“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me … “
— Exodus. 20:4 -5
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you break your arm …
— James 1:2
God as Bastard Bully
I have a confession to make. I have indicated to some that this is the second broken arm that I have had. Most of you know that I have had somewhere between thirteen to fifteen leg fractures. Last year in February I broke my arm in a Quickie Mart. This year I broke my arm in Seattle, wearing bunny ears. (More on that later.) I have given some people the impression that this is my second broken arm, when in truth it is my third. Let me get this off my chest …
When I was in ninth grade I broke my arm. We were visiting Grandma Jenkins in McMinnville. My cousin Darryl was at grandmas on a brief break from college at Oregon State in Corvallis. My grandmother liked Darryl best of all her grandchildren. I had always assumed that I was next in line because I was the only grandchild that was overtly Christian. Darryl was not a Christian, but a much better brown-noser in terms of Grandma Jenkins.
Darryl was older than me by over a decade, but he was very nice to me. He took me to movies. (I saw Planet of the Apes in the Portland Fox.) And we played a driving game with a spinner from a broken Candy Land game. At every intersection, we would spin the spinner and that would be the direction we went. We mostly went in circles but I enjoyed the attention of my older cousin.
Darryl had to return to the college campus to prepare for some exams, but in a display of adventure suggested that my parents allow me to accompany him back to the campus. We would return later that night. Surprisingly my parents consented to the trip. I was elated.
Once in Darryl’s dorm room he truly did buckle down to study at his desk. I set off to explore the dormitory. I wandered down the hall and I noticed handsome college men walking down the hall with towels around their waist. They were walking toward the showers. I sheepishly followed. I was even brazen enough to follow them into the shower room. However, even though I knew I was gay, I also knew intuitively that it was not polite to stare at naked men as they took a shower. I made my way over to a urinal and pretended to pee. I used the opportunity to scope out the situation.
There was an outside window above the shower stalls. Bless Jesus; there was an outside window! I shook myself dry and casually slipped out the back door. I saw my destination, the window above the shower stalls! And as luck would have it, there was a woodpile leading up to the window. I carefully began my ascent of the woodpile. With each step up, I grew more excited as to what I would find on the other side. I was climbing a homosexual Mt. Everest and when I got to the top I wanted to plant a flag of some sort. Instead, I grabbed the window ledge and began to peer into the steamy shower below. My efforts had been rewarded. I became less careful and more excited by what I saw. In my excitement, the woodpile shifted and collapsed underneath me. And as I fell, I felt a sharp pain in my arm. I had broken my arm.
From the bottom of the woodpile, I cried out in pain. My cousin rushed to my side. “I’m sorry, Derry! I was playing army on this pile of wood and fell. I think I’ve broken my arm.”
As he drove me to the hospital in his VW bug the pain was intense. However, even more intense was my sense of guilt and shame. God was punishing me for being a homosexual. As sure as the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah, I was under the watchful eye of God. Not unlike Santa, he was keeping track of who was naughty and who was nice.
When my parents reached the hospital, my mother was hysterical, “This is all my fault! God is punishing me for the harsh words I had with Grandma Jenkins over the dinner table. This is all my fault!” I could not console her with any revelations about the true nature of this punishment. And even if God was punishing her for mouthing off at Grandma Jenkins (who could be trying at times) the pain was definitely mine!
On the ride home I noticed my father was strangely silent. At the time I did not make the connection, but now decades later I do. He was thinking back to his own broken arms and how in some freakish accident I had inherited the osteogenesis imperfecta. I had inherited his brittle bones.
When I was in high school my father and I would walk around the neighborhood he grew up in McMinnville. I enjoyed hearing about his childhood. One time, we walked passed an older house and he said, “Look up at that window, there. That is the window to Sally Mae Brown’s bedroom. When I was your age I would sneak over at night and climb a tree and peek into that window and watch her get ready for bed.” I thought to myself, “Did he ever fall out of that tree and break his arm?”
My mind drifts back to the trip home from the Corvallis hospital. Was my father internally hemorrhaging over the thought that the sins of father are visited upon the sons?
