Category Archives: Parables

Bullying, Depression, and The Extra Credit Kid.

Bullying.  There, I said it.

I just read a pretty decent article titled “Are Depressed Kids Bully Magnets?”  The article is (obviously) about the possible link between depression and bullying.  It doesn’t deal specifically with LGBT kids, but… c’mon.  The author questions whether kids become depressed because they’re bullied or whether they’re bullied because they’re depressed.  After all, the author reasons, a sad, downer kid crying in the corner is a pretty easy target.

If you have any connection to LGBT youth, you’ve probably already made mental connections between bullying and depression… and being gay and depression… and being gay and bullying… and have already realized how all these ingredients can mix together into a pretty nasty cake.

After reading the article, I was reminded of a short story I wrote a few years ago about an “extra credit kid.”  (Hopefully) it raises some questions not only about  the need each of us has for someone to look beyond our ordinary and see something special, but also about our ability to bounce back when they don’t.

And so, because I think it somehow relates to our larger conversation of the LGBT experience, I present…

The Extra Credit Kid

When the boy was ten, his 5th grade teacher used the hour after lunch to teach her class the beautiful language of the deaf.  Even though everyone in the class could hear – even though they all listened to their radios at home and turned their TVs louder than their mothers would have liked – this particular over-achieving educator wanted her class to know sign language. She wanted to teach their still innocent hands how to do something constructive.  She wanted them to learn gestures that would communicate without offending the elderly.

The children loved their sign language lessons.   Once, during a silent game of Ring Around the Rosie, they even got so rowdy that the teacher had to remind them to use their inside hands.

After the first week of learning to speak with silent words, the boy told his teacher that his mother was deaf.  He said that everyone in his family knew how to use sign language.  He had been doing it for years.  Sometimes, before bed, he even used his hands to read out loud to his mother.

“But not the Bible,” he said.  “All the whosoevers and wherefores make my knuckles crack.”

The teacher was amazed. Like an exotic exchange student from a quiet and faraway land, the boy was a native who already knew the language. He was a natural tutor.  In a moment of instructive genius, the teacher offered bonus points to any child who spent time with the boy whose hands could talk.

He was the extra credit kid.

Within hours of the teacher’s edict, the extra credit kid became the most popular kid in class.  His lunch table was always full.  His seat was always saved.  He never spent recess jumping rope by himself.  He was extra credit.

Every afternoon The Extra Credit Kid leapt off a bus full of new friends, eager to tell his mother how popular he was at school.  With exhausted fingers, he bragged about how everyone wanted to spend time with him because he was good at something.  Because he knew something.  Because he could do something no one else could.

Because he was extra credit.

The teacher asked The Extra Credit Kid to keep a journal of the time he spent with friends from their class.  She wanted to be fair when she assigned extra points.  The Extra Credit Kid soon noticed that he was invited to lots of birthday parties and sleepovers, but only on nights before the teacher tallied progress reports or just after difficult math tests.  He played lots of video games with the lazy kids, but was never spoken to by the smart ones who had stars next to their names on the bulletin board.

In March, everyone celebrated The Extra Credit Kid’s birthday by singing Happy Birthday with their hands.

In April, his class took a special trip to a school where the children couldn’t hear.  The Extra Credit Kid ate lunch at a table full of deaf kids and told a joke so well that a boy almost choked on his peas.  Everyone from The Extra Credit Kid’s class turned around to look.  The rest of the cafeteria hadn’t heard a thing.

In May, everyone waved goodbye to each other and promised they’d play together at the swimming pool.

In June, when school was over, the Extra Credit Kid’s new friends stopped returning his calls. His hands, once limber from telling jokes and stories, grew lazy and fat.  Summer vacation wasn’t nearly as much fun as the school year had been.

The sixth grade was even more disappointing than the summer. His new teacher, Mrs. Espinoza, had severe arthritis and wasn’t interested in sign language.  She wanted to teach the children Spanish.  The Extra Credit Kid had never been to Spain.  For a month he spent the hour after lunch memorizing conjugations with his hands folded politely in his lap.

It was hard crossing from extra back to ordinary. It always is.

