A Night Out

Last week, our friendly neighborhood queer family org, Our Family Coalition, held a Night Out, the first of what I will be annual spirit- and fund-raiserey to-do’s.  OFC staff, its board, and its members have collectively worked their tails off on behalf of our families of late. We celebrated those accomplishments, and girded our loins for the major work ahead (come what may with the California Supreme Court’s Prop 8 ruling).  

Grey Goose vodka aided in the loin-girding by donating their wares (and the mix-masters to dole it out), and we washed down the gourmet appetizers with various martini- and cosmo-esque beverages, milling about in the lobby of a downtown arts center, all to the tunes of a jazz combo. I would like to note at this point that some of us, I will not name names, do not get out often enough.  To open, martini-slinging bars. With their sweeties, in swanky attire.  At events where they have an organization’s logo etched in a block of ice.  Some of us have never even clapped eyes on a logo etched in ice before, and hope that we never have to explain how such a feat is accomplished, should our children one day ask. Some of us still are hoping our children don’t ask us about instant replays and microwave radiation, and do not feel up to ice-etched logos.

A staffer from state senator Mark Leno’s office quipped to me, “This is the first event that OFC has had in ten years that hasn’t involved face painting and a bouncey house.”  We both agreed that this alone made it a hit. Not that we don’t love the people whose faces get painted, and who ricochet around in bouncey houses. But once in a while, it’s good to put the proverbial oxygen mask on oneself.

The real oxygenating highlight of the evening were the remarks by OFC board members, OFC director Judy Appel, and the two recipients of the event’s first Community Partner awards: San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and Oakland Pastor Lynice Pinkard.  Appel got at the root, reminding us that “our fight for equality has to happen in connection with, conjunction with, and collaboration with people who experience inequality every day.”  Dufty’s remarks were pockmarked with hilarity and verve and anecdote, such as one day in the life of his public politician’s parenthood, when he and his daughter went from one event, where she begged to have red glitter tossed in her hair by one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, to another presided over by San Francisco Archbishop Niederauer at the Most Holy Redeemer Church.  

The Reverend Lynice Pinkard, Senior Pastor of the justice-loving First Congregational Church of Oakland, brought down the house and gave religion to any of us who previously didn’t have any.  After you read her words, you’ll know why I ran up to her and begged for the opportunity to reprint them here for you all.  [For the full effect, before you read, listen for a moment to her voice, here in her Palm Sunday sermon. Yes, her sermons are podcast, and you should run, not walk, to your podcast subscription dealie and stream them into your lives, if you aren’t near downtown Oakland of a Sunday morning.]

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the love of my life, Cassandra McCraw. You’ve all heard the song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” She is both the wind and the wings.

First, I want to thank Our Family Coalition from the bottom of my heart for the privilege of this honor, and for giving me an opportunity to come out as a pastor. But I want you to know that I am no stereotypical Christian pastor. About fifteen years ago, when I was first considering ordination, I decided in spite of warnings from a number of people to appeal for ordination to the denomination in which I was raised. Being the feral, buck-wild, undomesticated dyke that I am, it occurred to me that I should not be daunted, so I scheduled an ordination interview. About midway through the interview, one of the committee members asked if I was “practicing homosexuality.” I informed her that I had not been practicing since I was six or seven, that indeed now I am good at it and that I could provide references if she were interested.

Apparently, some people at the Our Family Coalition also think that I am good at homosexuality.

Now seriously, what I really want to do, with all the love in my heart, is to honor you, OFC.

I want to talk with you for a few moments this evening about what it has meant for the OFC to support the very existence of queer families-even in the face of opposition-to model what it means to serve love, a love that breaks the rules, with your very life. OFC challenges conventional notions of who may love whom, and in this way queer people have the potential to show forth, in a particularly vivid way, the Spirit-given capacity to love in spite of all obstacles-in spite of homophobia, in spite of state sanctions, in spite of family expectations, in spite of workplace discrimination, in spite of rejection from our religious communities, in spite of all of the accumulated wounds incurred by being people who do not conform to cultural norms. The radical notion embodied in this kind of queerness is the notion that anyone can love everyone. We have the capacity to make a circle with NO ONE OUTSIDE IT, to define ourselves as one interconnected life community. This is a radical act in a culture driven by self-interest.

Queer families have the potential to challenge conventional ways of being by fostering and affirming deep bonds of affection. Through these bonds we become ready and willing to risk our lives for each other. Despite a national obsession with “traditional family values,” we live in a culture that teaches us to prize material wealth, productivity, and status above all else, we may rarely, if ever, feel seen by another human being, much less experience authentic, self-giving love from someone. Is it any wonder, then, that we venerate the family-the one institution that celebrates loving relationship above wealth and status? OFC makes TRUE family values possible.

