I sat in a different place in church today. Coming in mid-service from nursery duty, my usual place was filled. I traveled behind the pews, looking for an open seat, but all were filled with families and couples. I ended up alone at a cafe table in a section where most of the touchable untouchables sit – those who don’t fit in to mainstream society but in my church are welcomed and included in the body. It’s a comfortable space, a space where I can just be me in all my weakness and weirdness.
I was tired from spending the previous day cleaning the spaces between the new tiles in my downstairs ahead of the grout man. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, just be there for my daughter after my time in the nursery. And so I sat, sang songs, and was still.
Ten minutes into my sitting, singing and stillness, I watched a man get up and cross in front of me to hug another man. These two men are bonded by the strangest of circumstances. Their respective wives have left them to move in together as lesbian lovers. These men have attended church together for years, their wives accompanying them, their children sitting in the pews or heading off to children’s church. They are not strangers to each other nor are they strangers to most of the congregation. Now here they are, single men whose wives are living together as a blended family.
I watched the men hug during the service. I wondered what they think of each other, think of their wives, think of this odd turn of events. In a smaller church, dirty laundry often is hung out to dry in full view of the congregation. Thankfully, I don’t know the dirty laundry of these two men, these two marriages – at least, not much. I don’t want to know. I experienced enough brokenness in my own marriage to make any assumptions as to whose fault it is or how a relationship can break down after many years of loving. I have walked enough of life to know that a person leaving a heterosexual life and marriage in order to enter into a homosexual relationship does not choose that easily.
As I watched these men hug I wondered if they thought they were the ones who were in the right, if they felt wronged by the choices their wives had made. I wondered if, beyond the awkwardness of thinking about their wives as lovers, maybe they were relieved to finally have the secret out there in the open – that marriage had been hard, that sex had been good and bad, that deep in their hearts they had known for a long time that they were no longer the beloved. I wondered if in hugging each other something passed between them, some wordless healing, some aching truth about being men navigating this bizarre twist in their lives.
After they hugged they returned to their respective seats. The service soon ended; I turned away and waited for my daughter to join me. As we drove away, I was quiet, thoughtful, uncertain. I kept seeing the faces of these men, their hands on each others backs; I felt their humanity, their hopelessness, their surrender to what had happened. The pat answers about sin and poor choices and missed opportunities to grow in faith all seemed trite and insufficient for the palpable suffering and brotherhood they shared. I knew that, in sitting and being present to them, I had received from the raw honesty of their hug the pure touch of God.