Head First: June 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Let This Be a Lesson to All of You.

Thanks again to everyone who helped us with the PhillyPride event. And thanks to everyone (well, almost) who joined the discussion. I think it was important that we talked about it. Ok, maybe not, but it helped me a lot (and that's what really matters, isn't it? Me?).

That said,

The World Is Not a Stage

Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure--"playactors" I call them-- treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it--quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

(Matthew 6:1-4, The Message)

I enjoy irony. It's very...um...ironic.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Funny Thing About Seeds...

...is that they're useless in your hands, and you have no control over them once they're scattered.

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up. Business has been, well, busy. On top of that, I started physical therapy on my shoulder this week (It's pretty torn up, but I've gained back over 30 degrees of range of motion in just 3 sessions. Woohoo!), so there hasn't been much time to write. Even so, I find myself at a bit of a loss for words to describe the day. But, as usual, I'm not going to let that stop me.

If you're just tuning in, my buddy, Mike, and I (and our wives, it turned out) went to the Philadelphia Pride Day event last Sunday and gave away a bunch of coffee-store gift cards in what was intended to be a token expression of kindness. In the cards, we identified ourselves as a couple straight Christians and apologized for our part in the religious system that has excoriated them so zealously for so long. There was no sales pitch, and there was no condemnation. After some debate, we decided to include an email address (in 6-point type, down in the corner), in case...well, just in case (You can take the boy out of evangelicalism, but it's tough to take evangelicalism out of the boy. We admit it).

There's been a fair amount of discussion about whether what we did was genuine, or if there was some element of agenda involved. Was this really kindness, or just stupid church people (or ex-church people) being stupid church people? Were we sincere about wanting to reach out in love to the GLBT community? I certainly believe so. But was this the right way to go about it? Well, to be honest, by the time we got there, I had no idea. But if we didn't do it, we were going to be stuck drinking a hell of a lot of coffee. And even if it was stupid, I wanted the people there to know that not every Christian thinks that God loves gay people less than others. In any event, as I said to someone recently, I felt very empty-handed as I stepped into that crowd, knowing that if they knew I profess Christ, they would likely assume that I hated them. The thought wounded me.

I wasn't sure what to expect, and I tried not to expect anything at all. We paid our admission and got our Bud Light wristbands. It was a little humiliating to wear the Bud Light logo on my wrist all day. I asked if they had any Yuengling or New Castle Brown Ale wristbands, but no dice (note to self: contact organizers and ask them to solicit a better beer sponsor for next year). Philadelphia's Penn's Landing is a very excellent location for an event like this--right there on the river, in full view of the Ben Franklin Bridge, several levels, with plenty of trees. It's also a beautiful (if crowded) place to see a concert or watch the holiday fireworks.

We wandered around for some time, just taking it all in. There were scores of exhibitors and vendors scattered throughout the various levels of the venue. This appeared to be a very well organized event (it has not always enjoyed such a reputation). We strolled to the far side of Penn's Landing just in time to catch the very end of the Pride Day Parade. As we approached, the float from the Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia stopped for a few minutes, with people dancing and singing some very infectious gospel music. As the medley transitioned into a kicking black-gospel rendition of "Jesus Loves Me," the people on the float held up signs as they marched in a circle. "I am gay," one sign said. "I am a mother," said another. "I am a friend," "I am a daughter," "I am a loyal employee," "I am loved." The imagery was powerful, making plain the humanity that we all share. As the last person rounded the back of the float, tears filled my eyes as I read his sign.

"I am a Christian!"

Bingo. I took a good look at that man holding the sign, and thought to myself, that's my brother up there. That guy loves Jesus, and he already knows the thing that brought us here.

So I reached into my pack and dug out a handful of cards. It was pretty straightforward, really, and rather uneventful. I just handed out cards to random passersby, saying nothing more than, "Hey, have some free coffee." I didn't try to engage anyone in conversation, nor did I stick around for feedback. I was just there to give a gift. Anonymously (I thought). There were plenty of guys handing out flyers for everything from the petition against the marriage amendment (I signed it), to the gay bikers' event in November (BTW, anyone want to go to jock strap night at the Bike Shop next week? Could be fun.). Whenever someone offered me a flyer, I said, "I'll trade you," and handed them a coffee card. At the table where we signed the petition against the marriage amendment, someone asked, "Is everyone registered to vote?" The guy next to me said "Yep, since 1971," to which I replied, "Sorry, I was only 8 then." He turned my way, and said, (in his best stereotypical gay tone) "Biiitch." We both laughed, and I said, "Sorry. Let me buy you a cup of coffee!" He accepted the card with good humor and said thanks, even after he read "This kindness is offered in the name of Jesus" on the cover.

Overall, we considered the experience positive. Most people said thanks, and accepted the cards, but not everyone was receptive. My wife found a few cards on the ground (with the gift cards still inside), and one guy walked back to Mike's wife and said, "In the name of Jesus, you can have this back." But a couple people came back to Mike and thanked him for the gift and the message inside. One lady turned out to be a priest. I don't know what church she was from, or if she was gay or straight, but she thanked Mike and told him she planned to use our message in her sermon this week. We were very encouraged by that.

After the cards were gone, we hung out for a little while (I still regret not stopping at the booth where the guys were selling kilts. They were cool. I still want one.). But our hunger was getting the best of us, and the lines at the festival were miles long (I still haven't heard exact attendance figures, but I'm guessing it had to be between 15-20,000 people). Just outside the exit, we saw the protesters. A bunch of people from Repent-America were there with flags, signs and a bullhorn. We stopped for a minute just to observe. Listening to the guy rail against homosexuals with such condemnation really made my heart hurt. It was a bad scene, and there's not much to say beyond that, except that police allowed a gay Christian to stand on a chair and argue with them. He did pretty well.

The next day, we had a couple messages in the email account we had set up. So far, we've received several messages and they've all been very positive (at least, I think so--there's one that I'm not 100% certain about--it's either sincere or a little sarcastic). It also turns out that one of us handed a card to Sarah Blazucki, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Gay News, who in turn, contacted us for an interview. I debated whether or not to call her (I mean, so much for anonymous), but after some thought and some good advice, I conceded. I spoke pretty freely with her for about forty minutes. She asked some very thoughtful questions and I did my best to answer them. I also asked about her response to being handed a gift card at the event. She told me that she wasn't offended at all, that she liked that we weren't in-your-face, and she was curious to know more about us. I was grateful to hear it. She wrote a very fair article about us which hit the street yesterday. I've been interviewed by reporters 4 times in my life for various things, and Sarah is the first journalist who has not significantly misrepresented me in some way. My hat's off to you, Sarah. And while we weren't mentioned specifically in the paper's editorial feature, I want to think that our activities at the event made some impression. You decide.

People at one end of the spectrum thought we were abandoning the faith in doing this, and some at the other end thought it was hollow, useless, even insulting. But most seem to fall somewhere in the middle. If you consider it (as we tried to) as a "seed-scattering" effort, then you'll understand that some seeds sprout and others don't. And I don't blame anyone who rejects us. God knows we've earned it, and five bucks certainly won't fix it. But I'm gratified to see the effect of our miniscule gesture multiplied as our message is repeated in the media to an even wider audience. I hope this will open the door to healing and relationship-building.

Imperfect? You bet. I don't really do perfect.

I'm still glad we went.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Double-Edged Sword

I'm crazy busy this week, and will post about our Sunday outing (no pun intended). But this has been gnawing at me.

How do you condemn self-righteousness without becoming self-righteous in the process?