In Weakness

This was originally written in May, 2013. I have edited and reposted it as I find myself facing a similar moment in my life: starting to speak publicly about faith and sexuality.

***

There are certain words that we carry with us wherever we go. Sometimes tacked onto us by friends or strangers, sometimes dragged behind us by leashes of our own making, they follow us and seem to declare their existence at every moment.

Mine is weak.*

It’s like some indelible curse, scrawled on every mirror, sports field, tool, or disappointed face – a damning refrain of inescapable truth. I hate it. And yet I continue to grip the worn tether.

I think it’s because I have generally understood weak to be a safe word; one that demands nothing from me and gives me a reason to push away all that might complicate my life. If I’m so weak, I must protect myself. Tension and complexity and nuance become the enemy – threats to my fragile stability and brokers of an inevitable compromise. After all, I’m weak, I can’t handle it. A pious and poisonous half-truth that I’ve believed for most of my life.

But that’s changing.

The conviction that I need to speak up and step out, to move deep into the tension and dedicate myself to truly loving those around me, allowing their lives to press into mine, is overriding the base urge to shield myself from any and all pain. And as pin-prick circulation returns to my knuckles I am realizing that being weak isn’t the problem: being selfish and afraid is.

Because I am weak. And yet as I started to see years ago, such weakness can be a beautiful opportunity to move forward in trust. That one word, weak, used to bring forth a comprehensive, anxious distrust that paralyzed me, but now it’s starting to have the opposite effect. Over the past year as I’ve blogged, emailed, met-for-coffee, and prayed, I’ve never ceased to be filled with wonder at the ways God has proven himself faithful to use my weakness to bring life…

…as a hushed confession of shame erupts into a boisterous oh-my-god-metoo! and a newfound freedom takes root amidst the shared laughter.

…as friends step up and become heroes.

…as an “issue” becomes a living, breathing, hurting human for someone and their world changes.

…as I find myself feeling more alive, more loved, more hopeful, and more passionate than ever before.

I could go on. I’ve had the chance to meet and become friends with so many incredible people as a result of that one decision to move beyond my frightened comfort zone. Friends who agree with me, disagree with me, think I’m crazy, force me to dig deep and reexamine what I thought to be true, inspire me, frustrate me, and point me to Christ. I would have never met any of them, never encountered the gospel of their lives, if I’d let my fear of pain decide it was more important to shelter myself from it all.

So you think I’d get it by now. But…

Sometimes the damning refrain creeps back into my mind.

You’re pathetic.

They’ll tear you apart.

You’re so disgustingly weak, you’ll never make it.

A year ago I was sprawled on the couch of a friend unsuccessfully trying to convince my exhausted brain that, really, it’s more fun to sleep than implode, watching tattered visions of all that could undo me flicker in an out of focus. It was my first week back in the States; DoMA and SCOTUS were still trending on Twitter and lighting up my Facebook feed. From the moment I deplaned I was confronted with the fact that I was, once again, caught in a controversy. An old anxiety started gathering around the fringes of my awareness and I couldn’t shake it off.

You’re going to fail.

I pulled the blanket over my head. I’d spent the afternoon hanging out with new friends – a warm and hilarious couple who let me tag along on a date – and I was wrestling with my tired mind about it.

You’re weak. Protect yourself.

Those old lies that would have me believe it was “dangerous” to hang out with a loving, affectionate gay couple – two passionate Christians, at that! – kept replaying because wouldn’t life be simpler if you isolated yourself from anything that would complicate your beliefs?  Wouldn’t it be easier if you spent all your effort on drawing lines and defending yourself and pushing away those who disagree? You’re going to crumble if you keep this up.

I carried these bitter thoughts with me to church the next morning. It had been almost ten months since I’d attended a eucharistic service, though I wasn’t really thinking about that as I waited in line to receive the elements. I was starting to feel a little bit crazy. The decision to begin living and writing more openly about my sexuality and faith seemed increasingly foolish in light of the mounting tension and you won’t be strong enough to help anyone, much less –

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”

– yourself and the controversy will consume you and you’ll be –

“This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.”

– ridiculed and misunderstood and abandoned and –

The accusations ended abruptly as I watched the chunk of bread slowly turn crimson. My mouth started to water. Then my eyes. I gently placed the elements in my mouth, and breathed deeply.

“Epiphany” is the only word I can use to describe that moment: a sudden burst of clarity that overwhelmed me and my whispering fears. The confusion of the preceding moments dissolved and in its place there appeared a calm certainty: this is the shape my life must take.

The eucharist rendered my life intelligible again.

Please bear with me as I gush:

We follow a Christ who was, and is every day, torn to pieces. He was misunderstood and ridiculed, or sometimes understood perfectly well and hated for what he said and did. He was nailed to a low-hanging plank and slowly suffocated outside the city gate. And this is how we are told to remember him.

Because this is our story. This is who we are becoming. People who love so fiercely that we throw ourselves into the midst of things so that there may be peace, so that the unloved would know the touch of a friend, so that the hopeless would see with new eyes and the neglected would discover what it means to have a family. We proclaim Christ, and him crucified.

And people may tear us apart for it. The tension will pull at our seams and always feel as if it is a second away from undoing us. We will have to struggle against the impulse to move back to safety, relieve the tension, remain untroubled, and bury our weakness.

But eucharist is the utmost display of weakness. The cross is weakness.

And this is the beauty of it.

The celebration of bread and wine is a sacrificial, destructive act. But the miracle of it is that as the body of Christ, the bread, is torn to pieces the body of Christ, the Church, is made more whole. We are nourished and drawn together and given the strength to carry on. We are empowered to boldly live in weakness.