During the seventh grade The Extra Credit Kid learned to play the trombone.

In high school his hands were often busy, but with a new sign language that involved him talking mostly to himself.

The Extra Credit Kid eventually went to college and found a job and became a man.

After a while, the man almost forgot that he had ever been extra credit.

But then, when his mom visited, they would sit together and tell stories with their hands.  And laugh.  And he would remember.

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Filed under Encouragement, News, Parables, Stories

Coming Out: What It Felt Like.

So… this is a bit of a break from my usual format.  I wrote this short story several years ago as a re-imagining of my “coming out” experience – a way of explaining how it felt to have my very comfortable life as a closeted gay minister interrupted.  At the time, I was reading lots of short stories by Steven MillhauserEtgar Keret, and Shalom Auslander.  If you know anything about these authors, you might not be too surprised by…

Orbit.

The Earth took his training wheels off only a few billion years ago.  Before then, he obediently followed the other planets through their frenzied orbits, barely keeping out from under their feet.  He wasn’t the typical middle child, quiet and demure.  The Earth was curious and inquisitive, constantly asking questions like:

Why do I have to wear sunscreen?

What if I don’t want to eat my vegetables?

and

Are we there yet?

Despite the endless questions, the other planets liked the Earth. He was innocent, green, and good-natured.  He never even made fun of Uranus… which was hard  not to do.  There were a few years during puberty, when his face erupted in a volcanic mess, that the Earth was a little moody, but that was all behind him now.

The Earth was settling – reluctantly – into middle-age.  He was none too happy that his formerly tight pangaea was giving way to urban expansion.  His rainforests were receding.  His doctor was even nagging that his rising sea levels “might be cause for concern.”

In other words, the Earth wasn’t happy.

He worried that his life was moving in circles, never really getting anywhere.  Parts of him felt like the days went on forever and the night would never end.  He enjoyed his yearly commute around the sun, but how many times could he smile and make small talk with Venus as they passed?  Sure, she was attractive. Saturn was dying to get his rings around her.  Even Pluto, a shy planet with an obvious identity crisis, wanted to talk to her.  But for all her charms, Venus wasn’t much of a conversationalist.  The Earth needed more.

He wanted adventure.

One day, shortly after putting the finishing touches on an amazing sunset, the Earth heard some unsettling news.  An asteroid was coming.  The Earth wasn’t eavesdropping, of course, but it’s hard to ignore a few billion voices whispering in your ear.  As soon as the asteroid was sighted, television reporters across the world began talking about “the catastrophic event,” “our pending extinction,” and “the violent end of life as we know it.”

And the Earth was listening.

News of the asteroid’s approach rocked the Earth to his core.  The dinosaurs hadn’t done a very good job of warning him about the last asteroid, a surprise from the black that hit him like a cosmic car accident.  One day he just turned around, saw the asteroid swerve into his orbit, and thought, “shit, this is going to hurt.”  And it did.  Bad.

“Whoever’s out there throwing rocks needs to stop,” he thought.  “I’m too old for this.”

Unfortunately, the asteroid that was on its way wasn’t just a medium-sized rock meandering through the universe.  It was bigger.  Much bigger.  A rock several times the size of Earth, the asteroid was technically a small planet that had broken free from its own solar system and achieved geologic independence. Apparently, when planets stop orbiting a single sun and start freelancing through the universe, they earn the slightly more sinister title of “asteroid.”  Unencumbered by the obligations of orbit, the “asteroid” went wherever it wanted, aggressively barging its way through an otherwise orderly universe.

The asteroid was sighted on a Tuesday.  Within a few weeks, it would become visible as a small speck in the Milky Way.  The speck would grow as the asteroid approached, slowing filling the night sky.  First the North Star would disappear.  Then the Big Dipper would loose its handle.  Within a few months, Orion, Scorpio, and all their twinkling friends would be hidden from view, eclipsed by the asteroid’s huge girth.

Several weeks before the Earth and the asteroid met, its gravity would pull the Earth’s oceans from their beds, gathering them together until they looked like a giant raindrop falling up into the sky.

Then, at the moment of impact, the Earth would shatter like a snowball, barely feeling a thing.

