I came home from yet another speaking engagement Sunday night feeling pretty good. The talk had gone well, and the youth staff had invited me out to a pub afterwards to talk more. I was very tired since I had taught Sunday School that day, and then spent the afternoon at a picnic with the youth group from my church. As I pulled into the underground parking of my apartment building, I was feeling tired but content. I had spent the day doing what I love doing most. I fumbled with my keys to open the door from the garage into the main building and made my way to the elevator and pushed the button, knowing it would probably take forever for the machine to recognize my request and send an elevator down to the basement. As I stood there waiting my eyes wandered around the room as it always does when the boredom of waiting for the elevator sets in.
And then I saw it: a new piece of graffiti carved into the deep brown bricks of the hallway. In the midst the familiar etchings declaring eternal love between various youth of the building, in big ugly letters were two new words: KILL FAGS.
My stomach dropped, my muscles tightened and I could feel that old familiar dread grip the core of me. It was like I was back in high school again, wondering if someone had found out about me. Afraid of losing my home, losing my friends, getting beat up again.
I took a deep breath and exhaling began a centering prayer that I had been taught years ago by my spiritual director. I forced myself to remember who I am: I am a child of God. I am part of the body of Christ. I will NOT wear that name anymore.
I grabbed my keys and began to vigorously rub it against the offending words. I applied all my strength to it and the scratches I made began to cover over the hateful words. I stepped back and looked at my handiwork. It was now impossible to read the hateful words under all the other scratches I had made.
But I knew what was under there.
The elevator finally arrived and I got in and punched the button for my floor. As it began its ascent I slumped against the wall and fought back tears. I felt so very tired. I wondered about putting in a work order to have the wall repainted or something. But the thought of having to explain to the landlords…just left me feeling exhausted beyond words. Did I really want to make a big deal of this? It was probably just some stupid kids.
The elevator lurched to a halt and I stepped out on my floor and used the key I had so recently applied to the wall to open the door to my apartment. Inside my wife was already fast asleep. I dumped my bags on the floor and collapsed on my sofa. Tears began to roll down my cheeks as I took up an old lament.
“How long oh Lord? How long?”
How long will hatred rule men’s hearts.
How long will children grow up in fear?
How long will the wounds I thought finally healed be torn open yet again?
I had been struggling for days with a deep weariness. Sometimes I get tired of the overwhelming ugliness of the hate that this issue seems to engender in others. I am frustrated by the teens I can not protect, the damage I can not undo, and the fact that while words scratched in walls can be covered over the ones carved in some hearts are never fully removed. What does one do in response to such naked hatred?
But in this time I feel the Spirit with me, comforting me and reminding me that Jesus too was hated. I am not alone. And slowly, ever so slowly my heart begins to turn. I remember that the only response to hatred is to love, and I pray for whoever carved those words. I wonder what experiences have twisted them so that they would do such a thing and pray for God’s grace in their lives. I remember that the only response to ignorance is truth, and as I take a day of rest I gather strength to go out this weekend and share my story once again. In the face of such ugliness I remembered the weekend before: watching 2,000 young Christians standing together after I shared my story cheering for me and declaring together that they wanted their generation to be the one that changed the legacy of homophobia that Christianity has long embraced.
Hatred may carve words on walls and hearts, but it is not the last word.
God’s Word is alive and active. It is bringing change. It will not be stopped.
And with that hope held in my heart I put the words on the wall out of mind and I am able to sleep.