Have you ever been excluded from something?
Had the door blocked, told “You can’t come in here” by large men in suits with cold eyes?
How about just told you can’t join a club because, in the eyes of the membership committee, you’re ‘deficient’ or ‘just not right’ or ‘have girl cooties’.
I used to hear that last one a lot on the playground.
And if you remember back to these times of exclusion, how did it make you feel?
Now, imagine being told every day of your life, several times a day, that you don’t belong. Not just when you want to walk into a building, but when you are in your own home, in a cafe, watching the television news, having a conversation with your friends, someone butts their big nose into the middle of what you were doing to inform you that you don’t belong.
In the beginning, I’m betting you did a very Western thing: explained exactly why you belonged, attempting to change the opinions of this nosy bastich who interrupted you. But after a period of time of this happening constantly, with no perceptable results, you have three options:
1) Keep trying to engage in fruitless dialouge, ignoring your friends and your work.
2) Leave, never to return.
3) Say, “You may believe that, but I do not,” and go back to your interrupted conversation and work, ignoring the blustery nosy bastich.
Santa Ignora was born in a member-created AOL chat room in 1997. That chat room was called “Gay Christian Chat”. Oh, I see your brains working. “What was Mary Sue doing in a chat room called ‘Gay Christians’?”
I went there for the first time in 1997 because I made the mistake of mentioning in the Belief: Christian chat room that I thought I might be bisexual.
In the midst of all the flame-and-brimstone IMs, there was one from someone with a link to the GCC. I was 18 years old, away from home for the first time ever, a member of the church choir for the 13th year in a row, and confused as all get-out.
The cast of regulars read like a Showtime drama. There was the militant Jewish lesbian who would talk forever about her young son. The celibate Southern Baptist travel nurse, who would tell stories about wacky things that came through the ER. The not-celibate Episcopal priest who would argue about transubstantiation and Friends in the same sentence. The straight, married grandmother who spent late nights with us and always announced when she had to go to the bathroom.
We had preachers, priests, and rebbes. We had kids, elders, and class clowns. We had bible studies, prayer times, and cheered on the University of South Carolina’s sports teams (Go Cocks!) And I was accepted amongst them, as a regular. The day I called my mother to tell her I was bisexual, I was logged on to the GCC, and they sat with me as I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes and calculated how I was going to pay for my own college.*
There were always people dropping into the GCC, unfamiliar names. The litmus test would be if the person responded to the greetings with, “Hello.” About 50% of the time, however, the first thing out of the newbie’s keyboard was either “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” or “How can you be gay and a Christian? Gay Christians don’t exist!”
Some people liked engaging with these newbies. But there was always a point at which you knew the conversation was going to wear the same well-worn rut in the floor, and someone would usually call out, “Santa Ignora, pray for us!”
That was the cue to click the “ignore user” feature and get back to the conversation (which one or two people had usually kept going, not feeling up to fighting the same old fight).
Listening to it every single day, it got wearying. People came into my home through my computer and told me I didn’t belong there, that I didn’t exist. Santa Ignora took those people out of our way, and we could continue to build our community.
Some days, I wish the world had an ignore feature. One that would remove completely from my sight all the naysayers who stomp all over what you are trying to build, as an individual, as a church, as a community, as a denomination. Get them out of the way so that the work can continue.
Santa Ignora is a figment, a personification of some pixels and lines of computer code. But it’s also a reminder, to me, of the people who taught me to listen to God and follow His call instead of the false paths that others may try and put me on.
After 14 years of regular churchgoing, the first Bible verse I memorized was at the suggestion of the Rebbe.
What does the LORD require of you?
*My mother had hung up on me without saying anything. Two weeks later, she called back and we made a joke out of it. I don’t think she realised I was serious until I brought my then-girlfriend to the family reunion in 2002.