An interlude is a piece of music performed during the intermission at a theater. I have a few experiences that don’t fit perfectly into the whole “Name of God” thing but they are very intimate parts of my spirituality. I’ve only invited a handful of people into these stories. Please tread lightly as you walk with me into these places of my soul.
JUST LET GO
I was on a Customer Service shift at Great Harvest. The other person up front was a young woman who, during a lull in customers, told me that she didn’t understand the anti-homosexual stance of Christianity. Behind me, icing King Cakes on the racks, were a Seventh Day Adventist and a fellow Recovering Evangelical (Unfortunately, I can’t lay claim to that phrase. I think Shane Claiborne coined it.)
I explained to the young woman the tension that I lived with as a Christian: As a practitioner of Jesus’ teachings, I was called to love everyone, without exception. Osama bin Laden? Love. Jerry Falwell? Love. My gay friends? Love. My Breeder friends? Love. The asshole that worked at Great Harvest and actively created drama, undermined his managers, and drove everyone fucking crazy? Love, goddamnthatsonofabitch.
Love is hard. To love is to open yourself up to hurt but it is also the only way to turn an enemy into a friend.
I explained to the woman (Mansplained? I hope not.) that, as if loving everyone wasn’t hard enough, I also held to the teachings of the bible, which told me that someone acting on their homosexual desires was sin.
I could tell she thought I was full of shit. The Seventh Day Adventist gave me a raised eyebrow of respect for walking through that minefield. My Recovering Evangelical friend looked at the woman and explained that I didn’t speak for all Christians… that some of us thought it was fine to be gay/lesbian/trans. He said that he didn’t think it was sin for them to love the people they loved and be who they were made to be.
I liked his answer more than mine. My answer was self-condemning, self-loathing, and forced me to pick between three(ish) bible verses on homosexuality and Jesus’ teachings, which told me to welcome everyone to the table as my equal.
I looked at my formerly-evangelical friend and asked him how he lived with the tension of the contradictions I described.
“I don’t,” he told me. “I just let go of one of the beliefs instead of being ripped in half.”
He made it sound so easy.
Could I just ignore two bible verses on homosexual acts and one verse on gender expression?
Could I just let love win?
THROW AWAY THE REST
When I was a Spiritual Guide, one of the first things I did was to get a man to explain how they knew God loved them. They usually used mathematical, historical, and judgmental language to describe God’s love. I would then have them to tell me how they knew their wife loved them and they would use emotional, sensory, and memory-based language to describe their wife’s love. I would always point out the vast difference between the two perspectives.
After having them tell me about God’s love, I would gauge where they were theologically by asking them to tell me about the Bible. If an atheist told me he thought it was a book of lies, I knew that we would rely on Jungian Archetypes and Neuroscience while we talked. If a Fundamentalist told me he thought the Bible was the literal Word of God, without error, then I knew that I was going to have to pull out some Ancient Greek, explain the Chiastic structures in the Hebrew texts & worldview, and cede ground to him on the science front. No TED talks for those guys.
Over and over again, I observed a perspective in the men that I worked with as we talked about the bible: The people slightly more conservative than them were well-intentioned but misguided. They were legalistic Pharisees. The people slightly more progressive than them had slid down the slippery slope of moral relativism and were just short of the pit of hell. This belief was completely universal.
Well, it was completely universal until I sat down with one man.
I had already come out to my wife as transgender and was living an increasingly-difficult double life. I was wrestling with how I approached the Bible, what to do with that one fucking Bible verse that told me it was sin to wear my wife’s skinny jeans, and trying to figure out how to love my christian, gay & lesbian friends to the same extent and depth that I loved my straight, evangelical friends.
“I don’t know what you mean about the bible,” the man told me.
I drew a line for him. On the far left I put a hash that said “lies” on the far right I put a hash that said “without error”. Actually, instead of trying to explain it, let me just show you someone else’s graphic with better wording:
I saved the man from boring things like the Scopes Trial, the Biblical Councils, and other church history benchmarks regarding the Bible. I just started at the most conservative views and worked my way towards progressive belief systems. I kept going past all Evangelical worldviews and was deep into Mainline Theology. I kept going past that and hit Secular Humanism before he stopped me.
“What about Jesus?”
I asked him what he meant by that.
“Why can’t we just hold to what Jesus says and throw away the rest of the bullshit? Why isn’t there a church that does that?”
I didn’t have an answer for him. His question was too innocent and too deep for my pat answers and rote theological treatises.
Why wasn’t Jesus enough?
NO CHURCH CAN
I sat down for coffee with the most progressive minister in Lafayette. I had already told her that I had left my church because I couldn’t abide being treated like a second class citizen. She listened to my story with compassion. She shook her head in frustration as I described the church leader’s responses to the shitshow my life had become. After I got everything off of my chest, she shot straight with me, which was what I always admired about her.
“Dallas, I’m going to be honest with you. There isn’t a church in Lafayette that will accept you in a dress. The city is too small and too conservative. Even my progressive denomination can’t handle you. As a matter of fact, if you came to my church as yourself, it would rip my church in half and kill it.
“I can accept you. I can love you. But no church can.”
I held everything together and remained composed for the rest of our coffee.
I reigned in my emotions while I drove back to the RV.
I wept bitterly once I was safe inside it.
Read the next chapter: A god named Different