Joseph Avenue Christmas is the story of one man's journey to the true meaning of Christmas. Not just the birth of the babe, but the salvation of the soul. Set on the wintry streets of Rochester, NY it is a visit to the heart of that city and the hearts of some of its best and bravest people. From their good example, and the simple lessons of their own lives and faith, a troubled man finds on a dark Christmas Eve an escape from an increasingly failed life.
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In the mail yesterday my friend gave me some news.
Ken Fox is older than I am, and is a minister. A born again type. Old time religion. And I met him where the community met him, at the Open Door Mission in Rochester, New York. It's a hardscrabble place where men from the streets come for supper and a sermon and a place to keep from freezing to death in the bitterness of winter.
I went there many times. To write newspaper stories, to do a television report, to be reminded of what Christian service can be.
He is a tall guy, rail thin, with crooked teeth and a giant smile and a shiney bald head.
He looks like an ostrich. Most of the time he wore a clerical collar and humble clothes.
There was trouble in his background and hard times and motorcycles but he got religion and he got it for real and that's when he became his brother's keeper.
I liked him immediately. And trusted him and respected him, and probably loved him. He was that kind of guy. That good.
And more than once we stayed up nearly til dawn talking in the old emergency department of St. Mary's Hospital. He was the overnight chaplain on weekends, and I was there either for an EMT class or to find stuff for a newspaper column, and with the nurses and the ambulance medics we sat there between shootings and stabbings talking about life.
Ken Fox is the sort of person I would call when I needed advice or a perspective I respected.
And this is some of what he wrote:
"There is no good way to begin this letter except to say that I have begun living my life as a woman.
"My legal name is Kaye Stockton Fox, and to all intents and purposes, Kenneth S. Fox no longer legally exists. Yet, on the inside, I am the same person you have always known. I 'came out' to my family in 1997, and I began living fulltime as a woman in February 2001, following my retirement from the Open Door Mission.
"I began to be aware of my female gender identity at about the age of eight. I have spent a good part of my life struggling with this conflict between my body and my mind. I have studied this subject in depth, I have been treated by professionals, and I have also spent a great deal of time, money and effort hiding, denying and trying, to no avail, to be 'normal,' to purge my female gender identity many times.
"Finally, I came gradually to accept that my gender (confusion) is part of who I am as a person. It is part of the reality of my being. I know that the God I serve loves me and has a plan of blessing for me. I have slowly followed a course of action to find peace and harmony and comfort with my gender.
"On February 1st, my biological birthday, I decided that for me to survive, I would need to affect the gender I wish to have for the rest of my life. Since making and implementing that decision, I have lost my marriage, my family, most of my friends and my career as pastor/director/CEO of the mission.
"Yet despite all this, I have found an inner peace that I have never felt before.
"I want to conclude by thanking you who have taken time to read this letter. It is written from my heart. I hope you will be able to accept Kaye in the future.
"Kaye S. Fox"
And then there's a squiggly rainbow line across the bottom of the piece of paper.
It floored me. Just completely caught me off guard and dumbfounded me.
So I called to make sure it wasn't a prank.
And he answered with an effeminate voice, unnatural and high.
"Ken?" I asked.
"Yes?" he answered.
And we talked. I told him he sure knew how to get somebody's attention and we tried to laugh. He said the letter was for real and he said he hoped I'd read it on my radio show. He didn't sound like himself, and I don't mean the way he spoke. But it wasn't really Ken. I was so shaken I didn't think to ask the natural questions: Are you gay? Are you going to have a sex-change operation? Soon, I had to go and we said good bye.
By then his voice was back to normal, it was a man's voice again.
If it's OK, I'd like to write back to him. Here. In public.
"I love you. And I know of your goodness. I have seen it with my own eyes. I know that you have been an angel tending the broken children of our Father in Heaven. I will testify of that to anyone at any time, because I am a witness. You have done the Lord's work.
"You can always count on me and my affection for you.
"I am so sorry you are where you are. My heart is broken for you and your wife and your family. What a great tragedy this disruption to everyone's life must be. I cannot imagine the tears you and they must have shed. I suppose many were and will be shed as well by your associates at the mission and in the ministry. I am sure your service to the homeless is sorely missed.
"I am not your judge, Ken, I am your friend. I do not understand what you have done. It makes no sense to me. It seems alien to the belief we have in common and have in common struggled with. But you have never condemned me for my failings, and I will not condemn you for what I may believe are yours.
"Instead, I will remind you of what you so often preached and taught at the Open Door Mission: That there is redemption, delivery and peace in the blood and faith of Jesus Christ. 'Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'
There is peace for you in this matter, deliverance from the stress and trauma you feel, and it doesn't come from how you dress or what you call yourself or whether you think you're a man or a woman. It comes from trusting Jesus to guide and save you.
"For years, you have ventured forth to save the lamb that has strayed from the safety of the sheepfold. Now, my friend, I fear it is you who has strayed. And I say that not as one of the ninety and nine, but as one who has and does stray myself. You know, more than most, that concern for such a one comes not from condemnation, but love.
"When Peter walked upon the stormy seas, he went safely as long as he focused on the Savior. But when he doubted and feared and his attentions turned to himself instead of his faith in the Lord, he sank and would have drowned.
"It is the same for us. For you and me. For all of us.
"In your letter, Ken, you speak of yourself, and how you have looked in yourself for peace and happiness. The Ken Fox I know doesn't believe that that is where peace and happiness are found. He believes -- for I have heard him teach it -- that peace and happiness are found through faith in Christ. When we focus on ourselves and our challenges and woes, we founder in confusion and error. But when we focus on the Savior we find sustaining strength no matter how great the difficulty we face.
"I do not understand the trials you are going through. But I understand that they must be immense. They may even be too big for you to handle. But they are not too big for the Lord to handle. I will pray that you and he will soon come to an understanding of how to shift this burden from you to him.
"And I will pray that the Lord who raised the dead and healed the blind, who purged the lunatic of evil spirits and made the lame man walk, will heal you. Just as I will ask you to pray that he will heal me.
"I will pray that there might be broad healing in your life, Ken, that there may be love and unity and reconciliation with your children and wife and associates. Much grief and destruction have occurred, my friend, and I will pray that the Lord will comfort all and renew all.
"I will pray that you find peace in this life, that you might resume the walk with the Lord you have so admirably begun, that you will be made whole and take as your motto, 'Blessed is he who endures to the end.' I will pray that you will get right with the Lord. I will pray that someday you might again be of service to our Heavenly Father's children.
"But no matter what, Ken, I'm going to love you. And I'm going to encourage you. And I'm going to tell you what I believe the Lord would have you hear. I'm going to do that because you taught me to do that. Because I have seen you do that. Because I know that's what you would do for me.
"Because it's not about your gender, Ken, it's about your faith. You have not found something new, you have lost something old. And I want you to find it again.