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“October Mourning”

134. “October Mourning”

It’s the name of the new book by Leslea Newman—”October Mourning—A Song for Matthew Shepard.” Fourteen years ago, Matthew Shepard, a twenty-one-year old gay University of Wyoming student was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die. Five days later Leslea Newman was the keynote speaker at the beginning of Gay Awareness Week at the university. She is an author of over sixty books for all ages, including the children’s classic, “Heather Has Two Mommies.” She has stayed in touch with the Matthew Shepard foundation and over a week ago I was privileged to hear her speak—and more than that, to meet with her and get a sense of her commitment to Erase Hate (which is what she wrote in the book I bought). Her presentation was titled “He Continues To Make a Difference: the Story of Matthew Shepard.”

There are subjects that I haven’t gotten into yet in these postings because they seem so huge and so intense—war and peace, the prison system itself, capital punishment, gay rights…. However, on the subject of gay rights, it’s much more than that. It’s recognizing the worth, the sacred worth, of each and every individual.

Years ago Paul Abels started me on this particular journey. He was the pastor at the Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York City in the Village—and he was my friend. He taught me that love is what matters and as I stood in his Greenwich Village apartment/parsonage at his union service with his partner Thom Hunt, I understood that it was love—the love that he respected in men and women, in men and men, in women and women—because it was love, and love is of God.

I have been embarrassed many times by the homophobic actions of the United Methodist Church but I continue to stay in the church, partly because of Paul. After his early retirement, and before his death in March of 1992, I asked him why he didn’t leave the church, and he answered, “Ann, the United Methodist Church may leave me, but I will not leave the United Methodist Church.” That is still true of many LGBT persons who continue to struggle within the church for recognition, for respect, for full inclusion—and while they stay, I can and will stay.

Matthew Shepard—Leslea Newman—Paul Abels—the United Methodist Church—they all end up being tied together as the struggle continues. And as surely as the moon travels across the sky, love and inclusion will win – every time.

I encourage you to get the book, “October Mourning—A Song for Matthew Shepard” by Leslea Newman. She has written poems which take you through the entire event. She writes them from the perspective of various objects—the fence he was tied to, the stars, the truck; and then from the perspective of various people—his mother, the officer of the court, the journalist; and in the end she writes a poem combining a Native American prayer, with lines from a psalm, from a Buddhist prayer, from the Jewish prayer of mourning, from the gospel of Matthew. And she weaves it all using various poetry forms and modeling after specific poems. In terms of erasing hate, the book itself is a good investment in love.

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