A Personal Message of Joy, to Several Constituencies

December 21, 2013: Last day on the job

Maplewood peeps: Look for me no more behind the deli counter at Kings. After 12 months of a second stint of slicing meat and washing dishes, I’ve replaced my income there with a part-time job that involves a desk.

Princeton peeps: When they told us “there’s no limit to what you can do with a Princeton degree,” did you realize they meant no limit in either direction? :) Kidding aside, in this economy I’ve been thankful for the income, and for the expansion of my paradigm of service.

Episcopeeps: I’m delighted to announce that I am again becoming a professional Episcopalian.  In January I start work as Director of Communications at Christ Church Ridgewood, serving a community of faith through newsletters, bulletins, social media and more.

December 2009: An earlier stint at Kings (with a cooler hat) led to a longer post

Communications peeps: As I mentioned, my new job is a part-time gig, so I remain very interested in freelance writing and editing opportunities.  Let me know if I can help your organization meet your communications needs.

As we prepare to ring in the New Year, I’m grateful for the precious gift of Today and excited by the prospect of Tomorrow. I’m grateful to Fr. Greg Lisby, and look forward to serving God and the people of Christ Church. Always and forever, I’m grateful for my beautiful wife Nina Nicholson, the Web Goddess, who never ceases to love and inspire me.

To all my peeps, and all who read these words: May the spirit of Christmas continue in your life as Epiphany approaches, and may you find joy and prosperity in the New Year.

(Photos by the Web Goddess, of course)

.

Gov. Christie Belatedly Accepts Reality on Same-Sex Marriage

After 37 years as a committed couple, Ulysses Dietz and Gary Berger were married this afternoon by Mayor Victor De Luca at Maplewood Town Hall, as New Jersey becomes the 14th state to permit gay people to marry. The Web Goddess and I were thrilled to be in attendance, along with other friends of the happy couple who were able to get time away from work on short notice.

Also today, Gov. Chris Christie conceded defeat in his opposition to marriage equality, after a unanimous state Supreme Court decision lifting a lower-court stay, which touched off wedding bells around the state.

One of the cool things about blogging is the occasional opportunity to say “I told you so,” and back it up with a link. In a February 2012 post headlined “The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be,” I wrote:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  As of this week seven states permit same-sex marriage.  New Jersey will not become the eighth, but I fully expect it to be in the front half of the parade, despite Christie’s efforts.

When I predicted Christie would be better off by losing, I was looking ahead 18 months to when he would stand for re-election.  Election Day now is little more than two weeks away, and his re-election is not in doubt.  A liberal friend predicted before the wedding this afternoon that if Christie runs for president in 2016, the Right will savage him for dropping his appeal before the court could eventually rule on the appeal itself.

I don’t see it that way — the Right has bigger quarrels with Christie than marriage equality.  By dropping a clearly hopeless cause, Christie demonstrates he is more pragmatic than Ted Cruz.  That’s admittedly a low hurdle, but it does represent an “evolution” in Christie’s approach to the issue.  Four years ago I voted for Jon Corzine, the badly-tarnished Democratic incumbent, solely on the basis of Christie’s announced support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Thirty-six states to go.  They’ll go one by one for a while, but eventually I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be asked to rule on some state’s refusal to honor a same-sex marriage performed in another state — by which time the lack of damage to the institution of marriage will be well established.

If it happens that way, I’ll have another I-told-you-so post to write.  In the meantime, congratulations to Gary and Ulysses, and to all our other friends who are marrying or planning weddings on this happy day.

(Photo by the Web Goddess, of course)

SCOTUS Gets It Right on Same-Sex Marriage — and on Voting Rights Act

The Web Goddess and I joined a small but joyous impromptu gathering yesterday evening on the steps of Maplewood Town Hall, celebrating the Supreme Court decisions in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

I’ve blogged and demonstrated in favor of marriage equality for years, so I’ll not rehearse those arguments today.  Instead, I’m moved to take keyboard in hand by a comment I heard expressed twice on the Town Hall steps yesterday, to the effect that the Supreme Court “got one right the day after they got one wrong.”

