Not much to share this evening. I just had a great evening talking with the youth about gender. We used this genderbread person to talk about the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. I am constantly amazed by the way these youth articulate their thoughts. We certainly didn’t talk about this stuff when I was in high school….
I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about hell. I suppose that’s an odd way to start a blog post, but there it is. I don’t know when I was first introduced to the idea of hell, but I can remember from a very early age being aware of the fiery pit I’d be thrown into if I was bad. Funny, as I write that now it occurs to me how similar my childhood image of God was to Santa Claus: a sort of old white guy in the sky, making a list of who’s naughty and nice. Only, instead of being given either a favorite toy or a bag of coals, I’d get eternity either in the clouds or burning in a fiery pit. After a junior high visit to a Baptist church camp, I think I must have prayed for Jesus to come into my heart about 500 times, afraid that if I didn’t pray the right way or ask for forgiveness for each and every sin, I’d be destined to hell. I could go on about this process for a while, and how my views of heaven and hell (and transcendence, for that matter) have changed over the last few years, but I’m more concerned at the moment with talking about the implications of telling someone they are going to hell.
“If my sister or brother is not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ. If my sister’s mark of sexuality must be obscured, if my brother’s mark of race must be disguised, if my sister’s mark of culture must be repressed, then we are not the flesh of Christ. It is through and in Christ’s own flesh that the ‘other’ is my sister, is my brother; indeed, the ‘other’ is me….The establishment of the Church is re-creation of the world. But it is only in the union of all the particular members that the beauty of Christ’s body is complete.”
So, this blog is in part supposed to be a sort of Lenten practice. As today is Sunday, and a feast day, I like the idea of just sharing a poem. It’s a favorite of mine, by Wendell Berry.
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine round about you,
and behind you will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty:
you misread the complex instructions,
you are not a member,
you lost your card or never had one.
And you will know that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked,
say to them: “I am not ashamed.”
A sure horizon will come around you.
The heron will begin his evening flight from the hilltop.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the MSW (Masters of Social Work) interns whom I work with told me about a conversation she’d had with her classmates about me.
“I am a Hindu. I do not understand. Here you are in my country, standing deep within the Christian faith and tradition. I do not wish to seem rude to you. But, sir, I think you are a trader to all darker peoples of the earth. I am wondering what you, an intelligent man, can say in defense of your position.” (pp 14-15)
I do not wish to draw too close a parallel between the experiences of marginalization felt by people of color in US history and sexual minorities (primarily because I think drawing too close a parallel loses the nuances of the varied experiences of oprression, but I’ll get to that in a later post), but I have asked myself more than once if, by staying in the church, I am am a traitor to the people who have been abused by the institutions that use their claim on Christian “values” to condemn anyone who does not fit the mold. Why stay? Why be a part of an institution that, by-and-large has made it abundantly clear that I am not welcome? Maybe I’m just stubborn, or oblivious, or incredibly naive (I’m sure I’ve been called all three). I guess I stay because it still seems worth it to me, and I can still maintain a hope in something that transcends all of the junk that people shout “in the name of Jesus.”
What better response to the hatred and oppression that is done in the name of religion than to love powerfully? I stay in the church because I believe it still has the potential for this kind of re-orienting love.