For the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, life has never been particularly easy. We live in societies in which ignorance, and a subsequent fear of those who are different, have led to destructive myths about who we are and what our lifestyles involve. We are also plagued by those who for political reasons choose to scapegoat us in an “us and them” scenario, as they attempt to build onto their own power-bases, thus adding to the damage which has been caused by the ignorant. We are condemned by many within religious circles as willful sinners, those who choose to defy God by substituting “unnatural” for “natural” sexual practices. To these people we are an abomination, those upon whom God’s back has been turned. Unless and until our faith has grown strong enough to provide us with a life-raft in the midst of this whirling torrent of verbal abuse and rejection, we will not survive spiritually, emotionally or physically. I wonder how many gay “suicides” have been caused by pain – too great to bear – inflicted by religious bigots in the name of Christ. Faith, trust in that which we cannot yet see or touch, takes a battering from the earliest days of our lives.
This destruction of faith begins when some officious adult tells children that fairies are not real, that their playmates exist only in their imagination, or that no one sees angels any more. Those beings which children often observe therefore become a point of dispute. Under criticism such as this, and wanting to conform to societies mores, the eyes of children’s souls slam shut, and they begin to live the lop-sided existence of the physically based human. In time, of course, these children will hear tales from Scripture of the angels who spoke with the shepherds announcing the birth of Christ, of the angel who told Mary of God’s plans for her, of the angels which kept shut the lions, mouths, and of the angel with whom Jacob wrestled. But these angels, it would appear, appeared only in the lives of people who lived long ago.
So without the comforting awareness of guardian angels, we grow into young adults who need to deny the evidence of our own eyes and ears. Somewhere along the track we’ve discovered that Santa and the Easter Bunny are not the beings we first believed. During the tussles of school years we learn that life isn’t always fair or just, and that those who claim our attention may do so out of self-interest. We arrive at railway stations or airports to learn that schedules have been disrupted, and wonder if there is any person, place or human activity in which our faith may be secure. Some seekers turn to the churches with their message of hope, redemption, forgiveness and love only to discover that the down-side of this message involves judgmental behaviour, prejudice, name-calling, blaming, self-righteous and self-justifying piety. The God of our childhood who, as the Good Shepherd called to us, has changed into a wrathful, destructive God who has closed his ears to our voice and our needs because of something we are perceived to have done, or we are perceived to be. Yahweh has almost been transformed to Molech!! Yet, the feet-tapping, rhythm-jangling music and song which exude from these so-called “houses of the Lord” continue to call praises upon this monstrous God created in the dogma proclaimed from their pulpits. In the midst of our need and our bewilderment is there a God who cares enough to be concerned with matters in our lives?
If it were not for those who left, in written form, details of some incidents of Christ’s life, we would be drowned in the sea of despair where so many lives have been shipwrecked. It is as we look into the pages of Christ’s life we find that we too have a place; our history is writ in letters large. The woman at Sychar, a Samaritan despised as one of the “third race” – neither Gentile nor Jew but a corruption of both – who because of her own illicit relationship was excluded from the evening water ritual of chit chat and gossip with the other women, may represent our community. Forced to draw water at the sixth hour, in the heat of the day, she found Jesus, tired and weary, yet waiting to spend time alone with her. Feel the discourse which follows as Christ asks to share her drinking utensil – thus taking upon himself her ritual uncleanness. So despised were Samaritan women that they were regarded from birth as being menstrually unclean. Their race, a condition not of their choice or lifestyle, permitted them to be treated as “the other” not only by religious leaders but also by ordinary Jewish citizens.
How do we as Christians whose sexual orientation differs from that of the majority discover our faith in the midst of rejection and hopelessness? We are the woman of Sychar, despised from birth, rejected as irredeemable by those who supplant God’s all-welcoming love with barriers which they create and uphold. From them we may expect no understanding or mercy, for it is in their interests to maintain this state of separation, and to be able to produce a scapegoat upon whose shoulders may be loaded the cause of the world’s ills. They continue to deny that Christ chooses to share those vessels which we use to sustain our lives, for by so doing he becomes as “unclean” as we are deemed to be. Yet it is to us Christ offers the living water, and the vision of the ongoing dominion of God. We are those whom he sends to bring others, and to work as reapers in the whitened fields. We are those to whom Christ has revealed his love, and his mission of redemption which sweeps aside all humanly constructed barriers.
