Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What really matters.

Alanna Gallagher was six years old when she died, murdered by one of her neighbors.

Her funeral was held in the church her family had attended for years, where she ordinarily "would be singing on top of her lungs with her hymnal upside down...because before she could read she had the hymn memorized." Her mother, stepfather and biological father shared happy memories and said goodbye to their baby girl.

And, totally beside the point, her grieving parents are a polyamorous family.

I remember when it happened. There was a lot of fear that her home life would be sensationalized, that cruel busybodies would make her family's burden even heavier, that some might even blame her death on her parents' "lifestyle." And, sure, you never want to read the comments on an online news article. But for the most part, what her family got was support. Support from the police, support from their community, and support from strangers on the Internet.

Because when a little girl dies, it doesn't matter who is having sex with whom. It doesn't matter who sleeps where. It doesn't matter whose model of Biblical marriage is more persuasive. It doesn't matter how sturdy Western Civilization is, or isn't.

What matters is that the moral fabric of the universe is torn and stained. Even when death comes for a child from natural causes, it's wrong. And for that child's family, it is world-shattering.

For Christians, church is where we generally go when our world has been shattered. We know the people there, who love us. We know the stories we will hear, which sustain us. We light candles and sing songs and keep breathing, one minute at a time.

Calvary Lutheran Church was the church for Alanna and her parents. They were out to their friends, their brothers and sisters. Because they had done hymns and potlucks and Sunday School together, they could do death together too. Because that's how it works. Nobody wants to come out at a funeral. Nobody should have to. God forbid that anyone has to be in the closet at their own child's funeral. Can you imagine?

I can. I can imagine having to choose between sticking together as a family and collapsing into the arms of my faith community. I couldn't choose. I would simply break, and never be whole.

I was so grateful for the pastor, staff and members of Calvary Lutheran Church. I thought about writing them at the time. But I didn't, because this tragedy wasn't about me. It was their little hymn-belter torn away from them, their sister and brothers crushed. They deserved their privacy.

But now, all you mainline churches worried about your image, your respectability, your own fear and revulsion--whatever it is that keeps you from welcoming and embracing polyamorous families--think for a moment about Alanna's parents left alone in the worst days of their lives. Think about Alanna herself, living her short life without hymns and Sunday School and the love of her community. How can you think about such things, remain unwelcoming, and still call yourself the Body of Christ?

I'll leave the last word to Calvary Lutheran's pastor, Phil Heinze:

I’m not saying “come and see” all the things at Calvary, like worship that is well done, consistent Gospel preaching, emphasis on education, multiple opportunities to be together, the cafĂ©, Bible studies, social ministry that makes a difference and changes our world one person at a time, dynamic youth and children ministry, etc. etc.. No, what I am saying is “come and see” the people of Calvary, people committed to following Christ, willing to take risks, open to others, people who listen and learn and love.

Thank you, Rev. Heinze. And thank you, Calvary Lutheran.


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