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The 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Primate The Most Reverend Michael Bruce Curry at his Washington National Cathedral Installation, Sunday, November 1, 2015.

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All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015
A Sermon Preached by the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry
The Installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and Primate
The Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, Washington, D.C.

In the Name of our loving, liberating and life giving God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It really is a joy and blessing to be able to be here and for the church to gather and to ask for God’s blessing.

Allow me a point of personal privilege. I am looking forward to working with my sister the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. We’ve been working with each other a bit over the summer.  And I look forward to working together with her in the years to come.

I want to offer thanks on your behalf for Dick Schori, the spouse of the Presiding Bishop.

In a time when there is often debate and genuine consternation as to whether courageous, effective leadership is even possible anymore, let the record show that The Episcopal Church has had a leader in Katharine Jefferts Schori.

It is an understatement to say we live in a deeply complex and difficult time for our world. Life is not easy.

It is an understatement to say that these are not, and will not be, easy times for people of faith. Churches, religious communities and institutions are being profoundly challenged. You don’t need me to tell you that.

But the realistic social critique of Charles Dickens rings true for us even now. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But that’s alright. We follow Jesus. Remember what he said at the Last Supper, just hours before he would be arrested and executed? “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 KJV)

As that great biblical scholar has said, borrowing from what might be Bobby McFerrin’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words: Don’t worry. Be happy!

Don’t Worry.  Be Happy.

Let me offer a text from the 17th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. 

When [the angry crowd could not find the Apostle Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7)

What you have there is a First century description of the Jesus movement.  Don’t worry. Be happy!

Many centuries later, Julia Ward Howe, writing in the midst of America’s Civil War, spoke of this same movement, even amidst all the ambiguities and tragedies of history. This is what she wrote:

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in his bosom
that transfigures you and me,
as he died to make folk holy
let us live to set all free,
while God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah,
God’s truth is marching on.

That’s the Jesus movement. What was true in the First Century and true in the 19th Century is equally and more profound in this new 21st Century.

So don’t worry.  Be happy.

God has not given up on the world,

and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.

 I

The truly liberating truth is that Jesus didn’t come into this world to found a religion, though religious faith is important.  Nor did he establish a religious institution or organization, though institutions and organizations can serve his cause. You will not find an organizational table in the New Testament.

Jesus came to continue a movement. Actually, Jesus picked up and took the movement of John the Baptist to a new level. John was part of the movement born out of prophets like Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah. And prophetic movement was rooted in Moses, who went up to the mountaintop. Jesus crystalized and catalyzed the movement that was serving God’s mission in this world.  God has a passionate dream for this world. 

Jesus came to show us the way.  Out of the darkness into the dream.

That’s what is going on in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles — the movement! The Apostle Paul and Silas, his partner in ministry, have been preaching, teaching and witnessing to the way of Jesus in the city of Thessalonica. While their message finds some resonance with many, it is troublesome to others. A riot breaks out because of the tensions. Our text describes those who are troubled by the teaching about The Way, as the Jesus movement was first called.

Listen to this description of the first followers of Jesus:

These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.  (Acts 17:6b-7)

Notice that the activity of Paul and Silas was seen not as an isolated incident in Thessalonica, but as part of a greater movement of revolution. “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.” Paul and Silas by themselves might not have been of much consequence. But as part of a movement, they posed a problem.

This movement was perceived as somehow reordering the way things were, “turning the world upside down.”

The reason the movement was turning the world upside down was because members of the movement gave their loyalty to someone named Jesus and committed themselves to living and witnessing to his way above all else. “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” That’s what we did at the beginning of this service when, in the Baptismal Covenant, we reaffirmed our commitment to be disciples, living by and witnessing to the way of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

The Way of Jesus will always turn our worlds and the world upside down, which is really turning it right side up!

That’s what Isaiah was trying to tell us in Isaiah 11. He saw the dream. When God’s way is our way:

The prophet Isaiah saw this. When Gods dream happens, when the world is upside down…..

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them….
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9)

St. John saw in his vision of the world end in the Book of Revelation. Exiled and imprisoned for his witness to the way of Jesus, John was caught up “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation1:10). He lifted up his head, and he saw the dream.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.   And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.(Revelation 21:1-4)

No more war.
No more suffering.
No more injustice.
No more bigotry.
No more violence.
No more hatred.
Every man and woman under their own vine or fig tree.
The rule of love. The way of God. The kingdom. The reign.
The great Shalom, Salaam of God.
The dream.

