My friend, colleague, and pastor Sam of MCC Toronto asked me to submit something for a prayer service about the Orlando Pulse mass shooting. After turning her request over for many hours, and admitting that I didn’t feel adequate, this is what bubbled up over about a fifteen-minute period, this early morning, well after midnight.
Where are the words?
in some eyes and hearts
less than the image and likeness of God,
less than fully human?
Where are the words?
Where are the best words to express, Word of God,
all the love and pain we feel,
all the lost sleep,
all the numbness and anger and tears,
all the memories of when
words from Scripture and the mouths of friends
and family felt like bullets ripping through us?
Where are the words?
Where are the strong words to shout, Giver of Life,
that we still hope in you,
that we will choose to forgive,
that we will not stop working for your justice
until every human being knows the flame of your love
over their heads,
until the principalities of homophobia and transphobia and racism and religious xenophobia
know their defeat,
until the idolatry of “the right to bear arms” is smashed
in favour of the Divine image in every life,
the flourishing of our communities and peoples?
These feeble words are not enough,
and yet you hear us.
So, in your many names and in the name of Jesus,
we choose, for a moment, your silence of solidarity with us,
and the Love you are always speaking.
I found this short story buried in my email, written in 2010 after a heated discussion with a beloved atheist in my life, who believed I gave too much credence and credit to what he thought was completely irrational objections to homosexuality in the Evangelical tradition of my youth. I wrote this story for him–not quite autobiographical, but trying to show him what is at stake, existentially, for some traditional Christians who resist changing their opinions about homosexuality. I couldn’t believe I found it, and it brought tears to my eyes because I think it is one of the most honest pieces I have ever written.
I am not a homophobe. I just think you’ll burn in hell. I know you think I’m a first-class hater when I challenge your ideas in class. Your blue eyes flash at me, and your full lips tighten like you want to spit. Hey, believe me, I understand. It’s hard for me to say these things to you, but I can’t afford to change what the Bible says.
It’s not really your fault that you believe the “science” that the liberal media has been feeding you ever since you were born. I keep trying to tell you that gay activists were responsible for changing the DSM and not good science—I even give you sources!—but you don’t believe me. You tell me you didn’t choose the way you feel, that I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it—but why would I want to try something that the Bible says will send me straight to hell? I know you want me to tell you that you’ll be just fine, but I’m more concerned about your immortal soul than your approval.
I see the confusion in your eyes when I invite you to sit with me at lunch most days—the thing is, I actually really like you. A lot. I mean, more than half the time we agree about things in class; you’re articulate and funny; you have this slightly sarcastic way of saying things that always makes me think. Usually, you refuse my invitation; that’s understandable, given how heated our in-class exchanges become, but that’s a professional difference, it has nothing to do with whether or not I like you. Do you really think I want to make your life miserable? I want to know about you. You keep telling me that you’re more than just your sexual practices. The thing is, I believe you. But you don’t tell me about what music you listen to, what TV shows you watch, or why you hate the Bible so much. (Well, maybe I don’t need to know that last one – I mean, it condemns you to hell as long as you refuse to repent.) I keep hoping that you’ll let me become your friend. I don’t think it’ll happen. But that’s not my fault. You’re the one who thinks I’m a hater.
Can I be really honest with you? I watch you all the time. I see how you treat your friends – they love you to bits, man. Even the guys seem to like you, even if I know some of them agree with me more than with you. Professors greet you with respect in the corridors. Your name is at the lead of every major drama production – and I hear you play a mean game of ping-pong, too. Is there anything you can’t do?
What gets me every time, though, is seeing you with your boyfriend. OK, sure, I admit it, when I see you holding his hand or he brushes your tight brown curls back from your forehead, my stomach turns a little. But you always look so fucking happy, happier than anyone—much less an unrepentant sinner like you!—has the right to be. I mean, I’m the Christian, here. I’m not perfect—far from it, my friends say I can be downright mean, sometimes—but I’m trying hard to love people, to speak hard truths, to preach good news. Why is it that I always feel something is wrong with me, that I can never measure up? Scripture says, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken,” so why do I feel so miserable while you get to be so happy enjoying all the sinful pleasures this world has to offer?
I mean—God, I can’t believe I’m about to admit this—in my unguarded moments at the end of a long day as the water cascades over my back, your face is in my head, smiling. Smiling at me, like you do at your friends. No—more than that. At your boyfriend. This perfect, crooked, full-lipped smile—and just for a moment I see myself kissing you. I kiss you, because I want you, and you want me back, and just for a second, before the tidal wave ends, I feel happy. But as I dry off after spending too much time in the shower—again—I hate myself, because I know exactly what you would tell me if I told you all this. You would tell me to give in, to be myself, to abandon the God who is kind enough to forgive me again for falling short of his standard rather than killing me. I hate myself because I want to—just for a second. But the difference between you and me, my friend, is that I repent. I may lust after you in my heart, but that has to be better than actually doing the filthy things that you and your boyfriend get up to.
And I hate you. I hate you because you don’t want to repent. I hate you because you’re fucking happy not repenting. I hate you because even if you did repent and we both found ourselves in heaven, I still couldn’t kiss you.
I wish you would go away. I wish I could be the godly man that I want to be, that people expect me to be, that God demands I be. Tomorrow, I will go back to arguing the truth with you in class, and trying to be your friend, and trying to keep the image of your face bending to mine out of my mind.
And you will never read these words, even though I wish somehow you could.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God:
Have mercy on me, a sinner.