The Final Word

People tell me I like to talk. Sometimes I talk too much. One of my core faults is always wanting to have the last word. Hidden in here may be one of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog.

Yes, I do like shake-’em-up conversations, especially with people who are more curious about next questions than needing to have pat answers. Sometimes I toss out strong opinions hoping to elicit an equally strong response.

Nothing is more disappointing than to have someone back-off. Well, actually, there is something more disheartening — that is to have someone recite pious palliatives, hide behind doctrinaire opinions or bolster their closed-mindedness by only getting their information from like-minded ideologues.

My ideal dinner party would be a table with Krista Tippet surrounded by five guests of her choosing from her Public Radio program, On Being. In a setting like that I would never have the last word. I would be more than satisfied if I could leave with a whole new set of provocative questions. But I digress.

The primary inspiration for this post was happening upon a sermon recently preached by a minister of the Uniting Church (Methodist/Reformed) in Swansea, Australia. His Scripture reference is the Beatitudes.

The very same text are the Gospel verses Russ and I have coincidentally chosen for our wedding service. As an exercise in not needing to have the last word, here is a link to a marvelous sermon preached by a Reformed minister half a world away… [link]

We would be honored to have his be the final Word preached at our marriage ceremony.

Whose Side Are We On?

Disclaimer:  You will not want to finish reading this post.

Did you feel it? Probably not! The earth beneath our feet shifted a bit from its old axis yesterday.

There are moments that are truly transformative — yesterday was one. America changed forever on September 11, 2001. When the history of the 21st century is written, I believe 9/11 will pale in comparison with all that July 9, 2011 symbolizes.

There were no catastrophic deaths; visible edifices did not crumble in flames. Like a poor girl from an obscure town on the fringe of an imposing empire giving birth in Bethlehem of Judea, what happened yesterday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia will likely go unnoticed by world leaders consumed with their presumption of power.

Like the irrepressible pressure that builds over eons causing the earth to quake — or the indomitable life-force within a tulip bulb that splits darkness, dirt and cold to blossom in Spring — forces building over centuries converged yesterday and found insistent and incisive expression.

It is as if the Book of Revelation found apocalyptic voice once again: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Here is a sampling. Beware, its tough reading — you will want to “zone-out”, stop once you get the gist, keep it at arm’s length if you succeed in making it all the way.

  • There is an unjust global system that results in exclusion. Individualism is at the heart of this injustice. The rule of money is fueling this injustice.
  • Keep fighting for justice — Focus on people and interpersonal encounter not abstract ideologies; be moved by their suffering.
  • A just economy is one that serves people —where the quest for profits dominates, the earth is destroyed, and there is an unjust distribution of goods.
  • The economy must foster conditions that are compatible with human dignity and that unlock the potential of each person by respecting all of their rights as a person and allowing each one to flourish.
  • A just distribution of goods is not a task for philanthropy or charity alone; there is a moral obligation to ensure this just distribution.
  • An inclusive economy enables all people to fully participate; solidarity and subsidiarity are only fully present when participation is real.
  • All people and states are interdependent; we need global and international action to achieve justice.
  • The Church is not innocent when it comes to the sins of colonialism.
  • Our faith is radical and countercultural.

Pope Francis chose remote Santa Cruz, Bolivia — hardly an epicenter of economic prowess or political prestige — for his prophetic exhortation.

Like a “voice crying in the wilderness”, Francis proclaims “the way of the Lord.” And let us not miss the poignancy of the location, Santa Cruz — are we not being invited to look upon the holy cross on which the Body of Christ hangs today?

I confess my tremendous resistance to paying more than pious lip service to Francis’ moral vision. Social and economic structures in which I am enmeshed serve my interests. I prefer not to see those who are excluded or on whose backs my security is built.

My hunch is most of us are in the same boat, heavily invested in the status quo. The more structures serve our personal interest, especially as we age, the more we resist change.  This seems to be the bane of the powerful, the truth of the ages!

But change we must. Change we will, willingly or not. Like the indomitable life force of a tulip or the irrepressible pressure of tectonic plates, the earth is shifting under out feet — and in this an always compassionate but insistent God is alive and active.

When the history of the 21st century is written, with whom and on whose side will we wish we had stood?
__________________

I am indebted to Robert Christian at millennialjournal.com for his marvelous synopsis of Francis’ speech. The above sampling of themes are lifted from his post.  I heartily recommend his entire summary to you [link].

