Recently my wife passed. To be gentle with myself and give myself time to get back in the swing of editing and choosing what I share from my spiritual journal, I am sharing some oldies but goodies from the devotional. This one focuses on something my dear wife had to learn to do not just for herself but for others in her work as a pastor, a youth advocate working with bullied/abused youth, and also a queer woman with disabilities: how to find wholeness, live authentically, and discover or build (when not already present) supportive community.
I hope it helps you find wholeness.
This reading includes three different stories.
The first is Jesus’ warning about not hiding a light under a bushel. As I first began to read this parable of Jesus, I jump immediately to the version of it I am used to hearing. That one, found in the Gospel of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, says that we must remember we are light and our lights are supposed to shine. Matthew remembers Jesus’ words as a call to live out fully and visibly the difference Jesus calls us to be. Dare to be different, dare to demonstrate through your actions in visible ways the difference Christ has made in your unseen heart.
I am a bit surprised to see that Luke interprets this story differently. Luke remembers Jesus moving from this example into an explanation that what is done in secret will be displayed visibly for all. This is a call to integrity, to having your unseen life match your public life.
I think about how we can try to present as if we are “better” in the eyes of the world and the community at large than we are. We can try to appear more together, more skilled, more virtuous, more forthright, than others. I also think of stories like Caitlyn Jenner’s recent coming out as a transgender person. This fact of Jenner’s experience was something kept secret while she was known to the world as “Bruce”, yet it eventually had to come out as a part of her journey to wholeness. At times we can think that hiding our past, our gifts, our weaknesses, or (as in this case) our true gender identity or sexuality can cause us to look better and get by. Ultimately such secrets can eat us up from the inside out.
I have been learning the last few years while serving more as a chaplain than a pastor, that there is a power in vulnerability about one’s own weaknesses, fears, insecurities. When we are willing to be open about those parts of who we are and allow others to do the same, there is a way in which our willingness to be vulnerable can build a bridge across which true connection can happen. Yet to do this we first must be willing to be vulnerable to ourselves and before God. In truth, a part of why hiding parts of ourselves to others is so attractive is that often we don’t want to face ourselves in all of our complicated, messy journey.
Here is where the other two stories of this reading – of Jesus identifying our new family, and of the storm – tie together for me today.
We fear facing ourselves in all of the messiness and complexity that we are because we fear rejection and loss, and because we fear our lives from abandoning the comfortable patterns we are used to. We fear true honesty with ourselves and others, let alone God, will cause our lives to tail spin out of control.
In truth, at times people do face rejection for their honesty. I know many LGBT folks I’ve ministered to as a pastor and a chaplain who could tell how initially important family members and friends were confused, upset, or even rejecting. I know of folks who, when they face the reality of addiction and begin to make amends, experience others as not open to this new stage of sobriety in their lives.
Yet living a lie can rob life from our days, stealing our authenticity. It can cause us to deep down have a despair in knowing the relationships around us are ones that are founded not on others truly accepting us as we are, in all our messy glory, but based on facades. And opening up allows us to connect with those that will accept us in ways that go so much deeper.
So Jesus reminds us that even if we lose some in our circle of connection – family and friends – God provides a wider network of community. Those who follow the path Jesus is laying out find themselves being re-integrated into a community of belonging based on this deeper honesty and truthfulness.
When I talk to LGBT people who come out, this is the truth they share. There are some who reject them, but they find others with whom their already existing connection becomes truer and stronger. They also find new friendships and new “family of choice” emerging out of those who find this from-the-heart honesty and vulnerability life-giving and meaningful.
Similarly in the lives of people living out the honesty sobriety requires there is a new camaraderie that bursts forth among other former addicts who find such honesty is the key to saving their own lives from disaster.
At the heart of such acceptance is a sense that they matter, just as they are. Even though not all coming out or seeking sobriety in such a way would put this feeling in religious terms I believe it has at its heart God whispering to us in our souls the Good News that we are perfectly imperfect, accepted by God in all our messiness and confusion as beloved, beautiful, and worthy. We are children of God in whom God is well-pleased whatever our difference, our vulnerability, our failings, our brokenness, our past, our hidden secrets. They are not secret to God. And opening up about them to others allows us to be true to God about them, inviting deeper vulnerability to God.
This is why we need not fear the storms in our lives such honesty may unleash. The Living Christ walks with us, riding alongside us on the boat of our souls. When those waves whip up, as they inevitably will whenever we try to change the patterns of our lives to the better, the living Christ can speak the words of peace which may or may not end the storm but will allow us, if we embrace them, to get through the storm to the other side more whole than before.
May you experience that living presence more fully from the depth of your soul, as you and I both walk together into a life of more authenticity and peace. Amen.