Create in me a Clean Heart?

Tonight in church we sang this song by Keith Green. I was introduced to Keith Green by my high school mate, P, and this song was probably one of the first I heard of Keith’s. For years I was a “died in the wool” Keith Green fan. I owned all his albums. I tried to mimic his piano playing. I mail-ordered and shared all the tracts produced by his Last Days Ministries organization (there was one on homosexuality… I now have NO idea what it said). I wanted to be holy, as Keith undoubtedly was.

As my journey towards self-acceptance has progressed over recent years, I’ve shied away from songs like this one. To me, they represent the struggle to be someone I’m not. This song is based on Psalm 51, written by King David after his sin of adultery was found out. Until now, every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was imagining David repenting of his adultery with Bathsheba. Every time I sang create in me a clean heart, O God, I was praying for forgiveness for my own sexual sins. No, not just for my sins, but for my temptations. For my desires. Create in me a clean heart meant “please make me straight”. Please make me desire my wife. Please make me the person I think you want me to be. Cast me not away from your presence, oh Lord meant that if I wasn’t straight, I could very well end up in hell. Take not your Holy Spirit from me represented the fear that if I wasn’t straight, I could no longer be Christ’s servant in this world.

So I find myself tonight, in my new church, surrounded by gay and lesbian and other queer and not-so-queer people who accept me as I am… It all seems rather normal. And I’m wondering, why are we singing this song? I’m no longer sure what it means to have a “clean heart”. I’m not even convinced that there is a hell, apart from the hell that exists here on earth for many of God’s children. And I believe that as Father/Mother, God gives good gifts to his children. And he doesn’t take them away.

In some way, the rest of this psalm still resonates:

Renew a right spirit within me. The spirit of Christ, whose genuine love and acceptance and raw honesty changes the world forever.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation. Let me experience anew the joy of knowing the presence of God in me.

….

As we took communion, I smiled as I watched a couple take communion together. These two men kissed each other on the lips as they walked back to their seats. I believe it was their first time in our church. Maybe it was their first time taking communion as a couple? I wondered what their journey to this point had been. What was it like to find a church where they can be open about the love they have for each other? Where their love can be celebrated publicly during that most somber of sacraments?

While this was happening, the worship leader was singing a different song:

Come as you are. That’s how I want you.
Come as you are. Feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, Loved and forgiven,
Come as you are, Why stand alone.

No need to fear, Love sets no limits,
No need to fear, Love never ends.
Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened
Rest in my love, trust me again…

This song, by Sr. Deirdre Browne, describes what I believe to be the heart of Christianity. It is how Jesus lived and loved. It is what the church is called to say and to be. This is the new wine, replacing the old wine. This is grace fulfilling the law, thus making the law obsolete. This is love overcoming fear. This is the freedom Christ brought to each one of us. Our shame might bring us to the cross, but our loving Maker takes our shame onto that cross and gives us each a clean heart, a right spirit, and gifts us with The Holy Spirit. We no longer need to fear, as David did, that we will be “cast away” from God’s Presence. It is finished. We are his. Just as we are.

Just as I am.

Friday night I attended a Freedom 2 B(e) discussion night. In many ways it was pretty much what I expected: a bunch of GLBT Christians sitting around and talking about faith and sexuality. There were about twenty men (no women) there on Friday night. All Christians, all gay (presumably). Wow. I didn’t expect to be tongue-tied… but I really felt like I had nothing to say all night. [I didn’t even think to ask why the ‘e’ in ‘b(e)’ is in bracket(s).] The brief conversations I had before and after the meeting seemed terribly awkward. The few words I said during the actual meeting only came out when I was directly asked a question… I had lots going on in my head, but nothing was going to come out, even if I wanted it to. And this is a man who leads psycho-educational and therapeutic groups for a living! It is so different not being the group leader!

So I reflected on what was going on for me that made it seem so difficult. I think the feelings that overwhelmed me were relief and acceptance. Not to mention the feeling of “wow, I’m in a room with 20 gay men and there’s nothing overtly sexual going on” (I’m NOT getting into what might have been happening covertly); or “wow, I’m in a room with 20 gay men and there’s no one telling us how we can find freedom or deliverance from our sexual proclivities.” The feeling of relief came from being relieved of the straight disguise that I necessarily wear in my daily life. The feeling of acceptance, of it being okay to be on the outside the same man that I’m okay with on the inside.

