Chris and I just returned from a two-week vacation on the West Coast, splitting our time between Seattle, WA and Northern California. One of the best things we ever did early on in our marriage was to leave Michigan, not because of any ill feelings towards the fabulous mitten state where we both grew up, but because it gave us a bigger view of the world. We lived in California, North Carolina, Illinois and Minnesota before returning to settle our family in MI. We have also placed a high priority on travel in order to experience other cultures and people who are not just like us. (Especially important when you live in a small community that is largely homogeneous with regard to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, political beliefs, etc.)
We arrived in Seattle the last weekend in June, and began to notice signs promoting the upcoming Pride Parade on Sunday. Our awareness of LGBT issues had already been heightened by conversations with our son Tim related to the Supreme Court decision that week legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states. As a college student, we have seen his growing passion for social justice issues, a passion evident in his choice to pursue a degree that will equip him to teach math in the most underprivileged, urban schools. I have learned much from him about the privilege and prejudice that are true of me simply by virtue of being a white person in a conservative, wealthy community with all its’ inherent opportunities as well as lack of diversity. The conversations have been challenging and convicting, as well as respectful and full of genuine care. While I don’t share all of Tim’s beliefs, nor does he share all of mine, we are more committed to our love for each other than our differences.
So, back in Seattle on that sticky, humid Sunday morning, I woke up early and re-thought my decision to stay as far away from the Pride Parade as possible. I heard my son’s voice in my head; thought about the disappointment he would feel if I missed out on an opportunity I would surely never get in Hudsonville, MI. I realized that going would be uncomfortable for many reasons, including the fact that I abhor large, crowded spaces as a highly sensitive introvert. However, when I was honest, I knew more of my discomfort was about my judgment. I had been this place before, stumbling through my early years as a ministry leader, dealing with the decision of one of my leaders to live in a lesbian relationship. More important than the question of her leadership qualifications was the fact that she was a close friend. And I had no idea what to do. For me it was the first time I was forced to think about why I believed what I did about gender identity not in a removed, intellectual sense, but within the context of connection to my real, flesh and blood friend. I made mistakes and I did some things well in my attempts to simply love her.
That was more than a decade ago, and I am still on a slow journey of seeking to live out the way of Jesus in my interactions with all people. I have allowed myself to get stuck at times, longing for the comfort of simply remaining with my “tribe.” And I am so grateful for divine encounters that jolt me out of that complacency. That Sunday in Seattle was one of those days.
Chris and I found a spot in a park close to the main stage, near enough to see and yet with room for me to breathe! The air was charged with excitement as the music and announcements began. The acknowledgement of the historic court decision brought loud cheers, followed by the roar of engines as an endless parade of motorcyclists at the front of the procession began to move down the avenue in front of us. I watched as the most diverse collection of people I’ve ever seen walked through the parade area. I had to keep up a running discourse in my head discouraging the judgments that rose quickly, simply based on people’s clothing or the slogans painted on their bodies. While the majority of those we saw in the early part of the parade seemed to be simply celebrating the freedom to be who they were, the parade took on a noticeably darker theme as the afternoon wore on. Motorcyclists and large groups of employees walking to signify their company’s support of gay rights gave way to people with collars and masks and muzzles, being led by chains. The idea of “pride” seemed to be replaced with “degradation”. My heart broke at the thought of the painful stories that likely led many of them to this place.
Webster’s Dictionary defines pride as “proper respect for one-self; sense of one’s own dignity or worth.” As I pondered my experience at the Pride Parade, I found myself thinking about my belief that everyone has inherent dignity and worth, and the importance of claiming that for a group that has been marginalized with such intense hatred and discrimination is one I don’t want to dismiss. Jesus was always about showing love to the marginalized, upsetting the popular culture that valued power, position, and identity. So if I want to keep moving on this journey, I need to keep stepping towards people in love and compassion rather than judgment. I still don’t have a clear “position” on the issue, and I am more convinced that’s not what is most important. I want to be proud of my own actions and struggle to love others and do what’s right. And on Sunday morning in Seattle, I was.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.