Sisterhood of the Traveling Undies: A Short Story

LINDSAY leaned over her computer keyboard, intent on the spaceman-green letters on the screen. Though her typing 201 class still used manual typewriters, here in Mr. Coyote’s Business Machines the school went high-tech. The teacher glided past Lindsay’s row like a phantom, peering down at his students through glasses that made his eyes look like pickled eggs. As he passed Lindsay’s friend Candy, who sat beside her, Candy stifled a giggle. She wore baby doll t-shirts, and Mr. Coyote always ogled her boobs.

“Uncle Pervie,” she whispered to Lindsay, as Mr. Coyote finished his rounds. They watched him steal into the mimeograph room, where, they suspected, he got high sniffing ink fumes.

“If you think that’s what he’s doing, you should tell somebody,” Lindsay told Candy.

Candy wrinkled her nose. She did that a lot, because it was cute. “Who doesn’t know it already? Adults don’t care if other adults are perverts. We live in Soap Opera World.”

Lindsay thought Candy had to be wrong. Surely older people still did the right thing, at least some of the time. “If you didn’t act like you enjoyed it, he wouldn’t zero in on you.” And Mr. Coyote did behave like Wile E. when he was around Candy. She might not be a roadrunner, but all the guys, from sixteen to sixty, thought she was a fox.

Lindsay thought so, too, though she couldn’t admit it. Nor could she gape at Candy’s boobs. Friends didn’t do things like that to each other. Especially not when their friends were other girls.

Since she always tried to do the right thing, Lindsay doggedly dated guys. She kept hoping she’d break down and fall in love with one. Now she was dating Rex, another football player with a million hands. That Saturday evening they went to the movies, she reminded him yet again that she was a Christian and didn’t go past first base, and afterwards — so late her mother glared at her for getting a phonecall — she heard from Candy.

“I’m gonna be in so much trouble,” Candy gushed. “You won’t believe what happened!”

“Try me.” Where Candy was concerned, Lindsay would believe almost anything.

“Well, I was babysitting for the Gherkins. Another whole, entire Saturday evening, wasted! But Robb came over, after I put Gigi and Georgie to bed. And we…well, you know…we messed around. Then it was almost time for the Gherkins to get home, so of course I had to make the bed…”

“You made out in their bed?” Lindsay was incredulous.

“Of course we did. Where else were we gonna do it? Anyway, I tried and tried to find my panties, but they were, like, gone, you know?”

Lindsay struggled to keep up. “You lost your underpants in their bed?”

“That sort of shit happens sometimes, you know? Only every other time, I always found them.” There was a shaky breath at the other end of the line. “I had to stop looking, you know? I mean, Robb barely got out the back door and over the fence before they came in.”

This wasn’t even her problem, but Lindsay’s head was reeling. “So your underpants are still stuck somewhere in between those people’s covers!”

“I’ve got to tell you, Lindsay, I don’t know what she’s gonna do when she changes the sheets. She’ll, like, find them, you know? And what’ll she think?

“I don’t know what she’ll think.” Though actually, Lindsay had a pretty good idea. Mrs. Gherkin would find panties not her own, and she would think Mr. Gherkin was having an affair.

Candy laughed nervously. “Well, hey, it’s 1979, you know? People are pretty cool about those things nowadays. She and Mr. Gherkin will probably just have a very interesting conversation.”

Lindsay imagined they’d have an interesting conversation, indeed. Probably involving lawyers, over who’d get custody of little Gigi and Georgie. “I…can’t tell you what Mrs. Gherkin might think,” she told Candy. If Candy couldn’t figure it out, Lindsay doubted it would do much good for her to tell her. “She’ll probably never ask you to babysit again,” she said, knowing that was all Candy would care about.

A snort came down the line. “Which only means that from now on, Robb and I would have Saturdays for ourselves. And he always pays for everything, so it wouldn’t be a tragedy if I didn’t have any money.”

Though Candy always wore blue jeans — the tighter the better — she’d been born without a clue gene. She had no idea the trouble she was bringing down on innocent people. She didn’t need to worry the trouble would fall on her; she’d never even own up to it. Lindsay could already hear her, facing the Gherkins and their lawyers with her Little Orphan Annie face and telling them she had no idea whose underpants had made their way, like the Serpent of Eden, into their matrimonial bed.

If Lindsay had never heard about this nonsense, it would be none of her business. But she had, and so it was. She was a Christian; she knew her duty. Once God had thrust the knowledge upon her, the responsibility became hers. Somehow, however improbably, she had to make this right.

“The time is out of joint,” she read in Hamlet. “O cursed spite, That I was ever born to set it right.” Surely there was a reason they were reading Hamlet right now in Mrs. Mason’s English class. But whole precious days went by, and — like the ill-fated Prince of Denmark — Lindsay stayed silent. “I am pigeon-livered, and lack gall.” She kept her head down, kept studying hard, kept dating Rex the mutant octopus and remained a dutiful believer.

Then came another Friday, three weeks later, when Candy slunk into class with her own head down. Her cheeks burned with what, had this been anybody but Candy, Lindsay would have taken for shame. “You won’t believe what’s happening now,” Candy murmured as they took their seats before the ten-key adding machines in Mr. Coyote’s classroom.

“Probably not,” Lindsay said, checking to see where the teacher was. Mr. Coyote was safely on the other side of the room, dropping his chalk, picking it up and sneaking a peek up Kathy Grady’s skirt.

