Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Just something to consider...

Someone to need you too much
Someone to know you too well
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell
And give you support
For being alive...

(Stephen Sondheim, "Being Alive," from Company)

It was 8:10 PM Saturday, well after dark, as I drove through our development towards home. And as I came up to our duplex, my heart sank and panic set it.

It was after dark, and Chris hadn't made it home.

My mind started racing. Chris had left at 6:20 PM to go for a short hour's ride on his bicycle. His black road bike. When I saw him leave, he was dressed in an orange biking shirt and black shorts, and he was only going to be gone for an hour - because he knew sunset would be at 7:30. He went on his way; I went off to Office Depot to get some supplies, and then off to Godfathers Pizza for our typical motocross-watching feast (a large sausage pizza).

The plan was that I'd meet him back at the duplex at around 7:30. But they messed our order up (mushrooms - ick), and so I waited while made us a new one. I called and left him a message on his cell, but figured he was showering after his ride. No big deal.

But then I came home, and Chris wasn't there. And I panicked.

You see, Chris has been riding bikes a long time. And he knew not to ride bikes after dark - especially since his bike didn't have a front or rear light. And yet, his truck was here, his bike was gone and so was he - and it was after dark. That could only mean trouble.

I did the first sensible thing - called his cell. No answer. Called again - two-calls-in-a-row is our signal for "trouble - pick up." I left the inevitable "call me AS SOON as you get this!" demandment, then hung up - and started to pray for direction. Because if he was (by then) 50 minutes overdue, and not responding, I knew he had to be really in trouble.

So I picked up and pressed the three hardest numbers to dial when you're thinking about a loved one - "9-1-1" - and waited. I told the 911 voice that my housemate was out on a bicycle in the fields between Urbana and Rantoul, uncharacteristically overdue, and unresponsive. "Have there been any... reports of trouble ... involving a bicyclist in this area in the last hour? ..." I forced out.

"We haven't had any reports of any accidents or incidents regarding a bicycle anywhere in the area in the last two hours, sir," the 911 operator said. His tone of voice was meant to be calming, conveying that "I'm sure this is nothing to be worried about" message.

But the voices in my head weren't hearing it. Instead, they were screaming, "Well, then - send your people OUT there and FIND him, for God's sake! He's NEVER late without calling, EVER! He's already been hit once on a bicycle, two years ago, and left for dead in a ditch! Don't you understand?!? This is Chris, the man I LOVE we're talking about here!"

Instead, the one shred of level-headedness still resident in my brain said, "I'll try retracing his route - I'll call back if I need to," thanked the man and hung up.

About thirty-five voices in my head started shouting all at once; if they were strung all together, it would've sounded something like this:
Are you over-reacting?
Of course I'm not over-reacting, you moron! HE KNOWS better than this.
Wouldn't he call if he was in trouble?
But what if he can't call?!? What if he's lying in some ditch, with his cell phone underwater, or smashed?
What if he's unconscious, or worse?
Dear God, you can't just have brought this guy INTO my life and dragged us clear to ILLINOIS, of all places, just to have you take him back OUT of my life, could you?
And what the HELL am I doing, still standing here listening to myself blithering, for God's sake?
With that I left a note that said "GONE TO FIND YOU - IF YOU GET THIS, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY!" and raced out the door.

I had my hand on the door-handle of his pickup when the phone rang. When I saw it was Chris' caller-ID, I shouted "OH THANK YOU, JESUS!" then punched the answer-button and yelled "WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?!?"

Ten-minutes-that-seemed-like-an-hour later, when he pedaled his way up to the garage, I gave him a minute to dismount and catch his breath before I grabbed him and hugged him. Hugged him and gave thanks to God that he was back with me and safe.

It took a minute before I let him start to describe what had happened - one wrong turn and then another; listening to that silly voice that says, "Oh, no problem, I can handle this;" and a desperately bad estimate of how fast the sun would set - and more than a little panic on his part as well. I could see how it could happen - how I could have been in the very same place myself...

So we ate some lukewarm pizza, and talked about how the first sign of trouble for either of us should trigger the "E.T. syndrome" - phone home - and how the bike will not go back out on the road without marker-lights fore and aft. All was forgiven, all was comforted, and smoothed over with three hours of motocross racing, courtesy of the Speed Channel. And I drifted off to sleep with prayers of thanks for the safe return of the man I love.