This is how the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness: that although we are vulnerable we press deep into the suffering of the world and make it our own, although we may receive blows from every direction we refuse to let our capacity to love and forgive be beaten out of us, and although we are silenced and misunderstood we never disdain the sacred act of listening to another and seeking to understand. It seems like I will never cease having to relearn this most basic of truths, and I imagine that is why celebrating the eucharist will never cease to astonish and amaze me.

The fears that plagued me on my friend’s couch are still with me. Honestly, despite there being many incredible men and women who have gone before me, the idea of opening my life and sexuality to the scrutiny of others is terrifying. I mean, gosh, public discourse in the States has proven itself to be a rather volatile thing.

Pictured: healthy dialogue

Pictured: healthy dialogue

And yet as I have committed to serving with my local church and growing in community with the wonderful not-like-me people I am blessed to know, I find I am more aware of the living grace of my God who offered himself to the world and more in love with his Church that sustains me and inspires me to act in truth and humility. I am seeing more clearly what will enable me, enable us, to proclaim the gospel of hope to an understandably cynical culture, and I am praying that we will allow that gospel to take hold of us in new and profound ways.

Please pray with me.

Peace, friends.

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* Like, if Harry Potter and all that were real (deep breaths deep breaths) my patronus would probably be an asthmatic woodland rodent of some kind.**

** Just kidding, I’ve actually thought about this a lot and it would totally be an otter, which is, according to trustworthy friend-sources, my “animal personality” (i.e. playful, creative, smelling of shellfish and brine, intelligent, et al.).***

*** It is also, I’ve been told, my gay bar body-type classification. Layers, you guys, layers.****

**** No, mom, I’ve never been to a gay bar. *****

***** I’d rather not end on that note, so here’s 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (NRSV). Blessings.

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Exposure

I recently had the amazing privilege to walk on Honduran soil for five days as I visited a dear friend from Wheaton who currently works with streets kids in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

It was an incredibly filling time of friendship, inspiration, and joy (and yes, Tyler, I’m aware all those things are found in My Little Pony). Or maybe it was incredibly filling because of all the food. Wonderful, blessed, ultra-tasty food. (I must comment on the amazing fact that, for all the sixteen countries I’ve been to, I don’t recall ever disliking the local cuisine. Obviously I haven’t been to England.)

Tegucigalpa sits in a valley bowl, which is brilliant for night-time views of glittering lamplights and torturous for walking. The roads appeared to be in competition with one another to see which could be the most vertical. They were all winners.

My host took me down those streets, through the markets, and brought me to some of the common haunts of the runaways – the drug-addicted, rejected children of Tegucigalpa, his friends.

I had never talked to someone as they drugged themselves. Sure, I’d worked with drug-addicts in South Africa for a few months, but always in the context of recovery. This was different. It would make for more dramatic prose to describe the feelings of shock and revulsion I experienced while watching twelve year-old eyes film over from the effects of the yellow glue, but then I would be writing fiction. I didn’t really feel anything more potent than a familiar sadness.

Drug-addicted homelessness, twitching survival, was simply their reality, and I was merely a guest. They didn’t seem to mind.* Some of them even wanted me to take pictures of them with their quarter-full drug bottles as one does with a close friend. That’s probably not far from how they see their relationship with the numbing inhalant. It makes sense.

Moving between the streets and The Micah Project, a community in which teenage boys can come out of alleys and addictions and be trained and nurtured, provided a nice counterbalance of hope, but the distressing ratio of success stories to crushing tragedies never totally faded from memory.

Living, as I do, in a closed compound with over 100 kids can make one (or maybe just me) a little complacent. Sure, we don’t have a lack of needs and struggles within these walls, but it goes a long way toward making the problems of the world feel “out there”, separate, un-urgent. But the trash-filled streets leave you as exposed to the real weight of brokenness and suffering as their inhabitants are to the cold night air.

Complacency is a defense mechanism, and it’s starting to weary me. It is, of course, entirely impossible to be fully aware of every injustice, and even if it were possible such awareness would crush us in a second, but I think we fear the discomfort and demand of exposure more than we should. We don’t serve an isolationist God who is afraid of pain, who shies away from the stark ugliness of our suffering. As he was willing to take a spear to the side for us, I marvel that we are often unwilling to get up off of our couches for others.

I had to ask myself why I should let the tragedy of what I saw in the streets of Tegucigalpa sink into my soul when I can’t really do anything about it right now. Why complicate my life with something beyond my ability to deal with? Wouldn’t it just cause unnecessary tension? No solid answers came, as they rarely do, but I was left with a distinct impression that, at least maybe for now, allowing their pain to disturb me, to linger in my imagination like a piece of dust behind my eyelid, is enough.

I can let their lives crack the shallow calm of my complacency. I can let the visions of scabs and scars and chapped lips and ever-present toxins remind me, whenever they come to mind, that, no, everything is not ok, that the world is a tortured hell for many, and that we can never tire of doing good. I can give them the dignity of changing me, of spurring me to love with greater abandon those who my hands can touch and my words can reach. 

I feel like I’m throwing in a mere penny in self-offering, but it’s all I have at the moment. And I praise God for the fantastic men and women who are daily giving all of themselves to serve those lost in the margins of society, and I hope my life, whatever direction it takes, will do justice to the examples they’ve shown me of grace and faithfulness for the sake of the suffering.

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* Except for that one drunk lady. She did seem to mind. A lot.

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