Are You There Linus? It’s Me, Charlie.

nopimpLast week when I was writing the piece called Happiness, you know the one where I promised to stop blogging forever, I went to YouTube to watch videos of grade school and high school kids in productions of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. Because it was my happiest moment, I thought I might learn something from watching videos of another generation poring their hearts and souls into Happiness the same way my 4th and 5th grade co-stars did.

I don’t know that I learned anything, per se. Kids are kids and dramatic kids are dramatic kids. Also no surprise, dramatic kids often grow into dramatic adults.

Yesterday, during my swim, I thought about where life took my friends who shared the stage with me on that hallowed Kansas elementary school production. I am only in contact with two people, one of the Lucy’s and one of the Patty’s. I’m not too sure whatever became of the other Lucy or the other Patty. Snoopy moved away in 6th grade. And I don’t even remember who played Schroeder. (No small parts, you say? Tell that to the person who plays Schroeder.) I do remember, and I’m still sure of this to this day, we were all stars in the making, Broadway ready. As if on the day of the last performance, we could have piled into Mrs. Tideman’s Buick Sportwagon, driven cross country and arrived in New York, ready to take it by storm. We were THAT good, we were Spring Awakening good.

If I overplayed every scene, my Linus, another 5th grader named Derek, deftly underplayed each of his. The tallest and smartest boy in our class, his Linus was nuanced and intelligent and thought-provoking. And the juxtaposition of 6 foot ten year old, holding a blanket and sucking his thumb, made for a pretty funny sight gag, too.

Because I was obsessed with all things Peanuts growing up, I sometimes had a hard time with the character of Linus. Is he a young Socrates or a pretentious asshole? I suppose what is brilliant about Charles Schultz is that he gave Linus his blanket (or his need for a blanket) and his thumb sucking to remind us that Linus is smart and is totally going to grow up to be governor or something but he also has his vulnerabilities. That being said, he isn’t alway the best friend to his best friend, in my opinion. For instance, when he saw that NO ONE was sending Charlie a valentine, couldn’t and shouldn’t he have sent one himself? Not one valentine for Valentine’s day? Poor Charlie Brown. Also, why didn’t he ever tell his sister to stop bullying his best friend? And you know that once CB and Linus get to high school, Linus is going to get invited to all the good parties and he’s not going to invite Charlie to them. “You wouldn’t enjoy it, Charlie Brown, just a lot of jello shots and senior quarterbacks trying to grope sophomore cheerleaders.”

As it turns out, my Linus, Derek Schmidt, is now the attorney general of the state of Kansas. In the last few months of 2014, Derek’s face and words were all over the gay press because of his role in Kansas’ battle to avoid marriage equality. In a google search I did today, I found this quote from the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, “Gov. Sam Brownback, the right-wing, homophobic Republican, and his equally anti-gay Attorney General Derek Schmidt, are trying their best to fight the order of the court.” And I know the gays tend to make sweeping generalizations, but I had to pause and ask myself, Carrie Bradshaw style, IS Derek Schmidt as equally anti-gay as Brownback?

It’s something I ponder. Yes, his role in this war is clear. He has been awarded the task of being the face and voice against marriage equality in his state. But everything I read that he says, he chooses his words so carefully, one still might wonder what Derek Schmidt truly feels about the rights of homosexual men and women. I wonder, if Derek was the attorney general for the state of Massachusetts, would he imbed himself in the fight FOR marriage equality?

I have seen Derek exactly 2 times in the last 10 years. I saw him the weekend of my 20 year class reunion and actually spent time in his home with a small group and he and his wife were gracious and charismatic hosts. Two years ago, he spoke at the William Inge Festival, and we chatted briefly afterward. He offered his condolences on the death of my father and I thanked him and told him my father was still among the living. If he felt discomfort about being in a room that was comprised of, by Kansas standards, an inordinately high percentage of homosexuals, he gave no indication. Derek has always had an simple, aw shucks, intelligence and graciousness about him. He had it at 10, when he was playing Linus.

I don’t know that Derek and I will have a real conversation about what he truly believes in his heart concerning the rights of homosexuals ever in our lifetimes. I am sure he would be guarded, choose his words carefully, wonder about my intentions. He is no longer Linus, I am no longer Charlie Brown.

I have a hope that eventually the tide will turn in my home state. I get emails from friends in Kansas who are ardently in favor of marriage equality. The last ten years have shown much progress nationally and I don’t doubt the next ten years will show even more of a shift.

As Schultz reminded us when he created the characters of Charlie Brown and Linus and Snoopy and Lucy and Sally and Peppermint Patty and the rest, we all have our vulnerabilites. If you’ve read even one paragraph of my blog, you’re probably well aware of mine. But I always thought there was something weak about Linus and well, I think the same about Attorney General Schmidt too.

This is conjecture. But I don’t think Derek wants to be the face againt marriage equality in Kansas, he just wants to be the face of Kansas. He sees this as his opportunity to advance his political career. It’s not about people, it’s about his career.

But for the rest of us, it is about people and I really want the gay people that live in my home state, a state I love, to have the same rights I have in California, even the same rights Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt have as a heterosexual couple living in Kansas.

Somewhere in Kansas, as I type this, there is at least one (probably more) highly emotive grade or junior high schooler belting his heart out to Happiness in preparation for a school production of my favorite musical. He will grow up in that state and at some point come out of the closet, not that it will be a surprise to anyone. He will hopefully fall in love and maybe decide to live out his life with his husband in Lawrence or Wichita or Dodge City or Independence. And this is my hope: that his best friend Linus from that long ago production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown will be there beside him at that marriage ceremony, that wedding, his best man standing up for his best friend. That’s my wish. And, good grief, I think it’s a sweet one.

