Marriage, Marriage Equality, Orientation, Privilege, The Inner Landscape, Weddings

Privilege

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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.

Marriage, Prayers for Pastors, Weddings

Kinetic, connected (a prayer for pastors, after a wedding)

In their house,
on the wall,
danced the sculptures,
their soft whirrs and clicks
transfixing.

They don’t always
move the same way,
are smooth
but unpredictable.
The pieces begin
together,
born from the same
spring action,
and it reminded me
of marriage,
when it works well,
the graceful separations
and returning to rest.

It’s what we want
in church,
I think,
to play our part
while others play theirs,
to participate
in the unexpected,
and open out
to the world,
but come together
again in the end.

Lord, keep us kinetic
and connected.
Give us rest,
but always
send us out
again
to describe
the arc
of your love.

Christmas, Love, Marriage, Orientation

The Gift of the Magi

If you know the story of Della and Jim, you will remember this scene.

Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of a quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, not disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stare at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on her face. (O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi – Read the whole story here.)

Sadly, out of print.
Sadly, out of print.

A family friend, a young man who worked for my father, gave me this copy of the story as a Christmas present in 1972. I was 11, and the story made a deep impression about what it meant to love and what it meant to give. Ever since then, I’ve been a good giver, and I’ve watched and waited for others to give to me the same way. I’m not saying I always get it right, but I’ve honed my intentions and tried to pass them on to my children. I’ve watched them take pleasure in finding just the right thing for each other and for me. They would have to tell you when I’ve gotten it right and wrong, but let me tell you of their successes:

This year, Mr. Dimples approached Santa with a list in his pocket, to be sure he didn’t forget anything. kzj asked about the age when the emphasis turns away from receiving and toward giving. I reassured her that at his age, LP demanded a new American Girl doll and, even though she got Nellie as a companion for Samantha, reacted in fury when Snowman got a TV. (A TV which everyone a little older knew was less expensive than the doll, and which did me the favor of getting video games out of the living room.) It takes time and maturity; for each of them came some moment, not immediately identifiable, when giving became the better part.

How do you teach that, she wondered?

I told her what I told them about my philosophy of receiving gifts. I never look at a gift and wish it had been something else. I am the least likely person to exchange something. It’s not the material item that matters; it’s the feeling behind the gift. It matters to me that the other person cared enough to want to do something for me.

I guess I’m saying it’s the thought that counts. (And I freely confess there was one year recently I managed to make that the worst pressure of all. I am a reformed sinner.)

stockings
Our stockings

This is the first Christmas kzj and I will be together on the day. We have exchanged our greetings by phone in the wee hours of Christmas Day after finishing our work and worship for the night. We have celebrated 2nd Christmas on the 27th or 28th after long travel days and a second Christmas vigil. So rightly, this is a very happy and exciting Christmas for us! We will worship together, with our children, and we will wake up on Christmas morning and Mr. Dimples will be the Stocking Czar, and we will take our time opening and admiring all the gifts, large and small, currently secreted away in places I will, of course, not mention in this public forum.

The other night, while I wrapped gifts for the Beantown side of the family, I glanced up to see kzj holding her iPad with a look on her face not unlike Jim’s. An email informed her that an order would not be coming due to “System Cancellation.”

Erik Blegvad, illustrator
Erik Blegvad, illustrator

Jim rallied to embrace Della, to assure her that there could be nothing “in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that make me like my girl any less.” Her hair for his watch-chain, his watch for her hair combs, they gave away the treasures of their house in an act O. Henry described as “the wisest.”

It may be that tears were shed at our house about the present that will not come, but not by me. For you see, I’ve never had a surer proof of care than the look on her sweet face.

It’s the gift I’ve wanted all along.

Marriage, Marriage Equality

Coming Out and Coming In

“Marfa?” He was six when he asked the question, all big eyes and enormous dimples. “You love my mom like you want to marry her, don’t you?”

A heavy silence ensued, head and heart and gut all swerving to a stop before I made words come out of my mouth. I tried to keep my face composed, as I looked at his mother and back at him.

“Yes. I guess I do.”

He broke into his most charming smile. “Well, she *is* single!”

We breathed again.

But “marry” remained a charged word as we worked out a plan for bringing our long-distance relationship into one location.  We believe in this God: The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8, NRSV) We craved what we kept calling “ordinary time,” to be together in all our comings in and goings out. Would we live on the down low, moving nearer to each other and letting people think of us as best friends? Or would we tell the truth, as clearly as a six-year-old, about our going in and our coming out?

We both grew up in church-attending households; we are both ordained ministers. One of us revered the institution of marriage despite past experience with the father of Mr. Dimples; the other — that would be me — felt some combination of romantic hope and workaday cynicism based on hers. As my mother’s best friend from childhood put it, I made “poor” marriages, as if the fault lay simply in the way I chose or lived them.

