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?With that I left a note that said "GONE TO FIND YOU - IF YOU GET THIS, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY!" and raced out the door.
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?
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.