Christmas Sermon, 2013

“I love you.”

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words were tentative, soft and nervous. They were spoken by a third grader- me.
It was the first time I had ever said them to anyone outside my immediate family.

It was a watershed moment for me.

You see, there was this girl who was amazing. She liked all the things I liked, hated all the things I hated, she was smart and pretty and best of all she liked me. She thought I was funny- and cute.

I was.

But I didn’t know what to do about it- I was eight.

I knew that people you liked were kind of like being part of your family. I felt like I wanted to let her know I thought she was awesome- but then I panicked. We were sitting together on the swings after lunch and I just felt the words rising up inside of me.

The words were out of my mouth before I knew what to do.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “What have I done?”

And then- “What if she doesn’t say it back?”

Have you been there?

Lots of rules about relationships.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow.

Don’t be insulting. Don’t be demanding.

Don’t say I love you first….

Hmmm.

So. Christmas! I love Christmas. I love the music.

“Joy to The World! ….

“Silent Night….

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing….

“O Little Town of Bethlehem…..

“Angels we have heard on high…..

“O Holy Night…..

“Come, they told me….”

Words and sounds so familiar in this season. I bet as I was saying the words, some of you started singing the tunes.

What’s your favorite Christmas Carol? I have two- My favorite is “O Holy Night”. Mostly because it’s so filled with awe.

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….
O Night- divine- O-o night when Christ was born”.

Gorgeous.

It’s a poignant reminder that wonder and awe need to be a daily part of life.

Christmas is a time for Joy.

It’s why I also love “Joy to the World”.
“Let every heart prepare him room…”

Joy is kind of tricky. I tried to explain it to a kid last week who asked, “What’s the difference between being happy and being joyful?”

Like I said- tricky.

I was kind of proud of my answer.

“Well, it’s a lot like like happiness- only better.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I think happiness is about being satisfied,” I said. “Joy is about being loved.”

Yeah. Still proud of my answer.

Today’s Christmas. Tomorrow it will all be over. And millions of dollars will have been spent and tons of food will be eaten and people will still be dying of hunger and disease and only have filthy water to drink.

Except that it’s not over. We forget- Christmas is a season. It actually goes for twelve days- it doesn’t end until January 6th. That’s because the church recognizes that it’s not just a day- it’s a season- and sometimes it takes a whole season to get it right.

So we have presents and food and trees and lights- but that’s not what it’s really about. Not really.

It’s about a story. A story that still is being written.

St Theodore had some very important words to add to this story- you probably remember him-

You don’t remember St Theodore?  St Theodore Geisel?
The world knows him as Dr Seuss. Remember this?:

He stared down at Who-ville!

The Grinch popped his eyes.

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

HE HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

IT CAME!

Somehow or other it came just the same!

And the Grinch with Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?

“It came without ribbons it came without tags!

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore-

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?

Well, In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.

And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast.

And he- HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast.

If those aren’t the words and insight of a saint, I don’t know what is….

Today we are here to celebrate.

We’re celebrating something very special. So with apologies to St Theodore:

We’re not celebrating happiness- although happiness is okay- we’re here

-here as Christians to celebrate JOY.

Joy comes when “I love you” is said and it’s felt,

It comes from the feeling your heart will just melt.

Today is the day that we gather to see

Just how much our God loves us-

Loves you and loves me!

He said it in Bethlehem with a babe in a stall,

He said it real clearly “I love-

love you all!”

But the real trick of Christmas- the thing that we lack

Is the courage all year just to whisper it back.

Sometimes we’re shy and sometimes we’re scared

But the love of this God is just meant to be shared!

He’s saying “I love you” with the birth of this baby

And Jesus still tells us- and he doesn’t say “Maybe.”

It’s true and it’s real- we just have to answer.

It’s not time to dawdle- it’s time to move faster!

Remember that third grade kid at the beginning of this? Me?

Well, she said it back to me. And even though things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped back in the third grade, we’re still in touch. And I still love her..

In fact, she told me she loved me just last week.

And all I can say is it still brings me joy.

Today, we celebrate God saying “I love you.” And it’s meant with deadly seriousness- and complete joy and selflessness. No games.

Today God says “I love you.” And means it.

Always means it.

Even when we don’t say it back.

