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German pilot in WWII spared an American B-17 pilot over Germany only to reunite 40 years later and become fishing buddies

The pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze. He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage. But his co-pilot stared at the same horrible vision.

“My God, this is a nightmare,” the co-pilot said.

“He’s going to destroy us,” the pilot agreed.

The men were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip. It was five days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled American B-17 bomber for the kill.

The B-17 pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission. His bomber had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone in the skies above Germany. Half his crew was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns.

But when Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer “Pinky” Luke, looked at the fighter pilot again, something odd happened. The German didn’t pull the trigger. He nodded at Brown instead. What happened next was one of the most remarkable acts of chivalry recorded during World War II. Years later, Brown would track down his would-be executioner for a reunion that reduced both men to tears.

Living by the code

People love to hear war stories about great generals or crack troops such as Seal Team 6, the Navy unit that killed Osama bin Laden. But there is another side of war that’s seldom explored: Why do some soldiers risk their lives to save their enemies and, in some cases, develop a deep bond with them that outlives war?

And are such acts of chivalry obsolete in an age of drone strikes and terrorism?

Charles Brown was on his first combat mission during World War II when he met an enemy unlike any other.

Those are the kinds of questions Brown’s story raises. His encounter with the German fighter pilot is beautifully told in a New York Times best-selling book, “A Higher Call.” The book explains how that aerial encounter reverberated in both men’s lives for more than 50 years.

“The war left them in turmoil,” says Adam Makos, who wrote the book with Larry Alexander. “When they found each other, they found peace.”

Their story is extraordinary, but it’s not unique. Union and Confederate troops risked their lives to aid one another during the Civil War. British and German troops gathered for post-war reunions; some even vacationed together after World War II. One renowned American general traveled back to Vietnam to meet the man who almost wiped out his battalion, and the two men hugged and prayed together.

What is this bond that surfaces between enemies during and after battle?

It’s called the warrior’s code, say soldiers and military scholars. It’s shaped cultures as diverse as the Vikings, the Samurai, the Romans and Native Americans, says Shannon E. French, author of “Code of the Warrior.”

The code is designed to protect the victor, as well as the vanquished, French says.

“People think of the rules of war primarily as a way to protect innocent civilians from being victims of atrocities,” she says. “In a much more profound sense, the rules are there to protect the people doing the actual fighting.”

The code is designed to prevent soldiers from becoming monsters. Butchering civilians, torturing prisoners, desecrating the enemies’ bodies — are all battlefield behaviors that erode a soldier’s humanity, French says.

The code is ancient as civilization itself. In Homer’s epic poem, “The Iliad,” the Greek hero Achilles breaks the code when his thirst for vengeance leads him to desecrate the body of his slain foe, the Trojan hero Hector.

“There is something worse than death, and one of those things is to completely lose your humanity.”Most warrior cultures share one belief, French says:

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The code is still needed today, French says.

Thousands of U.S. soldiers returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some have seen, and have done, things that are unfathomable.

A study of Vietnam veterans showed that those who felt as if they had participated in dishonorable behavior during the war or saw the Vietnamese as subhuman experienced more post-traumatic stress disorder, French says.

Drone warfare represents a new threat to soldiers’ humanity, French says.

The Pentagon recently announced it would award a new Distinguished Warfare Medal to soldiers who operate drones and launch cyberattacks. The medal would rank above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, two medals earned in combat.

At least 17,000 people have signed an online petition protesting the medal. The petition says awarding medals to soldiers who wage war via remote control was an “injustice” to those who risked their lives in combat.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the new medal at a February news conference.

“I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cybersystems, have changed the way wars are fought,” Panetta says. “And they’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”

Still, critics ask, is there any honor in killing an enemy by remote control?

French isn’t so sure.

“If [I’m] in the field risking and taking a life, there’s a sense that I’m putting skin in the game,” she says. “I’m taking a risk so it feels more honorable. Someone who kills at a distance — it can make them doubt. Am I truly honorable?”

The German pilot who took mercy

Revenge, not honor, is what drove 2nd Lt. Franz Stigler to jump into his fighter that chilly December day in 1943.

Stigler wasn’t just any fighter pilot. He was an ace. One more kill and he would win The Knight’s Cross, German’s highest award for valor.

