By Sharon Heath
When Nathan Yergler emailed asking me to speak today, he asked, “What are you aligned with? To what or whom are you loyal? To what or whom are you committed?”
With what am I aligned? I am aligned with the gay community. The Rainbow Flag is my flag. Even when I find the behavior of some members of my community to be a tad embarrassing, they’re my people and that’s all there is to it. Believe it or not, I am also aligned with the Mennonite church. Some Mennonites drive me crazy, and I have declined to be involved either on the conference or denominational level because of the hostility of so many to gay people, but these, too, are my people, and I am deeply committed to strengthening this denomination. I just want other people to do it!
I am loyal to my family, to Lisa, my partner and now wife, and our daughters, Miriam and Rose. We all occasionally drive each other crazy, but we are fiercely loyal to each other. One of the joys of parenthood in the recent years has been seeing the way Miriam and Rose are finding each other to be their friend and supporter. And one of the great joys of their emerging as adults is the opportunity to find Lisa again as my girlfriend—a relationship we kind of gave up for 20 years while we were raising the girls. To those of you who are in the throes of parenting young children, let me say to you: It gets better!
My family loyalty, of course, goes beyond our small family to Lisa’s large extended family and my own less numerous extended family. For example, we attended every bar or bat mitzvah of the seven third cousins in Los Angeles who are about our girls’ ages, as well as those of some other cousins as far away as Seattle and Austin.
Some of you will remember that my brother passed away in 2004, so Lisa and I have been the parents to my niece and nephew, Stella and Andrew, who were young adults when Michael died. We’ve tried to provide parental advice and a home for them to come back to for holidays. I will have the honor of performing the wedding ceremony for Stella and her fiancé Joe in three weeks!
And I’ve become the family travel agent, planning the annual vacation for our family, Lisa’s mom, and her brother and his family. I don’t love doing it, but that’s what loyalty means.
To what am I committed? I am committed to this church, this congregation, this community. I, along with a few other old timers, saw it through some very lean times. There was a period when we felt happy to have 20 people in church on a Sunday, when it was all we could do to pull a Sunday service together. We learned through those years to take care of each other, to provide the leadership we needed, to stay strong and true to the gospel of Jesus as we understood it, to become a community. I’ve served on every committee except Pastoral Care, which I’m joining next month, and on Steering Committee three times. I’ve taught Sunday school even when it meant teaching my own middle school daughter because there was no one else to do it, and I started the preschool Sunday school class to give the parents of 3-year-olds a chance for adult conversation on Sunday morning. I feel very motherly towards you all, because I have helped raise this congregation to the healthy, strong, vibrant community that it is today. Of course, as a mother, I don’t want thanks — I only want to see this congregation grow into the image of Christ and succeed in the world. And I think we are!
Another group I’m committed to is Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. Lisa is a long-time member and has served on its board, its membership committee, and as a president, among other posts. Both Miriam and Rose were bat mitzvah’ed here. As Lisa’s partner, I’ve been intimately involved in the ups and downs of this congregation, and with the arrival of a new rabbi I hope that FMC and CSZ can begin a new partnership. Beginning Wednesday, I’ll be back in the office here at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, taking over from Carrie, who has resigned, and helping their leadership figure out how best to meet their administrative needs. Administration is not sexy but an organization can’t run without it, and it’s a gift I can offer.
Some of you know that I was a lawyer for 25 years, working first with state and county jail prisoners and then with families. I was never committed to The Law, but I’ve always been committed to justice, to making the world a better place. In 1959, when I was six years old, our family drove from Boston to Texas for my cousin’s wedding. It was before the Interstate system was built, and we drove on two-lane roads through the deep South lined with tar-paper-roofed shacks. I remember stopping for gas and to use the bathroom at a service station that, of course, had bath rooms for “whites” and “colored.” There was a black mother and little girl going into the “colored” bathroom as my mom and I were going into the “whites” bathroom, and I remember being so embarrassed and sad that this little girl, who was about my age, was being treated differently because she was black. It just felt so wrong. I think that experience was the beginning of my passion for making the world fairer and more just, one small action at a time, whether as a lawyer, as a reading tutor, or as the adoptive mother of two girls, three cats, two dogs and two hamsters!
As I was thinking about this reflection, I began by thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and reflecting on his statements like:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor….Then come, follow me.”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….And…Love your neighbor as yourself.
“Feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite in the stranger, provide clothes to those who need them, tend the sick, and visit those in prison.”
Those teachings continuously spur me to consider what else I can do to bring in God’s Kingdom.