|Dan the Story Man|
Often Christians write books about God's grace in the midst of tragedy, with a heavy emphasis on the grace, and the narrative of tragedy serving simply as minor illustration. This approach works well for popular theology, because the focus clearly needs to be on the articulation of faith itself as it relates to the tragedies.
Daniel Maurer's creativity runs in another direction. Maurer tells the kinds of stories in which most of us would doubt the light of grace could shine at all, and then limns the entire story with the grandeur of God.
In his most recent book, Faraway, Maurer co-authors a suburban boy's story as a victim of sex trafficking. This is the story of K. Kline, who grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, and spent the summer of 1974, his fourteenth year, as an underage prostitute. He is now an ELCA pastor in Hawaii.
The majority of the book is the story of one summer in Kevin's life. He tells an excruciating tale of adult male violence. He is coaxed into the prostitution, tricked and manipulated by an older man, a sexual predator, who then pimps him to suburban homes where he turns tricks, often with married men with families, lawyers and police officers, who then in certain instances rape or abuse him.
If the stories of police brutality in this book are at all typical, we learn first-hand why Ferguson has had so many recent struggles.
His summer ends with a brutal gang rape by peers who leave him beaten and unconscious. His parents never learn of his suffering, because he always disguised his time away as sleepovers, time hanging out with friends.
In the course of the story, we meet two young men, Stevie and Squirrel, also prostitutes, who become Kevin's emotional family. They are the first gay males Kevin meets who he can be open with, share emotionally with. Squirrel is, for Kevin, a Holy Martyr, saintly in his open heart and love for all people. Stevie is a Holy Saint, willing to stand up and suffer to protect those he loves. Kevin believes telling their story, telling his story, is the only way to healing and wholeness.
Here's why telling this story matters. Kevin reminds us that "everyone who was gay lived with the constant threat of violence or rejection." Gay men from a very early age are taught to believe that their lives don't matter, that they are not loved, cannot be loved, lack value. And if you have no value, it is a small leap indeed to allowing people to treat you horribly, or even putting yourself in a position to be treated horribly.
Why does such a story matter for heterosexual cis readers who have never experienced what Kevin went through? Well, his soul-searching and therapy for PTSD leads him to realize, first of all, that talking, telling the story, can be therapeutic. Even more important, however, what young men like Kevin went through is caused not by them, but by us. Although Kevin has asked himself the question over and over, "How could you?" of himself, he is reminded, in his wisdom, that he was just a kid.
So the real answer he says, is this:
"It was you. You, my city. You, my schools. Yes, you, my church. And yes, even you, my friends. And though you never dreamed of hurting me--you, my family. You made it clear to each and every single one of us in no uncertain terms what we were worth. God forgive us, we believed you. When every message you get from your society, school, church, and even family and friends on the subject of homosexuality is one of utter damnation and complete worthlessness, it becomes surprisingly easy to sell yourself. Because you see, at least then you're worth something to somebody. When you are told you are worthy of nothing but hell, you begin to not care about whether or not what you are doing is against the law, or whether it conforms to what society thinks is proper. All you care about is finding someone who accepts you just as you are" (135).
It's important to realize that it wasn't these three young teenagers who were hurting people. It was adulterous pedophiles. We have a culture that still wants to blame young gay men and women for the manipulative sins of others. Stevie was likely kicked out of his own home for being gay, and had to make it on his own. The level of ostracization and scapegoating is immense.
Here's what I have learned from stories like Kevin's. We need to distinguish harmful and manipulative forms of sexuality from loving and supportive kinds of sexuality. If Kevin had had an opportunity to live out his same-sex attraction in healthy ways early in life, it is very unlikely he would have suffered the abuse he did.
If families all across our country knew how to embrace their children with same-sex attractions, there would not be the need for a homeless shelter for LGBTQ teens like the one at Trinity Lutheran in Manhattan.
And if more of us could meet the Jesus that Kevin knows, we would be transformed. "The idea of a God who would give it all up to be one of us, and then give the finger to the rich and powerful while hanging out with thieves, beggars--and prostitutes--seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I'm not in anyone's face with my faith. I want only to be there for others, to care, and to make a difference in the world."
Telling his story is destroying the grip of shame. So many Christians still want to shame members of the LGBTQ community, while stating that they will accept or tolerate them. Stories like Kevin's help us remember that we can and should do better. We should join Jesus in his work of sacrificial, scandalous love.
Thank you, Dan, for your work in bringing us Kevin's story.