As a boy growing up in the 1980s, playing with G.I. Joe action figures was a given. Before my older brother moved away to live with our dad, we had many heated G.I. Joe battles. As with most battles, there were two sides—G.I. Joe and Cobra. If you know anything about this toy line, then you know that the G.I. Joes were the good guys and Cobra was the evil, snake-like enemy. In preparing for each battle, my brother and I would choose a side. More often than not, I chose Cobra (because they were better dressed). And more often than not, I lost the battle.
While I didn’t know it then, playing with G.I. Joes was forming me into someone who sees the world in dichotomies—white and black, good and evil, winners and losers. When I joined the church in my early teen years, I discovered it isn’t only kids who take sides. Adults also pick their teams and play to win. G.I. Jesus was the winning team (even if worst dressed) and the losing team was led by Satan, our snake-like enemy, who had besieged the world.
But living in occupied territory is complicated. The lines between right and wrong, good and evil aren’t always as clear as the adults in my church led me to believe. For instance, are gay people like me always choosing Cobra simply by acknowledging our desire to be intimate with others of the same sex? What if that intimacy leads to marriage and same-sex sexual intercourse—does this then limit our ability to play on Jesus’ team?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t fully understand how God works in this world. But I do recognize that the dichotomies of my youth have not served me well in adulthood. Living Christianly is more complex than encouraging a person to choose team Jesus over team Satan. Gray is also a color in our world.
Now, this isn’t to suggest that we can’t know truth or that the Bible, the Spirit, our traditions, or the great saints of our faith don’t offer us wisdom and direction on how to live. I mean to say living is more improvisational and less the choice of a side that dictates all our actions. This is why I fear the current trend among gay Christians to draw lines along Side A or Side B (or some other side). Must we select a side and demand that others do the same?Must we select a side and demand that others do the same? Must we play the games of our youth or can we allow ourselves to live in the tension of sidelessness?
Yes, we must live our lives; we must make choices of how to act. But what if the best choice is living with God in the gray? Can we ignore the church’s or the culture’s demand that we pick the “winning” side, and instead be with a Savior who loses everything to gain everything? How can I let go of my expectations of a certain life, and embrace a shifting life with God?
Perhaps the value of playing G.I. Joes with my brother was less about picking the winning team, and more about being with him? Perhaps living and playing together in community with God and others is what really matters, and we all lose when someone (by choice or force) takes his action figures and goes off to play by himself.