“It’s just obnoxious the way these asteroids think of no one but themselves,” the Earth ranted.  “They go wherever they want and do whatever they want with no thought of who they’re inconveniencing or what they’re destroying.  It’s not as if the stupid asteroid doesn’t know where I’m going to be 253 days, 3 hours, and 14 minutes from now.”

The Earth had a good point.  His schedule was as regular as clockwork.  In fact, his schedule was the basis for clockwork.  Everyone always knew where the Earth was going to be several years before he got there.  That’s the beauty – and monotony – of orbit.  It leaves little room for variation.

If the asteroid knew where he was going to be and when he was going to be there, then why, the Earth wondered, did it insist on running into him?

The answer, of course, was that the asteroid was terribly inflexible.  Concepts like “yield,” “stop,” and “turn” implied compromises that the asteroid, who was both terribly selfish and very hard headed, saw as signs of weakness.

In 253 days, 3 hours, and 14 minutes, the Earth and the asteroid would meet somewhere on the other side of the sun.  The Earth couldn’t decide which he hated more – the anticipation of conflict, or conflict itself.

The Earth wondered how the people would deal with the approaching asteroid.  He suspected they would recycle one of their Hollywood clichés and shoot a missile at it.  The people, of course, had the same idea.

Within hours of the asteroid’s discovery, a swarm of satellites started buzzing.  China talked to England.  Mexico and Canada joined in a conference call with Australia.  NASA turned its telescopes to the heavens and told everyone the end was near unless they acted fast.

The people acted fast. Their leaders pressed buttons and unlocked doors, uncovering weapons hidden long ago like eggs in the Easter grass.

“If we can split an atom,” the people thought, “surely we can split an asteroid.”

But given the choice between fight and flight, the Earth wasn’t sure picking a fight with the asteroid was the best idea.  “Flight,” he thought, “might be a better option.”

Afraid for his own future, the Earth began to formulate a plan.

“If I start running now,” he thought, “I can just get out of the stupid asteroid’s way.  I can be halfway across the solar system by the time it arrives.  If I’m 186 million miles ahead of schedule, I won’t even have to brush shoulders with it when it passes!”

The Earth knew that speeding up would require everyone – including himself – to adapt to a new schedule.   The change would be hard for the people.  Traditionally, even slow changes that obviously needed to happen (like evolution and equality) had been difficult for them.  But what choice did he have?  Change was coming whether he (or they) liked it or not.  He simply couldn’t continue on his current course and expect to survive.

And so, before the people could launch their missiles at the sky, the Earth took a deep breath and started speeding up.  Faster and faster he ran.  The faster he ran, the faster the days flew by, passing with quickening speed until a single week was little more than a blur of sunrises and sunsets.

He sped straight through summer and practically skipped fall.  The long trip that usually took a lazy year to finish was done in a matter of weeks.  Birds, confused by the strobing sunsets, flew south for the winter only to find their homes under several feet of snow.  Children were equally surprised when spring break started three days before Christmas.

The children loved the new schedule.  They had hardly finished one birthday before the next one began.  Girls celebrated their sweet sixteen with Barbie Doll cakes and Dora the Explorer parties. Boys were old enough to buy beer before their voices changed.

The rapid succession of birthdays made parents worry that their babies were growing up too fast.  Their concern, however, wasn’t only for their children.  A woman in Iowa had just graduated from college, gotten married, and was expecting the birth of her first child when she became eligible for senior citizen discounts.

Anxiety levels also rose among college students who complained they didn’t have enough time to study for exams.  Pulling an all-nighter was practically pointless.  The sun came up before they could finish a second cup of coffee.  And when fraternity boys partied all night on Friday with plans of sleeping late on Saturday, it was sometimes Monday morning before they woke up and wondered where the weekend had gone – which wasn’t very different from the way things had always been.

Even Santa’s elves were disgruntled. Unable to keep up with their new production schedule, the doll division threatened to strike.

The future was simply coming before the people were prepared for it. Before the Earth began his sprint toward safety, both the quick and the careful could order their lives because they knew what words like “next week,” “next month,” and “next year” meant.  Like “one pound” and “four meters,” the meanings of “one minute” and “four days” were constant. This predictability not only sold thousands of calendars at Christmas, it also gave the people an illusion of control.

