My Conscience Speaks In Joan Baez’s Voice. And I Don’t Care If That’s Weird.

A friend once offered some questions she’d brought back from a writing retreat. I can’t remember them verbatim, only that they were mind-opening. Especially the one that went something like this:

“Give your Inner Critic a persona and a voice. What does s/he say?”

I didn’t have to think at all. My Inner Critic–sometimes self-doubt, but more often simply my conscience–sounds like Joan Baez. She IS Joan Baez. And she usually wants to know, in her beautiful, stripped-down, poetic but peremptory way, why I’m not making more out of my time on Earth.

Do I need to explain this foible of mine, or defend it? Maybe I will, someday. But right now all I want to do is celebrate and share Joan singing, “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

The song, written by Zoe Mulford, captures in song the moment Barack Obama did just that, in June 2015, while giving the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was shot in his own church along with eight other worshippers by a young man in the depths of hate. But it also captures…amazing grace. The kind that turns hopeless grief into hopeful action. The kind that speaks, decade after decade, in Joan Baez’s voice, asking me if I’m living the best life I can lead.

That’s all I think I need to say. If the hatred of our age is getting to you…just listen to Joan. Then comment and/or share as you feel moved.

I Want to Celebrate the Gay Marriage Opinion Without Rubbing Opponents’ Noses in it; Can I?

My first thought on hearing the news that gay marriage is now the law of our land: “Hallelujah!”

My second, third, and fourth thoughts were more along the lines of “Praise be!” “Finally!” “What a joyous day!”

Only much later (these first four thoughts took up most of my morning) did this thought surface: “Take THAT, you small-hearted legislators who want to keep other people from celebrating their honest love the same way you get to!”

This NY photo's caption reads, "Pooja Mandagere and Natalie Thompson celebrate the Supreme Court's decision" (

This NY photo’s caption reads, “Pooja Mandagere and Natalie Thompson celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision” (

I struggled with Thought #5 most of my bike ride home. The better angels of my nature want to believe that people who oppose gay marriage aren’t really MEAN, they’re just one loved-one away from understanding that gay marriage is about LOVE, the same love that they believe flows from God–or IS God.

The worse angels (are there worse angels?) whisper, “Forget ’em. People like that have made gays second-class citizens for generations, and they’re finally on the losing side of history. Why waste time understanding?”

I got my answer from an unlikely source: President Obama.

Arriving home just past noon, I heard The Mate call, “You’re just in time to hear the end of the President’s speech.” He was watching the funeral for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church who was gunned down last week with eight other prayerful souls.

So I watched, and listened. And something the President said resonated with the conversation I’d just been having with my angels–even though it had absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

He was talking about the racial divide, about the way one barred and starred flag could be so revered and so despised by the people of one region. But I almost felt he–or Rev. Pinckney–was talking to me.

I don’t mean to suggest by this that people who push legislation restricting gay rights need me to look deeply into their eyes and “appreciate” them. I think they are wrong, and the laws they support are wrong. But I DO think I need to force myself not to gloat over the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

I want to. Oh, I do. I want to dance down the Main Street of every town in every state that’s resisted this decision. But even more than that, just as in Charleston, I want to MOVE FORWARD, not create a backlash. Dylann Roof, the Charleston murderer, embodied the backlash against racial progress. I don’t want to help create the anti-gay version of that pathetic, hate-filled kid.

That means I need to listen, where I can, to voices I disagree with. I can argue–and I will. And I can pray for changes of heart, and hope that history will indeed be the judge of justice on this one. But I will try not to gloat. Gloating’s no way to achieve the amazing grace we are capable of reaching, now and then, even in this divided country.

And speaking of Amazing Grace, feel free to sing along with the Commander in Chief:

asfsaiwue oiu