Anaïs Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Sometimes, I feel the need to add, “…and hope to understand it, at least once.” A lot of this blog is like that for me – trying to make sense of things that happen, what they portend, what they imply, and where they must lead me, the woman I must be who gives account of the things I see and experience.
I am in Savannah, GA, for the week, for the American Association of Children’s Residential Centers annual meeting. I’ve written about it before (and again) – I love being a part of this organization. I love the opportunity to learn, this group of beloved friends who give so much more than I ever feel able to return. Tomorrow, I’ll get to spend a day learning about commercially sexually exploited youth – I would so love to do more beyond buying pajamas made by survivors of the sex trade (they are pretty fab, though, and the cute black tee is a great code sign to other radical feminists in the room). I am so ignorant, and just coming to understand that kids, right here, under our noses, are being drawn into commercial sexual exploitation, and it makes my blood boil. The rest of the week, I’ll be supporting a presentation and a luncheon on supporting sexually and gender diverse youth. I also need to pick up the thread of talking about how we innovate in education for youth in residential treatment – I pledged to lead writing a position paper on this, and I need to make good. Of course, I’ll be talking about bringing the autism revolution (like I could stop).
Some of you saw this on Facebook, but on my way into town, yesterday afternoon, I had a small, but unnerving experience, that stuck with me, and here I am, living life twice, trying to understand it once. I caught a taxi at the airport for the 20 minute drive into town. The driver was polite and gentle, making small talk and making me feel at home* and welcome to his beautiful city. He asked about where I was from and what I was doing in town, and had some questions about kids who are served in residential settings. He even put on his Bob Marley CD for me.
Then I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I knew what it was, somehow, instinctually, but I leaned in to be sure. On his rearview mirror was a Post-It note, just a little yellow Post-It note, with three Bible verses penned down. They weren’t just any verses of scripture, though. They were what I sometimes call Deadly Passages (get a copy, or borrow mine, and watch my beloved Actors’ Theatre’s take on them). The sticky note started with Leviticus 18:22.
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.
Considered in isolation, each of these verses (from the New and Old testaments) are most likely part of historically bound conversations. They call for frank discussion, today, about the predecessors of our Christianity and all the things that are neither love nor compassion that have been and are still done in God’s name. But taken together (the next verse on his sticky called for the punishment of stoning to death), these verses form a powerful credo of hate in the guise of Christianity. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they are not a prayer to God but a call to evil. And every bit as much as my tee is a call to the sisterhood among feminists, they are a call to solidarity amongst minions of hate and injustice. Taken apart and in context, they are, perhaps, God’s word. But together, they are an incantation from somewhere else, altogether.
I maintained my composure, but I was honestly afraid. All kinds of thoughts went through my mind. I love life, so much. I thought of Teri and Iago back home, of all my little children, and the opportunity we are trying to create for them. My driver seemed kind, but flashing through my consciousness was the possibility of being killed, cut up, thrown in a ditch or swamp or dumpster. And I felt ashamed for hiding behind the cloak of invisibility that I have that someone who can easily be “read” as LGBT might not have in my place. I didn’t say or do anything, until I got to the hotel – I kept making small talk, and being friendly, as if nothing had happened. When the driver got my bag out for me, and I’d paid and tipped and all that, I told him, finally, that I did not mean any disrespect, but I had noticed his sticky note, and I needed him to know that God is about love, and not hate, and that we are called to love others, not to hate them. He mumbled something about his friend reading the Bible and them going through it together, and we parted.
I tried to stay cool the rest of the evening, although it made me unsteady. To my shame, I did not tell Teri about it right away – even at the end of the night, I talked to him and told him I love him and miss him without bringing it up. This morning, when I woke up, I was crying, and that’s when I decided to post about it and share the experience, but also to work harder to process it. I got a lot of support. One friend admitted that she would have assumed I was over-reacting (I felt this way, more than a little, myself), but she had just recently learned that someone she loved had lost a friend to an LGBT hate crime, and so she was beginning to understand that this is real.
The truth is that, even in that situation, the web of privilege in which I move was protecting me – privilege of class, education, and status that allow me to distance myself and command respect, privilege of affluence that keeps me out of many dangerous situations, and many other privileges. And likewise, in truth, the taxi driver was just some mild-mannered man. I don’t know how he came to have those verses on his mirror. But I do suspect this. He may have grown up ignorant – he may have feared people who are not like him. But someone is teaching him to hate, and even though it didn’t turn to violence against me, violence is where the road of hate leads.
And hate is real. Hate is directed at all kinds of people. With respect to the LGBT community, stoning us to death is not just hypothetical. It is happening, today, out there. My taxi driver came from Jamaica many years ago. Here’s a story just two months ago of a Jamaican gay youth not “just” killed, but actually stoned to death. I didn’t find it because I was hunting for a Jamaican story – it was actually the first hit I found when I googled “LGBT stoned to death.” Jamaica is also on a list of countries where consensual sex by gay people is a crime. Other countries, as well, particularly Uganda, feature violence being stoked by Christians, including American Christians, against LGBT people. It isn’t just ISIS. And it isn’t just Islamist Extremists – it is also Christianist Extremists. In both places, verses like the one above are abused to foment hate and incite violence. And it isn’t even just in underdeveloped nations or distant places where people who “don’t look like us” commit atrocities. It’s here in the United States, as well.
Hate doesn’t just happen to LGBT people, either. Whenever I talk about life after the early interventions we provide kids with autism, I brag about my friend Anthony Ianni. An autistic adult thriving and changing the world, powerful on the basketball court and behind the podium, this amazing man is a bullying survivor speaking out against bullying. People at Hope came to me, when they heard about an autistic youth who had feces and urine poured over him when his friends tricked him under the guise of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. They came to me, because they knew I would be mad as hell, which I was.
Since I’m expropriating quotes, let me expropriate Edmund Burke next. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil Christians is for good Christians to do nothing. Let us think seriously about that. Christians are not standing up to this abuse of our God and our beliefs. We are not standing up to the hate and intolerance being preached in God’s name. The thing in the hearts of people who use these Deadly Passages as a clobber against LGBT people is not love, is not Christ, and we must recognize that, and help them back to God’s love. When we do not respond, we risk the possibility that the thing in our own hearts is also not love. And Rob Bell is right – of course he’s right – of course love wins. How could love lose**?
The question is not whether love wins, but whether we are love.
So let me do my harshest quote expropriation of all: if any of us Christians is not for all people, as Christ is for all people, then we are anathema***.
* I am so excited to be visiting the South. Having spent years near here, in the South, I became a bit of a Southern belle, and I always try to be friendly to people who cross my path, and I so love the gentility of it, the good side of Southern culture, being able to extend and receive politenesses and all the little things we Southerners try to do, at our best, to make the day a little more pleasant for the people we meet.
** Never lose, never choose to, bruise crews who do something to us, talk go through us. I can’t resist. Even though this isn’t a funny blog.
*** When I lived in Grand Rapids’ Midtown neighborhood, I lived around the corner from a streetside church, which had the original verse in big letters over its entrance like a store sign. They made pretty terrible neighbors … well, as they say in the South, “Bless your heart.”