About two or three weeks ago, I was asked by a Friend to serve on a panel during the Rainbow Families Conference in Minnesota. The topic would be about how to pursue "equal civil marriage" peacefully among people of faith. Two or three weeks ago, I had plans to be out of town during that event, but I said if my plans changed, I'd let the Friend--also serving as the panel's facilitator--know.
Three days before I was to head out of town, my plans changed. They now included an evening get-together in town with a fFriend who had just learned she needed surgery; and a morning birthday party for the two-year-old son of other fFriends.
I called the panel's facilitator and said, "My plans changed." I found out the panel would be in the afternoon--how perfect!--and that the conference was being held in the totally opposite end of town.
Fine, I thought: I'll leave lots of time to catch a bus.
I look at the bus schedule. Basically, there's no way to get from here to there by bus. On a weekend.
I call the Friend, explain the situation, and ask half-heartedly, "Any chance you know of anyone who would be going to the second part of the conference who I could catch a ride from?"
The Friend says, "Actually, one of the other panelists is coming in only for the panel, like you are... And he lives in your part of town. Let me give you his name and number..."
Now that's what I call Way opening!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Well, the panel--put together by Minnesota's Faith, Family, Fairness Alliance--is over now, and I've been reflecting a bit about how things went.
The short answer is, I feel as though I was faithful.
The longer, more specific comments I can make are these:
1. I don't recall the last time I was part of a group where we intentionally spoke about our faith and faith tradition, and where I was the only Quaker. So I was "pleasantly uncomfortable" with hearing the panelists introduce themselves as "Reverend" and speaking about the ministry of "their" church, congregation, or program. I am grateful that I was the 4th of five panelists to offer introductions, so I was able to acknowledge the difficulty of how to frame Quakerism and my place in it in a way that paralleled what had already been offered.
2. I was surprised to hear myself speak about John Woolman ("Love is the first motion") and how he labored initially with individuals around the concern of holding slaves. I don't recall what the question was that led me into that sharing, but I do recall that leading up to that particular comment, I had been talking about the importance of being yoked to one another; that we remember that we are brothers and sisters to one another; that we must be willing to stay in relationship with one another as we struggle with our different beliefs, understandings, and experiences.
3. I will say that the language and image of speaking with dignity with and about "our brothers and sisters" who might not agree with us is language that some within Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns have modeled and lifted up for me. So in a very real way, they all were with me yesterday afternoon, too.
4. The most significant question of the afternoon, I think, was the one that came from a young man. Referring back to specific language that another panelist had used to summarize the polarization over the issue of same-sex marriage, he asked:
So if the conversation is basically between "perverts and bigots," how do I even begin to step into the middle of that and start talking to anyone?Yes indeed: How DO we start talking to one another when such hateful, hurtful judgments precede any sort of real and respectful dialogue?