God as Impish Prankster
Last February the timing of breaking my arm could not have been any worse! I had just left the ministry to come out as a gay man. I was now officially unemployed. The Quickie Mart where I fell was taking no responsibility for the accident and would not return my phone calls. The break itself was one of the most painful I had ever had. As I reflected on the accident itself, it made no sense. I had simply tripped over the edge of a rug and I fell forward. I had told many people that I had jammed my hand forward into the cash machine. But upon a return visit, in an effort to recreate the incident, the proximity of the cash machine and the rug did not match. What I felt upon review was thrusting my arm out and feeling it snap … no, feeling it shatter. Was there an impact or had God stuck out his hairy divine leg from under his white robe and tripped me, snapping my arm directly? Was this a divine practical joke?
I nearly went crazy from that fractured arm. It required a special splint that had to remain on at all times. I was not allowed to shower. The slightest movements would cause unrelenting pain. The only thing that allowed me to make it through those difficult days was that God and I were now even. I would never have to endure another time like this. Even God could not be that sick.
God as Bearded Canadian
The weekend of my last broken arm I was in Seattle at a conference for gay and lesbian Christians. I had not had high hopes for the conference. I was thinking that maybe I would meet a nice guy and he would fall in love with me. That did not happen, but the speaker was a gay man who was chaplain at Denver’s Children’s Hospital. He was a very good communicator and I gained some important new insights for my journey.
The Saturday night of the retreat was a Pajama Party. Forty gay men and a handful of lesbians gathered in the conference room in their pajamas, carrying pillows. We had been instructed prior to the retreat to bring a gift for our “Secret Friend” to wear during the pajama party. Our first activity that night was distributing our “Secret Friend” gifts. There were lots of teddy bears given. Someone gave back issues of “Tiger Beat” magazine with cute boys on the cover. Then it came to my turn to receive my gift from my secret friend. A cute man from Seattle came over and placed fuzzy rabbit ears on my head. I blushed, the crowd roared. Mark, a bearded Canadian from Portland, giggled uncontrollably. My secret friend adjusted my ears to a comical position and then we went on with the others.
That Sunday morning I slept in a little later than the others. After my shower, I noticed my rabbit ears on the bed. I dressed and then put on the rabbit ears as I walked to the dining hall. It was a beautiful morning and I was in a rare good mood. I knew the smiles my ears would bring as I entered the dining hall. I was glad I was here.
I didn’t see the patch of ice. My fall was cartoonlike in its proportions. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I lay there on the ground hoping for the best. Then I remembered I was wearing bunny ears. I quickly removed them, lest someone come upon me and think I was playing a practical joke.
Unlike my fall last year I was able to stand and walk. But as I walked I could feel the bones move and the pain intensified. I made it to the dining hall and motioned for the camp director to come speak to me. He assessed the situation and called for an ambulance. I notified one of the Portland attendees of the situation.
The paramedics placed me on a stretcher and loaded me into an ambulance. They began taking my vitals and asking me medical questions. I noticed a disturbance toward the front of the ambulance. Mark, the bearded Canadian from Portland, was forcing himself into the ambulance. He reached out and placed a hand on me. Later he told me that he would have kissed me on the forehead, but did not want to frighten the paramedics.
The paramedic (the cute one) asked me why I was at the conference center. I hesitated briefly and thought about saying, “for a Christian conference.” Instead, I gave a more complete answer, “I am here for a retreat for gay and lesbian Christians.” I smiled at Mark. His eyes were filled with such compassion and caring. “Okay, we’ve gotta get this man to the hospital.”
During the ride to the hospital, the paramedic (the cute one) began telling me how the world needs to be a more tolerant place … accepting people for who they are. I asked if he attended church anywhere. “My wife and I attend a Catholic Church. I’m a “cradle Catholic.” Why are all the cute ones married? Then he said rather of matter-of-factly, “My mother is a lesbian. She and her partner raised me. They were great.” Then he looked at me, winked and said, “My ambulance partner is single. Do you think he is cute?” It only hurts when I laugh.
What are the chances of God being a bearded Canadian? Did Jesus kiss people on the forehead before healing them?
The good news is that this break will heal rather quickly in comparison to the previous one. The bad news is that there are no guarantees that this will not happen every year. I tend to walk with my shoelaces untied. I can be very preoccupied when I walk. One doesn’t stop walking for the fear of falling. I thought I was being careful going down the hill in my bunny ears. Sometimes I may not be careful. What if find a pile of wood to climb that leads to a window? Will I climb it?
My God is not a bastard bully. My God is not an impish prankster. My God is not a bearded Canadian. My God is the one that placed in the heart of a cute boy to choose the rabbit ears for me and kisses me on the forehead before healing me.