Interdependence Day

The Fourth of July… Independence Day!

My paternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary was July 6. Every year until my grandpa died we had a family reunion at the park pavilion of our hometown on the weekend nearest the Fourth. Many, many years have intervened. Yet, even while going out for ice cream last evening with my 52 year-old nephew, such enduring bonds of family console me.

Alleys! I never want to live in a neighborhood without alleys. Although we live on a block with a floating TGIF sign (who ever wants to host the weekly kid-friendly TGIF gets the sign from last week’s host and posts it in their yard on about Wednesday), most of our goings-on occur in the alley. That’s where we grow our raspberries — this time of year they come in such abundance neighbors know they are free to sample. That’s where neighbors stop for conversations so long the driver sometimes even turns the car off. If we need a tool or cup of sugar we could cross the street but we are more likely to cross the alley.

Last Monday we had dinner at the home of our pastor. The priest who will marry us is someone with whom we are more likely to share stories and laughter than Scripture and liturgy. And despite all the crap associated with clerical abuse (and it’s more than sex abuse), I have never been more comfortably Catholic in all my life. Things are breaking open, truth is being told, arrogant power is being challenged, we’re getting back to what really matters. All this suggests to me we are a much healthier church in 2015 than we were twenty years ago.

Minnesota may be a beautiful state but it’s really flat — the fifth flattest of all the 50 states as a matter of fact. No surprise, then, that water would be a really big deal here. Ten thousand lakes. Headwaters of the Mississippi. Lake Superior holding primacy of place. Yet, my special affinity is with Minnehaha Creek where Jeb the Dog takes me each day for a walk and where we mark the rhythm of the seasons. True to my Nebraska roots, I actually relax and resonate more with the farms of southern Minnesota than our state’s North Woods. In the past month we have been fortunate to enjoy them all — lakes, forests and farms.  Life is good!

It’s also been a great summer for Constitutional government — “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a [ever] more perfect union…” I am so grateful to live in nation where the Founders laid claim to certain inalienable rights and then crafted a system that would, as one Federalist writer wrote, “protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.” Or as Gerald Ford assured my generation upon the resignation of President Nixon, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” For this — and on behalf of the millions of Americans who have health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act — I feel incredibly blessed.

Fourth of July weekend — family, neighbors, faith communities, nature, our nation. Blessings all! Each worth celebrating! All to be cherished! We call it Independence Day but it’s our interdependence we celebrate and cherish most.

May we always remember from Whom these gifts came and for which they were given.

Defending Traditional Marriage

Who knew? As a gay man I did not. A lot of really smart and influential people also seem to be unaware of the facts.

Given what’s about to happen we would all do well to know the real facts before we jump to conclusions. Thanks to William Eskridge, professor of law at Yale, we no longer need to be uninformed. [link]

Authorities no less than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted in Supreme Court arguments in April that every dictionary he checked that was published “prior to about a dozen years ago” defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “This definition has been with us for millennia. It’s very difficult for the court to say, oh well, we know better.”

Justice Samuel Alito asked: “How do you account for the fact that, as far as I’m aware, until the end of the 20th century, there never was a nation or a culture that recognized marriage between two people of the same sex?”

The main criticism from those who object to marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is that it “redefines” marriage contrary to the male-female definition “accepted for millennia.” Everyone, including most gay people, simply assume that premise is correct. It is not!

We are simply misinformed to say that the Western tradition had never entertained marriages between people of the same sex until the 20th century.

First and second century historians Suetonius and Tacitus document official same-sex marriages in imperial Rome.

Modern historians have found plausible evidence of such marriages among Egyptians, Canaanites and Hittites and on islands in ancient Greece.

The evidence is also overwhelming for non-Western cultures. In 1951 anthropologists surveyed 191 world cultures and found many examples of same-sex intimacy occurring “within the framework of courtship and marriage.”

Researchers have demonstrated that a majority of Native American tribes as well as many tribal people elsewhere in the world have recognized such marriages at points in their histories.

Anthropologists have also documented the phenomena of “woman marriage” in African societies, in which a wealthy woman marries another woman and then secures her impregnation, thereby generating heirs. Such marriages have been recognized in more than 30 African cultures.

