I’m Sorry. And I Love You.

The following post is by Melinda Guerra, a volunteer at The Marin Foundation.

A year ago, I was sitting at camp, looking into potential places to volunteer when I got back to the city.  I had just finished reading Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin, and he was a local… so I figured I could start there.

One part of this involvement was attending the Pride Parade together with other people affiliated with the ministry, and we donned black shirts for the (extremely hot) day… shirts that proclaimed “I’m Sorry.” The idea was to use the shirts as a conversation starter (Which oh, they were), apologizing to the LGBT community for the way the church has treated them… to apologize for Christians who shout hate and judgment at them. It was a good day, the kind after which I go home and feel like I have just been able to catch a glimpse of what heaven looked like, and feel strangely fulfilled.

But I love that shirt.

And I haven’t quite stopped wearing it.

One day when I was wearing the shirt, my aunt (who has been an out lesbian for as long as I can remember) asked me what I was sorry for. We were hanging out with a few other family members, telling jokes and making cracks on each other over lunch. I looked at her and said I was sorry for the way the church has often shoved the LGBT community outside of our doors, rather than welcoming them in. And sorry for the pain that has caused. And sorry that not enough people looked into her eyes and said they loved her and that God loved her and that she shouldn’t have to be afraid of being hurt by the people who love Jesus.

She started crying.

Sobbing.

There, in the middle of the restaurant, my aunt (we say we’re each other’s favorites, but we’re not allowed to tell anyone else) was broken because of a t-shirt I was wearing, and it opened the door for a question she’d never before asked me:

Have you ever been ashamed of me?

I….what?! No!

And out came the story… the reason she never came to the parties I invited her to… the services i invited her to… my graduation… hanging out with my friends… All this time, she had known about my faith and thought, at some place deep inside, that even though we had a blast when we were hanging out together, that something would change if I took her around my friends… that I would find a reason to be ashamed of being seen with her.

That knocked the wind clear out of me.

For as much as I loved my aunt… For as much as I invited her to every special event in my life… For as much as I envied her ability to be exactly who she is and never give it a second thought… For as much as I found unconditional acceptance in her arms… She wondered if I would feel those same things in my communities of friends, seeing as how they were largely Christian and Christians happened to be the people who judged and shoved her around the most.

I looked at her and told her that on the contrary, that it had been my relationship with her that has made me vocal in those same communities about the way Christians treat the LGBT community, and has made me want to work with Andrew as he figures out how to elevate the conversation between LGBT communities and the church. Because she matters and because she’s taught me to see that every single person matters. And if they won’t matter to the world at large, they’ll matter to me.

That conversation cemented a lot of things in me. It confirmed that I was right to find Marin’s community of friends and walk with them through this process. It confirmed I was right to see that vulnerability is often not as far beneath the surface as we might be prone to believe. And it convicted me… for as much as I have been supportive and loving and understanding toward my aunt, I’d never looked her in the eyes and assured her that I love her completely, and could never, ever be ashamed of her.

I think I’m going to seize the moments to make those statements more often.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

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About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Eugene

    “For as much as I loved my aunt…”

    Melinda, I don’t think your aunt ever questioned your love. Ultimately, it wasn’t about love. It was about shame – and shame is about other people. In this situation, it was about anti-gay Christians. That’s why you didn’t have to assure your aunt that you “love her completely”. You should have said, “Jesus loves your for being gay. Yes, some Christians hate you for being gay – but they’re wrong. They may be my friends, but I won’t hesitate to tell them that they’re wrong.” This is the message you should send if you want to build bridges between the gay community and the Christian community. Saying “I love you” isn’t the best way to express your love – especially because when many Christians “love” gay people but “hate” their “sin” of homosexuality.

    • Kevin Harris

      I’m not sure it is your place to dictate to Melinda what she should have said to her aunt. She communicated what was on her heart and it sounds like it was received well by her aunt and they grew a little closer in the process regardless of what she should/should not have said.

      • Eugene

        I’m not sure it is your place to tell me how to react to Melinda’s post. If it’s a private matter between Melinda and her aunt, why exactly is she posting this? I mistakenly thought that it’s about bridge building between the communities. I’m sorry. I’ll never make this mistake again.

        • Kevin Harris

          Point taken. When it comes to hearing the stories of other people, I guess that I’m a fan of just reading/hearing that story for what it is and doing what I can to honor the other person by just silently taking it in as a part of their journey or asking questions to hear a little more of their heart or about what they think.

          You are obviously entitled to sharing your thoughts and I have enjoyed the thoughts and constructive criticism that you have offered over time on this blog, but I was just taken a back by your comment as I felt (and maybe I was wrong) that the vulnerability entailed in sharing about an experience in her life could have been honored in a better way than telling her what she should have done.

