I haven’t posted in a while. I could give you a number of excuses ranging from legitimate to absurd but none of them are really at the heart of why I have not been diligent about writing. Here’s the real reason: fear.
I have been spewing my theological stance and conviction about what love is, yet you, the reader, have no idea from where any of it stems.
I thought I could get by without baring my soul to you, but I know better. I know well from experience, and from the mouths of writers I admire, if writing is ever to be meaningful and life changing, for the reader or the writer, it ought to begin by being uncomfortable.
From my first blog I sensed a plateau in the distance. I was vulnerable and passionate but I knew I was not stretching myself. Our bodies can physically plateau and I think our mental and emotional capacities can as well. I had grown accustomed to what I was sharing and even comfortable with the parts of my soul I was extending. I am not entirely comfortable with sharing what you are about to read, but it has to be shared.
Enough with the jibber jabbery prolougue; what good are my words without my story? To borrow a phrase from Tony Campolo, let me tell you a story…
Love received its first redefinition when I was five. My parents divorced because my dad, the Minister of Worship at our church, was in love with another man. Though I don’t remember the details surrounding the “please leave the church” speech from the community, it must have happened because my dad was no longer the Minister of Worship and no longer came to our church.
The details surrounding the new dynamics at home and in my family, however, are etched in my soul: the devastating loss, harsh words voiced out of pain and anger, and a brokenness for which there seems no remedy; and there is no remedy, not one of this world anyway.
The unfortunate, or as it may be the fortunate, thing about not-of-this-world remedies is they often take time and sneak up on you. At least, that has been my experience.
My family had managed to patch things up; as patched up as we could make it. My relationship with my dad and his partner became healthier and stronger as I grew. My initial reaction to my dad’s lifestyle, a series of biases drummed into me by a conservative church climate, was not positive. When you are small you get fed things; things people say when they think you aren’t listening or are incapable of understanding. Things like: my dad and his partner were living in sin and would pay for it; they would pay for it by going to hell and when we die and go to heaven we will not see them there. I don’t know who thought this information would be helpful to a kid. It wasn’t.
Working through the beliefs of some of the adults at my church was hard. My dad was my dad: a guy who loved God, loved me and happened to love a man also. What was more, his partner was hard to dislike. To know this man is to love him, and in time, all the bad feelings went away. I not only accepted him as my dad’s partner and as an individual, but I loved him and I loved having him in my life.
I am not trying to stand on a political or theological soapbox and make a case one way or the other. You are free to believe what you wish about homosexuals or any other group. My point is: any political or theological position should never ostracize, harm, degrade or condemn any into whom God breathed life. The God I know calls us to love. Our personal beliefs are not the same as what God has called us to do and be.
Just about the time I had worked through the whole gay issue, a second bat (actually maybe something more like a wrecking ball) swung at my patchwork life. I have referred to this season in my journey as The Exodus.
To break it down for you, my mom married my pastor; the very pastor who married my mom and dad; the one whose wife passed away due to cancer a few months prior to their wedding. This was not the reason for The Exodus, but it created the perfect opportunity for chaos.
I cannot even begin to express the mingled joy and despair of this time. I was miserable. My mom and my pastor were beyond ecstatic and the congregation spiraled into crazy. To be honest, we all did. It was as if something malicious had strapped an anvil to our church, plopped us into the center of the Atlantic Ocean, then stepped back to watch us drown. The gossip, the he-said-she-said, the lies, the…
I don’t like to use the word hate, but if ever there were a word to describe the atmosphere, it would be hate and yet somehow it does not even do it justice. It was more like hate with a scoop of malice, a side of fear and a goblet of bitterness to wash it all down.
I was caught in the middle. I did not know who to believe or how to make it better.
By the end of it, there was practically nothing left. We tore ourselves to pieces. Almost everyone with whom I had been close was gone. My mom and my pastor felt like strangers to me. I felt like a stranger to me. Even God felt like a stranger to me. Who was this God in whom we all professed faith and all used to do battle against each other?
Again, I experienced a sense of irreparable loss and brokenness.
A few years later, we would all be brought together by yet another loss. Peggy, a woman who in some way reared us all, died. My dad played the piano for her memorial service, my mom sang, my step-dad spoke. Everyone else, secretly irritated, bitter, angry or sad, sat in the pews next to each other—pretending it wasn’t awkward. I hoped something would shift so God could step in and do His thing—and there was a shift—but not where I expected it.
“It is awful to get up and sing when most of the people in the room hate you.”
I hear the pain in my mom’s voice.
My dad looks at my mom after she says this. I imagine my dad’s face, a dull ache in his soul speaks of his own experience, and he says, “Yes, it is. Isn’t it?”
“Oh.” My mom pauses. A twinge of guilt and empathy surge through her.
“I am so sorry.”
I don’t know if it happened that way exactly, but it is how I remember what they told me afterward.
At the beginning of the service, my dad played the piano: a beautiful expression of his God-given, Spirit-sensitive gift. My step-dad preached the message. It was about love and how meaningless our other priorities are by comparison in the face of eternity. He preached the very message my heart had been crying out for so long and my heart was not alone. I looked over to see tears trailing down my dad’s cheeks.
After the message my dad and step-dad shook hands and, while holding back emotion, shared how the other’s gift (my step-dad’s preaching and my dad’s playing) had stirred each man’s spirit.
When I walked into my house after the service I was met by a sight I had never seen. All four of my parents were sitting in the living room. There was no tension; no harsh words or vindictive spirit. I heard laughter and saw smiles of the most genuine caliber. My sister and I stared at each other in hesitant joy and complete bewilderment.
Inexplicably, the past was no more. It was not patched up like it had been before; it was as though it had never happened. The simultaneous moving of the Spirit was felt by all five of us and the wholeness God has created from it has spilled over into other members of the family. There are not words to describe the depth of my thankfulness or the height of my joy. All I can tell you is God is at work and His work is the difference between being broken and being whole. God is still working wholeness in me; He is not finished and may never be, but what He has done so far has changed my life.
I learned a lot about love by watching its opposite dismantle every realm of my life. I had to spend years devoted to keeping taught the thin strands holding my life together. Seeing some of those strands break, and disappear from the picture entirely, was almost too difficult to bear. We persevered by grace alone.
God, in His immeasurable love, pursued my family and redeemed it. Experiencing God-wrought wholeness out of such awful yuck, is what some refer to as a thin place. The place where Heaven and Earth are so near to each other the separating membrane almost disappears. The place where God’s love bursts through all the bullshit and you can do nothing but be overwhelmed and in awe.
God seeks this kind of redemption for us all. He yearns for us to love each other like we mean it. His pursuit of us knows no end and for all these reasons, though I may not see it in this life, reconciliation is not only possible, it is certain.