Why? Because in order to be truly queer-truly dislocated from conventional ways of being-we must daily resist the temptation to hoard, regulate, and limit love. OFC and the queer families that they serve strengthen everybody’s capacity to release love outward into the communities they touch. And they are teaching us by their work to queer the whole world.

The challenge facing queer people in this historical moment, following the passage of Proposition 8, is to use even this setback as a catalyst to revolutionary love. God has created us with the capacity to use EVERY circumstance as an opportunity to love. In this instance, that means resisting the impulse to scapegoat other communities, the impulse to retreat into entrenched identity positions, and the impulse to linger over and fetishize our own wounds until they become idols that prevent us from loving across boundaries.

Identity politics, like regressive notions of family, trap us in stories of “us” and “them,” creating an oppositional force to fight against. Focusing on the self-interest of our own identity groups, we get so caught up in resenting, protesting, resisting, and fighting off the deathliness that we project onto the oppositional force that we never get around to creating life, and worse, we reproduce our own oppression by subjugating others. The LGBTQ community has often fallen into this trap.

This is not queerness, nor is it real family. This is simply business as usual.

OFC is teaching us to transgress, to think of queerness in terms of radical love across boundaries, we come into contact with the fullness of life community. We can suddenly see that each of us is one cell in a vital living organism that is the earth ecosystem. As cells, we are not separate from anything or anyone. My life and my freedom is dependent–intricately bound up with–your life and your freedom. I become fully human and fully alive by honoring, serving, protecting, and fighting for your full humanity and full aliveness, no matter who you are. Within this paradigm, we can use what is killing us to connect to the suffering of everyone else on the planet.  We can enter into solidarity with all life and work together for our common liberation.

Our status as love warriors gives us a unique power. Outside of the power to shout and shoot, outside the power of the empire, there are yet other forms of power which arise out of our being bound up with the ground of life, the river of life, the tree of life. The grass that grows into the light through asphalt also has power: not power to command, to rule, to manipulate, but a power which comes to life from a relationship. This is the power of queer family. This the power of Our Family Coalition.

Nothing left to say, but Amen! And pass the justice.


7 thoughts on “A Night Out”

  1. Don’t tell my wife, but I think I’m in love.

    Seriously, thank you for this post. As a lifelong Christian pursuing ordained ministry, I have long struggled against the us/them, black and white, neat categories that don’t really fit any of us. It was simply my good fortune to be in a church that struggled with me, rather than against me: the very church in which Rev. Pinkard has found a place. And so I learned that Christianity is about love; radical, risky, often painful love and equally powerful grace.

    It infuriates me that this voice in Christianity is not the voice that gets heard, that we allow those who would divide and exclude to speak for the faith as a whole. Someone can say “Christianity is anti-gay”, and we don’t challenge that; we let God be hijacked by hate.

    So thank you, LD, for giving Rev. Pinkard a chance to preach beyond the choir. May the love swell until it flows over everything in its path.

    • You are so very welcome, rev2bebt! My thorough pleasure.

      Rev. Pinkard is a goddsend (as, she would say, are we all). A long tall drink of water for a thirsty people. And so on. Kindling my strong desire to republish her speech was that very hope you mention: that her voice might reach some of us who have only or mostly heard that “Christianity is about hating gay people” malarkey.

      Clearly the voices of love within Christianity — particularly those within the LDS and Roman Catholic branches of it — have a righteous challenge, to get theirs heard over the loud braying of the homophobes and heterosexists.

      The base of operations for my election day No on Prop 8 work was another United Church of Christ congregation, in Berkeley. And the list of religious organizations working day and night to try to defeat Prop 8 included other UCC congregations, as well as Episcopalians, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and more. (Wikipedia has it cataloged here; the No on 8 site, which had a list on their About page, is mysteriously inaccessible right now).

  2. “But once in a while, it’s good to put the proverbial oxygen mask on oneself.”

    You know, I had never before thought about how a martini glass looks like an oxygen mask. Huh.

  3. I was so mesmerized by the description (and thought) of the drinking, adult conversation and swanky attire that I was barely conscious by the time I got to the moving words of the Rev.

    • Ruh roh. A good thing? A not-so good thing? So her words worked into and revived a pliant subject? (Don’t want it to be the other option.)

      That’s how it worked on us. Then two board members finished up the evening with a renewed appeal for fiscal support. I forked over a Jackson quicker’n you can say Bob’s Your Gay Uncle.

  4. Thank you for making the effort to republish this.

    It’s good to know there are people out there who think like this. If I knew more of them in real life, I might even rethink my stance on going to church.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. To you and the good Reverend.

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