The Church is a Blue Light Special

Blue Lights

Do you remember Kmart? My local store had a little eatery in the back that served soggy French fries—a smell that always hunkered down in the toy section. And who could forget the Blue Light Specials, which were never as special as that whirling blue light promised (at least to a child who would have preferred a two-for-one deal on G.I. Joe action figures instead of Windex).

The first place I got lost in my life was at Kmart. I was 5 years old and my mom was trying on dresses. When she went into the changing room, I was instructed to “stay put.” But those dresses were magical. As a small child, you can enter a rack of clothes like entering C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe. The fabrics were so soft and enveloped you with what felt like a thousand fingers each with a loving touch.

When I emerged on the other side of that wardrobe of dresses, I found myself in an aisle I didn’t recognize. Instead of turning around and going back or staying put as I was advised, I moved forward. I went through a sea of coats and then a jungle of belts and scarves and finally landed in a scary territory of tools—sharp and dangerous. It was then I began to cry.

I’ve been lost a lot since that experience in Kmart. As a gay Christian in the church, I’ve been lost without even leaving my pew. At first, it was the sense that I had to lose a part of myself (the sexual part) in order to be found a faithful Christian. I didn’t know how to reconcile a sincere faith with my deep desire to be in a sexual relationship with a man. And it wasn’t a question simply asked. So, I found it easier to hide this part of me in a wardrobe instead of walking through it into some unknown land that very well could be sharp and dangerous—where God might not be present.

But one can’t hide forever. There is no dark place the Lord’s light won’t find. But one can’t hide forever. There is no dark place the Lord’s light won’t find. I was found in my acting out—in my growing addiction to pornography in the early days of the Internet. In those days, the technology was so new that I didn’t realize that what seemed hidden was in fact archived and tagged like rows of clothes in the men’s section of Kmart. A number of people went through that section of my life. Many showed considerable grace for what they found on my racks of shame. Not everyone was kind, but some were and those folks started traveling with me as I tried to find grace for myself in the midst of sexual feelings that made me feel very lost.

Today, my lostness in the church has taken a slightly different form. Now, I’m lost in a family-centric community that doesn’t quite know how to invite a single, gay man into a flourishing life in their midst. I suspect many single people in the church, whatever their orientation, feel this same tension. How do we become the parts of the body that the church needs us to be if the entire focus of church life is centered on couples and kids (or helping singles get coupled)? Of course, that’s an overstatement, but just barely.

In that tool section in Kmart, a kind sales associate with a Blue Light Special lapel pin found me weeping and alerted my mom over the loud speaker. I wish being found was that easy in the rest of my life. God doesn’t often use a PA system. But he does use people and nature and music and the sacraments and the Bible and even our own sin to lead us like a shepherd.

I’m still very much on the journey to being found. Along the way, I’ve often recalled my mom’s words—stay put. I pray more gay people and single people will join me in staying put in the church. Yes, you will feel lost there at times, but oh the joy when the clouds part, like a sea of dresses, and you see your mother standing right where she has been all along.

G.I. Joe and the Battle for Togetherness

playtogether

As a boy growing up in the 1980s, playing with G.I. Joe action figures was a given. Before my older brother moved away to live with our dad, we had many heated G.I. Joe battles. As with most battles, there were two sides—G.I. Joe and Cobra. If you know anything about this toy line, then you know that the G.I. Joes were the good guys and Cobra was the evil, snake-like enemy. In preparing for each battle, my brother and I would choose a side. More often than not, I chose Cobra (because they were better dressed). And more often than not, I lost the battle.

While I didn’t know it then, playing with G.I. Joes was forming me into someone who sees the world in dichotomies—white and black, good and evil, winners and losers. When I joined the church in my early teen years, I discovered it isn’t only kids who take sides. Adults also pick their teams and play to win. G.I. Jesus was the winning team (even if worst dressed) and the losing team was led by Satan, our snake-like enemy, who had besieged the world.

But living in occupied territory is complicated. The lines between right and wrong, good and evil aren’t always as clear as the adults in my church led me to believe. For instance, are gay people like me always choosing Cobra simply by acknowledging our desire to be intimate with others of the same sex? What if that intimacy leads to marriage and same-sex sexual intercourse—does this then limit our ability to play on Jesus’ team?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t fully understand how God works in this world. But I do recognize that the dichotomies of my youth have not served me well in adulthood. Living Christianly is more complex than encouraging a person to choose team Jesus over team Satan. Gray is also a color in our world.

Now, this isn’t to suggest that we can’t know truth or that the Bible, the Spirit, our traditions, or the great saints of our faith don’t offer us wisdom and direction on how to live. I mean to say living is more improvisational and less the choice of a side that dictates all our actions. This is why I fear the current trend among gay Christians to draw lines along Side A or Side B (or some other side). Must we select a side and demand that others do the same?Must we select a side and demand that others do the same? Must we play the games of our youth or can we allow ourselves to live in the tension of sidelessness?

Yes, we must live our lives; we must make choices of how to act. But what if the best choice is living with God in the gray? Can we ignore the church’s or the culture’s demand that we pick the “winning” side, and instead be with a Savior who loses everything to gain everything? How can I let go of my expectations of a certain life, and embrace a shifting life with God?

Perhaps the value of playing G.I. Joes with my brother was less about picking the winning team, and more about being with him? Perhaps living and playing together in community with God and others is what really matters, and we all lose when someone (by choice or force) takes his action figures and goes off to play by himself.

A Safe Space for the Life-Changing Questions

John Backman is a guest writer who’s voice we’re honored to share. You can read more about John in his bio at the end of the piece.

If, standing somewhere in the maelstrom of faith, sexuality, and gender, you’ve listened deeply to your own heart, you may have heard a question like one of these:

  • Could I possibly be gay?
  • My daughter just told me she’s a boy. What if she’s right?
  • If my beliefs on homosexuality are wrong, what else might I be wrong about?
  • Can I ever come back to faith while still being fully myself?
  • Can I even be a Christian and have these thoughts?
  • How am I going to deal with this?

The unsettling questions have ambushed us all, whatever our beliefs, whatever our truth. They may start as vague, whispered doubts. But we know they have the power to turn our lives upside down. That makes them fearsome—even more so if we dare to consider that maybe, just maybe, those whispered doubts are the “still small voice” Elijah heard (1 Kings 19:11-12, KJV).

Many people try to ignore the unsettling questions. Others write them off as Satan’s work. But what if you’re not convinced? What if you decide they deserve a hearing?

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