These are golden days that we are in, and I love that we both know it. The spontaneous laughs of disbelief that we should we lucky enough to live for such a time as this.
And of course I will go all thoughtful in a minute with the usual prescribed dash of melancholia so before I do may I say: I think you are wonderful. I am loving dancing along the ridgeline with you – with grace in our hearts and flowers in my hair. I am so grateful to learn what it means to partner with you, learn how our lives and hearts intersect at this very sweet spot.
Because it hasn’t always been this way. The rocky pass we’ve stumbled along to get here has left our knees raw and bleeding, ankles twisted and hearts weary. There have been seasons of such disconnect – again, and then again, and again. Most of it was brought about by long-distance but not all. Sometimes it was just the heart-distance – the most dangerous of all.
And as I reflected on what it was that brought us back onto the path each time, it was when we laid down side by side. (Not in that way, yet). The first time, it was before anything had happened and we sat for hours by the fire. My eyes were heavy but heart beating too fast to give up just yet. The flickering of the fire gradually fading, I waited for our friend to leave so I could be alone with you. I didn’t know what I would do when she did – it was just one-step-at-a-time. I don’t think you did either because when she left, we found ourselves lying on the earth by the fire for a long time in silence.
I began shivering from the cold, and from the tension. And eventually, as we both stared resolutely at the stars, you reached out and took my hand. We stayed still in that position for a while before someone spoke – I cant remember who. But I remember how I felt that night as we lay there side by side in my Ugandan garden, the lingering smell of matooke and firewood imbuing in us a tangible awareness of the preciousness of right there, right then.
The next time, we’d fast forwarded two years. Distance had got the better of us – or so we thought. But, in the absence of either of us managing to move on, you asked me to come to Canada to see your home and understand the soil in which you have laid your roots – the soil which you carry in your holed pockets wherever you go around the world. Like Hansel, leaving a trail of home.
It was my third night, I think. Here, you were a part of the landscape. You made sense, and everything which had once drawn me to you hung in the air, laced through the saskatoon bushes and brushing through in the grain fields. Late that night we climbed the hay bales and found ourselves here again. Laid down, side by side and facing the stars. Everything unfolded pretty much as it had the last time, only this time on hay bales, on a farm, in Kingman.
The next time, fast forward another year still. We’ve hit familiar territory again. And yet, just as I seriously pondered the prospect of packing up for good, we stopped at Emerald Lake. As we wandered past the tourists and jumped over the ‘natural’ stone barrier into the woods, we found ourselves amongst the lodgepole pines. We lay down on the teeming earth to get the best perspective on these towering wonders, hand in hand and faces upturned to the swaying of the topmost branhes. We talked about how tall they are, the freedom they have to sway with the wind – while staying firmly caught up in the earth in which they’re planted. We found our freedom there too. Laid down, side by side, faces upturned and earth beneath our fingernails.
This time, we were in London. There is less room here, you see, things are a bit tighter. There’s less time – or at least that’s the falsehood we’ve swallowed. So this ‘homecoming’ we had to adapt. We made do with seats next to each other on a train, my head on your shoulder. On reducing the space between us on the sofa and choosing one-ness. But I’d like to think we did it all the same. We came together side by side; laying down our rights, our expectations, our fears and hurts. Acknowledging that there is room here for both of us and I want you by my side, on my team, and I in yours.
We are best side by side. Covering the space between us with love and truth-telling and courage until it is a safe space for our communal life to dwell.
And all of this made me realise I owe you an apology. I haven’t treated you as a partner. A side-by-side warrior, brother, lover and friend. I have pushed you into the very mould which I expend my energy on convincing you to reject.
For all my commitment to egalitarianism, our side by side partner-hood and determination that this would be a most-definitely-post-gender-debate-relationship-what-else-is-there?, I hadn’t noticed that my attitude has often told a different story.
I hold up my hands and acknowledge that, as so often happens, I find myself hurling instructions over to the Pharisees before realising that I am here – jostling and afraid amongst them. Struggling with hypocrisy, succumbing to my need to please people, to conform to a structure which I understand, and speak the same language as the one I hear, I have behaved in our relationship in a way which denies us the right to partnership.
For all my insistence that I want to be pursued – not for gender reasons, no no, just it’s my personal preference, that I want you to be more assertive and challenging, that I want you to take the lead in laying down and guarding the physical boundaries not because you’re ‘the guy’ but just because….yeah just because. I’m just really hopeless in that particular area ok?? – there has clearly been a subconscious belief that taking the lead in these areas is down to you. For all my insistence that I’m a student and you’re working-and-more-stable, I haven’t been fair to you. I hate to admit it but I know I have been lazy with my finances and have relied too much on your generosity.
It’s funny when you stop for a minute and realise how much subliminal messaging has eased its way into your consciousness along the way. They say you can’t unlearn things once learned, and I guess this is the case for me. Just by being part of the church, I have inevitably heard varying degrees of instruction to men to lead – spiritually, physically, to be the strong and final decision maker. To pursue, as God pursues. To love and give himself up for his beloved, being the very model of Christ to her.
My reaction has always, always been to reject this. To rail against it and exhort with passion my belief that we are created man and woman, equal partners in the holy work of learning from and leaning into and leading one another – back and forth, back and forth. This is what I have always believed, and still do. I love that you do too, that you fight for our partner-hood, that you tell me we are best when side by side. That you are good enough to call me back to patience, to submission, to kindness and gentleness when I race ahead or lag behind and forget to love you well.
But I felt how high I had climbed on my egalitarian high horse when I fell down and realised my own hypocrisy. My actions were not matching up to my words. Even as I sat high on the saddle, daring to pity those men and women caught up in the lies of patriarchy, criticising the evangelical obsession with gender roles and the resultant instruction, sometimes stifling measured and open discussion with you for fear that it would reveal to me that you are actually a raging complentarian, I found myself embodying everything which I had fought against.
I guess we are all trying to figure this thing out together. I’m sorry for being so concerned with which side of ‘the divide’ we both fell, and forgetting in amidst all the wrangling to simply love.
So from now I want to step out of the battleground. While I still believe in the fundamental importance of our side-by-side partnership, I want to pledge to you a more humble egalitarianism. One which befriends the human weaknesses in both of us. One which forgives the presence of the old learned doctrine and embraces the continual re-learning and working-out process of how the Kingdom can be breathed into our little corner of the world through our side-by-side submission and love.
Lets stay laid down for each other, side by side, in the wide open (and sometimes slightly smaller) spaces, trusting that the freedom for which we have been created means we are free indeed. Let’s follow the example of the Trinity, who, as Sarah Bessey says, ‘“works” by never-ending giving to each other and the receiving of the other out of each other. It’s a procession of together in a blur of one-ness’.
With love and gratitude for you..