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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Some thoughts on a murder

Had he not died, on this day in 1998, Matthew Shepard would have seen his fortieth birthday this coming December 1.

Facebook reminds me of things all day every day, but this hasn’t been in the timeline of things others have shared today. We've all moved on, I guess. Today we debate whether "President", "pussy grab" and "Tic Tacs" can be shoehorned into a sentence- outside of an asylum or a nightmare.

Last night, a little before the hour Matthew Shepard breathed his last eighteen years ago, Governor Pat McCrory debated his opponent in the governor’s race.

Governor McCrory takes many odd positions, and one of his regulars is that he- at once- wants to take credit for HB2 and be the daddy/protector of the state’s women and girls, and that he doesn’t want to talk about it at all.

He’d rather talk, in those Carolina Comeback moments, about the state of North Carolina, into whose tent he rolled a fragmentation grenade six months ago- the Model HB2.

Governor McCrory likes to mock transgender Tar Heels as freaks with mood swings, and to warm up Trump rally crowds with bathroom humor- before the candidate comes out and the audience starts looking for people to beat up.

But the other part of HB2- the one he won’t talk about- lifted the protection of the laws of the State of North Carolina from nearly 350,000 residents, including me.

He’s proud of that. He and his legislators were so keen to make their point, they wrote into HB2 that every city and county in the state has to do the same. Everyone will meet his low, exclusionary standard, or you can just leave.

Yet yesterday and today we have news reports in which the governor complained, last Friday night, that he and his wife are being shunned by friends for the way he brags about giving them HB2.

According to the recording, McCrory spoke at length about the fallout from the law:

▪ “It’s almost like the George Orwell book ‘1984’,” he said. “If you disagree with Big Brother or you go against the thought police, you will be purged. And you will disappear.”

▪ “My wife, for example, in Charlotte – she primarily stays in Charlotte,” he said. “She’s been disinvited to charity events. Basically, they call her up and say, ‘You better not come. You better not come.…

“My wife and I ... we’re being shunned for a political disagreement, a values disagreement.”

▪ “I listen to the other side … And I say, ‘I respectfully disagree with you’,” he said. “They do not say that to me, I wave to them with five fingers. They wave back with one. And it’s personal. It’s death threats. Last week, I was verbally assaulted by a 21-year-old drunk student. She was arrested.”

▪ “Everyone says, ‘Gosh, you must have thick skin.’ I don’t have thin skin. I just hide it.”

HB2 allows discrimination against LGBT resident not because they are, in fact, gay. It says others can target them if they only think they are gay.

It’s something I think about a lot. At 60, with white hair, I’m an easy target. I’m Pat McCrory’s age.

I know what it’s like being shunned by friends- and family, too- by him and his law, and by others before him, for decades. And I’m not thin-skinned, either.

Somehow, the governor doesn’t seem to see the lesson his experience offers, even though he is showing glimmers of realization that there's a difference in being surrounded by real friends, and ringed by courtiers and lobbyists. The latter will adore him in all seasons- unless he loses.

The difference between hubris and humility still defeats him. He sees his situation as a pitch he can make for votes from people who hate- or fear- their neighbors and even family members, more than he.

He sees it as a way to make others out as bad people- mean, thoughtless people. Not like him, the the high-minded servant/leader who, last night, said, “this governor has given leadership like we’ve never seen.”

