Monday, October 11, 2010

Coming Out, for Jesus's Sake

"Jesus came to make room in the world for more love by punching holes in the status quo."

These words that issued unaccountably from my own mouth were the surprising conclusion, many years ago, to a long discernment with my pastor about a crossroad in my life:

Some years after I became very actively involved in the local Mennonite congregation...a few years after my divorce from my third husband...a couple years after my baptism...I found myself unexpectedly on the brink of a new intimate relationship. It was a well-established "farmwork friendship" that I realized had grown into something much deeper and more significant, fed by the fertile soil of shared labor and watered by long conversation while working. I expected this surprising new love to remain unrequited in my heart; surely this person did not feel the same way about me. But suddenly, there was the question shyly blurting from her lips--"Do you want to be girlfriends?"

My actively lesbian phase lay in my distant past, honored as an essential part of me but long ago and far away. It was not something I'd intentionally put aside, but rather just drifted away from as old friends moved away and new friendships formed more frequently with men, who were more likely than the lesbians I knew to instruct me in the finer points of car mechanics and carpentry. I had never been ashamed of my relationships with women, and went forward into subsequent relationships with men claiming "bisexual" as the most fit descriptor of my intimate inclinations.

But now I was a baptized Christian, either tempted or blessed with this opportunity to live out a love that had been blossoming inside me for a long time. For the first time ever, I felt that I needed to make a thoughtful decision based on not just my feelings, but on how an openly committed relationship with someone would affect all my other relationships...with God, with my church, with my family, with my friends, with my customers, with the conservative Catholic community that brought their teens to the farm for "Farm School" every Thursday. I gave the whole situation a couple weeks of grave, searching introspection, aided by gifted pastoral counseling.

And when my pastor asked, concluding a fruitful session of guiding me in self-examination, "What do you think Jesus would have to say about this?" I replied--or at least the words came from my lips, I know not how--

"Jesus came to make room for more love in the world by punching holes in the status quo."

It was far, far more than an answer to a discernment about a particular relationship. To my great sorrow, that beloved soul sought increasing distance from me after a brief time of closeness. My love for her remains free in the world, growing and deepening with the years, but again unrequited. God and God alone knows the future of that love.

But that profound synopsis of the Gospels of Jesus Christ remains to me as new and powerful as it was the day it came tumbling from my lips. It has guided me ever since, in all kinds of relationships and decisions. That's my mission in following Christ: to make room for more love in the world, punching holes in the status quo if it gets in the way. Jesus was a revolutionary. He overturned the money-changers' tables; he championed prostitutes, tax collectors, the lame and leprous, foreigners, all of the outcasts and misfits and untouchables of his day. How can I be a revolutionary now, in my time? How can I nudge my culture towards His Way?

One thing I've realized is the folly of being "conservative" or "fundamentalist". We can't continue Jesus's revolution by saying "ok, we've arrived, let's circle the wagon and defend what we've achieved." Because it isn't ever enough...there's always further to go. There is always more love seeking room to grow in the world. When Jesus on the cross said "It is finished," I don't think he meant that he was done making room for more love in the world.

And so we didn't stop struggling to make room for more love when we "gained religious freedom" to be anything but Catholic, despite the millions who believed our beliefs were deadly heresies...and love within and across faith boundaries was set free to bloom and grow. Thousands of revolutionaries lost their lives to persecution in the Reformation, or death by illness on the ships that brought them to the New World...and the loss of life in the quest for the freedom to love our own god in our own way continues in struggles between Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Pagan, etc.

We didn't stop struggling to make room for more love when we made major strides in overcoming racism even though many thought interracial marriage was sinful...and love was set free in colorblind couples. We still struggle against racism embedded in our collective cultures and our individual fears; we struggle for balance between "coexist, assimilate or be assimilated" in regard to growing Hispanic and Asian communities among us.

We didn't stop struggling to make room for more love when we gave women the right to vote and own property, instead of being property, even though we thought that would lead to sinful behavior and destruction of marriages...and women were set free to support and love their children outside the bounds of abusive marriages, while men were set free from the burden of solely supporting their families. We still struggle with oppression and violence between the sexes.

We are gradually struggling towards making room for more love by learning to celebrate, instead of revile, the love some people have for same-gender significant others...and love that has been kept hidden like a sprout denied sunlight while struggling for its very life is being set free, lessening the grip of hatred and bitterness on the world.

As part of this, we are beginning to see a vaguer issue, as if through a glass darkly--the evil grip of bullying in general, and its deadly, deforming effects on victims, perpetrators, and by-standers. Here, too, we need to make room for more love in the world by punching holes in the status quo of believing that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." We are learning that cruel words can and do end lives as easily as cruel actions. Any form of humiliation is an occasion for us to struggle to make room for more love in the world.

Beyond that, I am sure there are many more kinds of love desperate to be given room in the world. We must find them all and struggle to free them, whether we think they are sinful or not, whether they are central to our own lives or not.

Because we need the world to have as much love as possible. That way, we can be assured that it will be there for us when we need it. And we must teach our children to see, seek, and nurture honest love wherever it is trying to grow, to be revolutionaries in its cause, to set it free to heal the world.

That's what Jesus taught me.