“Mrs. Gherkin called me last night to say they don’t need me to babysit anymore.” Candy wasn’t following the worksheet at all. She was punching dumb, random numbers into her machine — multiplying tens of thousands until the keys jammed.

“She found the underpants,” Lindsay guessed.

“I suppose she did.” Candy gave her adding machine a whack to unjam it.

“That’s really rough.” Lindsay wouldn’t preach. Friends didn’t do that. “Getting fired must be terrible.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly get fired.” Candy prettily bit her lip, popping open the adding machine and rooting around inside with a pencil. “They sort of…laid me off. They’re selling the house and moving, you see. Mr. Gherkin’s moving to one place, and Mrs. Gherkin’s moving to another, because they’re getting a divorce.”

Cold horror descended upon Lindsay. “Do you…know what for?”

Candy scowled, slamming the top of her adding machine shut. “How the hell would I know? I mean, it’s not like it’s any of my business.”

Lindsay started to tell her that it certainly was her business, and why, but there, looming behind them, was Mr. Coyote. “Young lady,” he cooed, his pickled eggs on Candy’s bosom as he leaned over her, “when you have a problem with one of these machines, call me and let me fix it.”

While the teacher stood breathing on them, Lindsay wasn’t about to say a word. She just sat and stewed. Whether he would pay attention to their conversation, however, was debatable. If she mentioned the word “panties,” he’d be all ears. Otherwise, he could be remarkably obtuse.

Besides business machines, it appeared to Lindsay that Mr. Coyote focused only on sex and sleep. Lindsay and Candy’s friend Helena — affectionately known to the student body as Javelina — had him two years prior for Driver’s Ed. He was little help as an instructor, because he took little catnaps on every drive. Not that Javelina ever minded. Once, before he woke up, she took him halfway from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

“Thanks, Mr. Coyote,” Candy said, in her Marilyn Monroe voice, when he presented the restored machine to her. Lindsay was actually grateful for the time-out. She’d decided exactly what to do.

“I’m going to help you,” she promised Candy when Mr. Coyote had disappeared into the mimeograph room.

For reasons she didn’t understand, any other friend to whom she said this would have looked at Lindsay in horror. Candy merely beamed. “Cool! Oh, Lindsay, you’re a true friend!”

Lindsay’s heart skipped a beat. Making Candy smile was the closest she would ever get to ogling her boobs. After Lindsay did what she had to do, Candy would never even smile at her again. Though she should be glad she was being saved from causing a divorce, she’d probably hunt Lindsay down and beat the crap out of her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That Saturday afternoon, Lindsay went over to the Gherkins’ house. She knew who they were and where they lived because before Candy had become their babysitter, the job of sitting for the then-infant Gigi had belonged to Lindsay’s older sister, Ruthie. The wildest and most rebellious thing Ruthie had ever done was drag Lindsay along with her. There was a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and as Lindsay parked her ’67 Dart at the front curb, the gravity of the events Candy had set in motion really hit. Lindsay wished Ruthie wasn’t away at college, so she could drag her along with her.

When Mrs. Gherkin answered the door, she seemed friendly enough to Lindsay. She invited her in, gave her a glass of iced tea, and motioned her into a big, leather armchair that let out a thunderous farting noise when she sat down, opposite two more just like it. In one of those sat a fat little guy with a bald head and hair growing out of his ears. Mrs. Gherkin introduced him as Marcus Pomeroy, her attorney.

Mrs. Gherkin sat in the third chair, primly ignoring another fart. “How can we help you?” she asked Lindsay with a polite smile.

Lindsay just stared at them for a very long moment. She’d known exactly what she wanted to say — until now, when it was time to say it. She planned on saying it eloquently, as a Shakespearean character might: “That which I would uncover, The law of friendship bids me to reveal.” Now, in her mind, it all sounded stupid. It scrambled up inside her skull like an omelet.

“I don’t like feeling disloyal to my friends,” Lindsay blurted at last, “but those underpants you found in your bed were Candy’s.” She’d come there to say that, though she’d rehearsed getting the words out in a way less-incriminating to Candy. But one way or another, it had to be said, and she’d said it. If Candy didn’t forgive her, Lindsay would simply have to live with that.

Lindsay started to add something that might make Candy look better, but at the cold look on Mrs. Gherkin’s face her tongue froze. “Did you hear that, Marcus?” the woman demanded to her lawyer. “Peter’s been screwing a high school girl!”

Mr. Pomeroy’s piggy eyes gleamed. “That should up our ante considerably.”

“Oh, no!” Now Lindsay had to set the record straight. “No, Candy had her boyfriend over while you guys were out, and she was…fooling around in your bed with him.

The tension oozed out of Lindsay like the air from a balloon. She sank back in that whoopee-cushion of a chair, waiting for the happiness — the sheer relief — to overtake Mrs. Gherkin. Instead, the lady and her lawyer gaped in what looked, to Lindsay, a lot like disappointment.

“Oh…no,” Mr. Pomeroy said.

“Oh, no!” said Mrs. Gherkin.

“There goes the sailboat,” said Mr. Pomeroy.

Mrs. Gherkin put her head in her hands. “We can kiss the cabin in Prescott goodbye, too!”

Lindsay was mystified. “But now that means you and Mr. Gherkin can stay married!”

Mrs. Gherkin peeked out from between her fingers. “Young lady, you just cost us at least two hundred thousand dollars.”