But now “tomorrow” was like a menstrual cycle — reliable, but unpredictable. The people always knew it was coming, but they didn’t know exactly when it would get there or how long it would stay.

Across the globe, petitions were signed asking the Earth to slow down.  Concerned citizens gathered at community centers and organized anti-Earth demonstrations.  Unlike the great protests of the past, however, the people marched without knowing where to go.  Since City Hall couldn’t solve their problem, the people wandered aimlessly, hoping the Earth would hear them yell.

At a march in Oregon, an environmentalist who had once fought to save the rainforests led a group in chanting “stop the world, I wanna get off!”  At a rally in Atlanta, a construction worker carried a shovel, but never followed through with his threats to dig a hole.

It didn’t take long, however, before the people realized that there wasn’t anything anybody could do to make the Earth slow down.

Activists couldn’t boycott anyone.

Armies couldn’t attack anyone.

Police couldn’t arrest anyone.

Lawyers couldn’t sue anyone.

Men couldn’t threaten anyone.

Women couldn’t manipulate anyone.

The AARP, whose membership had recently doubled, printed an informative pamphlet, but nobody had time to read it.

The Earth knew the people were frustrated, confused, and afraid… but it felt so good to finally control his own future.

The Earth felt it first in his North America.  Then it spread to his Europe and across his Asia.  This wasn’t one of those headaches he got from too much pressure along his tectonic plates.  This headache was the direct result of 6 billion feet marching across his surface in angry unison. If they didn’t stop stomping soon, he would be forced to knock the people off balance.  The Earth hadn’t been this upset since the invention of high-heeled shoes.

During what he considered the puberty of their race (generally referred to as “modernity”), the Earth felt the people had become disturbingly self-centered. Maybe he had a heart of stone, but the Earth was tired of being taken for granted.  He was tired of letting ungrateful people walk all over him.

Wasn’t he always patient during their Thanksgiving Day Parade?  Didn’t he suffer quietly through their New York City Marathon?  He even allowed their military to practice their ridiculous advances and retreats at all hours of the day and night.  His patience, however, was growing as thin as his ozone.  The endless protest marches had to stop.  They were not only irritating, they were insulting.

The Earth wasn’t deaf.  He knew what the people were saying about him.  He was listening when Greenpeace voted to take his name off their website.  He noticed when Earth Day was cancelled and replaced with a symbolically violent tether-ball tournament.  He tried to ignore preachers when they filled their Sunday Sermons with stories comparing him to somebody named “The Prodigal Son,” but he couldn’t.  From pulpits across the globe they shouted that he was like an arrogant child who ran away from his father and leapt carelessly into the future.  They said he “neglected his responsibility” and “denied his true calling.”  They condemned him for “choosing a path other than the one assigned to him” and urged him to return to “the natural state of things.”  They didn’t think the Earth realized how serious things had become.

The Earth was offended that the same people who invented oil-powered engines and artificial sweeteners dared to lecture him about “respecting creation” and “acting according to the laws of nature.”

Why, the Earth wondered, didn’t the people understand that he hadn’t broken away from his pre-determined path?  He was still following the same circle around the same sun… he was simply doing it differently than he had before. And even if he had rushed into the future, he hadn’t done so carelessly.  He had done so from necessity.

Self preservation and selfishness are two entirely different things.

Right in the middle of the evening news, the people looked up and saw it.

Fist the North Star Disappeared.

Then the Big Dipper lost its handle.

When a shadow fell across the sun, the people began to panic.

Some of them ran deep into underground cellars.  Others herded themselves into churches to pray.  Just as a few important people prepared to push important buttons and send missiles streaking into space (with little or no effect on the outrageous rock), a physicist scribbled something on her chalkboard.  Out of the lines and numbers rose a wisp of chalky hope.

“But how is that possible,” the important people asked.  “We already calculated that if the Earth is orbiting the sun at 29.77 km/s and the asteroid is traveling in a straight line at 56.2 km/s, then we should collide with it… 7 months ago?”

