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    A View from the Pew

    A compelling week; sign on a church marquee

    I love Saturday dates with my husband. Yesterday, Pat and I decided to go see the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at Kendall Square Cinema in Boston. The sterling cast and script surveys the story of seven retired women and men who explore undiscovered terrain as they pioneer their way into a new life in India. The frenzied orb of Rajasthan provides the context for their epiphany-bound sojourn that surfaces issues of prejudice, inflexibility and dependence. The finely timed wit and deep pathos of the writing and performances by the ensemble cast is a little jewel of a film.

    Of all the people who come to live in the Marigold Hotel, the retired British magistrate (Tom Wilkinson) appears very much at his ease in India. He reveals to Evelyn (Judi Dench) that he once lived in India many years ago. He took a lover, a young man who returned his love equally. However, the young man’s family and India’s cultural disapproval separated the two lovers for 40 years. The young man’s family arranged a marriage with a woman and settled the matter. The magistrate returned to England and remained in love with his Indian lover for 40 years. In the twilight of his life, the retired magistrate returns to India to seek his lover. After weeks of searching, the magistrate finds him. He discovers that his lover has reciprocated and pined equally for the magistrate. Their love did not die throughout the many years of their separation. (I refuse to put a SPOILER ALERT at this point. See the film to discover how the story ends.)

    After we left the theater, Pat and I decided to seek and find the past residence of two of our own favorite pioneers. We found 103 Irving Street, the Cambridge home of Julia and Paul Child, whose kitchen now sits in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. After respectful musing that our feet stood on the very same place where Paul and Julia ‘had trod, had trod, had trod’ (see Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem God’s Grandeur), we meandered to Harvard Square and M’s restaurant for a drink before dinner. After spending two hours in Rajasthan and walking in the footsteps of other trailblazers like Julia and Paul, Pat and I whet our whistles for some flavorful chow and conversation. We opted for some curried lamb with spinach, feta and apples, completely enjoying the diversity of people ambling through Boston, talking about our own individual and mutual future paths and wondering where the road will all lead. After a quick visit to the Coop to research children’s literature for my new book project (another time!), Pat and I decided to venture into the North end, where we ended up at The Green Dragon Tavern.

    The GDT on 11 Marshall Street, Boston, MA opened in 1657 during the American Revolution. The walls of the tavern boast original objects from the American Revolution, where the first resistance groups met to plan Paul Revere’s famous ride, discuss plans for confronting the acts of the British Crown and Parliament and the Boston Tea Party and protect sons of liberty like Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Daniel Webster. Struck by the fact that this place birthed the American Constitution, I surveyed my environment with profound historic regard as Pat and I enjoyed a hearty New England meal of Irish stew and lobster. My imagination ran amuck as colonial patriots emerged from the past to the present (even as the Red Sox played on the three flat screens televisions in the Tavern) and became real people sitting to my right and left. I swear I heard someone whisper,” Go water the horses.”

    The Tavern became more bone fide when costumed ensemble members from the non-profit organization Lesson on Liberty (www.lessons sat and enjoyed one another’s company with food and drink in full costume. These Boston Freedom Trail guides have full time jobs in addition to their work as historians in the historical part of Boston. Sometimes they give three and four tours daily – after a full week’s work. One of the gracious costumed patriots offered his hat for me to wear for our group shot (find me on Facebook to see the Android pic). Another kissed my hand in colonial fashion after we sent a round of brew as a gratuity for their kind graciousness and patience at the end of a very long day. Their post modern friends clicked the picture and asked for my contact information. True fellowship: the gift of camaraderie and fellowship reigns in dialogue, banquet table and a non-partisan exchange.  

    I write all of this as a prelude to my experience of this week’s events regarding a message board on a Catholic church marquee in the center of the town square. En route homeward in my car, I encountered the parish marquee in the center of the town at the four way stop sign to encounter the message, “Two men are friends not spouses” on Tuesday of last week. I almost rear ended the car in front of me. My first impulse was to run home and create an angel costume like the ones worn in the film The Laramie Project, to hide the sign from public visibility. (The Laramie Project was filmed as an outcome of the 1998 slaying of Matthew Shepphard at the University of Wyoming. A powerful story based on those events.)