MT World AIDS Day Award Acceptance Speech

Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up in a small town- in a time when things were said to be simple- but they were not.

For him.

He was unlike the other kids in ways that weren’t always noticeable to the people around him. He felt things a bit more keenly. He noticed things that other kids didn’t. He wasn’t great at sports, he wasn’t big and strong.

But he was smart.

And sometimes that meant he got picked on even more than other kids.

So he used that.

It made him tough. His parents were good, loving people. His church provided comfort. His books helped him escape.

Maybe it was God, maybe it was chance- it doesn’t really matter what made him different. He just was.

The fact remained that this boy- indistinguishable from a million other little boys- just wanted to be loved, even though he was different.

And when he grew up, he still wanted to be loved – sometimes desperately. Sometimes he trusted people who weren’t trustworthy- simply because the promise of love is often enough to make us overlook danger and potential tragedy.

The promise of love.

That’s what brings us here today.

That’s why I got infected. That’s how I got infected.

The promise of love. Not what you think about when you think of AIDS.

But I want you to think about it.

When I moved back to Montana almost seven years ago, I made a promise: that no gay kid would ever be so starved for love and support- would not be so handicapped by shame- that they couldn’t stay here and have a happy, successful, healthy and safe life if they wanted to. I would do everything in my power to make it happen.

So I came out as gay- and HIV positive- just to show that there is no shame in having a disease. It’s a virus, it’s not a judgment.

A microscopic being that happens to live in my body. And I want to keep it from living in any one else’s.

And so do you, I hope.

This disease  has been around for over three decades. And yet the state of Montana has never allocated state funds for its prevention. Not a penny.

Which begs the question- why?

Is it because of the shame at how the disease is transmitted?

Is it because we might have to talk about sex, needles, addiction and shame and fear?

Isn’t thirty two years long enough to avoid having this hard conversation?

In the Montana that little boy grew up in- that I grew up in- we prided ourselves on helping out where it was needed. We filled sandbags, we stopped when it looked like people were in trouble on the road, we ran to the fire house when the siren rang.

But not for HIV. Not for AIDS. Well, let me correct that.

A few very brave people did stand up. They braved ridicule and stigma to hold candlelight vigils and to hold the hands of people whose parents were too afraid to touch them. I know. I was there. I held some of those hands. And so did Laurie Kops and probably a few others in this room.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but it’s important that we get back to something very basic here in the state of Montana.

Caring for our people.

ALL people.

It’s time to recognize that all people deserve the promise of love in their lives. Deserve the dignity and respect that I believe God gives everyone simply by being born. Deserves the respect of having information and materials at their disposal provided by the state that is charged with enabling public health and well-being.  It’s what I want out of my taxes- I hope it’s what you want from yours.

There are a few legislators here you can tackle on the way out….

My life is good. I have family that love me, a partner who is always there for me and more friends than any man ever deserves.

But it could be better.

Somewhere in the state of Montana there is a kid who doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of love.

And he’s part of our responsibility. Because he does deserve love. And he deserves help to be healthy about it.

Shame is keeping us from health.

Kinda crazy, isn’t it?

It’s time to have those hard conversations.

It’s time to stop shame in its tracks.

It’s time to return the promise of love to all Montanans.

Thank you for listening- and for this awesome award.

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2013 World AIDS Day honorees Stephanie Cole, Chris Gehring, Chantz Thilmony, Greg Smith Lisa Fairman with Gov Bullock and DPHHS Director Opper

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Me and a really cool Governor

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Tiny Westboro Baptist Church Protest Fails Hilariously In Montana, Sparks Huge Pro-LGBT Rally

From the Huffington Post:

In what has become something of a regular occurrence, a small protest attempt by anti-gay extremists of the Westboro Baptist Church on Monday succeeded only in giving rise to a much larger counter-demonstration based on tolerance, LGBT rights and ice cream.

About five members of the Kansas-based congregation showed up in Bozeman, Mont.to picket Montana State University and a local high school over their commitment to teaching students that it is okay to be gay. While the tiny group could have gone unnoticed on its own, their presence brought a much larger spectacle — hundreds of people unified against the Westboro Baptist Church’s message of hate.

Proud of my town- I was unable to be there, but I can’t say enough about the love and support that was shown. I believe that every challenge deserves a thoughtful response- and we had one.

