(Yesterday I received a short thank-you note from Chloe Bradley, the young woman who held up the sign in “I APoLogiZe for these Christians.” I told Chloe I’d love to interview her; she kindly acquiesced. Here’s the result.)
Me: So, Chloe, how does it feel being an international superstar as a result of being on my blog?
Chloe: Um. I’d have to say I don’t know.
Me: Aren’t you really famous now, from being on my blog?
Chloe: I don’t think so. No.
Me: Oh. Well, you might want to invest in some huge sunglasses and a big floppy hat. But moving on. Tell us about your day before you ended up barefoot, hugged, and holding high a sign apologizing for obnoxious Christians.
Chloe: It was a rather unusual day for Olympia, WA, where I attend Evergreen college—
Me: Unusual because of all the tension in the air caused by the invasion of your campus by radical Christian fundamentalists?
Chloe: Unusual because it was so sunny and warm; everybody was in a really good mood.
Me: Ah. I see. Please continue.
Chloe: That day I went to class from ten to noon, and then went to the library on my lunch break. I got a new bus sticker for my ID card, printed out some articles for class, and then headed out to Red Square (where the picture was taken) to read in the sunshine for a bit.
Me: When did you first become aware that your campus had been invaded by radical Christian fundamentalists?
Chloe: Around 12:30 the Greeners around me started getting noisy, and I looked up from my book, Best American Travel Writing 2011.
Me: Superb reading choice! What did you see?
Chloe: Men standing with hateful Christian signs in the middle of Red Square.
Me: Were you immediately terrified by the storm of chaotic turmoil clearly about to unleash itself upon your idyllic college life?
Chloe: Well, no. But I was annoyed, mainly because I knew the students around me were going to get angry and start yelling, which would make it difficult for me to focus on my reading. And, of course, I disliked the hateful messages on the signs the men were holding, but I know better than to try and talk them out of it.
Me: What would be your guess as to how many were in this marauding band of religious zealots?
Chloe: Two. There were two of them.
Me: Oh. That’s not really so much a band, as it is … a duo. I don’t suppose you happened to catch the names of … Spin and Tell ‘er?
Chloe: I didn’t. I know the Internet has affectionately dubbed them Mose and Neckbeard, among other things.
Me: Did you catch the name I used for the one guy? Grimly Quakerstein? Huh? Grimly Quakerstein? Totally funny, right?
Chloe: Not so much for me, actually. I have a really close friend who’s a Quaker.
Me: Oh. Sorry. At the time I was just thinking of the Quaker Oats guy.
Me: Because of his beard.
Chloe: Does the Quaker Oats guy have a beard?
Me: Doesn’t he have one of those Amish beards?
Chloe: I don’t think so.
Me: So you didn’t know the names of the two guys.
Chloe: I didn’t. On Monday, when this happened, I was thinking of them as Suspenders and Shorty.
Me: No way! That is too funny. Did you know anything about the two guys, or where they came from?
Chloe: They tended to shy away from question about what church they came from, but eventually they admitted to attending a Mennonite church in Rochester, WA (about a half hour drive from Olympia).
Me: Mennonite Oats! “For when Quaker Oats are just too improvident.”
Me: Nothing. Sorry. So the two guys were from Rochester.
Chloe: Right. Well, Evergreen is known for being a radical hippie school, so a lot of students assumed that our school had been targeted. But Suspenders and his cohort were actually headed to St. Martin’s, a nearby Catholic university. Unfortunately for them, St. Martin’s was closed for Easter. So they ended up coming to Evergreen.
Me: They had intended to go to a different school? But that school was closed—so instead they came to your school? Do you think they were just, like, “Oh, darn. We’ve got our signs and everything. Is there another college anywhere around here we can go to and stand around with our signs?”
Chloe: I guess so!
Me: So what did you do when you realized that your school had become the target of … two disappointed guys with giant signs?
Chloe: My fellow Greeners started getting angry at them, understandably so, and several students started yelling at these men to get off of our campus. Someone went so far as to throw an apple core at their sign.
Me: Pretty extreme! What did you do next?
Chloe: At this point I was starting to get antsy. I wanted to get some poster-board, but I didn’t want to pack up all my stuff and run to the bookstore, because that seemed like a huge hassle.
Me: College bookstores are a hassle. Plus they always make me feel stupid. And broke.
Chloe: But then a friend came over, so I asked her to watch my bag, and I ran to the Evergreen bookstore, where I got poster-board and a Sharpie paint pen.Me: Good job! It’s so good to have friends. I wish I had some. How much did the poster-board and stuff cost you?
Chloe: About eight bucks.
Me: Really? For some poster-board and a pen? Pffft. College bookstores. Then what did you do?
Chloe: I ran back outside. I was itching to get my sign made. At this point I was still thinking that I could sit in front of them and hold my sign, while reading my assigned reading. I was planning to go to class half an hour later; the time crunch was making me pretty anxious. So I scribbled out my poster as quickly as possible. I was inspired by the pictures I’ve seen before of Christians at gay pride events, holding signs that apologize for the way the church has treated homosexuals. [Hey!] I got my apology down, and wrote “Jesus preached LOVE” on the back, and then gathered up my stuff and went to sit in front of the two men.
Me: What happened next?
