Eighteen years ago, my wife and I, along with our 6 daughters, moved to a new ward in Sugar Land, Texas. Garth was a member of the congregation. I met him, but didn’t really get to know him. He left the Mormon church soon after we arrived.
Almost 20 years passed before we were to reconnect. It happened through the Talkeria. No longer are we just acquaintances. I consider him a close and valued friend.
Last week he gave a talk at a special ‘vespers’ service sponsored by the church he now attends. The theme was “Standing on the Side of Love.” He kindly sent me a copy.
Every reading has brought tears to my eyes. My sweetheart’s evaluation: “That is so beautiful. We need to share it with all the kids.” So, kids…I hope you read and enjoy.
More Kin than Stranger-by Garth Ogzewalla
It was a prayer vigil after the Pulse nightclub shooting… Mormons showing support to the LGBTQ community. (You may be surprised, but so it was.) Would I like to come?, Sam asked. “Of course I would”… but *then* he asked “would you like to *say* something?”
Now I should have known he was just being polite. Everybody who came was given a chance to share feelings, if they wished. But I thought he was asking more. I thought he was asking for a talk, a homily. So I fretted over it. What could I say? Here I am, a straight, atheist, apostate, no immediate family (that I know of) who is gay. Surely a theist could give a better prayer! Surely an LDS church member could address recent church actions more convincingly. Surely someone with gay family members could speak more movingly of their pain or how to find comfort.
Then I thought, “NO”! What is more appropriate, more timely, more helpful than an outsider showing solidarity. Isn’t that what we need to mortar the cracks and fissures that appear between us? If I only worry about and support those who are just like me those cracks widen to canyons. If I only care for my own, what merit is there? (Oh, there is some to be sure. Loyalty and faithfulness to community, family and even self does have value. But if we feel and care for those who are NOT our own how much more commendable is that?
That is why I need to worry about your civil rights. Why this male needs to respect women and women’s rights, this citizen needs to welcome the immigrant, this white man needs to stand with a “black lives matter” sign, why I (blessed, educated, wealthy) need to safeguard the minimum wage worker, and this free man needs to be mindful of the prisoner. Indeed, why this cisgendered atheist needs to bow in prayer with the LGBTQ.
In truth, we are all in this prayer circle together. What’s more, we are not only in the same circle, we are more kin than stranger. This is the great paradox. The paradox that belies all I have said and turns it on its head as moot. For when I support your rights, no matter how different you seem at first, I am actually supporting the rights of my own community. Despite how foreign you first feel, on closer inspection, we are of the same family. You are my brother, my sister. I am your child, and you are mine. We are one.
May it be so, Amen