Pride Sunday: 29 June 2014/10:00 am

Sung: “March for me, ride for me, candle in the night for me,hold your head up high for me, keep on throwin’ pride for me, and I will be okay…okay.”

Those are the words of Tish Jones, a 27 year old spoken-word artist and activist, a voice crying out to offer a word of comfort. (Repeat the verses) File them away; I will come back to them.

This weekend is the Twin Cities’ Pride Festival, held at Loring Park in Minneapolis. Over 300,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning people, together with their straight allies, will stroll thru the park, watch the performances, stop at the various organizational booths, and shop for art or pride memorabilia.

Why do we have Pride celebrations anyway? What possible use do they serve? And just what are these people proud of, some folks will ask? They just make themselves unpopular by exposing their sexuality. If they’re going to choose that life-style, they should at least have the decency to be quiet about it. Pause I think I just answered my own question, don’t you? Pride gives LGBTQ people the opportunity to be willingly visible in our community; to show the world our diversity; to give thanks to those before us who have campaigned for our rights; and to give voice to our ongoing quest for equality. In solidarity there is strength.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, like any other metropolitan area, has a significant Gay population. We work in all sorts of organizations; in businesses, our schools, colleges and universities, our hospitals, our prisons, the police force, the military and, of course, the clergy. Yet despite recent legislation many LGBT people— and especially those who are still questioning their sexuality— continue to live in fear of discrimination and prejudice.

Pride is our opportunity to confront that fear, to gather as a community and to be out and proud, to ourselves and to those around us. We really are everywhere.

Which is how I met Tish.

“March for me, ride for me, candle in the night for me, hold your head up high for me, keep on throwin’ pride for me, and I will be okay…okay.”

Tish and three other talented young people performed with One Voice Mixed Chorus back in 2007 and again last year. One Voice is the largest chorus in the country made up of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies, 120 voices strong at the moment, and I have had the privilege to be one of those voices for over 15 years now. We’ll be singing this afternoon at the Cathedral at 3:00, by the way.

Anybody who knows me for even a short while knows I love to sing. I don’t have the world’s greatest voice—I’ll never be an opera star, but making music with my voice fulfills me in a very special way. It means even more to me when it’s in aid of a purpose. Which is a large part of why I sing with One Voice. Not only do we offer an eclectic range of world music well-sung, but by raising our voices in song as LGBTQ people we work to build community and create social change. That’s a quote from our mission statement, by the way.

Which is how I met Tish.

That spring concert was called “Generations Rock,” and it was designed to explore the unique wisdom of youth and elders through a weaving of choral music, spoken-word, and a specially-commissioned work combining the two. So the music was far-ranging.

The concert included a long solo called “Michael’s letter to Mama.” This is a setting of part of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City.” “Tales” is a now-classic set of six novels, written between 1976 and 1989. It chronicles a young man’s coming out and finding community in San Francisco. In this song, Michael Tolliver, who is the lead character in Maupin’s saga, writes to tell his parents that he is gay.

As he holds a conversation in his head and on paper with his mother he says, “No, Mama, I wasn’t ‘recruited’. No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said.....‘You’re all right kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You’re not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends, all kinds of friends, who don’t give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it.’

“I know what you are thinking now. You’re asking yourself: ‘What did we do wrong? How did we let this happen? Which one of us made him that way?’ I can’t answer that, Mama. In the long run, I guess I really don’t care.  
All I know is this: if you and Papa are responsible for the way I am,  
then I thank you with all my heart, for it’s the light and joy of my life. “I know I can’t tell you what it is to be gay.  
But I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It’s not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God intended for it. It’s not judging your neighbor, except when he’s crass or unkind.

“Being gay has taught me tolerance; compassion and humility.  
It has shown me the limitless possibilities of being.  
It has given me people whose passion and kindness 
and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, 
and I like it here. I like it. “There’s not much else to say, except that 
I’m the same Michael you’ve always known.  
You just know me better now.  
I have never consciously done anything to hurt you. I never will. Please don’t feel you have to answer this right away. It’s enough for me to know that I no longer have to lie to the people who taught me to value the truth.”

Pause

The chorus followed this with a setting of the traditional gospel tune, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” which we dedicated to the disproportionately large number of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ and who in coming out found themselves tossed out, so much garbage in the eyes of those who should have cared for them. And there are many other LGBTQ youth who remain in the home but nevertheless encounter scorn and ridicule and shame on a daily basis.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home. Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone. Sometimes I wish I never been born. Sometimes I feel like a feather in the air, beyond my reach suspended somewhere.”

So go the mournful lyrics we sang. But right along with these there is a repeated, inter-threaded counter lyric:

“Hold on. Hold on. We are together and we are one.” Sometimes I feel like a motherless child a long way from home. Hold on. Hold on. We are together and we are one. We are together and we are one. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, but we are one.”

Which is why Pride and visibility are so essential.

Which is how I met Tish.

“March for me, ride for me, candle in the night for me, hold your head up high for me, keep on throwin’ pride for me, and I will be okay…okay.”

These lyrics were only the refrain of a longer spoken word piece, (a poem for those of you who haven’t caught up to hip-hop) dedicated to a gay friend of Tish’ who had committed suicide, who hanged himself in his basement because his family, his school, and his church had all turned their backs on him and condemned him—literally—to death.

In every parish where I have had the privilege to serve there has been at least one person, child or adult, to whom it made a world of difference that I was openly gay, their priest, standing behind the altar, and gay. The elderly retired priest who had never been able to come out, the teenage girl afraid to tell her father, the couple who wanted God’s blessing on their union but whose families would not attend.

To these and to many others my presence— flawed human being that I am— has been a sign of hope, a sign of acceptance, a sign of God’s love in a world, including the church, that does not always show love. I am humbled by this unintentional ministry, this heraldry of good tidings to those doubled over under an onslaught of fury and wrathful indignation; I try to live it out with dignity and integrity.

There have of course also been those across the years who decided to leave whenever I came into a parish, who were not at all pleased with the decision to call a gay man as priest, especially one who was open about it, whose picture had been in the papers, who took an active and sometimes out-spoken role in the community. I could do nothing about that; most of them I never met. And it’s really only in relationship that stereotypes begin to break down.

There’s one last song I want to share from the “Generations” concert. It speaks to me of this sort of mutual relationship, the recognition of the worth of another as a child of God, no matter where they happen to stand on any one of a number of life’s continuums. The refrain of the song goes like this:

“The size of your heart is the size of your life for out of your heart comes the kind of your life. The way you reach out to the world all around is first in your heart to be found.”

Gethsemane has in the last year come out in its own way and decided to show the world the size of our heart by adopting an official stance of inclusive welcome, not just for LGBTQ folk but for all of Christ’s brothers and sisters, regardless of their differences. It is in some ways just a formality— this is who we are, who we strive to be as the household of God in this place— but in other ways it is our word of exhortation for the people, our cup of cool water offered to God’s little ones; it makes a profound and necessary witness to a world that still sees “the other” as “less than.” Is it a growth strategy? Will people who hear about us now flock through our doors? Possibly, but that’s not the point is it?

The point, as we say in our confession this season, is to live in unity in the Spirit of Christ, offering to others the freedom, hope, and peace we ourselves have received that God may carry out in us and through us the divine work of new creation.

“March for me, ride for me, candle in the night for me, hold your head up high for me, keep on throwin’ pride for me, and I will be okay…okay.”

Lift up your voice with strength, Gethsemane; lift it up, do not fear. In Christ we are together and we are one. Here mercy and truth meet together; righteousness and peace exchange a holy kiss.

And I am so proud to be part of it.