchasing our first home together, and it’s a thrilling journey. The physical building you choose says a lot about who you are as a person or as a family. The neighborhood, the curb appeal, the space and layout of the home give a physical representation of your values and commitments. It also says something about how you relax, what is comfortable, and what feels safe.

Sometimes home is a community of people who share some of your core values. I speak regularly of my church home, my choir community as home, the place where I’ll begin my Master’s degree as feeling like home.

Sometimes home is the city or state in which you reside. It’s a broader community including where you work, where you shop, where you volunteer or are involved. It’s where you take weekend vacations, where you envision a future; it’s what’s in the backdrop of almost every photo you’ve taken with your phone.

And now that it’s July and we’re celebrating the birthday of our country, home is also the place that claims you while you claim it. You pay your taxes, and your passport always welcomes you back. Robert Frost said: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

But what if they don’t take you in? What if your family, your church, or your community are unwilling or unable to extend the roof to include you? In some countries persons who are LGBT could be arrested or killed for being who they are. Even here in the United States, there are more places where we can be fired or refused housing simply for being perceived to be somehow “other” than there are places we are protected. Young people are attempting suicide at alarming rates as they wither under oppressive gender norms and orientation expectations.

Maybe your flag is more rainbow than stars and stripes, but I’d offer that the final phrase of our national anthem is even more so about you: the brave.

We will continue to live and love and make our homes wherever we are. We will continue to bravely insist on our right to be here, to be included, and to be recognized. Our families, our neighborhoods, our schools and churches, our states and our country will continue to extend the roof. Currently we are bravely insisting on equality and recognition in our homes, but very soon we may truly live in the land of the free.

(I was approached by the Editor of The Network News, the newsletter of our local LGBTQ non-profit, to contribute a monthly column. I will post the links to each online newsletter as they are available, but I will share my articles as they are written. This was the third one, for the July 2014 issue, titled “Celebrate Freedom.”)

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What’s In A Marriage?

(I was approached by the Editor of The Network News, the newsletter of our local LGBTQ non-profit, to contribute a monthly column. I will post the links to each online newsletter as they are available, but I will share my articles as they are written. This was the second one, for the June 2014 issue, titled “Are You Ready West Michigan? Pride 2014.”)

I’d rather tell you about the fact that we’re putting our house on the market this month in order to move across town, or that the reason we’re moving is to be closer to the new school my boys will be attending in the fall. I’d rather tell you about how geeked I am to be going back to school in the fall myself, and about how much I love my women’s chorus community. I’d rather tell you about my extended family, show you pictures of my newest niece, brag about my parents and in-laws, or invite you to an improv show likely featuring a sibling. Heck, I’d rather tell you about the book I just finished reading (Rachel Held Evans’ latest), what we had for dinner last week that was amazing (it involved soba noodles, coconut milk, and leeks), or my favorite Michigan craft beer (The Mitten Brewery’s Country Strong IPA, but I’m looking forward to trying Brewery Vivant’s Pothole Stout). But for so many people, for reasons I only partially understand, none of this matters as much as who my spouse is.

Now, my spouse is pretty amazing. She’s got a PhD in Biomedical Science, she moved from a post-doc position to a management position in one year, and she’s a great “extra mom” to my boys. She can cook a great meal, tackle a house project, or enjoy cuddling and watching some Buffy. She’s a keeper, and I could certainly talk about her all day.

It’s unlikely that the most interesting thing about us is our marital status, but with the social, religious, and political climate regarding marriage equality in Michigan, for many it has become the defining story. It’s interesting, because when I was previously married, it was a little different. Here’s a glimpse, by the numbers*:

1 – number of times I married my husband 2 – number of times I’ve married my wife (so far)
1 – number of couples married in our (legal and religious) ceremony 1 – number of couples married in our religious ceremony7 – number of couples married in our legal ceremony
? – number of opposite-sex couples legally married in Michigan that day; no one did a news story about it 323 – number of same-sex couples legally married in Michigan that day
1 – number of marriage licenses we received 1 – number of marriage licenses we received
$12 – number of dollars it cost to get an updated driver’s license with my married name $342 – number of dollars it costs to legally change names without a recognized marriage license
<1 – number of hours I waited in the Social Security and Secretary of State’s offices to change my name 2 and 2 – number of visits and hours per visit I’ve waited (so far) at the SSA office to be told that my application to file a name change is on hold indefinitely. At the Secretary of State’s office they won’t yet accept the application.
0 – number of interviews I did after our wedding 13 – number of interviews I did in the 3 days after my legal wedding
4 – number of people my husband financially supported 4 – number of people my wife is financially supporting
4 – number of people the federal government recognized as his legal responsibility 4 – number of people the federal government would recognize as her legal responsibility
4 – number of people the state government recognized as his legal responsibility 1 – number of people the state government recognizes as her legal responsibility
3 – number of forms we had to fill out to file taxes each year 7 – number of forms we will have to fill out in order to file 2014 taxes
1138+ – number of legal marriage benefits and responsibilities immediately extended to my husband and me ? – number of legal marriage benefits currently extended to my wife and me 

While it all gets sorted out in courts, appeals, and processes about which I didn’t study hard enough in Political Science 101, do you want to talk about something else? I need to return my book to the library, figure out what’s for dinner, and we’ve got to get packing. The open house is next week.

*Numbers are true as far as my memory and/or research can figure.

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Ten Things I Love About Me?

(I was approached by the Editor of The Network News, the newsletter of our local LGBTQ non-profit, to contribute a monthly column. I will post the links to each online newsletter as they are available, but I will share my articles as they are written. This was the first one, for the May 2014 issue, titled “Gearing Up for Pride.”)

Sitting in a conference room with 40 people from across New Mexico, we began AmeriCorps VISTA orientation with an icebreaker activity. Each of us was to list who we were in ten brief statements, tape them to our backs, and walk around the room reading everyone’s list, all in silence. I listed things like “wife, daughter, sister, craft-beer lover, cat-owner, singer,” and stuck it to my back. Wandering around, I saw a lot of hobbies, jobs, and family relationships. One woman stood out to me, however, for listing “lesbian” as number 8 or 9.

We talked in small groups about how it felt to read things about people, about identifying ourselves without dialogue, about assumptions we made. One person in my small group commented on the lesbian, and how she didn’t understand why the woman would put something like that on her list.

Lesbian? That should be private. Why does she have to flaunt that, to put that out there?” the young woman persisted.

The carpet suddenly held everyone’s interest, feet shuffled. “I’m guessing it’s just part of how she identifies herself. And maybe she didn’t want to be assumed to be someone she’s not,” I offered.

At the time I had been married to a man for about four years. I had left the Christian denomination of my childhood in no small part due to the seeming inhospitality for LGBT persons. I was very pro-gay and a fierce ally. The thing I didn’t realize at the time was how very similar I was to the young woman in my small group. I, too, was fixated on the ‘lesbian’ label; the difference was merely in our reactions.

Three years ago I identified as many things: a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a craft-beer lover, a cat-owner, a singer. And then I came out. As many of you know, coming out changes everything and nothing at the same time. I was the same person; I simply accepted one more label.

As we approach Pride month, I find myself thinking about identity and how I experience pride. I am proud of who I am in all my complexity, and resist singling out one label as my defining characteristic. That said, who doesn’t love donning rainbows and celebrating beautiful queerness in all its shimmering glory?

Stepping into truth is risky, a journey of grief and liberation, stating: “I don’t know what’s next, but I have to move on from here.” Yes, coming out is part of this trajectory of truth and authenticity. But you know what? When I left my church denomination ten years earlier, the grief was the same, the stress was the same, and the compelling tug in my gut saying I-have-to-do-it-anyway-because-otherwise-I-can’t-live-with-myself was the same.

I celebrate Pride with my LGBT family, knowing that we share some kind of parallel “coming-out” experience. But I know that this journey is not limited to any single group of people. I also know that “lesbian” was merely #8 or #9 for the woman in Albuquerque. For most people – gay and straight – our sexual orientation is not the single defining characteristic of our whole selves. In our polarized world it’s easy to get sucked into binary alignments rather than to recognize the continuum of human diversity and the beauty thereof.

So as we prepare for Pride, I challenge you to make a list of ten things about who you are. Celebrate all of them with pride.