Yet Stigler was driven by something deeper than glory. His older brother, August, was a fellow Luftwaffe pilot who had been killed earlier in the war. American pilots had killed Stigler’s comrades and were bombing his country’s cities.

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Stigler was standing near his fighter on a German airbase when he heard a bomber’s engine. Looking up, he saw a B-17 flying so low it looked like it was going to land. As the bomber disappeared behind some trees, Stigler tossed his cigarette aside, saluted a ground crewman and took off in pursuit.

As Stigler’s fighter rose to meet the bomber, he decided to attack it from behind. He climbed behind the sputtering bomber, squinted into his gun sight and placed his hand on the trigger. He was about to fire when he hesitated. Stigler was baffled. No one in the bomber fired at him.

He looked closer at the tail gunner. He was still, his white fleece collar soaked with blood. Stigler craned his neck to examine the rest of the bomber. Its skin had been peeled away by shells, its guns knocked out. He could see men huddled inside the plane tending the wounds of other crewmen.

Then he nudged his plane alongside the bomber’s wings and locked eyes with the pilot whose eyes were wide with shock and horror.

Franz Stigler wondered for years what happened to the American pilot he encountered in combat.

Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger off the trigger. He couldn’t shoot. It would be murder.

Stigler wasn’t just motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a code. He could trace his family’s ancestry to knights in 16th century Europe. He had once studied to be a priest.

A German pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany. If someone reported him, he would be executed.

Yet Stigler could also hear the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him:

“You follow the rules of war for you — not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.”

Alone with the crippled bomber, Stigler changed his mission. He nodded at the American pilot and began flying in formation so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground wouldn’t shoot down the slow-moving bomber. (The Luftwaffe had B-17s of its own, shot down and rebuilt for secret missions and training.) Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look at the American pilot. Then he saluted him, peeled his fighter away and returned to Germany.

“Good luck,” Stigler said to himself. “You’re in God’s hands.”

What creates the bond between enemies?

Stigler was able to recognize the common humanity of the enemy when he locked eyes with Brown. It caused him to take mercy.

That sudden recognition can spring from many sources in battle — hearing the moans of a wounded enemy; sharing a common language; or opening the wallet of an enemy and seeing pictures of his wife and children.

That respect for the enemy’s humanity typically starts at the top, some scholars say. A leader sets the tone, and the troops get the message. A military leader who embodied this approach was one of Germany’s greatest World War II commanders, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, also known as the “Desert Fox.”

One time, a group of British commandos tried to sneak behind enemy lines and assassinate Rommel in the North African desert. They failed. But Rommel insisted the commandos be buried in the same graveyard as the German soldiers who died defending him, says Steven Pressfield, author of “Killing Rommel.”

There were battle zones during World War II where that type of magnanimity was almost impossible. On the Eastern Front, German and Russian soldiers literally hated one another. And in the South Pacific, U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers took no prisoners.

At times, the terrain can force soldiers to follow the code. The North African desert during World War II was one such place, Pressfield says.

Fortunes turned quickly because so many battles were fought by fast-moving tanks and mobile units. A German unit that captured British soldiers could end up surrendering to them minutes later because the battle lines were so fluid. Also, the desert sun was so harsh that both sides knew if they left enemy prisoners stranded or mistreated, they would quickly die, Pressfield says.

Some British and German soldiers never forgot how their enemy treated them and staged reunions after the war.It was not unusual for German and British doctors to work together while taking care of wounded soldiers from both sides, Pressfield says.

“The Germans and the British used to get together for soccer matches,” Pressfield says. “It was the Desert Foxes versus the Desert Rats.”

These soldiers weren’t just engaging in nostalgia. They shared a sense of hardship. They had survived an ordeal that most people could not understand.

“In many ways, a soldier feels more of a bond with the enemy they’re fighting than with the countrymen back home,” Pressfield says. “The enemy they’re fighting is equally risking death.”

That bond could even lead to acts of loyalty after the war, says Daniel Rolph, author of “My Brother’s Keepers.”

Once, when a Union officer mortally wounded a Confederate captain during the Civil War, the Union man sang hymns and prayed with his enemy as the man took his last breaths. Before the captain died, he asked the Union officer to return his sword and revolver to his family — a request the soldier honored after the war ended, Rolph says.

