Privilege

003

Dewey Beach, DE – May, 2014

I’ve been to Rehoboth Beach twice this year, each time to officiate at a wedding.

Dewey Beach was the site for a rehearsal dinner  for the first couple. It was a beautiful Friday evening, the first weekend in May, cool enough that we all appreciated the bonfire. There were some other people on the beach as the evening unfolded, but our party of several dozen mostly had the beach to ourselves. The two brides felt safe in expressing their affection for one another, and when my wife arrived, I greeted her with love and with no fear of reprisal.

There was a moment when some young adults walked by, mid-bonfire, figured out it was a wedding-related event, and looked a bit surprised to hear there were two brides, but they were two people, and we were forty, and frankly, they were intoxicated, and they wandered off then wandered back and finally yelled, as they went on their way, “Congratulations!”

The wedding took place in a Presbyterian church, just a few weeks before a judge in Pennsylvania ruled in favor of marriage equality, and six weeks or so before the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly voted in favor of an Authoritative Interpretation allowing pastors in states where equal marriage is legal to perform marriage ceremonies. The AI granted freedom of conscience for off-campus weddings and opened the conversation with lay leadership, where desired, about weddings on church property. But none of that had happened when I put on my robe and stole to join my friends in marriage, standing in another pastor’s church, doing something he could do legally but not ecclesiastically.

I e-mailed him a scan of the officiant’s copy of the marriage license, for his records, for his protection.

The second wedding actually took place on the beach. Teenage bystanders ogled the small party gathered, but a group of mostly lesbians can offer a fearsome gaze in response, and the ceremony went on untroubled.

Where the river meets the sea, Bethany Beach, after the ceremony.

With my wife, where the river meets the sea, Bethany Beach, after the ceremony.

When a couple has been together 17 years (or 30 as was the case for another couple whose ceremony I officiated this summer), I want to take account of the fact that while something new is finally happening, their commitment to each other has been longstanding and is not to be discounted simply because they knew it mattered before state or church acknowledged it. Some reuse the rings already given as a sign of commitment. Some think that seems strange, and so I wrap my stole around their clasped hands and pray over the rings they have long worn. There is no right or wrong way, little precedent, only an attempt to bring together strands of church and state and love and long-held truth. I’m the privileged one, witnessing holy moments and having the power to sign a piece of paper that adds another layer of relationship, one so deeply desired yet commonplace.

I took a long time to be similarly convinced of my own truth, so long that my earliest reflections on marriage as privilege were written from deep in the closet, as a self-identified ally with a history as a self-proclaimed “lesbian wannabe,” a person who despite her own questions about her orientation walked right into a clerk’s office and got a license. All I needed was a guy and forty bucks.

The vista at Rehoboth Beach on a beautiful summer day.

The vista at Rehoboth Beach on a beautiful summer day.

The day after the wedding, KZJ, Mr. Dimples and I went to the beach for the few hours we could manage and still get home for an interview I had that night. It’s been two years since we spent an extended period of time at a beach, that time on a vacation with extended family at a beach much less crowded. I’m not sure we reckoned our privilege then any more than I did as a young woman who did the expected thing. We waded through the umbrellas already covering the beach at 10 a.m. and found a place to put down the tourist-priced, bright-colored towels we bought that morning, decorated with flip-flops and shells and beach umbrellas. Sometimes it’s a privilege to be among the masses, two moms and a boy eager to feel the ocean again. We didn’t have much elbow room, but the ocean lay before us, waves breaking, the air all at once salty and sweet.

On Empty (Matthew 14:13-21)

I was just out of college when a boy I knew growing up was killed during a robbery at the Radio Shack where he worked. I had not seen him for many years. He was not a part of my daily life. I have to admit that as young teenagers, we did not get along. But Al was part of the fabric of my early years. His older sister babysat my little brother and me, and their father worked with our father, and I spent a lot of time at their house. Al’s death left a shocking hole in the tapestry of the life I knew, threatening my sense of who was safe and who was not. And so despite the distance in time and relationship I had to take more than a moment, to remember Al, to pray for his family, and to consider my own life.

