God and the 48%

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Once upon a time, I thought I was alone in the world. This world, the Christian one I grew up in, said that people like me didn’t exist. There is no such thing as a Gay Christian, they said. The two don’t mix. You can’t baptize sin. It’s sinful to say you can. So, for a long time, I didn’t really know where I stood. It felt like a shadow. It felt like loneliness.

 

After I came out and all the pieces fell into place, after the false image of a furious God washed away to reveal love,  I wrapped my cross in a rainbow and paraded it everywhere I went. In my mind, I was like a chosen missionary. I was a unicorn, heroically weird, and uniquely qualified to say to the queer community: Look at me! I love Jesus and I’m not straight! You can too! And to the Christian community: Look at me! My shirt is on! I don’t go clubbing! Have no fear, for I will not flaunt! I wanted to destroy the false dichotomy I once endured. I wanted my witness to end this war.

 

I’ve seen this awful axe fall down and split people and families apart. I’ve seen the choice laid bare in tears from those who don’t know how to stop being who they are and can’t accept that they’re already beautiful. I’ve had conversations with wonderful people living successful, well-adjusted lives, except that their parents and siblings won’t speak to them, won’t answer the phone or reply on email, and those tears fall heavy. I’ve seen lives shattered in a second, and recoveries that have lasted a lifetime. This false dichotomy, this topical war, it’s not an abstract thing. It is flesh and blood. It is hearts and souls. There is a real cost and it is being paid in pain and shame and so many years lost.

 

And often, it all feels hopeless to save.

 

It feels hopeless, because Church is a wind that keeps pushing us further and further out, to the outer ring of out. I had to swear off Facebook on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. I had to get talked down to a calm heart during #IStandWithPhil. On the day that Christians abandoned ten thousand children in the third world, because gay married people in Seattle could suddenly apply to World Vision, I felt gutted. When World Vision caved and reversed their policy, I felt done.

 

It gets abusive, being a gay person in here. It makes you wonder sometimes if you’re even doing the right thing by inviting others in. I often wonder how many of us will stick it out.

 

For the last few years, I’ve held that mindset. I’ve held that worry. So the other day my world pretty much flipped upside down. Actual goosebumps prickled my arms. My eyes pooled up with tears.

 

Pew Research released their much-anticipated Religious Landscape survey, an annual look at religiosity (or lack thereof) amongst Americans. Much of the conversation was fixated on the decline of faith amongst Americans, which I am skeptical about anyway, but beneath the shuffle, there was something surprising. Startling. I didn’t actually believe it when I read it.

 

As people have left the faith, LGBs have turned to it. A six-point jump to 48%. That’s half. That’s one in two. And that’s nothing short of shocking. 

 

Given all that’s happened, all the experience, all the heartache, all the shame, all the anger, all the scars- unless this is some remarkable moment of reverse psychology- something bizarre is happening. Something that neither reason nor emotion can explain. Something that can only make sense once you factor in God.

 

I realized my mistake when I read these numbers. I had wanted to pry open the doors so others could come in, could see that God is not like what they’ve heard. But I forgot that He was already here. He always has been. On the outer ring of out. This edge is where He goes when He thinks of home.

 

God dwells in the margins. Walter Brueggemann once said, “the arc of the gospel is bent toward inclusivity.” And you only need to read the same book that has been shot like a dagger at the queer community to see that this has been the liberating story all along. God always drops anchor with the exiles. God lifts up the voices of the outcast in defiance of those that would say God’s love only goes so far, that God’s image is only reflected in a favored few. And it seems, He is doing it again.

 

It seems to be the never-ending work of God, collapsing all these false idols. God made man in his image and man returned the favor, so the quote goes, and history bears witness to that. God has been the slave-driver. God has been the abusive husband. God has been the fat-cat exploiting the impoverished. The name of God has been slapped on to our sinful systems, systems of domination and exclusion, systems intended to thin out everyone that doesn’t look like the most powerful one in the room. There has been so much maliciousness masked in God that it should hardly surprise us when a whole generation decides to drop out. No one can see God past those profiteering off of her.

 

So in response, God always goes nuclear. He goes and does crazy things. He goes and touches lepers and dines with tax collectors, lets a prostitute pour the perfume she saved for her tricks on his feet and then calls them all saved. He shows up at the well in enemy territory, at the hour only the shamed show up, to talk with an adulteress. He sends Phillip on a mission to make the first person evangelized an Ethiopian Eunuch. He drops a sheet of unclean food before Peter and tells him to eat it, tells him then to take this lesson and understand that people, too, are beloved, not unclean. And now He’s at it again. He is going to the people that have been banned from him, unfastening centuries of condemnation, drowning out every screaming picketer, pastor, blog post, every single word that stands between Him and us and saying, yes. You. I’ve always been here for you.

