OUT in the Cold is a great little independent documentary about homeless gay kids funded by the Mathew Shepard Foundation. The short film, released in 2002, features youth who either were forced onto the streets or who ran away because their home lives were so unbearable.
I mention it this blog because one of the featured youth was a dark-haired, kind-eyed, faith-filled kid named Rob Malone, whose home life was turned upside down when he came out as gay. Until then, Rob said, he’d enjoyed a normal, loving relationship with his parents and felt deeply connected to his church. After his outing, Rob’s pastor told him he was no longer welcome at church, and his parents made clear he was no longer welcome at their home. In the months that followed, his father rarely missed an opportunity to tell Rob he hoped his son would die of AIDS.
Watching the documentary, I could only imagine the hurt, guilt, torment and anger this kid must have felt. To be hated simply for being who he was by the very people WHO MADE HIM. “If it hadn’t been for my spirituality,” Rob says at one point. “I would have killed myself.”
And when he says it, you believe it.
To me, and to most of those reading this, God’s existence or nonexistence doesn’t matter much. If God is real, fine. If God isn’t real, fine. Our lives have no need for religious intervention. But for some, like Rob, the need is there, and it’s huge. The existence or nonexistence of God is the difference between having a friend and having no friend. Having a father who loves you and having a father who wishes you were dead. Having a reason to hope, and having no reason to live.
It’s true that God really does save people. Not God the almighty, God the powerful, God the creator. I definitely don’t believe that. But God, the idea? You bet.
Sometimes people in pain can be motivated to keep going simply because there seems to be someone else there in the room with them, in their minds, in their lives, someone besides themselves who is rooting for them and who wants them to live.
Whenever I watch documentaries that feature sweet, loving screwed-up young people, I have this very real urge to scoop them up and shower them with love. I know I’m not the only one. Compassion and empathy is something most humans feel when we get an intimate view of a who is suffering. We want to help, and we wish we could.
Maybe, for some, that’s the meaning of “God.”
Maybe, in a sense, “God” is the kindness of strangers, the love of all the people in the world who would make things better for Rob Malone if only they knew how to do it (or that Rob existed at all.) Maybe religion is the warm blanket of human compassion. You can’t always see it, or even feel it, but you know it’s there. You have faith that it’s there.
And, in a very real sense, it is.
OUT in the Cold is available on DVD by request by producer Eric Criswell at www.CIREfoundation.org. There you can also find information about Criswell’s new project, a documentary about another kind of coming-out: religious leaders who come out as nonreligious.