READ IT ALL HERE

 

Letting Harmony Find You

Harmony California

Harmony California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

From my sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Billings yesterday:

 

I love the word “harmony”.

 

Besides being just a musical term, it also describes being in balance.

 

Sometimes it takes some time to find that balance- I’d like to tell you a little bit about the time it’s taken me….

 

I was born in Butte and raised in Twin Bridges. My Dad was a rancher, my mom stayed home with me and my brother and sister. From an early age, I knew I was different. I really couldn’t have put my finger on it when I was young, but I seemed to be more sensitive than other boys my age, more compassionate about things that could hurt.

 

In fact, I actively avoided rough games and play. I liked to read- and I read constantly- often about far away places, places that I might be able to go to when I was older- where people might understand me.

 

It’s hard to find harmony when your insides are saying one thing- and the world is telling  you its opposite. But I did find it sometimes.

 

When I was alone- in my room or in the woods.

 

When I was reading a great book.

 

When I was in the quiet of my church.

 

In fact, church was probably my salvation. I grew up Catholic, and I loved all of the rituals and music of our little church. I loved that the priest took an interest in me, didn’t think I was weird, encouraged me in reading and study and conversation. I felt the harmony.

 

But then, around twelve or thirteen, something happened.

 

I realized that the difference I felt wasn’t just about the way I saw and felt the world, it was about how I felt and saw other people.

 

I learned that other boys my age wanted to chse girls and that other girls my age wanted to chase boys- not that they’d know what to do when they caught them- but that wasn’t what I wanted.

 

It was confusing. I had crushes on older boys. Felt myself looking at my classmates in the shower during gym. And it terrified me, because I knew it was bad. I knew that I was one of those people that were really monsters, freaks. Teachers said so- kids said so- the church said so. “Queer” was evil. We played smear the queer at recess. It never went well for the “Queer”. The word “Fag” was a term of derision worse than “Nazi”, or “Communist”.

 

And that’s what I knew I was.

 

A Queer. A Faggot. And it was bad.

 

That’s when I lost the harmony.

 

It was important for my survival 35 years ago- as it sadly still is for kids today- that I not be detected. That I not be singled out. I had to hide.

 

So I did. I no longer trusted the goodness of my nature. My desires were to be obliterated out of necessity. It wasn’t safe.

 

I pretty much hid my sexuality in high school and college- with brief moments of harmony when I found others like me, but mostly, I was just working hard to keep myself from being fully seen. And that culminated in my becoming a priest.

 

And not just any priest. I went to seminary in Rome. I knew people in the Vatican. I found other gay men who were following the same path I was and we supported each other.

 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that of all the people in seminary with me, the ones that later got into some kind of trouble were the ones who were in denial about their sexuality- the ones without any support.

 

Harmony actually found me again for a while.

 

I loved the work, I loved the people. But it got tiring.

 

I got tired of not being seen for the real me. I got depressed because the official church position on my particular sexuality was that we were all “fundamentally disordered”. It’s hard to believe in an institution that discards as irrelevant your particular, strong and direct experience. It’s hard to maintain day after day the lie.

 

I tried everything.

 

I worked harder. I got a dog. I bought a truck. Nothing helped. Finally, I got counseling.

 

What took me so long?

 

Denial can be a very high and thick wall- especially if you lay each brick in desperation, in fear for your very life. I had denied my experience.  I was hiding from harmony- only I didn’t know it at the time.

 

What brought me out was something ordinary.

 

I fell in love. Hard.

 

I heard the notes of harmony again. Sometimes- when I just let myself be loved by this man- it was more like a symphony.

 

I came to realize that my experience hadn’t conflicted with my faith at all- it just conflicted with the interpretation of that faith by others. In one sense, LGBT people aren’t asked by their churches to inform the faith- they’re asked to stand outside and accept the information given by others- some of whom are hiding behind their own self-built walls of shame and denial.

 

I also realized that I hadn’t allowed myself the common dignity of reflecting honestly on my life before making promises to a church that would never accept me as the man I really was.

 

Ironically, I had preached “the truth will set you free” a million times- but it never sank in until I was freed to be myself. To have compassion for myself. To create a space of understanding in myself.

 

As a therapist, I know the biggest breakthroughs often come from uncovering the lies that we tell ourselves. “What’s the lie?

