When I first moved to Chicagoland, I joined a gym. It was the cool person’s gym, the beautiful people’s gym. Bo knew this gym. They had great equipment, gorgeous instructors, and enough mirrors to not let me forget I was going bald.
After I got married, bought a house, started a family, the cool person’s gym no longer fit in our lives. The YMCA did, however. Now some people complain that there is not enough “C” in the YMCA anymore. (The “C” stands for “Christian.”) However, the only absence I noted was “Y”, young.
So I would work out and afterwards, I would sit in the sauna and chat with a group of men who were 40-50 years older than I was. While I never asked their ages, Ray, who was one of the most talkative shared that he had been retired for 24 years. 24 years.
I don’t know what the official rules of the sauna were. My understanding was that the towels that were available were to wrap around one’s self. Ray and the rest of the cast of “Cocoon” felt they were to be folded and used as seat cushions. (Survivor’s tip: ALWAYS keep eye contact in the sauna.)
Discussions were entertaining. I would call my wife later in the day and tell her, “You should hear what Ray said at the last city council meeting.” She would sigh and say, “Dear God, you need friends.”
Surprisingly, it took a long time for any of the sunshine boys to ask me what I did for a living. Finally, after about 6 months of complaining about traffic and talking about how this could be the year for the Cubs (I think Ray was a bat boy during their last World Series championship.), one of them asked, “Patrick, what do you do for a living?” I knew things were about to change.
“I’m a Presbyterian Minister,” I said.
“Really?” said Joe. (Picture George Burns, but older.) “Whadya think about the priest that had that mass for all the gays?” I had no idea what priest or what gays he was talking about. It didn’t matter. Everyone else started sharing what they thought about it. And soon “it” turned into a much larger discussion, and I was clearly in the minority.
I knew that no one’s mind was changing by me saying they were wrong or that I disagreed with them. The Matthew Shepard story was a fresh memory at the time, so I asked them a question, “What do you think broke God’s heart more? The fact that Matthew Shepard was attracted to men, or the fact that two other men tied him to a fence, tortured him, pistol-whipped him, and left him to die?” (He did die six days after the beating.)
After a silence that had gone from dramatic to uncomfortable, Ray spoke. “You know. I don’t really care what they do as long as they don’t mess with me.” With the straightest face I could muster, I looked at my dodecogenarian friend and said, “Ray, I think you’re safe.”
Fast forward to this year.
I’m still a Presbyterian Minister. Last week our denomination, the PCUSA, changed our constitution to allow same gender weddings in states where it’s legal and to allow our ministers to officiate at those weddings. You can read more about it here. Some people are happy about it. Some are not.
Today, I read this, that four Presbyterian churches in Missouri had received threats that their churches would be burned to the ground. Lord, have mercy.
Someone told me once that Satan is using this sexuality issue to destroy the church. I agree. I agree wholeheartedly. As long as we focus on this issue, we can ignore the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country. As long as we focus on this issue, we can ignore the 27,000,000 people enslaved in the world today. As long as we focus on this issue, we can ignore the fact that every seven seconds a child dies from hunger-related issues.
Feel how you want to feel about what our denomination did last week, but we have big problems in the world. I pray that this decision will allow us to move on, to fight the good fight, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. To offer hope, comfort, and mercy to the world. The one we follow? That’s what he did.