The Effects of Belief: Exile and Holiness

As soon as we believe in Christ, we are no longer the same. In fact, we cannot encounter Christ and continue to remain as we were, for both the entire world looks different to us, and we have an entirely different relationship to it. Therefore, belief truly does entail death. And yet, it is also death-in-life, which leads us into Life, both for ourselves and for those around us. As the seed, which must first die to become alive, so does our faith bury us within fertile soil so that we may grow beyond all the boundaries we know and bring rest to the entire world. Our faith makes us new creatures, in one sense dead, but in another sense most fully alive.

When we believe, we find that we are living the life of the exile, of the immigrant, of the multi-ethnic. We find ourselves living in what has been called the border, the margin. We discover that we no longer have a place in the world as we knew it, both because we see that differently, and because that world looks at us differently. This idea has been very prominent over the past forty years: In political discussions, it comes up in the issues that surround immigrants, who will never be at home in their new world, and that surround such multi-ethnic groups as Chicanos, whose homelands are both too American and too ethnic to fit in. And in philosophical discussions, it comes up in the difficulty we have pinning down the meanings of words. When we try to say anything, we force our words to limit themselves to only one possible meaning: yet the other meanings still exist, in the margins, waiting to erupt into our sentences and disrupt the possibility of our saying anything.

Understandably, both problems make many conservatives nervous, since they shake things up, disturbing the status quo and questioning the very existence of truth. And yet, isn’t this what Christianity does? It shakes us up, revealing to us that the world’s ways, which we have followed for so long, are completely ineffectual. It forces us to see that everything we thought we had pinned down as true and reliable is nothing more than grass, which withers at the heat of the sun. It shakes up the world, as God bursts into the life of humanity, offering us a better way, but only by showing us the futility of the life we have been living. And so, as Christians, we find ourselves suddenly unable to participate in the world we knew. We now live on the border between heaven and earth, called by God to bring Life into a world which is dying, if not already dead. The riches of the world, the prospect of power, the hope for fame — all these desires die away for us, vanities of vanities.

And at the same time, we find ourselves rejected by those we knew, by those we loved, by those we grew up with and cherished beyond life itself. We can no longer follow in their ways, and our rejection frightens them. We become a danger to them, for just as we have been unsettled by the sudden appearance of Christ in our daily lives, so does our presence threaten to do to those around us. We find ourselves, then, living in a border which most people want closed off. Hence we become the truest subversives the world has ever seen; people who reject the world even as we reach out to save it. As LGBTQ+ people, we are already familiar with this life. As LGBTQ+ Christians, we see ourselves living between two places, in a borderland which is really two margins located in the same place: We are not wanted by the church because we refuse to accept their false sexual morality, and we are not wanted by the queer community because we refuse to reject the God in whose name we are daily persecuted.

Insofar as we live in this borderland willingly, we live in exile — never again able to return to the home we knew, now settled in a much safer and better place, and yet always thinking of those who still remain behind, who still need the hope that there is a place of refuge, of rest, and of peace. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is still in the future, we are not yet where we will be; but because of our love for those in our lives, we cannot fully live life where we are. We are constantly travelling between the one and the other, trying to be the bridge across which our world will find the Love of Christ Jesus.

In this sense, belief makes us holy. We are called out by God, set apart for a new purpose. We no longer live for the reason we lived before. We now have a special use, a different meaning to our lives. Too often we think of holiness as meaning “pure, abstaining from contact with the things of the world.” Our idea of holiness comes from those who do not drink, do not dance, do not go to R-rated movies, do not cuss, from those who still believe that what goes into the body can defile us. But this is not what holiness is. Holiness is being set apart, the way we might set apart our fine china from our daily dishes. Like china, we will get just as covered in filth as any other plate. Our holiness does not mean that we stay permanently clean. The difference is that we are called out for special occasions, for special purposes. God has something different in mind for us, something more precious, more particular, more distinguished. We are no longer commoners, but royalty, representatives of a great kingdom, living as ambassadors to our land of birth, given a mission, a message, a task to perform. We might find ourselves in the war zone, in the tenderloin, in the filthiest of places. But the task has been assigned us, and if we trust the One who assigns it to us, we will remain in the safest of all possible places.

Belief changes us completely. We can no longer go along with the world as we knew it: we see through the lies and the illusions, finding that God alone is worthy of our trust, both for our daily bread and for our eternal salvation. But the world sees this change in us, and pushes us away, marginalizes us, treats us as outsiders and aliens. And at the same time, we now have a much more important position in the world than ever before, because now we are the conduit through which God explodes into the world, disrupting the status quo, shaking up all the world holds dear, in order to draw all things to God, who is the most gentle lover and most powerful protector. Through our faith in Christ, we have died, and yet we have become alive again beyond what we could ever hope or imagine.

Thanks be to God. Amen.