They hustled Lindsay out the door without even letting her finish her iced tea. She sat for a while in her Dart, wondering why she’d gotten a reaction she would have expected only Candy deserved. As she ground the tired old engine to a start and lumbered off toward home, she realized that older people probably did what was right a whole lot less often than she’d wanted to believe. By the time she turned the corner off of the Gherkins’ street, it occurred to her that people who loved those they were supposed to might not be any more moral than people who didn’t.

Lindsay supposed that in a way, Candy had done her a huge favor. A much bigger one, certainly, than Candy would ever think Lindsay had done for her. That more than made up, Lindsay had to conclude, for the fact that Candy might never smile at her again.

That night over pizza and root beer, Lindsay broke up with the Octopus. All she knew, at the moment, was that she didn’t want to date any more guys. The rest of it, she’d just have to figure out later. Candy was right about one thing: it was 1979, and the world was changing fast.

The Big Whopper

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

When they stop talking about the Bible and actually read it, people are surprised to find that there is no Commandment, per se against lying. At least, not one that simply says, “Thou shalt not lie.” I keep hearing that anti-gay Christians are biblical literalists – great sticklers for following Holy Writ to the letter. This must be why so many of them lie.

I’ve been watching the social conservatives’ reaction to the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential election loss with interest. Will they finally get a clue about the need to make the GOP relevant in the Twenty-first Century? The experts on political strategy have strongly counseled them to adapt. Recent developments suggest that they are indeed adapting, though the way they’re doing it offers little reason to hope.

Instead of accepting the truth that gay people exist, that we are not gay by choice and that most of us merely wish to live whole human lives like everybody else, the anti-gay Right is choosing to retreat into a lie. It isn’t really a new one, since they’ve been telling it all along. But now they want to craft it into a grand meme – to be accepted by everybody. A frustrating number of people – even those who consider themselves our allies – are buying into it.

It is, moreover, precisely because it’s becoming so apparent that it is not true that the Religious Right has decided to push it. Like science and reality, truth itself is their enemy. By sheer persistence – and in the face of public ignorance or indifference – they hope to establish their lie as accepted truth.

The grand meme, the Big Whopper, is that all Christians must be anti-gay, and that all gays must be anti-Christian. Sure, we’ve heard it before. At one time, many of us actually believed it. But it’s never been pushed, before, with such dogged determination and vehemence. This is an all-out, full-throttle campaign.

I don’t like to write so blatantly about politics here. I know this is a magazine about religious faith. But those who oppose our total inclusion in the human race are so utterly determined to drag politics into religion, and religion into politics, that it’s impossible to keep the two spheres apart. We can respond to what’s happening neither as Christians nor as Americans unless we understand how for the sake of our status as either, both are being threatened.

If the Religious Right is permitted to get away with this lie, they will be able to use their “religious freedom” as a blank check to make war on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And if they proceed with their whopper brazenly enough, they think they can bluff it through.

The recently-failed Arizona SB 1062 “religious freedom” bill is a case in point. It’s already perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBT people in my home state, so this bill was redundant. Most people dismissed it as political grandstanding, but it actually had darker implications. It was a test run of the Big Whopper.

My own religious and moral principles are deeply offended by the Religious Right. I believe it comes as close to being the Antichrist as any entity that has ever existed. As I don’t want one dime of my money going to support it, it’s fine and dandy by me if they don’t “have” to serve me. But anybody who takes seriously that SB 1062’s intention was to protect my religious freedom is several crab puffs shy of a pu-pu plate.

How many people could these hucksters get to believe the meme? Judging from the spectacular way that the Arizona bill went down in flames, your guess might be, “not many.” But the issue of LGBT equality under the law is still being debated as if the Big Whopper can be unquestioningly accepted as truth. And as long as that remains the case, our enemies’ assault against us will continue to have traction.

The bill was hugely unpopular, not only in Arizona but around the country, because it was so obviously mean-spirited and transparently aimed at LGBT people. But the lie undergirding it – that a clear battle line can be drawn between godless gays and Christians who disapprove of “homosexuality” – was never really challenged. Not, in any case, by anyone whose viewpoint the mainstream media bothered to cite. We certainly had defenders among Christians in our state – lay and clergy, gay and straight. But the shapers of public opinion almost totally ignored them.

Dishonest memes, of the sort the Religious Right is now trying to ram through, are never based on self-evident truth. If they were, their propagators wouldn’t need to craft them as memes and ram them through. Journalists who do not carry water for these people – those who consider themselves our allies, or at least cultivate a reputation for fairness – need to be taken to task for aiding and abetting the Big Whopper.

Now that many Christian scholars and clergy are challenging – very articulately and effectively – whether the Bible actually condemns same-sex love, insecurity is motivating anti-gay Christians to assert themselves. They are driven by fear, because when the other side is presented, their own argument is revealed as hollow. This is why they’re trying so aggressively to get their prejudices enshrined in law. Responsible journalists — those who genuinely care about the truth – will no longer be able to ignore this if we insist on holding them responsible.

The point, at this juncture, is not even which side is “right” and which is “wrong.” It is that there are two sides – neither of which comes from a worldview that is anti-Bible or hostile to Christianity. But those who would deny this truth are truly anti-Christ, because they wish to stifle not only public debate but the very movement of the Holy Spirit. They are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.

It is an opinion that their interpretation of Scripture is the right one. It is a fact that it is not the only one. Those who hold to one opinion over the other are simply people with an opinion. Those who claim there’s only one opinion are liars and frauds.

My purpose, in this essay, is not to frighten, but to motivate – and to mobilize. To make readers aware of what is going on, and to issue a call to action. We can only fight the Big Whopper if we understand that it is being deliberately crafted, by those who know it is a lie, and that these knowing liars are promoting that lie with great determination.

