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 part-time 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)

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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)

His & Hers Candidates: When Love Is Stronger Than Politics

On November 6, the Web Goddess and I will walk down the hill to the Presbyterian church and fulfill our solemn civic duty of canceling each other out at the polls.

It’ll be the third straight election where we support different candidates.  This, combined with my ongoing political advocacy on this blog, makes for some careful conversations at home.

But never anything heated — we don’t “do” acrimony. She’s my summer love in the spring, fall and winter, and I’m sure as hell not going to let differences over healthcare policy or the war in Iraq come between us.

In online forums where I’ve disclosed my “mixed marriage,” I’ve had Republicans ask “how can you stand living with a Democrat”?  Well, I was a lifelong Democrat before becoming a 9-11 Republican — we both supported Mr. Gore in 2000.  I’ve seen demonization of “the other” from both sides, and it’s ugly from any perspective.  Liberalism and conservatism are both vibrant and essential strains of thought, and each deserves its champions in the clash of ideas.  That’s why on this blog I try, with perhaps mixed success, to treat opposing ideas with respect.  We’ve gotta be able to talk with each other.

Perhaps the most prominent example of opposing viewpoints within a marriage is James Carville and Mary Matalin — although a friend just nominated Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.  Carville was the campaign manager for Bill Clinton in 1992, while Matalin was a senior campaign adviser to George H.W. Bush.  A year after the election they got married, had two kids, and by all accounts they’ve been happily married for more than two decades.  (Schwarzenegger and Shriver, not so much, although that had more to do with adultery than politics.)

At the end of the day, of course, as residents of New Jersey it doesn’t matter who either of us votes for.  The Founders in their wisdom created the Electoral College, which means your vote is meaningless if you live in a lopsided state.  No, I’m not bitter — I generally support the idea of federalism, and the Electoral College comes with the package.  So on November 6, the Web Goddess and I will tune in while the election is settled by the good citizens of Ohio, Virginia and [shudder] Florida.  And on November 7 we’ll wake up grateful for the blessings in our lives.

(Photo by Ray Folkman — our neighbor)

“Sarge” Got Married — Now the Web Goddess and I Are Step-Grandparents!

Harry & Diana Petersen (click to see full size)

On a brilliant sunny Saturday afternoon in Bremerton, across Puget Sound from Seattle, a handsome Navy petty officer and a lovely schoolteacher pledged to love and honor each other forevermore, as they became husband and wife.

The Web Goddess and I were among the witnesses to the back-yard nuptials, and while my wife was taking the photos accompanying this post, I was wiping away happy tears as I saw and felt the love radiating from my son and his bride.

The groom is Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Harry Kirk Petersen — whom I once dubbed “Sarge” in a post explaining his rating and rank.   The bride, now known as Diana Padgett Petersen, teaches seventh-grade English and coaches high school swimming in the Bremerton public schools.  Her nine-year-old son Gavin, who plays soccer and baseball and is thrilled with his new step-father, wore multiple hats as ring bearer, best man and bride’s attendant.

Harry, Diana & Gavin pour colored sands into a vase, symbolizing a new work of art blended from three essential components.

The happy couple met 18 months ago in a local tavern, where she had gone with friends for line-dancing lessons and he had gone with Navy buddies to shoot pool.  While Harry watched a foursome of his mates play eight-ball, he was asked to fill in as a dancing partner, and a serendipitous spark was lit.

Harry soon left on a six-month deployment, as sailors do, and the couple kept in touch daily by email, and by phone whenever he was in port.  When the Nimitz returned from the Indian Ocean, Harry and Diana soon started talking about the long term.

Harry has more than 18 months left on his enlistment, which probably means one more long deployment starting early next year.  “Sarge” and his new family will weather the hardship of separation the way military families have done for centuries — with a sense of duty and a fierce hunger for reunion.

Diana and Gavin, the Web Goddess and I are honored to know you and thrilled to welcome you to our extended family.  Harry, we’re proud of you and love you, and think you made a wonderful match.  Thank you for your service, and may you have fair winds and following seas.

The day before the wedding, the Web Goddess and your humble scribe take a break from mini-golf with our soon-to-be step-grandson, Gavin. (Photo by Harry Petersen)

Harry's Navy buddies try to rescue him from his marital future. In this tug-of-war, the smart money is on the five-foot-two gal in the pretty dress.

(Photos by the Web Goddess, except as noted)

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 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.”

The Sooner Christie Loses on Same-Sex Marriage, the Better Off He’ll Be

(Welcome, TigerHawk and Patch readers!  You can find more New Jersey posts here, more marriage equality posts here.)
The Web Goddess, who reads the left-leaning Salon so that I don’t have to, today flagged a very astute and even-handed article on the political dilemma that same-sex marriage poses for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

I argued earlier this week that although Christie will veto the marriage equality bill if it reaches his desk, the governor is fighting a losing battle.  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.

In Salon, author Steven Kornacki captures the dilemma well:

There are two elections on the horizon that Chris Christie has a particular interest in. The first is in New Jersey next year, when he’ll seek a second term as governor. The second is in 2016, when he’ll make a logical presidential candidate — if he wins reelection in ’13 and if the Republican nomination is open. (For now, at least, let’s leave aside the idea that Christie might serve as his party’s vice presidential candidate this year.)

