Grasping Thorns

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose." ― A. Brontë

Category: LGBT rights

A New Hampshire Wedding: Top Ten List

This past weekend, my family and I drove 16 hours from warm South Carolina to brisk New Hampshire to attend an exceptional wedding. As part of my wedding gift, I have decided to write a recap, a “top ten” list if you will, to commemorate the McLeod-Williamson nuptials. So, without further ado, my top ten moments from 09.27.2012 are as follows:

10. Getting there: My mother thought I was crazy to take the children (Arina, who is 8; Jack, who is 2) on a 16 hour car ride, but I insisted they had to go.

“Alec and Michael are their godparents!” I wailed, and I earnestly explained that there must be some sort of rule about godchildren attending their godparents’ wedding. (Note: I’m not Catholic, despite my fascination with Catholic rituals, so Alec and Michael are more of the modern godparent variety; see Bruce Feiler’s “The Godparent Trap” and note that Alec and Michael are “better godparent[s] than Martin Amis” and are “Values Dad[s]” of the highest caliber.)

Getting there (and back) ended up being more fun than I anticipated, though, filled with 2-year old Jack pointing out landmarks (“I see bridge!” and “I see water!” were his favorites) and 8-year old Arina on constant watch for fast food playground equipment (she hoped, of course, that we’d break for a snack so she could play).

Getting to the wedding location — Rye Harbor State Park in beautiful New Hampshire (it’s prime fall foliage, by the way) — was a treat for the senses: the salt smell of the sea; the sound of the waves; and this:

9. Entertaining the toddler: Because they were afraid of rain (that didn’t happen — yay!), Alec and Michael decided to move the ceremony from the water’s edge to under one of the shelters. This worked out fabulously for several reasons, not the least of which: THIS (see below) became the new view.

Toddler boys like Jack aren’t all that interested in wedding ceremonies, but they are very interested in boats. So, during the ceremony, Jack was thoroughly entertained. The only downside was that every now and then the congregation would hear a baby voice saying “I see boat! I see another boat! 1, 2, 3, 4” and so on — but this is much better than Jack screaming “I don’t like the windy!” or “I have a bug in my penis” (his go-to phrase for being uncomfortable, ever since he noticed a gnat on his penis after stripping off his filthy clothes outside).

After the ceremony, Jack was able to give full expression to his glee at seeing water!, rocks!, birds! and boats!

8. Witnessing love: From the moment Alec and Michael showed up, holding hands as they made their way to the minister until the moment we left, with hugs and well wishes of safe travel from all around us, we saw and felt love — of the Romans 12: 9-16 variety.

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

This is the New Testament Scripture around which the ceremony was focused — a passage of Scripture often titled “Marks of a True Christian.” I can’t think of a better way of describing the ceremony than using the following words from the selected Scripture: genuine and good; loving and affectionate; honorable and hopeful; hospitable and joyful; harmonious and humble.

7. Finding spiritual restoration: The ministers officiating over the wedding had a progressive theology of the Nobel prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu variety. They each seemed to take seriously Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12, the Old Testament Scripture reading:

“9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Love, in all its forms, they declared good. I couldn’t help but think of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, my favorite as an English instructor, since it emphasizes the importance of critical reading — even of “prophecies,” or Scripture: “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.”

What Alec and Michael understand, and the ministers understand, and the congregation understands (including me and my husband and my children) is this: quite simply, love is good.

6. Eating and drinking: Mimosas. Muffins and coffee cake and pumpkin bread. Ham and quiche and French toast. And an almond cake with amaretto and raspberry filling and butter cream icing. Yum.

5. Enjoying the weather: When one of my New England friends saw the photos, she asked: “Could you have a more quintessential New England weather experience?” Answer: no. Being from the South, I think we were all a little shocked by the chill. And, if it weren’t for the fact that there are no pink Southern states on this map, I don’t know if we would have ended up in New Hampshire at all.

But, I’m so glad we did.

I’ve decided that a bit of chill in the air is perfect for an outside wedding, because it forces guests to be cozy. It wasn’t bad when we all sat together and leaned in to chat, and it was so much better than being sweaty and sticky (e.g. the guests at our wedding in August, in Charleston).

