Man, could Dave play bass! The other Sunday morning musicians wore the appropriate church faces: intense devotion, rapturous joy, earnest contemplation. Not Dave.
Dave would jump around the stage with a maniacal look. If things really started to rock, he would pump his fist and flash the devil horns, a sign made popular by 70's metal bands like KISS.
Then, in a heartbeat, Dave would turn petulant. If he perceived some personal attack, he would sit on the front row, head in hands, looking as if he’d received news of terminal cancer. It was no use trying to comfort him. No matter what you said, you “just didn’t get it.”
Rejection was a central theme of Dave’s life. His unusual appearance and emotional oddities made him a target of school bullying. I don’t know the details but it happened. His road biking club had ousted him. His own brothers had turned their backs on him.
When I talked with these people, I found there was more to the story, but it didn’t matter. In Dave’s mind he was a victim of discrimination. He was cursed with “major depression” and people just couldn’t take him.
My Friend, Dave
Since Dave and I were both into road biking, it wasn’t long before we were out riding the farm roads of Northern California together. He became a friend. We had him over regularly for Sunday dinner.
Dave was a genius with mechanical things. Not only could he repair and restore broken instruments and electronics; he could also fix every possible issue with my fancy carbon fiber bike. I marveled at his skill. As a way of thanking him, I bought him a super-expensive bike jersey, identical to one I owned.
One day, we decided to set out on a “century ride,” a hundred mile bike ride that’s a milestone for any road biker. He showed up wearing the jersey I had bought him. I was wearing mine too. So there we were: two middle-aged men in spandex with identical skin tight jerseys. What would you make of that?
I knew how this would look to people in our conservative Christian community but we set off anyway. This was when Proposition Eight was on the ballet in California. Prop 8 defined marriage as only between heterosexuals. Every other yard had a “Yes on Prop 8” sign with a picture of a smiling traditional family.
As we rode through the little farm towns, cars honked at us. Trucks sped past, cutting it uncomfortably close. I was pretty sure I knew why. The “Yes on Prop 8” signs took on a sinister look.
Some of this may have been my imagination but much of it was real. I was being persecuted as a gay man. I was surprised how angry it made me.
As a middle class white guy I have always been in the mainstream. I have never felt what it feels like to be marginalized. That day I got a taste. As I rode up and down those roads I felt solidarity with the gay community.
What made it worse was that I knew many of the people who were treating me this way were upstanding, conservative Christians, the kind I went to church with. I was ashamed.
A Lesson from Being Gay
We survived the day, but I would never be the same. The bitter taste is still in my mouth.
In my seminary classes, I noticed that a few of the African American students had a chip on their shoulder. They assumed I thought less of them because of their race. I judged them for judging me. I am not racist. I couldn’t understand why they made such an issue of it. “Get over it!” I thought.
But after being gay for a day, it suddenly made sense. Most dogs don’t bite. But if every fourth dog bit you, you’d be afraid of dogs. You’d approach every dog you met with caution. I now understand why I get lumped together with people who look like me. Too many of us are jerks. I stopped judging my African American friends for assuming I was racist and went out of my way not to be a jerk.
I'm Sorry, Dave
I’m sorry to report that I failed the test with Dave. His antics were the cause of too much drama among the musicians and embarrassment on Sunday mornings. We met with him and told him he would have to change his behavior, fully knowing he couldn’t. When he failed, we asked him to take some time off to “focus on Jesus.”
We were the one who needed to take some time off to "focus on Jesus."
I'm happy to say that Dave went on to find a group of people who were able to love him unconditionally.
This year, Dave died of pneumonia. I felt a big hole in my heart, not just because he’s gone but also for the way I treated him. In the end, my love came up short.
What About Being Gay?
So where do I stand on the gay issue? On the side of love. I will pull over and make plenty of room. I will smile and wave. I will stop and talk. I will stop making assumptions about people I don’t know. I will take a cue from Mother Theresa and stop judging people and start loving them.
If you want to grow in this area, squeeze on some spandex and go for a ride.