NOTE: This piece originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Q View Northwest, a Spokane, Washington “community newsmagazine celebrating diversity and dances of the human spirit” (sadly no longer in publication).
Those for whom I march
David Weiss, June 2009)
September 2007: “Before we begin this Festival Mass that will open our 2007-2008 school year, we invite you to turn to the person next to you to introduce yourself and greet them,” said the worship leader.
I was at the back of the large church sanctuary, standing in the center aisle, in my black master’s academic gown, with my red velvet hood, denoting my degree in theology. It was the start of a new school year at the Catholic college where I (at the time a Lutheran) worked in campus ministry. My job was to signal the start of a very formal festive procession down the aisle, making sure that each person was paced appropriately.
I turned to the young woman standing next to me in the aisle, our Student Senate president. Claire, attired in her own black gown, was first in the procession, carrying a college banner. I knew her name from the worship folder only; we’d never met. “Hi,” I said, “My name is David, I work in campus ministry.”
Claire smiled brightly and said, “I’m Claire, and I know who you are. This past summer I was at the Twin Cities Pride Parade with some of my friends. As we were watching the parade you walked by with your church, and I recognized you as being from our college. One of the friends with me had you for a class and told me who you were. David, it brought tears to my eyes to know there was a straight man from my college marching in our Pride Parade!” And her eyes welled up again with gratitude.
Then the music started, I watched for my signal from the choir director, and I sent Claire marching down the aisle, both of us – the straight Lutheran man and the lesbian Senate President – finding our most powerful moment of grace in the eyes of each other quite before Catholic Mass had even started.
I learned a powerful lesson that day.
I’ve marched with my Lutheran church (part of a larger contingent of about 30 Lutheran churches that are represented at Twin Cities Pride) for several years now. Mind you, like many writers, I have a pretty close relationship with my introversion. Marching for a mile and a half down a gauntlet of crowded sidewalk (we have 125,000 people turn out for our parade!) – even if the crowds are cheering those of us who march – well, it’s not exactly my cup of tea.
So as I march my introverted self down the street, besides alternately holding my wife’s hand, helping to carry our church’s banner, and practicing my best “Miss America” wave, I steady my nerves by reminding myself of those for whom I march. It is not a short list. I call to mind the faces of friends, like Dale, who died without ever finding a spiritual home to embrace them. And the faces of others who are still wrestling to find peace with their twin impulses of sexual and spiritual longing. And the children of same-sex couples that I’ve taught in Sunday School. And the many friends who share the pews with me at church on Sunday mornings. And the college students I’ve met through my teaching and work in campus ministry. When I march I hold lots of faces in my mind and heart.
But this is what I learned from Claire on that day in September 2007. I also march for persons I don’t know. I march to be seen by someone like Claire, whom I’d never met at the time, but whose journey became a little easier and whose day became a little brighter because she saw me.
Marching in our pride parade is hardly the biggest thing I do as an Ally, but for Claire, in June of 2007, it was pretty significant. And this year, when I march again, Claire’s shining smile will be one of the faces I have before me. But thanks to her, I’ll also be a little more comfortable marching my introverted self down that street, because I’ll remember that maybe this year, too, there will be someone watching, someone that I’m not even thinking of yet, who will be happy to see me there.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.