It’s been awhile since I’ve told any takeaway stories. I’m not really sure what got me off track, but I’m back with another good takeaway. All ye who have no freakin clue what I’m talking about, click here.
Recently I was trying to figure out exactly what happened to me and the church. As some of you know, we’re not getting along all that well these days. We can’t agree to disagree either, as my disagreement seems to condemn me to hell. Not exactly a friendly compromise, in my opinion.
Anyhow, I couldn’t put my finger on one thing that had driven me away from the church – only a lot of little moments that culminated into the angry mess I am today that is constantly trying to find some sort of peace with the discrepancies between what Jesus said and what the church actually does. Not that I’m discrepancy free, mind you, but I’m a little less on the hook as:
- I have not taken it upon myself to assume I know how people should live and teach them to live as such.
- I don't actually believe much of anything right now anyways.
As I tried to sort through these little moments, one big moment kept coming back to me. I realized that this one moment has been coming back to me at frequent intervals throughout my adult life, so maybe I’d better pay attention to it. I thought about it and thought about it and realized – this is a takeaway. So here we go…
Once upon a time, I had a friend named Jake. Jake and I were in the second grade together, but parted ways until middle school. When we re-united at the tender age of eleven, we quickly became close friends. Jake was in every choir class and every drama class I ever took. We sang together, we learned to dance together, we acted together… basically, anytime an arts opportunity was offered to us we jumped on it – together. I can’t even count the scenes we rehearsed together or the number of times I accompanied Jake on the piano as he sang, or the number of times I just sang along with him – duets in our talent shows, opposite roles in our plays. By our senior year of high school we’d developed our own little signatures – Jake always carried me offstage at the end of a play and we always had cast parties together.
Even outside of drama and choir classes, we were pals. In high school I’d pick Jake up in the morning and drive him to school. We’d sing along to the radio and laugh at the bumper stickers we saw – “What kind of blue-green algae do you use?”, “SUPER, thanks for asking!”. Nevermind. Jake was there when I took my first drink and when I sang my first karaoke song (not at the same time, mind you – it takes a lot more than a first drink to get karaoke going). He was there when an angry potential suitor left us at a diner and the time when we almost got snowed in at the bowling alley. He was definitely there for all the ugly breakups, too. Later on, when I was in college, we took a swing dance class together and found that we already knew almost everything we were being taught. We skipped the last class and went for martinis instead.
You’ve probably inferred a few things about Jake… he’s an artist and a musician and someone who I spent a lot of my youth with and whom I love very much. I could tell you a whole slew of takeaway stories about Jake and the things we discovered together, but I’m not going to do that today. Today I’m just going to tell this one story. But I’m sure you can start to see what kind of guy he is, just by looking at our past. You’ve probably inferred this about Jake as well…either he was madly in love with me but stuck as the friend – you know, the guy everyone thinks of as a brother – or he was gay. Those are the only two options. No other type of guy other than those two types just mentioned sit with pretty teenage girls and listen to their break up stories with real attention. No other guys dance and sing and act with pretty teenage girls over and over and over again. It just doesn’t happen.
Through high school there were always people making little jokes about Jake being gay. I’d never really put much thought into it. To me Jake was…. well, Jake. Just a friend I loved very much and had a lot of good times with. I figured if Jake was gay he would just tell me he was gay, and that would be that. I wasn’t sure how I would handle it if he ever told me that as I really didn’t understand the whole church/homosexuality/religion/sin thing, but I figured we’d be okay. Jake would be Jake and I would love him and we’d sort it all out. Not to say I didn’t think it would be a big deal – I did think it would be a big deal, especially back in high school – but I figured if things went that way we’d deal with it and be okay. I loved Jake for Jake – not for who he wanted to sleep with. Even at 16 I was smart enough to figure that out. It was hard for me to imagine what my reaction should be if Jake were to come out, but I knew it should be a reaction of love.
Fast forward to my third year of college. I was living in a little studio apartment downtown. Of my close friends from high school, I was the only one living on my own. So when winter break strolled around, guess whose place we gathered at for drinks and catching up. Are you guessing? Have you guessed H’s place yet? Good, you’re on track.
I had two best friends in high school. I’ll call them Bev and Audra. The three of us were virtually inseparable in high school and we frequently drug Jake along for our adventures. Jake and Audra had dated at one time, Audra and Bev were best friends, Bev and I were best friends, and Jake and myself were very close. We made a complete circle. Bev and Audra left town to go to school so seeing them over winter break was a treat. We made arrangements to hang out at my place and called Jake to invite him along.
Bev and Audra arrived at my apartment first. The three of us chatted and shared our girl talk while mixing drinks and trying to make ourselves comfortable in my tiny studio apartment. As we chatted the conversation turned to Jake. They skirted around him for awhile, their eyes darting back at forth at each other, trying to figure out how much was okay to share with me and what to hide. I’m not sure who told me, but finally one of them spoke up and said that Jake had come out.
My response: “What?”