As Alec’s lovely mother told me when I walked up to her and she folded me in her arms: “We have to hug to keep warm!”

In short, bundling up, and hugging, is fun.

4. Making new friends: At one point in his homily, the minister asked us all to look around and to realize that Saturday at 10:00 AM was a unique moment — never again, he said, would the same group of people be gathered at the same place for the same purpose. In essence, the ceremony was one that bound us all — not just Alec and Michael — to each other. Making new friends is a must for the top ten list, and I’m fortunate to have a play-by-play of the friend-making in action. Arina was enjoying herself on the rocks (see below) when she came across a red-haired boy of the same age (the minister’s son).

Their conversation went as follows:

Arina: “I’m Arina, and this is my Dad [who was lingering nearby], Scott.”

Will: “Scotty, Scotty, bo-batie,: Bananafana fo-fatie: Mee-Mi-mo-matie: Scotty!”

Arina: “Hey! Don’t make fun of my Dad!”

Will: “Okay. I’m Will.”

From that moment on, they were inseparable, exploring the rocks together. At one point, Will was holding Arina’s hand, as if to protect her from falling, but as soon as I crept behind them with a camera, he dropped it. Still before he left, he gave Arina a lobster claw, which she pocketed (and, later, reluctantly tossed when she realized that it smelled). Lots of adults made friends too, but none of those were quite as entertaining, since they involved neither the Name Game nor lobster claws.

3. Being with family: Number 4 is connected to Number 3, as Anglican bishop Gene Robinson explains in his article “Jesus Would Back Gay Marriage”:

“The teachings of Jesus can hardly be used to support the notion of the modern nuclear family — or even the idea of the biological family. Jesus had some things to say about families and familial relationships that sound harsh to modern ears. Indeed, he seemed to promote a family based not on biological origin but on intention, choice, and shared beliefs.

Matthew’s Gospel records an incident in which Jesus is speaking publicly, when he is told that his ‘mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to [him]. But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46– 50)’ . . .

According to the Scriptures themselves, Jesus seems to have gathered around him an intentionally chosen group of people whom he regarded as his family . . .  — more deeply so than his own biological family.”

In that light, here is another play-by-play of the friend-making in action:

Me: “Hi, Amy. We haven’t met, but I’m Nicole. We became Facebook friends through Alec, and I love your posts.”

Amy: “Yes! So wonderful to meet you. We think alike.”

I agreed, and, if I had thought about it at the time, I would have told Amy that we’re family: based not on biological origin but on intention, choice, and shared beliefs.

Another favorite family member is sister-friend Natalie (see below), with whom I’ve shared intention, choice and beliefs for almost a decade.

2. Seeing a tandem bike in action:

Really. Enough said.

1. Experiencing joy: I have never been to a wedding that is not joyful, but the amount of joy at this particular wedding set it apart as exceptional. I offer, below, Exhibit A. Our son, Jack, who has been to many weddings, has never smiled for a wedding photo (his smiles are difficult to come by), but you can see it here, creeping across his face. He is catching a joy that is contagious.

On the way home, Scott and I tried to pinpoint what it was that made this wedding different, and my mind jumped back to hearing Jesuit priest John Dear speak over the summer about the Beatitudes. A friend of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Tutu, interestingly enough, nominated Dear for the Nobel Peace Prize), Dear talked about his friend’s exceptional joy. When he asked the Archbishop about it, Tutu told Dear that he has received a death threat every day since he was a teenager. And then, John Dear said, he danced.

To those who are persecuted (like the LGBT community), Jesus in the Beatitudes promises the kingdom of heaven — something holy, something precious, something miraculous. And you can’t experience that without joy. So we danced.

Ain’t You Tired? To Christians Opposing Marriage Equality


When Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-a, made his now infamous comments opposing marriage equality, I was listening to the audiobook version of The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel about the lives of African American maids in the early 1960s. The book details what it’s like to be African American, in the South, during the Civil Rights Movement (i.e. not a Fourth of July picnic). Question: Do you know what else is not a Fourth of July picnic? Answer: Being LGBTQ (or, to a lesser extent, their straight supporter), in the South, today.

