Last week, he sat quietly in our waiting room, tears silently slipping out of his gentled eyes and down his weathered cheeks. He sat, hands folded and eyes lifted up, his mind deep in memory, or prayer. I wasn’t certain which.
When the vet came out to talk about the details of a very routine check-up for his dog, she paused, taking in his face, his silver hair, the veiny hands before she sat on the blue bench beside him. Visibly puzzled but with a certain kind of knowing, she reached to touch his arm.
“Hi…” She waited.
He turned his head toward her and her tenderness got to him. He began to whisper, afraid to speak it out loud. “You remember that we put down Jack six weeks ago, that Fred brought him.”
“Yes…” She whispered back, almost knowing, but not quite. “He did the right thing. It was the right thing.”
“Fred passed last week.”
I watched her draw the breath in quick. All in the same moment, she said her sorries, moving closer, pulling him in near, her tears slipping down too.
“The last thing he told me was to take care of our girl.” Then the whispering became quivering, nodding, holding back as he touched his first two fingers to his top lip a moment. A deep breath, and then, “I’m missing him very much today.”
. . .
What I used to think is that this love couldn’t really exist between two men, that queerness in general was for the young, the momentary, the dirty fling and the sinning — the fires of hell, and later for the lonely.
What I used to think was that gay love was about the sex alone – what I imagined to be animalistic, primal, barbaric sodomy, and not the stunning trusting intimacy it can be.
What I used to think is that these bonds, these connections weren’t real, couldn’t possibly mean anything about faithfulness, abiding, devotion, permanence – that such relationships were the antithesis of promises and vows.
I used to think a lot of things.
A lot of them foolish and naive, a lot of them stubborn in my ignorance, clinging as I was to convictions I was absolutely convinced were absolute truth.
I was an offense to love itself.
But here he was, aged and grieving, and the loss looks every bit as real to me as any other loss I’ve ever seen. And I believe his love is love, the real kind, a very good kind – faithful, long-suffering, poured out, the kind that renders a human being so deeply human.
I used to have a lot of knowledge without love, a lot of rightness without mercy, a lot of righteousness, I believed, but without holiness, indignantly guarding the gates of heaven as if God couldn’t fend for themselves.
Lately I grieve. So often I grieve, because I wonder and also half know what harm I’ve caused.
. . .
I can’t tell you how my mind changed, is changing – the method, I mean.
What you have to trust is that I never set out to change it, though now I’m convinced it wouldn’t have been a bad move to try to change. In fact, it takes a lot of courage to believe one thing firmly, yet engage the opposite view deeply enough that wrestling could change the outcome.
What I mean to say is that something from outside me acted upon me. Sometimes we call this the Spirit, sometimes grace. Whatever we call it, I’m convinced it was a miracle and perhaps Love itself.
It started with one person I knew and came to love, then two, then more and more until today, when heterosexual love in my friends and new acquaintances is not the easy and assumed norm it used to be.
For the longest time, it was easy to talk in abstractions about the Bible, tradition, hell, hating the sin and loving the sinner. It was easy, because I didn’t know anyone who identified as gay or queer, and definitely not anyone who was gay and Christian. And I remained closeted to myself.
But that’s simply not true anymore. I know so many now. And when I began to really care deeply for friends who were gay and lovers of Christ – when I stopped “loving the sinner” and just loved people because I loved them and they were beautiful, without trying to (and trying not to) imagine their private lives, suddenly to hold to the abstractions became far more difficult.
And I took my opinions inward. And I read the safest books possible on the subject, the ones that would challenge me by tiny fractions, instead of overhaul my everything. And I got used to living in the cognitive dissonance of loving people who my former faith insisted I condemn.
Eventually the pieces stopped fitting together and my conviction came apart.
And I realized the God I’d been taught – the great bearded father in the sky – was far too small, far too limited, when compared to the actual human beings that the bearded God supposedly created.
Anselm, an 11th century theologian and saint, once said, “God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.”
I can imagine a God who could create, love, cherish, delight in both the person and the sexual intimacy of the person who identifies as some category of queer (LGBTQIAP and on and on). If I can imagine that orientation is a reflection of the creativity of God, then the true God is even greater still.
I guess I’m aware of the objections – that Christianity can’t be all “love, love, and love” all the time, and that tolerance isn’t in the gospels, that Jesus will judge, and Leviticus says, and so on. Heard it all. If you’re reading this, and all you can think about is Leviticus and proof-texting, then maybe these words aren’t for you yet.
(But rest assured, I know and believe the scriptures.)
But if you’re curious what it could be like to be touched so deeply by the Love at the center of the universe that it revises your convictions, you’re the one I’m talking to.
I don’t know how it will happen for you – the method. You’ll probably end up loving someone, because I think that’s how it happens. And that someone will need you to cast aside convictions in the name of Jesus, and insist on their own belovedness and goodness.
Something like this.
At some point, I began to pray – for truth, for eyes to see, for it all to become clear even if that meant it also had to become painful. Deconstruction is hard work, and not without risk. Taking it all apart and not knowing if it will ever go back together can be a fearsome thing. It takes much greater trust than simply relying on the raw text of the bible. It requires a move out of self and into the world where you can be acted upon.
Sometimes I get afraid that you will think gay rights and queer belovedness are a dead horse I’m just beating, and could I just stop for heaven’s sake.
But no, I can’t. I love too many people. I even love myself a little.
And say you’re already there, that our stories are parallel and you know what I’m talking about from inside the work of the Spirit, then blessed are you for bringing your conviction into submission to love.
And say you’re the gay one, then beloved are you. And beloved you are. And you are so ridiculously loved. Happy Pride, dear. Go be beautiful.
. . .
I can’t pretend it’s easy, this thing about bodies and desires, loving each other and loving God, believing things and then not believing them anymore, and believing new things. Sometimes we lose relationships with people in the process, and that is a great loss indeed.
But other centuries of the church had other challenges; this one is ours, the one that won’t go away. It seems to be one clear place the Spirit is moving, refining with fire.
Courage to you. So much courage, wherever you find yourself this Pride and Pentecost month.