Merry Christmas Muslim Style - Our 2011 Christmas Letter
Written November 28, 2011
by Rev. Steve Parelli
Just two days ago, from the hospital bed where my daughter Rebecca lay, with a bit of an alarm in her voice she asked me a question that put a smile on my face. “Don’t you wonder what they are talking about!” she asked. “No,” I said, “not the least bit. I know Jose,” I said, “and I know he’ll say just what needs to be said and in a manner and tone that is consoling, reconciling.” Rebecca was referring to a phone conversation that Jose, my legal husband since 2008, was having in the hospital hallway with my estranged daughter Jennifer who was at the moment very, very upset with her father.
For Rebecca, there was some wonderment in my statement. In effect, I was saying they may be talking about me, but no worry. After all, Jose – the school guidance counselor that he is, and the parents and students of the south Bronx that he deals with on a daily basis – well, what’s there to fear or suspect or doubt! And besides, I know he always has my best interest at heart. He’s the perfect spouse for when “children” may turn to the other parent when the first parent is being “difficult.” I was witnessing again just how happy I am in this now 14-year relationship where the key to a happy marriage is by-and-large good communications and, certainly, respecting one’s spouse as the primary relationship.
So good is Jose as husband and . . . well, father . . . that Rebecca has come to refer to me and Jose as “my two dads.” That’s how she introduced us to the nurses and doctors who cared for her. “These are my two dads.” Which leads me into the meaning of 2011 for me. Two family-related events occurred in 2011 that were unique to just this year alone since 1997 when I first began living with my life partner. For the first time since 1997 I was (and Jose, too) invited to a family celebration – my nephew’s wedding; and for the first time since 1997 one of my own family – Rebecca (her husband was in Egypt) – celebrated a major holiday with Jose and me on the actual date of the holiday itself (on Thanksgiving day). I felt as happy as Scrooge having dinner with family on Christmas day. I wept when Rebecca said she was coming to spend Thanksgiving day with her father.
Oh yes, 2011 had all the usual wonderful adventures. There was a spring cruise originating from San Juan, Puerto Rico, for seven days in the Caribbean (I saw Martinique again for the first time since 1970). Our two months (July and August) in Asia this past summer with Other Sheep was remarkable. See www.othersheepexecsite.com for our stories from being threatened by police, to the unveiling of a new publication in Malayalam, to a spontaneous distribution of books with a nun at a Catholic college, to our TV interviews in Goa and the two page article on us in India Today a national weekly news magazine, and more. Back home, the Abington Journal of my college home town (Baptist Bible College of Clarks Summit, PA) did a front page story on Jose and me and our work with Other Sheep.
But the significant, unique events of 2011 were the “firsts” for me with my immediate family, i.e., celebrating with them on special occasions as an openly gay man in a gay marriage. There’s a message in all of this. Manny, Rebecca’s husband who is Muslim, strongly disapproves of Jose and me as a gay couple. He has told us so. Nonetheless, he has also told us that we are Rebecca’s father and her father’s spouse and will be respected and always treated as family. And he does just that without any reservation! Recently, Rebecca made this observation contrasting her husband and the majority of her family members. She said, “Dad, my husband is Muslim yet he shows more Christian love in accepting and respecting you and Jose – though contrary to his Muslim convictions as it pertains to homosexuality – than do my own family to their own flesh-and-blood son/sibling/father – and they are Christians.”
Which has caused me to think at times: What is the Gospel message? Perhaps it is wrapped up in the verse we call the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Perhaps that’s the Christmas message. At this stage in my life it appears that way to me.
Mark Twain once said that the passages in the Bible that give him the most difficulty are not the ones he doesn’t understand but the ones he does understand. Perhaps the golden rule is one of those difficult passages: easy to understand but not so easy to put into practice. It is a difficult passage for me at times. I hope I’ll do better in loving my neighbor in 2012. It certainly feels great to be loved in tangible, memorable, family ways. In 2012 I
need to forward to others the love I’ve received from Rebecca and her husband, and from my brother and his wife and their family, and make it a Merry Christmas throughout the year so that 2012 may be as unique and special to someone else as 2011 has been to me.