“I even have an article from The New York Times in 1886 where Union soldiers who were on the pension rolls of the federal government were actually trying to transfer their money toward Confederate soldiers,” Rolph says.

These bonds can even form between enemies who do not share a language or a culture.

Harold Moore Jr. was a U.S. Army colonel who led a desperate fight depicted in the 2002 Mel Gibson film, “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young. ” In 1965, Moore lost 79 of his men fighting against a larger North Vietnamese force. It was one of the first major battles in the Vietnam War.

In 1993, Moore led some of his soldiers back to Vietnam to meet their former adversaries on the same battlefield. When they arrived, Moore met the Vietnamese officer who led troops against him, Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An.

Charles Brown, with his wife, Jackie (left), found peace after his reunion with Franz Stigler, with his wife, Hiya.

An held out his arms and greeted Moore by kissing him on both cheeks. Moore gave him his wristwatch as a token of friendship.

Moore described in an essay what happened next:

“I invited all to form a circle with arms extended around each other’s shoulders and we bowed our heads. With prayer and tears, we openly shared our painful memories.”

An died two years after meeting Moore. Moore traveled to Vietnam to pay his respects to his former enemy’s family. While visiting their home, Moore spotted a familiar object displayed in the viewing case of An’s family shrine: It was his wristwatch.

A reunion of enemies

As he watched the German fighter peel away that December day, 2nd Lt. Charles Brown wasn’t thinking of the philosophical connection between enemies. He was thinking of survival.

He flew back to his base in England and landed with barely any fuel left. After his bomber came to a stop, he leaned back in his chair and put a hand over a pocket Bible he kept in his flight jacket. Then he sat in silence.

Brown flew more missions before the war ended. Life moved on. He got married, had two daughters, supervised foreign aid for the U.S. State Department during the Vietnam War and eventually retired to Florida.

Late in life, though, the encounter with the German pilot began to gnaw at him. He started having nightmares, but in his dream there would be no act of mercy. He would awaken just before his bomber crashed.

Brown took on a new mission. He had to find that German pilot. Who was he? Why did he save my life?

On January 18, 1990, Brown received a letter. He opened it and read:He scoured military archives in the U.S. and England. He attended a pilots’ reunion and shared his story. He finally placed an ad in a German newsletter for former Luftwaffe pilots, retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the pilot.

(L-R) German Ace Franz Stigler, artist Ernie Boyett, and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown.
(L-R) German Ace Franz Stigler, artist Ernie Boyett, and B-17 pilot Charlie Brown.

“Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17, did she make it or not?”

It was Stigler. He had had left Germany after the war and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1953. He became a prosperous businessman. Now retired, Stigler told Brown that he would be in Florida come summer and “it sure would be nice to talk about our encounter.”

Brown was so excited, though, that he couldn’t wait to see Stigler. He called directory assistance for Vancouver and asked whether there was a number for a Franz Stigler. He dialed the number, and Stigler picked up.

“My God, it’s you!” Brown shouted as tears ran down his cheeks.

Brown had to do more. He wrote a letter to Stigler in which he said: “To say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU on behalf of my surviving crewmembers and their families appears totally inadequate.”

The two pilots would meet again, but this time in the lobby of a Florida hotel.

One of Brown’s friends was there to record the summer reunion. Both men looked like retired businessmen: they were plump, sporting neat ties and formal shirts. They talked about their encounter in a light, jovial tone.

The mood then changed. Someone asked Stigler what he thought about Brown. Stigler sighed and his square jaw tightened. He began to fight back tears before he said in heavily accented English:

“I love you, Charlie.”

Years later, author Makos says he understands why Stigler experienced such a surge of emotions.

Stigler had lost his brother, his friends and his country. He was virtually exiled by his countrymen after the war. There were 28,000 pilots who fought for the German air force. Only 1,200 survived, Makos says.

“The war cost him everything,” Makos says. “Charlie Brown was the only good thing that came out of World War II for Franz. It was the one thing he could be proud of.”

The meeting helped Brown as well, says his oldest daughter, Dawn Warner.

They met as enemies but Franz Stigler, on left, and Charles Brown, ended up as fishing buddies.

Brown and Stigler became pals. They would take fishing trips together. They would fly cross-country to each other homes and take road trips together to share their story at schools and veterans’ reunions. Their wives, Jackie Brown and Hiya Stigler, became friends.