The director of the CIA stormed into the room, brushing the first flakes of a light summer snow off his jacket.

“So, you’re saying what?”

“The asteroid,” the physicist said, “is apparently going to miss the Earth by 186 million miles.”

“Well,” he stammered.  “I’ll be damned.”

Before the asteroid arrived, the Earth’s path was familiar and frictionless.  Every day he moved through space carried by his own momentum, hardly working to spin through the seasons. In the vacuum, there was little need for effort or exertion.  Nothing worked against him.  Trusting his instincts and inertia, the Earth took for granted that he would always coast easily through life.

But now, everything was different.  As the asteroid came closer, the Earth felt his forward motion interrupted by a sideways force.  For the first time since he settled into the routine of orbit, The Earth felt resistance… friction… gravity pulling him in a direction other than the one he had always known.

At first the asteroid’s gravitational pull was as indefinable as emotion – little more than an idea tugging at his corners.  Like happiness, fear, and excitement, it could be felt more than it could be explained.

As the asteroid came closer, however, its gravity grew into something more concrete.  The Earth’s oceans noticed it first. Suddenly disinterested with the moon, they found themselves attracted to the asteroid, drawn to its rugged strength.  Like crazed fans, they crowded the beaches and fought for the best view of its approach.

Like a ball fighting to roll uphill, the Earth strained against the asteroid’s pull.  But when he tried to move forward, the asteroid tugged him back.  It didn’t matter how tightly he tried to hold to his orbit.  The Earth was a movable object fighting an unstoppable force.

The Earth didn’t know what to do.  He had already done everything he could to control his future, and was worn out with the effort.  He couldn’t run any more.

Finally, after weeks (or was it months? or years?) of straining against the asteroid’s gravity, the Earth finally accepted what he could not change.  He stopped fighting the invisible truth.  Exhausted, he stopped running.  For the first time since the asteroid was sighted, the Earth relaxed and let nature take its course.

And as the asteroid passed – only 186 million miles away – its gravity wrapped around the Earth’s middle, slowly pulling him away from the sun and into the deep, dark unknown.  The predictable curve of the Earth’s orbit was straightened into an infinite line.  Like a puppy led on an invisible leash, the Earth left his home and followed the asteroid into in the unknown of space.

When the asteroid was first sighted, the Earth tried to save himself.  He chose to run – to avoid the asteroid rather than let it collide with him – and his plan worked.  He hadn’t been destroyed by an impact. But despite his effort (or perhaps because of it), his path had been forever changed.  Now, as the Earth followed the asteroid past stars he had never seen, he wondered which was better, change or annihilation?  He didn’t yet know.

He noticed, however, that the people weren’t saying anything about what happened.  They weren’t admiring the view or complaining about the cold.  They were all strangely quiet.

The Earth thought he might like them better that way.

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Gay and Straight Christians: Finding Our Common Ground for Thanksgiving

A parable: Once upon a time, Courtney wore a vintage Aerosmith t-shirt to work.  James, the man whose desk faced hers, was offended beyond words.  He hated Aerosmith.  He always had.  He always would.  Steven Tyler’s lips freaked him out.  James berated Courtney for her horrible taste in music and insulted her choice of clothes.  Courtney called James an idiot and screamed that she had the right to wear whatever shirt she wanted.  James threw a stapler.  Courtney threatned legal action.  Courtney and James fought for hours about a silly t-shirt… without ever realizing they were both wearing the same shoes.

The point?  LGBT Christians and “straight” Christians may be so busy fighting over whether it’s ok to be gay that we’ve forgotten everything we have in common.

Thanksgiving, that glorious day when we indulge in both cranberries and conflict around the family table, is only a few days away.  If you think your holiday might involve a tense conversations with Christian family and friends, maybe the following will help…

Richard Beck, Professor or Psychology at Abilene Christian University, has some very interesting concerns about how Gay folks and Christian folks talk with each other.  He claims we’re creating arguments where one side wins, one side loses, and both sides forget we’re all on the same team.  He says:

[My] first frustration is that it’s tacitly assumed that the only issue at stake in these conversations is the biblical status of same-sex relations. From a biblical perspective, are same-sex relations permissible? No doubt that is the central question, but it’s often assumed that this is the only question. That is, once this question is settled, one way or the other, the two groups have nothing much else to say to each other. Usually because they can’t agree on this question.

