Contrary to popular belief, shame isn't as invisible to the people around us as we might like it to be. When it comes to shame, I don't think anyone has the perfect poker face. Try as we might to keep our wounds covered, sometimes the blood seeps through the shirts we wear, illuminating our emotional mortality to the outside world. We think it's invisible, yet we also like to think that we can tell what's going on with someone else. If I can see you, then isn't it safe to assume you can see me?
...Every person is attractive to somebody. You are. I am. Jim Bob over there is, too. Every person is probably ugly to somebody, too. You are. I am. Jim Bob over there is, too. Don’t take it personally.
And, we all need to do ourselves a favor. We need to believe people when they tell us we’re beautiful, handsome, sexy, attractive, hot, or hunkalicious, especially when that someone is somebody that we think is beautiful, handsome, sexy, attractive, hot, or babealicious...
However, another rope has been lowered in front of me via therapy and residency, slowly and over several months. It's a rope made up of my strength and courage and resilience, of my worthiness of love and affection, of my ability to meet my own needs or to have them met by others around me. It's made up of my okay-ness when a relationship ends or transitions into something else.
Consider this a post for not only my friends but for anyone feeling the pressure of outside expectations: pressures to perform, to excel, to exceed expectations. I want you to hear this, and if you need to, I want you to read it over and over, day in and day out...
...YOU ARE ALREADY GREAT, AND MORE THAN THAT, YOU ARE ALREADY LOVED...
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved — Mark 13:11-13
I'm not lucky. I'm loved, and as such, I'm called to love in ways that make me uncomfortable, ways that might make some people think twice about, ways that would make me seem strange to passers-by. Besides, life's a craps table, and sometimes, when you win, all you wanna to is spread the wealth and share the love, even if the wealth is something other than money, and the love only lasts for a few moments.
Back in May, I was appalled to read that a Baptist Pastor in North Carolina, Charles L. Worley, had proclaimed his desire, from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, to "Build a great, big, large fence -- 150 or 100 mile long -- put all the lesbians in there... do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out...and you know what, in a few years, they'll die out...do you know why? They can't reproduce!"
Shortly thereafter, another Kansas pastor, Curtis Knapp, stated the following about LGBT persons: "They should be put to death -- that's what happened in Israel," Knapp proclaims. "That's why homosexuality wouldn't have grown in Israel." To make sure that the members of his congregation didn't go on a queer killing spree, he clarified, "Oh, so you're saying we should go out and start killing them? No, I'm saying the government should. They won't, but they should."
Most recently, Jonathan Phelps, son of Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church, "said he 'absolutely' supported the death penalty for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, though he stopped short of elaborating when it came to how he thought the U.S. government should enforce such punishments."
As a partnered gay seminarian pursuing a vocation in ministry, I honestly don't know how to accurately and appropriately respond to these men's sentiments. I'm aware of my emotions: anger, frustration, sadness, heartbreak, confusion, rage, betrayal, and many more. Yet when it comes to the fact that individuals who profess to be followers of Christ have been so quick to ignore, or worse reject the humanity of a particular population of people, I'm dumbfounded. These are people with whom I'm supposed to have something major in common: our love for Jesus and our call to offer that love to all people.
Proclaiming that a person deserves to die because of their sexual orientation is abhorrent. In fact, dare I say, it's heretical. Mind you, this is not a post about the morality or ethicality of the death penalty or capitol punishment. This is about the implications of negating a person's humanity because of who they are and/or who they love.
These men, and probably many more, have indicated their belief that homosexuality should be punishable at a civil/policital/social level. They've proclaimed that the government should view homosexual practice or not adhering to the gender binary should be criminal and worthy of ending one's life, worthy of trial and litigation, worthy of no longer existing. For a person who evinces and love and reverence for Scripture to behave in this fashion is reprehensible and sickening.
As a follower of Christ, I feel passionate about manifesting God's love for the world in the world. The words of these men do the exact opposite. They do not encourage involvement in a faith community. They do not edify one's relationship with the Divine. They kill, slowly but surely. They tell queer people, "You are worthless. You are disgusting. You have no value. You make me sick. You are dangerous and perverted. Your love isn't real, but is a cheap imitation. Your families are a substitute for what they should be if you hadn't chosen to live in sin and reject what's normal or natural." And we wonder why so many queer individuals over the years have either ended their lives or rejected God, having been taught that God does not love them, and in fact, God despites, detests, and loathes their very existence.
I wrestled with my own sexuality for a long time, believing thoughts just like this. I struggled with chronic depression, isolation, and rejection. Slowly, I started hearing from others that in fact, God did love me, and that my sexuality is part of who I am as a man made in the image of the Creator. Who I love is not an abomination. Most importantly, I deserved to live, and to have a life that was surrounded by loving people who made me better than I was on my own. It saddens me that anyone who's read the Gospels and examined the life and message of Christ would ever come to the same conclusions as these men. Thankfully, their message is a dying one—one that is fading slowly but surely out of existence. There will not be any rainbow death camps, electric fences, or trials for same-gender-loving people or people whose gender is not black and white.
Instead, there will be life. There will be love. There will be joy. There will be hope. There will be change.
This morning, I had the privilege of preaching for our "contemporary" chapel service. It was the first time I'd preached since my last sermon at Irving Park last spring. It was my first time preaching at my school outside of the classroom setting. Needless to say, I was somewhat nervous.