Look at the episode in which Christ found himself anointed with costly spikenard ointment, and was rebuked not only by his host but also by his disciples for the overwhelming gesture. What was his crime? That he sat still and allowed someone to acknowledge his role as the chosen One of Israel. What was her crime, but that she chose to use the most expensive, most costly perfume to anoint her God?
Stand with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as in his soul’s torment he seeks God’s will at this, the eleventh hour. Return with him time and again to discover his best friends had allowed their need for sleep to take priority over his need for company. Feel with Christ the traitor’s kiss and embrace, and know that one whom you have loved has chosen to place money above the price of friendship. Ache with him on the cross as he looked over the city and land he loved and at the small handful of those he called family and friends who chose to stand with him, and experience the desolation of abandonment, apparently by both God and humanity.
We may recall the times we have spoken of Christ, of the love he has for ourselves and our community, of the love of God for all people. Recollect the price speaking the truth has cost not only Jesus, but also us. We would choose to worship and adore the Living Word within the wider Christian community, but others continue to shut us out of their places of worship and call us demon-possessed, sick and defiling. Even when we pay with our lives the cost of loving Christ, our faith is still devalued and debased. Yet we will continue to worship God, we will continue to offer our Saviour the very best our lives can afford, whether the gifts be time, money, concern for others, or faithful prayer.
Can our rejection ever equal the rejection Christ knew from his own race, from his own friends, and the seeming abandonment by God? Can the spiteful words, the calculated lies and spiritual isolation, inflicted deliberately by those who claim to be Christ’s own, destroy us or will they provide a link between us and our Lord, the same Messiah against whom false testimony was given? Those who choose to use Scripture against us may be stunned to discover that it is from Scripture we draw visible resources to nurture the flickering flame of our faith. We may in honesty claim the words of Jeremiah 1: 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” We, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, have been set apart – been created with a difference – during the formation of our bodies and our genetic potential, while we were in our mother’s wombs. Isaiah 44:2 repeats the idea that it is God who forms us from the womb, while David in Psalm 21 takes this thought one step further: “But you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
Wherein then does the very core, the root of our faith have its beginnings if it is not in our interaction with God before our birth and during our earliest days? Could it be that we have carried the mustard seed of faith, which Jesus described, all our lives since God implanted it before our birth? Perhaps that seed needed adverse conditions to germinate, the fire of testing or the water of purification, before it could start to stretch and grow. One thing is for certain — until we start to grasp our God through the faith (however small that may seem) we have been given, that fledgling wisp of faith will not grow. Perhaps our faith initially will be as tenuous as a belief that perhaps there could be a God somewhere out there. Perhaps at times we might echo the words of the father of Mark 9: 24: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”
It is to these small glimmerings of faith that God responds. We pick up a book, hear a conversation, watch some TV, listen to a song, and through such a medium God speaks to us. We discover Christ speaking to us through the words of a familiar song. Glancing through a book, we find insights which answer questions which have been disturbing us. As we look at sunsets or sunrises, as we watch waves crash upon the headlands or gaze out from a mountain top, as we absorb performances of inspired music or sit quietly in meditation, the still, small voice of God speaks to our souls. In the midst of pain, or physical, spiritual and emotional turmoil, the voice of God breaks through into our consciousness and we hear the words of Isaiah 43: 1: “Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine.”
Whether we need to hide from the world within the cleft in the Rock of Ages, whether we draw strength enough to walk across the troubled waters of our circumstances, whether our faith is expressed only in the sure confidence that God will provide a parking spot for our car, or whether we find the living God within the elements of shared communion, our faith is real. Those who have passed through the fiery furnace, those who have survived the lion’s den will attest that faith grows by exercise. As we stretch the parameters of our faith, we find that we still have not come to a full understanding and knowledge of God. Whether we use prayer, hymns or spiritual songs, whether we immerse ourselves in God’s written word, whether we worship alone in silence or in community, each step builds our faith.
The bread of life can only be fashioned as the Master Baker pummels and kneads the dough of our lives. Faith is the yeast through which the Spirit invigorates the dough. Time spent resting in God allows the proving which such bread requires. The Master Baker provides such conditions as are necessary to change the risen dough into a sustenance will feed the spiritual hunger of the world, for the Master Baker has faith in the finished loaf. We are those loaves who are needed to ease the plight of all who hunger and thirst after God. Faith speaks to us a message without boundaries: “Together we, you and God …”.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.