James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45 RSV)
When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38 RSV)
My toes were aching after a recent Sunday in church. It’s not often that I find my toes stepped on during the sermon, but this time was different. The pastor swears he didn’t have me in mind when he wrote the sermon – the lectionary had selected the texts and he simply wrote what he believed God had led him to write.
In other words, my sore toes were God’s fault, not his.
His excuse seems a tad too convenient, but it always seems to be that whenever God has a lesson to teach us our toes, and most likely our pride, will get a little bruised as we learn. I am certainly no exception to this rule.
The text, from Mark 10:35-45, was on James and John and their egos. They were vying for places of honor with Jesus, on his right and his left when he sits in glory. They were so sure that they were the best and the brightest among the disciples that they assured Jesus that they were capable of suffering the same fate that he was to suffer. I can’t help but think that Jesus wanted to laugh in their faces – but this was no laughing matter – these were men looking for the ultimate ego stroke – being recognized as equal to Jesus. What a come down it must have been for them to hear Jesus tell them that if they want to become great they must serve others – become lowly servants – lowly, uncelebrated, unrecognized and often abused and forgotten servants.
James and John wanted not just the applause of the world, but the awe and admiration of the world by being seen as spiritual greats – on par with Jesus himself. They had faithfully followed this man, done whatever he asked them to do. They had sacrificed their very lives to follow him. They figured they should at least share in some of the glory. What’s wrong with that kind of a request?
As my pastor so wisely pointed out, their priorities were backward. They wanted to sit with Jesus in glory to win the admiration of the world – but that’s not the admiration we should be seeking. If we want applause, we should be seeking heavenly applause and the only way we get heavenly applause is to shun worldly recognition and become the very thing the world rarely recognizes – servants.
I know how James and John felt. In the past year I have been very bitter because I have not won the recognition of the world. After ten years of toiling in the field called Whosoever, I was dismayed to learn that the world had not noticed! A decade later I still get emails from people who have just now found our little outpost on the Web – even though we were the first, and still basically remain the only online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians.
Ten years ago, Whosoever was the only thing of its kind going. When we were founded there was one other newspaper geared toward GLBT Christians – Second Stone – but it went under not long after Whosoever came online. The idea of a GLBT Christian was basically unheard of in 1996. The idea of religion playing a major role in the GLBT community was scoffed at – none of the major national GLBT organizations even paid religion any heed. The only church we really had to go to was an MCC, if one was near you. If one wasn’t, heaven help you because you probably weren’t going to find a gay-friendly mainstream church. You could go to church and stay in the closet, but that’s probably about as close as you’d get to being a GLBT Christian.
In short, Whosoever was groundbreaking, historic, trailblazing – and still one of the best kept secrets in our community. Bad marketing on my part? Oh, sure – could be. And to say that I have been bitter about the lack of support for Whosoever – both financially or otherwise – is an understatement. In the past few months I’ve even toyed with the idea of killing the magazine and moving on to other things. But, now I realize, all the bitterness, all my James and John like longing for glory and recognition have been misplaced. What I needed was good dose of perspective. Thank God for sore toes!
My epiphany came in the form of an email from Justin Cannon, the impressive young man who wrote an incredible exegesis on the Bible and homosexuality and published it on his Web site truthsetsfree.net. With great writing, a dynamic personality, good marketing and undoubtedly God’s blessing, Cannon has become a GLBT Christian superstar. His email announced that he had been chosen by OUT magazine as one of the OUT 100 List of GLBT Achievers.
I seethed as I read the email. Why does he get the recognition for advancing the lot of GLBT Christians and not me? I’ve toiled in this field longer. I’ve been the one sowing these seeds the longest. I should be the one getting the glory! I should be the one going to New York to rub elbows with the rich and famous queers. I deserve it!
The absolute silliness of my envy of the wonderful honor bestowed on Cannon began to sink in as I reflected on one of those words that came to me during my little pity party. This year we’ve been celebrating the 10th anniversary of Whosoever with the theme of harvest – specifically reaping the harvest of the past 10 years. How do we get a harvest in the first place? We plant seeds, of course.
Whosoever has been the seed of this great growth in recognition that GLBT Christians have enjoyed over the past decade. It occurred to me that as we walk through a beautiful garden or a lush forest, no one gives the seed the glory. Instead, they admire the beautiful flower or the mighty oak that grows from the seed. The seed itself is never given a place of honor, but its fruit – impossible without the seed – is always recognized.
What I realized is that Justin Cannon’s success could never have happened without the seeds planted years earlier by this magazine – by all the writers who have planted the seeds of their words and all the readers who have stumbled across us, internalized our message and blossomed because of it. Justin, and his success, reflects the fruitfulness of the seeds we have faithfully planted.
Justin is part of our community of harvest. So is Soulforce, the Gay Christian Network, the Faith and Religion program at the Human Rights Campaign. This is the crop – the bumper crop – that Whosoever has sprouted in the world. It was our lonely voice 10 years ago, our small seed that spawned such incredible growth – a growth that can no longer be ignored by the national GLBT organizations, the mainstream churches, the nation or this world.
Jesus tells us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few – how can I be envious of anyone who receives accolades for doing this kind of work? We need more Justin Cannons, more Mel Whites, more Harry Knoxs, more Justin Lees. These are our laborers and they are too few. When any one of them gets recognized, we all are recognized, we all are honored whether we are seed or bloom.
I sent Justin Cannon my heartfelt and sincere congratulations. He deserves all the accolades he gets because he has taken root in the fertile soil tilled by Whosoever and the other GLBT Christians who have worked to bring about this harvest. I am proud of him and his achievements, as we all should be.
Whosoever will continue to sow the seeds, to till the soil, to bring about an even more bountiful harvest for our community. We are all servants – whether we earn the world’s applause or not. As servants, though, we always get God’s applause. Let us remove all bitterness from our minds and rejoice that our seeds are sprouting and growing, creating such an abundant harvest. This is truly a community of harvest. Let us celebrate each member of this community as we seek to serve one another, glorify only God and reap the amazing benefits for us all.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.