Part of my nerves came from having had a lot happen lately. I'm in my third year of seminary. I'm taking a course that forces me to think both of my entitlement and my oppression. I'm interning with an organization that engages the very denominations who look at queer people like me and see nothing but stereotypes and often feel nothing but disdain. I've just recently had a talk telling my mother that our phone conversations often left me feeling hurt and unheard, and therefore needed to be put on hold until the holidays. I've been working through my grief more. I've continued watching my diet, though my yoga practice has been put on hold due to a shoulder injury (a.k.a. stupidity on my part). I've decided to go a different route with my ministry, at least denominationally.
After writing my sermon last week, I sent it off to my former preaching professor for some edits and feedback, all of which I took into consideration when compiling my final draft. I got up there, and I just let go. From the first word, it was out of my hands. Now I personally think (or prefer to think) of preaching as an intimate act. It's a giving of myself to the people listening, and it comes with a prayer that they will be able to use part of that gift to deepen their own spirituality. Part of the challenge with seeing preaching as an intimate act is that I have the habit of dropping my volume as if in the midst of a sincerely intimate conversation. Unfortunately for preaching, this doesn't work all that well.
Another challenge for me, when it comes to preaching, I have a hard time believing that anything I have to say, to add to the conversation being had, is all that valuable or beneficial for anyone else to hear. Granted, according to what I've been reading in Henry Nouwen's Life of the Beloved, this is just a form of self-rejection, of denying the reality that I'm a beloved child of God with a uniqueness about me that no one else has. In any case, it's hard... not just for me, but for many of us.
After the service was over, several classmates and professors came up to me with affirmations and encouragement. But one in particular meant a lot to me. This particular professor is a self-admitted hard-ass with a tendency to be intimidating. I feel alright writing this because we've already had a conversation about this. In our brief encounter, he offered a much-needed critique about projection and articulation. I know it's an area of struggle for me, so I wasn't surprised. What did surprise me was when he looked me dead in the eyes, with a smile on his face nonetheless (something else that's often hard to earn), and told me, "You've got some really quality stuff here. You've got something important, really important to say, and I want to hear it."
It's hard to put into words what this compliment meant to me. Having come to some difficult conclusions lately about life, the universe, and everything, it's been challenging to trust my own voice, my own views. It's been hard to believe in my own value and worth. So to have this man whom I've not had as a professor and who only knows me in a fairly superficial sense speak this blessing onto me was invaluable. Personally, one of my strongest love languages is words of affirmation. It's important to me for those whom I love to know that I love them and to know why I love them so deeply. This is something we all need... someone to tell us that our voice matters, that our smiles and hugs make a difference, that our existence makes the world better. While it might not always feel like it, everyone in our lives is there for a reason, has something to offer us, and and has something to gain from our presence in their lives. It's a simple reality in theory, but it's difficult to assimilate and put into practice. Regardless, I strongly believe that when we remind others of their belovedness and we let others remind us of our own belovedness, we make community happen, and we make life better for everyone.
Lately, I've really been struggling with understanding what it means to be holy, what it means to let the image of God within me be renewed to its original form. The challenge I believe lies within my persistent inability to allow myself to be loved by God, to be healed and made whole. I've grown so accustomed to feeling broken and incomplete that the idea of being anything else is uncomfortable beyond belief. One of the courses I'm taking this semester is on John Wesley and early Methodist history. In it, one of the authors defines Wesley's idea of scriptural holiness as love of God, love of neighbor, acts of piety, and acts of mercy. Herein rests my hardship: I think that, for us to be able to love God and neighbor, we need to at least partially understand the manner in which we are loved by God and, from there, learn to love ourselves in that same manner and from that same starting point. People often say we can't love others unless we love ourselves. I'm finding this to be more true than I previously believed.
At a point when John Wesley struggled with his own faith, a colleague told him to preach until he had it and, from there, because he had it, he would preach it. I have to wonder if the same is possible for love. Are we able to preach love until we have it, and then preach it because we have it? I don't have an answer. That more than anything is making life difficult for me, mostly because, in realizing how little love I have for myself, how little worth and value I place on my own life, I'm left wondering how sincere and authentic my love for everyone else around me is.
Personally, I think I'm more prone toward self-sabotage than anyone I know. If I have something good going for me, I'm often quite capable of catalyzing its disintegration. This is applicable to relationships, education, careers, personal health, and almost anything else one could imagine. Presently, I see so many blessings in my life and so, immediately, I'm put on guard by my own self-knowledge, wondering if, when, and how I might bring it all crumbling down. I'm questioning my own worthiness for a vocation in ministry, even with the knowledge that God often calls those who have deemed themselves unworthy only to build them up in her image.
Most days, pulling myself out of bed is so arduous a task that everything beyond that is utterly daunting and draining. As someone who's always valued his friendships, I'm noticing myself investing less and less as time progresses. I know much of this is grief-related, stemming out of how desperately I miss Nanny - her voice, her presence. Nanny was such an image of God for me, a manifestation of the depths to which God's love for me ran, the lengths to which God would go for me. This is not to say I cannot see God in anyone else, but honestly, her God-mark was so prominent that others seem to pale in comparison. She really was Jesus for me, more than even I realized until quite recently.
So really, in saying I miss Nanny, I suppose I'm missing God. Through Nanny, I felt God's laughter and joy, her hugs and tears and kisses, her challenges, her affirmation. I really just want to find my way back to her...