Trigger Warning: homosexual hate speech. I wrestled with whether to use the words exactly as we used them and finally decided that hiding the ugliness would be counterproductive since the point of the story is to show the ugliness for what it is. This is a true story and those are the exact words used. I do not share them to be shocking or offensive, though the words themselves are both.
The calendar said it was spring, but we had driven several hours north to a conference in Toronto, where winter didn’t obey the calendar. After a day of trying to appear professional while quietly snarking our way through sessions on technical writing, we were ready to let loose like the college students we were. We bundled up and headed out into the gray dusk to find food and fun. We teased each other and barely veiled the flirting as we walked past dirty half-melted snowdrifts on our way to the Hard Rock Café in the SkyDome.
Someone, I don’t remember who, mentioned a rumor they had heard – that Toronto had a high concentration of fags. One of the guys started cracking jokes about fudge-packers. I didn’t exactly know what he meant by that term (though I had a guess), but I did know it was derogatory.
Everyone else was laughing, or so it felt to me. I didn’t know what to say. None of us did, so we all laughed to mask… what? Revulsion? Fear? Confusion?
As I laughed, I caught a manic look in one guy friend’s eyes. It didn’t quite match the laugh on his lips. I could almost taste his frantic fear, and it made me wish I could grab my laughter and cram it back inside my mouth.
Tuesday of Holy Week, I decided I needed to spend the rest of the week away from Facebook and Twitter. I needed to do some heart work on myself, and I knew my tendency to hide from soul-searching on social media.
Before I left, I changed my Facebook profile photo to show support for those arguing against California’s Prop 8 in front of the Supreme Court. I also shared a link to a book released that week by Jeff Chu, a man who I respect both as an incredible writer and as a Christian. His book is called “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America,” and I knew that he could use all the encouraging positive support he could get. Then I signed off Facebook until after Easter.
Easter isn’t a transcendent holiday for me (nor, for that matter, is Christmas). I hadn’t even heard of Maundy Thursday until 8 years ago when we began attending a church that held a Seder. While I very much appreciate learning more about our Jewish roots, those Seders were extremely stressful. The church always decorated the basement with tablecloths and lit candles, which meant I had to run interference between my kids, the fabric, and the open flame all night. The services dark and gloomy, the message aimless and long, the basement hot and muggy, and both me and the kids cranky and restless. I couldn’t get into the mood of the thing, let alone really participate.
My attitude stunk then, and it still isn’t the greatest. Every year I think, “Maybe this year I will have a personal experience with the Infinite,” and most every year I’m disappointed.
These days, Easter is fraught with discomfort, doubt, and growing disillusionment with the idea that God killed Jesus to satisfy God’s own wrath on us (an interpretation of Easter called “penal substitutionary atonement”). The questions come harder and faster at this time of year than any other. And because I am not caught up in a frenzy of emotion – grief on Good Friday and joy on Easter Sunday, I’m haunted by guilt, too.
So much for Internet fasting and soul-searching during Holy Week. The emails and private messages began pouring in almost immediately. I didn’t expect my one little link and profile picture to capture so much attention in the flood of angry posts that day. I was wrong. All day, my phone buzzed and my heart ached as I watched the people of God debating laws and creating slippery slopes and toppling straw men and prophesying dire consequences for this thing or that thing.
Once again, I didn’t know what to say. I don’t want to argue these things. At several points I asked myself what compels me to make such public statements. Why do I do this to myself?
But then other messages reached my inbox, messages from friends who needed a safe person to confide in. And I wondered, how many of the loud and angry received messages like this? Who do I choose when I need to confess something and ask for help? Jesus-followers should be the safest people on earth, yet they are often the ones I hide from the most. They are some of the ones with whom I’m most afraid to be me.
The soul-work I need to do is slowly getting done, in spite of myself. I stumbled across some posts and videos on vulnerability, gratitude, and joy. One friend sends daily prayers that move me to tears. Another shared a story about the kind of undeniable personal transformation only God can do. A writer sent an entire book about Christians being misunderstood, judged, and rejected by other Christians the same way Jesus was and reminding me that in the midst of my own weakness and failures, that’s when God does amazing things.
Then I found a story Rob Bell shared in his new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God,” about how a visit to an AA meeting changed his life.
Our need to control how others see us is like a god we’ve been bowing down to for so long we don’t even realize it. But in an AA meeting, no one has energy left for that sort of thing. You come face-to-face with yourself as you truly are.
And now here’s the twist,
The unexpected truth about admitting that takes us back to the counterintuitive power of gospel:
When you come to the end of yourself, you are at that exact moment in the kind of place where you can fully experience the God who is for you.
So many pieces, falling into place…. I need to come to the end of myself, even though it is terrifying and embarrassing. I need to help make safe places where others can do the same.
And that’s when I finally realized why I say the things I say and post the things I post. We all need a person we can trust to sit with us and hear our story, to ache with us, and to who we are underneath all the ways we’ve screwed up. We need a person to wrap their arms around us and whisper in our ear that God loves us just the way we are, and that they do too. This is my call: to be that safe person, that maker of safe places.
Rachel Held Evans wrote last week in Jesus Started with the ‘Outliers,’ “If the gospel isn’t good news to the so-called ‘outliers,’ then it’s not good news at all. And, in fact, if our theology doesn’t start with the ‘outliers,’ then maybe we’re doing it wrong.”
This is my Easter resurrection story this year. I am rising from the muck of cynicism and standing with the outliers. I am proclaiming the good news that God is for us: for me and for you. I am choosing to see and love you for who you are, even in the midst of our weakness, our failures, our hatefulness, our ugliness because I am all of those things too. I will do this imperfectly, and sometimes I will fail utterly. But that is when God will step in and make something beautiful.
I will never forget the look in my friend’s eyes that evening in Toronto. I will never forget how hard I had to work to earn his trust again, or the day he came out to me, or the day I sat and absorbed the agony of reaching that place. I will not forget the many messages I’ve received, thanking me for being a safe person to confide in.
(Here’s the part where I let you know that this entire essay is my conviction only and represents me, no one else associated with me.)
Listen, I do not know whether God believes homosexuality is a sin. If you find that hard to believe, may I recommend the documentary “For The Bible Tells Me So” (also available on Netflix)?
I do not know what God would say in a doctrinal statement. The Bible is not such a statement.
I do not know that I have the definitive Truth, for Certain. I know that I will get things wrong.
But this I know: when we argue over whether a couple should be granted legal married status, we are arguing about the lives and love of two human beings, along with their children and families.
I know that “gay Christian” is no more bizarre a term than “gossipy Christian” or “female Christian” or “stingy Christian” or “foodie Christian.”
I know that God loves each sinner, and each one of us is a sinner.
I know that Jesus reached out to the outcast, the outliers, the ones the rest of society shunned.
I know that you would shun me if you knew how ugly my heart is, how faithless and deceptive and self-loving I am.
I know how wretched it feels to know that if people saw the real me, they would hate me, and thus how desperate I can be to hide the real me.
I know that Jesus knows the real me, and somehow, He still loves me. And when I remember that, it makes me sob huge relieved body-wracking tears.
I know that I will do my best to show that love to you, no matter how ugly the real you is, no matter how many other people shun you. I will be your safe person.
This I know.
When is the last time someone thanked you for being safe? If it hasn’t ever happened, I challenge you to consider the possibility that you’re doing this Christian life wrong.