For some years I have been involved in circle conversations in my Methodist church about ways we as a congregation and as a global church might welcome ALL people and strive for greater justice for persons regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While it is important to struggle for changes in law and public policy, it is also important to share the changes and events in our own personal lives that open us up to a wider love and justice. Both the personal and political struggle is especially complex in global churches like the United Methodist Church, who must strive to preserve common life and purpose with Christians from vastly different cultures and contexts. It’s a situation where we can’t save ourselves singly but only as a part of a global unity.
Within that ecology of salvation, I was privileged recently to hear the story of my friend Hattie Polk. Now in her upper eighties, Hattie continues to be “too busy to die,” as she said to me today. She wrote up her story as a letter for her granddaughter. It has now been published in the South Carolina Advocate and circulated among her many family and friends. She has agreed to let me post it here for this network.
I conclude this post with a poem that emerged from these conversations with Hattie and others. It is only through conversations like these that we can even begin to enter into the pain, hope, and faith so many of us feel as we seek to live out our lives with integrity and love. In this regard, let me point you to a website of my friend Robin Whitley, who posted this poem in her blog on September 19 because it has spoken to her own experience, which she has written about movingly on her website.
Here’s Hattie’s letter:
A Letter for my Granddaughter on Her Wedding Day
This is not the only stand I have taken for freedom in my lifetime. I have always been a champion for those in our society who are not treated equally. I worked diligently, often at great personal sacrifice, for racial justice and marched in Ireland’s International Women’s March for Peace, but I never dreamed where this would ultimately lead me.
Several years ago, when a group in my church began actively seeking to become part of a Reconciling Congregation, I was eager to participate. We sat around a table lighted with a candle and shared our stories. I was deeply moved by the emotional experiences of some when telling that although they had worked in the church all of their lives and brought up their children in the church, now, because of the sexual orientation of their children, the church had hurt them deeply, turning its back on their children. They were no longer welcome.
At that time, I did not know of any family members who fit into this category, but I felt deep compassion for those who did. Then, one day several years later, MY telephone rang. It was my precious and only granddaughter, asking to visit me. Over lunch she turned to me and with tears in her eyes, said, “Nana, what would you say if I told you I was gay?”
Now, my beloved friends, it is one thing to fight for justice and acceptance for all gays and others in the LBGT community in general, but it’s quite another thing to discover that all includes even my beloved granddaughter. I remembered the Spirit of love, acceptance, and compassion Jesus teaches us to have for all of his children. Jesus goes on to say, “I came to bring the abundant life to ALL,” not just some.
Then a year later, again my phone rang, and I learned of the upcoming marriage of my beautiful, gifted granddaughter. I was thrilled, for I firmly believe that God had been preparing me for this happy day all along. I hurried upstairs, picked up the small white Bible I had carried as a young bride in 1945 and had lovingly prepared to give to her on her wedding day along with a tiny, beautifully painted box with a young girl standing by a lake overlooking a magnificent rainbow. A note on the box said, “For Hannah on her wedding day.”
On November 15, 2013, I will journey to New York City to witness two hearts bound in love, into one life. My only sadness is that the wedding ceremony could not be performed by her Grandfather in the United Methodist Church that had baptized, nurtured, and shaped my granddaughter into the amazing and beautiful person she is today.
May that day come soon for others like Hannah.
Hattie Best Polk
Abide with Him
I should pray in secret
in the closet
I could rip my heart open
tear my clothes off
and hear him weep
into my eyes
confess to him about my hatred
and my love
how they would kill me
if they knew
how I would kill
this orphaned body
if I didn’t pray
in the closet