Visit the Whosoever Bookstore
Or search Amazon.com for books related to GLBT people and Christianity.
Christianity Book Search
If you live in Canada, follow
Christianity Book Search -- Amazon.ca
If you live in the UK, follow
Christianity Book Search -- Amazon.co.uk
Join the Whosoever Community:
Read More Whosoever:
Embracing the Mystery
Who is my Neighbor?
Revealing Our Glory
Spirituality of Music
God and Politics
The Good Book
First Fruits: The Giving of the Harvest
"Behold I am Doing a New Thing" - A Vision of Harvest
Asking and Receiving the Harvest
More issues ...
"It's the Real Thing"
"I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony..."
In an article in The New York Times, my cousin's
enterprising husband, professor-turned-farmer Jerry Ford, described garlic
as "the Grateful Dead of Vegetables." And indeed, their first annual Minnesota
Garlic Festival was something like what a Grateful Dead concert might
be if held in Lake Wobegon. Several thousand friendly folks in blue jeans,
gathered at the Wright County fairgrounds for some down-home fun, spent
all day and could have passed a dozen more. All, perhaps, except for Jerry
and my cousin Marienne, who survived the experience in a state of happy
exhaustion. They've got a year to put the next one together, and they
may need at least six months of it to recuperate from the first.
Several of the festival-goers referred to themselves, with good-natured
humility, as "old hippies." Having been called a "hippie," myself, on
any number of occasions (usually by people who are neither humble nor
good-natured), I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I felt right at home
there. I saw gay and lesbian couples by the score; everybody was warmly
welcomed, and we all fit right in. Artisans, musicians, meat-goat ranchers,
we were a little bit of everything. Even Count Dracula put in a special
It was all about sustainable farming: reclaiming the land from the grasp
of encroaching corporate barony and using it, once again, with respect.
Jerry and Marienne came home to Howard Lake after September 11 of 2001,
called to simpler and holier things than trying to grind out a living
in big-city Texas. Houston had pumped the very life from them, the way
its moguls take the oil from the ground. The oil can never be put back.
Good crops - garlic and healing herbs - can, if properly nurtured and
loved, come back time after time.
My cousins and our one surviving patriarch, Uncle Willard, have welcomed
me back into the family fold after years of what seemed like exile. Unlike
my father's more-conservative faction, they never gave up on me. "Our
liberal relations," Dad used to growl about them. They're the ones who
stood by him in his young, wild, drinking days, never having given up
on him no matter how big of a mess he got himself into. But once he'd
gotten sober and found success in business, he scorned their idealism,
aspiring instead to the "respectability" of big-city executive life and
the easy salvation of those smugly certain they had God on their side.
My father was a decent man who trusted the wrong people and lusted after
the wrong things. He wanted to own lots of things, and to have control
over lots of people - especially those in his family, whom he thought
he owned. The "leaders" to whom he looked up led him to the near-destruction
of his relationship with me, and to his alienation from many others in
the family as well. A man must always be powerful, he was told. Always
in charge, and always right - even when he was so terribly, sadly wrong.
Dad repented at the end, I believe, in his own fashion. He grew gentler,
more tolerant and generally more thoughtful. He ultimately loved me too
much to let the crowd he'd followed all his life convince him to discard
me like garbage because I'm gay. I like to think he didn't quite go over
the cliff with the lemmings after all.
Our liberal relations may love us poor strugglers home yet. "Remember
who you are," I was told this summer, in a thousand different ways. "Never
forget where you came from, and where you will always belong." What a
profound relief it is to realize that I belong with the very people who
want me. Those, on the other hand, whose highest priority is rejecting
others will one day find themselves on the garbage heap.
"You shall know them by their fruits," Jesus advised us. Or by their
vegetables, as the case may be. To automatically assign a status of moral
and spiritual leadership to people simply because they claim it for themselves
is lazy and cowardly. As a matter of fact, it borders on idolatry. God
has given each of us the responsibility of thinking for ourselves, and
to shrink from that is to entrust our minds and souls to the very same
"world" of which we are so often admonished, in Scripture, to be wary.
Just who says we ought to care what Jerry Falwell and James Dobson say
about us? Time magazine? Newsweek? CBS News and CNN? What the hell do
they know, and in what pristine marble in Heaven does it guarantee that
they know it? The "world" says we must accept these charlatans as authorities
over our spiritual lives. Last time I looked in the Bible, we were told
to pay attention not to all these wordly "authorities," but to Christ
and Christ alone.
