Think of what you know of Idaho – potatoes, L shaped state, located somewhere in the Northwest, often mistaken for Iowa, western, white, Arian nations, and about as red politically as a state can be.
Then consider that I grew up in a couple of conservative churches – one during my elementary years and one during my teenage years. Both of these churches had schools which I attended. The only time I ever ventured out into the wild world of public education was during my senior year when a friend invited me to attend high school with her for a day. Thankfully I wasn’t corrupted.
I grew up not knowing anyone that was gay. Or at least I didn’t think I knew anyone that was gay. Turns out a couple of my youth leaders and one of my good friends from a Bible Quiz team happened to be homosexual. No, none of them ever abused me, hit on me, or took advantage of me when we were on overnight church excursions together.
Since I didn’t have a face to put on someone who had a same sex orientation it seemed okay to make fun of them. We created a list of non-desired labels to put on anyone who wasn’t measuring up. If you shot at the basket during PE and didn’t hit the rim, you must have a limp wrist and thus be a fag. If you didn’t have a date to homecoming then most likely you should go with one of the other boys. If you were different than most you must be gay.
I did know of one gay man in Boise. He was a black man, which was rare for these parts, was flamingly gay, homeless, and dressed as a woman. He had a reputation in the grocery store where I worked. According to accepted tradition Jimmy Jive had walked into the downtown location of our grocery chain and demanded to see the assistant manager. Jimmy made a scene when he wouldn’t be seen and yelled for all to hear that he was pregnant with the assistant manager’s baby. Police came and Jimmy was taken to the hospital where was examined and found to be ‘pregnant’ with a large pickle. We would howl with laughter as we shared this story back and forth making the legend more spectacular than what the reality was. Another local grocery store had a similar story only it was a different manager and a different vegetable.
I ran into Jimmy once. Almost literally. It was a school day but I had a doctor’s appointment downtown. I had a Honda civic that wouldn’t start easily so I always had my brother give the car a big push so we could jump start it. If I was driving alone I would park on an incline so that I could get it started by rolling downhill and popping the clutch. It was a winter day and there was lots of snow and slush on the ground. I had injured my right foot playing basketball and was in a brace. I was on the way to my asthma doctor because I was having trouble breathing. As I was nearing the doctor’s office I made a left turn and a pedestrian, without looking, walked into the intersection right in front of me without looking. I slammed on my brakes so as not to hit her and my car stalled right there. I looked up at the woman who then raised her head to look at me. It was Jimmy. He raised both hands at me and flipped me two birds. I was so angry, especially knowing I couldn’t get my car started by myself. I opened up the car door and shoved my hand under the front seat and yelled, “WHERE IS MY F*ING GUN?!” Jimmy lifted his skirts and ran like hell down the nearby alley. I fell back into my car laughing. When I got back to the school from my doctor’s office I told my schoolmates about running into Jimmy Jive and what I had so brilliantly done to scare the shit out of him. I was legend.
There was no gun. There was no weapon under my seat. At least, not yet.
Not much later I was in a local park and found a bat that had been left by a local softball team. The barrel had been hollowed out and filled with lead. It was a practice bat, meant to be used by the next batter to help him get ready to face the pitcher by swinging a much heavier object. Finders keepers; loosers weepers. I decided that the bat was mine. I put it behind my seat and would pull it out to show to my friends. “What is it?” they asked.
“It’s my Fag Bat,” I would tell them.
Selah (pause and think about that)
We used to laugh when I’d talk about my Fag Bat. Now it horrifies me that I’d think that was even remotely funny.
It shames me to admit that I had a weapon in my vehicle that I purported was for the purpose of using the next time I ran into a gay man.
That last I heard about Jimmy Jive, someone had bought him a one way ticket out of town. Most likely it was the manager from Boise’s newest grocery store chain.
As for my bats, my dad, a very loving, non-violent man, took all of my wooden baseball bats, cut them in half, put them on a lathe, and made beautiful mallets of out them for his woodshop. He never told me what he did with the lead-filled bat, but it is no longer in my vehicle. It is no longer a weapon. I am no longer antagonistic to gay men.
I had dinner with one of my close friends last night who happens to be gay. We were discussing my journey a bit and I found myself discussing my single gay friends, my married gay friends, my friends who have recently decided not to hide their same sex orientation, and even a heterosexual friend who has pretended to be gay for a year (more on him to come).
I guess the point to this post, besides me being naked in the sharing, is to say I now have faces to the labels I used to use as cruel jokes. If you use these words around me now I’ll probably get quiet and introspective because I can hear myself in you. If I continue to grow and be brave, I’ll politely ask you to stop.
I know this isn’t the easiest topic, especially if you grew up like me.
I’m indebted this week to author Scott McKnight and his article about the difference between “Right and Good.” In it he describes two stories where Jesus interacts with people with what was considered to be dubious backgrounds.
The first is when Jesus goes to the house of a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus came under scrutiny for his interaction with the prostitute who came into Simon’s house and washed Jesus’ feet. If Jesus had stuck to what was right, by religion’s standards, he wouldn’t have let her touch him at all; he would have just sent her away. Instead Jesus goes after the religious leader and exposes Simon for not following the letter of the law. In terms of the woman kneeling in front of him, Jesus chose to be good, rather than being right.
In the second story Jesus has interaction with a Samaritan woman (John 4). If he’d have stuck to what was right, as his disciples begged him to do, he wouldn’t have had anything to do with the foreign woman who obviously had a loose lifestyle and an improper religion. Instead Jesus showed compassion to the woman in front of him and does what is good – he loves her.
This concept is a tough dilemma for those whose religious beliefs are surrounded by the walls of a specific church structure, denomination or religion. They are always at odds (as you will see if you read Scott’s blog article) on figuring out who to let into the church and who to show the door to. I’m grateful for the freedom these days of not feeling the pressure to measure up to any specific organization’s concept of what is right and instead be more like Jesus and simply treat people with goodness and mercy.
This is also how I interpret the political battle going on over marriage and equality rights. I think North Carolina got it wrong with their fear-based marriage amendment while trying to be right. Listening to the preacher from N.C. who said he thinks we should go back to prosecuting gay people makes me think he is just like Simon the Pharisee whose empty practices Jesus would expose.
Religion is based on law, rules, definitions and labels. It requires people to choose sides, to ridicule, draw lines and persecute.
Jesus chose to live a different life altogether. He calls us to a different journey.
“Hey Chad, lay down your bat and follow me.”
Selah (pause and think about that)