As the World Gives
By: Lori Heine
"I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
I recall the exact moment I decided to come out as a lesbian. I was working late at night – preoccupied, as I had been for months, with the truth I increasingly knew I had to face – and finally, too restless to keep working, got up from my desk to make myself a pot of decaf. As I stirred the cup, I made up my mind that it was what I must do, and that I'd never be able to live a life true to myself if I didn't do it. I ambled out into the outer office, nearly weightless from the sheer relief of my decision, to find that one of the fluorescent lights had fallen out of the ceiling. The fixture hung precariously down into the room, its bare bulbs exposed.
Was this an omen – a dire, divinely-inspired warning of some sort? I've wondered about that, now, for more than ten years. The decision to come out, and to live the truth of who I am, was too right, and too urgent, for me to shrink back from it. It was not the product of that single moment, but of my entire lifetime up to then. Yet that dangling light fixture has continued to haunt me. What could it have meant? For most of the past decade, I've simply buried the incident in my unconscious, unable to deal with it.
It wasn't until recently that it began to make sense to me at last.
I watched my father slowly die, over the course of weeks and months of suffering. I'd always hoped that he'd undergo some sort of deathbed conversion, in which all the follies, the selfishness and the overindulgences of his life would be revealed to him. Stripped of his power, alone in his pain, he would reach out to God, repent of his abuses of others and of himself and be healed within, even as he slipped away from the physical world.
What happened instead was that, every waking hour of the day, he had on FOX TV. It was a nonstop barrage of propaganda, glorifying selfishness, indulging childish fear and stoking the fires of hatred for anyone different from himself. I would leave the room whenever it got too bad, but he would not let me turn off that TV.
These were the people who'd told him to hate his own daughter; that I was evil, and that "good" people must destroy me. He claimed he no longer believed that, yet every day there they were, filling the air with their poison. The last big fight we ever had was because, during dinner, James Dobson was yammering at us about "those homosexuals," and I left the table. I didn't want to add even a fraction of a ratings-point to this pollution, and I resented having this spiritual carcinogen in our home, loose in the very air we had to breathe.
Since having become part of the community, I have made the best friends of my life. GLBT folks have a gift for friendship, and we need it, because our family relationships tend to be so screwed-up. We are, by and large, one screwed-up bunch. And nothing messes with our heads quite like religion.
I have friends who can't forget their exile from the wonderland of their religious upbringing. The same childish, magical thinking they learned at church, from their parents and from religious TV, they bring with them into every aspect of their lives today. Should a light fixture fall from the ceiling at the moment of a crucial decision, it is surely God, making a statement. All God has to do to nix a new relationship is burn the toast on the morning of a big date night. And if we open the Bible and see "and Judas went out and hanged himself," then we have our marching orders, straight from The Source.
I do believe God had something to say to me in that fallen light fixture. Whatever it was, however, I knew it could not contradict the very being "He" had given me. That this one sign, however troubling, supernaturally repudiated all of that, I was not alone in having my doubts. "The stupid light broke," grumbled one of my more matter-of-fact friends. "Quit trying to turn it into a burning bush."
Was I silly to wonder at its meaning? In an unguarded moment, I almost told a roommate about it. She knew all about the hidden significance in all things. When she wasn't watching religious TV, drinking beer and crying, she was mixing her beer with Valium and wandering around the apartment, singing about underwear gnomes.
She would have seen the great significance of that dangling light, not only for me but for herself. But I thought better of burdening her with my private revelations. Between The 700 Club's countdowns to Armageddon and South Park's undie-stealing gnomes, she had enough to worry about already.
Had the sun fallen out of the sky after my big decision (or the moon, being that it was nighttime), that would have meant much more. Cosmic cataclysms are always happening in Scripture, where God speaks not only in still, small voices but also in deafening roars. In the cosmic order of things, one fallen light fixture seems pretty puny. Cecil B. DeMille most certainly would have left it on the cutting-room floor.
We fear the world outside of us, hesitant to trust the truth we know within. Thus do we jump at the sight of every shadow, even our own. Our anxiety comes from not trusting that God is with us – and within us. We tend to look outward too much. God had been giving me the answer ever since I was a little girl who'd fallen in love with Snow White instead of the Prince.
Some people think it's heresy to say that God is within us. It seems, to them, like idolatry, or some sort of Eastern mysticism. But any god who could hide from most of the people who've ever lived on this earth would be no kind of a God at all. People who expect us to look for God in them, and in their answers, are the idolaters. They've made idols out of themselves.
