The Legend of Jimmy Jive

09 May, 2012

I grew up in Idaho.

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.

Simon was incorrect on thinking being right was the same as being good.

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)

Pinging is currently not allowed7 Responses

  1. Karen says:

    Wow Chad, thank you for that. I am using it as my morning reading. I have a similar church/school background and I am really getting what you're saying. Thanks for putting it into gentle but powerful words.

  2. Lee Gaupp says:

    Moi Aussie

  3. Bill Burns says:

    I absolutely applaud your recognition that hatred or disrespect toward people who have same-sex attractions is wrong. All of us are made in God's image, and we are called to love everyone—not with some abstract love of "humanity," but a love of individual persons, regardless of their failings. I have had friends and colleagues since I went off to college who are attracted to people of the same sex. Note that I am not calling them "gay" because that says more of a cultural identity than it does about them as persons. People's sexuality is not their totality. A man who identifies as "gay" is also a son, a brother, a father, a talented musician, an alcoholic—in short, a person with all the flaws and gifts that all of us have.

    I would like to suggest some alternatives to the either/or notion that love of our neighbor and our enemy also requires acceptance of sinful behavior. Jesus, in the story of Simon the Pharisee, pointed out that the sinful woman was showing gratitude for having been, what? Healed? Forgiven? Both? Simon was being corrected for interpreting the Law in one way while neglecting it in another (holding Jesus accountable for being in the company of sinners while himself neglecting to provide what his own school considered necessary—water for washing before meals). In the account from John, Jesus does not punish the woman, but he says quite clearly, "Go and sin no more." In both instances, Jesus is not condoning sinful behavior but accepting and forgiving the sinner.

    I am just traditional enough in my beliefs to accept that what both Old and New Testaments say about homosexual behavior are in fact true (not that the Levitical penalties are in any way just or legitimate, but that the behaviors themselves are sinful). From a philosophical point of view, that fact can be borne out by reason (natural law). My faith teaches that all sexual activity is ordained toward two ends: procreation and. marital bonding—not one or the other, but both together. That doesn't mean that every act will end in conception, but that every sexual act must be open to conception. The reasons for opposing premarital sex, contraception, and homosexual activity are essentially the same: none use the sexual faculty for its intended purpose. For that reason, I consider premarital sex, contracepted sex, and homosexual sex equally sinful.

    If someone holds these positions, how can they charitably support same-sex marriage? If I believe that a person's actions are mortally sinful and I not only tolerate them but encourage them, am I not encouraging them toward damnation? (Yes, I believe in hell and damnation as well, although I believe that people choose to be separated from God, not that God chooses it for them.) Many people of faith have no problem with homosexual couples having the ability to contract agreements concerning property or shared responsibility for their children. Nothing in the doctrines of my faith or in reason prohibits me from accepting that this man loves that man and shares a deep level of emotional intimacy. But many of us have a real problem encouraging them in what they believe is mortally sinful (sexual activity). Granted, some people of faith (maybe many) are homophobic, but many of us resist these trends not out of hate but out of love. We don't want to encourage what we believe will lead this people away from God.

    If you want to see what my Church teaches about marriage, same-sex attraction, and the proper use of sexuality, see http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a6.htm. In particular, see 2358-59.

    If you want to read about a man with same-sex attractions who lives out a traditional understanding of faith, please check out Steve Gershom's blog at http://www.stevegershom.com/.

    If you want to see a prophetic document that was panned by Catholics and the mainstream alike but has turned out to be right on the mark, check out Humanae Vitae (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html).

    • Chad Estes says:

      Bill, I always appreciate your well thought out and reasoned dialog. Thanks for the support that you have given me as well as the challenges.

      I have trouble going down your path of seeing this as acceptance of sin. To me it seems as this one sin has been lifted high as the target of conservative religion while those in charge neglect the gross iniquities in their own camp. I do not believe Jesus has called his followers to this moral superiority, in fact I see him challenge it in the Gospels.

      I really do respect, even admire, your consistent and faithful expression of the Catholic church. Yet as much as it is a blessing for you my suggestion, even as I made in the post above, is that those who are so committed to a specific tradition or understanding have a very hard time seeing anything other than through that filter. To you, that may be acceptable. For me the reverse has been a blessing. The loss of my religious traditions has enabled me to experience God and his truth, in ways that I had been blind to before.

  4. Gwyneth says:

    I paused and thunk a while about your distinction between right and good. It seems that being right is often more about me, whereas doing good is usually about someone else. God is righteous and just, but I notice in Scripture that in His incarnation as Jesus, he chooses goodness and mercy for the marginalized, rather than judgement, a pattern that we can only hope to imitate with His goodness dwelling within us. I have had gay friends in the past and have treated them with the respect that I hope I would treat anyone. I have also seen the sad aspects of some of their lives, just as I have seen the sadness in many other lives who have experienced broken relationships, and my response tends to be compassion because I'm something of a softy. Loving people, no matter what their background, beliefs or lifestyle, is in my mind not incompatible with maintaining the view that physical union was intended by our Creator to be between a man and a woman.

    • Chad Estes says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Gwyneth. I think there is a lot of what God intended that is not our current reality, but until he reconciles all things, we are going to be living in tension that won't be sorted out with law.

  5. Bill Burns says:

    I can understand your position, but keep in mind that I came to my views from the other end. I came back to the tradition after a good 25 years outside of it, looking at it from without (and hating it). As I pointed out, this one sin is related to other sins. They all have to do with using natural gifts in ways that are unnatural and unscriptural. The fact that there might be "gross iniquities" in the conservative camp are irrelevant to this point. And, if you look back at my post, you can see that I addressed the issue of raising this moral spectre above others. It is not a greater sin than extramarital sex, contraceptive sex, or other sins. It is simply another banal sin related to others that are undermining our country's moral fiber. (Yes, I know that that phrase raises derisive laughter now. That should tell you something.)

    I used to hold the opposite opinions. It was experience, reason, and conversion that led me to these positions I hold now.

    Scripture doesn't support you that Jesus challenges the moral law, since He and his Apostles confirmed it (see Matt: 5:18; Rom. 3:31). He challenges the people who interpret the Law (the ritual law rather than the moral) in ways that are exclusive (that is, shun the person rather than the sin). He came for the sick. That doesn't mean that he came to confirm the rightness of their illness. He came to ensure that the sick had access to healing.

    I think you are confusing feeling and thinking. You feel compassion for our brothers and sisters who have this burden, and that is appropriate, but understand that there is a bigger picture and that our feelings don't determine right and wrong. I lived over half my life living in that mind frame, and I ultimately had to come back to what 5000 years of biblical tradition have confirmed. If you think the last forty years have vindicated this new revelation about the rightness of contemporary sexual morality, then I would ask you to open your eyes and take a closer look. You could start by looking at the links I have posted and considering the viewpoints presented there. However, your very quick response to my post suggests that you have already made a decision.

    Gwyneth has it right. We love all no matter their situations. But there is a law, and it is not for our condemnation but for our good. God's grace is to enable us to live it out—progressively, in baby steps if necessary. The brokenness of this world does not excuse us from listening and trying to comply with God's will. We don't grow closer to God by moving further from His design.

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