Which leads to my second frustration: the zero-sum nature of the conversation. Since it’s often assumed that the biblical status of same-sex relations is the only issue at stake, a “winner takes all” atmosphere is created. Either the traditional Christian side will win (in prohibiting same-sex relations) or the gay side will win (in affirming same-sex relations). This creates a zero-sum “I win. You lose.” dynamic that isn’t very kind or healthy.

Interesting, right?  What if, instead of focusing only on whether God thinks it’s ok to be gay (which sets up a win/lose dynamic), we start thinking about all things both straight and gay Christians already agree about?

Click here to read what Beck feels are the main areas of  “mutual concern” LGBT and “straight” Christian communities share.

It’s a great post. Seriously.  Read it before you carve your turkey (and family) on Thursday.

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Filed under Conversation, Encouragement, Ministers, Opinions, Parables, Partners, Supporters & Allies

Zoo Cow: a big, gay parable.

I wrote the following story several years ago, when I was still deciding if “coming out” would completely ruin my life.  At the time, I was a professional minister.  Several times every week I stood on a stage in front of hundreds of people and told my stories… and talked about Jesus… and tried to help people understand that they are accepted by God.

But while I was sure that God accepted me just as I was (even though I was gay), I wasn’t sure the congregations I served would follow His lead if I told them my full story… especially the parts about me liking boys.

That’s why I wrote the following story.  “Zoo Cow” was an outlet… a thinly veiled metaphor. It’s about a cow that lives in a zoo.  Although the Cow feels terribly ordinary, he also knows he’s completely different from everyone else. He’s misplaced in a world that doesn’t understand him, hoping someone will see him – and love him – for what he is.

Subtle, right?

As a former youth minister, I’m increasingly concerned about gay teenagers in the church who currently feel as I once felt.  We read bunches about loud and proud gay kids taking their boyfriends to prom, fighting for gay rights, and starring on GLEE.  But what about the thousands of LGBT kids who aren’t loud… who aren’t proud… who spend every Sunday morning hiding quietly in the pew next to you?

You know they’re sitting next to you, right?

In a study of 5,819 religious teenagers from 635 churches, a team of researchers found that 7% of religious youth claimed to be homosexual, 5% claimed to be bisexual, and 2% weren’t sure or their sexual orientation (Clapp, Helbert & Zizak, 2003).

That means that, contrary to what some church folks seem to think, gay kids aren’t just out there.  They’re in here, too.  Apparently, 14% of youth in our churches aren’t as “straight” as some people may think they are.

They’re hiding from us – afraid of what will happen when they’re “found out.”  They’re also hiding from each other – camouflaging themselves so well that they don’t see the people just like them who are hiding right next to them.

They know.  It’s hard to be a cow in the zoo…

Zoo Cow.

Once there was a Cow who lived in a zoo. He lived next door to the Panda and across the path from a Zebra, but they didn’t talk much. The Zebra was always busy and the Panda never had much to say.

Plus, they were fancy and the Cow was plain.

The Panda was wonderfully white with black spots and the Zebra was beautifully black with white stripes. But the Cow wasn’t extraordinary at all. He was just regular white except for a big black patch on his back.

Black and white.

White and black.

All three of them looked like I Love Lucy reruns standing in a field.

The children loved to watch the Panda and wished they could pet the Zebra. But when they stopped in front of the Cow’s fence, it was usually just because they needed to tie their shoes or because they found a stray nickel. Most children had seen a cow before.

One child had seen a cow on a milk carton.

Another had seen one holding a sign in a fast-food chicken restaurant.

The little boy with a balloon had even been brave and touched one once when he drove from the city and visited his Grandfather’s farm.

The Zebra loved it when the children took pictures of his beautiful stripes and watched him run across his field. Their shouts and flashes made him feel special. He sometimes wondered, however, what would happen when the children realized that he was really just a horse with stripes who was afraid of lions. They would probably think he was ordinary and boring and never come back to visit.

