Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Two very different terms

First, a gentle warning - this is a rant. The spiritual Goliath will return soon - I promise - but the snarky guy is writing today. Sorry.

To begin with, you'll need a couple definitions:
umfriend - noun (slang) - a term describing a relationship of questionable moral character; often coupled with the use of a pseudonym to describe the partner in the relationship. Usage: "Uh, Auntie Jean, this is...well, you can call him 'Bill,' and he's my....um...friend." (Stolen shamelessly from some email I got a while back.)

a friend of Bill - slang - a bit of verbal short-hand used by members of 12-step communities to acknowledge each other, when it would be inappropriate to just blurt out questions like, "So, are you a member of Alcoholics Anonymous?" The name "Bill" refers to Bill W., one of the co-founders of AA (along with Dr. Bob S.).

In common usage, an AA member like myself could drive up to a building with a number of people standing in front of it, and ask, "Hey, is this where the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is?"... thus breaking the anonymity of everyone standing there in the process. Or I could just as easily ask, "Hey, is anyone here a friend of Bill's?" An affirmative answer says I'm where I need to be. (If they respond, "Bill who?" I just keep on driving.) See also a friend of Bill & Dr. Bob, and this listing from the Urban Dictionary.
The rest of the story...

I love SiteMeter, because it gives you the last 100 sites that referred folks to your blog. I find it fascinating to see where folks came from. But it was a little less fun to read this little exchange on a community board (which will remain nameless and linkless, to protect them). One of them had read my one-and-only famous/infamous post, Just how shocking is the Gospel?, and the group was bantering back and forth about all the usual issues that conservative Christians find with the post - how come he didn't have Jesus command them to "go and sin no more," it's just a justification of the homosexual lifestyle...the same kinds of things conservative folks commented about when the post went up two months ago. (I appreciate their concern, but it's old news. You can go back & read the comments, if you want to know.)

But then, this pops up:
Person A:Did you read the author's biography section? He says that he is "a friend to Bill since..." Plus he has a link to support World AIDS Day. Hmmm...
Person B: What does "a friend to Bill" mean? I'm clueless. Does that mean one's gay?
Person A: The fact that HE puts the quotation marks around it, and that he gives the year in which their relationship began...In case you didn't know, homosexuals who are either "in the closet" or who don't want to be blatantly offensive to the 'delicate sensibilites' (as was once told to me) of people like us, will often use that formula to indicate their significant other.
Hence the definitions at the beginning of the post.

So, feeling a need to at least correct the perception of brothers and sisters in Christ about "friends of Bill" not all having boyfriends, I applied for membership on their board, and gave them a less-sarcastic definition of "a friend of Bill" than I gave here, trying to make the point that "a friend of Bill" was different than "an...um..friend..of 'Bill's'." I also shared that I'd been sober a good while, and that I saw it as a gift of grace from God.

Person A's response?
Are you a homosexual? I ask because you don't deny such in your response. You simply say that the "friend of Bill since 1990" bit is a reference to your affiliation with AA. That comment - which, since you say you have several homosexual friends, you know is often the way "they" speak of their "significant other" - plus the overall tone of your posting gives the impression.
I'll save an apology until I get a straight answer.
That's when I got angry.

It's never a good place for me, spiritually, but it happens. I swore - a lot - and was all set to be devastatingly snarky. I even had a dazzling epistle about half-way written, when (by what can only be the Holy Spirit) the words of Mark 6:11 came to mind: And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.

So my final post to them was much shorter, and much less snarky than it could have been. The essence of my reply was "I thought I was saving you from a bit of stupidity. Too late, it seems. Thanks a lot. 'Love one another, as I have loved you.' Yeah, right. Don't worry, I won't be back to sully the character of your discussion."

I've had a day to think about just what made me furious about the whole thing. I'm not sure I'm done yet, but here's what I've got so far.

