Continued from here. My memory isn’t perfect, but the main details are on point.
So, growing up is strange. We can all agree on that.
There was me, the quiet, geeky kid, just trying to make it through high school unscathed with a 85ish average. I discovered emotional highs and lows, had crushes come and go, and developed a sense of humour that people seemed to like. I learned how to appear comfortable in any situation without actually being that way; sarcasm, the humour, and appearing disaffected helps with that. A perfect teenage attitude, in a lot of ways.
In high school, I was going to be a programmer. It was perfect: I liked computers, had an analytical mind, and wanted to make games.
I was a Christian, though it wasn’t public knowledge. If anyone ASKED, yes, but I didn’t bring out my Bible or get into debates. Teenage insecurity combined with an aversion to conflict helped the policy, established in my youth, go along. Be quiet, and survive. That was the way.
My first job was at a Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee and donut franchise. A fairly typical opening responsibility: Grunt work that anyone with half a brain could do, but an introduction to The Way The World Works. Listen to the customer/boss, learn how to make coffee, don’t stick your hand in the donut fryer. Seriously, don’t, it probably hurts real bad.
You work with a lot of different people in those jobs. You had guys who’d been there for ages and hated it, greenhorns like me, and the one gal I knew real well (who’d helped me get that job). The usual hazing happened, and I quickly figured some things out. It wasn’t a particularly hard job.
A few months in, I was told that I was going to do four evenings a week, and they were hiring a guy to work evenings with me (who’ll be called Adam, because there’s about a 5% chance he’s reading this and won’t want to be identified). At that point, 2 of us could run it from 5 pm to 11, and the owner was confident I could handle this guy, mentioning that he might be an “interesting person”, which I took to mean that he was too jerky to be working days with actual people.
I remember walking to the back for my first 3 to 11 shift, and seeing Adam there, talking with others. The first thing I hear him say, in whatever conversation they were involved in, was “Yeah, I wanna burn down all the churches.”
It made me stop, and at least partially confirm our owner’s assessment of him. ‘This is going to go well,’ I thought.
Despite the potentially rocky introduction to Adam, my aversion to conflict kicked in (and probably the gentle prodding from the store owner to get along with him), and we hit it off, much to my surprise.
Adam was like me: an aspiring programmer, a gamer, though further along the line of life than me at that point. His goatee was something I could only hope for, and we shared the same quick, sarcastic sense of humour. Neither of us was really sure what we were going to do with our lives, even with the programming direction.
I discovered something very quickly about Adam, something the owner must have sensed: he liked stirring up conflict. Very little fazed him. If he discovered something bothered you, he would poke you, and prod you, and needle you until you were angry. This was a situation where my even keel came in handy. He couldn’t rattle me, and I think he respected that.
I worked with him for three or four shifts a week for two months, and we couldn’t help but get used to each other. We started to talk about everything. In a lot of ways, we were both outcasts; him because of his combative nature, and me because of my quiet, seemingly aloof demeanor. I had more in common with him than not.
One lazy evening, unmotivated to clean the backroom, I asked him about his “church burning” comment. He grinned, as if expecting it.
“Why? You one of those religious nuts?”
I smiled. I’d been found out. I nodded.
“Funny,” he said. “You seem smarter than that.” I got the sense he’d suspected for a while.
I ignored the jibe, and continued on. I talked about my faith, being raised in the church. He talked about being an outcast, about being rejected, and how many times he’d been told he was going to hell by well-meaning “Christians”, who’d tried to heal him.
I was mildly perplexed. “You are a jerk,” I said, prodding him back in the same way he’d do to me, “But that seems a little much.”
Adam was surprised. “You don’t know?” he asked.
“Know what?” I asked, not knowing what he was getting at.
“I’m attracted to men.” he said. “And women,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
For all the things he could have told me, this, somehow, was the most surprising. Adam grinned, knowing he’d gotten me. I don’t remember exactly how I reacted, but I can’t imagine much more that stunned silence from me for a few moments as I processed his admission.
Gay rights- no, LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender, I’m going to shorten it for future references) rights- might be the defining social issue of our age. I don’t think that’s overstating it. It’s right up there with abortion and political views for inspiring love or wrath, depending on what you think.
Christianity is in a tricky spot in that regards. Christians have this ingrained directive to reject being LGBT, that the Bible says it’s unnatural, that they’re not welcome in the church. Why? Because we’re taught that being LGBT is condemned in the Bible.
So it’s back to the faith conversation again, and I can see the eyes rolling. But stay with me, I want to think this out with you. We’re taught, as Christians, to have faith in God, and to be strong against a world that will reject what we say about Jesus. Going back to my own fear of conflict, this makes sense. It requires a strength of will, and a certainty in that which we believe. Something I didn’t have growing up.
So when we see Christians in the news, Christians who reject LGBT people, who seem to hate them, this will/faith and that ingrained directive is a PART of why. We need to have this faith, this certainty, in what we believe, in knowing that the world will reject the idea of a magical space daddy (I’m going to keep using that term because I think it’s great), and that there are parts of what we believe that people won’t like. So, we think that the Christian stance on LGBT is just a part of it that we’re supposed to hold firm on, that society will reject.
According to what we have been taught, what has been ingrained into us Christianfolk all our lives, being LGBT was WRONG, and it wasn’t until Adam’s confession that I really thought about it at all. It was just there, written in verses, and we weren’t supposed to question it or think about it.
But I wouldn’t hate Adam. I couldn’t. Even if he was a jerk, there was so much more about him could relate to. Wasn’t he like me, the struggling, geeky programmer who didn’t know what he wanted out of life? Weren’t we taught to love everyone? Isn’t he exactly the kind of person Jesus would have sought? Rejected by society, rejected by “the church”- or, for the historical reference “the Pharisees“. Jesus himself said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, and I already knew I was a sinner. And that I hadn’t brought any stones with me to work that day.
Though I was conflicted, remembering my teachings didn’t change the relationship Adam and I had. Knowing what the church had already put him through, he didn’t need me to beat him over the head with doctrine, with the certainty that he was going to hell. We kept talking, and I kept listening, and learning, about a world I couldn’t possibly have understood.
I’ve shared this story before, but I will again, in the interest of completeness: I was driving him home one night, and we were talking, and I heard something heartening: “I still want to burn down the churches,” he told me. “Except yours.”
That was SOMETHING, wasn’t it? That however I’d dealt with Adam, whatever mistakes or uncertainty I’d made before or with him, he still felt compelled to tell me that he hadn’t rejected THIS Christian? That I’d had the opportunity to share from the heart, to be honest, and he listened? That I didn’t need to have John 3:16 on a placard to make an impact on his life? That having an ear worked better than telling him he was going to hell?
Even if nothing happens with Adam, if I never see him again, I feel like God did more with me in a relationship where I listened to his honesty, than He would have if I’d condemned Adam after I’d learned of his desire to burn churches, and not given him the chance to share his story. I wouldn’t have learned of how the church had wronged him, of how Christians had turned him away time and time again, ignoring what the Bible teaches us about reaching others. I wouldn’t have challenged what I thought, maybe wouldn’t have pondered the idea of LGBT people as much as I have without our evenings working together.
Relationships change how we view people, and Adam’s perspective was something that this sheltered geek had never had before. It was probably one of the first times where I stopped and really thought about what I believe, and why I believe it. What does my faith mean, and how do I demonstrate it in day to day life?
More to come. Thanks for reading.