It’s been an interesting week for me.
Last Friday was National Coming Out Day, so I re-posted this essay. In it I said if Jesus were to show up on Earth for a visit anytime soon, my bet was that it would be in the form of a gay, black, teenage girl. Since then my inbox has been filled with rage-filled, pain- filled, and hope-filled emails. As always, I’m reading every single one. I’m staying open and soft and trying to learn.
G: Why do you write about gay people so often? Let it go. Move on.
At the first Christian church service I ever attended– the preacher told us that the job of the Christian is to find the oppressed and stand with them. He insisted that we wouldn’t have to look far, since oppressed people are all around us. He said that the oppressed are any group of people who society considers less than children of God. He said that we were all equal in God’s sight. I loved this message so much that I went back to church the following week. At the second service, the preacher discussed the church’s stance on gay people. I heard him suggest that this group of people simply living and loving as God made them to live and love were well - just wrong. And so we should try to help fix them.
And I thought, “Ah-hah. There’s some oppressed folks. The gays. Okay. I’m on it.” I never expected that then the church would say, “Oh, wait. Don’t stand with those oppressed people. Those aren’t the ones we were talking about. How ‘bout these instead?”
Gay kids are still killing themselves at terrifying rates because society is telling them that they are damaged goods. And the church is STILL the one delivering that message to society. It is my belief that these deadly messages start in churches and then pass through parents and then down through those parents’ children and end up landing squarely on the shoulders of a lost teen who figures there are two ways to end her life- one : to pretend she’s someone she’s not down here – or two: to kill herself. Either way she can’t really live. These teens need another message to consider. They need to hear that YES, they are allowed to live and love how God made them to live and love just like the rest of us. And they need this message to come from the church, too. Because the healing needs to come from the same place that the hurting came. Since I AM the church- as is everyone else who identifies herself with it- I’m doing my damn-dest in my little circle of influence to be that other message. To be the Good News to these beautiful teens. Because a teenager believing that she is loved just as God made her is a matter of life and death. I know this from experience. And because the church can’t tell me to Love Everybody and then add that Love doesn’t mean Love and Everybody doesn’t mean Everybody.
G: You claim to speak for God, but at best you are irreverent and at worst a heretic. BACK OFF.
First of all – there are two different, separate things. There is GOD, and then there is PEOPLE’S IDEAS ABOUT GOD.
I am fully reverent about the first thing and fully irreverent about the second thing. God, whomever God is, has my full reverence. But yes, I am irreverent to everyone’s ideas about God – especially mine. And I am most irreverent to religious certainty. Because certainty does not sound like faith. It sounds like fear. Fear cannot leave any room for mystery. Faith leaves room.
I insist that it is entirely possible (and preferable) to be both reverent and irreverent at the same time. For example – you can be reverent of people but irreverent to their fears and prejudices. This combination is delicious. Reverence mixed with irreverence is the combination that makes for good comedy and good theology.
And about this BACK OFF message. It feels a little violent. But, yes. I hear your alarm and anger and have considered it. Out of respect for all involved, I have decided to do exactly what you requested- except the opposite.
G: Jesus as a black, teenage, gay girl??? How dare you suggest that our Lord would come back as anything less than He is?
Oh my goodness.
Why are we using the term “less than?”
Why is it okay for Christians to believe that God chose to appear on Earth as a brown, heterosexual (or asexual) baby boy -but not okay to believe God might also appear as a black, gay teenage girl?
Are we talking about the same God? The one who chose to enter the world in the form of a Middle Eastern, poor, helpless infant when the world was expecting a KING? The God who showed up in the form of a race so oppressed that no one believed he could possibly be the savior because, “nothing good comes out of Nazareth?” The God I’m talking about LIVES to shatter our ideas about Less Than. The God I’m talking about makes himself less than in order to prove that our ideas about what less than means are bunk. Because our less than is NOT God’s less than. The first are the last and the last are the first.
As I read the comments after that post I kept thinking – what if I was a gay, black, teenage Momastery reader? And what if I came here and read in the MOMASTERY comments that good people were SHOCKED at the suggestion that God might choose to live in ME? Because I am less than divine. Because I am less than. Unworthy. Not good enough. Not God enough.
Christianity asserts that GOD made himself HUMAN. Those are two different categories- two different levels of worthiness. God is one category and human is another. THAT’s a downgrade. After that jump – there are no more categories- no more downgrades. There are no human levels of worthiness. There is no hierarchy in God’s eyes. A black, teenage, gay girl is not “less than” a Middle Eastern poor, infant boy or a straight, white, rich male. And when we suggest that she is less than- we are not talking about Jesus anymore. We are revealing how long and deep and hard our misogyny and racism and homophobia run – and how our fear clouds our view of the divine and of everyone around us. Because we have become unconsciously certain that God has all the same prejudices we have. And then we have certainly – certainly created God in our society’s own image of purity and perfection. Not God’s.
But I’ll give you this: maybe we should all stop guessing what form God will show up as in the future and start accepting that God ALREADY shows up every single day in the form of every single person we meet. God lives inside each and every one of us. And so, it doesn’t matter if God comes back as a black, gay, teen girl – because God Already Has.
And so the one that we need most desperately to find God in is the one in which we are certain God doesn’t live. If you hate conservatives, look for God there. If you’re afraid of minorities- search there. If you’re unsure how you feel about homosexuals –befriend one and look for God in her. And if you’re still certain that more God lives in a man than a woman –join the club. We are, each and every one of us, unlearning misogyny. It’s going to take some time. But be aware of and suspicious of your prejudices. Notice when they kick in and resist. Fight to stay soft and open. Step back and squint hard. But please, please don’t preach that God has the same fears that we do. God doesn’t. God is Perfect Love and Perfect Love casts out fear.
And if, in the end- we disagree about everything else – let us at least agree that often God shows up in a form that we are least expecting. In a form that our society despises. And so it’s probably best not to crucify anybody. Just in case.
To all my friends wearing purple to celebrate Glaad Spirit Day, you are not only GOOD ENOUGH, you are GOD ENOUGH. Forgive us for taking so long to unlearn what we’ve learned down here. Because we do NOT have to learn to love you –we were born knowing that- we just have to unlearn fearing you. Thank you for your continued patience with us.
You always have a place of honor at the Momastery table. Our table is totally purple.
P.S. If grace isn’t shocking and counter cultural and scandalous and a little ridiculous then it’s not Grace.