But in my late 40s, and after a long time trying to talk myself out of it, I admitted two things to myself: I didn’t like men that way, and I loved a very particular woman. It’s hard to make anything other than a poor marriage when you can’t make that connection of the heart. When my heart connected to Kathryn’s, it all made sense.

As a United Church of Christ pastor, I had long since declared myself an ally for LGBT rights. Now I found myself in the vulnerable position of needing those allies, from among my friends and my family. I found myself in the unexpected position of being the subject of court cases and statewide ballot issues; I found myself in the awkward position of hearing the words I had often preached and applying them to my own situation: you will find your salvation in becoming fully who God made you to be.

I believed it for other people; did I believe it for me?

I found I didn’t have a choice. Love moved me like a wave you can’t resist; you have to ride it or be bowled over by the surf. Keeping a secret from others, once I had admitted it to myself, didn’t feel right. Friends blessed me; my children, from mid-teen to mid-twenties, offered their unconditional love and support. After a period of prayerful discernment spurred on by Mr. Dimples’ query, we decided to make getting married our priority. We decided to come out to our congregations, and come in to the light, and let the rest of the geographical and vocational logistics fall into place from there.

All that involved not only God and two families and two circles of friends, but it also involved two churches. To the people of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, who I left to be married, I send my love and thanks. Thank you for being so accepting and gracious; thank you for bidding me such an emotionally generous farewell despite mixed feelings about the parting itself. We know we could have stayed right there and lived in my home in Portland, where an elementary school student with two moms in the household hasn’t been interesting since about 1995. But the call, as we prayed and prayed further, came to make our lives in my wife’s home and in her church. To the people of Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church (USA), thank you. The ordinary ways you have welcomed the minister’s new wife — including inviting me to join the Fellowship Committee — have made it clear we followed the right path.

Because we are very ordinary, even old-fashioned. We fell in love, and we got married in church. We had the resources to do it in a state where we could get a legal license, where going to apply for it was extremely ordinary. I pray the Supreme Court will move our nation toward a time when it is ordinary everywhere, when any two people who love each other can come in to a clerk’s office and ask for a marriage license. I pray my wife and I do honor to the support shown and the blessings offered, in our coming out and our coming in, as long as we both shall live.

Album Cover attempt
With our children, including Mr. Dimples.

(“Coming Out and Coming In” is also on the Huffington Post Religion page.)

Marriage, Marriage Equality, Orientation

Old-Fashioned

I’m old-fashioned. I grew up in a culture, both religious and family, that regarded marriage as forever. When my mother and father became engaged in 1949, her grandmother reminded everyone that there had never been a divorce in the family. She could only say that because they never told her about the beloved cousin whose marriage ended. My mother had broken an earlier engagement at her parents’ insistence because the man who loved her had been previously married to an English girl during World War II; his bride was too homesick to live here with him.

These sound like folk tales now, but they formed my view of marriage and divorce when I was a young woman. Marriage is forever, and if you should be so unfortunate as to get divorced, you will reside in limbo. Add on a layer of religious piety and you get the kind of nice girl (and I use the word deliberately) who marries the young man who asks her because clearly this is God’s hand working in her life and if only she will do her best to be a good wife, all shall be well and everyone will live happily ever after.

Really, these stories sound like fairy tales.

I never thought of them as being political.

But marriage is on the ballot in my state, Maine, again. It’s been three years since the legislature passed a measure allowing the issuance of marriage licenses to same gender-couples. It’s been three years since the governor signed it into law. And it’s been three years since a Citizen’s Veto petition ended in a narrow victory for those who did not want to extend this right to non-straight people. We’re trying again, this time going to the polls with a measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry legally in Maine. The Yes on 1 campaign has not focused on the legal benefits of marriage, but on the idea that love matters to all families. Television ads feature straight clergy, parents and grandparents affirming their support, saying they want their church members, friends, children and grandchildren to be able to have what they have. “When we were young,” says the woman married for 52 years, “we didn’t dream of a civil union or signing a piece of paper. We wanted to get married.”

Of course, same-sex couples are getting married in Maine all the time anyway. They just don’t have a civil license. They’ve made religious and emotional commitments, promises to love and cherish from now until there is no tomorrow. They’ve thrown beautiful parties and hired photographers and shared their news with the world. Their friends have “liked” their relationship status changes on Facebook. They’re already living as if the change has been made, even without the piece of paper.

In May I joined a Unitarian Universalist colleague to officiate at a wedding. One of her church members was marrying one of mine. It was the most touching, sincere wedding I’ve ever attended. My church member glowed with love, and her new spouse wore an expression of bemused delight. My part in the ceremony ended just before the vows, and as I went to sit down, my church member’s mother patted the seat beside her in the front pew. Soon, vows taken and new status declared, the couple prepared to descend from the chancel, and the organist broke into “Joy to the World”—the Three Dog Night version. Sara and Jeremiah were married!

