It is a remarkable speech. It took courage, but I doubt Councilman Burns felt he had any choice. To see the problem, as Burns did, and to do nothing, was not something he had in him. When the end of the year rolls around, and TIME magazine is fishing around for nominations for "Man of the Year", I hope they will remember Councilman Burns. His measured (if emotional) speech is one of the finest examples I have ever seen of what it means to be a good and moral person.
I am tempted to write more, but frankly, there are no superlatives strong enough to describe Burns's courage and goodness, and writing more would merely distract from his message.
But I am not writing to speak about Mr. Burns. I am writing about another man I respect, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, about whom I have written before. Bishop Robinson has also contributed to the "It gets better" project:
I am very glad that he has contributed; I respect him tremendously for this action. I know it has not been easy to walk the path he has walked, and that he is demonstrating bravery much like Councilman Burns. I do not mean to take away one bit of the true goodness I see in Bishop Robinson.
But listen to the two talks. Burns does not, to my recollection, mention god, not once. Robinson mentions god 14 times, repeating that "god loves you beyond your wildest imagining". Now, there are some very good aspects to Robinson't talk--for example, noting that not only does it get better, but that it is getting better; that views are changing, prejudices are diminishing, equality is, in his view, inevitable. And his position as a religious authority allows him a different approach than Burns can take.
"God loves you beyond your wildest imagining" is, when compared to the real world that features in Burns's speech, rather thin gruel. I was regularly beaten up as a kid; I hated it, and yet I know I did not go through a tenth of what either of these speakers did. My wildest imaginings might include going a whole month without getting jumped on the way home. Their wildest imaginings might include going a day, or a week, without a bruise, a cut, or a word that might be worse than either. Bishop Robinson's god, who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings, is letting kids die, at the hands of others or themselves. Councilman Burns's adults (whom he addresses, saying
Gene Robinson is a good man, a very good man. Joel Burns is a good man, and a model for the rest of us (at least in this--I don't wish to put him on a pedestal no man can live up to). The difference in their speeches is, in my humble opinion, the vapidity of religion.
If someone who "loves you beyond your wildest imaginings" neglects you in your suffering--and worse, contributes to it--it is time to end that relationship. And when you do...
It gets better.
No verse today. You want poetry? Listen to Councilman Burns's speech again.