These are things I think about tonight. And I think back to that night eighteen years ago. From the retirement sermon of Craig R.J. Darling, First Baptist Church of Seattle, November 11, 2016, here is where I was:
Since I’ve started with a theme of silent meditation, I’d like you to look around this old room for minute. Take in its character – notice the windows – the beams – the hew of the wood – the design – the quatrefoil – the fixtures – the aura. 
Many times, over the past 21 years, I’ve escaped from my office upstairs in the midst of a busy, exhausting or soul-searching day and found my way to this spirited room and just sat, quietly, alone with my thoughts.
Often, I found myself wondering what these old wall have seen and heard during the one hundred and two years since this magnificent haven was erected. Just imagine! Imagine all the prayers and petitions – all the tears – all the laughter – all the music and drama – all the baptisms – all the weddings – all the funerals – all the child dedications, public forums and of course, the sermons. 
Imagine if these walls could speak! 
Have you ever seen the angels, the ones hovering, right up there!? I admit it. I am certain I have seen an energy, a peaceful aura, guarding the sacred gift of this room. Call me crazy! And I won’t care! My friends, the eyes and ears of this old room have been witness to the unfolding story that we are, together. 
In the next few minutes, I’d like to walk us down memory lane and give voice once again to a few unique ministry events that this room has hosted in love – the blessings that have touched me deeply over these past 21 years. 
Story # 1: On Monday afternoon, October 12, 1998, I received a call from Ed Murray. He was then a state legislator. It was the day that Matthew Shepard died from injuries he’d sustained after being beaten and tortured by two homophobic young men in a lonely, cold, Wyoming field. 
Ed told me that a grass-roots spontaneous candle-light vigil and march was to begin at Seattle Central Community College that evening. Several hundred people were expected and he was wondering, since our church was welcoming and affirming, could he lead the vigil down the street and end up in our sanctuary. Ed admitted that he wasn’t exactly sure what would actually happen once we gathered here, but he felt the community needed a place to sit with each other, hear from a few LGBTQ leaders and have the opportunity to process our outrage and grief together. Of course, I said yes and told him we’d be waiting with our doors and hearts open. I immediately called our Senior Pastor, Rod Romney, who had already returned for the evening to his North Seattle home, and asked him to please come back and join me in greeting our neighbors as they arrived. Then I called Dennis Coleman, with whom I lived in an intentional community at the time, and asked him to bring the Seattle Men’s Chorus. He did, and nearly 200 guys were packed in this choir loft, singing softly throughout the evening – very emotional. 
As Rod and I watched from the Seneca Street entrance, we could see hundreds of candles glowing in the dark, slowly moving up Harvard Avenue toward us. We decided that we’d ask folks to extinguish their candles as they entered the building. But, when the first people met us at the door, with tears in their eyes, we were both so overcome – with the emotion of the moment and with the overwhelming number of people rapidly moving through the doorways – that we simply didn’t have the time or the inclination to ask anyone to blow out their candle. My friends, this old room watched and listened as nearly 1,400 neighbors jammed into this 800 seat space. 
Complete strangers holding each other as tears flowed in a period of public grief, the likes of which none of us had ever experienced.
Well, as the last of our guests departed that night, Rod and I shut the doors behind them and turned to face a sanctuary saturated in a thousand drops of wax. I mean WAX! Wax on the newly installed carpet, wax on the pews and pew-pads, wax on the wood floors – WAX!!! Just WAX!!! EVERYWHERE!!! 
It took 20 volunteers all day Thursday, Friday and part of Saturday to remove the wax from the pews and floors. 
The wax was lifted from the carpet by an industrial cleaning service that we hired. It cost $2,800 and over 200 elbow-grease hours to restore this room to its usual beauty. 
Oh yes – there were a couple of the older men on the building committee (God rest their souls), who shared a few harsh words with me because of the wax damage, that was, after all, my fault for having allowed it. 
And I shared a few harsh words right back at them. I told them that they should talk with the volunteers who cleaned up the wax, who felt privileged to do their part in such a sacred historic event. Oh yes, I also handed them a $4,000 check from one of the neighbors – not a member of our church – who heard about the wax situation. He said he wanted to help. He said that the very fact we’d opened our doors spontaneously in love to grieving neighbors moved him to tears and this was his way of saying thanks. So, I asked the building committee men, as I handed them the check, what they planned to do with the extra $1,200 that was left over. Well, I didn’t get an answer, but I never heard another word about it from those men. Although they never confronted Pastor Rod about this, Rod found out about their grumpy demeanor and was as annoyed as I’d ever seen him. 
On that Sunday, with about 60 guys from the Seattle Men’s Chorus attending worship, as a show of support, since they’d also heard about the unfortunate “waxing,” Rod brought the Matthew Shepard vigil to life again for the congregation during his sermon. And, as a little jab at those angry building committee men, Rod likened the drops of wax to the tears of Christ. Touché! That week, my friends, found these old walls recording a brilliant ministry of healing – a week that I shall never forget. Thank you for being a church where wax damage becomes a symbol of grace, healing and love. 
Oh! If these walls could speak!

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