Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chariot Wheels on the Bottom of the Red Sea

Glen's mom has been visiting this weekend. We drove to Iowa and picked her up on Wednesday, and she's staying with us till Sunday.

Her brother recently relocated to the Twin Cities area, and as we were driving back to Minneapolis Wednesday evening, she told us that she hoped she would be able to see him while visiting with us. So we invited Glen's uncle to come for a visit yesterday evening.

The reason Glen's uncle is in the Twin Cities area is because he is looking for work. He was invited to stay at the home of a friend, while he searched for a job and until he was financially able to get a place of his own. The generosity of this friend extended to driving Glen's uncle to our home, which is about fifteen miles from where they are staying in one of the northern suburbs. So naturally the roommate as well as the uncle was invited to stay for the entire visit.

The night before, Glen was worried. "Did you tell them about John and Göran?" he asked his mom.

She shrugged her shoulders. I.e., No, they had received no advanced warning that they were going to be spending the evening in a gay home. Glen started to fret.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" Göran sighed, smiling mischievously. After chuckling a bit about the Sidney Poitier reference, we reassured Glen that there was nothing to worry about. We would just be ourselves, and we were sure that everybody could behave like grown-ups and get along just fine.

Last night, the guests arrived and we all sat down in the living room and started to talk. Göran served coffee, and made sure everybody felt at home. Conversation began with the usual kinds of small talk: work, weather, life in the Twin Cities, etc. Glen's mom and his uncle chatted about family and friends back in Iowa, and Glen's uncle complimented Glen on how well he was doing in school and on getting accepted to the University of Minnesota, and he thanked us for taking such good care of Glen. Everything was going swimmingly. Until at some point the uncle's roommate chimed in and started talking about religion.

The roommate, it was evident from the way he had participated in the conversation up to that point in the evening, reveled in story-telling. He clearly enjoyed being at the center of attention. And he also didn't seem to be the type of person who filtered much anything of what he was saying. He would start telling a story, and the telling of that story would trigger some association to another story. And so he'd careen on to the next topic, seemingly at random, and keep on going until somebody interrupted with a story of their own. In the course of the evening, he apparently didn't mind telling us, among other things, that he enjoyed playing blood-'n'-gore-type horror video games on the PlayStation; that up until about five years ago he was a drug addict but has been clean since he became a Christian; that he periodically irritates his supervisor at work with noisy arguments about religion in the lunchroom; and that he (at some unspecified time in the recent past) assaulted and beat up a man as the culmination of some road rage incident (which he swears he didn't start, but was glad to finish). That's the context.

So the roommate started talking about the Bible and having a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As he was doing so, the tone of his voice was rising, and he was getting more and more excited, leaning forward in his seat and gesticulating. And as he got louder and more emphatic, Glen, I noticed, was looking more and more uncomfortable, slowly sinking lower and lower in his chair, with anguish in his eyes. Göran too was looking more and more tight-lipped and impatient. Just at the point when I thought either Glen or Göran wasn't going to be able to take it anymore, our guest launched into a tirade about the evils of homosexuality, and how America was going to be under judgment from God for tolerating it.

For those of you who have never been guests in the Gustav-Wrathall home, I will point out that there are plenty of clues about exactly what kind of home this is and what kind of couple we are. On the video shelf there's Queer Son and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (right next to Jesus Christ Superstar and Mormon Scientist). There's the framed cover of my book hanging on the wall: Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA. But apart from that there are no less than twelve (12) family portraits of me and Göran as a couple hanging on the walls of the living room, including a large, three-foot-wide, hand-drawn charcoal portrait that we posed nine hours for, and a very intimate, black and white photo of us shirtless, embracing, and gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Then of course there's us, and the guileless way we refer to each other as "honey" and "sweetheart."

So when a house guest who's been sitting in our living room and conversing with us for approximately two hours launches into an anti-homosexual tirade, you must conclude one of two things. He's either incredibly clueless and unobservant. Or he just doesn't care. And based on what I'd observed, both were equally possible explanations under the circumstances.