If God is, indeed, everywhere, then God is inside of us, as well as somewhere "out there" beyond us. We must all, by all means, learn from each other. But we must also listen to God's voice within ourselves. It is a stark and simple fact of life that no one of us can live another's life. To fully live, each of us must fully live our own.
Any interpretation of Scripture that sees God as offended by honesty and love, as incapable of dealing with "His" creation, as he clearly made it, with compassion and understanding, must be wrong. It reads the Bible by man-made light. Jesus tells a different story. Either we take Jesus at His word, or we do not, but it makes no sense to claim Him as our Lord if we refuse to walk in His light. Those who belong to Him believe what He says about God – even when the Pharisees nitpick and try to trip Him up, insisting, in their idolatry, that their path is the only way to God and that external "signs and wonders" tell us everything we need to know.
"Why does this generation ask for a sign?" Jesus sighs in Mark 8:12. "Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." They did not understand the signs He gave them, any more than our generation understands the legacy He has left us. Instead of reading the gospels, and recognizing that in Christ, God welcomes all those "He" has created, they point to wars and hurricanes and blame them on those they dislike. They don't want to admit that God gave them the world to tend with love, and that in their refusal to love the world, they have broken it.
Lights that can be broken are man-made lights. Lights that can fail us are those made with human hands. God's light alone will never fail us. And God's Hand is always steady, his guidance never arbitrary and always true. God does not lead us forward our whole lives, gently holding us by the hand, only to bitch-slap us out of the blue with a showy "Ta-da! Fooled ya, didn't I?"
The Bible did, indeed, come to us from God. But it had, of necessity in this material world, to be transmitted to us by human hands. It has passed through thousands of hands between the time it left God's mouth to that in which it reached our eyes and ears. To mistake God's word, as transmitted and translated to us from God's exact dictation, for that word directly from the Divine Mind is like mistaking a finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself. Or the sun's light, reflected by the moon, for the One True Light from the mind of the One Who created the sun in the first place.
God speaks to us in every aspect of the creation of which we are a part. We have lived our lives, chosen by God to play a part in that creation, for a reason. God wanted me to think long and hard about what a fallen light fixture might mean. It did happen, so I can't say that it meant nothing.
All that happens in our lives is there for us to ponder, and from which we may – and must – draw lessons. But any "lesson" that tells me God's Holy Spirit does not dwell within me, as Christ promised would be true when I accepted Him, is not a lesson from God. Jesus is our truest and clearest light; He is the Light of the world.
Many religious people, who trumpet their great faith to the skies, actually have very little faith at all. They don't think much of God, truth be told, which is why they worry so much. I've been around many religious people, and not many of them seem to be happy people. God doesn't spell everything out to them the way they'd like, in big, bold letters or a booming voice from Heaven, nor does "He" smite those they think deserve a good smiting. Evil bedevils them from without, they are all too aware of their inner imperfections, and other people disappoint them time and time again.
These folks love it when the ceiling cuts loose with a broken light fixture once in a while. I'm afraid they would think it has been wasted on me. They'd like it even better if the sky would cut loose with a big bolt of lightning that zaps me right between my eyes, but thus far God has let them down on that as well. They think they must worry about me because I lack the sense to worry about myself. And God – well, "Him," they just don't know about.
No, they don't seem to know very much about God at all. They don't recall that in almost every encounter with God recorded in Scripture, the first thing God or the angels say to those they visit is, "Be not afraid!" "Don't worry," Jesus tells us, and He knows whereof He speaks. Who has had more to worry about than He? Yet "Do not worry" and "Be not afraid" are among the things God most often chooses to tell us.
I will never fail to heed any message I believe has come to me from God: not from a broken light or from the still, small voice inside of me. To listen to God means not merely to react in panic and fear, but to care enough to really consider what God might be saying. An artificial source of light fell down, as man-made lights are prone to do. I must never trust in man-made light, whenever I may find it and whatever it may seem to say. Human light will often fail me – but God has promised to abide with me always, and "His" light is everlasting.
My dad abides in that light now. He knows what is true and what is false. He has left the false behind and become one with the Truth forever. I doubt they pay much attention to FOX TV in Heaven. I don't think their light fixtures ever fall down, either.
The first thing I did, waiting for that pot of decaf to brew after my big decision, was to ask God to abide with me always. I'd asked "Him" that many times before, and I knew that "He" had never failed me. God did not fail me when I came out as a lesbian, and pledged to live and love as honestly as I am able. God never gave me a bum steer all those years leading up to that momentous night, nor has "He" ever given me one since then. Other human beings often fail us, but when God says, "Be not afraid," we can be sure that we are in good hands, indeed.
Lori Heine serves on Whosoever's board of directors. She maintains a blog called Born on 911.
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