Monday, October 3, 2011

Unnatural Relationships

(The font in Sjaeloer Kirke, Copenhagen--Wikimedia Commons)

Amidst the religious right’s endless hammering away at the sanctity of the heterosexual nuclear family, here’s one of the biggest ironies: that Christian relationships are the product not of bloods lines, “but of water and the spirit.” That phrase, from the third chapter of the Gospel of John, echoes later in the New Testament and into liturgies of baptism as well as into some of the rites of same-sex union that John Boswell brought to the attention of a wider public in a study published in 1994, very shortly before his death.

I have one godchild, N., the son of an old college friend. For eighteen years, living as I did some hundreds of miles from his parents, and drifting inexorably apart from them—my friend veered as far right as I veered left in matters both social and religious—I was about as feckless a godfather as I possibly could have been. I sent N. gently subversive books that I thought should go into the hands of the child of conservative parents, though by the time he was seven, I’d fled the toxicity of institutional Christianity altogether. That was virtually the extent of our relationship. Finally in his teens we simply lost touch.

It’s sheer grace that some ten years ago, thanks to the internet, he tracked me down—he at a juncture when his path forward required a new way to tell the story of his upbringing; me at a time when I’d found a queer-positive congregation where I could call myself Christian again with some sense of integrity; the two of us meeting on the margin of a wilderness into which we’d fled from what oppressed us. Somehow, together, we struck the rock and found living water, as much a gift to the one of us as to the other.

He’s thirty-five now, and married; smart, prodigiously accomplished, funny, with the heart and mind of a true seeker, a man who understands that in the absence of the firm answers we never get, what we have is longing and hope. Sitting at dinner with him and his wife last weekend, expansively reviewing the story of our interrupted relationship over a long, slow meal, then sitting beside him the next morning at the tiny church I frequent on the East End (“Last Lutherans before England,” the sign used to read out by the road), I thought, this is as good as it gets, and as good as it needs to get.

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