Upon three different walls, I’ve hung my grandfather’s long gun. It first rested above a purple-painted fireplace in our home in North Carolina. When we moved to Vermont, it found a new residency in the parsonage’s dining room. Now in Connecticut, it appears between the stacks of books in the study that houses a growing library.
We’ve secured the piece each time with a set of gold-painted imitation antlers. A cheeky choice for a single-shot firestick a farmer used to hunt rabbits. The rifle hasn’t seen a single .22 caliber bullet fill its chamber since the man who traded for it passed more than 20 years ago. The only bunnies in its sight now are made of dust, of which there are many.
Like a dog that won’t hunt, I’m the grandson who doesn’t either. I’ve never fired it or any other gun in my life. This makes me as rare as a registered Democrat in Wyoming. A Southern man with a virgin trigger finger who couldn’t pick out a box of ammunition if his life depended on it.
This status, I’m sure, has landed me on the NRA’s prayer list. Its members desiring to lay hands on me for a multitude of reasons.
Why have the gun? It’s my grandfather’s.
Same reason I have my grandmother’s soup bowls. They were hers.
Relics have been made of less favorable items.
While maw-maw’s vessels still carry ham-hocked flavored legumes often, paw-paw’s rifle represents something less practical — the weight of a lesson: “If you hound after something long enough, you’ll get it.”
While I never chased after a hare, stalked a deer or assisted a wild turkey into crossing over into the great beyond, I have pursued other game with equally reckless abandon. For starters, words have been a consistent pursuit.
Running after a turn of phrases and strung-together expressions has been a hobby and a curse. On good days, I catch up to my prey and have something to show for it with a filled page or two. On other days, I count my loss and return home empty-handed. They call it writing and not publishing for a reason.
Not limited to idioms, the search for meaning, my faith, is another beast that often gives me the slip. I’ve been climbing my own Seven-Story Mountain for what feels much longer than several years. This journey has taken me into pews, led me to seminaries and placed me behind a pulpit. Moving me down a path that gets me closer but moves my target away in a taunting but caressing fashion. Sophia winks at me as she slides forever out of my view.
“Spooring” is when you track after the scent of an animal. My grandfather had a pack of hunting dogs that aided him in his endeavors. I suppose I have something similar — a beagle-like Advocate leading me in the dense forest of the world. A Spirit prone to spoor. Pushing me to notice where the holy exists. Catching my eye and compelling me to share what I’ve seen with others in case they want to join the expedition of what lies beyond the veil of their knowing. As is often the case, what one searches for is right in front of them.
And so I came to a query in my spiritual travels last week. A question posed by Christianity Today on its social media platforms asking its followers to “name examples of positive portrayals of Christians in TV and film.” The standard answers were there as expected.
Eric Liddell and Chariots of Fire.
The entire cast of the Chosen series.
Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence with Andrew Garfield.
Others chose characters from The Waltons, Seventh Heaven, and the Andy Griffith Show. I’m sensing a heavily influenced Eurocentric pattern here.
Yet, I was glad to see Dawn French’s Vicar of Didbley receive a few mentions and another British series, Father Brown.
Ned Flanders from The Simpsons even made an appearance along with a smattering of appreciation for Jack Black’s Nacho Libre.
These were all fine answers, but not the ones that came to mind for me. No, what popped into my head was another series entirely. One I feel embodies the love of neighbor like no other. Constantly producing an over-the-top kind of affection that brings on the blushing of cheeks and too-many-to-count heart-inducing “awe-shucks.”
So what is this example of positive Christianity on TV? Netflix’s Queer Eye.
Antoni Porowski, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France and Karamo Brown are some of the best pastors I know. Their presence manifests real change. They reach out and enter into the lives of those who are hurting and suffering. Their infectious cheer is impossible to ignore, spreading faster than insecurity at a middle school dance.
Over the years, they’ve helped a grieving widower move into the next chapter of his life, assisted a pair of sisters wanting to commemorate their late father’s memory by revamping the family restaurant, and even performed some needed theological work and deconstruction down in Georgia when a faith-filled mother needed help with a family life center on top of reconciling the way her gay son was treated by others in her church.
They’ve done it all, their lives a testimony of living out loud the “good news.” Showing up to support gay and trans people, pointing them to the LGBTQ community and the Pride available to them. If anybody is preaching through word and action that everyone is made in the Imago Dei better than the Fabe 5, I haven’t heard or seen them. Lord knows I’ve been on the lookout for such.
As my spouse and I make our way through the recently dropped seventh season, I wonder how much longer churches will continue to sin by not having a minister of inspiration or affirmation on staff. I know some weeks I could use a little Van Ness — “You’re strong, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you got this” — gracing mixed in with my passing of the peace. I wouldn’t turn down a Wednesday evening of sabbath-infused self-care either. Just saying.
With Pentecost nearing and a holy fire burning within, I’m getting a hounding nudge to seek what my faith has been missing. Beatitude-laced voices and queer eyes, proclaiming to me just how big God can be. That is something I can hunt after.
Justin Cox received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and enrolled in the doctor of ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, spending time in the kitchen and amateur gardening, Justin spends time with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. He began his tenure as senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Suffield, Ct. in August. Find his ramblings at blacksheepbaptist.com.