At the vital center of the Christian life is this divine-human encounter, this direct access of the soul to God, from which inward re-enforcement comes, and with it confidence that whether in personal living or in social tasks adequate power is available.
So Ezekiel, exiled in Babylon, cried, “The Spirit entered into me . . . and set me upon my feet.” So the Psalmist, facing evildoers who came upon him to eat up his flesh, wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” So Isaiah, confronting national disaster, said, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” So Paul, facing situations which would have defeated most of us, found his dependable reliance — “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.”
For such men religion was not simply a creed about God, but an intimate relationship with God; not simply theistic theory but personal experience of an environing Presence, whence the soul draws courage and strength. Such faith takes for granted the tragedy of human life, the sin and stupidity of man and the catastrophic turmoil of nations. It is founded, not on the niceness of the world, but on inward awareness of adequate power to confront the world, despite devilish men and hellish circumstance.
— Harry Emerson Fosdick
A Faith For Tough Times
I am tired. I’ve been trying to write this article for weeks now. Just thinking of sitting down and doing it has made me even more tired. Seems like being tired has been the main state of being for me over the past few months. Who can blame me? Between school, a full time job, and a magazine that doubles as another full time job, I’ve found little time over the past few months to really relax and recharge. I have every right to be tired — physically, mentally and emotionally.
On top of that, I’m still getting a barrage of “turn or burn” messages from those “devilish men” [and a few women!] who find the idea of GLBT Christians purely offensive. I’m also in dialogue [which often turns to acrimonious arguments] with several people on the “other side” of the GLBT Christian issue. That’s a draining process in itself as I find myself continually defending my faith and my very existence as a Christian who happens to also be a lesbian.
So, I’m tired. Tired of speaking, tired of writing, tired of defending myself, tired of defending others, tired of bearing the slings and arrows of those who would oppress me, and people like me. I’m simply tired of being.
Why don’t I just stop? Why don’t I just chuck it all … quit seminary, ditch the magazine, stop talking to those who disagree with me and find something else more relaxing to do with my time? Why am I spending all my energy fighting this battle? Why don’t I just give it all up, put my feet up and take it easy?
Oh, I’ve dreamed of that, believe me! However, the reason I don’t give it all up is simple … I can’t. No matter how tempting the thought is to go in a different direction with my life, I can’t. I, like Paul, have heard God’s call … and it is clear. This is my place.
I know where Paul was when he said in 1 Corinthians 9:17-18: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but it not of my own will I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge …”
If I followed my own will my reward might be less stress, more energy to do things I might want to do, like take it easy … but I cannot follow my own will. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” I’ve run away from it before, and I always come back. God always leads me back to resume preaching the gospel. This is where I belong … no matter what the cost. I have been entrusted with a commission.
What then is my reward? Just this: that by preaching I bring the gospel, free of charge, to those most in need of it … my GLBT brothers and sisters who have suffered the abuse of religion and religious folk. A reward came in the mail just today from a reader who said simply: “Your publication gives me hope.” That is my reward.
So, why am I still tired? And what do I do about renewing my own strength in the midst of weariness? Fosdick offers a key to my dilemma, and maybe to yours … that divine-human encounter that provides us with the adequate power we need to run and not grow weary. Somewhere along the line I’ve neglected that divine-human connection. I get tired because I try to go it alone. I try to run the race without thinking about keeping that connection to God alive and thriving. Put another way — I’ve strayed from the path set before me. When I do that … I grow weary.
Paul reminds us of the importance of the divine-human connection. When the spirit enters into us, like it did Ezekiel, the Psalmist and Isaiah, Paul says we are changed into God’s likeness, and the light of God is within us ready “to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.” [2 Corinthians 4:7]
It is this power — the transcendent power of the divine-human connection — that gives us strength. Because we have this connection, Paul says, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.” [2 Corinthians 4:8-9]
But, what is the nature of this divine-humane connection that Fosdick talks about? I liken it to an unending source of power … a state of being “plugged in” to God. I realize I’ve been treating my faith recently like my cell phone. When I’m home I’ll plug the cell phone into wall to recharge the battery. I then take the phone with me when I go. With heavy use the battery in the cell phone gets drained quickly.
Being the editor of this magazine, my faith has become like that overused cell phone. My faith has been doing double shifts of late … defending itself here … justifying itself over there. The batteries don’t last long in those situations. I find my faith is easily exhausted and frustrated by all the activity of defense and justification.
But, I’ve noticed another thing about my cell phone. Even when I don’t use the phone all that much … the battery still drains. When my faith is tired and I shut myself off from debate and defense and justification for awhile, I still find, even in the downtime, the power of my faith continues to slowly drain away.
I’ve finally realized I can’t keep my faith going on battery power alone. The only way to keep the battery of my faith fully charged is to keep it plugged into the main power source. I’ve got to reestablish that divine-humane connection … and stay connected … no venturing out on my own where my faith will grow weak and eventually die. Just like my cell phone I know when the battery of my faith dies it will inevitably be in the worst part of town in the middle of the night. Instead of taking that chance … it’s best to get reconnected.
Plugging In to God
There are several ways we can reestablish that divine-human connection. The first step is to take Paul’s advice in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. We must “pray without ceasing” or as the RSV says “pray constantly.”
Richard Foster, in his book Prayer reminds us that “Unceasing Prayer has a way of speaking peace to the chaos. We begin experiencing something of the cosmic patience of God. Our fractured and fragmented activities begin focusing around a new Center of Reference. We experience peace, stillness, serenity, firmness of life orientation.”