I grew up in rural South Carolina, in a town not unlike Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame. For the most part, people in the town who were not conservative Christians moved elsewhere, or they learned to be silent. As for me, I went to college for a BA in English; and then an MA; and then a PhD. And, at some point during that time, I (like Skeeter Phelan) “realized that I actually had a choice in what I could believe.” I made the choice to embrace both a progressive Christianity and the LGBTQ community. Then, I was naïve enough to think that I could share articles and that my conservative Christian Facebook friends would read them and choose to embrace both a progressive Christianity and the LGBTQ community too:

  • Because, if given the choice, wouldn’t you want to be honest about the fact that, as David Lose writes, “the Bible seems regularly and simultaneously to offer counsel that we deem both awful and excellent,” and, then, set to work choosing your canon within the canon?
  • Wouldn’t you want to build your canon around Christ’s teachings and example, rather than a code of holy living for Levitical priests or a couple of sentences written by Paul? Isn’t that the point of the WWJD bracelets? Isn’t it preferable to put Jesus’s injunction to love your neighbor as yourself and to refrain from judgment in your canon within the canon, to prioritize these teachings, as Jesus did?
  • Wouldn’t you prefer Jay Michaelson’s interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah? Michaelson writes, “The Sodomites were rapists, not gays. Sodomy is a crime of violence against strangers, not an act of sexuality and certainly not one of love. It is an act born of hardening the heart against people who are vulnerable.” Isn’t it preferable to learn something about ourselves, about the ways we are inhospitable to our neighbors, instead of judging and consequently alienating a minority group?

Isn’t it tiring to hold onto self-righteousness, and to practice condemnation of the LGBTQ community on a day-to-day basis? As Aibileene says to Hilly Holbrook in the film adaptation of The Help: “Ain’t you tired?”

I speak out against Dan Cathy’s comments, because silence is always interpreted as consent. I boycott Chick-fil-a, not because of Cathy’s comments (noxious as they are), but because Cathy has donated five million dollars of his revenue to anti-gay organizations like Exodus International and the Family Research Council. And, yes: I know that I have and will inevitability make purchases that harm rather than help, but this is one purchase I can do without. I posted as much on my Facebook page, and I have been disheartened to see the response.

  • To those who continue to insist that being gay is a choice: Ain’t you tired? If the LGBTQ community (and science, incidentally) says that sexual orientation is not a choice, maybe it’s not. You have already accepted that the Bible is not a science textbook if you believe, despite Joshua 10:12-14, that the Earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. Maybe, just maybe, the Biblical writers did not have a complete understanding of sexuality and gender. Maybe, just maybe, God does not have their (and our) limited human understanding.
  • To those who continue to fight against marriage equality for the LGBTQ community: Ain’t you tired? Don’t be angry that the Christian conservative boycott against JC Penney did not garner the same amount of attention and support as the boycott against Chick-fil-a. And don’t be surprised. By backing marriage equality, JC Penney supports extending rights to a minority community. Chick-fil-a is contributing funds to organizations that are trying to deny rights to a minority community. Traditional heterosexual marriage is in no danger, whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry or not.
  • To those who continue to insist that being gay is a sin against God. Ain’t you tired? Jesus had more to say about divorce (and much more to say about greed) than being gay (of which he said nothing). Imagine that Cathy took a public stance against the Biblical “sin” of divorce by not only condemning remarriage, but also by sending money to organizations claiming to “cure” those who want to remarry of “adulterous” impulses (see Mark 10:11-12).

Ain’t you tired?

I have a confession. The LGBTQ community, and the people who support them are tired too, but it’s of the MLK Jr. variety:

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.

We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known . . . that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That’s all.

We protest the “strain of Christianity that continues to insist that homosexuality is an evil affront to God” (see John Shore’s “Another Teen Bullied to Death, Another Reason for a New Christianity”). But many of us are still Christian, and I dare say all of us embrace Jesus’s ethics (a la Sermon on the Mount) and example. Because we embrace these ethics, we protest organizations that seek to deny two consenting adults the right to make a loving marriage commitment to each other; and, we protest restaurant CEOs who boast of financially supporting such organizations.

There comes a time. We are here. We protest. Ain’t you tired?