Yesterday started out like any other … I was sitting on the couch with my morning coffee reading the news when Phoebe (our 1 1/2 year old Jack Russell/Border Terrier mix) jumped off the couch, ran into the middle of the room and began to vomit. Lovely. But then as we began to clean it up, she repeated this two more times. It didn’t seem to be too much of a problem and there wasn’t much we could do at this point. I had to go to work and my wife had to go to the eye doctor.
Around 11:15 a young man came to my office at the church looking for a clergy person to discuss some theological questions with which he was wrestling. He was facing a personal crisis and was battling with his faith. Since there were no clergy available I spent a bit of time with him, listening to his troubles and his questions, and reassuring him that there was nothing wrong with questioning and that our clergy would be happy to talk with him as soon as someone was available. In the midst of our conversation my phone rang – perhaps not the most opportune moment for the theme song from “The Big Bang Theory” to begin to play but the young man was unfazed and commented that he watched the show as well.
The call was from my wife. She was still in Philadelphia after seeing the eye doctor and was quite upset. The pressure in her eye was high and there is concern about her optic nerve. New medication, she has to go back again in another week and oh, by the way, it looks like surgery is going to be necessary. I know this worries her and now I’m concerned that she has to drive over an hour to get home.
The next time the phone rings I’m expecting it to be her telling me she’s home safe. But instead, she’s calling to tell me that Phoebe is still vomiting and she’ll be going to the vet at 3:30. I have a 4:30 dentist appointment so I can’t go with her. We text back and forth while I’m in the dentist’s chair — x-rays and bloodwork – what are they looking for? – an obstruction or pancreatitis — and as my worry for our baby is increasing so are the dollar signs in my head. Just as I arrive at the vet she’s ready to go. It’s good news, there’s no obstruction and she doesn’t have pancreatitis – whew, no surgery – but they still don’t know what it is. So they’ve hydrated her, given us a can Rx dog food, three medications and lots of instructions. We get home and Phoebe has a little dinner (she would’ve liked more) but she still isn’t herself and just curls up next to us. We’re all glad the day is over.
This morning Phoebe still isn’t quite herself although she does seem a little better. So it should be a good day. On my way to work I start thinking about yesterday and suddenly the tears start to flow. Were they tears of sadness or frustration? Well, they were sort of a mix of joy, of frustration and of sadness. I had started thinking about the experience being in the vet’s office yesterday. It really was a little thing that most people take for granted but we know we cannot always take such things for granted. The people in the office were so kind (as they always are) but it just struck me how they treated us exactly the same way they would have treated any other married couple. There was no derision, no sideways glances, no “Oh, you must be sisters” comments. It was just a normal and natural interaction between the vet’s staff and a couple whose dog was ill. How odd that a simple common courtesy could start the tears flowing.
On one hand, the tears were tears of joy – that we can be recognized and treated with the same respect that other married couples, or even unmarried couples, can take for granted every day.
But there was also a sadness in those tears, knowing that we haven’t always been able to expect such respectful treatment and that, in fact, we still can’t expect it everywhere. If we have to go to PA for the eye surgery, our marriage will not be recognized there. I’ll simply be a friend with no legal rights rather than the spouse that I am. Yes, there is a sadness from the twenty years of not being able to expect to be treated with a simple common courtesy, twenty years of being told and being treated as though we were somehow less worthy of such dignity. And there is a sadness that still, while we have been blessed to be granted this respect, this dignity, these rights around our home in NJ, we know that elsewhere, there are those who are granted more legal rights to ignore and deny our legal married status, to take away our rights and treat us with disdain.
Have you ever been acutely aware of when you and your spouse were treated with respect as spouses or even simply as a couple deserving of respect? Is it the kind of thing that presses into your consciousness every day? It seems a little thing, to be treated with the same respect as any other couple, married or unmarried. It may be a little thing, but it’s a little thing that can mean so much to those for whom it has long been denied.
Yes, it’s always the little things – the little things that can make an ordinary day feel like it’s spiraling out of control, and the little things that can make the difference between feeling like an outcast and feeling accepted as a fully equal human being.
It’s always the little things, whether it is the straw that broke the camel’s back or a simple word that can empower the disenfranchised. What little thing might you do today? Will your words, your actions, even your presence break a camel’s back or will you empower someone who has been disenfranchised?
After my father died, I found he had kept my “Prayerbook for Little Boys and Girls” from my First Communion in 1965. Being a liturgical scholar and a Roman Catholic turned Episcopalian, I felt compelled to read through it. I didn’t expect to LOL but imagine my surprise when I read that after I receive communion
I return to my pew. I kneel very quietly. Jesus Is in My Heart. These are very holy minutes. They are very important. Jesus is with me. He will stay for about fifteen minutes.
Really? REALLY? You mean to tell me that the little wafer you just put on my tongue may very well stick to the roof of my mouth for a longer period of time than God will stay with me?
I don’t recall the impact this notion had on my seven year old mind at the time but I do recall another teaching that so baffled me I could not accept it, even at that young age.
I was taught that only the baptized would go to heaven and see God after they died. Sinners and those who had died unbaptized would go to hell and would never see God face to face. But there was a special place called Limbo for those poor unfortunate babies who died before anyone could baptize them. These babies wouldn’t suffer the torments of hell but nevertheless, they also would never see God. Really? REALLY? You mean to tell me that if a baby died without having someone splash water on its head and say a few magic words, that baby would never see God?
Although it’s more familiar because it was the church of my youth, it’s not just Roman Catholic theology or doctrine that stymies me. In recent years we’ve seen so many stories of members of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting at funerals of victims – victims of violence, of hatred or war – carrying signs saying things like “God hates fags” or “Thank God for 9/11” or “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Really? REALLY? You mean to tell me that your God rejoices in the loss of innocent lives? That your God hates any human being, or even has the capacity to hate?
Can God really be so small that he comes to you for only 15 minutes in a ritual sacrament, that he would toss aside a child for eternity, that he can hate someone because of who they choose to love (or because of the color of their skin or the way they choose to worship or their gender or their size, or any reason for that matter)? If that’s true of your God, I feel sorry for you because my God is too big to fit inside your tiny, narrow-minded, hate-filled, self-centered legalistic world.
We believe that we are created in the image of God but in fact, we also create God in our image. We must – it is the only way we can even try to comprehend God, to put God in terms that we can understand, relate to, believe in. Whether my image is as simplistic as the old white man with a gray beard (the good father image of an old-time theologian), a God who hates fags (because I hate fags), one who stays only 15 minutes (because that’s as long as I think I need to hang out), or even a big fat black lesbian (because I fit into one or any number of the above categories). Or whether it is something more akin to what we see in nature or something more ephemeral – God as Mother Earth (something that gives me life, that I can touch and experience with the senses) or the ideal all-encompassing image of love that we need to hold onto in order to feel that we are somehow worthwhile.
If I am created in God’s image, I am certain it is not because God is white or female or lesbian or Christian or impatient or rude or angry (all of which I am or can be). But if I am created in the image of God, let it be the love, the empathy, the willingness to give, the beauty, the joy of God that I can image in the world.