Collegedale, Tennessee is a small town, and there honestly isn’t very much there.
A park with a cool playground.
A college that isn’t that big.
The Little Debbie factory.
They are a city of their own with their own municipal offices including a police department and some city employees.
In all my years of living in nearby Cleveland and Chattanooga, I never thought this would be the place for it to happen…
signs of equality in the South.
The city of Collegedale recently voted to provide equal benefits to its employees who have same sex-spouses/partners (keep in mind that the state of TN, just like every other state in the South, does not recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states, and that no same-sex marriages are granted here, leaving “partner” to be the only legal option here for couples in which both members are the same sex).
Needless to say, this brought a lot of backlash from the people in and around the area, including an onslaught of hateful comments paired with scriptures on the local news station’s site. Though there were a few truly gracious comments said about God and people “not agreeing” but thinking that people who are gay should have basic rights like equal benefits, there were mostly horrible things said. Things like “Sodom & Gomorrah all over again” and “Leviticus says…” and “God didn’t make Adam & Adam” were thrown around like crazy – paired with other statements by those same folks: “They are disgusting” and “They should be killed” and “I feel like I am going to throw up. Ew.” and of course, “God does not approve.”
I, of course, disagree with all of those statements, but that is not what I am writing about today (and not the purpose of this blog. For more of Biblical interpretation and theological discussions, you should read my friend Daniel’s blog: http://didwell.wordpress.com/category/queer-theology/ or this blog I ran across by Crystal St. Marie Lewis: http://crystalstmarielewis.com/on-sexuality/)
Before I move on, I would like to say I think someone unintentionally spoke truth when they brought up Sodom & Gomorrah, seeing that the major sin of those cities, according to Scriptures throughout the B.I.B.L.E., was in-hospitality and cruelty toward others that included not welcoming strangers, using each other sexually, and exploiting other people sexually (to the point of attempted group rape/using sex as a weapon and show of dominance.)
Somehow, trying to deny health insurance and other benefits which help families and spewing out a lot of hateful comments which exploits the sexuality of others and makes them vulnerable and certainly unwelcome sounds a whole like gross in-hospitality and exploitation and violence to me.
The news station put up a new story just after the Collegedale report, and they asked for feedback on this one as well. The next story was about a man who had handcuffed himself to his wife for 48 hours and kept a record of it. The question the news station posted was asking viewers if they could do it and how long they would last. These comments were mostly made up of “No way” and “That guy is insane” and “Ball and chain!” and “We would kill each other” and a plethora of comments about bodily functions, especially how hard it would be to be in the bathroom when their spouse had to go number two.
While the last story was meant to be lighthearted, the response being viewed side by side with the Collegedale story struck me as rather poignant and rather disturbing. Here were all of these people talking about how horrible same-sex love is and how it is destroying the family and destroying marriage, while these very same people were making hurtful comments against marriage, comments that reduce it, defile it, and even make fun of it. Comments that seemed to echo something I see all the time when I hear people talk to their spouse on the other end of the phone in a hateful tone, when I hear comments like “The old man” or “the old lady” or “tied down” or “ball and chain” or hear comments or see commercials exploiting stereotypes about marriage or husbands or wives. And sometimes I have even seen gay or lesbian couples step into this pattern of belittling and mocking, and I have seen plenty of people of all orientations belittling the idea of marriage and questioning why anyone would want to do it.
Today, I want to add a different voice, and to speak the truth and joy, goodness, and beauty that is marriage (for opposite and same-sex couples alike).
disclaimer: the following statements apply to healthy marriages, and certainly do not apply to relationships in which any type of abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual) is present, or where other unhealthy elements are present and not addressed in therapy, etc.
Marriage is good. It is holy. It is healing.
The union between two people, the joining of families, the expansion of family, and the commitment made to love one another, love God, and love neighbor is good. It is holy. It is healing and freeing.
My marriage to Deanna doesn’t tie me down. It frees me.
It frees me to love her, to love myself and accept love from D and better accept love from God and others, and frees me to better love God and love others as well through increasing my own vulnerability and openness.
Through this amazing marriage, I have already received and am receiving healing from relational wounds and have been learning that I do not have to apologize for things which need no apology. Example: We had pancakes yesterday. D said “this is good; I wish we had some sausage to go with it, too. I said, “I’m sorry.” D gave me a knowing look, and said “Baby, you don’t have to apologize!”
I am more aware of my over-apologizing, because of friendships and love interests which made me feel the need to always say I am sorry even if I didn’t know why I was saying it. D teaches me that I am worth more than that. That I am loved more than that. That she values me, and considers me her equal, and teaches me that she does not withdraw her love.
Marriage is a place for healing through the knowing that only comes through marriage.
Marriage is an amazing relationship in which we have an opportunity to practice real love – those verses about love that talk about love being patient, kind, gentle, forgiving, always hoping and believing, enduring and not giving up – the very scripture we asked our friends to read at our wedding – they come in handy and they make the marriage relationship work.
Is it a piece of cake?
It takes being intentional, to stop ourselves if we are grumpy from being tired or stressed from work, to realize when our tones are off. To hold hands and look each other in the eye and talk when we disagree. To make our breakfasts and dinners together as much as we can. To spend time doing those normal mundane everyday things, which are really the good stuff – feeding the animals, going to the store, working in the garden, canning preserves and pickles.
We share one bathroom in our house, for now, and it may be a few years before we can add another. We do not care and certainly do not mock if we have to be human and poop. (It happens occasionally.) And yes, we are sometimes in the bathroom together when that happens. One shower and one toilet makes that happen sometimes.
We love each other, shit and all.
Marriage gets a bad reputation, and I think that is tragically sad. maybe if we began to speak of it more fondly and maybe if we all began to be purposeful in our relationships, we could begin to change that.
Preventing two people from being legally married isn’t going to save the family or save marriage. Loving and making necessary changes in our own relationships will do that. (isn’t there something about worrying about the plank in our own eye?)
I want to echo and expand on what is said in some of my favorite passages and echo some of what we said to each other in our vows in celebration of love and, yes, marriage.
Love is patient. Even when we are running late or we forgot to put that one receipt in the checkbook. Or when we are still getting past that old wound and still healing.
Love is kind. So, we make time for each other, and enjoy being present – in the moment – with each other through everyday activities and special ones. We don’t snap at each other, but if we do – we stop and say, “I’m sorry.”
Love is gentle. If something is bothering us, we can talk about it with each other without belittling or shaming. We care for each other and know when the other is having a bad day.
Love is Deanna getting up at 5am to make breakfast for me before work.
Love is me cleaning up the cat puke because I know it makes Deanna gag.
Love is us taking care of each other when we are sick.
Love is us finding ways to enjoy life together when we are tired or when we have no money to spend.
Love is when we have days when we can go for hikes or fish; or when it rains and we cuddle and watch Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter together for the hundreth time.
Love is when we are too tired for sex, and we just hold each other. Or when we join our bodies together and cry at the beauty or just lay there in awe of the great gift of our marriage.
Love is when we are with our friends, laughing or crying together. Or when we get or send letters with both of our names.
Love is when we are with our church, and when we join in a prayer or song.
Love is when we give from our resources to benefit someone else, and when we do something together to help someone.
Love never fails.
It never. ever. fails.
And it keeps on hoping (for the best, for peace, for justice, and for equality)
And it keeps on believing (in truth, in beauty, in goodness – even when it seems dismal)
And it endures and grows and becomes even more