They are taking God’s Name in vain, and they are bearing false witness against us. Each of those offenses violates one of the Ten Commandments. And they are misusing the Word of God in the service of their lies. Next time they wave the Bible in our faces, we should tell them to look up the Ten Commandments. For any honest student of Scripture, those would be pretty hard to miss.

We know they’re lying because they claim we don’t exist – when we know we do. We know they’re unscrupulous and utterly without principle because they’re willing to cynically hijack and degrade our faith in order to defeat us. We know that they’re dangerous, because those in Kansas – who crafted a similar Big Whopper bill – originally wanted to enable even police and fire departments to refuse to protect us, and because their cohorts in Uganda lobbied to have gay people killed. We must not underestimate how dangerous these people are, because it has become very clear that they will stop at nothing.

That is, unless we stop them. “You will know the truth,” Jesus told us, “and the truth will set you free.” Never has that been more true – and more urgent – than in the face of the latest Big Whopper.

Jesus: Man of Steel?

I consider myself an orthodox progressive Christian. The first part of that definition refers to my beliefs about doctrine, the second to how I believe I should live my life. Though the two terms pertain to different things, I see no logical conflict between them. People keep telling me that “America” disagrees, but can offer me no intelligent reason why.

Now, I used to work with a woman named America, and she was beautiful. I sort of had a crush on her. I don’t think they’re talking about her, because for all I know, she might agree with me. I don’t work with her anymore, so I can’t ask her.

I suspect “America” is being used as a synonym for “everyone in the universe,” though I don’t think that’s correct, either. Nor do I see any reason why my views must magically be invalidated because a majority of people — however huge — disagrees with me. I hear this nonsense most often concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the Christian faith.

Those who oppose full LGBT inclusion in the Church have largely given up appealing to “everyone in the universe,” or even “America,” when citing the multitudes who supposedly agree with them, because as poll after poll now shows, that just isn’t true. The one cardboard-cutout majority they still claim to have on their side is “orthodox Christianity.” We kept hearing appeals to this during the recent Duck Dynasty publicity stunt — excuse me, controversy. “Orthodox Christianity” disapproves of “homosexuality,” we were told, again and again and again and again.

When the delegation from our local chapter of Dignity, the LGBT Catholic organization, was disinvited from a workshop on pastoral care, the excuse given was that our theology did not meet the standard of “orthodox Christianity.” People always say this with a slightly-hysterical edge to their voices, as if they’re afraid we’re going to argue.

And we should. Because — contrary to what they imply — there simply is, no longer, any consensus against “homosexuality” even in orthodox Christianity. An increasing number of quite conservative Christians are actually reading what the Bible has to say that (supposedly) deals with the subject, and discovering that about committed relationships between same-sex couples, it says exactly nothing. That’s right — nothing at all.

I doubt we can convince every conservative Christian of that, because the way many of them interpret the Bible makes reasoning with them next to impossible. Though I’m doctrinally orthodox, and believe every word of the traditional creeds, I’m an Episcopalian who was raised Lutheran, so I don’t interpret Scripture the same way they do. At the risk of sounding intolerant, my way makes sense to me, while theirs strikes me as, well, wacky.

They seem to see the Bible as sort of an epic comic book. The major characters had superhero powers. Jesus was sort of like Clark Kent: God hiding inside a man-suit. Even though twenty-one centuries ago, when He walked the earth, human civilization handled relationships very differently than they do today, and not only gay marriage but anything remotely approaching the modern conception of heterosexual marriage was unheard of, they’re sure Jesus disapproved of “homosexuality.” That He peered ahead into the future — with His Superman sight — foretold what society would be like in the Twenty-first Century, and definitively pronounced all same-sex unions anathema.

Now, if the orthodox theology in which they claim to believe is correct, then Jesus was both God and Man. That means He was not only totally God, but one hundred percent human. Though God knows everything there is to know and ever will be, Jesus — while He walked this earth — did not. Not if he was, indeed, fully human, and not just God in costume, because an essential aspect of our humanity is that we don’t know everything. Which means that He had nothing to say about committed relationships between people of the same sex, lived out in the open, because in His days as an earthly Man, they did not exist.

Jesus spoke, in the Gospels, about things with which He was familiar, and that His hearers would understand. We don’t know if He would have been a Republican, or a Democrat, or a capitalist, or a socialist, because none of those existed at the time He lived among humankind. To put words into His mouth about all sorts of Twenty-first Century stuff — no matter who does it, or in service to which cause — is idiotic. It is, moreover, unorthodox.

What Jesus did do –and at this, He was indisputably a genius — was teach His hearers everything they would need to know, in a way that they could transmit to future generations. He did this in such a manner that nothing essential would ever be lost in translation. Thus did He teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That should be easy enough for everybody to understand — even the most hardcore fundamentalists. If it isn’t, that says a lot more about them than it does about Jesus.

God meets human beings wherever they are. He doesn’t reveal more to them than they, in their particular time and place, can handle. There is no sensible reason to think “He” would have revealed anything to people two thousand years ago about committed same-sex love, because at the time such a thing, though it surely did exist, was millennia away from being understood even by the people who took part in it. In my opinion, anyone who attempts to tell me that Jesus, First Century Man of Steel, spoke through the wall of temporal Kryptonite to warn us about the evils of “homosexuality” cannot be taken seriously. It is impossible even to have an adult conversation with people who think like that, much less an intelligent one.

