What did the prophet Isaiah know 2700 years ago that we, sitting amongst our stacks of Bibles and reference books, seem to be missing? We pride ourselves on knowledge, the good deeds we do, the way we live our lives, and the rules we keep for ourselves. We participate weekly in our houses of worship and display many wonderful outward attributes of godly behavior so clear to others. They all prove how tight we are with God, how right we are with God. It may impress others and we think we impress God.
It’s been almost thirty years since my profession of Jesus as Savior, yet I’ve only started to understand what Isaiah spoke of so long ago as he warned the early God-followers. God not only cares about the ones on the edge, He wants me to care about them too. In the upside down economy of God-things, He tells me that when I care so much that I “spend” myself caring of others, the other parts of my life will fall into place.
I’m sure I’ve been taught this principle for decades, but have I understood them to the point of acting on them?
The people God has given me passion and compassion for are the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community, and in particular, those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
It happened naturally. I simply went for a hike.
I live in one of the most beautiful spots in the United States. My home is in Reno, at the edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a short drive from Lake Tahoe. With such close proximity to hiking trails, I’ve had a two decade daily routine of hiking. It was on one of my daily walks in the fall of 2001, that I ran into another woman I’d seen occasionally on the trails. We acknowledged each other as we passed on the trail.
I was overly protective of my hiking time. I was at the end of a twenty year marriage that had fallen about in adultery and mistrust. I needed time alone to think, pray and be silent.
One day however, the stranger and I acknowledged one another. I asked if she minded if I turned around and walked in her direction for awhile. Years later, I can see that a small gesture of acknowledgment was the spark God would use to change my life on numerous levels.
So, Netto Montoya and I became hiking buddies. The second time we hiked, I walked her back to her truck. I spotted a rainbow colored metal key ring hanging from the rear view mirror of her truck. “Hmmm”, I wondered, “Is she gay?”
Her sexual orientation didn’t come up for almost a year. She used -“partner” and other non-male-boyfriend terms, but I respected her privacy. What did her sexuality matter? I found someone compatible with my hiking ability and frequency and besides, she was marvelous company! Cheerful, athletic and energetic.
We talked and laughed and hiked miles and miles. For her part, Netto was reticent to disclose her sexual orientation. She was a public school physical educator who has since retired and was not yet out professionally. There was a danger of accusations arising from people making assumptions about locker room impropriety.
Netto was cautious and not quick to trust. Friendly as I am, she had been burned in relationship and needed time to evaluate my character and trustworthiness. I was clearly a devout Christian; we certainly all know what that means! She was in need of saving and correction, and I was the one that God was going to use to do it.
But that is not how it played out.
I don’t think I have ever been one of the type of judgmental Christians. I was keenly aware of what the Bible said about homosexuality, or at least what I thought it said. I had read the verses in my studies, but hadn’t invested any time beyond a cursory reading. I knew what pastors, preachers and teachers said about the issue and believed it. Why wouldn’t I? It didn’t affect my life.
We hiked hundreds of miles more in the coming years. We each found ourselves having to substantiate our friendship to our respective circle of friends. Just as skeptical as were my friends, hers were equally questioning. Though openness and trust, I found in Netto a person who answered all my dumb questions about lesbianism. As dumb as you can imagines a question, I asked them. I knew nothing. Never being offended, nor secretive, Netto answered.
I can still remember absolutely, vividly, where we were on a trail when she told me she was going to a lesbian RV camp out and looked forward to the “only place where she felt safe.” I knew her well by then and loved her, yet had no way of identifying with her feelings. “Safe?” I was confused. I always felt safe. She said that society let her know she was the “lowest of the low” — being a woman, a Native American, and a lesbian.
It physically hurt that my friend would be viewed and treated as a pariah. For the first time, in years of friendship with Netto, I considered how she felt living in this world that had been loving, accepting and comfortable to me.
It was in that moment, on that patch of dirt on a trail in Whites Creek Canyon, that a shift happened inside me.
I had a glimpse into the pain caused by “my side” toward “her side”.
This was the moment God flipped a switch of compassion in me towards the gay community.