When I was a young bride-to-be, living the fairy tale dream, an august Episcopal relative performed the ceremony. He told us then that a license didn’t matter. He could marry us without one, and it would be the same in God’s eyes.

Because of a complication around health insurance, Sara and Jeremiah married without a civil license. But they married.

It may sound like I’m making a case that the legal part doesn’t matter, but I’m not. I believe religious standards and civil standards can and should be different. I don’t want to have to perform a marriage for every couple, gay or straight, who might want a religious wedding before their reception at The Barn, a tenth of a mile down the road from my church. I don’t want to tell other pastors or priests what to do. I understand that some faith communities will choose to limit that exchange of vows in various ways: to members of their churches, or of their denominations, or to those who take a class or receive premarital counseling with priest or pastor. They have that right.

I want the right to do the same, to determine my willingness to marry a couple not based on their gender or orientation but based on their desire to make a faithful commitment to one another, in the eyes of God and the community of people who know them best.

My denomination, the United Church of Christ, voted at General Synod in 2005 to support equal marriage, but actual practices are left up to churches at the local level. This means we don’t always agree. In my own congregation there are people who have described to me their struggle with using the word marriage to apply to same-sex couples. If the law changes, then good Congregational UCC pastors will discuss the matter with their Deacons and work it out together. I suspect there are members who support the idea of equal rights, but hope it won’t have to be discussed in our church.

This has become personal as I move toward making a commitment to the woman I love. “I’m old-fashioned,” a dear member told me, affirming the goodness of my relationship and allowing that it would be fine for us to live together. “I just wish you wouldn’t call it marriage.”

But I’m old-fashioned, too. I can’t imagine calling it anything else. I’m getting married.

(Written for and cross-posted from There is Power in the Blog.)

Books, Marriage, Marriage Equality

Committed: A Love Story

Committed: A Love StoryCommitted: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(By the author of Eat, Pray, Love–which I also liked.)
I enjoyed this book very much. The sociological and historical aspects of marriage weren’t surprising to me, but Gilbert arranged them in an engaging way, interspersing her personal story effectively.
In fact, I liked it better than Eat, Pray, Love, and I think it might be exactly because her personal story takes up less space. It’s having a conversation with an idea (Marriage), and although there is certainly emotional content, that’s only one part of the book. E,P,L was a little exhausting. You would think Gilbert had the only marital break-up ever in the history of the world. The sort-of sequel has much more perspective.
Favorite moments: the dinner with Keo and his bride; the story of Felipe’s arrest in the airport; the attitude of Gilbert’s young niece about the need to have a flower girl in order to make it a real wedding; the dog curled up between their feet when they finally took official, legal vows.
The book is, like marriage, mostly about heterosexual people, but Gilbert makes it clear that she thinks anyone should be able to get married, and that in fact the law has always had to catch up with what people are already doing. That’s encouraging.

View all my reviews

Children, Divorce, Marriage, The Inner Landscape

Better on the phone

Over the weekend, I talked on the phone with The Father of My Children. That’s not unusual. We still have a 16-year-old, after all, and we both drive her places and although we have a regular schedule, there are always things to discuss.

There have always been things to discuss. We do better on the phone, mostly, than we ever did in person. On Saturday, I noted it had been 28 years since our wedding took place. We have spent more years apart than we spent together, although there have been plenty of trips to see sons perform at college, awards assemblies, graduations, recitals and concerts and plays, holiday meals at my table and random meetings all over the greater City By the Sea area. Some of those were hard at first. Now they’re just what we do.

This weekend, TFoMC took the time to help me with a home repair, by which I mean he did the multi-step repair while I stood by and handed him things and tried to be helpful as well as amusing. The expression “little more than a girl” applies to the person I was when we met in 1982. I was so busy trying to be the nice girl my mother wanted me to be that I hadn’t even tried to figure out who I was. And although there is almost always relationship blame to go around, I can’t imagine it was very satisfying to be married to someone who was playing a part that didn’t suit her, trying desperately to be the sweetly singing mechanical bird whose song is only heard when someone else winds her up and lets her play.

I was angry for a long time that I didn’t meet his expectations, or that I couldn’t, or that his expectations turned out not to be me, or (secretly) that I didn’t even want to meet them.

It doesn’t really matter now, at this distance. What does matter is what I said on Saturday: “I’m grateful for our three nice children.” Because despite the fact that we’ve spent more years apart, more years as a bi-locational family, than we did under one roof, none of the children turned out to be a nightmare divorce statistic.

And I’m thinking it’s because we kept calling each other to talk about things. We do better on the phone.