The entire universe may not be coming around to accepting us as human beings yet, but America definitely is. As more and more people recognize that taking the Christian creeds seriously actually requires that all people — including LGBT’s — be treated with equal respect, the term “orthodox progressive” will no longer be seen as disagreeable.

Brains in Our Shorts

RELIGIOUS legalists have been obsessed with sex — and especially with other people’s sex lives — for many hundreds of years. Their attitudes toward Jesus’s mother have demonstrated that obsession quite clearly. I believe the Virgin Birth story in Luke points to the doctrine of Christ’s unique divinity and humanity. Though I believe in the truth of it, and see no constructive or edifying reason why anyone might need to “debunk” it, I don’t see the Virgin Birth, in or of itself, as the point.

Why are legalists so concerned about the sex life of a woman who lived on this earth 2,000 years ago? Is that really showing a reverence for Mary? This obsession with the sexual behavior of other people — living or dead — degrades us. It puts our brains in our shorts. A common lament of social conservatives is that sexual immorality (as they define it) is evil because it degrades us, dragging our minds down from heavenly things into the dirt. Perhaps, when they say that, they should be addressing it to themselves.

The way many anti-gay “moral” crusaders speak to and about gays is degrading not only to gays, but to themselves. When people like Rick Santorum, Ken Cuccinelli or Michele Bachmann say such things about love or marriage, they degrade their spouses and children, as well. They’re revealing their own darkened minds and cold hearts, and laying bare their own warped views of sex, love and commitment.

The Bible makes clear that people ought to treat others as they want to be treated, themselves. This means they should also treat others’ loved ones as they want their own loved ones to be treated. It also says that out of their mouths comes what is in their hearts.

Though these people talk incessantly about the subject of morality, they never really honestly deal with it. The disconnect between their apparent fascination with the subject — at least (and almost solely) where sex is concerned — amounts to what very much looks like a pathology. They want to control the conversation not because of what they do want to discuss, but because of what theydon’t. Every choice is favor of one thing is also a choice against something else. And the behavior of anti-gay Christians has become so glaringly un-Christian that their claim to be concerned about morality rings hollow and pathetically false.

I have a personal devotion to Mary. I firmly believe that she prays for me from Heaven, that she watches over me and that she helps to keep me faithful. I believe that all of those who are trampled underfoot by the powerful are — as her Magnificat very clearly says — especially beloved of God. Which certainly includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, both in and outside of the Christian fold.

Why the obsession, among anti-gay Christians, over whether she remained a virgin all her life? Thus may her compassion and concern for those they trample be ignored. I do believe Mary was a virgin, but I doubt she spends as much time thinking about that as she does about those who need God’s protection, and who cry out to her for help.

Not only do anti-gay Christians keep their brains in their shorts, but their hearts also seem to be stuck there. Thus do they demonize other human beings instead of reaching out to them with God’s love. “But we love the sinner,” they say, “and hate only the sin.” If it were a sin for us to fully live, and to love and be loved as we are best able, then God would hate us. That is a conclusion born not of hysterical hyperbole, as they charge when we reach it, but of honest and inescapable logic.

They may hate us, but God most assuredly does not. Nor do they get to interpret, for us, what it means for God to love us. They go right on trying to, but we won’t let them. Thus do they scream about “religious liberty” — apparently ignorant of the fact that it applies not only to them, but to us.

Pope Francis says it’s time for the heterosexual faithful to shift focus and reach out to us in genuine love — to listen to us, instead of preaching at us. Now those who claimed that the anti-gay pronouncements of his predecessors were “infallible” (and of course they did this, by implication if not by overt assertion) are falling all over themselves to assure us that this pope’s opinions are merely his own. What they really believe, evidently, is that they are infallible.

They believe that they are more loving than God “Himself.” What is becoming apparent is that they are idolaters who worship themselves, and that they would set up a counterfeit to genuine Christian faith. Thus do they want religious freedom only for themselves, and lie by omission by pretending that no other form of faith but theirs exists. In their grand crusade to protect their religious freedom, they certainly seek the power to crush ours.

I will deal with these issues more specifically in other essays. There’s too much here to do justice to it all in one. Suffice it to say that further conversation — and a deeper exploration — is urgently needed now.

We need not be afraid to have a conversation about morality, including sexual morality. Our adversaries are the ones who fear it. Which is all the more reason why we — of all people — must be the ones who insist on having it. The truth is on our side, not theirs. That’s why they shy away from real dialogue and attempt to divert it with lies.

Since the truth is, indeed, on our side, now is the time for us to stand up for it. God is on our side. Mary’s Magnificat makes that abundantly clear:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

The Fight Has Only Begun

Now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be, at long last, on its way out, LGBT Christians must do more than merely rejoice. There is work for us to do yet.

Christians have been a big part of the reason why the grievously discriminatory policy of DADT was such a linchpin of military “discipline” in the first place. Chaplains in the armed services have largely — and vociferously — supported it. But gay and lesbian servicepeople tend, like most of the young folks who enlist, to be among the most religious and responsible members of society at large. There aren’t a lot of wild hedonists interested in risking their lives for their country.

For straight Christians to treat all gays and lesbians like aliens bearing some evil pox from outer space is a grave injustice. It is a shameful slander. The integration of the military cannot be completed while the integration of the churches remains a work undone.

If, indeed, we are to enjoy a new openness in the military ranks, it must not be only the opportunity to show photos of our families or mention our spouse’s name. It must also allow us to share our faith — and specifically what it means to us as gays and lesbians. This will be an important witness, but it will not be easy. The sad fact is that many of those most likely to bully and harrass us for our openness will likely be straight Christians. Many of whom come from backgrounds where we are still vehemently hated and feared.