Now normally, I wouldn't even bother to share this. After all, it was just an hour of drama in the otherwise boring life of two reasonably contented, average men. However, in the aftermath of the comments around the ELCA's vote about same-sex partnered clergy, I needed to give this testimony...

You see, I've known for a quite a while now how much I love Chris, and how much he loves me. Not "lusts after," not "desireth the same flesh," but love. Real love. There is a lot more agape and filios than there ever was of eros, folks.

I am reasonably certain that if the spouse of any married person reading this would turn up inexplicably missing, their thoughts might well parallel those I've described. Even the possibility of living without the love of your life would be no more tolerable to you and yours than it was for me and mine.

If I were feeling theological, I would say that your relationship and mine are homoousios - of the same substance and essence. Not homoi ousios (similar in nature), but homo (which has to be some kind of cosmic pun). Same ingredients, same stuff. Love, commitment, affection, interdependence.

I believe that the taboos that the ELCA has called its churches to reconsider regarding men like Chris and I are no less challenging than those that the apostle Peter faced in Acts 10. It was absolutely unlawful for Peter to even TALK to those Gentiles; yet he heard the call to share the Good News with them. And then made the Spirit-led decision to baptize them into the fellowship of the Spirit!

They got over it; they got past it. Why is it so hard for us to do the same?

How terribly different is it for the Church to see us? The Gentiles were outcast, despised, against the moral standards and sinful in the eyes of The Church at the time. And yet, in so many ways, the Gentiles were not so different. And in the end, they heard the Word from Peter, and the Spirit moved.

Am I so different than you? I love my partner as you do yours. I am committed to be faithful to him, just as you are committed to be faithful to yours. Perhaps more committed – because there is plenty of social and religious pressure for me to abandon this man, and forsake this relationship. And yet I can’t even consider it. For half an hour, I stared into the abyss and had to consider what life without this man might be – and I couldn’t face it.

My faith has not changed; my hunger to reach those who need Christ has not changed. It has, in fact, sharpened – because I see the spiritual wounding in the gay/lesbian community that has separated so many people from the faith communities of their families and loved ones. I am the same man who stood in a church and Overland Park, Kansas and wept at the memorial service for my faith mentor and pastor. I am the same man whom faithful, praying saints of the church urged to pursue leadership in the church.

In many ways, I have little vested interest in what happens to the ELCA – after all, they rejected me, and the gifts I offered five years ago (including, I might add, a willing commitment to celibate ministry). So if others reject the ELCA, there’s an icky little part of me that doesn’t feel all that bad.

But I guess I have to ask those of you who plan to leave the ELCA: are you sure - I mean, really, really certain – that what Chris and I represent is enough to sunder the unity of The Church Universal that I’ve heard you preach about for years? Are you really, really sure that this is the absolute, number-one, sheep-and-goats issue that you need to divide the church over?

To be honest, I don’t even need to know the answers – I’m way past that point. I just had to ask the questions. Regardless which path get taken, I wish everyone involved well.

As for me, I have already said the words I have heard at so many ceremonies before:
But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16, NIV)
Here I stand ... I can do no other.


GratefulChik said...

Steve, thank you for your post. I've not checked your blog for a good long time but happened upon it again. I am an ELCA pastor who is not flummoxed by the decisions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and have seen so very much from the dissenters. I was happy to see your post. I am deeply concerned however about the future of the ELCA as it is now constituted and appreciate your words about reading Paul through the lens of Jesus. Blessings!

Heidi Renee said...

In light of this love, their rejection might have been the biggest gift you've ever been given. I am so glad he is safe, and what you share is what I share with Keith - no doubt about it - you guys need to relocate to Iowa, Maine of Vermont and buy yourselves some "Hubby, Hubby" ice cream (did you see the Ben & Jerry's tribute?)

I am so happy you have found love Steve. I am also so happy that the ECLA (the church my parents were married in, and the church I was christened in - but left after my parents got "saved") ;p has taken this stand.

There will be an exodus, but it will be a cleansing fire - not a destructive one - let the sour grapes go - the sweet wine that will follow will taste that much better.

