I have just returned from a wonderfully exhausting day at the Mall in Washington DC. There, I marched with two other local Asheville activists and many friends from the Human Rights Campaign.

How amazing to be surrounded by 500,000 of my closest friends! All day long, our chants chorused across the Mall – from the Capitol, to the Washington Monument, to the White House. There were more pink-knit caps in the crowd than there are sheep in New Zealand. Really. It was HUGE!

I found several reasons to be especially hopeful for America after today:

First, there were all the young women who showed up on behalf of their generation. They were there in the tens of thousands. I marveled at their self-assurance. They clearly felt entitled to their power. They spoke, expecting to be heard. There was no request; no apology. It wasn’t something they felt they had to earn or ask for. To be honest, I felt a little jealous.
They were artful, too. One of their posters asked Donald, “If I incorporate my uterus, will you deregulate it?”

The young men were equally inspiring. One of the women in my group teared up when, all about us, thousands of young men and women joined voices in an impromptu duet of the sexes:
MEN: Your body! Your choice! Your body! Your choice!
WOMEN: Our body! Our choice! Our body! Our choice!
Over and over their voices rang out in call-and-response. To hear both sexes of our younger generation join voices with such spontaneity was beyond words. It was a love song for the ages.
Several of the men’s posters proclaimed their new masculinity: “Real men ask consent.”

Finally, there was an element that happened so naturally, it almost escaped my notice. The majority in the crowd were white. And yet “black lives matter” was everywhere. That I noticed. What nearly escaped me was the fact that it didn’t feel like an add-on issue. It didn’t come across to me as a black issue. Everyone there owned it. It was as though they considered it as natural and as necessary as breathing oxygen. Why would you treat any human being differently?
Black and white, everyone cheered one another on. For a day, I almost forgot about race as a dividing point. We were brothers and sisters. We had each other’s backs. We talked about race as an issue we owned collectively.
One middle-aged man bore my favorite poster in this category: “It’s not alt-right. It’s white supremacy.”

I had the same experience with LGBTQ equality. For once, I didn’t feel like a minority, trying to pacify a mass of discomforted strangers. I was among family, a VERY, big and inclusive family. (Dare I say, “HUGE?”)
They weren’t protecting me out of a vague sense of liberal obligation. They were protecting one of their own. They were fighting for humans. I was just part of the diverse world they had come to value.
I suspect that, in recent years, many of those assembled had come to realize that many of those dearest to them at home are different, too; and no less worthy of their love because of it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see the poster I wanted to see in this category: “WE are the people of family values.”
We don’t toss aside members of our family for being different. We love our family for who they are and help them to become all that they can be. WE don’t treat our own like garbage. WE hold family sacred

It was a truly spectacular day. Maybe we aren’t without hope after all.

To my generation, I say: these children and young adults are worth every ounce of fight we have left in us. From what I saw today, they are precious beyond words. I continue to draw hope and inspiration from them in ways that I never imagined. If you aren’t getting to know them, you are missing out.

To my town of Asheville, I say: this isn’t a fight between faceless metropolises and rural homesteads. This is our fight.
Throughout the day, I carried a sign, “North Carolina: Last in Democracy”. The sign brought fellow Tar Heels flocking to our trio to snap a picture. Many of them hailed from small-town North Carolina – from the Outer Banks, Murphy, Goldsboro – and Buncombe County. “We are so embarrassed”, one elderly gentleman blushed, “but your sign speaks the truth. We have to fix this.”
Our future lies as much with the Shires of America as with its cities and farms. Our townspeople are not daunted by Smaug’s golden breastplate. They know that Mordor can be felled by the least of us.
Let’s show them how it’s done, Asheville! I look forward to slaying dragons and toppling warlords with all of you.

Much love to you all,

While religious conservatives were protesting Hendersonville NC’s PRIDE day proclamation, I was spending a weekend, deep in the Michigan Bible belt, celebrating their faith.  The occasion was my grandson’s wedding.

I confess that the weekend was a struggle for me.  My daughter and son-in-law attend a church that preaches that people like me are going to hell. It promises the same fate to my grandson’s twin brother, a wonderful young man who lives in Raleigh with his husband. The week before the wedding, I dreamed repeatedly that I was returned to Asheville in a body bag.

No one, left or right, would be surprised to learn that our family has struggled through some difficult conversations.

To their credit, my daughter, my son-in-law, and their family greeted my wife and me with genuine warmth.  Aside from a few shop-worn bromides about liberals, academics, and guns, the wedding guests were the model of civility.

I, too, held my personal convictions in check.  I don’t just disagree with a literal interpretation of the Bible. In my belief system, biblical literalism is a form of idolatry.  It isn’t just misguided; it is sinful.  Similarly, I could never subscribe to the vows that my grandson and his bride exchanged on Saturday: “wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands”.

But this wasn’t my wedding.  I was elated for my grandson and his bride as they committed themselves, one to the other, each according to their faith.  How brave and wonderful were their vows.  How grateful I was that so many people had gathered to celebrate their betrothal. How privileged I felt to share this moment.

My joy was not an endorsement of my grandson’s faith.  It was an endorsement of his right to pursue his faith.  It was joy in seeing this sturdy young man express his heart and live his convictions.  I will always defend his right to follow these, so long as they allow room for others to do the same.

I would hope that religious conservatives could approach Pride day with a similar heart.  You needn’t endorse us. You are welcome to pray for us.  But, unless you are without sin, please don’t judge us.  We are just as hopeful, intent, and imperfect as you.

If you listen with every fiber of your loving heart, you may come to understand the heart-wrenching truth about Pride.  Pride isn’t born of mirth and celebration.  It is the child of fear and the mother of hope.  It is fed by despair, nurtured by prejudice, and sustained by isolation.

Search your heart, believers. Instruct your teachers. Pride is the fruit of your labors. Christ offers us a simple way to end it.  But that is the topic of another love letter.