Those of us who are willing to serve in spite of this will still need all the boldness and courage they can muster. In some ways, with the lifting of the ban on our open service, the battle has only just begun. LGBT Christians all over America need to be aware of the task that still stands ahead of us. We can be of tremendous help by showing support for those brave young people in a variety of creative ways.

Through our welcoming churches, we can send care packages filled with comforts from home. We can send letters to buoy spirits weighted by the worries of war. We can, perhaps, even adopt a soldier whose family might not be supportive. And by all means, we can monitor how our friends in uniform are treated. We — speaking out as LGBT Christians — can hold chaplains to their responsibility to represent Christ to ALL who serve.

Opportunities abound for us to be helpful. We can truly support the troops by helping to support our own: bearing the rainbow flag right alongside the Stars and Stripes. If DADT is really ending, we have reason to celebrate. But in its wake, we must not rest too soon.

The Giant Lavender Rabbit

All these studies and surveys about the effects of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell serve only to show one thing — something largely missed by the media and most of the public. They show how truly irrational many people still are about homosexuality. They’ve gotten ahold of the wrong end of the stick. We’re all supposed to worry about the reaction of bullies and bigots who fear gays. It never occurs to the hysterics to worry about the problem that actually underlies the bullying and the bigotry.

What the military has is a crisis of discipline. It is afraid it can’t make straights who fear gays behave. It is really not the behavior of gays that is causing the problem at all. We are being scapegoated because we are a minority, and minorities are always easy to blame. But in so doing, our military succumbs to a cowardice shamefully unbecoming to an organization built on courage.

It is like being afraid to leave your house because of the giant, carnivorous lavender rabbit you’re sure must wait outside. You must refuse all invitations to go anywhere, and warn all visitors away, because of that big, evil bunny. You must sneak out the back way and tiptoe past the threat if you wish to venture beyond the confines of your house. There is no meat-eating rabbit out there in reality, and all the sane people in your life wonder why you’re so afraid. But though they keep telling you otherwise, you refuse to believe them, crouching inside and peeking out the windows to catch a glimpse of the evil monster lurking there.

The military, and the bigots who encourage such nonsense, believe in the carnivorous lavender rabbit. At least their behavior is every bit as irrational as if they did.

It is, at root, the same problem we face in our schools. The “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere that pervades them is not caused by gay kids being themselves. It is, in fact, a lack of discipline. Conservatives should understand this better than anyone else. But in their panic, they have lost sight of reason.

If no one else can get them to be reasonable, LGBT Christians should certainly do our best. Jesus Christ exhorted His followers to overcome fear with love and understanding. That anti-gay Christians lead the charge into the hysteria now gripping the military is a scandal and a disgrace. They must be told to buck up and stop the freakout. They can’t go on persuading others to believe in their Savior when they clearly aren’t willing to trust in Him themselves.

They seem to think they can do nothing about the skinheads, or gang-bangers, or Nazis, or convicted criminals in their ranks. They’d rather pick on the gays, not because we are really frightening but because they’re actually more afraid of the mayhem they’ve let loose in our armed services. They want to appease the thugs because those troublemakers are holding them hostage. “We mustn’t make waves,” they claim, “because we’ll make them angry — and then they’ll REALLY show us!”

Who’s really in charge, here? Is it the thugs — or We, the People? Polls overwhelmingly show that the people think gays should be able to openly serve. It’s time to drive that giant lavender rabbit back into the darkness where nightmares belong.

“I’m Spartacus!” — A Winning Strategy for the Churches

Most of us remember the Pepsi commercial showing a scene from the 1960 movie, “Spartacus.” One by one the slaves revolt, standing up and declaring “I’m Spartacus!” Kirk Douglas looks on with a tear in his eye, drinking his Pepsi in inspiration.

It worked for the rebels who stood up for Pepsi. I think it could work, as well, for the churches that say they want to welcome us wholeheartedly but don’t dare.

Whether the designation is called “Open and Affirming,” “Welcoming and Affirming,” “Reconciling in Christ” or whatever, only a brave few congregations in mainline denominations are coming out in full support of us. Many say they want to, yet timidly demur because they would face punishment from their denomination. How can this nonsense be ended?

I think we can, indeed, take a lesson from the friends of Spartacus. What if all the churches that really want to support full LGBT inclusion got together and stood as one? There’s no way a denomination would dare to persecute them if they took it on this way. They couldn’t discipline that many congregations at once without revealing themselves to be the bullies and tyrants they are.
We should, by all means, suggest this. We could call it the “I’m Spartacus” movement. There is strength and courage in numbers, and if all our allies stood together, they would be invincible.

“We welcome them!” one congregation would say. “So do we,” another would proudly second. “Us, too!” a third would chime right in. Before any steps could be taken to squash the declaration, all the true hearts of our allies would be revealed.

Why did it take a “mad man” (or woman) in New York City to think up such a bold idea? It’s been right under the churches’ noses all along.

“I’m Spartacus!” Think about it. In our community around this world, we have already discovered what unity and solidarity can do.

Santa Sightings!

Here he comes again…that robust, jolly fellow with his sleigh full of gifts!

We all know (spoiler alert!) that Santa isn’t “real.” That our gifts really come from people who love us. But in their own way, they, too, are a manifestation of the love that started it all — the love from which all human love proceeds: the love of God, revealed to us in the Baby Jesus.

