Yesterday after my article on Queer Voices was published on the Believe Out Loud blog (which I still can’t believe happened, to be honest), I was contacted by an acquaintance from college who wanted to discuss with me the scriptural arguments against homosexuality. I declined politely. By the end of our email exchange he assured me that “as much as I wish we had a common faith, I don’t think that’s possible, so I must love and pray for you as an unbeliever.”
For a minute I wanted to punch him in the throat. Actually, for several minutes. For several hours. And I was fuming about it internally while I was in the midst of helping serve a funeral.
Of all the insults and denigrations of my humanity I’ve suffered in the past–faggot, queer, cock sucker, and worse, many of which I received before I had even come out–this somehow stung the most. I’d rather him simply have called me a “fucking queer” and be done with it. But no, he called me an unbeliever. And I was instantly reminded of everything that drives me absolutely crazy about Christianity in its present form: one’s relationship with Christ is, in the eyes of many who claim that name, is determined by your opinion on secondary issues. The fact of the matter is that one’s opinion on homosexuality is just that–an opinion!–and it has precious little to do with one’s relationship with Christ, even less so their salvation. But that is for another article.
“Unbeliever.” That word still rings so cacophonously in my ears, because I’m so un-used to it. I’ve never been called that in my life. I was baptized as a baby. I went to Sunday School, Church camps, VBS, Chrysalis/Emmaus weekends, Christian college, seminary! I was that kid, who perhaps called others unbelievers, but of all the abuse I suffered at the hands of my peers one thing was for certain, my faith in Jesus Christ was an integral part of my identity that could never be taken from me. I’ve experienced first hand the transforming love of God. It is that love that will not let me go. And I was reminded this as I received the precious body and blood of Christ in the eucharist during the funeral.
And as the love of Christ washed over me in that holy moment, in the presence of the new saint whom we were commending to God and the innumerable saints there gathered at the table with us, something very strange happened. I realized that I am indeed an unbeliever.
I do not believe in the God who judges people based on outward opinions and voting habits. I do not believe in a God whose love is stymied by theologies, even if they are woefully bad. I do not believe in a God who is capriciously malevolent. I do not believe in a God who loves all the right people and damns the rest. I do not believe in the God whose self-proclaimed prophet called me an unbeliever.
I believe in a God who slipped into skin and walked among his children. A God who ate with all the wrong people and welcomes them still to his table. A God who would not let death be the final word. A God who reaches across time and space to call his kids home, a God who runs to them with open arms, who heals broken hearts and binds up wounds. A God who lays down his life and does not hate. This is the God in whose presence the idols of dogma and right-or-wrong thinking crumble into pieces. This is the God whose love destroys us to raise us to new life. This is the God I know. This is the God whose final Word is Jesus Christ, and still Christ speaks today.
There is an amazing painting by Salvador Dali entitled Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina that depicts the assumption of the virgin Mary. This painting embodies everything about why I am still a Christian: from the zygote at the bottom of the painting, the body of Christ, the blessed Mother ascends, and in the presence of her and her son all of reality breaks down into waves of divine presence like fabric billowing in the wind. Everything loses form; but in the center of the painting is the Crucified Christ suspended in mid-air over the Eucharistic altar. Mary draws all the world into intercession before her son.
It is a great irony: I find that as my soul has grown, it no longer seems to have room for dogmatic right-or-wrong thinking. There is only room for the Christ whose death and resurrection brings new life to the whole world, whose presence nourishes, sustains, and unites us in one body under his headship. And as my soul stretches, that becomes the only thing I’m capable of believing at all. It’s perhaps possible that my soul will never stretch big enough to grasp the mystery of Christ, but I can only begin to take in that mystery by getting rid of all the non-essentials in order to make room for it. And if that means unbelief, so be it.