Letters, I Do Get Letters.

BzIkodzIcAAfEIg.jpg-largeWell, I suppose by letters, I mostly mean emails or Facebook messages, but from time to time, I do receive privates correspondence from people, usually from people I know, about something I’ve written here.  Just the other day, I received a card in the mail from a junior high and high school classmate full of encouragement.  What a sweet gesture, I thought.  We seldom communicate with cards and physical letters anymore and when you get something in the mail, it’s a treat.  So, thank you, T, you made my day.

Also on the same day, I received a FB message from a fellow classmate from Ozark Christian College.  I have thought about it quite a bit since reading it.  I responded that day and he responded to my response that day, but I really don’t know what to say in going further.  When you read this, you might have your own thoughts on the matter.  For the sake of anonymity, I will call him Andrew.

Here it is:

Hey Ray – I have been struggling for a while to ask you some questions about your life now. I am frustrated because I do care about you as a classmate and brother in Christ but I just cannot reconcile your contradictions. I am not attacking you or trying to start an argument – and I am sure you have posted your story – but help me understand why you think you are right and I am wrong? I am asking this in COMPLETE humility and a desire for compassionate understanding. Thanks

This was my response to him:
Andrew, thank you for taking the time to send me a message. I don’t doubt that I sometimes contradict myself, I believe most of us do at times. You don’t have to reconcile the person I was when you knew me to the person I am now. I think I understand how you see it as your job to help me and I don’t mind that, but I don’t see it that way.

Still, if you would like to write a guest blog, I think it would be a great conversation starter. You really could take any direction that you want. My sense is that you have been thinking and praying about this and I’m sure you have something to say that many people want to hear. Yours is the first message of this nature I’ve received from my OCC classmates and I’m sure you are expressing what many feel and think. I would love to have your POV.

This was his response to my response:

I appreciate that Ray – I will definitely consider that – I do want you to understand that I do not feel it is my job to help you. I think as a friend it is my responsibility to completely understand your POV and choice – if I don’t agree so be it – but I have been wrestling with this because I am angered by what I consider over-reach in the gay community – and the threats against those of us who are Christians. So that is what I am trying to reconcile – thanks for your kind response – I look forward to more dialogue !!

Now, let me say, I do appreciate his attempt to have a conversation.  I don’t doubt that he is expressing the thoughts of many of the conservative Christians I know. And I do think it was sent with good intentions.  Is it overstepping the boundaries of what is “polite” to initiate this exchange? It’s possible.  Andrew and I were amiable at OCC, but I never considered him one of my closest friends and I doubt he considered me one of his closest.  Does that make a difference?  Maybe, maybe not.

I think it’s somewhat audacious to talk about one’s perceived “over-reach in the gay community” to someone who knows first hand what it means to not have the same rights as any member of the heterosexual community.  If it appears that fighting for equal rights for myself and my community is an over-reach, I can’t apologize, it’s something too important to me.

Another thing that I’ve thought quite a bit about in the days since receiving the letter is him telling me that he can’t reconcile my contradictions.  And maybe this is just me, but what I heard, whether it was intended or not, is that he sees me as a hypocrite.  I am sure I am.  I think most of us are, but I really try to be a forthright, honest, accountable person.

There is something that I have skated around since I started this blog.  I have avoided talking about my personal beliefs in terms of God and the Bible in specific terms for only one reason, I don’t want to hurt my parents.  They do read this and while I’m sure they know my belief system is not identical to theirs, we do not discuss it.  If they were to ask me, I would tell them, but, we don’t talk about it.  It certainly isn’t rare for parents and children to see the world differently.  But one of the many things I love about my parents is that they focus on what we have in common, the things that do connect us.

I have been torn about even sharing these exchanges from my classmate.  He asked me why I think I’m right and why he’s wrong.  I could ask him the same thing, and I suppose his answer would be that’s what the Bible says.  But I could respond with, “No, that is how you interpret what the Bible says.” Even among people who identify as Christians, there are widely varied interpretations on many subjects. And it must be said, not every person esteems the Bible as the inspired guidebook for one’s life anyway.

I know how I go on and on about wanting to be the bridge between the GLBT community and the conservative Christian community, but there is a part of me that gets defensive when I receive messages of this kind. And I must say, that’s stupid of me, because Andrew really is just initiating an honest conversation and maybe having that conversation can lead to something good. I mean, if Melissa Etheridge and Mike Huckabee can be friends, isn’t there hope for all of us?

I do welcome your thoughts, even if you are going to tell me something I disagree with. And ESPECIALLY if you are going to tell me something I agree with. Either way, it means we are talking, communicating, and somehow that conversation might inevitably be the channel for connection.

I do want everyone to like me, it’s part of my needy nature. I know it’s just a handful of people who read this, most are people I have known in my lifetime. Most I rarely see in person. But if you are one of my old friends in Kansas or Missouri or Oklahoma, you do have GLBT folks that you work with or go to school with or are the parents of your children’s friends. And even if you read my blog and think, you know, I really don’t agree with Ray, he’s arrogant, a jerk, contradictory, hypocritical, not nearly as smart as he thinks, that is okay. My bigger hope is that somehow me sharing my journey creates a sensitivity, an understanding, even a love, for those people, members of my tribe, who ARE in your lives. Many have been rejected by their family or their friends or their church and it’s my belief that you being there for them, really being a friend, would be a good thing for them and also for you.