I got word yesterday that a friend from my childhood had passed away. He was just 49, which from where I sit is way too young to die. As I thought about the tragedy of his death, memories flooded back. I remember the day his parents brought him home from the hospital. I was just a kid, but I remember them gently placing him in my arms and I gazed in wonder at the beauty of his face, his tiny fingers and toes.
We not only lived in the same neighborhood, but we also attended the same church. Our families sat close together in worship, attending Sunday dinner-on-the-grounds, and Wednesday night prayer meetings. As I grew older, we lost touch. I moved away from the neighborhood as did he. I would occasionally hear snippets of him being ‘in trouble’ and something about his sexuality. These were always whispered conversations, a taboo subject. He wasn’t like other kids. The church turned its back on him. As an adult, I can only recall seeing him two or three times. For much of his adult life, he was estranged from his family and from the church and the few times that I remember seeing him, he seemed to stand off to the side, watching things as an observer, with his sad Mona Lisa smile.
The grief I feel in hearing of his death, stirs within me anger, too, at a church that rejected a young man in the midst of his struggles with his identity and sexuality. Why is it that we run away from the hard questions and struggles, often when people need us the most to stand with them? Shouldn’t the church, God’s people, have the confidence and faith to be able to encounter all of the messiness of life with love and humility, knowing that it’s entirely okay if we get our hands dirty in the process of loving others. Jesus sure did. He had no problem hanging out with anyone, except maybe those self-righteous types. Too often, we (and I am including myself here) are too concerned with getting our theology right that we miss the opportunities we are given to “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) The sad reality is that if we don’t start with justice, kindness and humility, our theology is never right, even when it is.