God’s on a mission to work through “our struggle and confusion,” as the Prayer Book says, to realize God’s dream. [i]

My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on the world,
and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement.
So don’t worry, be happy!

II

Now I know we all thought we were coming here today, via the live-stream of the internet or here in the cathedral, for the Installation of our Presiding Bishop. I thought that too until I was on the plane earlier this week, flying from North Carolina to the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

And I kid you not, a thought popped into my head: “You know this is not about you.” It sort of jolted me inside.  A lot was going on.  I was on the way to fill out employment and insurance papers. The movers were coming to Diocesan House in Raleigh. I was going to spend one last day with Bishop Katharine.

The real Michael Curry was frankly scared to death and wondering, “Did you all make a mistake?” I was stuck on a plane, strapped into my seat belt because of turbulence on the flight, and I couldn’t get off. At that moment, and I’m not trying to get mystical or anything, but at that moment something said to me, “Michael Curry, this is not about you.”

I must admit that was a moment of some sweet liberation. Because it’s not about me. It’s about God, and it’s about Jesus. It’s about that sweet, sweet Spirit who will show us the way “into all the truth,” as Jesus promised (John 16:13), who has shown us the way to be who we really were created to be.

The way of Jesus will always turn our lives and the world upside down, but we know that that’s really right side up. Therein is the deepest and fondest hope for all creation and the human family.

Just listen to what Jesus said. What the world calls wretched, Jesus calls blessed, turning the world upside down.

Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit.
Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, that God’s righteous justice might prevail in all the world.
(Matthew 5:3-9, paraphrased)

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12)

At home and in the church, do unto others as you would have them do to you. That will turn things upside down. In the boardrooms of the corporate world, in the classrooms of the academic world, in the factories, on the streets, in the halls of legislatures and councils of government, in the courts of the land, in the councils of the nations, wherever human beings are, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That’s a game changer! “Things which were cast down are being raised up. And things which had grown old are being made new.” That will turn things upside down, which is really right side up! That’s what Jesus said and what the Jesus movement is about!

Love is the key

But the key to this turning, which is at the center of the way of Jesus, is love. Later, in the Sermon on the Mount, where our Gospel reading came from, Jesus said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45a)

The liberating love of God is the key to the way of Jesus. Both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels tell about the lawyer or scribe who came up to Jesus one day. Great teacher, he asked, in all of the massive legal edifice of Moses, what is the greatest law? What is the cardinal principle on which it all stands? What is the goal? What is the point of it all? In other words, what is God really getting at?

Jesus answered, bringing together a teaching of Moses from the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 and a text from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus said to him,

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”(Matthew  22:37-40)

This is really a stunning declaration. On these two — love of God and love of your neighbor— hang, hinge, depend ALL the law and the prophets.

Everything Moses taught.
Everything the prophets thundered forth about justice.
Everything in the Bible.
True religion.
It’s about love of God and the neighbor.
If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God.

This way of love is the way of Jesus. This is the heart of the Jesus movement. And it will turn the world, and the Church, I might add, upside down, which is really right side up.

Let me show you what I mean. In Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus and a lawyer come to an agreement that love of God and love of neighbor is the standard of all morality. But then the lawyer says (and I paraphrase):

Ok, I’ll grant the point about love for God and neighbor as Moses taught. But we need to carefully define what we mean by neighbor.  Just how expansive or inclusive is this definition? This could have far-reaching impact. So, who exactly is my neighbor?

That’s when Jesus makes up a story, a parable. This guy was walking on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. That road was known to be a pretty dangerous road to travel at night. But this guy needed to go where he was going. As it happened, he got mugged and robbed. He was beaten pretty badly and was lying on the side of the road.  A priest was coming down the same road, saw him lying there, but for whatever reason, walked on by. Another religious leader from the community came by a little later, and probably for fear of his own safety, walked on by, too, leaving the guy on the side of the road. 

Then this Samaritan guy came by. Samaritans were not well-regarded. There was some real animosity toward them that had a long history. But ironically it was that Samaritan who actually stopped, cared for the guy, bound up his wounds, put him on his own donkey and took him into town. Then he paid for his health care and made sure the guy was taken care of until he was well.

Jesus then asks the lawyer, “Now, who was a neighbor to the man?”  Jesus didn’t fall for his question. By asking that question, Jesus reveals to that lawyer – and on down the centuries to us — what the love of God really looks like.

But imagine the same parable with slightly different characters. A Christian was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and she fell among thieves. Another Christian came by, but passed on by. Another did the same. And still another follower of Jesus passed on by. A brother or sister who is Muslim came by and stopped and saw her in need and helped her.  Imagine. Who is the neighbor?