A day earlier, the high court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that conditions have changed in the South since 1965. In the minds of many at yesterday’s rally, this was a setback for black rights that partly offset the victory for gay rights the following day.

But I see both rulings as a victory for federalism, or for states’ rights if you will — and anyone tempted to dismiss “states’ rights” as code for bigotry should pause to reflect on the pioneering role of the states in the marriage equality struggle.

The VRA ruling has the limited effect of restoring to nine states of the old Confederacy (and various smaller jurisdictions) the same level of control over the election process exercised by other states.  The federal government and the courts retain the power to invalidate any specific election practice that is discriminatory.  The VRA ruling simply shifts the burden of proof from the states to the parties seeking to demonstrate discrimination.

The pre-clearance provision of VRA was an extraordinary response to an extraordinary level of institutionalized racism, and I have no quarrel with the need for such a measure in 1965. But NBC News cited statistics compiled by the court that show how dramatically the situation has changed:

In Alabama, for example, the white registration rate was 69 percent and the black rate 19 percent in 1965. By 2004, that gap had all but disappeared — 74 percent for whites and 73 percent for blacks.

As George Will noted, “Mississippi has more black elected officials — not more per capita; more — than any other state.”

The South no longer deserves a presumption of guilt on racial matters.

(Photo by Bernie Poppe)

Celebrating Ten Years of Father Bernie Poppe’s Ministry in Maplewood

The Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, center, was congratulated at coffee hour by two special guests -- the Rev. Canon Gregory A. Jacobs, Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Newark, and the Hon. Victor DeLuca, mayor of Maplewood, NJ. Bernie is holding a proclamation from the Mayor and Township Committee.

On September 29, 2002, the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe led his first service as Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Maplewood, NJ.  I had the privilege of serving on the search committee that called him, and I still remember how he started his first sermon.  The parish had been through a rough period — another priest had accepted our call, then resigned before ever taking the pulpit, setting up a second, 18-month search process.

Fortunately our church has a history of strong lay leadership, which sustained us during three years with two excellent interim rectors.  So on that Sunday morning we all watched with great anticipation as Bernie stepped into the pulpit to preach for the first time as the seventh Rector in what then was the 97th year of St. George’s.

“Finally!” he said.

His opening gambit was greeted with laughter and applause, and the laughter and applause continued today, a decade later.  Congratulations to Bernie and to the people of St. George’s, for building a vibrant ministry together.

No Going Back: Reflections on Gay Pride 2012

St. Georgians, from left: Ron Garner, Aleeda Crawley, your humble scribe, the Web Goddess, the Rev. Chris Carroll, David Gorman, Bill Jaglowski, Bruce Lyons, Kevin Clark, Tony Bousanti. Chris West took the picture.

The Web Goddess and I were part of a contingent from St. George’s Episcopal Church in the Gay Pride March in Manhattan Sunday.  It was our second march — some of the same people participated in 2007.

I was struck, in a very positive way, by the pervasiveness of corporate sponsorship.  Coca-Cola was the “Presenting Sponsor,” and all of the T-shirts for the parade marshals and other volunteers said “Diet Coke” on the front.  (Mischievous thought: is Diet Coke more gay than “regular Coke”?) Other sponsors included Macy’s, Delta Airlines, AT&T, Citigroup, Target and New York Life.  There were less staid sponsors and participants as well, of course, but the buy-in from the titans of commerce testifies to the inevitability of equal rights.

Lots of NYC police marching in uniform — not just the Gay Officers Action League, but a dozens-strong police marching band as well.  The cop on duty at our intersection was bantering with the crowd.

The March has gotten huge, creating a prosperity problem for participants in the staging areas. We had been told to expect to step off around 12:15, but it was about 3:30 when we finally left 38th Street and set foot on Fifth Avenue.  We could have had brunch.

Several of the St. Georgians wore the T-shirt the Web Goddess designed five years ago — a Rainbow Jesus Fish with the legend “I’m a Christian, and I support Equality”.  As we waited to march, three passers-by asked permission to take a picture of me and the shirt.

There were just 11 of us from St. George’s, but we packed a lot of diversity into a small group: gay and straight, black and white, male and female, clergy and laity, Democrats and Republican.

