At my high school — for the sake of this post, let’s call it Boarding School — students were required to attend a religious service. Options included Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim observances, or there was even “sacred silence” for those who didn’t identify with a particular religion. Sacred Silence occurred once a week and was open to anyone who might be interested in sitting in a dark chapel to think, meditate, or pray.
In my youth, when I wasn’t in school or playing sports or with one of our extended families, I was usually in church. My mother had been raised Lutheran, while my father came from a Catholic background. They met and married in their thirties after working together at a faith-based teen rehabilitation center in Colorado. A recovering hippie in the 1970s, my dad, especially, had stumbled upon and identified strongly with the Jesus Movement. Dad became what I like to call a drive-by evangelist. What I mean is, he can’t drive away from the tollbooth without telling the worker, “Jesus loves you!” No amount of discouragement from my siblings or me has ever persuaded him that this isn’t a helpful practice. When I have pressed him about things like that, I was apt to hear something about “sowing seeds.”
A huge thanks to a friend of mine who recently pointed me to Space at the Table: Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and his Gay Son. And to Zeal Books, too, for taking the risk of publishing this brief, dual memoir. It’s a beautiful book, one that tells the best kind of story. I can only hope that droves of both Christians and members of the LBGTQ community will read and learn it, as it’s the best attempt I’ve seen of taking both of these “sides” seriously, of seeing the kind of nuance and complexity that the issues the book brings up deserve. Along with the publisher, I also suspect that the book will make both communities uncomfortable, and that the discomfort could be productive if handled well. I won’t be able to fully replicate the book’s beauty and usefulness here, but I’ll try my best to give you a glimpse of what I read and heard.
If I have a least favorite question in the English language, it might be: “Are you a Christian?” It’s a question that gets thrown pretty quickly in the direction of any artist or thinker or politician that shows an openness toward or seriousness about God or spirituality. My dislike of the question is first of all about what the question does. What I mean is, asking it is often a way to peg people as in-or-out, loveable-or-dismissible. Unfortunately this question gets asked in this way by many who believe, some who don’t, and probably everywhere in-between. But it seems to me that if these kinds of distinctions and categories have to be made, perhaps it might be best to let God be the One to make them.
In the acclaimed 1986 film, Hoosiers, Myra Fleener observes that “a basketball hero around here is treated like a god.” Speaking about the town’s star, Jimmy Chitwood, she says, “I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.” John Updike, the late American novelist and cultural critic, has shown a willingness to take on the godship of the male athlete and the loneliness that comes with it after the stardom dies, as it inevitably does.