“Can you play the wedding song next week?”
I am bustling from the sanctuary to the kitchen to check on this week’s lead cook between worship rehearsal and the start of dinner church when he stops me.
“Next week?” I pause and turn, meet his eyes, trying to take in what is being asked of me.
“Yeah, m-me and Matthew* are getting married.”
I’m not prepared for this, I think. My mind races for a moment, voices and arguments swelling, then goes mercifully blank and limp. I breath back the lump in my throat. I’m often in charge of choosing music, but this request has thrown me for a loop.
“…maybe. Let me talk with the pastor and see.” It’s the first time I’m hearing this news, of their engagement.
I try to smile reassuringly, but I see questions flash across his face about whether I support them before he says a quiet “thanks” and walks away.
When I search for what to say to you, I am filled with so much ache, with groans, with sighs too deep for words. There is so much here, so much confusion in the church in the name of an “issue” that is frankly not an issue but real people, and there’s the asserting of opinions and folks on both sides trying to take seriously the role of the church in the world. There is just as much pain, deep wounds, betrayals and rejections. And sometimes I’m afraid it’s just about the only thing we’re talking about.
I won’t say anything new here to you, won’t spin it all another way with fresh perspective. Hasn’t everything already been said?
All I can do is bear witness. I must bear witness. I promised to. When they said “I do,” I said in the liturgy along with the rest of the congregation, “We do.” They are my people, and I support them.
In the past, I have hesitated and pondered questions, weighed theological arguments, dug around in the biblical text, and worried a lot about hell. I have advanced degrees in, basically, arguing about the bible.
And I have been slow – so slow, some would say too slow, to come to any conclusion of sorts on the “issue.” I was raised to see it all one way, and to walk away from something so deeply embedded within you comes with lots of fear and sometimes social consequences and even new wounds. Add to it my perfectionism, terror of being wrong, and questions about how far grace stretches if I am.
But the past three years have found me in three congregations which are proudly, defiantly even, open and affirming. It’s possible that at this moment in time, between the two current church homes that take up my Sundays, I worship with roughly an even split between LGBTQ and heterosexual identifying folks. Most of the time, I’m not even thinking about this fact. I’m just there. It is so much grace to be around a table big enough for everyone, even me. And no one’s arguing a thesis about it. We’re just eating the bread and drinking the wine, body and blood given and received, unity lived. Whole weeks go by and I forget that any of this is an “issue” in other places.
But then a wedding is about to happen, and I begin to remember, and all the baggage of old questions and arguments and lines drawn comes crashing back in.
When he asks about the wedding song, something in me is relieved for them, that they have found love.
The gift of work at the margins is the continual reminder that we are desperately fragile beings, and at the core, what we want more than anything else is to be known and loved.
So many of those around the table at dinner church on Sunday nights know the deep sting of rejection. They are the “freaks,” the discarded ones living under the overpasses, panhandling near the on-ramps, carrying all their possessions in a box in order to be within city regulations. They are sometimes gender non-conforming, but without access to the language and resources that would allow that fact to be socially acceptable and celebrated, and instead are seen as “odd” and worthy of fear.
When they begin to tell you their stories, an existence that has stripped them of most everything else has stripped them too of their filters, and what you hear is raw and real.
Around the table, I’ve heard about strategies for battling fire ants at night, and what it was like being kicked out by parents who thought they were demon possessed, and what it’s like to clean out a tent when your “neighbor” died in the night and you didn’t know for three days, and what betrayal feels like, and how to pan-handle safely and respectably, making friends with stray dogs, and how lonely loneliness can be.
They have names I treasure, names I utter in our morning prayers as a household. They have lives I worry over, and even sometimes joy over, like the nights they come to tell me they got housing finally, and even a job, and I watch them press more deeply into service at church. They have realities that break me too, things I can’t fix, questions I can’t answer, disputes that are dangerous for me to enter, and they run up against my boundaries at moments. On certain nights, I have hugged one my dad’s age tightly, sending him back, knowing it might be a month or three before he resurfaces, aching for things to be different. He sometimes haunts my dreams.
They are human beings at our most raw. They reveal me, and reveal you, and under all the ways we find to fit socially and make some semblance of a successful way in the world, the truth is that at our core we also more than anything else want to be loved. It is the deepest question, the one beneath all other questions: Am I loved? How do I be loved? What would it be like to be known and belong to someone?
Against this backdrop of the streets with their chaos and pain and survival and gift and longing and hope and despair, are these two dear men living there who have somehow against all odds found their way into love, and can they have the dignity of a wedding song?
At that point, the arguments mean so little to me. You can read me the “homosexuality texts” in the bible and damn me to hell, and I will stand back wondering at how you cannot see the miracle.
I won’t sentimentalize it; the odds are against them, as they are probably against all of us, truth be told. Are we anymore prepared than they to be faithful and keep promises?
Even so, the miracle is that in the face of “for worse” and “for poorer” and “in sickness”, they made promises to one another out of love. Someone dared to give the middle finger to the darkness and love anyway. And it wasn’t a theoretical darkness, a looming potentiality, but a reality they’ve already become acquainted with. They’ve lived at the bottom and survived.
This is always our reality in making these promises; weddings show us in a clear, concise picture the act at the center of everything. Against despair, darkness, and all evil, hope is somehow relentless in its existence, and Love wins.
They shed tears through the vows. The kiss was probably the tamest and most chaste wedding kiss I’ve ever seen. We promised them we’d be with them and support them in this venture. With them, we said to them, “We do.”
And they will be warm. And they will be together. They now have someone to belong to. This is good news.
*names changed to protect the beloved.