 

But it has to be done with compassion.

 

I spent years dealing with the fallout of my denial. That initial relationship didn’t last. I spent time doing drugs, having meaningless sex, until I had  spiritual breakthrough just weeks before I was diagnosed with HIV.

 

I’m not sure if we have the time for me to into it here, but here’s what I walked away with: “Nothing can go wrong” (You can read about it here)

 

Nothing.

 

In my best moments, I believe this.

 

In my worst moments, I forget this and struggle to make the world make sense by bending it to my will.

 

The complete opposite of what I should be doing.

 

You see, there’s nothing more important than the recognition of reality. Loving what is- not what should or could be- loving what is. Right here, right now.

 

It doesn’t mean we have to stay in it forever, we just have to let the total reality of the present moment sink in if we want to have fulfilling and satisfying lives.

 

And yes- sometimes pain is a part of the present reality.

 

But it’s always temporary.

 

Notice I said “pain”, not “suffering”. Suffering is almost always optional.

 

Here’s my definition of suffering: “Suffering. Noun. Remembering past pain in a way that traumatizes; imagining future pain in a way that traumatizes; creating stories about pain that doesn’t exist- either from the past or future. Creating or re-creating unnecessary pain.”

 

What do you think of that?

 

I’ve come to understand that it’s not about making things happen, it’s about allowing things to happen- and finding my place in them.

 

It’s not about bending the world to my will, its about truly looking at the world and knowing that I have a place in it- even if it’s not immediately evident.

 

It’s about feeling loved. By everything. There’s music there….

 

How do you do that?

 

Practice. And by listening for it.

 

How do musicians get the feel of harmonizing? Practice. And by realizing they won’t get it right every time. By not needing it to be perfect. You have to stop and listen.

 

Because nothing can go wrong.

 

Today, I have a man that loves me more than anything else in the world. I believe that. And I love him the same way. We have a house and dogs and a very satisfying life together. I work with LGBT people, helping them to be happy. I work with HIV+ people, helping them to be happy and healthy. I’m doing things that satisfy me.

 

Some have said “You’ve overcome so much to get where you are today- how did you do it?”

 

“Yeah, overcoming your own sense of self-importance and shame and denial is a bitch- but we all have to do it eventually. On earth or in heaven, I guess.”

 

It’s not the circumstances- it’s how you see them.

 

I believe prayer is trying to see with God’s eyes, not vice-versa. That’s the only way it makes sense. Why would I pray for anything but to see the truth?

 

Well, maybe to hear the music…. :)

 

We all know the tune- and I believe that we all have the power to discover the harmony. I believe that sooner or later, the harmony will find us- especially if we slow down, quiet ourselves and wait for it.

 

And that music is so beautiful and rich.

 

May harmony find you.

 

Amen.

 

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Recently, I have been turning toward the Beatitudes. I have looked at them from every direction and wondered why more “Christians” haven’t taken to them as a way of life. The one that really struck me today was Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

All my life, I have been a peacemaker. (Well, okay, there was one period of about 5 years where I tried to stir up as much drama with my family as I could. . .but let’s not dwell on the past) I don’t like it when people fight and I just want to see people get along.

I seem to have been born with a highly developed sense of compassion and empathy. I used to (and still do) befriend what my mom lovingly termed, “The Unlovables.” These were the kids that got picked on in school because they were different. The kids that had no friends. I was constantly asking questions as to why people were being treated so badly and my heart regularly broke for them. I also have to admit (much to my chagrin) that I got a little teary at the end of Dangerous Liaisons when I watched it in high school. My heart broke for Glenn Close’s character. Yes, she brought most of it on herself, but did she really deserve to be treated so harshly by the very society that created her? Where was the compassion? I know, I know. . .it’s silly.

There have been many inspirations for me over the years: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King, Jr. And more recently, there have been some inspirations from closer to home: Liz Welch of the ACLU Montana, Gregory Smith of the Pride Foundation, Caitlin Copple, Jamie Greer, Edie Windsor just to name a few. These are the “Children of God.”

I have seen some very negative posts lately. I have even created one. And if you saw my last post, you will also know that I have issued an apology in the interest of being a peacemaker. I do not presume to know the mind of God. I would be leery of anyone who says they do. However, I listen to the “Still, small Voice” inside and I know what God says to me. And it may not be the same thing that God says to you. Does it mean you are wrong? No. Does it mean I am wrong? No. Just different.