The love of God, in this world, must be made real largely through human beings. That’s exactly what Jesus was born to show us two thousand years ago.

Most of us won’t get a lump of coal in our stocking this Christmas. God has been good to us, even in this difficult year. That was not always true for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians — or so it seemed. For most of those two thousand years, amid the colorfully-wrapped packages, there was a lump of coal to remind us that our love — our very being — was not counted quite as real to other people as that of our straight brothers and sisters.

Here in Phoenix, where I live, there are still many LGBT young people who have no cozy home at Christmas. Tossed out of their homes by families who don’t understand them, they must do the rest of their growing up on the streets, where life is cold and hard.

My church wanted them to know they were still loved by God at Christmas. We took up a collection — successful beyond our wildest dreams — and bought the homeless LGBT teens in our city shoes, socks, blankets and personal care items this year. They were distributed through our local organization for LGBT youth.

Somewhere near you, a child still shivers in the cold. We may not be able to bring her or him “silver and gold,” as the carol proclaims, but we can, perhaps, spare some change so they might have some tangible evidence God loves them.

One surprisingly simple gesture may mean more to them than all the frankincense and myrrh in the world.

There are ways to help them throughout the year. Your local LGBT community center would be glad to help coordinate any effort you might make on their behalf.

Merry Christmas and a happy 2010 from all of us at Whosoever.

The “Yuck” Vote Strikes Again

Well, the dark forces have prevailed again, this time in Maine. Voters there, by a narrow margin, vetoed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The narrowness of our loss is not much comfort. The “Yuck” Vote strikes again.

Basically, the argument of the anti-equality crowd was the same as always: “Eeeewww, those scary, icky gays wanna do WHAT?!”

Though they try to cloak their revulsion in religious terms, in truth it has nothing to do with moral rectitude.

Straights have been obsessed with sex for at least the last forty years. They have shown — time and time again — that NOTHING: not their own marriages, not their human dignity, not even their supposedly-so-precious children, is as important to them as their own gratification. Which must neither be delayed nor dampened by anybody.

Especially the likes of us.

Everyone and everything must please them. Must entertain them. Because, you know, for them it is always all about themselves.

This is the deep, dark heart of why these people behave as they do. We have cramped their self-indulgent style. Instead of the sexual, sensual “yum” for which they so voraciously hunger, we — quite unforgivably — make them go “yuck.”

It isn’t their sterling morality we violate by wanting to marry for love and properly care for our loved ones. It is their demand for — their obsession with — their own, insatiable pleasure.

Marriage is never what they cared about. It is their own fun. Quite simply, we bum their trip.

They protest that they don’t like imagining “what we do” in bed. Inquiring minds must ask, why do they spend so much time imagining it in the first place? We never invited them on that trip; they took it on their own.

We need to stop allowing these sexual obsessives to hide behind their make-believe morality. THEY are the ones who want the issue of our marriages to be about sex. WE are the ones who want it to be about something much, much more.

Until we reveal our tormentors’ twisted little psyches for what they really are, we will not be able to give our love the protection it deserves.

The Faces Of God

“We without God cannot, and God without us will not.”

St. Augustine

God, as revealed to us by Jesus Christ, often uses fallible human beings to carry out “His” work in this world. Of course these human vessels in no way limit Who God is. But when they fail in their witness and service to us, we tend to blame God.

We must be partners with God in “His” work. That is clearly how God wills it. God chose to work in Jesus, and now “He” chooses to continue the mission Jesus started in the ongoing efforts of Christians around the globe. There are times when I forget that both sides of St. Augustine’s equation are equally necessary – and there are times when I leave trust in God out of the equation altogether. Then, once again, God manages to show me that where “His” will is, there is always a way.

When I first came through the doors at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix, I was almost at the end of my rope. I had left my former congregation in disgust because of the struggle over LGBT issues there. I still have many friends at that church, and I know they are still committed to full inclusion and working to change the situation for the better. But the turmoil polluting that religious body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, had penetrated into their congregation. I was in dire needed of fresh air.

But I could no longer really bring myself to believe that anything would change. My spirits have never been lower than they were when I departed from the church I’d really come to think would be my spiritual home for life, the church in which I had buried both of my parents. I joined First Congregational UCC hoping for a new beginning, but I was scarcely able to visualize that. Despite the warmth of my new congregation’s welcome, and the obvious happiness of those who were already members, my heart was dragging on the ground.

Would God surprise me yet again? It wasn’t long before I found out.

Almost right away I noticed a difference, part of which seems due to the fact that the United Church of Christ is in general more welcoming and inclusive to LGBT people. The denomination’s benevolence goes a long way toward making individual congregations relax and, not feeling threatened, able to truly minister to us. But there is also a certain intangible something beyond that. Some churches have it, and, sadly, most don’t. I was glad to find that this congregation has it in abundance.

That certain something is the Spirit of Christ. It benefits those to whom it is given as much as it does those with whom they share it. It enables God to shine forth from them as they radiate “His” love to others. It makes their own, human faces – as was Christ’s – the very faces of God.

Our countenances do not glow the way Moses’ did, when he came down from the mountaintop. We need not veil ourselves to keep from freaking everybody out. God’s face, as it shows forth in those who bear “His” love to others is very warm, very human, totally approachable. And like a breath of pure, fresh air, it radiates God’s love into every nook and cranny of our lives.

Sometimes, God does seem to come to me without human intervention. Though I’ve never yet encountered a burning bush, I’ve come to realize that this does happen. It’s always a surprise. Yet it’s happened often enough that it shouldn’t surprise me.

