Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A rainbow world

In May 2004 we travelled with our great friends Anthony and Ruth to Florence, staying in the Hotel Berchielli near the Ponte Vecchio. Jane's and my bedroom, I remember looked down on this quiet square, Piazza del Limbo, with the 11th century Santi Apostoli church opposite. That was the first time that I appreciated the relief and the hazards of wheelchair travel. It was an unforgettable four days. Among the sights in one of the large piazzas there was a peace vigil - it was a year after the invasion of Iraq with all the messy mopping up. The vigil was largely young people and students. They were selling peace ('PACE') flags, and so I bought one as my souvenir of Florence, not as beautiful as Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence sextet, but there we go. I still have it.

I remember my family asking me when I proudly showed it them, "Do you know what it means, Dad?" So I told them it was an Italian peace flag and I'd got it from a vigil in Florence. They told me it also was the symbol of the lesbian and gay movement. (In fact I have now discovered that they were wrong for reasons I'll explain.) However at that time I was - I was going to say ambivalent about homosexuality, but that's too kind to myself - I was anti-gay. ("Love the sinner; hate the sin" - that sort of thing.) I put my peace flag away in a drawer. Readers of my blog will know that comparatively recently I have repented of my ignorant arrogance, as a result of encounters, study and reflection - see here, and here, and here. I've concluded that normally sexual orientation is not a lifestyle choice but an innate gift.

I was reminded of my flag with the great celebration in the media of the introduction of equal marriage at midnight on Friday. I was very glad when Archbishop Justin Welby went on record saying, "I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being." Strangely, for such a moderate statement, it will no doubt have exposed him to a good deal of hate mail and brickbats, probably from all sides. Nonetheless as The Guardian commented it did represent a shift in tone, rather as Pope Francis's "Who am I to judge?" answer did. I was surprised to read about the reaction to the American charity, World Vision's decision to open employment to people in a same-sex marriage. As one blog put it, the gates of the social media were stormed by people arguing for what they felt was the truth. "Additionally, and almost unbelievably, many chose to withdraw their child sponsorships in order to send a loud, clanging-symbol  of a message to World Vision." I suppose it was not surprising, albeit shameful, when World Vision quickly reversed its decision. A friend of mine was on the receiving end of very nasty trolling when she commented, "Someday the Church will look back on the fight over same-sex relationships with same incredulity & shame as with slavery & women’s suffrage." However, I hope she is proved right - in the not too far distant future.

Meanwhile I am looking forward to joining with lesbian friends of ours who are marrying on Friday. We feel very privileged to have been invited and are looking forward to congratulating them - and I shall be praying that God will bless them as they will have made their lifelong marriage vows to each other. Every such lifelong commitment needs every blessing, I reckon.

The LGBT flag has, you'll notice, the red stripe on top and the purple at the bottom and has the turquoise missing. The stripes represent (starting at the top): life, healing, sunlight, nature, serenity/harmony, spirit.

As I sit in my chair, I still value the rainbow as the reminder of God being utterly faithful and loving us too much ever to destroy the world, despite all our attempts. It reminds me of the eternal love that is at the heart of existence. It reminds me that even I am loved by the creator of everything. Hard to credit, but apparently true. "His steadfast love - for everyone - endures for ever."

PS The reason I have been quite vocal on the issue is the harshness of the criticism heaped on LGBT people, often sadly by followers of Jesus who had nothing to say on the subject but was very explicit on judging: "Judge not, that you be not judged." This is my way of saying I'm sorry.

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