Do you see the woman with the camera below the stage? I don’t know who she is, but my guess would be that she is a photographer from my alma mater taking pictures of the Indigo Girls to showcase the happenings at Emory University’s Homecoming 2015. I was also in attendance to hear the concert on this rainy, soggy day.
The photographer, 25 to 30 years ago, would have been me. I wasn’t taking photos for Emory, but I was taking photos of the Indigo Girls, up close and personal, in the years before they signed their first recording contract.
Back then, for a couple of dollars, you could show up at a bar and hear Amy and Emily sing in the company of their friends and locals. If you stuck around after the performance, you might drink a beer with one of the “girls” or even engage in an intimate conversation.
If you really loved the Indigo Girls, the way I did, you might even follow them on tour, sleep with a bunch of other friends on the floor of a motel room, hang out at the beach, or play softball with them…
I met Emily years before she and Amy became the Indigo Girls because Emily’s family frequented the church I grew up in. I learned to sit on a pew in front of the Saliers family so that I could hear the harmony and beautiful voices of the parents and their four girls. And I remember being in an intergenerational Sunday school class where an elementary school-aged Emily played a guitar with the musicianship of a pro.
Amy and Emily grew up a few miles from where I lived, and they attended a rival high school. Years later, when both attended Emory, I was introduced to them by a dear friend at a local pub. They were unpretentious and approachable. They still are. It’s just that their friend and acquaintance group has expanded astronomically! It still astounds me that, in 1991, they broke away from their tour to play at my wedding.
As I listened to the Indigo Girls play this past weekend, I reminisced about my history with them as “groupie” and fan. I thought about the ways that we have all changed. We were so young…
I went further back in time and remembered my high school days when being “queer” was regarded as abnormal. I remembered that label being placed on me because I was an activist for women’s rights. I didn’t know what it meant exactly, but I knew it was bad. No one around me was out of the closet. Of course, now I know that many of my peers would label themselves gay or lesbian, etc. But back then, I was in the dark.
And a few years later, when I was a Minister to Youth, and Amy and Emily were in college, most of the people I now know as members of the LGBT community were still unable to be open about their sexual orientation. To the best of my knowledge, even Amy and Emily were still not “out” to the vast majority of the public.
But there was a different atmosphere inside the bars where the Indigo Girls played in the 1980s. I was surrounded by people who let down their guard, who, I suspect, felt freer to be themselves in that context. I know, for myself, that sharing those performances among Indigo Girls’ fans changed me. For the first time in my life, I was observing and having conversations with women who were not afraid to be recognized as lesbians. And guess what? They were women. Just women. Nothing scary. Nothing abnormal. They were people just like me.
Jump ahead a few years… As an attorney and adoption professional, I often did court reports or home studies for members of the LGBT community who wanted to adopt a child. In our state, until very recently, a gay or lesbian couple could not adopt jointly. One parent – as a “single parent” under the adoption laws – would adopt first. Then a second parent would adopt. However, if the second parent was of the same sex as the first parent, he or she had better be adopting in certain counties with certain “liberal” judges or the adoption would not be allowed. Or, in another example, if lesbian partners decided to become parents and one of the women gave birth, her partner would not automatically become the second parent. Her name would not be on the birth certificate. She, too, would have to adopt the child she had jointly planned for and supported by supporting the biological mother pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, and post-pregnancy. It was ludicrous to me. But it was all the law allowed despite its preference for two-parent families.
This past weekend, prior to attending the Indigo Girls concert, I participated in a meeting of clergy and laypersons in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church (“UMC”) and the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN”) who are working to move the UMC in the direction of inclusiveness. A large part of this effort is directed toward changing the rules that govern the UMC. Currently, the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, bans pastors from officiating at same-sex marriages and prohibits “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy from serving United Methodist churches. Since 1972, the book has proclaimed that all people are of sacred worth but that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
After the meeting, as I was driving home, I burst into tears. Why are we still engaged in this battle in 2015? Isn’t “Love God and Love Your Neighbor” all that really matters in Christianity? If I were not the daughter and granddaughter and niece of United Methodist clergy, would I still be a member of the UMC?
Then a stillness came over me. I knew “why.” I was a member of a family and the product of parents who taught me not to run away, to stand up to adversity, to listen even when I didn’t want to listen to the other’s story, to share my own perspective, and to stay connected.
I won’t argue if you tell me there are times when staying connected is too hurtful, too difficult, or pointless. I’ve been there too. But most of my training and experience has taught me that change comes through connection.
When I think about my history with adoption, I realize how much I’ve changed. Through most of my first 30 years, adoption was not even a blip on my radar. When it became a necessity to consider it, I was scared. Open adoption initially increased those fears. What kind of person would give away a child? Would I be able to relate to such a person? Who would be the “real parents”? Wasn’t this arrangement making it more likely that my child’s biological parents would come back and take her/him from me?
And then I met Rachelle, my oldest daughter’s first mother, and then Tina, and then Kim, and then Teri. Guess what? They were women. Just women. Nothing scary. Nothing abnormal. They were people just like me.
And they became family. Just family. I’d been willing to take on John’s family through marriage 🙂 How was this much different? It wasn’t.
The main strategy of RMN for changing the hearts of those who are opposed to altering the exclusiveness of the Book of Discipline is to make connections. It’s about telling your story. Whether you are gay or straight, you have a story to tell: How has the church treated me? What experiences changed my mind about our gay members?
As one clergy person stated at our meeting, “It’s not a brain thing.” It’s a matter of the heart. The same is true of adoption. Those early connections with birth family changed my heart. Since then, I’ve tried to move others with my stories. And I have been moved by the stories of other adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees.
I imagine there will always be those who ask or say: Aren’t you afraid the birth parents will take away your child?… Doesn’t this confuse your child about who his/her parents are?… Bless you for adopting… I could never do what you are doing… You must be a foster parent… What country is she from?… His father must be black…
But I have a story to tell, a potential connection to make if I choose to make it. And that person will then have my story incorporated into their own to tell.
This morning when I was driving home from the middle school, I had a vision of a pebble tossed in the water. The impact is greatest on the water around the pebble. But it has ripple effects further and further out. That’s the way our lives and our stories are. The individual act can have far-reaching consequences. We’ve just got to be willing to jump into the water.