This past summer I managed to snag yet another art commission at a local church where I have painted a lot of murals – most of the mural work in my sidebar on this blog comes from this church. So, I was working down on the school wing, where we have a Noah’s Ark theme of animals going in a simplified illustrational style on the walls. The latest painting – I don’t say the last, because we seem to keep adding to things over there – was a representation of the Lion and the Lamb, both from the scripture verse (“…the lion shall lie down with the lamb…”) and a tip of the hat to C S Lewis’s Narnia with Aslan and in particular, the Lamb that becomes Aslan in the last chapter of “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. What does all this have to do with a hat…my hat in particular?
First of all, this sets up the context for where I got my hat. I was painting this particular painting, in a church where there are carefully researched, deeply religious murals that I have painted, on the school wing of that church, and working on a painting with deeply embedded Christian meaning…and I am a transgendered guy/lesbian identified individual. So, what is the nature of my relationship with this church? Amazingly enough, I am Out to them and they are very accepting and aware and loving. And I value that beyond any price, in the very conservative homophobic area that we live in. I have murals at one church that severed their relationship with me after they realized I was gay, although they left the paintings up, which surprised me. So this lovely church, where I was currently working on this Lion and Lamb mural, knows that I am indeed GLBT identified.
So the week I was painting this part of the installation, the church was setting up to hold an annual fundraising rummage sale, which given the efforts to organize the sheer raw amount of stuff, must have come from hundreds of donations, attics, garages and storage buildings! The sheer scope of it was huge. The sale was that Saturday, and they were organizing the loot into categories like clothing, kitchen ware, video tapes etc. The room that was the staging area was right next to the entry into that room where I was painting Lion and Lamb. Every so often I would take a break and stretch my legs – important, given my arthritis – and talk with the women who were organizing the mounds of stuff. I was prowling the room, looking at things, when I spotted “The Hat” – a gorgeous, high quality wool fedora with a jaunty little spray of feathers and rolled back brim and I went head over heels for it! I asked whether or not I could go ahead and purchase it, since the actual sale was Saturday and I knew I could not make it back over to the church on that day. They hemmed and hawed, and teased me and then relented (they weren’t really suppose to sell anything in advance) and charged me $3.00 dollars! Understand, wool fedora’s run anywhere from $30.00 to $80.00 dollars, so this was so close to stealing I felt guilty! I asked if they were sure, and they laughed and told me go ahead.
So I gave them my three dollars and scooped up the hat and tried it on (again – had already done so before buying it) and it was a perfect fit. I tipped it at a jaunty angle which made them all laugh again. These were several women in their 60’s and 80’s…the kind that are the mainstays and unsung unappreciated backbone of churches everywhere…you know what I am talking about. While the 20 and 30 something crowd was dropping off this incredible mound of stuff and then going merrily on about their business (which probably did include kids, work and errands, let’s be fair), these two older members of the congregation were organizing single handedly this over-their-head mountain of junk into usable categories, hanging clothing on hangers, tossing stuff that was not fit to use, shuffling stuff to different rooms for staging. It was huge! So, the older one of them paused after the laugh, and said, hesitantly, cautiously, and with deep curiosity “So, I suppose you are the…guy in your relationship with Wordweaving?” (they have all met my sweetheart) I could tell that she didn’t want to offend me, but she was intensely curious and truly had no clue about the GLBT subculture. I was actually pleased she asked…it was an opportunity to talk about the subject with people who live in a different world from mine.
I talked to them about myself and Dreamweaver, and the butch/femme cliché…that while superficially we did very much fit that idea, we also blurred the boundaries and had a very egalitarian relationship. They began to ask more questions – when did you know you were gay? When did you come out? Do your parents know? And each question I answered seemed to open up more connection and acceptance. They already accepted me – but I went from being known by what I was, to being seen as an individual. That had a unique life. And that life was not always easy, because of where I live and the culture around me.
It was a great conversation, and I finally regretfully wound it down and started back out into the hall to paint some more. And I stopped and turned and said to them, “I want to say thank you.” They looked up in surprise from their sorting and said “Why?” I went on, “Because ever since I have come to this church I have been accepted and loved for who I am…and no one here has ever made and issue of my orientation or gender, or suggested I not be allowed to paint here because of it. That is precious to me, and I treasure this church. You are a blessing!”
And the older woman of the two came to her feet and threw her arms around me and hugged me, and then the second woman joined in. They said “Why would we not want you here or would not want your art? We love you and we feel like you are one of our own!”
And that is the story of The Hat. So despite the gender bending trouble that it got me into the other day in Walmart, to me my hat is a reminder of acceptance and love. It is a troubled area that I live in. There is legislation on the books banning local businesses from offering partners benefits. We live in the shadow of Bob Jones University. There are Exodus style groups here, and billboards condemning homosexuality. Sean Kennedy, a young gay man, was killed here, murdered only minutes from where my wife worked at the time. His killer served only 14 months. We cannot legally marry here. We cannot hold hands in public without concern. We have been preached at. And then there is this small church where my art work lives and breathes that accepts and loves. It is an interracial church – they have had their share of trouble too. They regularly get nasty graffiti on the walls outside, which they handle with grace and a bucket of paint. There is a roaring lion – homophobic, hating, lashing out – that roams our streets in the form of our state government, conservative judging citizenry, and hating, angry violence. In this church is true Christianity – living the life that reflects the peace and unconditional love of the Lamb. This church gives me hope that someday, the Lion will lie down with the Lamb
…and there will be Peace.