I became a Christian very suddenly (and out of freakin' nowhere) when I was 38 years old.
At that time, I was working in the "Office Services" department of a large law firm. My sole co-worker in that department was a lesbian named Joan Finch.
To a lot of Christians, of course -- just as with a lot of people generally -- someone's being gay or lesbian can register as a Fairly Large Deal. But I had been around gays and lesbians all my life, and had no schema for understanding a person's sexual orientation as having anything whatsoever to do with their moral character, or their status relative to God, or anything like that. Any such concept was foreign to me. All I knew was that some gays and lesbians were awful people, and some were noble, wise, kind people whom it was impossible not to love. Same as anyone else. People are people.
I'd had gay friends all of my life. Real friends. Best friends. As obnoxious as it is to stereotype, I think it's safe to say that generally, gays and lesbians have suffered for being gay and lesbian: just about all my gay friends, for instance, have countless stories about getting regularly beaten-up as kids by ... well, by just about everyone around them. Schoolmates. Siblings. Dads. Crosswalk guards. Dog-walkers. Whomever.
Growing up gay or lesbian in America is just a tough row to hoe, period. If you think it's not, then ... then you're just not paying attention to life.
And that gays and lesbians have generally suffered in their lives means that they are generally sensitive to the suffering of others. And generally that makes them kind, compassionate, and emotionally insightful. It makes them empathic. Which is why I have generally found gays and lesbians rewarding to hang out with.
And I had most definitely found that to be true of Joan Finch.
Joan Finch rocks like Gibraltar. She is one of the two or three funniest people I've ever known. She's deadly witty. And man, can she do voices. She's an almost startlingly accurate mimic.
Working with Joan Finch was like working in the middle of the funniest TV show ever.
Plus, that girl works. And because she works as hard as she does, Joan inspired me to work harder than I was naturally inclined to (at that job, anyway). Her abiding sense of excellence and responsibility compelled me to step up my own game. Her example turned me into a better, more conscientious employee.
I had my Big Fat Christian Conversion Experience at (of all places!) work, on a Friday that Joan had taken off. When she returned to work the following Monday, I waited until our usual morning busyness ebbed, and then broke the news to her that since she had last seen me, I had become (of all things!) a Christian.
A look of genuine concern came across her face.
"Oh, no," she said.
"What is it?" I said. "What's wrong?"
"Now you're going to hate me."
"What? What are you -- why in the world would I hate you?"
"Because Christians hate gays and lesbians," said Joan. She looked heartbroken. "Don't you know that?"
"They do? We do? Why?"
"Because it's in the Bible," she said. "I grew up in the church. I know. Part of the whole Christian deal is to hate gays and lesbians."
And then she turned away from me, so that I wouldn't see her fighting back her tears.
"You must be wrong about that," I implored. I put my hand on her back. "You must be."
"I'm not," she said, stepping away from me. "You wait. You'll see."
(Related posts o' mine: Nothing Says Love Like a Lesbian Christian Minister With an Oven, and Helping Christians be Bored by Homosexuality Since April 2007.)
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