Christians are not bad people. They are people, just like the rest of us. They make mistakes. They fall from the path. We have to remember to hold ourselves to the very standards that we are comparing them against, like “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I would also refer to Luke 6:42 “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

A moment of clarity came to me this morning in a Biblical argument with a misinformed person. The Bible is a tool to show YOU how to live. It is NOT a tool for YOU to show ME how to live. It is for me to use the tool myself. But, I digress.

Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Pursuing peace and negotiating it is a tricky business. But even the ACT of pursing peace is the act of departing from evil and doing good. We need to be mindful of that.

The Old Testament was tribal law, meant to hold the Israelites together during the time when they had no home. The Old Testament is included in the Bible to show Christians where they came from and what their history was. Jesus brought the New Testament to show a better way to live. It is a new covenant, replacing the old. Jesus was/is the Son of God. A child of God. A peacemaker.

I will continue to be a peacemaker. I will continue to support people that are peacemakers. I will continue to fight for people’s rights and to fight injustice where I see it. That is part of what being a peacemaker is.

Perhaps I am not on the forefront, helping to change and write policies and laws, but that doesn’t mean I am ineffective. I am on the sidelines, changing people’s minds and hearts. I write because I can, because it is a talent given to me by God and I have been charged with using that talent. And I will continue to wield it as a peacemaker. I am a child of God.

 

Tonight: Montana PBS to Air Inlaws & Outlaws!

Some good news for Montana- Inlaws and Outlaws will be screened on Montana PBS tonight.

inlawsFrom the director, Drew Emery:

Montana friends!
Set your DVRs for Sunday night 6/9 10:30 pm: your local PBS station is airing our marriage documentary Inlaws & Outlaws — along with our story update: Just Marriage.

If you believe in love… and equality, please do pass on the word to friends & family!

Drew was in Montana last year, sharing the film with audiences in Helena and Bozeman. It’s an opportunity to see what love looks like up close.

Grab your peeps and watch this- it’s amazing.

Banning Same-sex Marriage Has Psychological Toll

Fascinating stuff from Shankar Vadantam at NPR:

As the country awaits two important Supreme Court decisions involving state laws on same-sex marriage, a small but consistent body of research suggests that laws that ban gay marriage — or approve it — can affect the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. When several states passed laws to prohibit same-sex marriage, for example, the mental health of gay residents seemed to suffer, while stress-related disorders dropped in at least one state after gay marriage was legalized.

Here’s the research trail:

Beginning around 2004, several states banned gay marriage. Just before that series of bans, the National Institutes of Health happened to conduct a massive survey of 43,093 Americans. The questions elicited detailed information about respondents’ mental health. (To validate what people reported about themselves, psychiatrists also interviewed samples of the people in the survey, and their medical diagnoses closely matched the findings of the survey.)

Soon after the wave of state bans on gay marriage, in 2004 and 2005, the NIMH conducted a second round of interviews, managing to reach 34,653 of the original respondents. (That’s a high rate compared with most polls and surveys.)

Mark Hatzenbuehler, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the health effects of social policies, analyzed the data gathered before and after the bans to determine how the mental health of people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual had changed in those states.

Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues Katie McLaughlin, Katherine Keyes and Deborah Hasin published their analysis in 2010 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who lived in the states that banned same-sex marriage experienced a significant increase in psychiatric disorders,” Hatzenbuehler says.

“There was a 37 percent increase in mood disorders,” he says, “a 42 percent increase in alcohol-use disorders, and — I think really strikingly — a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorders.”

To put those numbers in perspective, although Hatzenbuehler did find more than a doubling in the rate of anxiety disorders in states that eventually banned gay marriage, in absolute numbers he found that anxiety disorders went from being reported among 2.7 percent to 9.4 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

The million-dollar question is whether the laws, and the debates around them, were responsible for the change in mental health. To help answer that question, Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues looked at comparable groups and experiences.

“We showed the psychiatric disorders did not increase in lesbian, gay and bisexual populations in states that didn’t debate and vote on same-sex marriages,” Hatzenbuehler says. “There were also no increases — or much smaller increases — among heterosexuals living in the states that passed same-sex marriage bans.”

