*This post contains some of my views on marriage and same sex relationships. Keep that in mind when deciding on whether or not to continue reading.
Without a doubt, the best thing about my job is that it brings me into contact with young people. Being around people with high energy, high hopes, and big dreams makes me feel young – in spite of what the evidence in the mirror says.
Having the privilege to be a small part of their major life events is icing on an already pretty great cake.
Events like marriages.
I suppose it is inevitable that, in spite of soaring divorce rates and tough economic times, young people still have enough hope and faith to marry each other. And I, being the somewhat sentimental old fool that I am, get caught up in it like I am still a twenty-something, full of high hopes and big dreams.
While I’m not a parent to these people, I feel a bit like a happy uncle, cheering them on from the sidelines. When these young people happen to marry each other, it simply kicks things up a notch.
So, it was with great pleasure that Sue and I responded to a couple of wedding invitations this year. The first was a summer wedding that took place at one of my favorite places on earth. The Timberlodge at Shekinah Retreat Centre was packed. There was a lot of singing and laughing, and when the couple had eyes only for each other, I am not ashamed to say that I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
The next was New Year’s Eve. The church was packed out, the singing was great (singing is one of the things that Mennonites DO), and the couple had eyes only for each other. The pastors had prepared carefully and spoke of joy, the specialness of the couple, and the importance of community. Again, the lump and the tears were evident. Sue would catch my eye and shake her head.
She’s not as sappy as I am.
Then we danced the night away, and I marveled again at how blessed I am to know all of these fine young adults. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should have put danced in quotation marks. Suffice to say that I took up space on the dance floor. Dancing may be too strong a word.)
As with every couple, I wondered if these two really knew what they are in for. You see, in my experience, marriage is not a Disney fairy tale. While, in my case, there is a beautiful princess, I have often been more frog than prince.
Marriage is tough. You need to adjust to someone else being in your space. You find out that the things you thought would change don’t. I’m not saying that there aren’t good things about marriage. There are.
I can’t think of any just now.
OK, I can think of a lot. Someone who loves you unconditionally. A life partner. Someone who laughs at your “jokes”. Someone who tells you that you are full of crap when you are sure you are not. Someone who, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, thinks you are great.
Trust me, the good far outweighs the difficult.
But there are adjustments to be made. We somewhat blithely make promises during the wedding ceremony: For better, For worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health.
What we really mean, though, is For better, For richer, and in health.
Sometimes, it’s the opposite. Those are tough times, and they can really test your love and character and your comitment to each other.
And so, when I was at this wedding, a few of these things were going through my mind. Because, you see, marriage is difficult enough on its own. If you add in complications, it just becomes that much tougher.
Did I mention that my New Year’s Eve young friends are gay?
I’ve known these two young men – like that distant uncle – for a long time. I’ve seen them grow up at summer camp. I’ve seen them commit themselves to God and their churches. I’ve seen them become authentic, wise, and caring members of society.
Unfortunately, many people will only see them as being gay.
It’s not right. It’s not fair. But there it is. We live, it seems, to put people into the proper categories.
I am no expert. I don’t even know the correct terminology to use so as not to be offensive. I apologize for that. But, you see, I do know a few things about relationships.
Why is it that sex doesn’t come into the equation when people judge me? (Yes, I know you are judging me. It seems to be a human pastime.) For example, I was baptized late in life. I was already married, so I suppose my pastor could have assumed that I was having sex. And yet, he never asked me about it. “Are you kind and loving in the bedroom, or are you a person who believes that sex is something you are entitled to because you are the “man of the house”?
I’ve never, to my knowledge, been judged on my sexual preference. Sexual performance, maybe, but not preference.
I would find it offensive if someone told me that my relationship – my nearly 30 year realtionship, filled with hard times, sickness, and unbelievable joy and love – with Sue was all about sex. I don’t mean to burst any bubbles, or give too much information, but we don’t spend our every waking hour having sex. Sex, as great as it is, is really a small part of a relationship.
Important – and great – but small.
Again, with bubble bursting in mind; you can have sex without getting married. Shocking, I know. Marriage is about something else entirely – love, commitment, and the promise to put the cap back on the toothpaste.
How can we judge the commitment and depth of love that two people have for each other solely on the basis of sex? How did that happen? How is that even possible?
This is not a theological debate for me. I know that people far smarter than I will point out the biblical verses that condemn same sex attraction as being sinful. Others will point out the life of Jesus and show that his compassion and love for all outweighs specific verses.
I will let the biblical scholars continue to debate that one to decide who, in the final analysis, is in or out. Although, and this is just my thought, it may not be up to them to make the final decision.
You might think that I am dejected and downhearted about where this whole debate is headed. While I wish gay vs straight was a non-issue, I take great comfort in the marriage celebration itself.
One of the groom’s grandparents was my pastor when I was growing up. In spite of being a very kind person, he was a fundamentalist pastor – with more hell-fire and brimstone than forgiveness – and I suspect that this marriage was difficult for him – personally and theologically.
The blessing he gave to the couple was beautiful and filled with hope. Grandma cried tears of joy at the wedding. Gay and straight people danced together and rang in the New Year. Old and young partied like it was 2014.
For me, if there was ever a New Year’s Eve filled with hope, it was this one.
I’m just a regular guy who got so lucky in the marriage department that it’s nearly unbelievable. And I’m grateful to have never had my love for Sue judged by sexual performance or proclivities. Those of us who are “straight” take this for granted.
Doesn’t every couple deserve the same respect? Is marriage really only about sex?