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Monday, March 14, 2011

Prairie Fires and Cannon-Fodder

Being another day in the life of a straight, conservative, evangelical fledgling LGBT activist...

Le Petit homme dans ma têteDo you ever get really bizarre dreams when you're really preoccupied with something? I usually only get weird dreams when I eat pizza right before bed, but anyhow...

I had the strangest dream the other night.  I was somewhere on my college campus in the middle of a massive, angry protest, and I ducked inside a storefront of some kind after the demonstrations turned violent.  Things seemed safer inside, but then everything was filled with the sound of shattering glass as the protesters hurled some sort of heavy projectiles through the windows.  I took refuge in a side hallway to avoid getting hit.  

I saw one of the missiles rolling down the floor near me.   I picked it up and unscrewed the top to see what was inside.  It was full of ground-up pennies and old screws.  Suddenly, the whole contraption under my hands burst into flames like a Molotov cocktail, and I kicked it out a door into the open quad stretching between the four different wings of the brick building.  That's when I realized that I was standing in M______ Hall, in the new LGBT outreach center here on my campus.

Anyhow, the flaming bomb rolled against the big magnolia tree and caught the entire side of the building on fire.  I flew to the next wing of the building looking for a fire extinguisher; in my head I knew that the rioters were on the other side of the building, but now they seemed miles away.  Even the sound of the conflagration was quiet, even peaceful.  When I looked wildly around the hallway for the extinguisher, an old, bearded man sat in the foyer of the building on an old couch.  He was completely unconcerned by all the chaos.   
"Where's the fire extinguisher?"  I shrieked in panic.  "Everything's catching fire..."
"We don't have one," he drawled.  In my dream, I felt my heart skip.  My mind was still full of rioters and flames and panic.   
"What do you mean you don't have one?  Every damn floor in this building is supposed to have a fire extinguisher," I yelled.  That old man didn't even bat an eye at my mounting panic but glanced at me curiously. 
Why are you so worried? his eyes said to me.  That's about when I woke up, for my husband was trying to get me out of bed to get ready for church.

So, obviously, my weird dreams are just a symptom of me trying to work out in my sleep what's been worrying me when I'm awake.  I had spent the last week in some pretty heavy negotiations with my minister buddies and the LGBT center grad student over my presence in the LGBT community.  I've made some rather big plans.  And I'm terrified that they're going to cause a firestorm with the LGBT Powers That Be and the more conservative campus ministers at my university. 

It started with my minister friend.  After our Tuesday prayer group I told him that I was considering volunteering at the LGBT center over the summer.  I knew exactly why I wanted to do it.  I wanted to be useful to my friends in the gay community for a change.  The center was a great place to meet people in a setting that didn't require them to to put on a persona.  And, I wanted to demonstrate goodwill to the administrators of the center.  The goal of this is that I want to start up a non-invasive spiritual study for the members where they can start to heal from their victimization by Christians, and I want to start slowly immersing some curious evangelicals into the LGBT culture so they can get to know them as human beings instead of just a sin category.  That's how I want to start a quiet reconsideration of what their denomination has taught them about what it means to be gay. 

My minister friend was really ambivalent about it:
"I don't know, I think you're crossing the line between ministering to the lost and promoting," he answered.  I'm pretty used to comments like that.  In our circles, it's okay to love gay people as long as you make it very, very obvious that you disagree with their "lifestyle."  Whatever. My minister friend knows better, too, but old habits die hard.
"It's not like I'll be standing at the door handing out condoms," I replied.  "I'd just be there to keep the  door open for the students and answer the phone."  
"But, why?  What are your goals?"  he insisted.  After some pretty intense discussion about sexuality, culture, and my opinion on what exactly "promoting" meant, I told him, "Look, there's only one word in the LGBT community for a straight person, and that's 'Ally.'  I have to take that seriously."  He cautiously agreed with me.  But he was still a little worried.  
My next stop, the following day, was to meet with "Andy," one of the two ministers who had helped me with the street-preacher protest.  We had a long, long conversation.  It has been neat to see "Andy" grow into the idea of laying down the traditional Christian defenses to just minister to gay people's needs like everyone else.  Actually, he's actually grown rather passionate about it.  "Torben" was out for the afternoon, so Andy and I had a long chat on our own.
"So, what do you think about volunteering?"  I asked "Andy."  He shrugged.  
"Honestly, Jackrabbit?  You have to open yourself up to the possibility of making mistakes.  You're in uncharted waters.  If this is your conviction and it's wrong, you'll learn later.  But if it's what you think you need to do, you can't be afraid to do it." 
He didn't see the need to necessarily volunteer at the center for what I wanted to do, but he was fine with the idea nonetheless.  Wow.  A year ago that would have been unthinkable.  

So, the real problem came on Thursday, when I met up with someone associated with the center.   
"Luke" is a great guy--  he's an ally like me, a Christian even.  At the time we met, the first anniversary party for the center was underway, and we were crushed on every side by cake, people, and balloons.  Everything was a swirl of merry, merry chaos. 

I shared with him all the things I had been thinking about doing, but when I got excited about the possibility of some kind of safe Christian/LGBT interaction, he pulled me aside.  "There's something you need to know," he said gravely.  Then he told me that two of the directors of the center, X and Y, were "extremely tired of the Christian/LGBT connection," he said.  What he meant was that X and Y were so sick of covert evangelism and judgment underneath Christian outreach that they didn't want to have anything to do with anything that smacked of Christianity. 

Controlled Fire in Cross Plains
I was now starting to feel like I was just setting myself up as a giant target for the wrath of X.  She would instantly think I'm some kind of missionary "plant" in her program, and since she's very much a momma bear like me, I have no doubt that she would "protect" her gay college students from me accordingly.   It occurred to me that I was dealing with a cultural war much larger than myself, and that I was stepping out into the DMZ to call for a truce before the two sides had even put down their rifles.  If I wasn't careful, this could make things very, very ugly for my campus.  I could be kindling a reconciliation between my two favorite communities-- or I could be throwing a Molotov cocktail into the center of them, blasting out an irreversible hole between them.  Which is it?

To put it a differeht way, not all prairie fires need to be put out.  The slow-moving fires clear out the dead to make way for the living; they feed the land what it craves.   But some fires, the really devastating ones, can't be stopped once they start burning.  All you can do is sit on the next hill and watch the wind play havoc with the flames and turn the world turn to ash.

So, after my dream, here's the real question: in the midst of this cultural war, which fire am I really afraid of starting?

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