Monday, June 23, 2014

Three Kids, Two Brides, and Me

On May 30th, I performed my 3rd wedding and my first same-sex wedding. The other first that weekend was missing a flight (and thanking God that a bar in the time-zoneless world of the airport was open).

Photo by Jan Simonelli
There are a lot of things I could say about the wedding. The venue was beautiful. The food was yummy, especially the homemade desserts. It was a wedding. Some people assume a same-sex wedding has to be a bit weird, or off the wall, or something--something outside the realm of so-called normal weddings.

And it wasn't. There were cute kids in dress-up clothes, one of whom handed out flowers instead of throwing flower petals. She loved the flowers too much for them to get stepped on. Both brides wore white dresses. Parents cried. Families gathered, not all of whom were crazy about each other. It was a wedding, traditional order of service and words and all the rest.

It was a wedding that felt so right. I stood there in front of friends that I love, and miss more than I realized, and asked them to pledge their love to one another. We asked God to bless their marriage and their family that already includes three kids. The vows they wrote on their own reflected how deeply they understood the covenant of marriage they now share. I smiled throughout the ceremony without thinking about it; I was so glad I was able to bless their marriage. The joy of being with them as a minister on that day surprised me.

Sometimes, we quote the Bible, both the right and left's version of clobber verses, to talk about same-sex marriage. Sometimes, we decide to claim the Spirit is moving in new ways and forget about the verses to back it up. Too many times, we have to divvy up same-sex marriage and marriage with no adjectives, which is its own double-edged sword; if we just say "marriage" people think only a man and  a woman, if we say "same-sex marriage," then we clearly must be talking about something different than real marriage.

Knowing all of that, I offer the one thing I do know as a pastor who recently and wholeheartedly uttered the words, "I now pronounce you wife and wife": the fruit is enough.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits."

I stood in front of these two women and I saw the fruit of their relationship: happy, crazy excited kids; family that supported them; love that was evident even to this clueless, often misanthropic person; a desire to have God's blessing, too; abundant hospitality. All around, piles and piles of good fruit.
So yes, I'm certain, the fruit is enough.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Offensive Grace

When I was in college, I had the full scholarship--as in the school was small enough that there was only one. In exchange, I was supposed to tutor ten hours a week and generally be a campus leader. So I did--Habitat for Humanity, honors societies, and a whole host of other on-campus groups. It also meant that I was not about to get in trouble.

My junior year was rough, for a few reasons, and I decided to stay on-campus the following summer. I got a job at a local restaurant, starting work the week of finals. For the restaurant job, I needed to wear a tie, which I didn't own. Of course, I asked one of my guy friends to borrow one. He asked me to follow him back to his dorm to grab one on a rainy spring day.

My college was a conservative Christian college. Liberal in its tradition, but conservative in the grand scheme of things. That included dorms segregated by gender. When the guy from whom I was borrowing a tie told me to step into the back hallway to get out of the rain, I said I'd go to the lobby instead, where women could be until midnight. But he insisted it was silly and I should step inside for the three minutes it would take him to run to his room.

So I did. And when I stepped back out, the person in charge of all of residence life was standing there. Of course, on a small college campus where I had my hand in so many things, she knew who I was. She called me over, asked what I was doing, and didn't like my answer. "I'll contact you later," she said, as she walked off with the person to whom she had been talking.

Panicked doesn't quite cover my reaction, but it's sufficient for what went on in my room for the next few minutes. Eventually, I picked up the phone to call a friend. What else do you do but call a friend? (These were pre-cell phone days.) When I did, I had a message. It was from the person who had just caught me.

"You've never done anything like this before. Don't worry about it this time and don't do it, again."

I told that story to high school kids at camp this summer. I broke up the story with one from the Bible, the story of the woman caught in adultery, to whom Jesus said, "Go and sin no more." When I finally gave them the resolution to my own story, though, they began grumbling. Immediately, there were scoffs and grumblings and I heard at least one, "I'd have gotten in so much trouble for that!"

I laughed as they reacted and let them do so for a few minutes. It tied into the sermon well. Their reaction was a reminder of something that's easy to forget: grace is offensive.

If done well, if applied generously, if extended in the worst of circumstances, grace is offensive.

We forget that, assuming grace is something positive, wonderful, transforming. And it is. But it's also offensive.

Grace means not getting your just deserts.
Grace does not mean justice.
Grace means guilty people get off scot-free.

Of course that's offensive. And of course that's God.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Camp & Jesus

Last week was camp week for our Region. In one of those oh-now-you're-doing-this situations that I'm pretty sure only happens in church world, I went to camp with high school students. Yeah, I said I only do little kid camp. And I ended up as the keynote speaker for the week. Again, church world. Weird things happen.

Surprisingly, high school camp and little kid camp aren't all that different. The high school kids are better at taking showers all by themselves but both age groups have to be told they must take a shower. The older kids go to sleep way easier than the little kids; I think I got at least six and a half hours of sleep every single night. "Ok. Quiet time," actually works with high school kids. Amazing.

Crafts are just as beloved by the older kids. They, too, make messes when eating--more so than the little kids, actually. It's really nice to be able to let the kids who serve on the regional Youth Council be in charge of something for a while. No one asks for help getting dressed either. Well, if they do, they ask another camper instead of the counselor.

What was surprising to me was that the older kids cried more than the little kids usually do. The tears weren't about skinned knees or homesickness; these tears were about problems that were a lot harder to fix. Unlike the little kids, the high school kids hugged often and long. They gave side hugs and bear hugs and hugs from behind. They weren't ready to let go a lot of the time.

When the week was over, rather than tiredly trudging back to the cabins, the older kids lingered, tears in their eyes. No, not all of them did that, but a lot of them did. This week of camp was harder for me than any other week of camp I've done; well, at least it was hard in a different way. I've never thought quite so much about kids in the week following camp before. Usually, I just try to recover from my own post-camp stupor.

The last keynote of camp was a reminder of Jesus' words, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself;' for that is the law and the prophets." As I still pray for those kids from last week, still worry about them for all sorts of reasons, I keep coming back to those words of Jesus. (Jesus' words have a way of sneaking back up at inconvenient times, for better or worse.) We're not always good at loving our neighbors, especially our sometimes-prone-to-obnoxiousness teenage neighbors. We talk about wanting youth programs and youth energy, as long as the youth do mostly what we want.

I'm pretty sure we'd be better off if we didn't worry quite so much about youth group and instead worried about how to love our kids. And you know what, the ways we love our kids at camp aren't earth-shattering, hard to do things. They're things like:

  • Kids get hugs when they need them (but they're never forced to hug).
  • Kids are treated with respect, including being given responsibilities.
  • Adults listen to kids.
  • There's plenty of food.
  • Kids are kept safe. 
If Church did all those things well, we might be surprised at how fast God's reign takes over.