The Janus Moment of Looking Backward and Forward
As I reflected this week upon the approach of the New Year, I woke the other morning thinking of one of the ads run by the No on 1 Campaign in Maine, which strove to preserve the courageous passage of marriage equality by the Maine state legislature. In the ad, an 86-year-old World War II veteran testifies to the legislature on the pending bill. He asks, “What was I fighting for overseas if not for this kind of equal right to civil marriage?” His poignant call for justice captures 2009 for me as we end this chapter in the Book of Life.
I also thought of my uncle, who was denied admission to the armed forces after Pearl Harbor because he was gay. He eventually moved to California, met his partner and lived for over fifty years in a monogamous loving relationship. Some family members quip that he and his partner had the best marriage of that generation. I visited my uncle’s partner, now a widower, in 2009. He gave me a stack of old family photographs, formal pictures from weddings, and Christmas cards that had been saved over the years. As he told me how he and my uncle had often spoken of their relatives far away, I felt keenly how important we all were to both of them — and how much a part of my family my uncle’s partner had become.
These old men – the veteran in Maine and my uncle’s widower – give me some perspective on the past year.
What strikes me as most memorable about the year is the amount of activity related to GLBT inclusion and rights. There were some victories like the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act and the acceptance of GLBT clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. There were also close losses like the No on 1 Campaign and the 08-B Campaign to make the standards for ordination in my Presbyterian Church (USA) more inclusive of all those called by God to serve. And many endeavors that were started this year are still pending: new overtures on ordination and marriage submitted to the PCUSA General Assembly, which will meet again in July 2010, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress, to mention only two.
As I look back at 2009 and forward anticipating 2010, I pause to appreciate the dedication, effort, courage and persistence that brought about the successes of 2009. I also take the measure of how much will be required of us in the coming year to achieve our hopes for a more just world.
As we embark on 2010, I want to remember this lesson from the last year: our effort and commitment is the measure of our success, not the outcome of the project, though of course we try to reach our goals. Every time we come to the end of the day having poured out our life’s blood to gain equality for all people in church and society, that day has been a success. Our steady work, in partnership with countless people and organizations around the country, is all that is required of us. We give our best each day; powers greater than ourselves take over after that.
Someday we will be as old as that wonderful veteran in Maine and my uncle’s beloved. I trust that much progress will have been made toward justice for all people, including GLBT people, by then. I also expect that groups who have been caught in the undertow of the human dynamic that fosters division and hierarchy will still require our sacrifice and devotion.
We start the journey to that moment today, at the beginning of the new year, 2010. May we be ready to give our all.
P.S. I will be offline for the next few days, so I may not be able to immediately respond to your comments. However, I greatly look forward to reading and responding to your comments when I return.