I think, in fact I know, that the little diatribe I am about to embark on will probably upset some people who read it. I don’t want to apologise, it’s how I feel, but neither do I wish to offend people arbitrarily. I was simply shocked, and it all came flooding back after reading recent posts by Sandra and Melissa
If you’ve been reading this jibber waffle for a while you might remember that I spent three weeks last year fulfilling an ambition, which was to cross the northern United States by car. I went to a friend’s wedding in Toronto and then dropped down through the Great Lakes and drove from Michigan to Oregon, avoiding the freeways - and all the way back.
You’d better believe it was tedious in the extreme at times, and full of days where travelling seemed to be the objective rather reaching anywhere in particular. But I’m lucky in that respect, I’m generally too thick to get bored and I take a particular pleasure in ‘crumbs’ of comfort, a rest stop, a song on the radio, a cold beer in the evening and the eventual, obligatory “you’re not from these parts are you buddy”.
Some states are relentless in their ‘sameness’. Miles upon hundreds of miles across Wisconsin through dense forest. Great oceans of pasture under limitless skies following a shimmering ribbon of road through North Dakota. At times I felt dwarfed by the scenery, like a dust mote feathered along by the same breeze that bent the corn, vastly alone, wonderfully free of any compulsion to be do anything but go on.
I listened to the radio, it was fascinating, so very local, obviously speaking to the community in their own language about their interests. I listened to music shows, talk shows, discussions on farming, a wonderful phone in where people described items that they had for sale including hay bailers, horses, tractors, just about anything you could imagine. On a couple of occasions I spotted buildings on high spots in the landscape with enormous ariels beside them and it dawned on me that I was actually looking at where the program I was listening to was being broadcast from. I could have knocked on the door and said hello. This is intriguing because we have nothing like that in the UK.
There is a vast tract across the central northern States where it is possible, without making any real effort, to travel for an entire day without seeing another solitary soul. In almost inverse proportion to the dwindling proportion I found myself tuning in to more and more ‘Christian’ radio. Quite often it was the only thing I could find to listen to. And I enjoyed it! I missed my Radio 4, I missed my Archers, and the afternoon play, and ‘Women’s Hour’ - it won’t mean much to you, but it’s good quality, spoken radio.
There’s a calming quality to the well trained human voice, and many of the speakers on the radio were excellent presenters. I listened, rapt, to bible stories and experts unravelling the messages hidden in the arcane language of the gospels. I listened because they were knowledgeable, and unwrapped their messages slowly like expert story tellers, modern day evangelistic jongleurs .
One day I found myself listening to a program hosted by a young couple, they were conducting a phone in and helping people with practical problems in a matter of fact, common sense way. It was very sensible and good radio too, albeit all of the advice was liberally sprinkled with Christian virtue, each to their own. And it was obvious that they were speaking to their own too, this was community radio, and these people were good, solid country folk, the salt of the earth.
And then a young lady called in to the show. She was nervous, and evidently she found it very difficult to say what the true nature of her problem was. In retrospect I can’t still can’t comprehend the courage it must have taken for her to pick up the phone and dial, and in front of such a small community that some listeners must have had a very good idea who she was - slowly, painfully reveal the nature of her problem.
She was young, in her late teens, perhaps early twenties. She was devout, and was following a path that would save her immortal soul. She believed - and for my part I felt strangely warmed by her belief, even though I don’t share, because she was so incredibly sincere. Eventually and with much hesitation and some tears and with a low voice of shame she revealed the crux of her conundrum. She was attracted to other women. She knew this, although she had done nothing about it. She didn’t mean just in a physical way, but emotionally too, sex she said was not the issue, but companionship, the strength that comes from knowing that you love someone and are loved in return.
She thought it was wrong, un Christian, but she couldn’t deny what she knew to be true about her own sexuality, and because it was so important, her faith in apparent conflict with her mind and body, she NEEDED to know - was it possible to be who she was and still go to heaven.
The couple on the radio listened stolidly to her, coaxing and gentling her when she hesitated until eventually she revealed the nature of her ‘problem’. Then they asked her if she was sure, whether it was perhaps “just a phase”, a period of temptation, something she might speak to a trusted confidante about in a Christian environment, perhaps her pastor or her parents.
The girl replied to these suggestion quietly, almost timidly, that she was sure, that this was her nature.
And then they conferred. The young couple on the radio effectively went off air to deliberate for an unfeasibly long time - until eventually they returned to pass verdict. “No” they said, “impossible” to be a homosexual and a good Christian. There is no compromise, the path is the path, my way or the highway.
The girl was distressed, distraught, reduced to tears, and left the air sobbing thank you and so sorry in equal measure .
I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO ANGRY IN MY LIFE. I stopped the car and got out, I felt physically sick, my stomach knotted. I wanted to find them and rail at them, “how fucking dare you!”, I wanted to slap them and take an axe to their buttons and slides and telephones to stop them from perpetrating such sanctimonious, well meaning, bloody evil ever again. To send a good girl in every way, away to make a choice that would condemn her to such loneliness and guilt for the rest of her life….
After that I spent most of my time driving in silence.