There are other examples, but these show that there has been no universal definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples. Professor Eskridge asks the obvious question: What is the point of this history? He then draws some conclusions.

One obvious conclusion must be that “marriage” is an evolving, socially adaptive institution. In 1950, those who study human cultures defined “marriage” as a potentially procreative union of one man and one woman. But in the next 20 years, undisputed evidence of same-sex unions across dozens of cultures upended that definition.

By the 1970s, anthropologists had settled on an understanding of marriage as a social institution serving a variety of purposes — not just procreation and inheritance, but also personal relationships and alliances.

Was this a “redefinition” of marriage? In a way it was — it was the correction of a prevalent misconception of the facts. They brought to our attention that “marriage” has been much more inclusive and pluralistic than previously thought. Far from imposing their own definition, they help all of us come to a necessary “redefinition” that better reflects human history and practice across cultures.

Traditional marriage law in this country was one man, one woman because of an essential concern for the welfare of children. Thus, most states previously criminalized sex outside marriage, denied rights to illegitimate children, made wives legally subservient to their husbands and made it difficult to divorce.

Today we place no legal barrier to consensual sex outside marriage. Wives are not inferior. Children born outside of marriage are guaranteed “equal protection of the law.” Although divorce is never easy, “no fault” divorce certainly reflects a significant legal reform in the way we think about this foundational social institution.

We have seen in our own lifetime a fundamental shift in the way we define “marriage” to accommodate adults who love one another.  In this definition we are increasingly recognizing the many gay and lesbian couples not only make life-commitments, they are often conscientious parents of children as well.

To my knowledge the only traditional understanding we are unwilling to redefine is the legal right to marriage for the many couples — in our own families, sometimes our parents or our own children — who have no intention or capacity to procreate.

About the only group legally excluded from this human institution Americans call “marriage” is gay people. That’s been changing in the United States and around the world. And if we know our facts, well it should!

___________________

I have quoted liberally from Professor Eskridge’s June 19 article in the Washington Post cited above. In addition to crediting him as my source, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the professor for “teaching” us what too many of us had not known.

Don’t Tread on Me!

A funny thing happened one day at the Cedar County Court House. My sister-in-law who had a title and abstract company randomly discovered that the officiant had failed to sign her marriage license back in 1961. Were she and my brother legally married? Is she really my sister-in-law?

By the time of her discovery she and my brother had four children and were pillars of the community. My sister-in-law founded and was the sole owner of the title company. My brother had served numerous terms on the city council as well as mayor of our hometown. Both were strong supporters of the local schools and highly visible in their church.

The parish secretary had dutifully recorded their marriage in church records. There was no doubt they were sacramentaly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. But the priest whom the state had authorized to serve as its representative, much like a justice of the peace, had failed to sign the legal document prescribed for civil marriage. Were they legally married?

This family story highlights something I also know from my years as a pastor. Most couples and wedding guests are totally unaware of the dual function a priest, minister or rabbi serves in contracting marriage. Most people have no idea that after the ceremony — usually in the vesting room, back of church or sometimes at the reception — the “wedding coordinator” has to chase down the officiant and honor attendants to sign the marriage license as prescribed by the state law.  The parish secretary then dutifully mails the license to state officials.

This is a pretty important clarification as many states consider “religious freedom” exemptions for everyone from photographers and cake bakers to county courthouse officials. It takes on even greater significance as we await a Supreme Court decision which two-thirds of Americans presume will open civil marriage to same-sex couples.

Let’s be clear, no one is saying that churches, synagogues or mosques should be required by civil law to accept, host, or bless gay unions, or any other marriage they may find objectionable. In fact, quite the opposite!  What goes on among religious people, and in religious spaces, is constitutionally as well as theologically sacred.

Jay Michaelson of the Religious News Service makes this point in a commentary [link] that should be required reading for all Americans. He bolsters his point with his personal experience growing up in a synagogue which refused to perform interfaith weddings. Does that violate the civil rights of the couple wishing to be married? Well, it does affect them, but the couple’s right to get married wherever they want is trumped by the synagogue members’ rights to freely exercise their religion.

But the courthouse is not a religious space, and the magistrate is not acting in a religious capacity. She is doing her job, which she took an oath to do. Photographers and cake-bakers are another matter — there are usually many more to choose from.  Michaelson gives more examples.

