She called to apologize to me after a relative of mine threw an ugly and abusive temper-tantrum in her office. My first reaction was to say that I’m used to that kind of nasty, childish behavior from this person and that it’s the other way, that I owe her an apology.
And now, days later, I sit here and cry. I cry because she knows where I come from, because she knows. Most of the time I manage to handle this side of my history with humor. There’s not much else to do. I refuse to be defined by the hate and bigotry and fear of having been (half) raised in a fundamentalist household. That’s not me. That’s not my God. And when I thought that xenophobia, homophobia, rage, and hate were requirements for religion I wanted nothing to do with religion.
So I intentionally exerted significant effort to find a church where a woman preaches, where interfaith families and single mothers are wanted and welcomed, where every year the congregation turns out to support the Pride Parade with free water, where the building is always in use providing shelter for homeless families and ESL classes for refugees and space for addicts and alcoholics to meet. I spent months researching and visiting churches when I moved here. And I found one I liked.
And this relative saw the Pride Parade poster and caused a scene. Thank God I didn’t witness it myself! But this is a small community. It didn’t take long for me to be warned to be prepared to hear all about how much he hates it and wants us to leave, that he swore to “talk” to me about it and insist that I cannot raise my children in a church like that, that I need to get out and find a new church ASAP.
And finally I’m crying, finally I realize that it’d be OK to accept an apology from someone. Healthy, sane, grown-up people don’t do shit like that, don’t scream and yell, call names and try to control the religious lives of other grown up people. It’s pretty screwed up that I have to deal with this. There’s a word for that kind of behavior. Abuse. And he’s never going to understand or care or change or offer an apology or make amends. I’m old enough to know this. It would take a miracle.
And for two days my brain swirls and cycles. Let’s omit the inner obsessive monologue.
And I’m so angry and hurt and afraid.
So I take my space. I do nothing. I say nothing. I wait. I pray. I ask God for help.
And there’s this other place in me, a me that refuses to be sucked into it, to stoop to the level of name-calling and nasty. A me that knows that Jesus gave directions and warnings that apply here. Following Jesus can be really offensive to people who want to reduce it to an equation of mere belief. I have a commitment to find a way to turn the other cheek, to love even my enemies. (That doesn’t mean not having healthy and firm boundaries to protect myself and my children from abuse and bullying!)
I think about the blessings in my life. Most Sundays I share a pew with a wonderful lesbian Buddhist woman who seems to be one of God’s screw drivers for tightening loose souls. I remember this story a Muslim friend shared once about Mohammad having a difficult neighbor who threw trash at his door everyday. When I try to list all the great people God has sent me I can’t even begin to count. Many of them have been LGBTQIA. Most of them haven’t been Christian. And I begin to feel sorry for this tantrum-thrower, his hate and fear mean that he will never experience the blessings of having friends like mine.
That’s a start. I can pray for his benefit that God work in him so he can share in the joy and growth I’ve been blessed with.
(I debate baking two rainbow pride cakes, one for him and one for church. But that seems a bit passive-aggressive as I think about it.)
Effective other-cheek-turning is an art form. It converts violence and hate to kindness and love. But it’s not for the unimaginative or faint of heart. A few times I’ve managed to get really good results. But most of the time it’s resulted only in insuring that someone decides they don’t want to ever mess with me again. Good enough. Jesus didn’t speak those words to people in power but humans struggling to under a cruel imperial occupation. It was absolutely about nonviolent methods of self-defense and protest. When someone tries to commandeer your cloak giving him your shirt along with it is really pretty ludicrous. That’s the point. It makes a public point of the abusive nature of trying to demand the coat in the first place. And so, somehow, I need to find the equivalent response for this situation. There always is one, if we are willing to work for it.
Other-cheek-turning, shirt-with-the-coat-giving, is an art form. An art form specifically designed to deal with nasty, abusive, bullying, tyrannical people. It makes space for the victim to take power, to shine a spotlight of shame on the perpetrator. It’s most certainly not some soft, mushy, fuzzy way of being a pushover. Jesus was anything but a pushover.
I haven’t found any great ideas here yet. I consider a few and dismiss them. Reconsider and play with them.
I could convert to Islam. There aren’t any Pride Parade posters at the mosque. (Yet. I know some really progressive, inclusive Muslims.) If there were I’d probably go to visit more often. I’m not sure which this person fears more, gays or Muslims. Probably depends on which hateful talk radio host he’s heard most recently. (Maybe this topic in relation to my own relationship with God ought to have its own post some day. Suddenly this doesn’t seem like the right context to go into it.)
I could make sure that every single birthday and Christmas card I send until he dies has a nice rainbow on it. And maybe purple glitter dumped in the envelope just for fun.
I could (whenever I have money again) make regular donations to the LGBTQ resource center in his town. They could use the help. Good people over there. I know some of them. But I’m still kinda poor (nice way of saying it’s a miracle that somehow there’s always exactly enough to make ends meet at the end of the month and I don’t know how it seems to always be almost to the penny). Maybe I could volunteer and donate time instead? Are there bonus points if I make sure and take time out of family holiday visits for the project?
I could write him a very public letter of apology for his discomfort. That’s an idea with promise. I know I won’t be getting an apology. But that’s OK. I’m not expecting one. Bigots really are something to feel sorry for.
Or maybe a thank you letter? That might be better. I could offer my sincerest appreciation for his having done such a wonderful job of making so clear why I love this church and committed to it. It really was very nice of him to make sure that I remember why I love this community.
I don’t have to decide tonight. And I won’t. I’m going to sleep on it, to trust that God will offer guidance (or my readers will give me suggestions! Please!), to keep praying about the situation and for him.