          • Eugene

            Oh, I surely agree that her post could have been honored in a better way. I should have said that I really appreciate her kindness and sincerity – because I do. Her story is beautiful and inspiring.

            However, I couldn’t just “silently take it in” because silence was the problem. Melinda had been “silent”, her aunt had been “silent” – and it took a shirt (!) to start the conversation. We need to keep talking about these things. And, ironically, it’s easier for a stranger like me to say this.

            It’s also a matter of perspective. Nathan made a very important point that “some of our perspectives need to change”. Many straight Christians don’t fully understand how their messages to gay people are perceived. And Melinda’s story seems to be an example of this. Melinda invited her aunt to every special event in her life – but she was keeping an “anti-gay” company without saying anything about it to her aunt. How did it look from her aunt’s perspective?

            So I just wanted to offer a perspective that may (or may not) be closer to her aunt’s perspective.

          • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org Melinda

            Kevin,

            Thanks for your words too. I agree completely with you in thought and practice when it comes to how we respond to people’s stories… and to others who might seem to taint the moment with a judgment of what could have been a better way to handle things.

            There’s a place for silently taking another person’s reflections and a place to speak up in defense of the experience. I appreciate you wanting to be sure that one road wasn’t chosen at the expense of the dignity of the experience. You’re a good friend.

    • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org Melinda

      Hey Eugene

      Thanks.

      I don’t think she was questioning my love either… but there was something that she clearly wasn’t feeling safe with and I didn’t know what it was, so I turned to my love as the first thing… it was what I could refer to as I looked her in the eyes and held her for one moment in which she let herself show weakness.

      I appreciate your perspective and that you would have responded to my aunt differently. Learning what it means to build bridges is always exactly that– a learning experience. I think that’s what it means to be a part of a community that wants to bring healing to the broken places– it means hearing each other and learning from each other and resting in the hope that we cover over each other’s weaknesses as we sojourn the tough places together.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • Eugene

        Thanks for you reply, Melinda.

        I surely don’t think you’ve said something wrong. :) There’s nothing wrong with saying “I love you”. I guess my initial comment seems a little harsh – and I’m sorry. I just wanted to put this issue into a context – mostly because it’s something that may be happening to other people.

  • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

    Nice message, Melinda. I think it was a good opportunity for relationship-building between you and your aunt.

    • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org Melinda

      Thanks Jon. It really was.

  • Mrs T

    What a beautiful story! I’d love to meet Melinda.
    I occasionally wear my special shirt & try to pick where to wear it.
    The Lord has used this to open many doors & will continue to do so.

    Those of you who read this, please pray for TMF. There is much work to do & much encouragement needed!

    • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org Melinda

      Hey Mrs T– I’m around… coffee and beer even tempt me quite nicely to venture out on non LITT nights.
      :)

      • Mrs T

        Any weekdays? Nights aren’t that easy, altho I wish they were!

        • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org melinda

          mm hmm. can do. shoot me an email and we’ll figure things out:

          melinda [at] themarinfoundation.org

  • http://www.theconfidentteen.com Cori

    This is absolutely beautiful.

    • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org Melinda

      Thanks for reading, Cori

  • Ron

    Good for you! I just wish it was true that I “shouldn’t have to be afraid of being hurt by the people who love Jesus.” Sometimes, they are the ones that cause the most pain.

    • http://melindaguerra.myadventures.org Melinda

      Ron, it’s knowing this that frustrates me so much. Because if my aunt really knew my friends, she’d know that they’re the first people who would jump to defend her…

      Finding people who love Jesus and people and act in compassion and understanding instead of harsh, bitter judgment… it shouldn’t be so difficult to find those people. The Church should teem with them.

      I’m sorry people who love Jesus have caused so much pain… I guess maybe redemption is when those are the same who recognize this plank in their eye and give their lives to acting in more compassion than they ever did hatred… If only it didn’t cause so many scars in the process…

      • Geoff G.

        Here’s the issue and where the bridge-building becomes so important. Because of what we (speaking as a gay man) see and hear in the media about what Christians believe about us and want from us, we make assumptions about anyone who’s religious, especially if they’re evangelical or belong to some other conservative denomination, especially if we know their politics are generally Republican.

        I avoided speaking to my cousin and her husband and family for years based on fear over how they’d react, right up to the point where I was forced to confront the issue because both my partner and I had been invited to the same wedding they were.

        And to my surprise and chagrin, it turned out to be absolutely nothing at all.

        Now, I will be the first to say that the onus is on me, as the gay guy, to explicitly come out to my family and friends. But I also think it’s fair for people to have some empathy for the fear that drives people to stay in the closet and to make sure that the path out is smoothed out as much as possible without forcing the issue.

  • pm

    What a wonderful and personal story. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  • Angie

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Melinda. It brought tears to my eyes!


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