Say what you will about Justice Antonin Scalia–he is colorful. In his dissent to today’s opinion on marriage equality, he wrote this:
Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.
(By the way Mr. Justice–the 20th century called and wants its examples back. Hippies? Really?)
Yes, there is a moral beauty and spiritual resonance in what happened today. But let’s be focused and clear about what this is about. It is about equal rights under the law.
In the words of Jim Obergefell, the man whose name will forever be linked to today’s decision:
Couples across America may now wed and have their marriage recognized and respected no matter what state they call home. No other person will learn at the most painful moment of married life, the death of a spouse, that their lawful marriage will be disregarded by the state. No married couple who moves will suddenly become two single persons because their new state ignores their lawful marriage.
Ethan and Andrew can marry in Cincinnati instead of being forced to travel to another state.
A girl named Ruby can have an accurate birth certificate listing her parents Kelly and Kelly.
Pam and Nicole never again have to fear for Grayden and Orion’s lives in a medical emergency because, in their panic, they forgot legal documents that prove both mothers have the right to approve care.
Cooper can grow into a man knowing Joe and Rob are his parents in all ways emotional and legal.
I can finally relax knowing that Ohio can never erase our marriage from John’s death certificate, and my husband can now truly rest in peace.
It is so ordered.
And a blast from the past: the piece I wrote for TIME almost exactly a year ago when the Presbyterian Church (USA) made the move to marriage equality.
Image: states where gay marriage is legal. Source.
What do you think? A man had two sons. To each he said, “Go and sell pizza.”
And the first said, “Yea, I shall do my father’s will, but to the gays getting married I shall not sell pizza. For the six scripture verses are clear to me, both the verses next to the ones condemning shellfish and mixed fiber clothing, and the ones uttered by Paul, though peculiarly never by Jesus. Very truly I tell you, I am certain of their meaning; it hath been revealed to me that these specific sayings of the Ancient Near East are worthy of literal acceptance in the Year of Our Lord 2015.” And he didst spake it unto Fox News.
And the second son said, “Yea, I too shall sell pizza. But to the poor and homeless I will not sell pizza. Rather and verily, I will permit my patrons to pay for extra slices for the least of these my brothers and sisters. They wilt share their good works via Post-It, so that all who enter our doors will see the glory of free pizza and give thanks, and all will be fed.”
And the news of the two sons and their pizzas spread far and wide.
And it came to pass, the wrath of the Internet rained on the head of the first son, both the righteous anger and the immature trollishness, until the first son closed his doors. And behold, a GoFundMe site came into being, and a large multitude showed their support for the man, and his six scripture verses.
And the deeds of the second son spread across the land with a great many shares, becoming as a holy virus to all people. So many didst tell the story that it was recorded on the hallowed scrolls of Upworthy. And the homeless did come, and went away rejoicing, their bellies full. And all who heard of it found themselves desiring to be better people and to share light unto the world.
Let anyone with ears to hear, listen! Which of these did the will of the father?
Those rainbow colors had us all a-muddled last week…
1. I was not elected vice moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly.
2. I’m home, and very glad to be so.
3. We made some people mad last week.
…Those are in reverse order of importance.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) made decisions about marriage and the Middle East that left some of us celebrating, and others of lamenting or downright furious. You can read my take on the marriage decision at TIME.
Temperamentally speaking, Presbyterians are not firebrand folk. We joke about being the Frozen Chosen and doing things “decently and in order.” (That’s from the Bible, by the way.) So it’s a bit uncomfortable for us to be in the news, even if we agree with the decisions made last week.
But as my friend Jan Edmiston reminds us, Faithfulness is Disruptive. And last week, after hours of deliberation, conversation, prayer and discernment, a majority of commissioners decided that the faithful thing was to give pastors and churches the discretion to perform same-sex marriages where they are legal, and to divest from three companies who are profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in the Palestinian territories, in keeping with a long-standing policy of socially-responsible investing.
Some people wonder why we wade into controversial issues at all. Churches will leave the denomination, they say. Our long-standing partnerships with Jewish congregations are in serious jeopardy.
Yes, and yes. Here’s the hard thing though, for big-tent, good-natured Presbyterians: that doesn’t make the decisions wrong.
