A good friend of mine, Joseph Lown, has a public face. Because of that, his private problems are now public. He has reconciled himself to this, because the issues he is dealing with are more common than most in the U.S. would think. He has chosen to step out and be featured, while still protecting the identity of his partner and his partner’s family. You can read one of many articles about him and his situation here. He is also featured in a recent book, Amor and Exile. Read more about that here.
When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last summer, it offered the possibility of my friend’s return to the United States, specifically to Texas. That’s where his Libertarian-leaning, red-Republican, ranch-owning, FOX News-watching heart is tethered. He and I are so not on the same page in so many ways. But it was my great honor to be a participant and facilitator when Joseph and his partner “made it official” earlier this month in Mexico City. There was a reporter there, as well as a photojournalist from The San Angelo Standard Times, a Scripps-Howard newspaper so there will be more newspaper articles appearing, probably in the next week or so. What I’m sharing here are the remarks I made after the Mexico City judge performed the civil ceremony.
Wedding Service – November 16, 2013
We are here to celebrate the legal and civil union of _________ and Joseph Wendel Lown, who were formally engaged on October 13, of this year. But their commitment to one another goes back much farther. On May 19, 2009, they crossed the southern border of the United States, and came to live in Mexico. Much has been written about their situation. We who are here now, know what their love has cost them in the public arena. We are here to affirm with them that it has been worth the price.
Crossing borders, leaving behind old ways to align ourselves with what we know to be something better, is a familiar circumstance in the world today. Refugee camps have become permanent fixtures in many places. Both Mexico and the United States, have rich histories of offering comfort and refuge to those displaced by fear and hatred. If it seems that, as Jesus foretold, iniquity abounds, and the love of many has waxed cold, then our job is to love more. We are here today to turn up the flame.
We long to be where love lives, and we are attracted above all, to those who love God foremost. Ruth recognized that quality in her mother-in-law, Naomi, and expressed her determination not to lose sight of it when Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Ruth pleaded,
Intreat me not to leave thee, or return from following after thee. For whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God. Where thou diest, I will die, and there shall I be buried. The Lord do so to me and more also, if ought but death part me and thee.
The greatest desire held in the heart of every human being is the yearning to be their own true and authentic self. God wants us to be what He created us to be. When we mirror that desire, it is a prayer. There is no greater gift we can offer another than to support and cherish that desire. So, we are gathered here, in prayer and support, not only for Joseph and ______, but in desire for ourselves, as well. It is only through being our authentic selves that we are able to help and support them.
The word “desire” literally means “from the stars.” We “hitch our wagon to a star” when we reach for something beyond what others might think we need, or deserve, or even be entitled to. It is an anomaly that with our reaching outward and upward from our authentic selves, we do not find ourselves disconnected, but rather entwined and concerned more with our fellow beings. We find ourselves in Love.
The Sufi poet Rumi writes, “The stars come up spinning every night, bewildered in love. They would grow tired with that revolving if they weren’t. They’d say, ‘How long do we have to do this!”
Love, and especially that love we share with a particular and life-long partner, does indeed make the world go round. It transforms our lives into a mirror of those revolving stars, a reflection of the infinite and eternal Love itself, which holds us all in its holy sphere. It changes the question from “How long do we have to do this,” to “How long do we get to do this!” The conventional answer, the conventional vow, is “until death do us part.”
With that in mind, I’d like to read some passages from Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, the book written by Mary Baker Eddy which, along with the Bible, was the guide with which Joseph’s mother raised him. I’m familiar with it, because I was raised with it, too. The author offers counsel in the chapter titled “Marriage.”
Be not in haste to take the vow, “until death do us part.” Consider its obligations, its responsibilities, its relations to your growth, and to your influence on other lives.
Marriage should signify a union of hearts.
Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness. The masculine mind reaches a higher tone through certain elements of the feminine, while the feminine mind gains courage and strength through masculine qualities. These different elements conjoin naturally with each other, and their true harmony is in spiritual oneness. Both sexes should be loving, pure, tender, and strong.
Furthermore, the time cometh of which Jesus spake when he declared that in the resurrection, there should be no more marrying nor giving in marriage, but man would be as the angels. Then white-robed purity will unite in one person, masculine wisdom and feminine love, spiritual understanding and perpetual peace.
Experience should be the school of virtue, and happiness should proceed from man’s highest nature. May Christ, Truth, be present at every bridal altar to change the water into wine, and to give to human life an inspiration by which man’s spiritual and eternal existence may be discerned.
In the spirit of communion, we here collectively offer our support to you, our prayers for you, Joseph and ______. We are your friends. We are your family. We will be there for you.
Now, if any individual wishes to declare that support and love, this is your opportunity.
(…………………..remarks from the floor.)
I will close, reading once more from Rumi,
God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
A passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips where the reed breath originated,
And let your note be clear.
Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.
I’ll show you how it’s enough.
Go up on the roof at night
In this city of the soul.
Let everyone climb on their roofs and sing their notes!
And again from Mary Baker Eddy,
A louder song, sweeter than has ever before reached high heaven, now rises clearer and nearer the great heart of Christ, for the accuser is not there, and Love sends forth her primal and everlasting strain.
Wow, I remember starting questions with, “Sorry…” This girl at least recognizes her tendency to do that. OK? Let’s start to NOT do that.
When Larry and I were dating, it was no secret that Mom and Dad were not pleased that I’d gotten so serious about a boy at such a young age. I was a freshman at Texas Tech dating a boy two years older, who wasn’t even a “college man,” but a mere airman first class, stationed at Reese Air Force Base. But Aunt Billie liked him and told Mom she should count her blessings that I’d picked such a good guy. So when Larry and I took off in his 1956 Volkswagen sedan for a weekend trip to a church meeting for young people at Lake Texoma, and just as Mom and Dad feared and had warned us over and over, the little VW broke down, it was Aunt Billie who got the phone call.
“You can’t tell Mom and Dad,” I said over and over, standing in a phone booth in some place like Crowell or Floydada. I didn’t want to hear the we-told-you-so. “Please, please, don’t tell them,” I pleaded. Aunt Billie swore she wouldn’t, told us she and Uncle Lloyd would drive over from Vernon to whatever little town we were calling from, and take us to another little town where we could catch a bus and make it on to our meeting. Larry and I agreed that we’d deal with the fallout after we’d had our weekend of fun. So Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Billie arrived on the scene, drove us to catch our bus, and seemed absolutely delighted to be of help. Uncle Lloyd even asked if we needed any money.
What I didn’t know was that when she’d hung up the phone, Billie had turned to her husband and said, “Lloyd, Larry and Susan are running away to get married, and they want our help.” When she heard that both Larry and I had returned safely but still single, she ‘fessed up to my mother. Mom failed to see the humor for quite a while, but by the time of the wedding a year later, all was forgiven. But it was a comfort all my life that Aunt Billie had my back.
After Billie and Lloyd moved to California, Billie would come back to Texas to visit family. Several times she made a point of coming to Odessa to visit Larry and me when we lived there. I remember her going to a community concert with me where the orchestra performed Rite of Spring. My taste at the time ran to hummable recognizable classics, but when the final notes sounded, and Aunt Billie turned to me with such an expression of rapture, I decided maybe I should give Stravinsky a chance. She also opened my eyes to appreciate painters like Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler. She wasn’t afraid to try her hand at painting like them either, and encouraged me to paint, as well. She knew that the very act of trying to do something, made you really appreciate those who excelled at it, and the more you tried things, the more you appreciated everyone around you. “Go ahead and do it,” I can still hear her say, like an echo through the years: Go ahead and move to California. Go ahead and sell real estate. Go ahead and paint, write, whatever! You’re moving to Mexico? That’s terrific! Go ahead and try something new.
I am just realizing as I write this, that Aunt Billie was never afraid to express herself, never flinched when others expressed their full selves. That is a rare and precious attribute, no matter how off-the-wall and in your face it can seem to those present at the time. It requires a special kind of fearlessness, a special kind of love. I think she’s my hero.
Aunt Billie passed away last week, but just saying her name will always make me smile. She was a lady who knew how to say “yes” to life.
This morning I bent over the kitchen counter to better inspect a small pile of green mint leaves spread out on a paper towel. Yesterday I cut back my overgrown plant of hierba buena, and a friend suggested I dry the foliage and make tea. But what were those little brown nodules on the back of some of the largest leaves? Are they bugs, fungus, or just some blight from all the rain we’ve had? Would tea made with these leaves be safe to drink? And just how dry do mint leaves have to be to make the best tea?
“I should google it,” was my immediate thought, one I have about once an hour. It’s a given these days that if you have a question, someone, somewhere will have posted an answer; and if not, you can post the question, and expect a speedy response. “I’ll bet some Birkenstock-shod earth mother in Vermont would know,” I thought, “or some organic farmer in Mexico, or even further south in the hemisphere. Where else do people drink mint tea? China? Don’t know. Definitely the Middle East: Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran?” Images of white pajama-clad figures sitting on bentwood chairs in sidewalk cafes came to mind.
About the time I was harvesting my mint leaves, people in Iran had a few hours unfettered access to Facebook and the rest of the internet universe. But the door slammed shut, as so many doors do. Anyone hooked up to an Iranian server has no direct access to information on how to prepare authentic Texas barbecue. Conversely, the U.S. blockade of websites ending in .ir remains largely unbreached. They want to keep us safe from teaching each other how to make bombs. But don’t you think most of the people in the world would rather make mint tea or barbecue?