So, mostly I listened to the conversation, and watched people. I was amazed at how articulate some of the men were – they could tell their stories, or spout off a list of facts with great eloquence. I noticed the ones who weren’t talking (it wasn’t just me). I admired Anthony Venn-Brown’s ability to lead the group – to contain some members and to draw information out of others. I thought about ways the group could be run differently – what I might have done if I were the leader, and what might have helped me feel a bit more comfortable, instead of feeling overwhelmed by my own internal responses to the setting.

I also took notes, at Anthony’s invitation. I thought at one point that the notes would make excellent blogging material. It would also make a great academic paper, which I would love to submit to a journal some day. So for now, I just give some of the points that stood out for me, and we’ll see if I expand on them later.

Most of the conversation centred around the question, “what are the specific needs of GLBT people from church backgrounds?” Here are some answers that were given (and which I have taken license to edit to fit my own understanding):

  • the need for a ‘transitional space’ where GLBT Christians can safely begin to be themselves, in terms of their sexuality and their faith, without fear of either ‘being cruised’ or of being condemned to hell
  • the need for like-minded people to know and to talk to
  • resources to assist in the process of reconciling faith and practice with sexuality
  • education around making choices about sexual activity, including safe-sex
  • non-judgmental safe space within the church
  • skills for effectively and respectfully communicating their stories with church leaders
  • support in “coming out” as a Christian
  • GLBT-friendly discipleship
  • an advocate, someone who will speak for GLBT people within the church
  • an advocate, someone who will speak for people of faith within the GLBT community

So, there you have it. I am moving forward in this journey of self-acceptance. Since the last time I blogged, I have moved to another country with my family, found new work, become re-acquainted with both friends and relatives, found a new church home (I think), and I feel like I have a new lease on life, in spite of the difficulties that seem to be in my way.

What do I want?

That hardly seems the right question… but it is.

I am tempted to go on tangents. Tangents that take me away from this question, but eventually back again.

Here are some tangents:

Freedom:

  • What did Paul really mean when he said “all things are permissible…”?
  • Discuss freedom in terms of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.
  • I really do believe that we are free. Salvation is by grace, through faith. Period. No lifestyle choices of mine can nullify that fact.
  • (Ward Schumaker, from http://www.illustrationfriday.com/interviews/wardschumaker.php)
  • When we are free, we have lots of choices. We get to decide how we shall live.

The nature of the debate:

  • Indeed, the “just war” analogy used by Craig Nessan seems to be appropriate for the homosexuality debate. The church can, if we are willing, agree to disagree on this.
  • The nature of the authority of the Bible is important… the only argument conservatives have going for them is their interpretation of the Bible.

Responsibility:

  • What does it mean to take responsibility as a father? As a husband?
  • For my own choices?
  • For my sexual orientation?

Change:

  • To what extent am I responsible for change?
  • How do I co-labour with Christ towards this end?
  • I really do not believe change is possible. (Is that a “sin” of unbelief?) My sexual orientation was not a choice. It is an intrinsic part of who I am.

So, now that I have those tangents out of the way, what was the question? Oh yes, what do I want?

1. I want to embrace who I am. I want to be able to pursue a fulfilling life as a gay man. What would that look like? Having the freedom to seek out a man to be my partner in life – sexually, spiritually, emotionally. To choose to be faithful to that one man, together to demonstrate the love and grace of God to a world in turmoil.

2. I want my family, and I want to be faithful. To my wife, to the vows we made. I want a “happy home.”

I don’t want to be seen to be letting my wife down, to be letting my children down, to be letting my family down. I don’t want to be seen as abandoning my faith, or abandoning orthodoxy. But really, should I care about how I am seen by others? Or am I really saying, should I care about how I am seen by God?

3. Most of all, I don’t want to abandon my faith:

I feel I’m not ready to decide which way to go. Even though in some ways it is now impossible to go back to being the happy family we once thought we were. Is there really a way to remove this elephant from under our rug?

It has been dangerous to come to this place of loving and accepting myself. I hope the journey through this storm will prove worthwhile.