If Jesus were really the affirming nice guy we often insist on imagining, should he not have been able to stay out of trouble? What incited people to call him such appalling names? Why would following him wreck families? How did he end up on a cross? The answer is not that his opponents had strange and unsettling ideas, but that he did. Contrary to popular opinion and bestselling books, not everything the follower of Jesus needs to know can be learned in kindergarten. Kingdom work, it turns out, is more controversial and subversive than conventional kindness.
Not every controversial action is of the gospel, of course. We may have gotten it wrong last week. But the potential for controversy is not a reason to do nothing.
When you’re talking about Jesus, subversiveness is baked right in.
That said, conventional kindness is a welcome overlay to all this. So be kind, folks; everyone is fighting a great battle.
John Lewis was interviewed by Krista Tippett recently about the use of non-violence during the civil rights era. The whole conversation is transcendent. He talks about being beaten during one of the protests and how he was absolutely certain he was going to die.
This exchange has remained in my mind:
Rep. John Lewis: I wanted to believe, and I did believe, that things would get better. But later I discovered, I guess, that you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done. It’s already happened.
Ms. Tippett: Say some more about that.
Rep. Lewis: It’s the power to believe that you can see, that you visualize, that sense of community, that sense of family, that sense of one house.
Ms. Tippett: And live as if?
Rep. Lewis: And you live that you’re already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house.
We see this idea lurking in many places, some profound, some not.
“Be the change you wish to see.”
“Fake it ’til you make it.”
It’s also basic Christian eschatology. I can’t find the reference now, but Desmond Tutu talks about preaching against apartheid during the height of that evil system. The police rimmed the arena with guns and intimidation as he spoke. At one point he turned his attention to them and invited them to put down their guns.
Come and join us, he said, because you have already lost. We have won.
I sense this dynamic at work in the fight for marriage equality. We have reached a tipping point, and there is something relentlessly inevitable about it now. It is not a question of if, but when. This doesn’t mean that marriage equality supporters are done with their work. On the contrary, “living as if” gives a sense of energy and urgency to the work. Even many people opposed to gay marriage understand that sooner or later, it will be the law of the land.
(Of course, the inevitability of something doesn’t automatically make it right or good. But I believe the ability to marry the person you love regardless of gender is both a right and a good.)
I wonder where you’ve seen this dynamic John Lewis describes. I wonder when and how you live toward this in your own life.
A lit class in 1961 tries to understand “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” They, um, miss the mark. O’Connor responds in part:
The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.
My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.
On Rick Warren’s “Daniel Plan” for fitness, which he cribs from the pages of an apocalyptic text:
I can’t begrudge anyone whatever motivation they need to live a healthier life, and Warren deserves respect for using some of his enormous cultural capital to fight obesity—especially now that biblical values are suddenly synonymous with consuming fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. But I am in awe at the superhuman degree of willful blindness it must take to read a profound story of conquest and resistance, of identity and assimilation, and discover, at the bottom of it all… a diet plan!
A story, sacred or secular, is a test of our empathy: an invitation to enter into the trials and hopes of a stranger. And it takes a remarkable self-centeredness to deliberately reject that invitation, to mine that story for anything that helps us grow our portfolios or shrink our waistlines, and throw away the husk of the human at its heart once we’ve sucked out all we can use. We can read selfishly just as we can act selfishly.
At 40, Julie Sanders is a mother of three from Portland, Ore. But when she was 16, Sanders belonged to a white supremacist group — and one night in 1988, she witnessed a murder. Since then, she’s kept the event a secret from most of her friends and family.
She has broken the cycle and raised thoughtful and courageous children—one of them is defending a cross-dresser in his high school who’s being hassled—but it doesn’t feel like enough:
“But, I just still feel like not a good person,” she says. “And I don’t forgive myself.”
Sanders recently completed a degree in social work. She plans to work with kids who are at risk of joining hate groups.
How “much” atonement is enough? Is it even fruitful to think that way?
These are closeup portraits of drag queens with half of the face made up and half au naturel. Says the artist: ‘My intention with Half-Drag is to capture both the male and the alter-ego female side of these subjects in one image.’