I really don't give a damn what you think about me. I'm not a representative of any church, or the spokesman for any movement. I'm just a man who struggles daily with what it means to follow Christ - so (as my brother Rick L. says) I usually just settle for being a Christian. And I'm not going to address my orientation - because, if I'm straight and say I am, folks like these just assume I'm lying, anyway.

Besides, it doesn't matter what my orientation is - since I've unfortunately been celibate for, well, multiple presidential terms. Even the strictest literalists will give you that it's the act, not the orientation, that's the abomination. (One of the annoying things I've considered over the last two years is that in the ELCA, I could have been ordained if I was gay - I just couldn't be ordained if I was broke. That says something, but I'm not sure what, exactly.)

But the heart of my aggravation is this: it really annoys me that with folks like this group, anyone who is friendly to homosexuals, or seeks in any way to understand their orientation, their struggles, or (God forbid) their faith is automatically assumed (by folks like Person A) to be gay themselves. And, of course, since all gay-sympathetic people are really gay anyway, there's no sense in listening to them, or paying any attention to what they say - since they're all just trying to justify "the homosexual agenda." Why build a bridge, when it's so much more fun to burn them?

To quote Ray Bradbury - that, my friends, is "Crappulous Nonsense." There are hundreds of people I've met recently - both in person and in the blogosphere - who are passionately following Jesus Christ, heterosexual through and through, and yet deeply concerned about the lives and faith of people in the gay/lesbian community. Whether they are outspoken bloggers, or passionate preachers of the Gospel like John Buchanan at Fourth Presbyterian and Jeremiah Wright at Trinity UCC here in Chicago, or the dedicated servants at Balm in Gilead, these people are deeply faithful followers of Christ - and I'm blessed by God to know them.

As I said, think what you want about me, my orientation, and my faith.

Part of me really wants to go over there and post a link to this entry. But to be honest, I need to keep repeating that Mark 6:11 text. Resentment is the number-one offender in this deal, and I just need to put this - and them - behind me. I'm not there yet, but I am getting there...

Oh, the best part of all? Person A's signature line shows him to be a Masters of Divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is a future pastor talking... Now, I don't believe for a minute he'll have any gay folk in his church (at least, not for long) - but there probably will be a number of folks in recovery - those infamous "friends of Bill." Pray for those folks, will you? They'll need it.

"E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come..." And save us from ourselves, and each other, Lord. Amen.

12 comments:

Michael said...

Well, brother, as you know, I'm queer, I'm here and my Baptist family is trying to sort that out. I'm also here to say that I think what our beloved Baptist friend is thinking of is "friend of Dorothy," a rather dated slang expression for homosexuals that one sometimes runs across in old novels and somehow connected with Judy Garland and the Wizard of Oz. [What is this boy reading, anyway?] You might suggest that the fact that you did not immediately recognize what he is getting at might be considered evidence that you are not what he supposes? But I don't think he is thinking clearly at this point, so that might be too subtle. Or maybe just a double bluff? Are you straight-but-pretending-to-be-gay-pretending-to-be-straight just to confuse us?

As you point out, it doesn't matter. People will label me (talking about me here, folks) what they want to, whether or not it is true or whether or not it is a label I would use myself. They have already decided to discount what I have to say, and now they are looking for an excuse. In the world of adults, this is called rationalization.

In my case, I can and do say I am gay. I would say I am also straight-friendly. Does that confuse gay people, you think, and make them think I am secretly straight but unwilling to face the consequences of admitting it?

I always loved Boy George's response when he was asked if he were gay: "I'm quite content."

Quite content is not a bad goal.

TN Rambler said...

Steve,
You were much more "polite" than I think I would have been in those circumstances.

My first experience with your blog was with the post that you mentioned. As I've read through your archives, I've found a fellow seeker who remembers that John 3:16 says "whosoever" with no conditions.

Grace and Peace to you, my brother.

[rhymes with kerouac] said...

