I would move to Big Eden in a heartbeat – if it actually existed.
Big Eden is a fictional U.S. mountain town depicted so lovingly in the 2000 film of the same name, written and directed by Thomas Bezucha.
The film focuses on a small mountain town as the residents welcome back one of their own, Henry Hart (portrayed by Arye Gross), who is something of a prodigal. Henry had been sojourning in New York City as a successful artist but returns home to care for an aging relative. Quite improbably but also believably, these characters eventually nurture a budding romance between Henry and another man, a local Native American storekeeper. The story unfolds with humorous plot twists, miscommunications, and poignant family moments among this town’s residents, who engage their own faults and foibles gracefully and always with a view toward what makes each of them so compellingly human.
In short, Henry discovers what this idyllic mountain town had apparently known for many generations: he is his relationships.
Any critique of that film based on the centrality of a gay man in love with another man is merely a cypher for the far more radical and revolutionary vision of the film: individuals don’t exist; each of us is our relations.
That’s a hard and bitter pill to swallow for those who drink deeply from the well of modern western culture. Individualism and individuality are the taproots of whatever any of us think about the meaning of life in North Atlantic societies. Hard to swallow because that meaning is our relationships.
All of this matters for many reasons, not least this: the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to consider not one but two marriage equality cases and the ongoing refusal in far too many Christian communities to recognize the potential for sanctifying love in same-sex couples.
For many years a friend and colleague resisted marriage equality in practice but not necessarily in theory. She resisted in part because of the horrific history of patriarchal domination in the institution of marriage (expressed in no small measure by her partner’s refusal ever to be called a “wife”).
So imagine my surprise when she asked me to officiate at her San Francisco city-hall wedding in 2003 when Mayor Gavin Newsome opened that floodgate. I agreed enthusiastically despite my perplexity. I then found her later recounting of its effects illuminating. My family, she said, finally understood my relationship – we were married.
I actually wish and pray for a society that is not built so extensively on the marriage bond. There are so many other types of relationship that make our societies run that I’m loathe to invest so terribly much in just one.
But we don’t live in that world. We live in a North-Atlantic world where “marriage” actually means something about who we are because it says something about our relations.
Each of us is our relations.
This is an ancient Christian theological insight. Christians believe in a Trinitarian God who is God because of God’s relations. We, all of us, Christians claim, are created in that image. We are who we are because of our relations.
I’m evoking admittedly abstract notions here for at least two reasons: 1) the predominance of theological arguments against what should be a civil matter concerning social justice; and 2) the bizarre claim that same-sex marriage not only has no theological basis but is actually heretical.
Both reasons are unfounded, to put it mildly. Concerning the first, “religious marriage” ought to play no role whatsoever in deliberations of what constitutes a legitimate legal contract in the eyes of the law. Period.
Concerning the second, many more Christian faith leaders need to come out and be absolutely clear about this: There is nothing theologically that prohibits same-sex marriage. I’m not referring here to history (though that would be a good argument, too). I mean, human beings encounter God in our relations, because that’s how we’re being created.
The “wedding of one to the other in love that overflows in creativity” is not just an image of God; it’s the image of two human beings whose love contributes to the transformation of the world. That’s called Trinitarian theology. Each of us is our relations…marriage is one of those relations.
To be clear: no one in a free, democratic country like the U.S. needs to be religious to benefit from civil contractual protections. That any Christian community wants to argue otherwise is ludicrous.
Beyond that, Christians have many more peculiar reasons than not, including deeply theological ones, to insist on (not merely permit) full marriage equality, both civil and religious. It expresses, no matter how partially, God’s own Trinitarian life.
Marriage equality matters, Christianly. Don’t let anyone (including the United States Supreme Court) tell you that same-sex marriage is “unchristian.” The opposite is truer: Same-sex marriage participates in the Triune life of God.