Now from past experience, I knew there was only one way to handle this situation. I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and asked the Spirit to help me say what needed to be said, and do what needed to be done. What ensued, I think, was proof that not only I but my husband were both receiving an abundance of spiritual help that night.

Göran was sitting on the love seat next to Glen's uncle. And he simply turned to the uncle and began a quiet side conversation, simply ignoring the roommate's tirade. The roommate was so involved in his speech, he didn't even seem to notice that others were tuning out. Göran simply started telling the uncle about the artwork on the walls. He pointed to the book cover, and started telling the uncle about my research on the role of gay men in the history of the YMCA. Then he started pointing to artwork on the walls that had been created by Glen. Then he asked the uncle if he'd like to see Glen's room, and look at some more of his art. The uncle agreed, and when Göran and the uncle got up, that was Glen's cue that it was OK for him to leave now and he didn't need to listen to what this other man was saying any more. That left me and Glen's mom to deal with the roommate.

He continued to bluster on for a while, and we politely let him. At an appropriate point, I steered the conversation to the general problem of sin. I shared with him my understanding of Christ's teaching that the most dangerous kinds of sin are always the sins of the heart. I shared some of my own wrestling with the sin of anger. That seemed to trigger an association for him, and it was at that point he began to regale us with an account of the above-mentioned road-rage incident. Glen's mom helped by occasionally adding a comment or two about the importance of focusing on faith and patience and charity as the heart of Christian faith. And that led us to a discussion of prayer, and the ways in which the Holy Spirit can help us to pray for what we need, even when we don't know ourselves what we need. There was no more discussion of homosexuality for the rest of the evening.

Eventually the conversation meandered on (I'm not sure how) to the topic of Moses and the Exodus, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Our guest was very excited about a book he'd read entitled The Exodus Case, in which archaeologists claimed to have found the actual site of the Red Sea crossing, and the actual Mount Sinai in northwestern Arabia, not in the Sinai Peninsula. Apparently at sites identified by the author of this book, the remains of chariot wheels and human and horse bones have been found all along the floor of the Gulf of Aqaba, from the Sinai to Arabia. At one point, the roommate and I were sitting on the couch together chatting in a friendly manner, while he showed me the supposed route to freedom followed by the children of Israel on Google Earth.

All ended well. Our guests eventually began to wend their way home another three and a half hours later, but only after Göran had pulled out the family album and shown them pictures of Glen and all our travels and adventures, including our trip to California in the summer of 2008, and pictures from our wedding, with me and Göran in First Congregational Church in Riverside, CA in our tuxedos.

As we bid them good night, Glen's uncle was almost teary in his expressions of gratitude to me and Göran. From some of the things he'd said throughout the evening, he is evidently a man of deep faith, whose personal relationship with God has helped him weather the storms of his own life, including his present struggle to come to grips with a painful divorce and find a job in a still creaky economy. For him, as for his roommate, and his sister, and me, Jesus Christ is real. We shared something significant, I felt, in that we knew of Christ's reality from his interventions in our lives. I don't know if Glen's uncle felt any embarrassment about how his roommate had behaved. But he went out of his way to repeatedly thank me and Göran for everything we'd done to care for and love Glen, and help him mature and find his bearings in the world. I was genuinely moved, and Göran and I told him he is always welcome in our home, and that we hope he'll always feel free to come and visit his nephew any time he wants.

This morning as I woke up, I was thinking about the events of the night before. I was thinking of all the things I might have said in that situation that I am very glad I did not say.

I mostly kept silent because what the Spirit was whispering to me in that moment was to remind me of the Lord's promise that if we trust him, he will fight our battles for us. So it is up to me be faithful by obeying Christ's commandment not to judge, to be patient, to love. God will take care of us if we let him. If there are chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea, they are a concrete, physical reminder of nothing less than that.


Sara said...

Maybe the experience will open his mind a little.

J G-W said...

Well, I always like to think of these situations as a two way street when it comes to learning. I think we learned that not everyone who holds homophobic opinions is necessarily a bad person, just misinformed. Sometimes we find friends in unusual places and in unusual ways.

Anonymous said...

JOhn this is a truly amazing story.