Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm Coming Out of the Closet: Will You Join Me?

Last week yet another Canadian teenager committed suicide, this time in Ottawa. He had come out of the closet, and let his friends, family and school community know he was gay. But the unbearable homophobia, bullying and sheer hate he suffered as a result overwhelmed him.

He escaped. Permanently. Tragically.

It’s time we stopped this. It’s time we declared this kind of bullying and discrimination off limits. It’s time we said no.

Rick Mercer, Canadian comedian extraordinaire, recently called on prominent LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer) entertainers and politicians to come out of the closet to become role models and supporters for our teens.

But we can do even better than that.

We can each come out of the closet of our silence to our family and friends and declare homophobia unacceptable. We can stand up for our LGBTQ coworkers, teenagers and community members.

To our teenagers, it doesn’t matter that it gets better when you get older. It doesn’t matter that high school doesn’t last forever. What matters for a teenager is the here and now, the present, today. We need to be there for these young men and women. We need to walk out of the closet with them.

The time has passed for those of us who accept sexual difference to simply stand by. The time has passed for silence. Not one more teen must die for this. Not one.

How do we come out of the closet? We stop using the word ‘gay’ as an insult. We stop making fun of other people’s sexuality. We start accepting that each of us is unique, and that different isn’t just another word for wrong.

For those who hold up their Christianity as a barrier to acceptance I say, remember what Jesus said about sexuality. Can’t think of it? That’s because he said exactly nothing. Not once in any gospel does he bring it up as he eats, travels and hangs out with the so-called sexual and societal deviants of his time.

Jesus leads us with an example of acceptance and integration. He comes out of the closet against hate and discrimination. He strides out into the world proudly with the marginalized and bullied.

I think it’s time we followed. Will you join me?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stranger than Fiction 2: A Cry for Freedom and Justice

Why bother with the bible?

After all, some biblical fundamentalists seem to use it as their primary tool to put down those who are the wrong gender, wrong color, wrong nationality or wrong sexuality. So why not leave it to them?

Because that narrow-minded approach risks stealing the bible’s real unparalleled message of freedom and justice. It’s a dangerous book, subversive even, driving its readers not to create division, but to escape all systems of oppression, greed and hate.

The bible connects us to our past and points us to our future. It’s really a book of hopes and dreams, of God and humanity. It’s a book that calls to us, and compels us to speak out, not just about what we believe about God, but what we believe about ourselves.

The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas reminds us that at the heart of Scripture, be it the Hebrew texts or the New Testament, lies a call to respond to God with, ‘Here I am.’ It’s Moses before the burning bush, Mary before Gabriel, and Jesus on the cross. It’s every prophet, every ancestor, and every poor forgotten suffering person who encountered the Divine.

The bible teaches us that the story is not in what God can do for us, but what God calls us to do for each other. ‘Here I am’ we must say to each other. ‘Here I am’ we call out to God.

This is truth beyond fact. This is wisdom beyond rules. This is the hope of all futures. If we can commit ourselves to love and care for each other we will have committed ourselves, finally, at long last to our God. The self-emptying of Jesus on the cross is a model of love for all of us.

Give yourselves, God cries. Care for my children. Love my people, all my people, but especially the downtrodden, marginalized, suffering, oppressed, and yes, the enemy. “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you. For this is the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus commands, reminding us of the heart of Scripture.

This theme echoes through the bible from the opening where God hovers above what will be our world and our future, through the call to freedom of Exodus, the cry of the poor in Deuteronomy, the appeal to justice of every prophet and finally on through the story and example of love of Jesus the Christ.

Our sometimes misused and maligned Book throws us a challenge that we dare not refuse. Love each other, no matter the obstacles, no matter the pain. This and only this will lead to God.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stranger than Fiction, and Deeper Too

I hold the bible in my hand, and slowly let it fall open. The pages settle on the Gospel of Matthew, and Jesus’ parable (story) of the Lost Sheep, a beautiful tale that compares a shepherd’s commitment to find a stray sheep to God’s love and commitment to find even the most wayward of us humans.

Two thousand years ago in Judea, storytelling was an important way to teach and impart truth. It still is. Think about it: When was the last time you went to a theatre to watch a documentary as opposed to a fictional movie? And the movies we love most are those that tell us something about our human condition. We seek truth everywhere and always, even in our stories. Jesus knew that.

Certain concepts defy the precision of human language. They can be understood, but most easily through the lens of a good story. It’s much like stargazing. The constellation of the Seven Sisters lies like a blur across the night sky when we gaze at it directly. But when our eyes shift to the side, all seven stars emerge perfectly shaped in our peripheral vision.

I mention all this, because within Christianity we take different approaches to the bible. There are those that argue that every story in Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) must be understood as fact, and then there are those that argue that to understand a story as fiction does not belittle the truths it professes. So for example, some Christians take the story of Adam and Eve literally, but many others accept the theory of evolution while at the same time also fully accepting the deeper truths of God’s love and humanity’s failings found in that story. Both sides value truth.

Sadly, the different branches of Christianity sometimes struggle to talk about their differences, let alone accept them. And yet, reading the bible always reminds me of how inclusive God calls us to be.

The decision over which books to include in the New Testament was arrived at through consensus over a period of years, with information, letters and books shared between different worshiping communities. Early Church leaders decided to follow the example of Hebrew Scripture. Just as the Old Testament contains several retellings of the same stories, with differences, so the New Testament should contain several different reliable perspectives on Jesus’ life. This is why there are four Gospels, each from a different community. One would not be enough.

Eighteen parables would be lost if the Gospel of Luke had been eliminated. Eleven would be lost without Matthew. And of those that they have in common, the slightly different tellings enlighten us to deeper truths.

The Bible invites us to conversation. The stories within its pages call us to speak to the truths that resonate in our souls. Rather than rejecting different understandings, we should seek the truths that may be hidden there. We will not always agree, but together we will grow. We are unique individuals within particular communities, and we are called together to be a people of inclusion, wisdom, faith and love.