“He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in.”
I grew up seeing the visual reminder each Sunday, knowing that my church community valued inclusion, respect for differences, and most of all, love.
I grew up, moved away, and fell in love. I came out as a lesbian, and found a great deal of support from people in my local Unitarian Universalist congregation.
Some years later, I heard that my childhood church was considering becoming a welcoming congregation, and that some of the members were uncomfortable with the idea. A welcoming congregation is one that has taken intentional steps to become more welcoming and inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. My mom, my girlfriend, and I put together a worship service to present to the church. My mom spoke about her challenges accepting her daughter as a lesbian and her fears that I would encounter so much hate from society. My girlfriend, a seminary student, spoke about Unitarian Universalism and a theology of love. And I told my story of growing up in that church, and learning that all people are worthy of love. I told of learning the poem about the circles, and how I knew that the people in this room understood the importance of including all people in their circle.
At our Lighthouse chapel service at Saltwater Church this past Sunday, the children acted the poem I learned as a child. We used two hula hoops to form the circles and our own bodies to be the people being included and excluded. We talked about the importance of including all people within our circle and that all people are worthy of love.
This week, Governor Gregoire signed into law marriage equality. I cannot tell you what it means to me to have been invited into the circle.
This summer, my wife Katie and I will be allowed to legally marry. I already call her my wife. We were already married by the Rev. James, in a lovely ceremony with our families and closet friends. What difference will the legal right to call our relationship a marriage make?
The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a Unitarian Universalist minister, is also a singer/songwriter and story teller. Her songs can be funny, and even irreverent, but are deeply rooted in a theology of love. While working in my office on Monday, I was listening to a recording of a concert she performed at General Assembly a few years ago. One of the songs was written for the annual Coming Out Day celebration at her church in South Carolina. This song always strikes a chord with me; the emotions she describes and the challenges of wanting to be true to oneself while not damaging relationships with the people in ones life who don’t approve. This time as I listened, what I was struck by was the love. Between verses about the difficulties of coming out, is the chorus:
“I speak to the beauty in you, to the light in your eyes,
To the pain you disguise, your broken heart
I sing to the beauty in you, we will not lie anymore,
You’ve got your hand on the door, let’s make a start.”
This is our work as Unitarian Universalists, the challenge that our liberal faith gives to us. We must embrace differences with love. We must choose to stand on the side of love. While there are important legal and practical implications involved, the biggest difference that marriage equality will make for gay and lesbian families is the message it sends. You are welcome in our circle.
I did not speak with the children this past Sunday about marriage equality. I considered sharing with them a story about people who hoped to win the right to marry. But the story is bigger than that. What I want our children to learn, what I want them to know deep in their souls, is the power of love and the importance of including all people in the circle. Instead of marriage equality, we talked of how it feels when boys or girls exclude other children from their friendships. We talked about how important it is to make the circle of our church community open to everyone. We made valentines for people in our church community that we don’t see often, who can’t get to church regularly due to health reasons or distance or other difficult situations, as a reminder that these people are still part of the circle of our community.
I could have talked about marriage equality. It’s important, and it affects the lives of children. But my prayer is that when they are old enough to marry, this particular form of exclusion will no longer be an issue. I know they will be faced with other struggles which will call out to be embraced with love. My prayer for our children is that they will grow into adults who know there is room for everyone in the circle.
“Stand up, you are beautiful,
Stand up, we will stand with you.”
Meg Barnhouse’s song closes with these words, a commitment to stand with those who have been hurt, who have struggled, whose rights have been denied. In doing so, she says our circle is big enough to include you.
When you are approached by people at the grocery store in the coming months, gathering signatures to put gay marriage, please do not sign. Marriage equality is law, and will remain so unless the challenge on the ballot this November overturns it. When you vote this November, I ask you remember the importance of including everyone in the circle with love. Please talk with people in your life, let them know this issue is important to you.
More importantly, whenever you see evidence that people are being excluded for whatever reason, embrace them with love. Work to show them that there is room for all in the circle.