Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Friendship (04/04/05)
He was the son of a fundamentalist independent Baptist pastor in the rural deep South, and the kind of Republican who instinctively wanted to nuke most of the Middle East. I was an agnostic anti-war liberal. Nonetheless we had in common an ethic of kindness and respect for people of widely differing beliefs, intellectual pleasure in debate, deeply-felt spirituality and love of God that fostered a feeling of kinship. I met Dan in person only once, at a weekend fan convention; he was an affectionate, likeable oddball.
Dan would talk to me about all kinds of personal troubles--extensive health problems, family difficulties, moral dilemmas. We'd been friends for a couple years when he revealed one of his greatest and most secret pains, and the one his family were least able to empathize with: from the time he was a child, he had felt that he was female. Moreover, he did not learn until well into adulthood that he was born with two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome, a rare condition called Klinefelter syndrome. Klinefelter patients are regarded as male because they possess a Y chromosome and male genitalia, but nearly half say they are female in their souls.
I got to know my friend all over again, as Tina--a name she is able to use only online. She is exactly the same person of course, but her thinking had already begun to shift as she questioned more deeply the often unwelcoming and even nasty attitudes of her loved ones and church friends not only toward transgendered people, but toward most anyone else deemed as "suspicious" or unusual in their personal behavior. She also questioned negative attitudes toward "liberals"--those motivated by compassion for outcasts, for the poor, the sick, those plagued by violence.
She turned to intensive Bible study and met in the Gospels a Jesus she had always known and yet was only beginning to know. Tina believes in the Bible, every word, and the compassionate example of Jesus and his central commandment to love was not lost on her.
Tina has been a tremendous teacher and inspiration to me, a person of sterling moral instincts. She has refused to reduce her fundamentalist friends and family to ugly caricatures even when they have been cruel, and tenderly taught me not to either. She's suffered a constant stream of painful health and personal troubles with fortitude and optimism; it is a privilege and a growing experience to me to be of any comfort. And she's been an unfailing friend to me in my own lonely life. She calls so often as to be annoying, but she is the only person who calls.
Tina tells me our conversations, as well as her Bible study and prayer, have led her to a faith more authentically grounded in the Gospel message and the example of Jesus Christ. She feels delighted, humbled, amazed by the peeling away of layers to understand and commit herself to love of God and neighbor rather than Pharisaical ideology and legalism. She's faced painful revelations about how short her church falls in embodying the authentic spirit of Christ; she neither wants to abandon them nor to be their judge, but hopes for God to transform their hearts too. And she's faced rejection and anger as her political sensibilities have shifted to convictions that capital punishment is wrong, war should be a last resort, public policy should lift up the poor (or at least not assault them), gay and lesbian families need equal protection under civil law, and so forth.
My friend Tina has taught me that my convictions about compassion and the embrace of all people, are not alien to Christian faith but at its heart. I have read the Gospels too, and I long for the kind of world God wants to create more than I can describe to you. I think it begins with friendship and kindness, with love toward even--especially--the least likely people.
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