Chloe: I think initially they thought that I was joining them. Once they read my sign, though, they asked why I felt the need to apologize for them, and if I considered myself a Christian. Seminars at Evergreen have taught me how to respectfully disagree with someone else’s opinion, and I think my responses to them confused them. Occasionally one of them would come over with his Bible and read me a verse. Once I realized how bigoted these men really were, and once I started getting such positive reactions from the people passing by, I felt like I needed to stay out there: that it was my responsibility to my fellow students to stand my ground. I ended up skipping my afternoon class, which I knew would be okay with my professor.
Me: College is so fantastic. I should never have dropped out.
Chloe: You dropped out of college?
Me: What? No. I don’t know. So how long were you out there with Suspenders and Shorty?
Chloe: I was there from beginning to end. I didn’t leave until they did. All in all, it was about five hours.
Me: Was this a major, traumatic, life-altering event for you?
Chloe: Um … no. My shoulders did get sore from holding the sign above my head from so long. And I got a bit of a sunburn on my hand. Thank goodness I was wearing a turtleneck, or it could have been a lot worse.
Me: Another turtleneck saves the day. So tell me, did any other spontaneous acts of social protest break out around this considerably cacophonous culture clash?
Chloe: There was a group of people who lined up behind the two guys and started saying “ohhhmmmm” over and over again, as loudly as they could.
Me: “Ohhhmmmm”? Like when people do yoga meditation?
Chloe: Yes. But louder.
Me: Cool! Intimidation through meditation. I really think that was Maharishi Mahesh’s plan all along.
Chloe: One guy stripped down naked and just sat in front of them.
Me: Excuse me?
Chloe: A guy took off all his clothes and sat down in front of the two guys.
Me: But … why?
Chloe: I don’t know.
Me: What was he protesting against? Clothes? People not often enough seeing his kadoinker?
Chloe: I’m not really sure what he was protesting against. Everything, probably. Or, as a Greener, he was just looking for an excuse to get naked in public. I think everyone just wanted to mess with Suspenders and Shorty, make them feel as unwelcome and uncomfortable as possible.
Me: That would certainly get me to leave. How long was Mr. Naked Juice out there?
Chloe: He only lasted for about a minute before he was asked by a college official to put his clothes back on.
Me: Seems like a reasonable request. So, did you actually engage with Suspenders and Shorty? What did you guys say to each other?
Chloe: Suspenders was definitely displeased with my display; I could tell it was difficult for him to be polite to me. Shorty was much friendlier—I could tell he was actually trying to understand why I was doing what I was doing. There were actually quite a few Greeners who came up and talked, argued, and yelled at Suspenders and Shorty. Shorty’s respectful approach definitely won some points, whereas Suspenders was nothing but judgments, and very difficult to talk to.
Me: How did the thing finally resolve? Why/when did it all break up?
Chloe: It broke up around five. Red Square has way less foot traffic around then, since by then most students are on their way home. This was when Suspenders and Shorty started rolling up their signs.
Me: And that was about it?
Chloe: Pretty much. My roommate showed up at the very end with her three-year-old child with her, and Suspenders immediately jumped on the opportunity to preach to someone a bit more receptive.
Me: You’re kidding.
Chloe: I’m not. He gave the kid a King James Bible, and showed her pictures of his own daughters to win her over.
Me: Suspenders is a father?
Chloe: He is.
Me: You know. Like how Seinfeld says “Newman!”
Chloe: Oh. Right.
Me: For the record, I’m not anti-Mennonite, or anything. Some of my best friends really are Mennonites.
Me: So how’d it all wrap up?
Chloe: Eventually the two guys left, and I returned home with my roommate and kid. The kid opened up her Bible, turned it around a few times, delighted over the fact that there were maps in the back, and then put it in her big toy box and promptly forgot about it. I mean, who gives a three-year-old a King James Bible?
Me: Right? Not exactly a tub of Play-Doh. Thought it kind of is, isn’t it? Anyway, was it worth it? The sign? The eight dollars? The flying apple core? The shoulder aches? The sunburned hand? Having to look at Buffy the Mennonite Slayer? Was it all worth it?
Chloe: Well, honestly, Evergreen is my home, and Christianity is part of my identity. For these strangers to come to my campus and misrepresent my faith . . . that makes my life difficult. It makes me look bad. It’s hard enough to be a Christian on this campus without people like them condemning my classmates to hell. I couldn’t let them misrepresent Christianity to my peers and my friends without having a say in the conversation.
Me: That really is beautiful. We’ve had some fun here, but, honestly, what you did that day is really special. Thank you for what you did that day. Peace is the way, and you’ve shined some light on that often dark path. Some Christian light! Which, I know, isn’t always the most comfortable brand of flashlight to use.
Chloe: Until I went away to college, I went to church every single Sunday. I was raised in a Christian home, and until I got to college, I had no doubts about my identity as a Christian. In the bizarre bubble of Evergreen, however, labels are often questioned or shunned, and I’ve learned not to call myself a Christian here. I tell those who ask that I am a follower of Christ, and therefore I believe in love above all else, and that’s as simple as I can make it. That’s also all I know, because I’m a young college student who is still figuring out how the world works. I figured I’d start with love, and see what else there is besides that.
Me: You rock so hard you make diamonds feel like Milk Duds.