This is something that’s been on my mind for a while: deliberately going someplace that seems to stand at the antithesis of Christianity–or at least the antithesis of church life. God’s been convicting me to get out of my Christian bubble and go meet people who are *gasp* not Christian.
And Denver had its LGBT Pridefest this weekend, so what better place to start? The goal was not to preach, hand out tracts, or even advertise myself as a Christian (though I accidentally wore a church T-shirt–hey, when you grow up like this, it’s all you have). The goal was simply to go. To be friendly, to show them that God doesn’t want to stay away from them.
Also, to challenge myself. To confront the things that make me cringe, recoil, or burn with anger, whether rightly or not, and overcome them. As I said in an earlier post, love is not always my first reaction, but I at least want it to be my second.
So here are my reactions to the Denver Pridefest and my very first LGBT festival.
1. This is hard!
I’ve spent much of my life in church-y settings. It’s simply how I grew up. And I knew that a Pridefest was going to be unashamedly not church-y.
But I didn’t anticipate how much. I went in knowing I’d see blatant homosexuality, transgender people, all that jazz. However, these events tend to attract very left-wing thinkers whereas I grew up right-wing. Today, I’m somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, but I wasn’t prepared for how many creative ways people could believe differently than I do–and I’m not just talking about LGBT matters!
I won’t go into details because it will just turn this post into an endless series of arguments, but I had to fight my feelings. My automatic reactions were, I’m sorry to say, unloving. I didn’t say or do anything, but my blood boiled. “How could they do x? How could they think y? How could they tolerate z?”
Eventually, I had to find a quiet space, breathe, and remind myself: this is why I came. I’m not some hero saint come to save the souls of the LGBT community. I’m a guy who’s spent so much time inside stained glass that I’ve developed an intolerance. I need to love people who don’t see the world as I do.
This trip was for me. To get outside my bubble, my comfortable bubble. My gut wanted to leave and never come back. Love, however, is more than emotions. It’s a choice. A choice to say, “No, I will not leave. I’ll stay and love these people, and pray good things for them.”
And the first step to that is tolerating their presence. I freely admit it’s a journey, and I beg your patience.
2. I’m bored.
Apparently, I came on a slow day or a slow time. Denver Pridefest is supposedly the third-largest Pride event in the US. There was a massive chain of vendor stalls, some music…and that’s it. You can shop, you can sit in the grass…then look around and think, “I paid seven dollars to park for this?”
This may be another burden of my church bubble: distorted perceptions. I thought an LGBT Pridefest would be more, well, eventful. Not like live shows and such, I meant people doing stuff.
See, Christians who’ve been inside too long get this idea that Pridefests are an endless merry-go-round of banana hammocks, chicks in flannel arm wrestling, same-sex tongue wars, and naked dancing around an upside-down cross which is alight from the burning tinder of Bibles.
Actually, it’s just a bunch of people walking around.
True, a handful of guys walked around in thongs and hotpants, and one or two girls wore pasties and nothing else up top, but those were rare occasions. Piercings, tattoos, non-mainstream hairstyles and hair colors? Seen it.
To be fair, the parade was the next day. And I’m not an LGBT person, so this event isn’t catered to me. But it was 95 degrees outside today. I was hot, tired, and carrying a frustrated one-year-old. I was quite ready to leave when I saw every single thing in only one hour.
Seriously, I was going to take pictures and post them here, but there was NOTHING happening.
But I’m glad I stayed because only a few minutes later, I had insight number three.
3. My son is leading me somewhere.
Yes, I, a Christian, brought my impressionable one-year-old to Pridefest. You may now faint.
My wife and I forgot the stroller, so we had carry the little tyke. Right when we started to get bored, we decided to let him run around in the shady park which the Pridefest encompassed. We figured we’d just follow him around and make sure he didn’t get into trouble, let him put smiles on peoples’ faces, and just kill time.
About a minute later, I felt God nudge my spirit. I had a sense that this was leading to something. My son was running around throngs of people cooling off in the grass, so I figured we were about to have some kind of encounter.
Shortly after that, my son decided to simply stop next to a young woman sitting by herself. My son hung around for so long that eventually we all introduced ourselves.
Her name was Kate. She liked fantasy books and movies, and was starting to get into sci-fi. She thought Marvel was getting in over its head with all its superhero movies. And she thought Garrus was the best romantic choice for Femshep in the Mass Effect series.
Oh, yeah. I added her on Facebook.
So thanks to my son, and God’s insistence that I remain patient, I made a geeky friend (you can never have enough of those). This was what I’d been hoping for with Pridefest, to meet someone outside my normal circle and connect with them. So thank you, God, for answering that prayer.
All in all…
It wasn’t the experience I pictured, but it was still a good one. It was a pretty calm day, the people were colorful (literally), and I got the conviction I needed. Still, my wife and I decided to go with friends next year since there isn’t much to actually do unless you have money (we don’t) or you’re an extrovert (we aren’t).
No, Christians, I didn’t bring anybody to Christ. No, I didn’t debate theology with Kate–I didn’t even ask her sexual/gender orientation. We just chatted. Like human beings. That was the point: to treat someone like a human being, a treatment they don’t usually get from the church. Besides, if I’m ever going to win anybody to Christ, I must start by being friendly.
And I got a chance to practice being friendly in the midst of non-Christian circumstances. Oh, yeah, people were sinning everywhere, and it built up some tolerance, that thing the LGBT community craves. Maybe God will use me to evangelize someone in at a future festival, but today, He was more concerned with growing me up.
Sometimes, to meet God, you have to go outside the church, which is obvious, since that’s where he usually is.