The table came with the house, and like the house, it was old, a little tired, and rather nondescript. With the table came four mismatched chairs, which we accented from time to time with Richard’s desk chair that leaned so far back, one of our friends fell out of it while playing Catchphrase.
I remember one of the first times we all sat around the table. We’d just moved in to the house on Bemis at the beginning of a Fall semester at Calvin, and we gathered around the table to write up a house contract and a cleaning schedule.
The contract included some fairly standard rules: don’t eat other people’s food, don’t play loud music when someone’s studying, follow the cleaning schedule. Others were rather specific: don’t eat Laura’s cheese (imported Dutch Gouda) and don’t sit on the end of Laura’s bed. This wasn’t about my need for privacy, but rather a simple acknowledgment that if you sat on the end of the bed, the box spring and mattress would flip off the base like a see-saw and the whole thing would come crashing down.
Jess, as I wrote your wedding sermon last week on Proverbs 3:1-6, I grinned as I thought about that bed. If ever there was an example of how God’s laws are designed for our flourishing, this was it.
A few weeks went by in our new house, and we relished being free of the dorms, and making a little home for ourselves, and falling into new routines and bus routes and class schedules. And then one day, Richard, you and I were home by ourselves, and you called me down to the dining room table.
“Laura, I have to tell you something.”
Oh boy. This was going to be serious. I thought back over the last week. Had I played music too loudly? Did I neglect to wipe down the blinds in the living room? Did you hate the way I chewed?
“Jess and Christina already know.”
Well shoot. So you’re the messenger enlisted to bear the bad news. Are you chucking me out? Did something happen to Jess and Christina? Is one of them leaving?
Oh. I laughed, nervously but with a great deal of relief. Okay, I said. And you told me your story, and I’m sure I asked a couple questions, but it wasn’t a very long conversation.
We carried on with life, the same, but a little different. Our life trajectories have pulled away from each other since that conversation. You eventually moved to Halifax and found a community that helped you understand and explore who you are. I went to seminary and deepened my commitment to a church and a theology that struggles to make space for you. I told you, as we danced together at Jess’ wedding, that we are the definition of an unlikely friendship held together by love. And I laughed with just a hint of ache.
As the weeks turned into months, we became more of ourselves around that table. Each of us invited the others into the way the world was opening up for us. We’d sit and do homework long into the night. Jess would make us recite weird sounds or tongue twisters, even looked into our ear canals as she studied speech therapy. Christina would read children’s books to us and litter the table with colored paper as she prepared for a day of student teaching. Richard would burst from his room to describe a scene from some new show or movie he was studying. I’d enlist you to make up mnemonic devices to help me remember Greek vocab words.
I remember marveling, once, at the fact that we each had such distinct interests, and how glad I was to know a little more about a corner of the world through each of you.
But we found our common loves around that table too. We talked about boys, and eventually pulled out Richard’s chair more regularly as Nathan joined our ranks next to Christina. We ate dinners together – usually made by Christina and always including spinach. And after eating said healthy dinner, someone would inevitably ask, “So…Spoonlickers?” And off we went to the far-too-close frozen yogurt shop where you’d all explore different flavors and I’d get the same combo every time.
Five years later, I still get that exact combo of ice cream and toppings. And I know you make fun of me for this, but I’m unapologetic. In part, because vanilla+cookie dough+pretzels+strawberries+caramel is delicious. But also because every time I get ice cream, I think about you. And the life we lived around our table.
We sat at a different table this weekend, draped in linen and scattered not with colored paper, but roses. Jess in the middle next to her groom. And as we sat and laughed and “remembered when,” I recognized in myself a me that is there because of you. A me who values companionship, who feels the satisfaction of a clean house, who loves Veronica Mars, and who values people’s stories.
I’m sure there’s another sermon example in there somewhere – about coming as a disparate people to a table and discovering ourselves in one another because we all find ourselves in the Christ. That we’re all one family, held together by more than our differences.
But today all I want to do is say thank you for living life with me around our table. For being my Bemis Family. And for finding new tables where we can introduce each other to the selves we are now, influenced by many things, but always shaped by those years around our table.
Thank you. I’m just a little envious.
Thank you, Laura. I will share this with our local Generous Spaces group and with a cousin and spouse Chris, who came out as bi about a year ago and is hopeful, healthy and an elder in his church. This after years of hiding and not a little self loathing. Btw, his mother in law was raised on Bemis. Blessings.
Thank you! Your table brings to mind “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler. Blessed communion!
Thanks Laura, for an interesting and inspiring article highlighting the bond you have had with people of various sexual orientations, whether single, married, straight, or bi, at this particular point of your life. I think your story/article would have read entirely differently if you had not included your friend, Richard, into the mix of friendships. In fact I think this article was about how you were able to envelope a bi person as a close friend. But now you are part of a denomination, as a pastor (a leader), that excludes such people from being part of the closest bond within our churches, from being a professing member of the church, the body of Christ. You must feel quite conflicted in your role today. I definitely like the old Laura, the one described in this article. Thanks for inspiring your readers.
I have an honest question for any of you progressive Christians who will respond to me:
What counsel would you give to a bisexual? (My question assumes that you still believe that a monogamous committed lifelong relationship is God’s design for both gay and straight individuals.)
Do they have to pick a side, so to speak, when it comes to a spouse? It seems to me that they would then have to deny a part of them that is considered an integral and unchanging part of who they are.
Or, is this where a committed polyamorous relationship is now accepted?
I am not engaging in snark. I just don’t have an answer.
Thanks Marty for your open ended question. You seem to narrow down the alternatives in your own view of marriage or sexual relationships. But I do see that you have gone against the Christian tradition in that you suggest a monogamous committed lifelong relationship (marriage) can take place between gay or straight people. That’s a shift from Classical Christianity. It would seem that, in principle, marriages or long term relationships do take place between male and female. But there seem to be exceptions to the rule that might be acceptable to God. Homosexual relationships seem to be one of those exceptions to the norm (according to your comment). And in the case of David (Old Testament) polygamy might be an exception, as well. After all, he was a polygamist and God called him a man after his own heart. Just as there are exceptions to the law “you shall not kill,” as in the case of warfare, capitol punishment, or self defense, so there seem to be exceptions to the laws of marriage and meaningful relationships. If you want to nail down the Bible to a rule book, you might have a difficult time accepting a bi-sexual or his/her lifestyle.
That’s the short answer. I’m sure a synodical study committee would have a much longer answer.