Can They Come In After They Come Out?

locked-door

I picked up the water pitcher and began refilling glasses in our candlelit dining room. Our guests were laughing and enjoying each other’s company as they sipped coffee and savored the last bites of dessert. As I rounded the table, the conversation shifted toward spiritual things, and we chatted about changes in the local church.

“Well, one thing I CAN’T understand,” said Grant (not his real name). “There’s that one church on the west side of town. They’re just welcoming gay people to come on in and sit with them in the pews! Why would a church welcome THEM?”

I froze. My husband’s dark eyes met  mine, wordlessly providing reassurance and understanding. As I slowly reached for Grant’s water glass, Tom gently, deftly turned the conversation toward a broader discussion.

After our guests departed, Tom and I cleared the remains of the meal and began washing dishes. He put his tray down and wrapped his arms around me. “Thanks for a great dinner party,” he began.  “I’m just so proud of you…I thought you were going to pour that whole pitcher of water right on Grant’s lap…”

I’m not proud of it, but the thought HAD crossed my mind.

The issue that Grant raised is, for me, an issue with a face. A dear friend had written to me not long before that dinner party to tell me that he is gay. What was once fodder for a dinner party debate had turned the corner into something personal and urgent.

In my friend’s letter, he stated that he would understand if I never wanted to speak to him again. This statement crushed me. In our ensuing phone conversation, he said that the reason for this was to protect himself: “Once you tell this kind of news,” he said, “you  have to prepare yourself to lose a lot of friends.” I couldn’t imagine the fear or heartache he felt, and I reassured him that has been, and  always will be, a best friend.

And he is. This is the guy who stuck up for me when high school boyfriends turned out to be jerks. He was the one who reassured me that life would go on when I didn’t get a part in the musical. We went on college visits, endured AP exams, prayed together and laughed ourselves silly. He celebrated with us when Tom and I got married, and drove seven long hours to be with us at the hospital when our daughter almost died.

My friend’s revelation forced me to examine my own attitudes and language.  As I read articles and listened to the rhetoric on Christian radio, it didn’t take long for me to realize that we, as the Church, have made some mistakes in handling this issue. And believe me…in my journey to figure it out, my words have been, at times, tacky and very hurtful as well.  I need only to look in the mirror to confirm that Christians need to do better when it comes to welcoming non-traditional families. My friend’s concern about losing relationships after coming out is a very real fear; it breaks my heart to know that this fear and hurt is also experienced when dealing with the Church…it seems that for too many people, “coming out” means they can’t come in with “the rest of us.”

I’m one of the “rest of us:”  those of us who are broken and hurting and imperfect and stumbling in darkness…and desperately in need of the Light. The truth is, when it comes to the Church, there’s no “us” and “them…”

 There’s Jesus, and there’s the rest of us.

This Sunday, it’s our family’s turn to be greeters. We’ll stand at the front door of the church and open the doors for members and visitors. It’s not in our job description to choose for whom we’ll open the doors. We’ll open them to everyone…not just families with two parents, or to people who have never been divorced. Not just physically fit people or those who have never gossiped or lied. And not just people who are straight.

And we’ll say “Welcome…we’re glad you’re here….
Come in.”

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Photo credits: discountcollegethings.com

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“Nobody’s Looking:” Michelle Knight’s Message for Me

I browsed through a local consignment store, hoping to find an armchair that would fit my family room (and my budget.) My mind was focused on the floor plan of that space and mentally calculating the family members who will gather to watch the Ohio State- Michigan game in a  few weeks.

As I wandered toward the back of the store, two of the ladies who worked there began chatting. Their conversation focused on Dr. Phil’s recent interview with kidnapping survivor Michelle Knight…

hollywoodreporter.com

hollywoodreporter.com

“She said that he tied her up on the bed. She was naked,” one woman said.
“Really?” replied the other. “That’s horrible!”
“I know. And he chained her. He assaulted her and he left her in a room with spoiled food, full of flies…she never got to take a shower…”
“She didn’t? That’s awful!”

Their conversation was punctuated by groans of disbelief. I understood their incredulity. I had seen portions of the interview and was horrified to learn of the unspeakable humiliation and heinous physical abuse endured by the women in that horrible home.

But a different part of the interview stabbed my heart. I stood, motionless, next to secondhand upholstery, recalling her description…

Knight said that her captor used words in an attempt to break her spirit: “Where’s your family? Why don’t you have any? They must not really love you. Your family don’t care about you. You never had a family that loves you. And that’s the reason why I hate you, because I can abuse you and nobody would care.”

And then this crushing blow: “Nobody’s looking — you won’t even be missed when you do die.”

Nobody’s looking.

The gravity of that statement crushed and convicted me at that moment, as I stood in a store full of surplus…searching for extra chairs.

I should be searching for extra people.

Too many people are missing from our neighborhood barbecues, our churches, our dinner tables. They may not be chained to beds in cold rooms, but perhaps they’re bound by loneliness or disability or addiction. Maybe they’re slaves to work, or immobilized by the grief from death or divorce. Whatever has captured them… they’re missing.

I want them to hear us..

Hang on! We’re going to find you….

We’re looking.

We have a chair for you.

theguardian.com

theguardian.com

Why the “No Candy Letter” lady makes me disappointed…with myself

Apparently, a woman from Fargo, North Dakota, has decided that she’ll dole out a little tough love on Halloween. Oh, she plans to give candy to some of the kids who knock at her door. But to others, she’ll give this letter, with instructions to hand it to their parents:
Halloween Letter

When I heard about this, my blood began to boil. I simply don’t believe in publicly humiliating children.

It’s tricky to dole out treats when we waste time trying to figure out who’s worthy, and who’s too fat.

And then I started thinking about how I might be more like the No Candy Letter lady than I thought.

How many times have I made assumptions about someone based on outward appearance? How often do I make sure that only I give the “treats” with which I’ve been entrusted…my knowledge, my time, my energy and resources…to those who I deem worthy? When did I last I go out of my comfort zone to invite people into our home, our church, our lives?

And that’s not all.

How many times have I spoken about something that was none of my business, just because I believed that I had all the answers? Which of my neighbors or acquaintances might need my help, rather than my judgment or my opinion? Whose behavior have I  dismissed as annoying…or pathological…when it’s a cry for attention, or support, or acceptance?

That lady said she’s disappointed in her village. I’m disappointed in me.

Who can see the Light of the World when it’s being blocked by layers of No Candy Letters?

Instead of judging, I could try listening.
Instead of scoffing, I could offer a tissue. Or a casserole. Or a hug.
Rather than making assumptions, I could build a relationship, and find out the whole story…and learn how I can help.
Instead of a No Candy Letter, I can generously dole out sweets on Halloween…and organize a hike or a game of kickball or an afternoon of jumping in the leaves…and invite my neighbors to share a meal.

From now on, I won’t be wasting time deciding who is good enough.
I’ll be too busy loving my neighbors.

Photo courtesy The Atlantic