Yes, they confirmed, Jake was gay. I started to think that something had gone very wrong with this conversation, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It wasn’t that Jake was gay – honestly, at that point it wasn’t much of a surprise. As I sat there listening it dawned on me – I figured out what was wrong - Bev knew about this before I did. I asked Bev if Audra had told her the news. No, she told me, Jake had told her himself. Bev and Jake had never been close, so it seemed pretty off that she would know and I wouldn’t. When had this happened? I wondered aloud why he hadn’t told me yet – why I was the last to know.
After a full minute of contemplations exchanged by Bev and Audra through those quick, darting glances, somebody responded: “Jake was afraid to tell you because you’re a Christian”.
The conversation continued, but all I can really remember is being told that Jake didn’t want to have to tell me he was gay because I was a Christian and he was afraid of what I would say. I was sworn to secrecy so when Jake arrived I never said a word. Four drinks later – four very strong drinks later - he finally ‘fessed up. My heart broke. Jake had to get drunk to share his news with me because I was a scary Christian.
I don’t remember how I reacted. I don’t remember what I said. Mostly I just remember being completely and totally heartbroken – not that Jake was gay; to me that was just another detail of our friendship, something we’d figure out how to adjust to – but that someone I loved was afraid of my judgment. Once he finally got the news out, the evening was lighthearted. We chattered on about which of our ex-boyfriends Jake thought was hot, whether any of us shared the same taste in men, who he’d shared his secret with so far – you know, the usual things you chatter on about when your best guy friend has just come out. At some point we played a game that involved drawing pigs. I honestly have no idea what that was about, only that I have random pig drawings in my memory box to this day. The evening concluded without any fanfare, and my friendship with Jake went on as usual. Several years have passed and we don’t see each other like we used to, but he is still someone I love and respect. Ironically, I most often see him at a gay bar in my hometown, though I have never seen Bev or Audra there. Funny, huh? I’m the one who was so scary to come out to, but I’m the one who ended up frequenting the gay bar. Who would’ve guessed?
When Bev and Audra told me Jake was afraid to share his secret with me, I felt a deep unease in my belly. I was nauseas with confusion and embarrassment and guilt. My heart hurt. When Jake downed four drinks in 30 minutes to dull the pain he thought I might inflict on him… well, I got angry. I didn’t know who to be angry with, but I got angry. As much as I wanted to be angry with Jake for not knowing me better and knowing that I would love him no matter what, I couldn’t be. I’m not naïve. I’ve seen the church. I’ve heard story after story of Christians ‘loving’ homosexuals by protesting them, trying to convert them, and threatening them with eternal damnation in an effort to ‘save’ them. I’ve heard so many explanations on how to ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’ that ultimately end up simply devaluing the ‘sinner’ and justifying judgment. I couldn’t blame Jake for being afraid of my Christianity because I’d seen what Christianity had done.
I was angry at myself for not having portrayed something more accepting and loving. I was downright pissed at myself for not having demonstrated in some small way that I was open to his sexuality - it wasn’t like I never saw it coming. I felt like a fucking monster, and why shouldn’t I? Someone I loved was afraid of me. I should’ve done something different, or said something different… or been something different.
But mostly, I was angry at the church. I was angry that I was being judged by what judgmental Christians had done. I was angry that someone I loved feared me because the Church had done a shitty job of loving homosexuals. I felt I had lost something with Jake, all because the church couldn’t fucking lighten up and figure out that when Jesus said, Love your neighbors he actually meant Love your neighbors. Not Convert your neighbors or Make rash judgments of your neighbors or Condemn your neighbors or even Make sure your neighbors don’t have gay sex. Just love your neighbors – love Jake. I knew I could love Jake, but Jake just knew that a billion other Christians couldn’t love him and threw me in with the lot. Fair? Hell no, it wasn’t fair. But I don’t know that I would’ve done any differently if it had been me.
I’ve had a few friends come out to me since then and each time someone has told me, “I’m gay”, or “I’m bi-sexual”, or whatever they have to say, I always think back to Jake and wonder how much courage it took for the person standing in front of me to share with me. Am I still scary? I like to hope that I am not, but I honestly can’t say for sure. Until two years ago I still claimed Christianity, and even last year I claimed Christian spirituality, though I quit even trying to believe in organized religion. Does my past make me scary?
I loved Jake. Jake feared me. What got in the way? The Church. There is very little that is as horrifying as having someone you love fear you.
This is the first time I remember being ashamed of my faith – not embarrassed because the other kids didn’t think it was ‘cool’, but actually ashamed because it hurt somebody who just needed loved. This is the first time I remember being angry at the church. Maybe most importantly, this is the first time I remember looking at the church and thinking, "wow, something is seriously fucked up here, and I’m not sure how much I want to be a part of that".
I’m never going to forget the darting glances and being told that Jake was afraid of my reaction. I’m never going to forget Jake downing 4 drinks to drown out the judgment he expected from me. I am never going to forget the feeling of knowing that someone I loved was afraid of my judgment. These are moments that marked me; moments that broke me and shaped me into a woman who is determined to love as best she can; to give grace and acceptance as best she can. These are moments that gave birth to the righteously pissed off young woman who sits here writing this today, refusing to take dogma as the final answer when love is such a better alternative. This is my takeaway.