It could be a young black or Hispanic youth who is hurt, and a police officer who helps. Or the police officer hurting and the youth who helps. Imagine.

Do you see where Jesus is going?  He’s talking about turning this world upside down.

God has not given up on the world,
and God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
We are the Jesus movement.
So don’t worry, be happy.

III

Last summer, the 78th General Convention of our Church did a remarkable thing: the General Convention invited us as a church to take this Jesus Movement. We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation. Across the divides that set us apart.  I believe the Holy Spirit showed up. I was telling someone about this, and they said, “Do you realize this Church has taken on two of the most difficult and important works it could ever embrace?”

Let’s get real. Imagine “Jeopardy” or another television game show. The question asked of the contestants is this: “Name two words that begin with ‘E’ but that are never used at the same time.” And the answer? What is ‘Episcopalian’ and ‘evangelism’ ?

I’m talking about a way of evangelism that is genuine and authentic to us as Episcopalians, not a way that imitates or judges anyone else.  A way of evangelism that is really about sharing good news. A way of evangelism that is deeply grounded in the love of God that we’ve learned from Jesus. A way of evangelism that is as much about listening and learning from the story of who God is in another person’s life as it is about sharing our own story. A way of evangelism that is really about helping others find their way to a relationship with God without our trying to control the outcome. A way of evangelism that’s authentic to us. We can do that.

And this idea of reconciliation, beginning with racial reconciliation — really? 

Racial reconciliation is just the beginning for the hard and holy work of real reconciliation that realizes justice but really across all the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God.

This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing.

It’s about God.

In this work of reconciliation we can join hands with others.

It is as the Jesus movement, following Jesus’ way, that we join hands with brothers and sisters of different Christian communities, with brothers and sisters of other faith and religious traditions and with brothers and sisters who may be atheist or agnostic or just on a journey, but who long for a better world where children do not starve and where is, as the old spiritual says, “plenty good room for all of God’s children.” We can join together to do this work. 

In evangelism and reconciliation has got to be some of the most difficult work possible. But don’t worry.  We can do it. The Holy Spirit has done this work before in The Episcopal Church. And it can be done again for a new day.

It was sometime in the 1940s, when the armed forces had not be desegregated.  Just after the Second World War. In the United States, Jim Crow was alive and well. Segregation and separation of the races was still the law in much of the land and the actual practice in other areas, even if it wasn’t technically the law there.

The armed forces had not yet been desegregated. The Tuskegee Airmen were still a unit. Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas had not yet been issued. Long before Rosa Parks had not yet stood up for Jesus by sitting down on that bus in Montgomery. Long before Jackie Robinson was playing baseball, before Martin Luther King, Jr. was still in seminary.

An African American couple went to an Episcopal church one Sunday morning. They were the only people of color there. The woman had become an Episcopalian after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, finding the logic of his faith profoundly compelling. Her fiancé was then studying to become ordained as a Baptist preacher.

But there they were on America’s segregated Sabbath, the only couple of color at an Episcopal Church service of Holy Communion according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

When the time came for communion the woman, who was confirmed, went up to receive. The man, who had never been in an Episcopal Church, and who had only vaguely heard of Episcopalians, stayed in his seat. As he watched how communion was done, he realized that everyone was drinking real wine — out of the same cup.

The man looked around the room, then he looked at his fiancée, then he sat back in the pew as if to say, “This ought to be interesting.”

The priest came by uttering these words as each person received the consecrated bread: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

Would the priest really give his fiancée communion from the common cup? Would the next person at the rail drink from that cup, after she did? Would others on down the line drink after her from the same cup?

The priest came by speaking these words to each person as they drank from the cup: The Blood our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

The people before her drank from the cup. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ….  Another person drank.  Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.   The person right before her drank.  Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee….  Then she drank.  And be thankful.  She drank. Now was the moment her fiancé was waiting for.  Would the next person after her drink from that cup? He watched. The next person drank.  The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee….  And on down the line it went, people drinking from the common cup after his fiancée, like this was the most normal thing in the world.

The man would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church and that he had an evangelism. He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.”

That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.

We are Gods’ children, all of us.  We are God’s baptized children.   We are here to change the world with the power of love.

God really does love us.  

The Spirit has done evangelism and reconciliation work through us before. And the Spirit of God can do it again, in new ways, now beyond the doors of our church buildings, out in the world, in the sanctuary of the streets, in our 21st-century Galilee where the Risen Christ has already gone ahead of us.