What is feminine? Masculine? Beautiful? Where does authenticity originate and how does it find expression? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I look at these.
Not to mention that the images are amazing. The makeup itself is artistry.
The first two weeks were a zen-like blur. I’ve never felt so calm and happy in my life. Never. And then I started actually getting stuff done. I bought copies of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, and Aeschylus. I was writing at an amazing pace. For the first time ever I seemed to be outpacing my editors.
Without the internet, everything seemed new to me. Every untweeted observation of daily life was more sacred. Every conversation was face to face or a phone call, and filled with a hundred fresh nuances. The air smelled better. My sentences seemed less convoluted. I lost a bit of weight.
Three months later, I don’t miss the internet at all. It doesn’t factor into my daily life. I don’t say to myself, “ugh, I wish I could just use the internet to do that.” It’s more like it doesn’t exist for me. I still say “ugh, I have to do that” — it’s just not the internet’s fault.
But now that not having internet is no longer new, just normal, the zen calm is gone. I don’t wake with the sunrise while chirping birds pull back the covers. I still have a job. I feel pressure and stress and frustration. I get lonely and bored. My articles aren’t always submitted on time. Sometimes my sentences aren’t good.
I’m just stock Paul Miller. No more Not-Using-The-Internet custom skin; I’m just myself. And it’s not all sunshine and epiphanies.
This is a long but clear excursus on how we decide what’s fair and what’s not as a society, for the purposes of, say, designing a tax policy. It’s hard to figure out where to excerpt, so read the whole thing, but here’s the crux: the veil of ignorance (a traditional way of evaluating what’s fair) has been replaced in many quarters by a “veil of opulence.” Chopping mercilessly at the article:
The idea behind the veil of ignorance is relatively simple: to force us to think outside of our parochial personal concerns in order that we consider others. What Rawls saw clearly is that it is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of others. We tend to think about others always from our own personal vantage; we tend to equate another person’s predicament with our own. Imagining what it must be like to be poor, for instance, we import presumptions about available resources, talents and opportunities — encouraging, say, the homeless to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to just get a job, any job, as if getting a job is as simple as filling out an application. Meanwhile, we give little thought to how challenging this can be for those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabling conditions. What Rawls also saw clearly was that other classic principles of justice, like the golden rule or mutual benevolence, are subject to distortion precisely because we tend to do this.
Nowadays, the veil of ignorance is challenged by a powerful but ancient contender: the veil of opulence. While no serious political philosopher actually defends such a device — the term is my own — the veil of opulence runs thick in our political discourse. Where the veil of ignorance offers a test for fairness from an impersonal, universal point of view — “What system would I want if I had no idea who I was going to be, or what talents and resources I was going to have?” — the veil of opulence offers a test for fairness from the first-person, partial point of view: “What system would I want if I were so-and-so?” These two doctrines of fairness — the universal view and the first-person view — are both compelling in their own way, but only one of them offers moral clarity impartial enough to guide our policy decisions.
Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs. They vote and set policies according to this fantasy. “If I were such and such a wealthy person,” they ask, “how would I feel about giving X percentage of my income, or Y real dollars per year, to pay for services that I will never see nor use?” We see this repeatedly in our tax policy discussions…
…The veil of opulence assumes that the playing field is level, that all gains are fairly gotten, that there is no cosmic adversity. In doing so, it is partial to the fortunate — for fortune here is entirely earned or deserved. The veil of ignorance, on the other hand, introduces the possibility that one might fall on hard luck or that one is not born into luck. It never once closes out the possibility that that same person might take steps to overcome that bad luck. In this respect, it is not partial to the fortunate but impartial to all. Some will win by merit, some will win by lottery. Others will lose by laziness, while still others will lose because the world has thrown them some unfathomably awful disease or some catastrophically terrible car accident. It is an illusion of prosperity to believe that each of us deserves everything we get.
Interesting example in the NFL draft.
One final link: I preached some time ago about Dan Savage and Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage sitting at table together. Here is the video of that debate. I haven’t watched any of it yet and caveat emptor because Dan is famously salty in his speech. (Though I should also warn about Brian Brown, since many people find his perspective much more offensive than an errant F-bomb.)