Thursday, March 14, 2019
Last Sunday, I went to church pissed. My little church was one of the first Methodist churches in the country to celebrate, not just “accept” gay people, and the sanctuary has been a home for me for decades. My congregation prayed for me when my brain tumors were diagnosed. From this congregation, I made friends in a rural Salvadoran community. My partner and I became wife and wife there.
Last week, the international Methodist church voted to maintain language in the Book of Discipline that says “Homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching.” The international body increased penalties for pastors who are found to be gay or perform gay union ceremonies.
I argued years ago, when a lesbian coming out committed suicide, that our church should separate from the larger church. How could we remain part of an unjust organization? I was told our church needed to remain part of the larger organization in order to change the larger church from the inside.
It’s true that the Western conference to which our church belongs embraces those of us who are LGBTQIA+. In fact, at the end of the General Conference which just occurred, the final proclamation came from our bishop, asserting that the Western Conference would continue to defy the larger church’s rules.
The worry among many Methodists in the years leading up to this decision was that the church would split over “the gay issue.” If that happened, the argument went, U.S. connections to African and Pilipino churches, to their people and ways of understanding the world, would be severed.
It occurred to me in an after-church report on the conference that we are already split. The question, it seems to me, is not a spiritual one so much as a legal one. Will we continue to be part of an unjust system, or will we break away. To quote our church’s much-revered Cecil Taylor, “We must save our souls.” We must break away.
That’s what I think now. I’m not pissed. I’m resolved.
It’s true that separating will be complicated. Who will separate? Will churches leave individually, or will the more liberal churches leave together to create a new denomination? Will our church keep our property? Will retired pastors still have their pensions? What will happen to LGBTQIA+ members of more conservative churches and conferences?
Each of those questions is big, and I don’t know the answers. I can’t even guess at them. The only thing that seems clear to me is that our international church has already split. Our divorce seems inevitable. And necessary.
I wonder if one day I’ll say the same about our nation. I pray not, but I wonder.
Friday, March 1, 2019
My long-time friend and neighbor Annabella died last week. She would have been 99 on April 20, and she was in hospice because she had stopped eating and drinking, so I knew her end was near. Her death was not a surprise, and yet I miss her.
My partner Ann and I visited Friday afternoon to say good-bye. Before we entered her room, a worker asked us to wait so she could “change” her. I thought this would be for toileting, but the “change” took only a minute, so maybe she was being repositioned which would have helped prevent pressure sores. As we waited, we heard a young woman saying into her phone, “Her breathing is shallow.” We guessed this woman was Annabella’s hospice nurse, and we were glad our dear, spunky friend was being so cared for.
When we entered Annabella’s room, she was lying on her side. Her eyes were closed and the skin on her face was relaxed. She was clean and looked beautiful in her soft blue sheets. She looked remarkably like her younger daughter, something I had never before noticed.
Ann leaned over Annabella, her hand resting on Annabella’s thin arm. Ann said, “Hey girl,” which is how Annabella had always greeted us. Ann recalled good times the three of us had had together. Annabella lay quietly, as if in an easy sleep. After a few minutes, Ann said, “I love you,” and stepped back.
I stood from my chair and leaned close to Annabella, trying to rest my hand on her leg but finding instead what must have been a box under the covers to vary her position. I recalled times we had laughed together. I remembered the time years before when Annabella had been talking about her death. She said, “When I die, they’re going to say, ‘That was a semi-good woman.’” I told her she might have been a semi-good woman, but she had always been a good friend to me.
I stepped away, and Ann approached again to say a final good-bye. As she spoke Annabella made gurgling sounds. Her eyes were still closed, but she seemed agitated. Maybe she was trying to speak, or maybe she was just trying to breathe. Maybe she knew we were there, and maybe she didn’t. Ann said, “You don’t need to say anything. I love you,” and Annabella settled again into soft, shallow breathing.
Ann and I have known Annabella since we moved into this neighborhood 23 years ago. Soon after we moved in, Ann and I delivered invitations to a house-warming for our neighbors. As we came back to our home, the phone was already ringing. I answered it.
“Hi,” said a gravelly voice, “I’m Annabella. Your neighbor. I drink beer. Not the hard stuff. Beer.” I tried to assure her we’d have beer, but the line went dead. She’d hung up. I’d learn over the years that was how Annabella ended a phone conversation. I’d also learn to love her.
When she was a spry 91 years old (and she was spry), I told her I was writing a book, and she said, “Books are boring. ‘The sky is blue. The grass is green.’ You should write about me. I’m interesting.” So I started interviewing her and writing down details of her life in New Orleans and Seattle, including her work as a Riveter during WWII. I wrote funny things she said. I did publish a couple of pieces about her, like this one celebrating revolutionary women in this area
She’s schooled me through the years. She said, “It’s good to live a long time to tell the stories.” She told me more than I can share here, but I’ll try giving you a taste of her independence, humor and wisdom.
Annabella was stubborn and strong-headed. We didn’t always agree. She liked to say, “The Lord makes fools and mules, and I’m no fool.” Once, when she said something dicey, she said, “I tell it like it is.” Another time she said, “Don’t tell me I’m wrong because I know, and I don’t mind telling you.”
She was gruff, but she could also be sweet. Once when we were eating at The BluWater, her favorite restaurant around here, she said, “I’m different than most people, but people like me. Why? They kiss me, and I tell them I love them.”
Once, she said, “I know a lot because I’ve lived 93 years.” Another time she told me, “I can cuss. It comes natural,” and later, “If you need to cuss, you can learn from me.” Remembering her childhood and the mom whom she adored, Annabella said, “My sister drew back when my mom was gonna whip her. I’d curse her out.”
Annabella was funny, and she could also be wise. A “colored” woman, she taught me a lot about race in the U.S. About the integration of schools, she said, “I just really think you shouldn’t have all White or all Black schools. You don’t learn anything like that.” Maybe she learned that from forty years volunteering in elementary school classrooms.
Annabella was a devout Catholic. Once, she told me, “I may be bitchy, but I don’t miss mass.” She loved Ann and me. One night, I pointed out her demographic: “colored,” elderly, Catholic, Southern born and raised, and asked why she bucked a trend that indicated she would reject us because we are lesbians. She pointed a knobby finger to her temple and said, “I have my own mind.”
As Annabella got deeper into her nineties, she talked more about her death. One morning she told me, “It’s already a beautiful day. Every day’s a beautiful day when you wake up.” She won’t be waking up anymore, and I’ll miss her, but my days will be more beautiful because I’ve known her.