 

 

I spent time today looking at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) website… (my own denomination once held talks with this group about what they had in common). While the Disciples are often described as “liberal” (probably because of their emphasis on justice), I think their stance is still rather evangelical. It is their openness and inclusiveness that really attracts me. While LGBT persons do not yet have full recognition within this group, they are probably among the most inclusive of any denomination.

 

 I love their “principles of identity” statement that they are working on. Here it is with some commentary:

 

1. We confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world, requiring nothing more – and nothing less – as a basis of our life together.

 

Nothing more, and nothing less, than Jesus. That would include no judgment, no rules, no expectations, other than mutual faith in Him. I can go along with that.

2. We hold the centrality of scripture, recognizing that each person has the freedom – and the responsibility – to study God’s Word within the community of the church.

Freedom! Yes, a church that offers me freedom to study God’s Word. That implies that no one is going to tell me how to interpret it, as long as we do it together.

 

3. We practice the baptism of believers, which emphasizes that God’s grace demands a response of faith and discipleship, while also recognizing the baptism performed in other churches.

4. We gather for the Lord’s Supper, as often as possible, experiencing at this table the gracious, forgiving presence of Jesus Christ.

 

Recognizing… “other churches”! Declaring an open table! And here, accountability rather than authority:

5. We structure our community around the biblical idea of covenant, emphasizing not obedience to human authority but accountability to one another because of our shared obedience to Christ.

6. We participate in God’s mission for the world, working with partners to heal the brokenness of creation and bring justice and peace to the whole human family.

7. We hear a special calling to make visible the unity of all Christians, proclaiming that in our diversity we belong to one another because we commonly belong to Christ.

Justice… peace… diversity…

Sounds like the Kingdom of God:

 

8. We witness to the Gospel of God’s saving love for the world in Jesus Christ, while continuing to struggle with how God’s love may be known to others in different ways.

9. We affirm the priesthood of all believers, rejoicing in the gifts of the Holy Spirit – which include the gift of leadership – that God has given for the common good.

10. We celebrate the diversity of our common life, affirming our different histories, styles of worship, and forms of service.

11. We give thanks that each congregation, where Christ is present through faith, is truly the church, affirming as well that God’s church and God’s mission stretch from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.

12. We anticipate God’s coming reign, seeking to serve the God – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer – whose loving dominion has no end.

 

These are lofty principles the Disciples have set for themselves. As keltic, who I believe is a part of the Disciples, has experienced, there is still a long way to go for total acceptance of us LGBT folk. But at least the door is open and the conversation has begun on the basis of common faith in a risen Lord.

April 25 was Anzac Day. The day we Aussies and Kiwis remember the courageous men and women who have served in our military. The day we remember the slaughter that took place on the beach at Gallipoli. We honour these men who fought for the freedom we still enjoy – and take for granted  – today. 

Anzac Day, 2005, was the day my father received his ultimate freedom – when he passed from this life into his eternal reward. I can proudly say that he was another one who fought a good fight, who kept the faith. Thanks, Dad.

Here in Canada it is too easy to forget about this most important day on Australia’s calendar. But I managed to be at home, listening to Christian radio, and was blessed by what I heard. Freedom really did seem to be the theme of the day.

First, I heard Focus on the Family. The speaker was Maria Anne (Hansi) Hirshmann who was a Nazi youth leader during World War II. She talked about immigrating to America, and not understanding how much freedom she really had. And how Americans couldn’t even explain their freedom to her. It was a beautiful picture of the freedom we have in Christ, and the moral responsiblity that goes along with having freedom.

It reminded me of the Mercy Me song, God With Us, that contains these lines:

we are free

in ways that we never should be

sweet release

from the grip of these chains

After Focus on the Family, James MacDonald’s program, Walk in the Word was next. MacDonald is a preacher I often tune out. He is just too authoritarian for me in his tone and his style. But yesterday I was blessed by him. He spoke on Acts 15, and on Peter’s affirmation of the Gentile believers. I couldn’t help but think that if we replaced the word Gentiles with the word “gay” we would have a better understanding of what is happening to LGBT believers in the church today.

We are in Christ, and we are indeed free.

Thanks, Anzacs, for our political freedom. Thanks, Dad, for the freedom to be who I am. Thanks, Jesus, for setting us free from the law of sin and death.