I was put into my place today. Or maybe I should write I was put into ‘my place’ today.
On the phone with another alum (I’ll call her ‘SR’) from my HS graduating class, an alum with whom I’d not spoken for over 20 years, and with whom I’ve recently (via Facebook) reconnected, I was told what follows. It’s my best paraphrase, editing out all the “please don’t take me wrong”s and so on.
Before we decided the telephone was more conversation-friendly than stop-and-start Facebook chat, we were discussing general churchy stuff, and came to realize that we were both raised AG, though neither of us had any clue about the other. Well, it finally came to her blurting out (if you can blurt in an online chat) the question on her mind: “are you straight?”
“No,” I wrote. “But I tried with all my might for 20 years to be so.”
Then she asked, “are you practicing?”
“Does it matter?” I wrote. “I mean, in my experience, it isn’t what I do, but just that I am that has put people off.”
It matters. I know it matters. To those people with whom I share a certain religious tradition, it matters tremendously. I never told SR one way or the other, regarding whether I am a ‘practicing homosexual.’
She assumed that, since I’m a Christian, and since I know a lot about different doctrines and can hold my own in careful theological discussion, that I must not be. She never said so outright, but all her conversation thereafter was based on this assumption. Just because one has an orientation doesn’t make it moral actually to pursue, I mean, some people have an orientation to alcoholism, or to kleptomania. We are called to obedience, to holiness. And of course, the notion that homosexuality is such a horrible sin is just out of balance—it’s no worse than divorce, and look at how many people in the church who are divorced? Repent and sin no more!
So long as I do nothing, I’m okay.
Celibate for life: good Christian. Lonely for life: godly woman. Desiring company and somebody to love: horrible sinner needing to beg for forgiveness.
But it’s all about grace. All of us are horrible sinners, she said, scum. Yet God has chosen us, transformed us, redeemed us. And we can be free. Sure, we fight temptations, but that’s because we’re still in this horrible, fallen world. The point is not to give in, to resist as much as we can.
Like my Spokane friend said, not to “sacrifice doctrine for desire.” Not to fall into sin.
My place is eternal celibacy. An unwilling, protesting Protestant nun, taking one for the team.
There are, she said, two sets of rules. Those for the church, who live in the consciousness of grace, and those for the world outside of the church. We are called to a higher standard. So of course there’s no expectation that non-Christians not be practicing gays. They don’t know any better. They don’t have the empowering grace to overcome.
But as a Christian, she admires me for being whatever it is she seems to have determined I am. Out as gay, but celibate. Basically, the same arguments I’ve heard my whole life. Standing in the same place I was when trying to be “ex gay,” only no longer pretending to be what I’m not.
After we got off the phone, I was somewhat numb. First, because I learned that everyone in HS knew I was gay long before I ever came out (and all had assumed I’d come out years earlier), and second, because it’s somehow supposed to be just dandy with me that I am not supposed to ever have anyone to love on or have love on me. I’m supposed to embrace isolation with great joy and ‘triumphant’ peace.
With this on my mind this afternoon, I went to a music festival here in town that a friend from church gave me tickets to. And I wandered aimlessly, alone. Wishing I had somebody to be with. Thinking about how another friend told me I should invite a colleague of mine in whom I am very interested. Wondering how SR would take the social demand of celibacy and silence.
And then I finally went home. To my holy isolation.
As I drove, I told God what I really wanted. A somebody to love. And I really felt no sin in it at all. Nor should I. So why is it so important to so many people that I live on this isolated pedestal? Does it make them feel more spiritual to see me thus? To see people like me thus?
I have this book in my car I read in fits and starts, Coming Out While Staying In by Leanne McCall Tigert. And when I got home, I just sat in the car for 20 minutes and read. The Body of Christ is a dysfunctional system, she writes. And like any dysfunctional system, there are roles its members are expected by the system to fulfill. SR was simply reminding me of my role in the dysfunctional system. But Tigert argues that we gays need to acknowledge, like everyone else, our own particular stories, our own experiences, so that the plurality can rise before God in a multifarious unity. Like a complex symphony, each part unique, yet working together to create the beauty of the whole.
Gay / lesbian / bisexual persons need to speak, to tell our stories, in order to be faithful.
Wow. For the system to be functional, we all need to play our parts in authenticity. I used to be in a symphony, playing bass clarinet, an instrument in the key of B-flat. A woodwind that sometimes had music written for it in treble clef, sometimes in bass clef. What if, suddenly, the bass clarinet quit playing what was written for it, but started playing, say, the trumpet’s score? What if the brass section decided that all low woods (bass clarinet, bassoon, English horn) were all to quit playing what was written for them and to play trombone, baritone, or bass parts? And that in fact, they were to use brass mouthpieces, not reeds. It would be a disaster. Dysfunctional. Cacophonic.
The symphony sounds beautiful only when each part is played as written, but played with the passion and individuality of the instrumentalist. And how it is written is determined not by the conductor, not by the members of the ensemble, but by the composer. We have to trust that vision, the vision of a song that we alone, playing our own individual parts, cannot hear until we play together, honestly, as it is written.
The problem is not only that people like me are told not to play our own part, but that when we are allowed to play as it is written for us, we are not allowed to personalize, to play with our own passion. Music must be felt by the musician for it to sound good. We’ve all heard something performed that is technically perfect, but cold and uninviting. Legalistic. Flawless, but dead. But we’ve also heard music that maybe had a few problems in rhythm or technical ability, but moved us to our core. It is this latter to which we as the Church are called. Not only must we be allowed to play the part our Composer wrote for us, but to play it as it inspires us. And to play it with all the dynamics of life.
That is my place, actually. I’m a low woodwind, playing a part very few in the symphony have. But without us, no one would know Ivan’s theme from “Peter and the Wolf.” My place is to tell my story, to live my life as it is written, as it is being written, both by God and by me as I live it, regardless of how others try to alter my ending to suit their own stylistic preferences.
SR told me that her church would be different than the ones I’ve attended. They’d accept me. Heck, they aren’t judgmental. There are ex meth addicts, former prostitutes. Jesus loves them all. They don’t care. Though, she stopped to consider, they’d probably not accept me if I were practicing. They believe in church discipline. You know. Exactly what I’ve experienced before, the same butchered, grace-less, misguided, but well-meaning in its own little dysfunctional way cacophany of a not-so symphonic body of Christ.
I’ll probably develop a friendship of sorts with SR. She doesn’t believe anything I haven’t heard before, and she truly does mean the best. But I think the only effective way to show people who are so attached to the dysfunctional system how the symphony should be played is to play it. As composed. Passionately.