Suppose two divorced people marry one another. Some Catholics may believe that to be against God’s law. But a Catholic magistrate is not a Catholic priest. He’s not performing the sacrament of marriage. He’s acting under secular, state law.

Or suppose a black man wants to marry a white woman — it was illegal in Nebraska when my brother and sister-in-law got married for a white person to marry either an Asian or an African-American! The US Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional in 1967. Was that ruling incorrect? Should marriage clerks with sincere moral objections be able to refuse to perform their civic function?

My guess is we will be seeing many more “religious freedom” laws considered regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the right of every American to enjoy the freedoms and privileges — as well as responsibilities — of civil marriage with the person they love.

As a Catholic I am very well aware — nor am I asking that my church to violate — its teaching about the Sacrament of Matrimony. I cherish that tradition and affirm the church’s teaching. I have had the honor to be the minister of that sacrament and signed many state-issued marriage licenses.

I have also had the experience of teaching American Government to juniors and seniors in high school. Just as most Americans attending a church wedding conflate the sacred and secular roles of the officiant, most Americans are functionally illiterate of the constitutionally enshrined principle of Separation of Church and State.

As an American I want this nation to live up to the promise and protections of our Constitution. As a Catholic I am aware of her teachings and continue to find my spiritual home among its members. As a gay man I claim and expect my government to keep its role separate from my religion and ensure my Constitutional right to Equal Protection of the Law.

Sorry, there isn’t a courthouse clerk in America who should have the right to deny me a marriage license because they have a religious objection. If they have a problem with that perhaps they should take up photography or cake decorating — at least then my taxes would not be subsidizing their religious practice.

Returning to Our Roots

We are hoping to go to Germany sometime this Fall. I’ve been there once — more than thirty years ago I was able to visit Bergheim-Esch, near Cologne, from where my Burbach family emigrated in 1850. This time we hope to see  the very small village of Weiburg northwest of Kassel in central Germany from which my mother’s German ancestry came in 1860.

Other attractions fill our wish list… I’ve never been to Berlin or what was East Germany. Everyone says the city is magnificent. As a child of the Cold War I am also motivated to see for myself that place which, like no other, symbolized the Iron Curtain. On a lighter note, we dream of doing the Sound of Music tour in Salsburg.

On Monday we saw the movie, Woman in Gold. Like the Sound of Music it recalls the terrifying days of the Nazi juggernaut. Woman in Gold also chronicles a dramatic escape to America. You will cheer the ultimate, improbable outcome and feel ennobled by the tenacity of those few who demand justice even after many decades.

Woman in Gold ironically awakened in me a deep personal desire to visit a concentration camp — most likely Dachau not far from Strasburg. Born in 1950 of German heritage, I have often wrestled with the unanswerable question: How could the insidious perversion of Nazism take hold in a culture so grand, a people so great? What is it in humankind, within my own DNA, that could give rise to such collective evil?

Seventy years ago today, April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany for participating in the conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler. There is no doubt of the Lutheran theologian and pastor’s “guilt” — he had been a member of the conspiracy since 1940. Where did he find the courage? What inspired him when so many of his fellow Christians acquiesced?

Biographers point to a visit to the United States in 1930-31 as a turning point. Among the friends he made was an African-American student from Alabama.  His new friend introduced Bonhoeffer to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he was moved by the depth of conviction he witnessed in the preaching and worship.

Bonhoeffer also traveled to the South, where he was appalled at the racial injustices he observed. He wrote home that the segregated “conditions are really unbelievable …when I wanted to eat in a small restaurant … with a Negro, I was refused service.”

With the rise of National Socialism in 1933, Bonhoeffer had already devoted much thinking — and, ultimately, action — to the question of how the church must respond to racism and anti-Semitism. Bonhoeffer declared “the church has an unconditional obligation towards the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community” and that the church was charged “not to just bind up the victims beneath the wheel, but to halt the wheel itself.”

How is it that such a devout Christian, who so often spoke and wrote about the importance of the Sermon on the Mount, could partake in an assassination conspiracy? He saw clearly that what we profess to “believe” must be joined by responsible action in the real world in which we each live.

How could evil of Nazism happen? How could such perversion take hold among a “Christian” nation so grand and great? Could it happen again? What is in our DNA that makes human beings capable and culpable of such atrocities? I must return again to my German roots.