The huge LGBT for Obama contingent was passing out signs and big round stickers, which I tore off as quickly as my gleeful friends could slap them on me. (The comeback that didn’t occur to me in time: “No thanks, I go the other way.”)  The Log Cabin Republicans were represented by about four guys with brave smiles.

It pains me that my party is on the wrong side of this issue, but the resistance is only going to weaken over time.  This is the civil rights struggle of our era, and the road leads in only one direction.

Gay Rights Pioneer Preaches Forgiveness at St. George’s Church

Welcome, Patch readers!

Louie Crew preaches at St. George's Episcopal Church, Maplewood. Photo by Nina Nicholson

Louie Crew, the founder nearly four decades ago of a national gay-acceptance organization within the Episcopal Church, preached at my home congregation in Maplewood Sunday as part of the church’s celebration of Gay Pride Month.

Same-sex marriage has become a prominent issue in recent years, but the idea is not entirely new.  Crew, an emeritus professor of English at Rutgers University in Newark, told the St. George’s congregation he had solemnized his relationship with Ernest Clay in 1974, in a private ceremony based on the wedding service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

“After we married, I wrote my parents,” Crew said from the pulpit.  “They replied with the hardest letter I ever received.  They knew I was gay, that was not the problem.  Ernest being black was the problem.  They wished us all happiness, but asked me not to bring him home.  They hoped that I would continue to visit, but they did not want to ‘put their friends to the test,’ they said.”

Crew continued, “I showed Ernest the letter.  He responded with his enigmatic smile. … [Ernest said] ‘they have every right to be who they are. You could not love me had they not taught you how.’”

Over the years, Crew’s parents gradually became more comfortable with having a gay black son-in-law.  One day Crew’s father called and asked to speak to Ernest.

“Ernest, we’re Christians,” Crew’s father said. “But we’ve not behaved like Christians to you, and we desperately need your forgiveness.”

“That’s easy,” Ernest said.  “You have it.”

Crew told the congregation Sunday, “I not only believe in the Holy Spirit, I have seen the Holy Spirit happen.”

Crew noted that many gay people have much less redemptive stories about their families.  “We know full well that we did not choose our biological families, but we can, and must, choose as family those whom we respect and those who treat us with respect. That’s why St. George’s has been such a special place for at least four decades.”

Crew’s sermon continued St. George’s month-long observance of Gay Pride Month.  The prior Sunday, St. George’s presented a forum with the former leader of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination, and the church sponsored a table at Saturday’s South Orange-Maplewood LGBT Pride Festival.  On June 24, a contingent from the church will march behind a St. George’s banner in the Gay Pride March in New York.

Holy Cow, It’s Election Day — Tell Me Again Who’s Running?

(Welcome, Patch readers!)

I’m like reasonably civic-minded and well-informed and stuff.  (I have a blog, you know.) I called the GOP presidential contest way back in January.  By the time I started my blog in July 2008, the presidential contenders were already set.  But if I’d started a few months earlier, I know I would have had a lot of snarky stuff to say about New Jersey’s meaningless June primary election.

Except this year there’s actually something going on.  Not at the top of the ticket, of course.  But a Congressional seat opened up this year in the only way it was going to happen:  The incumbent died.

Here’s what I had to say about Donald Payne Sr. after voting in the general election  four years ago:

I voted straight Republican. Aside from the Presidential race, I was voting in the interests of divided government, not because I prefer the positions of whoever the GOP Freeholder candidate was over the positions of whoever the Democratic Freeholder candidate was. The Republicans did not field a candidate for Congress, so I couldn’t vote against Donald Payne, short of writing someone in. I’ve got nothing against Payne other than the fact that he’s a product of the Newark Democratic machine who has served 10 terms in Congress already.

The Web Goddess and I voted at 6 a.m. that day, but I’ve already missed that window today.  I’ll vote after I get off work.  In the meantime, I’m hereby asking my blog and Facebook friends for input on my important vote for Congress.  Should it be Donald Payne Jr., who sits on his father’s old chair on the Newark City Council and now seeks to turn the Congressional seat into a hereditary peerage?  Or should it be fellow Newark City Councilman Ron C. Rice, son of former Newark City Councilman Ronald L. Rice?  Or there are four other candidates, one of them is the mayor of Irvington, the next town over from me.

