While a teenage birthday party had taken over my house last Saturday night, Laura, a friend you’ll get to know more, and I were sitting out back by the fireplace talking about the wonderful weather, what summer wheat beers we’d be drinking this year, our wives, her chaplaincy at a level 1 trauma hospital…and The Cross. Laura is one of my dearest friends, a colleague from Candler and about the funniest damn person I know. She’s also one of the strongest, most capable chaplains I’ve ever met. Serving in one of the south’s most challenging trauma hospitals she’s hardly one to shrink from danger or avoid confrontation – have you been in an inner city ER before??
As our conversation meandered we talked about the ways we live or don’t live fully. She and her partner have been together for about five years and thankfully still hold hands when they can. When they can. Her wife Karen would hold her hand anywhere, any time – “even Tifton, Georgia!” says Laura, “We’d get shot out there!” My own wife is reluctant to hold my hand in public, not even in the relatively safe bubble of inner-city Atlanta, out of concern for our safety or the safety of our children when they are with us. Just holding hands with the one you love can get you killed? I want to believe this is outrageous, ridiculous and just extreme paranoia – but then I see what a so-called pastor (he’s about as pastoral as a copperhead) preaches to his flock in Maiden, NC and I remember, I know that I could be just one tender gesture away from my very own 3 by 6 parcel of shade at Oakland Cemetery.
While Laura and my wife are rightfully concerned about those tiny details of hate crimes and children without parents, Karen points us to Jesus. Jesus, she reminds us lived fully into who he was born and called to be. He lived his full humanity without apology and without fear. He gathered together a motley band of frequently dense followers, hung out in streets and on hillsides with pariahs, frequently challenged religious authority, cleared the temple of greedy and corrupt squatters and maintained his call through torture and all the way to the cross. Was he afraid? Perhaps – he was fully human after all. We’ve overheard his dark night conversation with his parent – “take this cup from me…” But we know he stands up and willingly leaves that garden to face what God has created him to do, become even more fully who he is – Christ. How far are we willing to follow Jesus? What are we willing to risk? What am I willing to risk? Am I just another tragic idealist who believes that one gentle hand holding after another can slowly change the world? Am I willing to do more?
A bit of an aside: do I think Mr. Worley of Maiden, NC has a right to say what he wants in his church to his community? Yes, up to a point. I am not concerned at all about his personal belief that I am an abomination. His faith is his, not mine. But when his position affords him the power to call for the death of millions of people – well that seems to cross a line eh?
Do I believe we have any business telling one church what they can or can’t preach, believe, pray or do? Nope, between my baptist roots and that whole separation of church and state thing I am pretty clear that churches should be able to conduct themselves how ever they feel called. Unless their calling puts the lives of people in jeopardy.
Do I believe there are different ways to live into being Christian – you betcha – but hatred is never, never, never as aspect of following Christ.
Am I wary of thrusting this tiny, hateful man and congregation further into the spotlight? Do they deserve the attention? Yeah, very worried that every character I type is pointing to the festering evil mind of an otherwise small, small man. But (yeah, you knew there was one more) if Christians who follow Compassionate One don’t speak up – over and over again – then voices like his, so easily tossing around the heresy of a hateful God, are allowed to speak without counter. We must raise our voices and join a chorus of love that crescendos over the cacophony of fear and hate. Silence is consent.
How far am I willing to follow Jesus? I am torn for many reasons – personal and social – as to whether or not I am called to this particular cross on this particular hill. It may not even be a cross, just a big ole swarm of loving people who outshine the raisin-heart of Mr. Worley. Either way, those sound like some people I’d like to meet.