The Panda adored the bronze plaque that told everyone she was born in a far away place called China. It reminded her that she was rare and wonderful. She spent all day pointing at it so the people would notice, but she was secretly afraid that the children would love the monkeys better than her because they whooped and hooted and threw their poop at grown-ups.

The Cow stood in his field wishing the sticky faced children would think he was something other than ordinary. He often heard their parents call him “Grade A” and “Prime,” but somehow their comments never sounded complimentary.

One day a group of children came to the zoo in a big yellow bus. They stopped to look at the Cow, but only because their teacher told them to.

“The Cow looks lonely.”

“The Cow smells funny.”

“Why does the Cow have flies on its butt?”

“Are cows stupid?”

The children were loud and asked lots of questions.

One little girl said, “Mrs. Jenkins, is that the kind of cow that makes milk like I put on my cereal?”

“No,” Mrs. Jenkins said. “That’s the kind of cow that makes hamburgers like we’re eating for lunch.”

The little girl rolled her eyes. She was a vegetarian. Her mommy said that hamburgers would give her cholesterol. The little girl didn’t know what “cholesterol” meant, but since she already had cooties, she wanted to be extra careful.

The Cow felt trapped in the zoo. Lonely. Of course, most animals feel trapped in a zoo. That’s why it’s called a zoo and not a forest or a farm.

The Cow, however, didn’t feel trapped because of the gate. He wasn’t lonely because he didn’t get to visit faraway farms and factories like the country cows did.

The Cow felt trapped because the children and their questions reminded him that he would always be a cow – different from the other animals around him.  No matter how hard he tried, he would never be as cool as the Panda or as interesting as the Zebra. He would never climb a tree or race like the wind. He didn’t like bamboo, and whenever he wore stripes, they only accentuated his already round belly. The most the Cow could hope for in life was a fresh bail of hay, a vague fantasy about a stampede, and a bell around his neck ringing to remind everyone that he was a big fat cow.

And so the Cow spent every day eating his grass – ignored and out of place – feeling like a cow in the zoo.

**

One day a Chinese woman came to the zoo and stopped to look in the Panda’s cage. She yawned when all the Panda did was pose and point and eat bamboo. The Chinese woman wondered if the zookeeper might have any ideas for keeping Pandas out of her backyard. It made her angry every time she saw one of the black-and-white beasts snacking on her serenity garden.

An African man seemed mildly impressed with the Zebra, but in a hungry way that made the Zebra nervous.

Later that day a little boy came to the zoo wearing blue jeans held up by a belt with an impressive silver buckle. The boy walked past the Panda and didn’t care much for the Zebra. But at the Cow’s pasture he stopped and watched for the longest time.

He stood next to the Chinese woman as she tried to offer the Cow a piece of her hot-dog. She seemed disappointed when he refused.

An African man behind the boy whistled so the Cow would run and play, but the Cow didn’t want to run and play. Especially not when someone whistled at him.

But when the boy saw the Cow he didn’t take pictures or point. He didn’t poke his hand through the fence or make loud noises. Instead, he watched. He watched until long after the Chinese woman and the African man left.

The boy wasn’t afraid of the cow, but he wasn’t impressed by it, either.   He knew that cows are nothing to be scared of.  He also knew that it’s better to understand something than to be impressed by it. And he already understood the Cow. Little boys wearing belts with big silver buckles usually do.

The Cow ate his grass and watched the little boy watching him.  It was good to feel ordinary and unimpressive.  After a long while he finally realized what the Panda and Zebra never would.

When someone really understands you, your cage doesn’t seem so small.

References:

Clapp, S., Helbert, K., & Zizak, A. (2003). Faith matters: teenagers, religion, and sexuality. Fort Wayne, IN: LifeQuest.

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Filed under Devotions, Encouragement, Parables, Research, Role Models, Stories

The Gay Life Cycle (how we get from the snail to the sheep)

I recently heard a fantastic episode of NPR’s “This American Life” that revealed the secret lives of parasites – those disgusting little bugs that sneak into our bodies, hide in our darkest corners, and eat away at our insides.