Like Bonhoeffer and the Jewish heroine of Woman in Gold, a very small remnant draw from some deeper source to challenge injustice against ridiculous odds and at great personal cost. What is that source, that strength, that conviction which upholds the greatness of human potential of which we are capable? I must return again to the Scriptures.

Seventy years may seem like a long time ago. Let us not forget or ignore the Gospel narrative being lived out by thousands of Christians being martyred in our own day.

Can it happen again?

_________

I am indebted to Kirk O. Kolbo for his marvelous commentary in today’s Star-Tribune from which I quote and heartily recommend to you [here].

Trampling Out the Vintage

In the bright morning sunlight of March 24 1980, a car stopped outside the Church of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. A lone gunman stepped out, unhurried. Resting his rifle on the car door, he aimed carefully down the long aisle to where El Salvador’s archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, was saying mass. A single shot rang out. Romero staggered and fell. The blood pumped from his heart, soaking the scattered hosts.

Romero’s murder was to become one of the most notorious unsolved crimes of the cold war. The motive was clear. He was the most outspoken voice against the death squad slaughter gathering steam in the US backyard.

The US vowed to make punishment of the archbishop’s killers a priority. It could hardly do otherwise as President Reagan launched the largest US war effort since Vietnam to defeat the rebels. He needed support in Washington, which meant showing that crimes like shooting archbishops and nuns would not be tolerated.

But US promises to bring justice came to nothing. With no trigger-man, gun or witnesses, officials claimed lack of evidence. The fall-guy for the killing, Major Roberto D’Aubuisson went on to become one of El Salvador’s most successful politicians.

Irrefutable evidence now suggests that Washington not only knew far more about the killing than it admitted – but also did nothing to investigate for fear of jeopardising our war effort. Vital evidence was ignored. Key witnesses, including the most likely gunman, were killed by the would-be investigators.

But as Americans understand deep in our bones and express when we sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”,

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the lord,
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He hath loosed his fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Justice may be excruciatingly slow rather than a “terrible swift sword.” But, justice will be done! This very week, a Florida judge has paved the way for the deportation of a former top Salvadoran general accused of overseeing widespread torture and murder, including the notorious killing of several Americans during the country’s civil war.

Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova served as El Savador’s defense minister from 1983 to 1989. Prior to occupying the nation’s top military position, Vides was the commander of El Salvador’s infamous national guard. He has been living comfortably in Florida for the past twenty years.

While serving as its commander in 1980, the national guard murdered four American chruchwomen working in the country at the time. Americans Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan — three religious sisters and a lay missionary — were gunned down on December 2, 1980.

The decision this week by the Florida judge marks the first time a US court has determined a senior foreign military official could be deported on human rights violations since the passage of a 2004 law aimed at barring such violators from seeking refuge in the United States.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

Having been vetted as a “martyr for the faith” by the universal church, Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified by the Catholic Church during a public celebration held in the central plaza of San Salvador on May 23, 2015.

Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah
Glory! Glory ! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on. 

_____________

The Morman Tabernacle Choir offers what is arguably the most moving rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Rebublic [here]

I am indebted to British journalist Tom Gibb writing in
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 March 2000 for the introduction to this post and facts about Romero’s death.  You may read his complete article [here].

A Story, a Sonnet, a Song

Our family’s deepest roots in America reach to May 7, 1842 with the arrival of Timothy Hannon at the Port of Boston. He was the son of Daniel and Mary Hannon born in Ballinadee, County Cork Ireland on August 10. Conflicting records indicate his year of birth as either 1818 or 1822.

Timothy married Julia Mahoney who had been born in Ireland in 1823. Their modest, unsung lives portend a quintessential American family story.

Timothy and Julia’s wedding was celebrated on February 18, 1849 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in South Boston. They became American citizens on December 17, 1850 with the filing of Timothy’s naturalization papers.  The 1850 census states that neither Timothy nor Julia could read or write. Each would die of tuberculosis — he in 1860 and she in 1885.

Coincidentally, it was in 1885 that Hugh O’Brien was sworn in as Boston’s first Irish-born mayor. The city had long been controlled by native-born “Yankees”—most of whom had a stereotypical view of Irish immigrants as poor, ignorant, undisciplined, and under the thumb of the Catholic Church.