Hatzenbuehler has also found, in a study conducted in Massachusetts, that gay men experienced fewer stress-related disorders after that state permitted gay marriage.

In a study tracking the health of 1,211 gay men in Massachusetts, Hatzenbuehler found that the men visited doctors less often and had lower health treatment costs after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. When the researchers examined the diagnostic codes doctors were giving the men, they saw a decrease in disorders that have been linked to stress, such as hypertension, depression and adjustment disorders.

Hatzenbuehler says he thinks stress associated with gay-marriage debates was the “X factor.” He says the quantitative data is backed by what gays, lesbians and bisexuals told the surveyors. “They reported multiple stressors during that period,” Hatzenbuehler says. “They reported seeing negative media portrayals, anti-gay graffiti. They talked about experiencing a loss of safety and really feeling like these amendments and these policies were really treating them as second-class citizens.”

Today, about three-dozen states ban gay marriage and about a dozen have passed laws thatapprove it. Some states have laws that permit civil unions but ban gay marriage.

It’s unclear how or whether the upcoming Supreme Court decisions involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage will affect the mental and physical health of gays and lesbians nationally.

It’s likely that many gay, lesbian and bisexual people would see an upholding of same-sex marriage bans as an example of prejudice. But it’s also possible the debate around the Supreme Court decisions could have different effects on gays than a local debate involving friends and neighbors.

Hatzenbuehler says his larger point is really that policymakers, judicial leaders and ordinary citizens need to remember that social policies are also health policies.

 

Sermon 4.07.13

The outline of my sermon yesterday from Living Waters United Methodist Church, Belgrade. Scripture: Acts 5.27-32

Most of us want to be liked.

That in and of itself isn’t anything new- it’s a fairly universal trait.

Most of us also want to stay out of trouble.

Again, simply human.

But when being liked and staying out of trouble aren’t an option when standing up for the truth… Well, that can be a real problem can’t it?

Let’s listen again to the scripture for today.

When the temple police had brought Peter and the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this Man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

 That’s what we heard today. What we didn’t hear is the passage that came after that.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel spoke on their behalf, reminding the council of others who had come and gone before them, all claiming to have been sent by God-all of whom had failed.

And then Gamaliel gave the council this advice:

“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail butt if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’

They were convinced by him. Then when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

They left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.  And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Talk about getting into trouble.

Talk about not being liked.

But what did these disciples do?

They did something all heroes do- they trusted their hearts. They followed their conscience. These men and women preached the Gospel of a God who is in love with us.

And most of them died for it.

Often very cruel deaths.

Just to do the right thing. To proclaim love.

Today I want to ask a very simple question:

“When should we choose love?”

Seems simple doesn’t it?

And yet, we make decisions every day that are not loving.

We can exclude people, we can hoard things, we can lock our doors and load our guns in fear, we can drink too much, we can eat too much, we can lie to ourselves, we can lie to others- sometimes simply to stay out of trouble or to be liked by the right people.

Well, the Jesus who died on the cross, rose from the dead and sent his disciples into the world to proclaim a crazy, loving God doesn’t want us to let the world get in the way of love.

That’s what these disciples knew. That’s why they stood in fear of their lives in front of the courts, why they suffered scourging- just like Jesus- why they refused to deny love.

Because they saw love, risen from the dead.

And so have we.

You know it, in your hearts, you see it every day. Love risen from the dead. You can even create it if you like.

You’ve seen a child’s face- crushed by disappointment- restored to life by a word of encouragement and love.

All you have to do is restore someone’s hope.

All you have to do is not deny anyone their dignity.

All you have to do is trust that we are more than our fears.

All you have to do is open your heart- and your mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet will follow.

Just open your heart.

Let us ask our God to give us eyes to see the opportunities to build the Kingdom of God- right here, right now.

And when you feel that feeling rising up in you, the one that says, “I want to be liked, I want to stay out of trouble”, the one that wants to close your heart down, will you know what to do?

I think we do.

We stop and recognize the choice in front of us: To be open or closed; to be loving or cruel.

So, when do we choose love?

Every time we can.

