Approaching the 10-year anniversary of the publication of “The Morning Tree,” I feel heavy sadness, no inspiration for celebration or joy. Another mass killing has cast a specter of fear and distrust, and this time, it hit the LGBT community with unprecedented cruelty in Orlando, Florida.
I cannot fully appreciate or comprehend the scope of the loss and pain caused to those affected, to those present, to their family, friends, and loved ones. However, I can see the negative effects spreading out like a dark web, reaching across this country and beyond.
Understandably, many are scared. According to media reports, many in the LGBT community are ‘rushing to buy guns,’ joining gun rights groups, and signing up for concealed carry licenses. I personally believe it is the right of all Americans to make such personal decisions and protect themselves by legal means. I also believe that the tougher, more powerful, and more effective response is through non-violent action.
“The Morning Tree” is a unique historical novel in the time of Jesus because the main character, a centurion, is gay. Ras is the centurion who came to Jesus to ask for the healing of his servant. (Luke Chapter 7.) We don’t know much about this soldier, including whether he was gay or not. And so, we can imagine that he was in love with his servant, explaining why the centurion was apparently desperate to save him.
Interestingly, no one has ever questioned me about whether Ras is gay. This is not particularly key to the story, and indeed, that is the point. I wanted to write a novel where the main character was gay but also present this detail in a way that did not overshadow the central theme – non-violence. The New Testament does not specify whether the centurion was heterosexual or homosexual, just as it does not specify such details for any of the disciples or Jesus himself. But the gospels do make the teachings of Jesus very explicit on several points, including “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” The fact that Jesus emphasized such teachings over whether “those” others are a particular color, creed, religion, sexuality, and so on, tells us something about his real priorities. Peace, love, and forgiveness are paramount.
In “The Morning Tree,” Ras is tasked by the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus to search for a stolen gospel written by Jesus. Being a military man, he uses violence to accomplish his task, but in the end, he realizes that one cannot serve Jesus, one cannot pursue peace, with violence. He lays down his sword and learns the power of non-violent action.
I pray for those in pain today, suffering from the horror that continues to spread. And I pray that we can pause, reflect and chose peaceful means to respond to those who hate, curse, and abuse us. That’s exactly what our enemies do not want.