I want to talk about love today. I saw love in more different forms last week than I think I have ever seen.
We went to a 50th wedding anniversary party on Saturday.
We lived across the street from Shirley and Wes for over half of those 50 years. Their daughter and our daughter were best friends from elementary school until high school. So Saturday we sat with other neighbors and caught up on neighborhood news. When you share a street, utility companies and weather with a group of people it’s a bonding of its own sort even if you don’t do anything else together. We all paid fairly close to the same amount for our houses so it puts us in pretty close to the same economic bracket. Harvard Drive is a stable, blue-collar neighborhood. Most of the folks on our little cul-de-sac are the original owners. Everyone kept the same jobs and spouses for all these years. We were smart enough to not discuss politics with each other beyond the city’s zoning plans.
I would have enjoyed the party even without the Elvis impersonator. I love my neighbors. And I love the way Shirley and Wes have loved each other for 50 years.
Last weekend our current neighbors out here in the country sold their house. They lived here a little over 10 years but we barely knew them for most of that time. It’s easy to do that in the country. There’s a lot of physical distance that makes it easy to not know anything that’s going on. For all we knew, they could have been cooking meth over at their house all these years.
Until the husband died. That morning his wife called me for help and Beaven and I became part of their lives in a very intimate way that none of us would have planned. This spring they’ve needed help with their mower and Beaven has been called on to go over there a few times. And by now the house holds my friend, her daughter, granddaughter and great grandson. Then we discovered we have a mutual delight in God’s wonders. And I have fallen in love with them. They brought the great-grandson over one night last week and we spent an hour watching the turtles and fish in my pond.
Love your neighbor as yourself. And I have found that I usually do. Beaven and I have been very lucky in that department.
Then, we went to the senior voice recital of one of the children of our church. I’ve known Raelee all her life. It’s easy to love a newborn baby. (Not so easy when they’re in middle school years, I do have to admit. Middle school presents problems all its own for everyone.) But coming into the home stretch of high school and going off to college you come back full circle and wonder where the time went. I looked around in the audience at the recital and figured half of them were people in our church family. I love my church family. We are mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to each other. We attend more weddings, baptisms and funerals within our church family than in our own biological ones. We even go on vacations together if you count mission trips.
But it was the passage of amendment 10-A that caused the most dramatic reflection on love. Because in the middle of the happiness over its passage there was also deep sadness. And when one of your family is in pain it hurts you, too.
Let me catch you up: “Amendment 10A” is an amendment to the rules of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) that makes it possible to ordain gay and lesbian people as ministers, elders and deacons. This is a major move for the Presbyterians even while some denominations have been ordaining gay people for years. (Actually, so have the Presbyterians. We just didn’t talk about it because we weren’t supposed to be doing it. It has been very much a "Don't ask, don't tell" atmosphere.) Many, many, many, yes—many, of my friends have hoped for this move for years.
But there were no High Fives over the passage of this amendment, much like we didn’t need to get so excited over bin Laden’s death. Because in every victory there is always a defeat. The people who celebrate the passage of this amendment know our brothers and sisters who opposed it are hurting. And I know this because I saw it in the face of a dear friend.
Who would have thought there would be so much tension over who a person loves?
I knew John was opposed to this move. When I talked to him after church on Sunday I could tell in his face and the strain in his voice that he was deeply hurt. He told me so. He felt abandoned by his church. There are few hurts comparable to feeling abandoned by the one group you should be able to trust. This was not a time to argue my point, nothing I could say to make him rejoice. We had gone beyond logic. I was standing there in the Ed Center with someone in deep, gut wrenching, soul searing pain. And that someone was a man I love as a Christian brother as much as anyone else in our church.
I’ve known John probably 20 years. We’ve planned and served on committees, church suppers, youth work and bible study together. I know his kids well and am proud of the people they have become.
No matter how you cut it, you don’t have to agree with someone in order to love them. And, as liberal as I am, as happy as I am for this change in the church, I still come back to the sadness it has brought some of my dearest friends.
We step into the future together and pray for healing. I could pray that someday John will think the way I do but that’s kind of a stupid idea. I can’t ask that someone else change the way they think any more than I would want them to try to change the way I think.
There is one key thing I love about John. He is one of only a handful of people who can disagree with me with respect and genuine curiosity. He will ask me why I think the way I do and he will listen to my answer. I will do the same. We seldom change each other’s mind but we listen to each other with respect.
Lately I’ve been very sensitive to folks posting offensive remarks on facebook. It’s usually about politics. The remoteness and sometimes anonymity of facebook allows us to say things to each other that we would never say in person. And it is all too easy to un-friend someone on the internet.
I lost a good friend once in an angry conversation via email. In retrospect, I wish I had gone to her house and talked to her in person. I lost someone I loved and wonder what I could have done to prevent it.
I have more to say about this but I am close to my limit of 1,000 words and your attention span. I will think on this subject some more and revisit it later.
Think of the people you love and rejoice in God’s gift of love. We will come back to the subject another day. It’s important.