As I have come to enjoy a richer church life, my prayer life has improved. More and more I have begun to recognize that prayer is really a two-way conversation with God. Every once in a while a thought will come to me – clear, strong and out of the blue – that I know comes from God. I could never prove it scientifically, to those who insist on disbelieving it, yet I know in my heart, as much as I know anything, that it is true. It doesn’t come in any booming, Drano-commercial voice from out of the sky, but I know it doesn’t simply come from me.

Of course God has been there for me in the past, and more times than I seem capable of recalling. Although, again, I could never prove it, with scientific rigor and precision, for those who are skeptical, my prayers have been answered probably dozens of times, in ways too creative and quirky to be dismissed as more coincidences. There have even been incidences when God has worked in my life in ways in which “He” clearly took the initiative. Perhaps there have been more of those than anything else, as I frequently seem to be too dense to know what I ought to pray for.

One of the most memorable of these came a few years before, when I first realized I was an alcoholic. It wasn’t the last time I stopped drinking, but it was the first – and it led to my eventual sustained sobriety. I had been up late on another of my lone, home drunks, collapsing – as always – without the slightest intention of ever stopping drinking, much less of admitting I was an alcoholic. The next morning, September 1st, I got up with something I always boasted I never got: a roaring hangover. Sick as a dog, I dragged myself into work as always, but I knew there was just something different about this time.

On one of my many bathroom breaks that day, as I sat there in that stall feeling sick and sorry for myself, it all of a sudden came to me. I was an alcoholic (duh!), just as my father and several other relatives were, and I could not drink anymore. At all. I can’t begin to describe what a surprise this “sudden” revelation was to me. The “duh!” part of my realization came only as an afterthought.

I prayed for God to help me keep the new, bold, strange resolution “He” had obviously led me to make. And from that time on, for long thereafter, every time I happened to be near booze, a funny, inexplicable, sick feeling would come over me. I’ve been told no drunk remembers the hangovers, but for some reason that last, dramatic one seemed indelibly etched in my gut. Odd as it may seem to call it a gift, I know that that’s exactly what it was.

A couple of years after that, my dad happened to mention the date of his own A.A. “birthday.” He had never told me before just when it had been. Nor would it have done anything for me, had he done so, except – in the contrary frame of mind I had toward him then – to steel me against wanting to mark it, myself, in any way. But when he did tell me, I nearly fell out of my chair. He had first gotten sober one September 1st.

Now I know better than to dismiss God’s little quirks. One day very recently, as I sat in prayer, feeling that perhaps nobody else understood me, one of these very clear thoughts came to me. All of a sudden, I thought, “God understands.” It came to me, again, not in any audible voice, but the thought was all at once there: “My child, I understand.” And I knew that it was true.

I have taken, more and more, to letting these thoughts come to me – to welcoming them in. They usually (although not always) come during prayer-time, they are very clear, and they are consciousness-changing. Sometimes they are as simple as “I love you, I am with you, and I will always be with you.” I don’t need a scientific experiment to prove to me that they are from God, and that these thoughts – like God – are very real.

Every Wednesday night, my church has a Scripture meditation group. It has actually become, over time, more of a therapy group. We are thinking of changing the name of it to the “Let Go and Let God” Group. I have made some of the most wonderful and nurturing friends I’ve ever had in this little group alone.

God continues to walk with me so powerfully in this congregation that it defies belief. My heart doesn’t drag on the ground anymore. When I almost stopped being able to believe, God picked me up and carried me forward.

There is, truly, something special about the church to which God has led me. Not too many years ago, it was a dying, inner-city congregation made up mostly of old folks from its past. Then they decided to call an openly gay pastor, Dr. Stephen Wayles. A few years after that, they elected to become an Open and Affirming congregation, welcoming in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks, as well as members of other groups long spurned in “respectable” Christian circles. Since that time, their membership has nearly quadrupled.

“The Spirit of God is in this place,” a friend of mine said recently after I brought her on a visit. And indeed, if that Spirit is contagious, I seem to have “caught it” much more powerfully since I joined.

Again, with my bitter departure from my previous church, my faith had faltered. Forgetting how many times before God had been with me, working powerfully in my life, I allowed myself, once again, to wallow in self-pity and despair. And once again, God had to remind me that “He” will never leave me.

The dark days are, in many ways, still upon me. Right at the beginning of our current economic implosion, I lost my job. It’s tough to get a job, now, and thus far I have been unsuccessful. But God keeps holding me in “His” arms. “He” simply refuses to let me go, and this time, “He” has given me the added grace of helping me to remember that.

I was led to this church exactly at the right time. I am now surrounded by more love and support than I have known for years. Perhaps ever. Just when I thought I’d nearly lost my family, with the death of both my parents and all relatives living so far away, God has given me a brand new family. I can say with certainty and gratitude that whenever I have needed God the most, God has always – always – been there.

The human face of God is far from perfect. I’ve had to learn patience with those who all too often fail me. I can’t say for certain why God has chosen to use us to bring “His” love to one another; I suppose it might be easier if “He” simply eliminated the middleman and did it all singlehandedly every time. But as Jesus’ command to us makes clear, we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength – and we are to love each other as we love ourselves. The two-part nature of that command tells us how true St. Augustine’s maxim really is.

Many people have ministered to me over the years. Sometimes God has even reached me, more or less, directly. I continue to learn, as time goes by, that I must be open to every creative way God chooses to reach me. And in the ongoing adventure that is this life on earth, I don’t want to miss a single one.