Yes, the way of God’s love turns our world upside down. But that’s really right side up. And in that way, the nightmare of this world will be transfigured into the very dream of God for humanity and all creation.

My brothers and sisters,
God has not given up on God’s world.

And God is not finished with The Episcopal Church yet.
God has work for us to do.

Jesus has work for us to do and it’s the Jesus Movement.
So don’t worry. Be happy!

He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.
He’s got the whole world in his hands.

Thanks to Donovan Marks and Danielle Thomas, photographers

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Saturday, August 15, 2015 – 6:13am  (with thanks to on being)
Photo by Hamish Irvine

Wild Sanctuary

BY TOM JABLONSKI,  GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
worked in the environmental field in industry, consulting, and government for over 25 years. He lives in Blaine, Minnesota and blogs at Ecological Leadership.

A patch of wilderness, a remnant of land not completely taken over by humans at that point in time, surrounded me. It was a small strip of land located between Highway 65 and the vacant land that paralleled it to the west, and the housing development in which I lived.

At one time the land was likely cleared and the earth had been reshaped. Old berms and piles of dirt marked the landscape, but the wild vegetation had reclaimed the disturbed soil. My observations were interrupted by the call of some animal. I thought it might be a bird, crying out in a loud shrieking that almost drowned out the sound of traffic on the highway. The call got louder and then softer. The chickadees that flitted around the nearby trees seemed to ignore it. What was the call and who was making it? And what was my call?

I had been doing some volunteer work to try and fill my day with some meaning, but the tasks did not fill me with the sense of accomplishment I sought. What was it like to experience a real sense of accomplishment? Maybe it was not experiencing accomplishment that kept me going. For what more was there in life once accomplishment had been achieved?

image

Round Lake in St. Paul MN.

Credit: Jim Brekke License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The leaves had mostly fallen off all the trees, and they lay covering the ground. A brown layer interspersed with a patch of black where the leaves had been pushed away to expose the rich, black humus below — a silt-sand-organic matrix filled with microscopic life.

As was typical of those times of solitude, two airplanes sliced through the sky above, their engines churning out there own matrix of noise, exhaust, and propulsion. The sun broke through the overcast sky, sending a strong beam of light and warmth my way. Some remnants of grass dangling from a brown stem rocked back and forth in the breeze that blew through the tangle of wilderness. The trees in the area appeared to be a hardy lot: poplars, box elders, and other shrubs.

A red fox walked through the clearing in front of me, wandering within 30 feet of where I sat. It passed through sniffing the ground, not seeming to notice me as I watched and marveled at the site of it.

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A fox near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.

Credit: Max and Dee Bernt License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

And then it faded away into the past year’s dried grass. Times like those were good times. This patch of wilderness brought me back to the areas of wilderness I spent time with during my childhood. Going to that place reminded me how sacred those small patches were. They were sanctuaries for life, for creation, for sanity.

So what was it that brought me to that spot at the time when the fox would share its presence with me? And was it the fox that made the strange call I heard when I first came to the place? What brought the leaf down from the tree above and caused it to land in the open spot between my left thumb and forefinger? Were all of those happenings merely coincidences, merely chance meetings of different life forms? Or was there a connection, was there meaning, a message to me telling me what I was called to do? Or was it that I simply enjoyed sitting there, observing, savoring; escaping the places that did not seem to fill me with the same sense of awe.

Small birds somewhere in the distant treetops sang a soft short song — a calling out, an experience of joy, a voice announcing a presence. A crow much further away cawed. The hum of the traffic masked the softer sounds, the more distant sounds. And vines enveloped the tree and the brush, below which I sat ruminating my life.

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Light illuminates the Reservoir Canyon Trail in San Luis Obispo, California.

Credit: Steve Corey License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The tree that I sat under reminded me of the tree that the Buddha sat under while experiencing nirvana. What creatures, what voices, which distractions called out to the Buddha as he pondered his own life? Was there more to enlightenment then simply being present to that which existed around me? Was the moment all there was? Now that I had found it, was I called back to chop wood and haul water, clean bathrooms, vacuum and go on with the volunteering jobs that did not give me the sense of meaning and accomplishment I sought? Could it be that smiling at some kids or helping one or two of them to zip up their coat was all I needed to accomplish that day?

Questions like those would not likely be answered. They likely existed to simply keep me prodding along, to keep living, to keep moving, and to keep interacting. It seemed like it was the interactions of life that could give me the sense of accomplishment I desired.