For what it's worth, my experience has led me to understand that when a person heaps hatred upon us what they're really doing is showing us their pain. They are revealing their weakness, their fear and their wounded self, openly displaying the very thing that must break Christ's heart - their self-imposed distance from his loving embrace. I have no responsibility for the attitudes of others, but if I allow Christ to live large in me, I then have a response-ability to allow Him to love, to unconditionally love, to completely and endlessly and hopelessly and stupidly love in return for all the cruelties cast upon me.

It's His way, and it's the only way.

dave paisley said...

Steve,

for all you admit in your brokenness you continue to inspire me to a simple authenticity. We have an AA group that meets at our church a couple of times a week and I see you in each one of them whenever we meet.

Keep on keepin' on.

Poor Mad Peter said...

I go with Dave on this: you are very up front about your struggles, and it's inspiring. I agree that your authenticity is what shines through.

You have every right to be angry/annoyed with the abysmal level of discourse (and thinking) in the quotes you shared. To paraphrase the Great Rabbi, "The ignorant we will always have with us..."

If it's any consolation, you don't have to bear the 'future pastor's' spiritual burdens (and they are manifold, be sure), as revealed unwittingly by the tortured logic of his beliefs.

Another day dawns, and we rise, aware of our brokenness, and get on with life.Shake the dust from your sandals, old boy...

For Christ's love compels us.. said...

I have no idea how the bloke you mentioned managed to jump to such a conclusion. I didn't know what the term meant either till you defined it.
All the assumptions men makes eh?And worse, he's gonna be a pastor. Can you imagine him doing counselling? Heh.
Anyhow, I do think you should at least have a pray about if you should give a link from the forum to this post. Or write a response. Or whatever.
The reason isn't to start an arguement, clear your innocence or to help the bloke deal with his delusion, but because there are others reading that thread. You may be done with him in the Lord by kicking the dust of your sandels, but there are others reading his thread who may not be like him. But thats me. And i think you've already done good should you just stop here. Maybe pray about it AFTER you calmed down? Heh.
So there, my 2 cents worth. Nutters like him exist, just too bad for some of us that we may have to cross paths with them. Oh well, if nothing else, they teach us grace. Heh.

Sue said...

Working in a recovery home for women as I do, I find that little misunderstanding really funny. Have to tell the girls that one. lol I guess that is why we are not so anonymous anymore, people can be so ignorant if no one has ever shared with them.

Dale said...

Steve:
This the first time I have made a comment on your post. But I read it everyday. I enjoy your honesty. In my walk I have found very few that can be honest with others or themselves.
Keep it up!

Keith Brenton said...

Steve,

Forget the return of the spiritual Goliath. Give me the little boy David any day ... the one who'll grow up to mess up, then beg of God: "Don't take your Holy Spirit away from me!"

-- K

the reverend mommy said...

I've been lurking for a while, and I must say I really enjoyed your rant. It really seemed more like prophetic preaching, to me. Preach on!

By the way, I am friends with Bill and Dorothy. Jones. They are members of my congregation. So I suppose when anyone says they are "friends of Bill and Dorothy" they really could be friends of Bill and Dot or a gay recovering alcoholic??

For some reason (if you knew Bill and Dot -- married 60 years and conservative as all get out) this makes me giggle.

Mumcat said...

Danged fine rant.

Knowing the Southern Baptist distaste for and prejudice against alcohol in any form, I doubt whether too many friends of Bill will be making that preacher's acquaintance.

If you have to pass a litmus test in order to receive an apology, Lord help us. Makes me more glad than ever that 40 years ago this past Sunday I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church after having been raised Southern Baptist. Thanks be to God, I haven't regretted that step at all. Looking at what the SBC stands for now, I'm even more grateful to have escaped.

wilsonian said...

Christ taught a radical kind of love. I am proud to be your "sister", exploring what it is to love our neighbours.

You encourage me, and I'm grateful.