Deb said...

I've enjoyed your writing for a long time. It started with a link someone sent me for "Jesus Talks to a Gay Man". I was so touched by that piece. I pondered it, read it over and over, shared it, it wouldn't let go of me. And so I've continued to read and enjoy your blog.
And yet, it also confuses me and frustrates me. I've wanted to speak up, start a conversation; but was held back by the fear I would wound, be misunderstood, appear to attack, come across as insincere or argumentative. But this thing just won't let go of me.
And so I jump in. Please don't label me as phobic or hater or stupid or ignorant.
I am convinced that homosexuality is not a choice; that homosexuals are loved and valued by their Creator God in the same way and measure as heterosexuals; that sexuality is no more an indicator of morality, integrity, spirituality than skin color.
I just can't wrap my head around the Biblical foundation for same sex relationships. More than the support I can't find in the Word, there do seem to be passages that condemn the action.
Obviously, you see this much differently. My simple question is "How?". I know what I want to believe...that your view is right. But what I want and wish cannot be my measure; I desire to conform my will to His.
I sense this combination of passion and respect for God in your words; so I'm throwing caution to the wind and asking for your interpretation of scriptures. Not as a proof, but rather another perspective.
Thanks for listening. Thanks for sharing your life so openly and vulnerably. I am happy for you and Chris.
Praying for wisdom and insight. Your sister in Christ, Deb

Steve F. said...

Deb, the reason I keep being drawn back to writing this blog is because of posts like yours.

I am so grateful for the faithful people who have asked me, in faith, about my relationship and my orientation. I delight in honest questions like yours. So no, no judgment here.

You can reach me directly at steve1290 at gmail dot com (my attempt to avoid the spammers). But you can also take a look at this post. Acts 10 is where I hang a bunch of my faith - I keep waiting for Brian McLaren to write a new book about us titled A New Kind of Gentile.

If you're up for a LOT of reading, you can read my responses to Christian Cryder, a minister and church planter in the Northwest who asked me to respond to a series of questions about being gay. My Epistle to Christian was the result of that, and links-in a number of different posts I have on that site. In fact, you might even want to read this one first. Up to you...

You've blessed me more than you can imagine with your question, and your comment. Thanks for trusting, and for asking.

Peter said...

To love is to be vulnerable, Steve man. You open yourself up to tremendous hurt and loss--but not to open yourself at all is the greater pain.

Some deep breaths, and a prayer or two of gratitude. Take care.

And Deb, I, too am impressed with your forthrightness. I am a hetero in a 25-year marriage, but it is no stretch for me to recognize in good same-sex relationships the same vulnerability, trust, caring, intimacy and need of God as in hetero ones. We are all, as Shakespeare said, hostages to fortune.

Steve F. said...

Deb, the same day you posted this, an article was posted in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics related to the basics behind the ELCA decision to accept committed, partnered gay clergy.

[A number of conservative clergy - including the three sons of my faith mentor (themeslves pastors of three large ELCA congregations) have vowed to either leave the ELCA or withhold their financial support as a result of this vote. It was their objections that triggered this post, in part.]

Anyway, you may find reading it beneficial.

Deb said...

Thank you for the gracious and kind response(s) and for the links. I'll be slow in getting to them all. I read over the Lutheran Ethics one; I want, and need, to re-read. Many thoughts, ideas, reactions were stimulated. I want to read everything thoughtfully and prayerfully. Again thank you. Maybe we'll continue this conversation sometime in the future. Seeking, Debby

Anonymous said...

...this is absolutely beautiful.
Peace be with you.

Vic Mansfield said...

Steve: a wonderful post. Well said, sir, well said.

Deb, et al., There is little in scripture about woman in ministry, and much about women remaining in the background and out of leadership. And yet the Spirit has brought us to new understandings. There is SO much in scripture about slavery, supporting slavery, continuing slavery. There is much in scripture that the Spirit has led us through and beyond, to new perspectives. Thank you for letting the Spirit open your heart even more.

Your heart is leading the way.

Steve F. said...

This is a post I wrote in 2009, as ELCA congregations were reacting to the Churchwide decisions about partnered gay clergy that year. I'm re-sharing this as the United Methodists in 2016 face some of the same questions at their General Conference.