 

Always, God goes to those who have been hit hardest in his name and tells them another story. Tells them he’s for them. Tells them he’s in love. No matter how high or thick the walls may be- nothing can separate Jesus from his people, for he is a part of his people. He stirs loudly in their hearts. He always has. Always will.

 

48%. Hallelujah.

When Words Fail

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Originally published in 2014, at Deeper Story

Across her lap was my notebook, college ruled and crinkled from use. I had been writing songs in it, per her suggestion that I channel my inner angst up and out of myself, into something creative.

I sat slack on the couch, eyes sagging low from last night’s insomnia and waited for her to finish. She turned the pages slowly, as if they were aged documents. A couple times she scratched her cheek. Looked up with a smile. Looked back down.

“You are, you say, “a thousand puzzle pieces with no one to put you back together”?” She asked, repeating a chorus line. I nodded. I explained, “Yes, yes, I am because I’m all broken up inside and no one knows how to fix me. I can’t figure out how to fix me. If you look at another poem, I note that God could fix me, but he doesn’t.” She flipped a couple pages ahead. “Ah.” She said. “He is watching you fall with, you say, ‘pitiless eyes’?”

After a couple weeks of me writing and her reading, we concluded that while writing was a tremendous tool for sorting out our stuff, gaining perspective and clearing a path toward healing, it wasn’t what I needed. It was actually awful for me.

At the time, my therapist didn’t know I was gay, but she knew that there was some deep sensitive secret thing in me, something I was not ready to share with her. I had told her there was a thing. I told her how this “thing” was keeping me up all night. How it hooked around my ankle like a weight and I was underwater. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t slow down on the smoking, I couldn’t sit still for five minutes with my friends. And we decided that writing was just keeping my mind flooded with this worry, this darkness. I was dwelling in it. Drawing sad circles in the muck of it.

She suggested biking, at first,and then fishing, and then yoga. She listed off a number of things that could make some space between my mind and me.

So I biked, but then I’d stop somewhere and smoke and write in my notebook. I ran, but kept it short and then spent long hours of sad scribbling. I had a secret that needed to be shared. Needed to be said. Needed to get out of me, but I was so deep in the closet that all I could do was write parallel metaphors. Verses about hiding. About fear. About the world that was brushing up hard and fast against me.

Truth is, there wasn’t a single word, sentence, poem, book that spoke to the indescribable experience within me. Every time I tried, I missed.

When the sketching came, it came out of nowhere. I came back to my parents’ place one afternoon and saw my older brother hunched over a pad, slowly working out a portrait, glancing to his right at a flopped open book called “How To Draw”. He did this often, finding new hobbies. He had mastered a hundred, most of which I had little interest in myself, but for whatever reason, this captivated me. I walked over and stood behind him, lingering silently over his shoulder.

I got my own sketchpad and artist pencils and I sat at the Caribou down the road for several hours, drawing total crap. The upside to depression is that you can fail like this and not drop further than where you are, which is bottom. And so I kept at it. Day after day. Hour after hour.

Before long, I learned the different purposes of pencils, the darker shades, the lighter ones, how to make shadows look natural and eyes really shine. I learned the standard length of noses, how sketches are best started by using circles, then finished by sanding out a face or a dog or a car.

And before long, I was actually pretty good.

I was taken by it, the Visual Arts. I took up painting and then sculpture. I switched my minor to Studio Art and my junior year of college, I was a finalist in the school-wide art competition, an achievement I never could have predicted.

In many ways, the Visual Arts saved my life. When words were too much or too scary, I found color, line, shape, shade. And I found I had heart bent toward beauty and creation and depth.

This therapy was actually quite scientific. Art drew the pool of my mental energy to one corner of my mind, the artsy part, and in that move, it left the anxious and depressed parts to starve in some dark corner. It was an escape from life because, yes, sometimes you just need to escape for a season.

And in that escape, in that wordless season, I unknowingly found God. I can only see him there in retrospect.

When I went into my little makeshift studios, I found sanctuary. I found myself sitting before a canvas as the clock wound all the way around and there was nothing I needed to say, no prayer I needed to offer, no reason I needed to find to justify myself. I was just there. I was present. I was joyful. I was alive. My hands were covered in paint and ink and graphite, coated completely over with so many chemicals and for some reason, that makes me think of grace.

I set out unawares on a mysterious canal, oaring the roundabout way until fear felt less real. Until my own voice began to slowly rise in my throat. Until that moment, that breathtaking moment, when I looked up and saw the shore. I was always going home.

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