Wait a minute!  I’m a Republican!

Anybody know if New Jersey is one of the states where any voter can vote in either primary?  And if not, anybody have any thoughts on the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate?  The polls close at 8 p.m.

Update: They handed me a Republican ballot when I signed in, because that’s how I’m registered.  If I were independent, I think I could have voted in either primary.  Just about the only contested GOP race was for U.S. Senate, and I voted for State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, rather than any of the three Tea Party-ish candidates running against him.  Kyrillos won in a walk.  Despite the fact that it’s frustrating and feels somewhat useless to vote in really lop-sided races, I’d still rather have that than a Florida 2000 kind of scenario.

 

Gay Pride Month at St. George’s Starts With Forum for Former Leader of GLAAD

Welcome, Patch readers!

Joan Garry at St. George's

Many people were outraged when Dharun Ravi, who was convicted of bias intimidation for spying on a roommate who later committed suicide, was sentenced to only 30 days in jail.  Some went so far as accusing Ravi of “murdering” Tyler Clementi, who was gay.  But a gay rights activist speaking at my church in Maplewood Sunday had a different take.

“Ravi’s not a murderer, he’s a bully – one of many bullies that Tyler Clementi faced in his life,” said Joan Garry, former executive director of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination).  “Those bullies were not just the ones standing by his locker – many of them were standing in pulpits.”

Gay Pride 2007 - that's me on the left

The reference to pulpits reinforced the title of her speech, “LGBT People, Bullying, and the Deeply Held Religious Belief Card.” Garry spoke to a noontime audience at St. George’s Episcopal Church, kicking off our celebration of Gay Pride Month.  Next Sunday the sermon will be preached by Louie Crew, former Rutgers professor and founder of the Episcopal gay rights group IntegrityUSA.  On Sunday, June 24, the Web Goddess and I will join other members and friends walking behind a St. George’s banner at the annual Gay Pride March in New York City.

“Here’s another important thing I learned about bullying,” Garry continued.  “Standing behind every harassed child is a whole lot of clueless adults…. There are certain people who don’t want to be anything other than clueless.  Those are the people we will never get.  But converting the clueless is the path to victory.  And how do we do that?”

Designed by the Web Goddess; click image to order without markup at Cafe Press

Not through the time-honored defense mechanism of blending into the background.  “Gay and lesbian people walk this really fine line, right?  We want folks to know the realities, we want to tell stories, but we want to fit in. We want to be treated like anyone else…. but in order to get the rights we deserve, we have to talk, we need to tell our stories, and we need to stick out.”

Garry said when she asked New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand how to get through to people who are not interested in the issue, Gillibrand responded, “It’s so easy… because people don’t want government interfering in their lives.  And for Republicans? They want government to be smaller, not bigger.”

Some gay people might wish they were straight, but “not me,” Garry said.  “It is because of my difference that I have found my voice, that I moved from corporate America to make a difference in a non-profit space, [and that I have] a commitment to social justice that seems super-urgent.”

“Even when we lose, we win,” she said. “An opportunity to publicly argue about what is right, what is just, what is fair — even if we lose in the short term,  it’s an opportunity to be visible, to open up many eyes, and equally as many hearts.”

She closed by saying “the movement for LGBT equality is the civil rights issue of our time.  It presents us with an opportunity to speak out and stand up and do something. I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it a movement.”

She’s My Summer Love in the Spring, Fall and Winter

Eleven years ago today, on a perfect sunny autumn afternoon, the Web Goddess and I were married at St. George’s Church.

The first time I sang to her was a couple of years before that.

My singing voice is best suited to humming, but sometimes snatches of lyrics bubble up in my mind and demand to be sung. We were sitting at the dining room table in her apartment one evening, playing Scrabble with the radio on.  Without any planning or conscious thought, I found myself singing along with Anne Murray:

Even though we ain’t got money,
I’m so in love with you, honey,
Everything will bring a chain of love.
And in the morning, when I rise,
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything is gonna be alright.