This makes the debate over gay marriage in the Garden State, where the Democratic-controlled Senate approved marriage equality legislation yesterday, a problem for him.

On the one hand, support for gay marriage among New Jersey voters is solid…  Christie has to be very careful as he approaches his reelection race. He doesn’t have much margin for error when it comes to alienating swing voters — one of the reasons he was so colorful and adamant in denying interest in the presidential race last year — and swing voters in New Jersey are generally fine with gay marriage.

But Republican voters nationally are not, and it will be a long time before they are (if they ever are). So if he wants to preserve his viability for ’16, Christie cannot be known as the New Jersey governor who enacted same-sex marriage. But he also can’t position himself as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent of it; to do so would reek of the cultural conservatism that has made most national Republicans unmarketable in New Jersey and endanger Christie’s reelection prospects. And if he gets the boot in ’13, it could sink whatever ’16 ambitions he has.

In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Christie did campaign “as a hard-line, stop-at-nothing-to-derail-it opponent” of marriage equality.  He went beyond merely promising to veto it — he promised to support a state constitutional amendment banning it.  You won’t hear The Great Man repeating that promise.  The legislature may or may not be able to overcome a veto in the current session (which lasts until January 2014), but there is zero chance that a constitutional amendment would pass in New Jersey.

I want to be careful here — I am not criticizing Christie for having moderated his stance on same-sex marriage.  I think it’s a move in the right direction.  I have no doubt that Christie honestly believes that marriage should be reserved for the union of one man and one woman. I disagree with his position, but holding that position does not make him evil.  Don’t forget, that’s precisely the position Barack Obama articulated just days before the 2008 election.  The most important difference between Obama’s pre-election stance and Christie’s is that Obama opposed tinkering with state constitutions.

Christie has every right to modulate his level of aggressiveness in supporting one-man-one-woman.  He’s promised to veto the current bill, and he has to go through with that.  But as Kornacki writes, the best thing that could happen to Christie in terms of his future political ambitions would be for marriage equality to become the law of the land in New Jersey without his fingerprints on it.  If it begins to look possible that the legislature could override a veto, look for only token arm-twisting by Christie.

Taking Another Look at Newt Gingrich

Much to my annoyance, Newt Gingrich has reshuffled the deck by trouncing Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary.  Coming on top of the announcement from Iowa that they think maybe Rick Santorum actually won the caucuses there (I am so glad we entrust Iowa with such a pivotal role in presidential politics), we have three contests won by three different candidates, for the first time since 1980.

I’ve already got the Romney bumper sticker on my car.  Can we just move on already?

From a conversation yesterday in the global headquarters of All That Is Necessary:

Me: “I guess I’d better stop bad-mouthing Newt Gingrich, I might have to vote for him.”

Web Goddess: “Please tell me that you won’t vote for Gingrich.  You said it yourself, he’s temperamentally unsuited to the presidency.”

Me: [one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi] “I’m planning to vote for Romney.”

It seems very clear that Marianne Gingrich’s 11th-hour attack actually helped her ex-husband. Apparently conservative qualms about infidelity are outweighed by loathing of the mainstream media.  That’s Gingrich’s theory in the interview below, where he also acknowledged that he fully expected to be put on the spot in that debate.

As Gingrich concedes in the video, if it were a popularity contest, Obama would win in a walk, “he’s a very likeable person, but the presidency is not about likeability.”  In the clip, Erin Burnett talks about a conservative voter who switched from Romney to Gingrich because the latter is “a complete person.”  Apparently one American out of 20 has been married more than twice — that’s a bit higher than I would have guessed.

A President Gingrich would not be the first serial philanderer elected to the nation’s highest office. On November 6 there’s going to be a choice between two flawed candidates. I’m still hoping one of them will be named Mitt.

Brush With Greatness: Episcopalian Edition

I teamed up with the Web Goddess on Sunday to produce a web report published today on a visit to a Jersey City parish by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The occasion was a centennial celebration by Church of the Incarnation, launched in an era when black Jersey City residents had to travel to upper Manhattan to find an Episcopal church that welcomed them.  If the PB does something official in the Diocese of Newark, the Web Goddess is going to cover it, and I’m enough of a fan of The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori that I was willing to take an unpaid assignment.  Employing our usual division of labor, I did the words and the Web Goddess did the pictures — including the behind-the-scenes shot at the reception with your humble scribe above.  (That’s a shrimp tail on the PB’s plate.)

More behind-the-scenes tidbits: if you click through to the story itself, you’ll find a group photo of the PB with some young interns, and everybody is grinning broadly.  The smiles are because I, in my customary role as photographer’s assistant, am making bunny ears over the Web Goddess’s head while she takes the picture.  Works every time. I later told the spiritual leader of two million Episcopalians that making bunny ears is “the work I feel called to do.”

(Earlier blog posts in the Brush With Greatness series describe my encounters with Jimmy Carter and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.)

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)