In the podcast, Carl Zimmer, author of “Parasite Rex,”  tells a fascinating story about the lancet fluke, a crafty little worm that lives in three separate hosts before it finds its final home.  If you’re not squeamish, I think you’ll enjoy the story.  Hopefully it’ll also speak to your experience as a LGBT person…

Act one:

According to Carl, the lancet fluke starts his life as a tiny egg resting peacefully in a pile of sheep poop with a few hundred other lancet fluke eggs.  As night falls, a hungry snail slowly passes the poop and decides she’s hungry. The snail isn’t picky.  She’ll eat anything.  During her midnight snack of sheep poop, the snail not only eats the fragrant, steaming excrement – she also accidentally gobbles up the lancet fluke eggs.  Days pass.  The eggs hatch.  Tiny lancet flukes start squirming around inside the snail.  The snail, not happy about hundreds of worms wiggling around inside her gut, gets a bellyache and spits the tiny worms out in a wad of sticky goo.  Classy.

Act two:

An ant marches through a field, following a tasty trail of the snail’s slime.  The sticky goo is one of the ant’s favorite treats on a hot day.  Imagine the ant’s delight when it finds a tasty wad of snail slime right in the middle of the trail!  The ant reasons that the snail must have left it there the night before.  The ant is so excited that it doesn’t even notice the tiny lancet fluke babies swimming in its supper.  It eats the goo, worms and all.

Act three:

The ant starts acting strangely. It’s not aware that one of the tiny lancet fluke babies it accidentally ate yesterday has worked their way through his body and is now clamped onto his nervous system.

From this strategic vantage point, the lancet fluke is able to control the ant like a puppet, telling it what to think and feel.

Inside the ant, the lancet fluke knows there are sheep in the field grazing on the tall grass nearby.  He also knows that he’s never going to get back inside one of those sheep if his host stays buried deep inside an ant hill.  And so, the lancet flute tells the ant it wants to climb.  Obeying the lancet fluke’s every command, the ant leaves its nest and climbs to the top of a tall blade of grass.

Sitting on top of the tall grass, the ant can see a herd of woolly sheep grazing in the distance.  One of the sheep wanders closer.  Before the ant can retreat, the sheep lowers its head, eats the grass, and chews the ant into small, mushy bits.

The lancet fluke survives both the chewing and the swallowing.  Finally free of the snail and the ant, the lancet fluke swims happily in the sheep’s stomach, ready to lay her eggs and restart the cycle.

The Point…

The lancet fluke lives in a pile of poop so he can endure the snail so he can find an ant who will eventually help him get back into a sheep.  He lives a complicated life.

Can you relate?

As LGBT people who believe (or are trying to believe) in God, many of us spend some time in the belly of the snail.  We go thorough so many stages – so many changes – during our journey.  It’s not easy to move from the snail to the sheep – to move from fear and doubt to self-acceptance and celebration.

We seek God.  We separate from God.  We question God.  We thank God. We rebel against God.  We doubt God.  We fear God.  We hate God. We cry out to God.  We worship God.

We live many different (and complicated) lives.  Our identity, ideas, and beliefs are constantly changing… growing to accommodate our experience… stretching according to our stage in life.

What I believed about my sexuality when I was a zealous Christian teenager was vastly different than what I believe now that I’ve gained a few years of faith.  What I once feared, I now embrace.  The snail has given way to the ant.

The upheaval I experienced when I “came out” cleared away some of my less-grounded and unexamined ideas about God.  The demolition was painful, but it also cleared space for more mature beliefs.  The ant is leading me to the sheep.

It’s comforting to know that this lancet fluke journey of ours is leading somewhere;  that every stage – no matter how frustrating, frightening, or confusing – is simply a stop on the twisted way back home.

Like the lancet fluke making his way through a complicated life cycle, it almost seems as if Christ is orchestrating something…  Bringing us back…  Reuniting us with God…  Moving us through the progressive system of salvation.

Sound familiar?

Through Christ God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

He’s reconciling everything to himself.

Even us.

He’s making peace with everything in heaven and on earth.

Even us.

This whole journey – even the crappy parts – is moving us toward redemption.

Kind’a makes the snail and the ant easier to endure, doesn’t it?

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