The time of reflection, serenity, and existence would not hold meaning if it was not shared through the interactions called life. Maybe what I needed to do was to not just focus on the fox, or the voice of the bird, but to pay attention to the brush, to the distraction, to the traffic, and the long grass that hid the fox. The breeze picked up, the sun receded behind a cloud, and I felt chilled. It was time to recede myself from that remnant of wilderness, time to return home to face the distractions of my life, time to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and find what I sought.

A strange call reverberated dull. Questions of meaning filled the skull. A fox — red, soft, and close to the ground — walked through the place as leaves tumbled down. Sniffing the earth, searching, and blending, it entered the zone, the place of grass bending. The red coat began to disappear, its white-tipped tail the only memory it was near. Time, space, and tranquility. It seemed that was what life could be.

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love and scotus

It Is Accomplished

JUN 26 2015 @ 1:21PM, Andrew Sullivan

weddingaisle

As Gandhi never quite said,

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I remember one of the first TV debates I had on the then-strange question of civil marriage for gay couples. It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer’s response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,” he joked. “Why are we even discussing it?”

Those were isolating  days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens. In the words of Hannah Arendt:

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”

This core truth is what Justice Kennedy affirmed today, for the majority: that gay people are human. I wrote the following in 1996:

Homosexuality, at its core, is about the emotional connection between two adult human beings. And what public institution is more central—more definitive—of that connection than marriage? The denial of marriage to gay people is therefore not a minor issue. It is the entire issue. It is the most profound statement our society can make that homosexual love is simply not as good as heterosexual love; that gay lives and commitments and hopes are simply worth less. It cuts gay people off not merely from civic respect, but from the rituals and history of their own families and friends. It erases them not merely as citizens, but as human beings.

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today. In that 1996 essay, I analogized to the slow end to the state bans on inter-racial marriage:

The process of integration—like today’s process of “coming out”—introduced the minority to the majority, and humanized them. Slowly, white people came to look at interracial couples and see love rather than sex, stability rather than breakdown. And black people came to see interracial couples not as a threat to their identity, but as a symbol of their humanity behind the falsifying carapace of race.

It could happen again. But it is not inevitable; and it won’t happen by itself. And, maybe sooner rather than later, the people who insist upon the centrality of gay marriage to every American’s equality will come to seem less marginal, or troublemaking, or “cultural,” or bent on ghettoizing themselves. They will seem merely like people who have been allowed to see the possibility of a larger human dignity and who cannot wait to achieve it.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never befully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day., who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

I never believed this would happen in my lifetime when I wrote my first several TNR essays and then my book, Virtually Normal, and then the anthology and the hundreds and hundreds of talks and lectures and talk-shows and call-ins and blog-posts and articles in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought the book, at least, would be something I would have to leave behind me – secure in the knowledge that its arguments were, in fact, logically irrefutable, and would endure past my own death, at least somewhere. I never for a millisecond thought I would live to be married myself. Or that it would be possible for everyone, everyone in America.

But it has come to pass. All of it. In one fell, final swoop.

Know hope.

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Mary Oliver on What Attention Really Means and Her Moving Eulogy to Her Soul Mate

by

“Attention without feeling … is only a report.”

Mary Oliver is one of our era’s most beloved and prolific poets — a sage ofwisdom on the craft of poetry and a master of its magic; a woman as unafraid to be witty as she is to wise. For more than forty years, Oliver lived on Cape Cod with the love of her life, the remarkable photographer Molly Malone Cook — one of the first staff photographers for The Village Voice, with subjects like Walker Evans and Eleanor Roosevelt, and a visionary gallerist who opened the first photography gallery on the East Coast, exhibited such icons as Ansel Adams and Berenice Abbott, and recognized rising talent like William Clift. (She was also, living up to her reputation as “a great Bohemian American,” the owner of a bookshop frequented by Norman Mailer and occasionally staffed by the filmmaker John Waters.)

Mary Oliver (b. 1935, right) with Molly Malone Cook (1925–2005) at the couple’s home in Provincetown, Massachusetts

When Cook died in 2005 at the age of eighty, Oliver looked for a light, however faint, to shine through the thickness of bereavement. She spent a year making her way through thousands of her spouse’s photographs and undeveloped negatives, mostly from around the time they met, which Oliver then enveloped in her own reflections to bring to life Our World (public library) — part memoir, deeply moving eulogy to a departed soul mate, part celebration of their love for one another through their individual creative loves. Embraced in Oliver’s poetry and prose, Cook’s photographs reveal the intimate thread that brought these two extraordinary women together — a shared sense of deep aliveness and attention to the world, a devotion to making life’s invisibles visible, and above all a profound kindness to everything that exists, within and without.