    The events of the week unfolded. National broadcasters picked up a Facebook page that included the reek and spew of abhorrent toxic waste that signs like this can produce. Parents of the parish school refused to drop their children off at a holy day liturgy because of the public threats towards the parish and its staff. Even more disturbing came from the author of the signage. “It was never meant to be hateful. It was never meant to cause harm to people, just a statement. Six words, we thought we’d get across our point of view in sort of a ‘pithy’,” said the pastor of the parish blithely. One of the three single elderly gentlemen sitting in the pew in back of me coughed gently.

    I heard the word ‘pithy’ echoed in the same pastor’s homily this morning. I went to worship in this church, a place and people that I came to love when I served as a pastoral musician and directed ministries. Something within in simply needed to follow up on what I know will be months and maybe years, if not eternal wreckage due to this signage.  

    As I pulled up into the church parking lot, a small band of adults holding signs with messages stood across the street from the procession of parishioners entering the church. Cars passing by beeped with a thumbs up to the non-violent protesters. The parishioners I encountered looked embarrassed as they walked up the stairs and into the church with their heads down. I cannot speak for them but I would guess that they writhe at being the center of national attention.  

    As I anticipated, the pastor dived right into the meat of the matter and reviewed the events of the past week. His disparaging comments toward neighboring clergy who took a public opposing view and told their people that ‘all are welcome’ only caused more polarity in an already tumultuous conversation regarding DOMA and same sex marriage. He talked about the burdens endured by ordained ministers and those who assist them as they hold firm and testify to the ‘righteous’ rule of ecclesial law. The pastor reported the facts about the vulgar and abusive responses as a result of the signage, telling his parish that even the national news refused to publicly print one of the expletives on Mary, Mother of God because of its heinous nature. He also told his people that Christianity has its costs and should not buckle under pressure for anyone or anything because Christians “are not of this world.” This pastor preaches in a very personal and intimate way. I can completely understand how some people who sit on the proverbial fence could become charmed into his particular persuasion. And I believe that he is completely sincere in his beliefs and his remarks.

    As I listened, I remembered a quote from the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “We have a saying: First rule of India: there’s always room for more.” I thought about civil rights and my encounter with non-partisan patriots who embodied those colonial patriots who fought for social justice. I remembered the rich diversity of cultures, nations, peoples from all over the world who walked through Kendall Square, Harvard Square and Cambridge without judgment, pre-determined agenda or fire and brimstone teachings. I wondered if the pastor’s words resonated with the people in his care. And I reflected on the second reading from the first letter of John on the 7th Sunday of Easter: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” So I took the Word at its word. I crossed over.

    I exited the front door of the church. I slipped past the priest and deacon who were greeting people on the landing as street traffic. Car horns still honked their approval to the protestors with thumbs up and proffered middle fingers to the vested ministers and the humiliated parishioners exited the church. I went into the middle of the street, stopped the traffic so that I could get to the protestors and greeted them with a smile.

    About twelve people holding signs that held words like love, peace, tolerance, justice, compassion met me with a warm welcome. I told them that I was a Roman Catholic and wanted to stand in the wake and fall out of the events of the past week with both parishioners and protesters. I told them of my initial reaction to the signage; several of them knew about the Laramie Project and now they all know and will watch that film. An event like this precipitates outcomes like that of Matthew Sheppard. I pray that will not be so in the case of this parish and this small town. It’s just not who they are. But that’s what the people of Laramie said about Laramie.

    In the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the retired magistrate learns from his lover’s wife of 40 years that she knew the day she married her husband that he was a gay man. The man’s wife owns the truth; her family gave her over to a gay man in marriage. When the retired magistrate appears at the couple’s home and tells the wife his name, the wife immediately knows who he without a need for an explanation. She has lived with the truth for 40 years. In the encounter between the two men after 40 years of partition, their love and pain of separation is poignantly evident. Which of the two couples should have been together? How do America’s constitutional rights integrate with Christianity? Can it? Or do we have to choose between one and the other?