He was in his fifties, he had a hefty stomach and a gruff voice . . . he wore a dress, a wig, and red lipstick. If anyone gave him a funny look, or, at least, if he perceived that someone was giving him a funny look, he would gladly give them a piece of his mind. I’ll never forget Fred .
In spite of his facial hair, and very masculine features, Fred strutted around like a Los Vegas showgirl–he was very proud of his body. A little too proud. He fluttered his eyes at men he found attractive, he put his hand over his mouth, cocked his head to the side, and made a nervous giggle when he got embarrassed. Every movement he made was deliberately feminine; in fact, overly feminine. Yet, he was not at all what one might call graceful. To tell the truth, he was a bit ham-handed and extremely scatterbrained.
The first morning he came into the mission to eat breakfast he was very flustered and upset at something someone had said to him outside. He became even more combative when the gentleman in the lobby explained that we would have to check his purse in (we didn’t allow anyone to take their belongings into the chapel for safety reasons). Looking at the baggage attendant with an indignant and cynical face, Fred exclaimed, “I do not trust anyone with my purse!” Naturally the two began to bicker, but before it got out of hand I called Fred over to my desk to have a little heart to heart.
Fred fluttered his eyes at me as I introduced myself to him and his cheeks turned a shade red–I do believe he was blushing. After shaking his hand, I proceeded to explain the missions policies regarding taking personal items into the chapel. Having reassured Fred that his belongings would be well looked after he eventually agreed to turn in his purse.
When chapel was finished, and the crowd was moving into the dinning hall, Fred did not look happy–in fact, he looked absolutely livid. In a fit of rage, he stormed over to my desk. As you might have already guessed, Fred was upset about something the preacher had said in his sermon (to be honest, I can’t remember what it was that offended him). Before I could say a word he launched into an all out assault on Christianity. To my surprise he was quite knowledgeable of modern Biblical criticism and laid out one argument after another against the veracity of the Bible. My first instinct was to respond to his criticism–to engage him in a rational dialogue. I quickly realized, however, that this was quite impossible; namely because I could hardly get a word in. Fred was so worked up that he barely stopped to take one breath during the entire course of his diatribe! This went on for about five minutes or so until he finally calmed down and decided to go into the dinning hall for breakfast.
After breakfast Fred approached me, with a grave look of concern on his face, and asked if we could speak in private about a rather delicate matter. I took him to the side, feeling a bit nervous about the nature of our conversation. He looked at me rather awkwardly (which only made me more nervous) and then proceeded to explain that it was not a good idea for him to use the men’s restroom . . . because he still had his “male parts.” Suffice it to say, I agreed to stand guard in front of the ladies room while he did his business, to ensure both his safety and privacy.
It was during our conversation in front of the ladies restroom, as we waited for it to clear out, that I learned more details about the tragic life of Fred. As it turned out, he was once an Episcopal priest, with a wife and several children–this explained his knowledge of Biblical criticism and Christianity in general. Things took a turn for the worse when Fred announced he was a woman trapped inside of a man’s body and decided to leave his wife in order to begin the process of transforming himself into a woman. Due to the brevity of our conversation, and to his tendency to get lost down incomprehensible rabbit trails, many of the details of his journey were obscured. What I can tell you is that he was eventually removed from his position as priest, lost his family, lost many close friends, turned to alcohol to forget his many troubles, ended up homeless, and was now eating breakfast at our mission.
For the first time that morning Fred seemed to let his guard down while sharing his journey with me–his posture was no longer “defensive” or aggressive and the tone of his voice had softened. When he had finished speaking we stood there in silence. For the first time that morning I no longer viewed Fred as a nuisance or as an aberration but as someone made in God’s image; as a person with dignity and value; a person who was deeply troubled and who had suffered greatly. It is so easy for us to focus our attention on the external and to lose sight of what lies underneath–to lose sight of the image of God which remains in all men in spite of our fallen condition.
Jesus never lost sight of this. Jesus loved those society deemed unloveable; the sinners that no one else would go near; people like Fred. This always bothered the religious leaders of his day. There is an account in the Gospel of Luke in which a “woman of the city, a sinner [i.e. a prostitute]” enters the home of a Pharisee whom Jesus was dinning with. It reads like this:
“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39).
Note the initial reaction the Pharisee has when the harlot walks in and begins to weep at Jesus’ feet–is it perhaps the same reaction you had when you read my description of Fred? “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Isn’t this the reaction we Christians typically have when confronted with someone like the woman in this story? Revulsion, disgust, hatred–are these not the feelings often present in our hearts? Yet, Jesus doesn’t flench, he doesn’t push her away, he looks on with compassion and perfect love. Jesus sees the image of God, the beauty and value of the person. He also sees the darkness in the Pharisee’s heart:
“And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:40-48).
I grew to love Fred, to care about him, to enjoy seeing him come in for breakfast each day, to value him–I still think about him and pray for him to this day.
 The names have been changed in the interest of privacy.