Brown’s daughter says her father would worry about Stigler’s health and constantly check in on him.

“It wasn’t just for show,” she says. “They really did feel for each other. They talked about once a week.”

As his friendship with Stigler deepened, something else happened to her father, Warner says:

“The nightmares went away.”

Brown had written a letter of thanks to Stigler, but one day, he showed the extent of his gratitude. He organized a reunion of his surviving crew members, along with their extended families. He invited Stigler as a guest of honor.

During the reunion, a video was played showing all the faces of the people that now lived — children, grandchildren, relatives — because of Stigler’s act of chivalry. Stigler watched the film from his seat of honor.

“Everybody was crying, not just him,” Warner says.

Stigler and Brown died within months of each other in 2008. Stigler was 92, and Brown was 87. They had started off as enemies, became friends, and then something more.

Makos discovered what that was by accident while spending a night at Brown’s house. He was poking through Brown’s library when he came across a book on German fighter jets. Stigler had given the book to Brown. Both were country boys who loved to read about planes.

Makos opened the book and saw an inscription Stigler had written to Brown:

In 1940, I lost my only brother as a night fighter. On the 20th of December, 4 days before Christmas, I had the chance to save a B-17 from her destruction, a plane so badly damaged it was a wonder that she was still flying.

The pilot, Charlie Brown, is for me, as precious as my brother was.

Thanks Charlie.

Your Brother,

Franz

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John Shelby Spong
An Open Letter to My Readers

This week, my column takes the form of a letter to my readers. It is an unusual format, but it speaks to the unusual occurrences in our nation this past week. I hope you will read it. I hope you will respond to it.

Dear Friends,

I am just back from a lecture tour of Europe with a focus on the launch of a French translation of my book: Born of a Woman: A Bishop Re-Thinks the Virgin Birth and the Place of Women in a Male-Dominated Church. It was an exciting and stretching trip about which I will be writing in future weeks.

I returned home, however, to one of the most extraordinary weeks in the life of our nation. So I wanted to use my column this week to reflect on these historic events.

First, there was the cruel murder of nine worshipers, including the pastor at an AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This horrendous act, motivated as it was by overt racial hatred, seemed, in almost a miraculous way, to bring the latent racism present just beneath the surface of this nation’s life to a head. More than that this act even appeared to “lance’ that residual racism as one might do to a boil, allowing the infection to drain and assisting the healing process to begin. Perhaps it was the witness of the grieving members of that Charleston Christian congregation, who offered both their forgiveness and God’s forgiveness, to the willful killer of their loved ones that did it. In any event, across the South, politicians began to say that it is time to remove the Confederate flag from public places. It is time to stop efforts to make minority voting difficult. It is time to remove the remaining vestiges of slavery from our society. Perhaps this was best symbolized when South Carolina’s Republican State Senator, Paul Thurmond, who in calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol in Columbia said: “I want to be on the right side of history.” He is the son of former United States Senator Strom Thurmond, one of America’s most overt racial agitators and perpetrators in the previous generation, a fact that was not lost on his audience. President Obama, in his role as “pastor in chief,” then spoke to a grieving nation at the funeral in Charleston, in which he brought history and healing together. He never looked or acted more presidential, even as he led the congregation in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

Second, there was the 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the Affirmative Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” Without endorsing every proviso of this now established law of the land, what the Court did was to make it clear for the first time, that health care in America is a right of citizenship, not a privilege for those who can afford it. It was an amazing moment. That principle finally aligns the United States with all of the other developed nations of the world. It was, thus, a signal victory for a caring society.

Third, the next day the Supreme Court, this time by a 5-4 majority, confirmed the fact that every citizen in every state of this nation, regardless of their differences in sexual orientation, has the same guaranteed right to marriage and family life. No state can now deny either the privilege of marriage, or any of its obvious legal advantages, to any citizen. It was a decision that declared that from this moment on, before the law and the Constitution, there will be no second class citizenship.

When I heard the breaking news announcing this historic decision, tears literally flowed down my cheeks. Memories of a struggle long engaged flooded my mind. I hope you will indulge me as I share some of these with you.