Jesus withdrew to do the same thing, feeling depleted and shocked, bound to be considering his own mortality. John, who prepared the way for him, had been murdered as part of a palace plot, beheaded as the prize requested by a young girl at her mother’s instigation. King Herod let it happen because he felt ashamed and embarrassed by his life and the truth John told him about it.

Jesus heard this terrible news about a barbaric death, and he needed to get away. Perhaps he felt he had nothing to give, but the people followed and somehow he found what they needed, although his own tank needed filling.

013d9ff85e0fba30965a8683f6c74082e108fde516In my usually safe neighborhood, we woke one summer morning to find someone had tried to siphon gas from our cars. The latch on a neighbor’s fuel hatch was broken, and although mine is electronic, the digital message I saw when I got in the car let me know someone had been fooling with it. I asked the neighbor how much gas they could have gotten, and he told me, “Not much, I was running on empty.”

I wonder how many people who followed Jesus that day felt the same way: empty, a little desperate, willing to trust a guy who was popular with crowds but had come out of nowhere to attract so much attention.

And I wonder about Jesus, emptied out by shock and sadness, yet moved by compassion to help those who needed what he could give. I think of him, moving through grief to heal others. I think of him, touching people who needed filling, not just with fish and bread, but with hope. It is the hope we receive when we share the broken bread and the outpoured cup. That tank is never on empty.

(Read the text: NRSV CEB)

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I’m proud to be among a great group of writers who contributed to Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Annual for 2014 (also the recently published 2015 edition as well as the forthcoming version for 2016). This is one of a series of essays of mine for the book; I’ll be posting them as they come up in the Revised Common Lectionary. You can get a paperback copy at the link above or buy the book for your Kindle here.

Bend back our fingers (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One, we want to be faithful to you, but we get caught up in the numbers. A year’s salary will only go so far. Our time gets spent just as fast as our paychecks. We look around and see ​“not enough” instead of rejoicing that you have given us more than enough. We hold onto what is ours for fear it will all disappear.

Bend back the fingers we have clenched tight shut around what we think is the last piece of bread or the last bit of fish. There is more left over than we can calculate.

Help us to see it.

Help us to see it all:

Flat Jesus at RevGals REVive

Flat Jesus at RevGals REVive

Joy
Grace
Mercy
Peace
Love
Abundance
Healing
Understanding
Assurance
Nurture
Resurrection
Breakfast
Companionship
Comfort
Welcome
Faithfulness
Bread
Fish
Wine
Light
Heaven
Home
Sustenance
Justice
Water
Baptism
Pardon
Forgiveness
Illumination
Inspiration
Spirit
Salvation
Word
Song
Breath
Bodies
Touch
Presence

For all these blessings, we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

The Table at REVive closing worship

The Table at REVive closing worship, where we prayed the list of words, each one written on a paper fish to remind us of the 153 in John 21.

When we need a break (a prayer for pastors )

Dear God,
We need a break.
We need a break from
Losses that shake us,
Committees that say no
To our vision
Or to our selves,
Struggles with no solutions
(Churches, bodies, church bodies),
Wedding couples seeing
Churches as Venues
And clergy as Vendors,
Sixty hour weeks,
Though we accept the blame for that last one -
Most of the time.

Even so,
We need a break.
How long, O Lord?
How long?

But you are faithful
In your love for us,
So we count on
Something, anything,
Good happening
Even as we count down
The hours until vacation,
Or a congregational vote,
Or the birth of that longed-for baby.

We look for the break you offer
In the kind words of an elder,
And the warm hug of the home-for-summer student,
And the not-quite-right joke a proud 5-year-old tells at coffee,
And the just right story from the just-returned mission tripper.

We give thanks for the break anticipated,
The gathering of colleagues for recreation and REViving,
The relaxed air of a Summer Sunday service,
The faces of churchgoers who never miss a Sunday,
And the car, trunk packed and gas tank filled, ready to take us away.

003Whether we travel to
Ocean or lake or mountains,
Or old home places,
Or a day trip to ride the roller coasters,
May we find the break we need,
The rest you offer.
Whether we wait for
Phone call or email,
Results of tests or exams,
May the end of the tension come soon.

And may we keep it together,
Until the key
Is in the ignition,
For Christ’s sake. Amen.

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