What did we know back then, in 1976, when Jimmy was working in the greenhouse beside FFA jackets and I was wearing a back brace and judging the gymnastics that I had been forced to give up? I loved watching those girls on the bars, the beam, across the floor, leotards clinging to their flat chests, calf and thigh muscles toned and taut. I missed the smell of sweat in the locker room but I was still connected to those bodies from behind a judge’s pen and score sheet, as my own body-betrayal kept me away from boys and alone in my mind’s world of girls.
And Jimmy? On the class reunion committee with the former quarterback and the populars, he says now that he was “the chubby kid in the greenhouse that everyone made fun of,” but he wasn’t that to me. He was a kindred spirit, a soul to laugh and cry with. He was my buddy.
We’d sit in the kitchen of the Dairy Queen after hours and laugh and gossip about all those boys and girls we watched. When the prom conversations began around those high school hallways, we decided to go together, buddy-date.
I remember nothing about the prom itself. I remember Jim growing a hybrid black orchid–cherished beauty–in that greenhouse, and Jim’s instruction that I get a peach-colored dress to show that orchid off. What did I know? My standard was jeans, a smock, and tennies. We hunted for it and at the second-hand store found an old gauzy thing with bric-a-brac and set about tightening the bodice.
I guess we danced, or whatever it was that we did at proms; somebody probably spiked the punch. A bunch of us vowed to stay up all night, from prom to breakfast to sunrise at the local dam.
For over forty years we’ve stayed friends, seeing each other through marrying the wrong people and recovery from divorce. Attending high school reunions as if they were the prom.
And last week, I had the joy to serve as Celebrant for Jim’s wedding as his legal marriage to Dick begins.
Jimmy and Dick have been together ten years now, sharing a home; parenting (and now grandparenting) together. A marriage in spirit and common-law, unacknowledged as “real” until the SCOTUS decision last year that granted equality under the law to all couples.
The wedding ceremony was the first held at Stonewall Columbus, the new LGBTQ Center in Ohio to house historical archives of the LGBTQ community in the state. When Jimmy told me they wanted to film the ceremony, I reminded him that I am joyfully–and willingly–practicing “Biblical Obedience” in my denomination, risking the possibility that someone in The United Methodist Church could file a complaint that I’ve broken the “rules” that forbid clergy to offer a blessing of same- sex commitment.
But what kind of “rules” tell these faithful Christian men who attend Mass every Sunday that God won’t be able to be part of their marriage?
What kind of “rules” withhold the shared joy of a community of believers who surround Jim and Dick as witnesses to the ever-lasting promises they make with one another? What kind of “rules” would say that the scripture about the many parts of the Body of Christ has no place in the ritual of two men whose love for and with each other has already been tested, already known that “shared sorrow is halved, and shared joy is doubled?”
What kind of “rules?” Rules that constrict God’s love, and strain that same Body of Christ; rules that undermine grace and that place in harm’s way God’s good creation.
As Jim and I experienced a mini class reunion, and as Jim and Dick made a sacred covenant with each other, I was grounded in the covenant that comes from God for all humanity–that covenant that says God is “abounding in steadfast love;” that covenant made manifest in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. When we prayed God’s blessing on them for “a full life, rich in meaning and sharing for this day and in the days to come,” I’ll was certain of the most profound “rule” I know: the rule of love.
- Babel and the many languages of General Conference - June 7, 2016
- I married my high school prom date - February 15, 2016
- Liberty, loyalty, and freedom in The United Methodist Church - October 23, 2015