One of the informal rituals of our marriage is Ginger asking me, usually apropos of nothing, “Give me three reasons why you love me.” And I do. I have a long list; this is not a difficult challenge. Sometimes, she rephrases the question: “Why did you want to marry me?” Again, easy answer, which is some variation on, “I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.” We had not known each other long before I knew, whatever direction life was going to take, it mattered that I was with her rather than without her. I was not necessarily enamored of marriage, but I wanted to be married to her. From there, the last two decades have been about taking as many opportunities as I can find to say that over and over. I’m married to Ginger not because I don’t want to be alone, but because I want to be with her.
In a couple of weeks, our quirky little city is hosting an event called “Marry Durham,” playing off of the old playground taunt, “If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” The organizers are invited to show their love for the Bull City by pledging their vows in the street between Motorco and Fullsteam, surrounded by food trucks, with the mayor there to stand up for them, Wool E. Bull (the Durham Bulls’ mascot) as “Best Bull,” and the proceeds from the event going to charities that work with those in our number who are struggling to survive for a number of reasons. As Spring officially begins, we will participate in a mass wedding that should make Rev. Moon curious, if not envious, all in fun and intentional articulation of what it means to live together in community.
Last night in our Ash Wednesday service, I was moved by the invitation to confession we said together:
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from the love of God and neighbor. Repentance, fasting, prayer, study, and works of love help us return to that love. We are invited, therefore, to commit ourselves to love God and neighbor by confessing our sin and by asking God for strength to persevere in our Lenten discipline.
We are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from love – from life together. We are called to intentionally work toward everything that galvanizes us that tightens the ties that bind, that reminds us life is a team sport, not an individual event.
One of the prayers of confession to which I continue to return is in the Book of Common Prayer. I go back there because of the particular phrase that asks forgiveness for “the things we have done and the things we have left undone.” In the call to do all we can to love one another and live together, often our omissions are those things that cause the cracks to appear, allowing us to drift apart without realizing what we have set in motion. Yes, we can and do inflict damage by what we do and say, still it seems what gets left undone soon becomes forgotten and paved over by life’s other demands, burying necessary relationships like ancient cities under the dust and layers of modern life.
Christine Lavin has an old song called “The Moment Slipped Away” in which she describes missed opportunities where she left things undone – small, significant chances – leaving both her and the person left unencountered lost in the wake of what might have been. In gestures both small and large, what we leave undone opens a gap that gets filled with something other than love. Consistent, intentional, determined, tenacious love that leaves no stone unturned puts the solid back in solidarity.
Jesus knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray just before he was arrested for the last time and he prayed, “Make them one.” Not keep them safe or let them win or make them rich and powerful. Make them one. He knew what we all learn rather quickly as we grow up: the forces of life are fragmenting. We are pushed apart and pulled away from each other. We learn to blame and to betray. We learn to look out for Number One. We learn we can’t take care of everyone, so we have to take care of ourselves. Not long before he prayed, Jesus sat with his disciples around the table and, as he served them bread, he said, “Every time you do this, remember me.” What if we could hear those words as an invitation to communion and community in every meal, in every cup of coffee, in every beer at the pub: every time you eat and drink, look each other in the eye and remember me, remember the love that binds you and do whatever you have to do to forget the lies you have learned that tear you apart.
The point of life is not to be right, or safe, or famous, comfortable, or rich, or powerful. None of those is a sign of success or God’s favor or significance, particularly when our power and wealth and safety require someone else to be poor and weak and scared. The point of life is to be together. To love one another – all the one anothers – and to struggle against everything that leads us away from that love.