It seems like a rather tall order to always be in prayer. It doesn’t mean we have to get down on our knees at every moment making supplications to God. Our prayers can be a simple as a “thank you” for the beautiful day, or as serious as a cry for help in tough situations we may find ourselves in. The form of our prayers may change from moment to moment, but the point is to keep the lines of communication with God open at all times.
The idea of unceasing prayer, to me, is to constantly remind myself that God is present, even when I don’t feel like God is present. In those times when I feel God’s absence, I have to remember I’m the one who has caused the distance. God has promised to always be with us. Paul reminds us that nothing outside ourselves can separate us from God — not death, life, angels, or powers. God is always there, ready and willing to be with us, to provide the adequate power we seek. It is we who separate ourselves from God. By praying “without ceasing” we secure that divine-human connection. Keeping that connection open and alive will speak peace to the chaos in our lives. We will gain a new sense of focus, a feeling of peace, and a renewal of our strength on a moment by moment basis!
This first step is most likely the most difficult for us. It’s hard to remember God in every situation in our lives from the mundane to the extraordinary … but we must make the effort to “pray without ceasing.” When we begin to feel fatigued or angry or frustrated, that’s our cue to remember to pray. These are symptoms of a disruption in the divine-human connection. In those moments we need to stop and turn our eyes, and our hearts, toward God. Our prayer need not be elaborate in these times, but we must train ourselves to turn back to God in every moment.
A second step in renewing our strength is to remember that we are not saved by the actions we engage in. Nothing we can do, or say, can save us. We are constantly in the world, trying to make the world see what good Christians we are, so they’ll accept us in their churches or their organizations. We become weary when we are constantly rejected. The rejection makes us question our salvation. Often the rejection will lead to us giving up our faith all together. It is in these times that we need most to remember Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of your works, lest anyone should boast.” [2:8-9]
We are saved by grace! We are not saved by a church, a minister or a denomination! We are only saved by the gift of grace, freely given by God. When others question our commitment to God because we are GLBT, we need not despair! Instead we need to remember that God’s grace covers us … and indeed covers those who would deny us entry into the kingdom of God.
That knowledge of grace should prompt us into Christian action, to do rightly by our brothers and sisters, and avoid the temptations of sin all around us. However, do not believe those who come to take your strength by demanding that you act in a certain way to obtain grace. God’s grace is freely available for the taking! Nothing we can do will make us any more or less worthy of God’s grace, it is a “gift of God” … freely given to all who seek it.
I write this article for you, but also for myself. I’ve had the strength taken out of me recently by events and people. I, too, have trouble reminding myself to pray constantly. I, too, have trouble remembering that it’s not what I “do” that saves me … but it’s who I know! God is real in my life! I only need to stop and pray … to reestablish that divine-human connection and remember that it’s God’s grace that saves me!
The main thing I have to remember in all the adversity is also another function of grace. It is by grace that we are justified! Probably the biggest sapper of our strength is feeling the need to justify ourselves as both GLBT and Christian. Daily our faith is challenged by those who believe a GLBT Christian is a walking, talking, oxymoron. We have to defend ourselves when these attacks come, don’t we? Certainly we’re told in 1 Peter 3:15 to make a defense when someone calls our hope as Christians into question … but we’re told to do it with gentleness and reverence. For me that has come to mean reminding those who oppose me that their opinion of my salvation means nothing. Instead, I seek to remind them just as Paul reminded the Romans we are “justified by God’s grace as a gift.”
Still, it’s tempting to make our defense based on Bible wars of “proof-texting.” We shout Bible verses at each other, seeking to justify ourselves in the word. True, here on the Whosoever web site you’ll find a section on the Bible … and I won’t deny it’s comforting to know that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality … but that knowledge is not a justification for my salvation. Instead, it’s a way to reclaim the Bible after years of being abused with it by those who oppose us. You can’t use the Bible to justify yourself. More importantly … you don’t need to!
I’ve recently been pulled into justification wars with one person who continues to call my faith and my walk with God false. How angry that makes me! How draining it is to fight with him and try to justify my faith to this man! How quickly God chastised me with the words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15 — “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.” Those words stopped me cold! What this man, or any other human, thinks of my walk with God is irrelevant! God knows my heart! God understands that my faith journey is genuine, full of love, earnest seeking and humble discovery. That’s all that matters! Paul’s words in Romans 8:33-34 have become my comfort and source of renewal of my strength: “It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?”
Shirley Guthrie in Christian Doctrine puts the idea into perspective this way:
Justification means that despite the fact that things are not right in our inner lives and our personal relationships, God forgives us and accepts us nevertheless. Therefore, there is no need for our compulsive, anxious, defensive attempts to make things right ourselves or to give up in despair because we cannot do so.
How close I was to giving up in despair in the argument with this man! How could I make him understand? How could I justify myself when he denied my reality as a lesbian Christian? I couldn’t … and I don’t need to. “It is God who justifies.”
When you tire of defending yourself as a GLBT Christian, when your faith is exhausted and you think can’t go another step, remember the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6: 8b-10:
“We are treated as imposters, and yet we are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Those on the religious right say we are imposters, unknown to God, dying of diseases as God’s punishment for our disobedience, shame filled because of our debauched lifestyles, poor in spirit and ultimately having nothing in the way of spiritual riches. Everyday, GLBT Christians prove them wrong. We are not imposters! We are true! God knows us! Many in our community have died from a terrible disease that had nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Despite the decimation, we live! Despite the degradation by our foes we rejoice … we are rich in spirit. Ultimately, because we are justified by God’s grace alone, we possess everything … including strength and access to a constant divine-human connection to obtain the “adequate power to confront the world, despite devilish men and hellish circumstance.”
The founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.