When I was the Bishop of Newark from 1976-2000, I worked, together with the clergy and the people of that diocese, for this day to come. It was a long but tireless struggle. A task force in our Diocese, headed by the late Rev. Dr. Nelson Thayer, an Episcopal priest and a member of the faculty of the Theological School of Drew University, called for this step to be taken as long ago as 1985! After a year of study in our congregations our diocese then affirmed this step by majority vote of its clergy and lay people in our convention of 1986. Our clergy from that moment on were encouraged to “bless the sacred vows of gay and lesbian Christians,” at a time when the State of New Jersey would not allow that to be called marriage. That was also a time when the larger Episcopal Church still sought to discipline or remove those clergy who dared to take these steps. Those years were the context out of which I wrote my book on changing attitudes toward human sexuality, entitled: Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. That book, commissioned by Abingdon Press of the United Methodist Church was then dropped under pressure from conservative Methodist sources just four weeks before its publication. It was subsequently picked up and published in September of 1988 by Harper/Collins. In the first six months of that book’s life it sold more copies than every book I had ever written before had done in their total published life. It also helped to fuel the debate that began to be engaged in all of America’s churches.

On December 16, 1989, I took the next step in what I believed was a prophetic witness. In a packed All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, encouraged by the leaders of this diocese and on behalf of the clergy and people within it, I ordained the Rev. Robert Williams to the priesthood of my church. He was the first openly gay man, living in a publicly acknowledged and committed partnership, ever to be ordained in the Episcopal Church or in the Anglican Communion. It was a courageous and an obviously controversial decision. To conduct this ordination service we had to walk through lines of angry, shouting, placard-carrying picketers. The loudest and angriest of these picketers was a Pentecostal preacher. We also rode the storm of controversy in the aftermath of that ordination. It came from both ecclesiastical and political sources. The next day this action and our diocese were covered in front page newspaper stories across the land. This ordination played every thirty minutes on cable television’s Headline News channel for twenty-four hours. The next week it was the national religion “story of the week” in both Time and Newsweek. The presiding bishop of my church, the Right Reverend Edmund Browning, responded by writing me a condemning letter, despite the fact that I knew that he agreed with me on this action. From January until September of 1990 my wife and I crisscrossed this nation, appearing on every radio and television show to which we could secure an invitation and being interviewed by the print media wherever possible. It was a specific effort to build public support with which to counter the leadership of my church. I used every available political tactic to win this ecclesiastical battle.

In September of that year in a vote taken at a meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in Washington, D. C., my diocese and I as its bishop, were officially condemned for taking this action. The vote, however, was a startling one to those who were so deeply upset and angry and it was also a turning point. The resolution of the bishops “to disassociate themselves from the Bishop of Newark and his Diocese for carrying out this ‘irregular ordination” was only passed by a vote of 78-74 with two abstentions! That was far closer than anyone had believed possible. I was one of the two abstentions. I guess I did not know how to vote on whether I wanted to associate with myself or not! Following that vote, by a previous arrangement with the Presiding Bishop of my church, who had by now voted for me rather than against me, I was recognized to speak. I did so for forty-five minutes. It was purple-passionate oratory in which I traced my own changing attitudes from the overt homophobia taught to me by the church of my youth and undergirded by quotations from the Bible lifted primarily out of the book of Leviticus, to the place where I was willing to put my career on the line in order to be an advocate for the full inclusion of homosexual people in the life of both our nation and my church. I asserted my firm belief that the only “sin” of which homosexual people might be held to be guilty was that they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. Homosexuality, I informed my fellow bishops, had come to be newly understood by me, chiefly through the work and the friendship of Dr. Robert Lahita, a member of the faculty at the Cornell School of Medicine in New York City. I now saw it as a “given” not a “chosen.” Homosexuality, I continued, is something that one “is” not something that one “does.” Homosexuality thus was no different in its moral character from being left handed or having a particular skin pigmentation or a particular eye color. To discriminate against other human beings because of a “given” in their lives could never be moral. As a Christian I too sought to undergird my new attitude with biblical quotations. Jesus was quoted in the Bible as having said: “Come unto me all ye.” He did not say: “some of ye.” No one was ever portrayed in the Bible as rejected by him. Jesus was also quoted as having said: “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” No one can give life by being prejudiced against who or what a person is. The world might judge a person’s doing, but not a person’s being. No church should ever sing: “Just as I am without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come,” unless the members of that church are prepared to welcome those who presented themselves in response to this invitation. Anything else is sheer hypocrisy.

