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.