Today I’m joining in the Synchroblog for Sanity hosted by Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network. He’s invited all of us to write about how to bring understanding, compassion, and sanity to the discussion of homosexuality and Christianity. I really admire Justin’s commitment to peacemaking and bridge-building, and I’m sure his new book will be well worth the read.
This true story features Tonia, who blogs at study in brown. Thank you for everything, Tonia.
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We’re both playing hooky from church to meet each other for breakfast. She’s missing worship evangelical style in a gorgeous, imposing stained-glass tower whose parking lot always overflows. I’m missing Mass at my small parish church, the wooden building old and wearing thin but alive with Velveteen Rabbit love. The buildings are just blocks away from each other, which makes us, in a sense, neighbors. She orders eggs and bacon, apologizing for her body’s requirement of a paleo diet as though she knows I’m vegetarian. I wave the apology away and opt for cottage cheese and fruit. As we wait for the food, we start talking.
I asked her here in radiant hope that we can understand each other and maybe be friends. E-mailing her the invitation made my heart pound. She’s a lifelong Christian good girl, married to a wonderful man, a mother several times over by birth and adoption. I’m also in love with Jesus, and I’m a lesbian who lives in a tiny apartment with my partner of five-plus years and my cat. She hasn’t had much contact with gay folks in her life and isn’t sure whether or not to be concerned about our souls, but she’s prepared to ask respectful questions and get to know our stories better. A few weeks ago, I read something to this effect on her blog, realized we lived not far from each other, and decided to take a chance on a real live conversation with this stranger.
Ann Voskamp, a popular Christian author and my table companion’s close friend, once counseled her young adult son to “always have one friend that feels on the fringe… that makes the neighbors scratch their heads.”
“Maybe I could be that friend for you,” I say.
What I don’t say, but she probably knows, is that some of my church family would be as shocked at our friendship as some of her church family. Some of us can’t see past the label of “evangelical,” just as some of us can’t see past the label of “gay.” You invited someone from that church to talk to you about this? Are you crazy? they would say (maybe not in so many words).
But I, too, want to seek out friends that make others scratch their heads. After all, Jesus did. Why are you eating with those people, Jesus? asked his critics over and over. In those days, sharing a meal was an affirmation of deep friendship, kinship really, and the people he chose to bless and to claim at the table worried them deeply. So when people ask similar questions of me, I figure I must be doing something right.
I tell her a little of my story, how I see the love story I read in the Bible, God’s love of his children, echoed by my love for my partner and her love for me. The woman across the table from me smiles, overflowing with grace as she listens. She starts to speak in a gentle voice. She shares some of her upbringing, her unwavering devotion to Jesus and her simultaneous questioning of some of the things she was taught growing up.
Our conversation ranges to other things, too, the things we have in common as well as those that are different. We are both hungry readers and share book recommendations (hers turns out to be just as excellent as she said). We both love to walk in the city, though she lives in the country now. She confides in me that she loves the introspective, restorative rituals of the Catholic and Orthodox liturgies. I confess that I love the exuberance and passion of the evangelical church, including waving my arms around to a good worship song. Then we get back into the thick of things, hard questions about How to Live Like Jesus and Where Do You Draw the Line. Her questions aren’t thinly veiled attempts to wrangle me into agreement. She really wants to hear what I have to say, to reason together.
Church is over. Her husband comes in to see if she’s ready to go. She glances at me and says, “Not quite.”
“No problem,” he says, and offers to treat the kids to coffee at another café so we can keep talking.
We try to wrap things up. The hours have passed quickly while we were laying out the contents of our hearts. But I know she has many things to do, children to guide through this life moment by moment, and a home to keep as a beautiful haven for them. I, too, have to go home and clean house, cook dinner, show love to my own, less traditional, family. It’s been a gift, truly, to sit across from each other at the table, sharing our different meals and our often different ways of looking at the world.
I’m reminded of the way Jesus treated Samaritans, the outcasts of his own day, widely considered half-breeds and heretics, worshiping on the wrong mountain. He saw them with grace, tenderness, and compassion. While Jesus didn’t consider Samaritan theology flawless, he wasn’t afraid to see them as his neighbors – and point out that they, too, could embody the law of love, to the shock of others who had never been able to see past the label.
She picks up the tab, despite my protests that I was the one who invited her. I’ve been given a gift in more ways than one. It feels so good just to be listened to and heard. That goes for all of us, I think, in this crazy culture of drawing a line in the sand and shouting at each other. It feeds my hope that the two of us can be tablemates, feast together on the promises of God, affirm each other as pilgrims on the Way, imperfect as our paths may be. We hug and say thank you and goodbye and she gets into her family car and I point my boots toward my own home. And today, I claim her, as she does me: we are neighbors.