Oliver — who refers to Cook simply as M. in most of her writings — reflects in the opening essay:

Though you have known someone for more than forty years, though you have worked with them and lived with them, you do not know everything. I do not know everything — but a few things, which I will tell. M. had will and wit and probably too much empathy for others; she was quick in speech and she did not suffer fools. When you knew her she was unconditionally kind. But also, as our friend the Bishop Tom Shaw said at her memorial service, you had to be brave to get to know her.

[…]

She was style, and she was an old loneliness that nothing could quite wipe away; she was vastly knowledgeable about people, about books, about the mind’s emotions and the heart’s. She lived sometimes in a black box of memories and unanswerable questions, and then would come out and frolic — be feisty, and bold.

Amish schoolroom, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

Oliver writes of the affair Cook had in the late 1950s, shortly before they met:

She had … an affair that struck deeply; I believe she loved totally and was loved totally. I know about it, and I am glad… This love, and the ensuing emptiness of its ending, changed her. Of such events we are always changed — not necessarily badly, but changed. Who doesn’t know this doesn’t know much.

The following year, Cook met Oliver and they remained together, inseparable, for more than four decades. That encounter — which calls to mind the fateful first meetings that occasioned such iconic literary couples as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas or Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes — took place at Steepletop, the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where Oliver had landed the day after her high school graduation at the age of seventeen and stayed for several years.

Inside the library at Steepletop, the home of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

One evening in 1959, when Oliver was twenty-four and Cook thirty-four, the young poet returned to the house and found the photographer sitting at the kitchen table with a friend. She describes their encounter with her signature elegance of unpeeling the mundane to reveal the momentous:

I took one look and fell, hook and tumble. M. took one look at me, and put on her dark glasses, along with an obvious dose of reserve. She denied this to her dying day, but it was true.

Isn’t it wonderful the way the world holds both the deeply serious, and the unexpectedly mirthful?

Mary Oliver in 1964 (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

It turned out that Oliver and Cook, in their regular lives beyond Steepletop, lived right across the street from each other in New York’s East Village. So they began to see one another “little by little,” and so their great love story began.

Chess players, Washington Square, New York City, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

But perhaps the greatest gift of their union was the way in which they shaped each other’s way of seeing and being with the world — the mutually ennobling dialogue between their two capacities for presence:

It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching M. when she was taking photographs, and watching her in the darkroom, and no less watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends, and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about. Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely… I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and well filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my own presence. I was eager to address the world of words — to address the world with words. Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles. I think of this always when I look at her photographs, the images of vitality, hopefulness, endurance, kindness, vulnerability… We each had our separate natures; yet our ideas, our influences upon each other became a reach and abiding confluence.

[…]

I don’t think I was wrong to be in the world I was in, it was my salvation from my own darkness. Nor have I ever abandoned it — those early signs that so surely lead toward epiphanies. And yet, and yet, she wanted me to enter more fully into the human world also, and to embrace it, as I believe I have. And what a gift [that she] never expressed impatience with my reports of the natural world, the blue and green happiness I found there. Our love was so tight.

‘My first clam,’ 1964 (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

To lose the love of one’s life is something few have dared to live in public — the most memorable such bravery being Joan Didion’s — but Oliver brings to death’s darkness her familiar touch of emboldening light:

The end of life has its own nature, also worth our attention. I don’t say this without reckoning in the sorrow, the worry, the many diminishments. But surely it is then that a person’s character shines or glooms.

Oliver ends with a breath-stopping prose poem that brings full-circle her opening reflections on never fully knowing even those nearest to us — a beautiful testament to what another wise woman once wrote: “You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.”

THE WHISTLER

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden
I mean that for more than thirty years she had not
whistled. It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was
in the house, what stranger? I was upstairs reading, and
she was downstairs. As from the throat of a wild and
cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, the sounds war-
bled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she
said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can
still whistle. And cadence after cadence she strolled
through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and an-
kle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.
And the devotions. And for all that, do we even begin
to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with
for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?

Boy with telescope, New York Cruises, late 1950s (Photograph: Molly Malone Cook)

Our World is a sublime read in its entirety — the kind that enters the soul like a deep breath and remains there as an eternal exhale. Complement it with Oliver on how rhythm sweetens life and her beautiful reading of her poem “Wild Geese.”

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory