The ‘Duh!’ of a Disciple

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But (Jesus) was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and (the disciples) woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:37-40)

In our often stormy world, the key to peace is, to a large degree, the recognition that it’s all about God – and not about those who so often claim to speak for God. God not only quiets the elements, God reminds all of creation that “He” is in charge – and that this is, indeed, a very good thing. It’s all about a God so generous and expansive that “He” opens up “His” being to all of creation. God created us out of an immense generosity – out of a desire that we exist. We are the overflow of God’s love, fashioned in God’s own image.

Idolaters try to re-create God in their own image. The god of the neurotics and the religious careerists and the children who refuse to grow up is a created being – a man-made creature. We will get neither peace nor any lasting satisfaction from idol-worshippers. It is not they who will keep the Church moving forward – nor will it be the neurotics who use religion as a crutch. Indeed, if left to their own devices, they will move it backward, just as they have, so often, worked against the Holy Spirit to keep it from growing.

One thing that sometimes helps, in discussing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues with straight Christians, is simply reminding them Who it’s all about. This is so simple, it often evades us. But it cuts right to the core of what truly matters. When I, myself realized that it is all about God, and remembered Who Christ says God really is, that’s when it came to me: the forehead-whacking, profoundly happy “Duh!” of a disciple.

Never before have beleaguered Christians like us needed more to hear Christ’s “Peace, be still!” Though they chatter incessantly about God and Christ, this is not – all too evidently – the real focus of our opponents. When we listen to these people for any length of time, we soon realize that their focus is actually on themselves.

We tend to let our antagonists pull our focus off of God. This is the cause of much of our anxiety and unrest. We forget that, just as in that gospel story, Christ is actually right in the boat with us. “Peace,” He tells the storms in our lives, “be still!” But like His terrified disciples in that boat so long ago, we have forgotten that He has come along for the ride.

During my process of coming out as a lesbian, one thing helped more than anything else to keep me grounded and focused. Regularly, I paused to ask myself Who God is. I had to remind myself – sometimes several times a day – that God, as revealed by the Christ to Whom I have given my life, is infinitely bigger and greater than “His” self-appointed spokespeople. “Do they look or sound like God?” I would ask myself, “or merely like themselves?”

Their faces contorted in rage and hate, our antagonists jeer and scream at us. They look and sound, surely, much the way those who tormented Jesus must have. “Crucify!” they shouted at the sight of the battered and bleeding Christ. “Away with Him!”

Indeed, it isn’t hard to see that if He were standing before them today – in any form other than the cartoon-superhero, posable action-figure glory they’ve come to demand from Him – they would again clamor for His death. But in fact Christ does stand before them, battered, bleeding and crowned with thorns. They don’t recognize Him now, any more than they did then.

He comes in different forms today. Matthew Shepard. Brandon Teena. That gaunt and hollow-eyed kid whose parents threw her out for being gay and who now sleeps under a bridge. He is, now as always, in the form of those vulnerable, reviled and ignored. What is done to “the least of these” is done to Him.

“Peace,” Jesus still says to us. “Be still. Be still, and know that I am God.” If we love Him, He will love us and make His home with us. He has promised us that – and that no one will tear us out of His Father’s hand.

Those who are truly focused on God know that. Those who listen for God’s voice will hear it. Those who go to church to worship and serve God are still reachable, even if they don’t understand about us yet. It is only those who seek a mere paycheck, a free ride or an ego-trip who will not listen and will not see. To whose seeking ego-trips and power-trips, verily, they have their reward – the only one they’re ever going to get.

Like just about everybody else, we need to get over the notion that religious truth can be determined by a public opinion poll. God will not send us to Hell simply because of the number of people who may believe we’re going there. The fact is that even if you’re properly and pristinely one hundred percent straight, there are literally millions of people in this world who think you’re going to Hell – who, in fact, are so convinced of it they’d stake their lives on it.

Will we turn the corner toward Heaven once the majority in society are willing to admit us? Our admittance into Heaven never depended on them in the first place. One very crucial key to inner peace is our realization of this. God wants us in Heaven. If we want to be in Heaven with God, then that settles the issue.

How do we know that? Because Jesus – yes, the very same Jesus our antagonists talk so much about – has said so. And in the very same Bible so many people are so fond of bludgeoning over our heads.

We need – like those disciples in that boat – to rely not upon externals, but upon the words of Christ. Yes, we are sorely tossed about by the wind and waves in this storm of societal upheaval. The skies are dark, and at times our situation looks grim, if not downright dangerous. But Jesus has promised to be with us, and to stay with us through the storm. Moreover, He has shown that if we will but trust in Him, indeed He will still it – at least where it matters the most, which is in our hearts.

Whose assessment should we accept as authoritative in determining who really does represent Jesus and who does not? Well, how about that of Jesus Himself? He made quite clear that those who do not emulate Him do not speak for Him. So we don’t need to listen to them, no matter what they claim.

What can “Christ’s ‘Peace, be still!’ do to calm the storm? It can indeed, first of all, calm the storm that rages inside of us. For we have, to a large degree, internalized the raging that go on in the society around us. What those who crusade against us have done to us inside is worse than anything they have done externally. Spiritual violence can be the most savage and devastating kind.

We may, indeed, feel that Jesus is asleep in the boat. But His sleep, then as now, is merely a demonstration of His trust in God’s love. He knew that the disciples would not drown, even though they let fear get the better of them. It is not God’s will that we drown, either.

Jesus bade us to follow Him not only so we would be holy, but so we would be happy. The two are not opposites, but twins. God wants us to be happy; God wants us carefree. “Peace, be still!” Jesus rebukes all of those who would rebuke us for merely wanting – as of course we do – to be happy, to enjoy life and to savor true love.

Jesus’ “Peace, be still!” tells us something very important. God does not will harm to those who love “Him.” Nor – though the weather seems neutral, if not sometimes hostile toward us – can God truly be said to be neutral. God is for us – actively and passionately for us. God puts Jesus right there in that boat with us, to see us through the journey from one shore to the other.

God made no distinctions in calling us. Jesus went out of His way to call people the “good religious folks” of His time thought unworthy. Jesus is in that boat with us, and we – all of us who choose to follow Jesus – are in that boat with Him.

For the sake of my own sanity and spiritual survival, I had to keep my eyes on Christ, rather than on the storm stirred up by so many of His self-proclaimed followers. And they do seem soooo sure of themselves. Their smug self-certitude is like the crack of the thunder, the lightning’s blinding flash and the toss of the waves. They antagonize not only sexual minorities, but anyone who threatens their iron rule with the gentle and inclusive reign of Christ.

“When were you saved?” a right-wing Christian recently asked Rod, a friend of mine from church. Like a good Lutheran, Rod replied that God has been with him all along. Thinking he could best this, his interrogator boasted that he could name the exact date and time of day he had been saved.

“By being saved, then,” Rod said, “you’re talking about what you did…not what God did.” The implication was unmistakable. This guy was claiming, in effect, that he had saved himself. And that’s just it, folks. These people really do think that it’s all about them.

Perhaps Rod’s humility – his ability to recognize that love begins in what God does for us – was what enabled him to accept his daughter, without reservation, when she came out as a lesbian. I, too, have found that those who credit God with their salvation seem more willing to accept other people as God made them. It is mainly those who think they saved themselves who tend to believe that God gives a hoot whether they accept others, or – far more outrageously – that God’s acceptance of others is actually dependent upon their own.

I can’t tell you the exact instant I was saved; it happened very gradually, like the growth of a seed hidden under the ground. But I refuse to let the Born-Again-ers make me feel discouraged, or to doubt that God is with me. I know Who it’s really all about. It isn’t me, and it darned sure isn’t them.

Again, the primary danger from the storm raging outside of us is what it can do to us inside. By this, I most certainly do not mean that “it’s all in our heads.” But the most serious damage our self-proclaimed enemies can do to us is to get inside our heads – in effect, to turn us against ourselves. They get even many of those who manage to keep their faith to doubt their salvation, or to turn against one another in judgment and disapproval. We feel uneasy, never completely settled, satisfied or serene.

Were the disciples in that boat beginning to eye each other, wondering who – like Jonah – they might toss overboard to appease God’s wrath?

We need not turn against each other, scapegoating those among us who seem more flamboyant or outrageous (too “butch,” too “queeny,” too liberal, not liberal enough or whatever the heck else) as the supposed reason why so many hate us. We can bend over backwards, tie ourselves up into pretzels and sacrifice all our friends just to show what good little, harmless souls we are, and those determined to hate us will go right on hating us anyway. While we win over those whose hearts may be won, we must be good to one another. If we prove incapable of loyalty, we won’t win over anyone for whom loyalty is not a value. Heterosexuality is not necessarily a family value, but loyalty certainly is.

God does not want anybody thrown out of the boat. Jesus calmed those fearsome waves with everybody still on board.

We are, also, called to become much more than the frightened disciples in that boat. We must be Christ in this world. We must stand up in the storm and issue that “Peace, be still!” ourselves. Christ’s Spirit will give us the power to act in His Name. Greater things, He promised, even than He did will we do.

Those who rage against us profit from that storm. Mindless, fearful and selfish religion always rears its ugly head when times are scary and chaotic. The beast is out there now – like the Loch Ness Monster – rising up before our boat of faith.

If we forget that Jesus is with us – in our hearts and in one another – we are liable to panic. And it is only if we panic that we might sink. But if we turn to see Christ with us in that boat, we can smack ourselves on the forehead, exclaim, “Well, duh! He’s been here all along!” and banish those waves. Nessie will not necessarily sink back into the deep, but we can navigate our way safely around her. We can even walk across that water, and as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will never sink.

We have invited Christ into the boat with us, and He has promised He will by no means refuse any welcome. Though sometimes He seems to slumber, He will awaken the instant we need Him. That’s the realization every persecuted but persevering believer has always been able to hold onto – and always will. It is, indeed, the happy and supremely relieved “Duh!” of a disciple.