In the beginning (so the story goes), God rolled herself into an enormous disco ball, then hurled herself out of heaven and down into the known universe. Crash, smack, boom! (Call it the Big Bang if you will.) God broke into a gazillion pieces. “Let the dance begin,” she said, and it did. Some of the mirror shards became stars, some people, plants, mountains, mosquitoes. Others became lakes and oceans, trees and turnips.
In a world made of mirrors I often see myself reflected in others. Just now I catch sight of myself in a college-aged Narcissus. Little wisp of a thing, a handful of good intentions held together by a smile. Wide-eyed innocence pasted together of rose petals and dahlia blossoms. I judge him beautiful, naive and gay; I guess him unaware on all three counts.
He sets my gaydar off. To clanging. Something about his soft gentle physical presence screams “Y-M-C-A.” Never mind the willowy girlfriend clinging to his arm. Wishful thinking. I see in him my former self—my repressed, sublimated, clueless, closeted youthful self. You have a long road ahead of you, young man.
My husband Dave and I are serving as volunteer staff at a conference for students from my alma mater, a conservative evangelical Christian college that gives new meaning to the word “conservative.” Last fall, after 166 years of outlawing the practice, the university amended its rules to allow students to engage in social dancing—on a limited basis. The school is equally forward-thinking on LGBT matters. In my eight years there as student and later as staff member, I found zero tolerance and acceptance of LGBT people. I doubt they’ve changed their stance.
Dave engages Narcissus in conversation. I keep my distance, listen in as Dave asks him where he’s from, the name of the town. “What's your major?"
"Christian Education," Narcissus says. He plans to go into the ministry.
Gay, gay, gay.
I listen to them talk about Dave's career path. Dave doesn't at first reveal that he is an ordained minister of many years standing; instead, he says he graduated with a social work major, though never worked as a social worker. Dave attended a nearby sister school—small, very Christian—then seminary.
"Oh, you went straight on through."
“No,” Dave says. “I went into military service, then did some other things before enrolling in seminary.” He served in the Air Force, he says, his choice to avoid being drafted into the Army. Couldn't see himself killing Vietnamese people. He signed on as a medic and was put into data automation for two years, then another two in drug rehab for troops returning from the front with addiction issues.
"I've thought about going into the military," says the earnest young man. "My father and grandfather were military men."
Child, they would eat you alive.
It comes out that Dave pastored, then used his listening skills and other social work training in his role as chaplain with hospice for 25 years. They talk briefly about the role of listening.
Dave offers priceless advice. I hope Narcissus can hear it. "When I was in the pastorate, I learned people didn't care about my theology, or all the book learning I had from seminary. They wanted someone to listen to them, to hear where they were at, what they were struggling with.”
Do you hear him, eager-sincere-clueless youth? When people are hurting they want you to be real, to give of your true self; they don’t care what you know, how closely you subscribe to doctrine. They want you to be the mirror of the divine, reflect their own divinity back to themselves. Look in the mirror, dear. See who you are. Know that what you have to offer others begins there.