One of my favorite cartoons from childhood was Fractured Fairy Tales. We would watch this program every weekend, riveted to the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha and Mister Peabody the bespectacled dog. The bad puns, corny jokes and silly rhymes from various episodes had a way of sticking with young fans well into their adult years. I remember one in which a nasty troll guarded a bridge, demanding that anyone who tried to cross it “Pay the toll to the troll!”
I’m sure that troll came to a bad end, though I can’t remember who finally dispatched him. Though years have gone by since those days – a lot of water under that bridge – I recently had cause to think of the troll again.
To build up readership for my own blog, I frequently post comments on others. Almost every blog with a large LGBT readership is bedeviled by at least one troll. If you are familiar with cyberspace lingo, you know that a “troll” is a frequent commenter who pesters everyone else by interjecting his or her own agenda and tormenting the other readers – often quite abusively.
Trolling is tailor-made for bullies. They nearly always use aliases. They don’t have to show their faces. Nobody can beat them up, and the bloggers are usually loath to ban them because they feel very strongly about not impeding anybody’s freedom of speech. Only when it gets to the point that the troll has hijacked every commentary thread – basically shutting down freedom of speech for everybody else – does banning result.
As a lesbian, who also happens to be both a Christian and a women’s basketball fan, I seem to run into these thugs all over my travels through cyberspace. WNBA fans are continually heckled on sports-page commentary boards by men who regard the existence of women’s professional basketball as a personal threat. Sexist and homophobic slurs abound, sometimes accompanied by imagery so vile it makes one shudder to realize that children may be reading them. And when we come to many of the religious venues, unfortunately, we can expect the abuse to get even worse.
Whenever we venture onto territory the bullies of this world regard as theirs, there they are, with their big clubs, demanding that we “Pay the toll to the troll!”
We can’t be fainthearted if we want to be there. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, in some quarters of the Church today, requires almost the same sort of courage it once took to be a believer in the Soviet Union, or perhaps in ancient Rome. My heart especially goes out to those who are transgender, as so often these brave souls find little encouragement even from others in the LGBT community. Years and years of demands to “pay the toll to the troll” can indeed take a toll. Sometimes that toll is faith itself.
“Pay the toll to the troll – and pay it with your very soul.” But those who make such demands, though they claim to speak for God, speak actually for no one but themselves and those who, like them, are consumed by hate and fear. Jesus spoke out with special indignation against those who put themselves between seeking souls and God. When He told the disciples to “suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, because to such belong the Realm of God,” He was extending His arms not only to actual children, but to all who would come to Him “as a little child.”
We come to Jesus “as little children” whenever we approach Him with a trust so full of yearning, so hungry for love, that we are willing to brave even the threats of the trolls who would stand in our way. He has promised that He will always be there to meet us, gathering us into His arms, holding us close and letting nothing – and no one – keep us away. How very odd it is that so many try to use the words of the Apostle Paul to drive us away from Christ, when Paul himself wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:39-39, New International Version)
Growing in God is really not too different from growing in love with a partner. There’s the yearning, the insatiable hunger, the realization that however painful the obstacles to union may be, you can’t bear to remain apart. The important thing to remember is that this love is reciprocated; God feels it, too. Every classic love story presents obstacles – there’s always a villain, some sort of a troll guarding the bridge between you. But the impulse to love is the very drive toward life itself, and it compels us forward, even though we may risk death.
Jesus passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to be with us, because He would be with us always. Love is stronger than fear, because it’s more enduring than death. This is why absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. And we must never forget that our very handicap and stigma (in the eyes of the troll) is centered on how – or who – we love. To believe, as the trolls do, that love in any form could be sinful is to be without a clue as to the true nature of God, because the very Bible they think condemns us actually tells us that God is Love.
The trolls are frightful because they’re full of fear. They don’t really believe in love. They believe in a God who is offended by love, and such a universe can only be a frightening place. So they hide behind aliases and dare not show their faces. They don’t realize that God longs for us as much – and actually even more – than we long for God.
The very act of coming persistently to God is dear to “Him.” Every prayer we make to God, however fearful, tearful or despairing, God hears – and treasures. No matter how old we get, we’ll always be God’s children, created in love and beloved every day of our lives. Though the quest for spiritual growth may frustrate and weary us, it is not as arduous as so many preachers or religious books make it seem. It is, all too often, made to seem like a trek up Mount Everest, when in truth it is no more than a walk across a bridge.
Of course, some bridges are scarier than others.
“I’m walking across the Golden Gate Bridge with my sweetie!” a pastor friend of mine recently tweeted us, sharing the very moment he and his boyfriend completed that journey together. It must have seemed, at times in each of their lives, as if they’d never make it to the other side. Or, if either of them did manage to make it, that he would have to travel alone. But the troll couldn’t stop them from getting all the way across – or from making it together.
Christ was there to meet them both with open arms. The troll couldn’t stop them, because in reality, the troll is nothing but a cartoon. We have God’s invitation to us, in the clear and resounding voice of Jesus. He has paid the toll for us. And we need never be separated from Him again.
A self-described “Libertarian Episcopalian lesbian,” freelance writer and the author of Good Clowns, a young adult novel published in 2018, Lori Heine published a blog called Born on 9-11 and was a frequent contributor to the website Liberty Unbound. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., she graduated from Grand Canyon University in 1988 and spent much of her life in the insurance industry before turning full-time to writing as a freelancer, blogger and author.