Dancing with God
By: Candace Chellew-Hodge
"This is where the trouble always begins," I told my partner.
We were watching the movie Evan Almighty. In this follow-up to Bruce Almighty, actor Steve Carell reprises his role as television anchor Evan Baxter. The movie opens with Baxter announcing from the news desk that he's leaving Buffalo, New York for a new job as a U.S. Congressman. He packs the family in the Hummer and heads to their new house just outside Washington - a mansion in a new subdivision for the wealthy and powerful.
During their first night in the new house, his wife, Joan, tells him their three sons had just prayed before bed. Evan rolls his eyes at the thought of prayer. Joan tells him she prayed for them to become closer as a family. Evan tells her they don't need prayer for that - they can make that happen themselves. Later in the night, after his wife is sound asleep, Evan slips from bed onto his knees and offers an awkward prayer, thanking God for his Hummer and new house.
"I mean I picked it out but you created matter and everything," he offers.
Then he gets down to business: "I am now in a position of great power and I know that with great power comes great responsibility so, God, please help me change the world. Okay, that's it, I'm hangin' up now."
It was a dangerous prayer - one that set in motion events that would change not only Evan's world, but the world of those around him and prove to be a powerful witness to God's real presence in the world.
Things start happening quickly - a box of ancient tools shows up at his door, followed by a load of lumber the next day. Then, the animals - two by two - begin to follow Evan around, even into his congressional office. Finally, God - in the guise of Morgan Freeman (who I find more comforting as God than George Burns) - shows up and tells Evan he needs him to build an ark.
Evan, of course, is dismayed by the request and walks right into an old joke:
You know how to you make God laugh?
Tell him your plans.
Evan tells God he's got all these plans and building an ark isn't one of them. God erupts into laughter. "Your plans?" he sputters between guffaws.
It becomes increasingly clear to Evan that he cannot avoid God's command to build an ark. He physically turns into a modern day Noah, complete with flowing beard and robes - neither of which endear him to his Congressional colleagues. In fact, the robes and an admission during a congressional committee meeting that he had been commanded by God to build and ark lead to his suspension from Congress and his family abandoning him.
This is a dilemma the LGBT community can identify with - especially those of us who have sought to reconcile our sexuality and spirituality. As both LGBT people and believers, often our livelihoods are threatened and our families abandon us. They believe we're crazy when we tell them that God has created us this way and has commanded us to live this way. They believe we're under a "strong delusion" - under "Satan's control." We can't possibly be communicating with God. Our lives can't possibly be directed by God, simply because to them, we appear insane. Why not just stuff our feelings and live like everyone expects us to - marry someone of the opposite gender, have kids and shut up about this whole "God created me gay" insanity?
We, like Evan, however, feel that we have no choice but to soldier on, even when we are shunned, abandoned, scorned and condemned. We know, to the very depths of our being, that we are doing as God has commanded us to do. We have asked for God's guidance, we have asked to be shown the path which we are called to walk - and this is it. We cannot go back, no matter how painful the journey.
What we learn from Evan is that God is always at work - even in those painful places when we begin to question whether or not we've heard God correctly since everyone else seems to believe we've completely misunderstood God. After Evan's family leaves, God appears to his wife as a waiter in a restaurant - complete with the nametag "Al Mighty."
He tells her the story of Noah is not about God's wrath but is instead "a love story about believing in each other."
He then gives her a lesson on prayer - and why we need to be very careful about what we ask from God. When we seek direction in our lives, we must remember, God's ways are mysterious - and often maddening.
He tells Joan: "If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they prayed for courage does God give them courage or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for a family to be closer do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"
When we pray to know God's will for our lives - does God just lay the map out for us or does God present us with opportunities to learn more about God and how God works in the world? If we pray for God to show us Her ways, do we miss the answer? Do we miss the small acts of kindness that come our way? Do we miss the answer in the smile of a stranger, the word of a friend, or an opportunity to help someone along the way?
Sure, we'd all like to realize the plans and dreams we have for our lives. I don't think God has our lives mapped out and will force us down that path no matter what we want. I do think our plans matter to God - but when we pray to know God's ways, God works with us to help us align our plans to God's plans. Some of our plans may need just a little tweaking - some may need to be abandoned altogether. But, when we seek God's ways, and put our trust in God, some of those plans we have may suddenly not be so important as we discern God's incredible plans for us. In short, we are called to dream with God - to co-create a life that blesses ourselves, God, and everyone around us.
The psalmist, trusting God, prays for God to not let him be put to shame or let his enemies exult over him (Psalm 25:2). In the end, Evan is vindicated. He is not put to shame and his enemies do not defeat him. He builds the ark and saves many from certain disaster. In the process he changes the world - yes, in a very dramatic way - but also in the ways that matter the most - his family is restored, his livelihood is restored and his life becomes a blessing to all.
Throughout the movie, Evan does "the dance" whenever something good or exciting has happened in his life. "The dance" is an awkward, barely rhythmic, herky-jerky kind of movement, but is always done with great vigor. At last, when his ark building duties are accomplished and he has changed the world in the only way we can change the world through "acts of random kindness" (or "ARK"), he and God do "the dance."
Hear the Good News: The enemies that seek to tear down the lives of LGBT people will not defeat us. We will not be put to shame. God will vindicate our lives. No matter how frustrating things get, no matter how strong the opposition to our very existence may be in this world - if we are faithful to God and seek to know God's ways and direction for our life - in the end we are guaranteed vindication. We, too, will hear God command us: "Thou Shalt Do The Dance."
Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.
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