Following that speech, between ten and twelve bishops crowded around my desk to tell me that if they had heard what I had to say before they voted, they would have changed their vote. At that moment in September of 1990, I knew that the majority of the Episcopal bishops had now walked beyond this dying cultural prejudice. That majority has never been lost in the House of Bishops from that day to this. Later that night, two bishops came out of the closet to me. Both of them were married. One had voted to disassociate from me. The other had voted against doing so.

When I retired as the bishop of this diocese in 2000, I had thirty-five out of the closet, ordained gay and lesbian clergy serving in the ranks of our priesthood. Thirty-one of them lived openly with their partners. They were wonderful, effective, loving priests and pastors. I was proud to be their bishop. I still am. They helped to make me whole.

So, on June 26, 2015, by a majority vote of the highest court of this land, the struggle for full equality for the LGBT community has now been established. The question is now asked as to whether clergy will be “forced” to do gay marriages. In the diocese I once represented but which is now under the leadership of our bishop, and my close friend, the Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, I think the world can be certain that the Episcopal clergy there are ready, willing and able to offer the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and all of the other ministries of the church to all our people without exception. The Christian Church is and must always be a “Come as you are” party. This prejudice of the ages has now been thrown onto the scrapheap of history.

It was a very good week for our nation. I rejoice in it, welcome it and give thanks to God for it. The world and the church have the opportunity today to be more profoundly Christian than we were able to be just last week. That is a powerful and a welcomed realization.

John Shelby Spong

week a

WASHINGTON, JUNE 25, 2015 —US-COURT-The Supreme Court rescued President Obama’s health care law on Thursday for the second time in three years, rejecting a conservative challenge to the law’s financial structure that could have proved fatal.  By a vote of 6-3, the justices ruled that insurance subsidies created by the health law can be offered in both state and federal health care exchanges, or marketplaces, putting the landmark 2010 statute on solid legal footing for the immediate future and handing the law’s opponents a sound defeat.

week 5

CHARLESTON, SC – JUNE 25: First Of Charleston Church Shooting Victims Laid To Rest:  Brandon Risher comforts his mother, Sharon Risher, during the funeral service for her mother, Ethel Lance, 70, who was one of nine victims of a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, during her funeral service at Royal Missionary Baptist Church, on June 25, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21 years old, is accused of killing the nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation’s oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

week 3

US-SHOOTING-CHARLESTON A family member of Emanuel AME Church shooting victim Ethel Lance prays during the funeral at the Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, South Carolina, June 25, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

week 1

President Obama Joins Mourners At Funeral Of Rev. Clementa Pinckney CHARLESTON, SC – JUNE 26: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the eulogy for South Carolina state senator and Rev. Clementa Pinckney during Pinckney’s funeral service June 26, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Suspected shooter Dylann Roof, 21, is accused of killing nine people on June 17th during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation’s oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

week 2

President Obama Speaks On Supreme Court Ruling In Favor Of Gay Marriage WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 26: U.S. President Barack Obama gives remarks on the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, in the Rose Garden at the White House June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

week 7

US-COURT-GAY-MARRIAGE-RIGHTS  People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation’s highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

week 6

Celebrations Take Part Across Country As Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Gay Marriage–ANN ARBOR, MI – JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage on June 26th, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

week 8

The US Episcopal Church voted to let gay couples wed in its religious ceremonies but clergy can opt out of officiating–SALT LAKE CITY, NEVADA, JULY 1, 2015, 11:30PM ET: The U.S. Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to let gay couples wed in the denomination’s religious ceremonies, reinforcing its support for same-sex nuptials days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.  The Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago, a lesbian married to a fellow Episcopal priest, hugged fellow supporters on Wednesday and said, “We’re all included now.”  The Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, became in 2012 the largest U.S. religious denomination to approve a liturgy for clergy to use in blessing same-sex unions….the faith’s House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops, which overwhelmingly approved the measure in a separate vote on Tuesday.  “In 1976, the Church promised full and equal claim to LGBT members, and we’ve spent those years making that resolution a reality,” said the Rev. Susan Russell of the Diocese of Los Angeles.  (cbs photo)

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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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