Third and final reflection of last Sunday night.
I was at a lonely place when the book-that-changed-everything fell into my lap.
It’s not that my family wasn’t there for me, they were very much there, but none of them could understand what it all was like. I had known I was gay for over a decade and they only a couple months. They were playing an impossible game of catch up while at the same time battling to reconcile what I had told them with what they heard the scriptures said.
The words I gave them were inadequate. It was like I was looking at them through the glass of a sound proof room. Nothing made sense, and I was anxious with every word I uttered, knowing that the slightest hiccup could send them sliding into a pile of more questions. And that was maybe the hardest part about it all. Everyone assumes that when you say you’re gay, that you know what that means for your life. I didn’t then and I don’t know now. And that, my friends, is not weakness. I choose not to choose because I want to be faithful and I want to get this right. So I sit with my questions and search for answers, both within my heart and outside of my self.
Then, one day, a coworker of my brother gave him a book:
Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin.
Sure, there was skepticism of him on my part about empathy from a straight perspective and a worry that it may be just another “pity them” tales with nothing concrete to offer.
And then I actually read it. Then I thrust it in the face of everyone in my circle. Then the ripples started and eyes cracked wide open.
Through words on a page, he translated every single feeling that I could not say out loud. He spoke in a language we could all understand. In a small, but HUGE, way he built a bridge between my family, friends and little old me. The words he wrote affirmed my skeptical spirit. It made me feel like I wasn’t a man without a country, that there were others out there like me. Others who didn’t wake up one day and make a plan for their life. Others that wrestled as hard as I did… As I do still.
On Sunday night, we all watched the bridge builder in the flesh. In his folksy fashion, he threw out several reflections about how loving well is not contingent upon agreeing on everything.
Make no mistake: Agreement doesn’t precede reconciliation. It’s not even that relevant.
“Christians talk to Christians too much! We need to stop talking to ourselves and instead start talking to everyone else.”
This is a form of discipleship that doesn’t get much airtime. Apparently it doesn’t hold the same sex appeal as picketing and cussing. It is, as he calls it, incarnational activism. Dwelling amongst the other. Living in the tension of disagreement. Seeing the human being behind the theological and political position. Choosing conversations that celebrate togetherness over pot shots that celebrate the self.
See, it is so easy to put up a Facebook post or a 160 character critique, but actually looking at the skin and bones of those who you talk about can make the mirror turn on it’s self.
Andrew moved into Boystown as a homophobic 19 year old chasing after a brief moment of divine calling. He has lived there for over a dozen years. He set down roots there, he has started a family there, he gets his hair cut there, he buys his groceries there, he checks up with the doctor there, and he has given all of his energy to a group of people that he had been taught early on to hate.
And it is because of that testimony that straight Christians can get a hint of how heavy my boots have been. He has had the eyes of both a homophobe and an ally, making him uniquely qualified for this space in the center. He relays our stories to those that don’t understand, speaking in a language that we cannot.
Folks, in the context of reconciliation, that really really matters.
Case in point.
At intermission I spoke with a few friends that were unaware that they already had a gay friend.
“I could listen to him forever,” one said.
“I have never heard it put that way before” said another.
“You staying for the Q & A? Yah, me too!”
His message was a gamechanger for this Church. It marked a turn toward conversations over confrontations.
Being a bridge builder doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles you may think.
Andrew gets hate mail every day.
In fact, he may be the most uniting force for conservative and progressive Christians alike. Nothing brings a family together like a common enemy. In their eyes, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A cloud of suspicion hangs above him whenever he walks into their camp. What’s his real agenda? They ask. What does he want from me?
And in a show of disgust, they fold up their wallets and walk away. Back home to their villages where everyone looks the same, sounds the same and believes the same things. Where difference is dangerous and those that step out are counted suspect.
Their mindset is the same
If this guy doesn’t picket with us, he must be with them.
And this is why I worry for Marin.
Because if his foundation falls- my questions won’t have a home. With their “Living in the Tension” gatherings, the Marin Foundation has set aside an acre where it’s safe to wonder out loud. If I went to a PFLAG meeting with the kind of questions I still struggle with, I would be laughed out the building. If I went to a conservative Christian meeting about this, they would tell me that I am struggling against my sinful self, because, after all, that’s what the Word says and we all agree, so just get with the program.
Andrew is important to me because if he goes away there is no one else. Seriously, there’s no one. There is no one else, as I have seen, that is willing to enter into no man’s land and endure hate from all sides, in order to advance the Kingdom cause. There is no one else that thinks reconciliation and relationships are far more important than agreement and uniformity and victory.
There is no one else out there bold enough to keep personal positions private on behalf of the greater good.
Even in the face of struggling finances and only a handful of courageous churches willing to support their cause, Andrew refuses to let the foundation become someone else’s rubber stamp.
And yet, things would be so much easier if he did.
It would be so simple if he just came out and said that after much thought and reflection, he had become convinced of the position against same-sex relationships. His coffers would fill to the brim. Conservatives would rally to his “reconciliation” cause because they knew he was working on their behalf. You’d hear James Dobson and Rick Warren speak about him like a modern day Billy Graham. Reconciliation is fine as long as they walk over to our side of the bridge.
Similarly, if he came out and said that after much thought and reflection, he had become convinced of the position in support of same-sex relationships, the progressive Christian community would rush to his side. They would plaster his face on their emails and broadcast his voice as much as they do Justin Lee’s. It would be the single greatest fundraiser his organization has ever seen, because progressives would know that he was fighting for their cause.
But the Kingdom doesn’t come through the election of a party.
God’s got that job already. If we miss that, we’ve missed something pretty significant.
Our title is Reconcilers. Shalom speakers. Hand holders. Story listeners. Shoulder’s to cry on. Prayer warriors. Examples of God’s creation in both the bigot and the drag queen.
Nothing can change until we start seeing people instead of positions. People not positions. People not positions. People not positions. (repeat this to yourself every morning.)
I am still hopeful for the foundation’s success, even though reconciliation is a tough sell these days. I have hope because what I have seen them do with my own eyes. And that, to me, suggests that someone bigger than all of us is chugging them along. Someone who came 2,000 years ago to reconcile himself with us, so that we might reconcile ourselves with one another.
And someday we will.
But, for now, Andrew carries the torch for us all. For those that think we should never stop learning. Those not in a rush to reach a theological conclusion. Those that don’t place the weight of their faith in a ballot box vote. The peacemakers and the religious skeptics. The outcasts that just want love, acceptance and a bit of normalcy from the communities around them. The runaways that dream of empathy and empowerment.
All of us that live under the scarlet letter.
We’re ripe for a reconciliation.
If you want to tithe to the foundation like many of my friends and myself do. Click here.