Why is it so hard for so many to recognize that the blow-dried and cosmetized
professional religious leaders may be very different from the saints they
want us to think they are? Satan himself, we are told, comes as an angel
of light. Any fraud, no matter how fiendishly greedy and ambitious, can
tell the public that he or she comes in the Name of the Lord. Given the
power religious passion holds over people, why wouldn't a great many wolves
find it useful to don the clothing of sheep - or even of shepherds?
Progressive Christianity is, indeed, countercultural. So was Jesus Himself,
as well as all of those in the New Testament church. Would Christ have
advocated bombing an entire civilian population into submission to some
self-proclaimed emperor-god, for a resource we must steal instead of share,
or would He have wanted us to farm sustainably and make sure there are
enough resources in the world for everyone who lives here? Conquer, kill
and hoard, or feed, heal and share - which "side" really serves Jesus?
I no longer have any problem answering that question for myself.
Howard Lake is just a podunky little backwater town. Sorta like Nazareth.
The folks there spend their time tilling the soil, feeding the hungry
and welcoming the stranger. They aren't in Washington D.C., trying to
rule over the world. Where would Jesus be?
Are these political issues also Christian issues? You bet your life
they are. And I mean, you are literally betting your life.
No political solution will ultimately work unless minds are changed
and hearts transformed. This is something only the church can do. The
Religious Right has corrupted the hearts and minds of America almost beyond
recognition to anything approaching a Christian society. Our politics
are literally killing people. Even if you don't want to think about the
souls our politics are destroying - even if you choose not to believe
that there are such things as souls - we dare not, we must not remain
silent while human lives are being ruined and prematurely, often violently
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks have a vocation from God
that, in many ways, resembles that of Christ Himself. He royally pissed
off a lot of very powerful people, and He was killed for it. Likewise,
our calling seems to be to upset the proverbial applecart - to comfort
the afflicted, sure enough, but also to afflict the comfortable. To challenge
hate, and to help bring about a more loving world.
Over the decades, my older sister and cousins challenged tradition and
questioned authority just about every chance they got. It is, largely,
because of their generation's relentless commitment to uncomfortable truths
that our lives today are as happy as they are. I don't have to believe
that conservatives are bad people in order to see that their politics
- and to some extent, their religion - are destroying them. If they take
us down, they'll take themselves, and indeed the whole planet, down along
Question authority, challenge convention, get out there, lift up your
voice, get loud and proud and raise holy hell. We who are sexual minorities
cannot possibly be tamed, neutered and housebroken enough to suit those
so many of us wish to convince we're "not all that bad." They will turn
on us if we trust them, and tear us apart as viciously as the Republican
powers-that-be are doing now to gays in their party because of the Mark
Foley scandal. If we need to lie about who we are in order to belong to
a political party, a church congregation or anything else, then that organization
does not deserve us.
Those who have come to welcome and accept me have challenged me to draw
my circle of concern wider than merely what is necessary to include myself.
My steadfast relatives, and those at my reconciling church, are about
welcome, about sharing and about mercy even when it profits them nothing.
Even when it hurts them. My sustainable-farming cousins could have made
more money doing almost anything other than what they have chosen to do,
and the radical welcomers at my church have allowed themselves to be stigmatized,
by many "respectable" members of our denomination, as troublemakers. All
to show the love of Christ to "the least of these," whom their Lord has
called them to follow regardless of the cost.
As gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in the Body of Christ,
we must understand that the bogus Christians will never accept us. We
will only find a true home among those who are the real thing. This means
a life of sacrifice and danger, and it means that we must pay the welcome
forward. The world only recognizes the phonies. It will never point the
way to what is true, to what is not easy, to what requires hard work,
sacrifice of self, service to others and the taking up of the Cross.
Before you rifle through your Bible searching for the quote at the beginning
of this essay, let me tell you that it didn't come from Scripture. It
came from a very old, very Sixties Coca-Cola commercial. Madison Avenue
even managed to co-opt the ideals of those most determined to transform
the world. We can no more teach the world to sing than we can teach a
pig. But underneath all the mud, some hearts will insist on loving, and
some souls are unsullied still.
Where will we find Jesus? We'll find Him wherever arms are opened in
welcome. If we look for Him behind any one of the doors that are closed
to us, we will be looking in vain.
Copyright © by the author
All Rights Reserved
Back to the Table of Contents