Today I celebrate 19 years of marriage with Dave. Our life together has been fun, full, hard, and more of an adventure than either of us could have imagined. You see, we were on day three of our honeymoon when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by two commercial airplanes. I will never forget that day, and Dave and I have often talked about how much life as we knew it changed that day, that week. Everything we thought about life, being adults, politics, and especially the church changed in the space of one morning. The hours, days, and weeks that followed that horrific day caused us to re-think so much about the life's work each of us was just beginning.
For us, war fought on American soil was an image of the distant past until that day. Ideological battle was fought in the classroom or think-tank until that day. The greatest fear we had was failure until that day. Our dreams of building a life together looked very different until that day. We knew we were then living through a significant time in our nation's history. We knew 9/11 would be our "Where were you when you heard President Kennedy had been shot?" We came to believe that a new way of life and ministry would be crafted, and we would come to be part of a bright new tomorrow.
But life in the church was hard. There was division among the social and religious communities about the place of Islam in the world. There was deep disagreement about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Politics got more and more ugly with each election that came. Name-calling and disrespect quickly unseated "polite conversation" as the social norm. We fell farther down the slippery slope of dehumanizing our perceived "enemies" such that I am hardly able to remember what real decent and respectful dialogue feels like in the public sphere. It is as if I can no longer be fully human if I disagree with you, and you no longer deserve to have an opinion if you disagree with me. We quit each other easily now, and the result is a societal shift from what Dave and I promised in our wedding vows: to give and to receive, to speak and to listen, to inspire and to respond. We promised each other to share all that would come in life as we navigated it together. Instead, a new habit was solidifying: when we start to disagree, the relationship is over. We no longer share life. We live in isolation from one another, and we find any source we can to support our ideals and tear down those of people with whom we disagree. The covenant is broken.
One of my hopes and dreams for the church is to break that cycle. I don't dream of a homogenous church in which everyone is exactly the same with the same beliefs and situations in life. There is no growth in that. I don't dream of a church where we take our marbles and go home if things don't go the way we want, either. There is no maturity in that. I dream of a church, a nation, a life in which I value deeply the people with whom I disagree because they make me better and stronger. Figuring out how to work through disagreements and even clashes of values has served my marriage well. Dave and I have grown together. We are more mature than when we were in our 20s. We have navigated the death of family members and loss of friends. We have become parents. We have lived more fully into our lives and calling as pastors. We have seen much change in the church, and more will likely come. Things haven't stayed the same these last 19 years, and in the long run, that is probably a good thing.
Things won't be the same for us as a community, a church, and the world following the effort to control COVID-19. I hope we will grow and mature together through this time of struggle. We will have to navigate new territory together. My prayer is that everything we are experiencing now (that we never imagined possible!) will help make us stronger in our faith and witness and in our ties to one another.
I am glad to be weathering this storm with you.