But the Irish-born population of Boston was exploding, growing from 2,000 in 1820 to 7,000 in 1830. By 1880, more than 70,000 Irish lived in Boston. The year Julia Mahoney Hannon died and Hugh O’Brien was elected mayor, the Irish were over 40% of the city’s population — the largest group of foreign-born residents and outnumbering the native-born Yankees.

The Statute of Liberty, iconic symbol of immigrant aspirations and America at our best, was dedicated in October, 1886. Even now, the sonnet by Emma Lazarus that graces the base of Lady Liberty expresses the sentiment of every family seeking a brighter future in America:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Finally, [here] is a link to the Cantus rendition of Oh God of All the Nations. Set to The Finlandia hymn by Jean Sibelius, the lyrics were written by American poet, Lloyd Stone. Sometime during this holiday weekend treat yourself to the two-minute You-Tube video link above.  It has become my favorite patriotic song and has been known to bring me to tears.

Happy Birthday, America!  May we be true to our story, our promise and our best selves.

“Fondly Do We Hope”

I remember well the first time I ever saw my Dad cry — I had been pestering him with my childish naiveté to tell me about life during the Great Depression. Even up to her death just shy of 98, Mom would euphemistically recall those first years of their marriage as “Those Dirty Thirties.”  Our nation has faced tough times before.

Our nation has serious issues to address today. Our political process sputters just above dysfunctional.  The verb “to govern” seems to have disappeared from our lexicon, leaving us with politicians rather than leaders. Yet, we should worry about our rabidly anti-government rhetoric poisoning — perhaps precluding — the formation of a needed and healthy patriotism among our children.

How do we purge the nastiness that has taken hold of our national character? We retreat to isolated enclaves in defense of the solitary rights of private citizens, forsaking the solidarity of common citizenship. Like spoiled children we obsess about individual rights rather than accepting personal responsibility for self and others. With narcissism cloaked in the rhetoric of Ayn Rand we facilely assert “freedom from…” leaving “freedom for…” holed up in the National Archives.

Yes, our nation has faced tough times before. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated hardly more than a month after delivering his Second Inaugural Address. Perhaps his concluding words are as fitting for us on this Fourth of July as they were when he first spoke them to a war-weary nation:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Taking Another’s Place

Who will take her place? Brilliant, elegant, articulate, iconic! Who could possibly take her place? Maya Angelou not only personified America at our best, she had a unique gift and fierce zeal for revealing humanity at our best.

“I am gay,” Maya Angelou told a gathering of an estimated 4,000 predominantly LGBT people celebrating gay and lesbian choruses in 1996. She then paused and continued: “I am lesbian. I am black. I am white. I am Native American. I am Christian. I am Jew. I am Muslim.”

I don’t know her religious heritage or affiliations. My belief is she transcended narrow definitions and denominational pettiness. She did manifest a mature and passionate concern for the dire state of religious practice in a poem certainly worthy of the Hebrew prophets: 

Savior

Petulant priests, greedy
centurions, and one million
incensed gestures stand
between your love and me. 

Your agape sacrifice
is reduced to colored glass,
vapid penance, and the
tedium of ritual.

Your footprints yet
mark the crest of
billowing seas but
your joy
fades upon the tablets
of ordained prophets.

Visit us again, Savior. 

Your children, burdened with
disbelief, blinded by a patina
of wisdom,
carom down this vale of
fear. We cry for you
although we have lost
your name.

But Maya Angelou’s brilliance is not found in petulance. Her iconic status is not founded upon her inimitable eloquence. Quite the contrary!

Maya Angelou’s insight and brilliance was nothing more than her willingness to embrace the shared humanity of all people—regardless of race, gender, or religion—and she prodded everyone to embrace our common humanity as well.

We salute the Apostle Paul for his ability to proclaim: Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Cor 9)

Paul exhorts: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil 2)

Who will take Maya Angelou’s place of distinction is totally beside the point! My hunch is she would reject that speculation as trivial and trite. Rather, I am certain she would exhort each and all of us to proclaim with passion and eloquence: “I am gay. I am lesbian. I am black. I am white. I am Native American. I am Christian. I am Jew. I am Muslim.”

_________________

I am indebted to Out magazine for the 1996 quote and my initial inspiration [link]. 

Savior © Maya Angelou is from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. Random House. 1994., p 250.