Bear with me on this one. It takes a long time to get to my point, but I think it’s a good one.
A while ago, I started a blog article that was tentatively called “Struggling With Lesbians Reading Scripture” and it was about how easy it was for us at my church to just be comfortable with what used to be an impossible, unheard of, thing. Now, in my book, it’s a good thing that lesbians or anybody else gets to read scripture in church. The lesbian in question is someone I think the world of, and the fact that she read scripture as “just another person” — not as a political statement, not as a part of “gay pride week” , not as a show of any kind, but simply because she’s a leader in the church — says a lot about our particular church and how far “minorities” have come in my lifetime. And that’s the rub.
I love that we have joint worship services with other churches. I love that women preach, and I love that gay folks preach. I love that anybody preaches, if they have a call to do so. That’s how it should be. This is how (it seems to me) God’s “Beloved Community” should function. Everyone has gifts and everyone should be encouraged to use them to build up the community of faith.
In the rest of life, the same thing applies: Colleges, seminaries, offices, corporations, government agencies, non-profits, all work better when all people are invited to participate. I believe this with all my heart. But, still, I was sad when I wrote that first article but couldn’t figure out why or how to say things that made the world better, not worse.
OK, so here’s the deal: When I was a kid, there was able-bodied white men … and everybody else. Women had the right to vote, but so what? Many people weren’t going to vote for a woman that ran for office. Schools were just going co-ed. The daily paper advertised “Help Wanted, Male” and “Help Wanted, Female”. Blacks had started winning the civil rights they deserved since they first set foot on these shores, but weren’t even considering (at least publicly) running for president. I don’t think I knew anybody who was Hispanic, or Japanese, or from countries more foreign that Canada. We were convinced that the moon was made of green cheese and we’d prove it when we landed there. We were also convinced that if an inter-racial couple had children, they’d be green or black-and-white striped or something. And gay people? There were lots of happy people around. So what? But homosexuals were perverts and guys with long hair were “sissies” in the world I was born into… while dinosaurs ruled the earth and while the earth was still cooling — 1960. All of that has changed, and all of the change is good. So what’s my problem? I miss The Struggle. I miss having to act to make the world the place it could be, and now is.
As a white, liberal guy who now lives in the suburbs and whose kids go to a great school system, do I have any right to complain? No, I really don’t. I don’t want to go back to the old days. I don’t want anyone to be be oppressed. And frankly, despite what minorities and women thought at seminary, I never did. “Come on people now\smile on your brother (sic) \try to love one another\ right now” was a real value and a real goal. And while I may not have understood oppression’s depths, I was sure that I didn’t want it happening. The Civil Rights movement was a just and right movement. The Feminist movement was a just and right movement. The gay rights movement was a just and right movement. Though not everyone thinks that, the battle has been pretty much won and gay folks are now a generally accepted part of life. They show up on TV now, as main characters, as does every other group I’ve mentioned.
But here’s that long-awaited point. I worry that this generation won’t think it important that they have rights, because nobody has to fight for them anymore. I worry that they will forget how far we’ve come, how hard we worked, and they will become complacent. I see this in my classes at Community College here in Connecticut. I talk about women’s rights, and what women didn’t have. and my female students look at me like I came from Mars. I see inter-racial couples all over West Hartford and nobody thinks anything of it. I see gay couples at church and it’s just casually accepted. There are no more battles to press. Or are there? And what if there were? Would we even notice?
In this country, for years, people who had won the right to vote (in 1972? 1968? something like that) — 18 to 21 year olds — didn’t even bother. For years, women have been losing more and more rights — especially re: abortion — and nobody cares. I don’t even like abortions, but I believe that women — as full citizens of this country — have the right to make choices in their best interest. They can choose to not have abortions if they want and they can choose to have abortions if they feel that’s best. For what, 10 years now, we have been at war? There are no more war protests. Why? Isn’t war still as wrong as it ever was? Aren’t people still dying for a cause we don’t understand? For years now, it has been considered taboo to talk about “affirmative action” as a good thing (I couldn’t even remember the phrase for a minute there) and yet black men still don’t have jobs. We heard about “femi-nazis” for years and women still don’t make equal pay for equal work. What is up with that?!! Don’t women still need to feed their kids as much as men do? The ultra-conservatives have said that liberals had won and were winning all the time, while in fact, they were pushing their agenda and winning.
Citzenship, rights, democracy, patriotism — like any idea that you love — is worth fighting for. They take energy. They take showing up. Marriage takes energy, and kids take energy, and yes, democracy, takes energy. They all require us to show up and do the work required to maintain them. If they are going to happen and not fade away, we have to impress upon people that their lives take work if they want to count. If they don’t work for their values, their values won’t get represented. This is true in all spheres of life. Want your child’s school safe? It takes work. Want the church Youth Group to do something and not something else? Show up and speak up. Say what you mean to say. You don’t have to go nuts or scream inappropriately. But you do have to show up and say something. And if people are taking away your rights, maybe you do have to go nuts. Patriotism, being a person of faith, or just a human being, takes work because there’s always somebody who thinks you don’t need a voice, a vote, enough money to live on, safety, etc. And they are still wrong.
All of this brings me to a place I never would have considered important — Madison, Wisconsin. The people in Madison have suddenly become the center of the liberal universe — or maybe the populist universe or the worker’s universe — and they should be. They finally started paying attention to their own lives and their rights. Somebody had finally crossed a line beyond which they shouldn’t have gone. And the people remembered how to fight non-violently. And democracy as practiced by all the citizens, not just the elected ones, and not just the rich ones, lives again. Maybe there’s still hope. Madison has proven that a town’s voice is important to democracy, just as an individual’s voice is important to anything they are a part of. Madison sees “democracy” as a verb. May we all remember that it — and life itself — is.