Among my earliest memories were those statements I heard in the family about how the Irish ruined Boston. As I think on it, that was just a kind of nasty swipe at my dad by the “English” side of the family. Mind you, my Irish grandfather had some choice things to say about the “English” (many of them justified).
In the neighborhood I grew up in there were derisive things said about the “Italians”. My grandmother made me promise I’d never marry an Italian. I made that promise. And later, I broke that promise. My grandmother understands why, now that she’s in heaven.
With every wave of immigration, I’ve noticed a similar unpleasantness among “host” groups to American newcomers. And I confess that I tire of this inhospitable treatment of people who are looking for the same thing everyone sought when “we” came here.
There is one major difference. The one group unwilling to come to these shores, came aboard ships and in chains. These folks were bought and sold in the unholy enterprise of slavery. The vast majority of them were Black and were often considered property and somewhat less than human. Their status as commodity became institutionalized in America and it has become the signature blemish in our experience as a nation.
In an effort to come to terms with this reality, I went to Harlem in 1968 in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King. What I learned there was that the problem was not in Harlem. It was in the racism of America. The problem was not in the hands of the poor. It was in the hands of the powerful who blamed the poor for being poor and for being victims. It is a cruel charge. It is an injustice And I have spent the rest of my life working for justice.
I was born in a blue collar family in a solid working class neighborhood. We all worked hard. Most of my family worked in textiles, shoes, or in public safety. Most of our family lost jobs to plant closures as jobs first moved south and west and then overseas.
As far as I can see it, the trend has been to concentrate wealth among the rich and to squeeze the middle and working folk of the country. I have noticed that during my lifetime we have gone from a society in which one job provided enough for a home, a car, health care, retirement etc to a social order in which it takes two full time salaries to make ends meet.
We just haven’t kept up. The discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots in this country has grown and the gap is widening. That is a very serious justice issue. The gap between rich and poor around the world is widening too for that matter. This is a matter of concern for all who care about Justice and Peace, for without Justice there can be no Peace.
My mother told me many years ago when she worked in personnel at the First National Bank of Boston that there were two pay scales; one for men and one for women. Even when the job performed was exactly the same, she noticed the discrepancy. Since my mom and dad were divorced rendering my mom the head of the household, this reality introduced an economic hardship on our family. She mentioned this to her bosses long before this sort of thing was “fashionable”. She was told to be quiet and remember that men had families to support and that she should be thankful for the fact that she had a job.
My mom recognized this as an injustice. So do I. This reality has made me a life long feminist. It took me just a while to see that this justice issue applied across the board in cultural as well as economic turns, but I did support the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church even when I tad to take a few unpleasant criticisms for it.
When my dad died as a child my uncle vowed to fill the void my dad left when he died. My uncle and his partner spent lots of time with me at baseball games, hockey games, and day trips to Cape Cod, Cape Ann and dinner out from time to time. I had no idea growing up that my uncle was gay. I didn’t even know what the word meant. But throughout my life I’ve grown to understand that folks come in all kinds of colors, creeds, and convictions. I’ve come to respect folks for their differences. And in the fullness of time I came to some form of understanding of the nature of human sexuality. I did get married and then Cindy and I managed to have three fine sons. Two of them happen to be gay.
In the midst of all this, I became a priest of the Episcopal Church. I couldn’t help but notice that there were all kinds of gay folks in the church, in the workplaces of parishioners and others, and in the families to which I was called to serve.
I also noticed that gay folks, like many other minorities were often shabbily treated…and often brutalized, beaten and sometimes killed. This too seems to me to be a justice issue. I began to write on the subject as I needed to develop a theology for dealing with human sexuality. I also read and reread the Bible many times to see what kind of understanding I could glean from the spirit and from the letter of the Book. When the Diocese of New Hampshire elected a gay man living in a faithful relationship with another man, and the Episcopal Church ratified that election, I knew that the theological excrement was about to hit the fan. So that’s when I decided to finish the book that’s been in my heart to write all my life.
I am now at peace with the Scripture, with God, and with humanity. Because I believe God loves my uncle and all three of my boys. In fact I believe that God loves all of humanity and that there’s a special place in God’s heart for everyone.
Why else would he have sent Jesus into this whacky world, if he didn’t want to save it from the very hatefulness and judmentalism we see so of much in religion anyway? It was that very hatefulness that ended up in the crucifixion of Jesus anyway.
Thankfully I belong to a church, one tiny corner of it anyway, The Episcopal Church, where everyone is welcome at God’s banquet table…for the one thing we are learning, through all the blood, sweat and tears of this journey is that “We are a House of Prayer for ALL People”!