Friday, December 5, 2008

On the outside, looking in

As part of my internship, we have spiritual direction every other week.

The week before last, my spiritual director encouraged me to look at how I'm an outsider. I'm on the outside at my parish because I can't be open about my sexuality. I'm on the outside in the house because I'm such a baby Episcopalian. I'm on the outside in much of the gay community because I'm Christian. I'm on the outside in South Omaha because I'm pretty, well, white.

This isn't to say that I'm a complete outsider; I'm definitely part of these communities in certain ways. I'm fairly Anglo-Catholic, so I'm a good fit for my parish. I'm Episcopalian, so I'm on the inside in the house. I'm gay, so I'm part of the gay community regardless. I support South Omaha in its efforts by coming in not as a leader but as a helper, so I'm in a way part of South O.

However, I still sit on the outside in some ways. This has helped me to understand my parents' hesitation to go to church: "won't I be judged because I don't know a lot about the Bible? Or because I'm not wealthy?" I realize now that not everyone is as passionate as I. Some people are afraid of judgment for whatever reason, and it takes a lot of courage to overcome that fear of being rebuffed.

When I first started my process of converting to Christianity through the UCC, I wasn't about to let anyone come between me and God. The pastors had to answer my every question about whether my being gay would be a hindrance to them.

I had been standing outside, and I wanted to come in to see Jesus. It's like those scenes where someone bursts into an office, bypasses the secretary and storms into the boss's office to speak her mind. Or when the Rev. Troy Perry burst into the hospital administrator's office to demand that the staff go in and feed a dying AIDS patient whom they were neglecting. God's call sometimes requires us to rush in and disregard all sorts of protocol and niceties so that God's will can be done and God's grace be known.

Demanding a place at the table has been a huge part of the LGBT Christian movement. Standing on the outside when people seem happy to ignore your existence is extraordinarily painful. If our whole beings (including our sexuality and gender) cannot be a part of the rich tapestry of the church, then can we give our whole beings to God? The powers and bishops can say and do what they wish, but they do not necessarily speak God's word or do God's will. Sometimes Christ had to harangue the clerics who stood in the way of God. In this way, Christ stood as an outsider looking in; like the prophets, he stood on the outside of the group in order to condemn their sins and call them to repentance.

Then there's being invited in. If not done from a position of power ("oh, I guess we'll let you in") but from a position of hospitality ("come in and have some wine and bread with us!"), then that invitation shows us the real power of God's grace. It is a time of celebration and a time to rejoice in the wholeness of the Body of Christ. Christ called so many people to share in God's kingdom. The outcasts, the Pharisees, Samaritans and Gentiles were all called to do God's will and to love him. In this way, Christ was the insider looking out. He issued the wedding invitation, and we all should get ready to go.

By being both insider and outsider, Christ calls us all to wholeness and reconciliation. If I stand inside and pour contempt on the outsider, then Christ will be there to judge me. If I stand outside and look inside with despair at what I do not have, then Christ will be there to invite me in.

This isn't to say that we should have no boundaries or rules or that healing and reconciliation should come easily. In everything we should be turning to Christ. As the inside group called 'the Church,' are we building people up who don't know the first thing about the Bible or Christianity? My parents aren't knowledgeable about the Episcopal Church, but would they be invited to share in the Eucharist and be invited to share their knowledge? I hope so. Would the congregation condesendingly teach my parents about "the faith once delivered to the saints" or would it joyfully and lovingly teach my parents about "our living hope through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ"?

And as outsiders: are we proclaiming the truth, or are we sitting on the outside festering in hatred or despair? Are we jealous for what the people on the inside have? Or do we work for justice and reconciliation?

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