 

 

Wishing for Jack and a Bridge (or, Attachment Is Suffering)

I lost my wedding ring on Memorial Day weekend. It was the stupidest thing, and I’ve replayed it in my head many different ways with a different ending: I could have kept the ring on while I put sunblock on my wife’s back. I could have asked her to hold the ring. She didn’t even want to get her suit on, really, but I encouraged her to so she could come in the water if she wanted to participate in the family fun. I shouldn’t have nudged. Or we could have not gone at all. The park was an hour away, and the prompting event was one we never even joined. We could have gone to some park in town and maybe everything would have played out differently.

But it happened. I took off my ring and set it on the dressing room bench in order to administer sunblock and I never picked it back up. I got distracted with my boys, we finished getting ready, and we headed over to the splash pad and beach. About 20 minutes later I realized that my finger was naked. My wife sprinted back to the changing room to get it. She didn’t come back right away, and as time passed I grew concerned. She eventually returned, shaking her head. Somehow, impossibly, it was gone. We scoured the changing area several times. We asked everyone on staff at the park. I walked around the splash pad, suspiciously eyeing every female, looking at her fingers, wondering if perhaps someone picked it up thinking it didn’t mean anything to anyone.

It’s my wedding ring. It’s the unending symbol of the unending love between my wife and me. It was months of planning and designing, creating a custom piece of jewelry that only we two would wear. It has her initial engraved inside, and matches her ring exactly except that hers bears the inscription “Joy.” So much love, so much intention, so much psychological and emotional investment went into that little piece of white gold. And now someone else has it.

No one had turned anything in by the time we left. I keep hoping that maybe some little girl picked it up and her parents didn’t realize it. Maybe she dropped it somewhere and it can be found. Maybe the parents will see it and trace it back to that park. Maybe. But part of me is convinced that some jerk is trying to make a buck. It’s a thin ring, no diamonds, not worth much in terms of the weight of gold. Yet I want to contact every jewelry store and pawnshop in Ingham County. I want to contact the police department. I wanted to wait by the park exit and ask everyone as they left if they’d seen it, if they had it.

I keep replaying in my mind the many Biblical parables of lost things – lost coins, lost sheep, lost sons. What were the parables about? What would Jesus have me do? I recall all of them being about Jesus’ persistence and how he will never give up looking for what is lost. How does this translate for me? Do I rent a metal detector and comb every inch of Hawk Island County Park? Do I put an ad in the Ingham County paper? How do I go about looking? It’s a tiny little ring. Tell me again about the needle in the haystack.

And as my heart keeps turning over about my lost ring, I step back and consider other losses. A day before I lost it, there was a plane crash near my former hometown of Silver City, NM. Three high school students and a pilot died. Just a month ago a strong woman from my musical community here in Grand Rapids, MI died after years of staring cancer in the face. The son of another friend died recently from a sudden head injury, leaving a wife and young child behind. My loss is nothing.

My boys are tied to my heart in a palpable way. Crying intermittently at the park and on the way home as I was, my boys instinctively drew close to me, quieting their voices, looking at me with love and concern. Small hands touched my arm gently, rubbed my back. “I hope you find your ring, Mom,” my little one said with every sweetness. He blew on dozens of wishing flowers to make it come true. My older boy made a case for healthy perspective: “What’s more important to you, mom? Your ring or Mary? You still have her. And you still have us.” Lost items can’t begin to compare to lost people. I know and feel the truth of this. But in some ways, grief is grief.

I remember an old Jack Kornfield cassette tape I used to listen to in my car, where he taught me Buddhist truths about how all is suffering, and suffering comes from attachment. Imagine sitting on a bridge, Jack said, and watch any feelings or desires flow by like the current below. Notice them, honor them, and then release them downstream. Somehow I think I might be able to let go of my ring more easily if I were a Buddhist, hanging out on the bridge with Jack.

I’m not, though. I’m attached to that ring, and I’m sad about losing it. “Do you still have your wife?” One friend asked in the relatively immediate aftermath. “I do. Sunburn free.” I replied. “And my boys.”

But if you have any tips for me on how to get that ring back, I’d welcome them. Because dammit, I’m attached to it. And I’d dive right into that river under the bridge if I thought I could emerge with the ring back where it should be, on my finger.

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