Odawa Indian tribe hosts Michigan’s first legal same-sex marriage

In case you missed it:

Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, and his longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City are married at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs.
Tim LaCroix, 53, of Boyne City, and his longtime partner Gene Barfield, 60, of Boyne City are married at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians on Friday March 15, 2013 in Harbor Springs. / Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

ByJohn Carlisle

Detroit Free Press Columnist

The groom wore a black sweater. The other groom wore a red one.

Tim LaCroix, 53, and Gene Barfield, 60, were in the enrollment office this morning (March 15th) at the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians government facility.

The couple took turns filling out an application to get married, paid the $15 fee and received a marriage license. Both smiled nervously.

It was a historic day. Not just for them and not just for the tribe that LaCroix belongs to, but for Michigan too.

The two men were about to be the first same-sex couple to be legally married in this state.

Last year, the Odawa tribal council debated a resolution to recognize gay marriage, but the measure failed by one vote. When it was reintroduced, the language was changed to require at least one spouse to be a tribal citizen, and that swayed support. On March 2, it passed by a 5-4 vote.

All that was needed was the signature of tribal chairman Dexter McNamara, whose veto would have required a difficult 7-2 council majority to override.

McNamara not only signed it, but also asked to perform the wedding ceremony.

“I’ve always felt that either you believe in equal rights or you are prejudiced,” McNamara said. “We don’t have a dividing line in this tribe. Everyone deserves to live the lives of their choice.”

Out of 500 federally recognized tribes in the country, and a dozen in Michigan, the Odawa tribe became the first ever to legalize gay marriage in the state and only the third in the nation.

And because of tribal sovereignty, neither the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage nor the federal Defense of Marriage Act can stop them.

“This is their turf,” Barfield said, standing in the tribal offices. “They have their own government, they have their own police force, they have their own rules and regulations. They’re very big on respect, and for them to say to us ‘We respect your relationship and your prerogative to define it as you choose’ is really special.”

“I’m so proud of my tribe for doing this,” LaCroix added. “I just can’t say enough.”

The couple met in 1983 while both were on active duty in the Navy. They live in northern Michigan, where they garden, assemble model railroads and share two dogs and a cat.

“We’ve been partners for 30 years in the way people use the word ‘partner’ for a same sex couple,” Barfield said. “Now we’re not going to be partners anymore. We’re going to be spouses.”

They wanted to get married at the signing ceremony for the statute, which gave them barely two weeks to prepare.

They hastily ordered cupcakes for the impromptu reception to follow. They found a tribal member to perform a traditional ceremony, alongside the secular one. They made little pouches of tobacco to hand out in a nod to tribal custom. And they invited friends and family from this small-town region.

About three dozen guests filled the seats arranged in the lobby this morning. There were relatives from both sides, beefy tribal members, employees who work in the building and wanted to wish the couple well, and a contingent from the hardware store where LaCroix works.

“We’re just all giddy over it,” said Kathy Hughes, his longtime coworker. “They’re like family to us.”

Once McNamara signed the bill, tribe communications coordinator Annette VanDeCar acknowledged it was a controversial decision.

“I’ll be honest,” she told the crowd. “There are people in our community that aren’t supportive of what is happening today, but that’s OK. We as Indians are taught to respect people as individuals, and as individual people have the right to decide what is best for them.”

For this couple, a few tweaks were necessary in both the paperwork and the ceremony, like changing the word “wife” in the vows and on the license application to “spouse.” But it otherwise was a standard civil ceremony.

The chairman read the vows, and LaCroix went first in repeating them.

For better or for worse, to love and to cherish, from this day forward.

“I do,” he said.

Then came Barfield’s turn, and his composure melted a little. As he read the vows, his voice began to crack and his eyes grew moist. All the while, he looked at LaCroix with a beam of a smile.

“I do.”

They exchanged rings, and the chairman pronounced them married. They punctuated the ceremony with a brief kiss and a long, long hug.

Then they repeated it with a tribal ceremony using the sage, the feathers, the maple branch and the drum that were carefully laid out on a table.

There were no activist speeches, no protesters — only a crowd witnessing a wedding that was unlike any they’d ever seen, but was really no different than any other.

“We’re just so excited for them,” Hughes said. “They’ve been together 30 years. It’s longer than a lot of marriages have lasted.”

John Carlisle is a columnist and can be reached at jcarlisle@freepress.com or 313-222-6582.