She liked it enough that I started looking for other worthy musical tributes.  On our wedding weekend, we were sitting around that same dining room table, now in our Maplewood home, casually eating pizza with a few guests from out of town.  The Web Goddess mentioned that I sometimes sing goofy love songs to her, and of course one of her friends said instantly, “sing one for us.”

Shania Twain sings it better but doesn’t feel it any stronger:

You’re the reason I believe in love
And you’re the answer to my prayers from up above.
All we need is just the two of us
My dreams came true… because of you

My favorite line may be the one in the headline.  Much of the rest of the Dead’s Sugar Magnolia is wholly unsuitable for this purpose, but that line works. Our first date was in the summer, and the relationship kindled that evening has sustained me through every change of season.

Happy anniversary, Sweetie.  I love you.

(Photo by the Web Goddess — holding the camera in her left hand)

 

On Gay Marriage, NY vs. NJ, and the Maplewood Bubble

Larry and I have exercised our right to be married for many years. (Our wives are named Cathy and Nina.) Our gay and lesbian friends deserve the same right.

My friend Mary Mann at Maplewood Patch has resurrected a photo the Web Goddess took of me and another St. George’s parishioner demonstrating for equality at the Statehouse in late 2009.  She used the photo with a story in advance of this afternoon’s first Maplewood Pride picnic, which suddenly became in part a celebration of New York’s historic decision yesterday to allow same-sex marriages.

The Web Goddess and I put on our marriage equality T-shirts and took our beach chairs to the park to enjoy the beautiful day, the music, and the company of gay and straight friends.

At an early break in the music,  the mayor took  the microphone to recognize the event on behalf of the Township Committee.  One of the organizers led the crowd in a cheer for the New York legislature, and shouted, “New Jersey is next!”

Designed by the Web Goddess. Click on the shirt to order it at no markup from Cafe Press.

A wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately untrue.  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom I admire and otherwise support on almost every issue, vowed before his election to veto any bill legalizing same-sex marriage.  On that basis alone, I voted for the Democratic incumbent.  Since the New Jersey legislature was unable to pass a marriage equality law in the waning days of the Corzine administration, there is no realistic chance of same-sex marriage in New Jersey as long as Christie is governor.  This will be a gut-check issue for me if Christie runs for re-election.  Some days it’s not easy being a socially liberal Republican.

As Ronald Reagan may once have said,The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”  Christie’s brand of fiscal conservatism addresses an urgent need in a state which, when he became governor, was facing an $11 billion deficit on a $30 billion budget.  As Christie put it, “New Jersey is a failed experiment.”

Pew Research Center, March 2011

Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Pew Research has found that support for gay marriage is growing inexorably, and there’s no reason to believe anything will reverse the trend.  As a happily married straight man, it’s easy for me to be patient.  Many of my gay friends are understandably less serene.

The fact that I can accurately refer to “many of my gay friends” reflects what one of those friends, a former church warden, once described as “the bubble we live in.”  Compared to the state and to society as a whole, gay people are over-represented in Maplewood (in the judgment-free, statistical sense of that term).  Within Maplewood, gay people are over-represented at St. George’s Episcopal Church, where the Web Goddess and I have both served as elected members of the Vestry.

The large majority of members of the parish are straight, but gay and lesbian couples are always in evidence. Many of the leadership positions of the parish are filled by gay people, including the senior of the two Wardens and four of the nine other Vestry members.  The Rev. Bernie Poppe is gay, although he consistently focuses on being the Rector of a diverse parish, rather than “a gay priest.”

Such an environment makes it easy to be comfortable with the existence of people whose orientation differs from my own. I see gay people kneeling in prayer, raising their children, bringing food to the church picnic.  They obey the laws, they pay taxes, they complain about paying taxes (I’m looking at you, Tom).  Children who grow up in that environment will almost certainly be gay-friendly citizens as long as they live.

Same-sex marriage is a basic civil rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.  With every passing year America will bend further in that direction.  Faster, please.