To See the Invisible Man

This post started out as a response to an article titled “The F Word”, which was posted by an anonymous writer on the Red Letter Christian website. The article opens with the writer talking about how he grew up reading comic books. I used to love comic books and read them well into my thirties. So I felt an immediate connection to the writer. The writer, a gay man, goes on to say how he has learned to blend in and pass for straight, and how painful it is to hide who you really are from others.

When I decided to start blogging, I made a conscious decision to use my real name and to write as truthfully as I could about what I believe. I knew that I would be writing about things that might upset some people and that might even lose a friend or two. This post is about one of those issues. I am a little scared about how some people will react, but when I see the pain and alienation that LGBT people face because of the way they are treated by some people within the Christian community I can no longer remain silent. So here I stand, I can do no other.

The science fiction writer Robert Silverberg wrote a short story called To See the Invisible Man. Like all great writing it is far more than just a story; it tells something important things about life. It is a parable of sorts. I think that the parables of Jesus can be seen as short stories. He used his stories to point to a greater truth and to instruct us on how we should live our lives. I think that Silverberg’s story is like one of Jesus’s parables. It is a story of a man who was punished for the crime of coldness; in other words, he did not love his neighbor. As punishment for this crime he has a mark placed upon his head, and anyone who sees this mark must not talk to him or in any way acknowledge his existence. He becomes invisible to all around him. At first he thinks this is not such a bad thing because he can do pretty much whatever he wants and no one will stop him, but he soon learns that it is a terrible punishment. By the end of his one-year sentence he learns compassion and empathy for others. In fact he learns his lesson so well that when he sees another person suffering because she bears the mark of invisibility, he speaks to her and says, “I see you”. Because he acknowledges her, he is punished by being made invisible for another year, but this time he bears his punishment with grace because he acted out of compassion. The mark on his forehead is now a mark of pride and not a mark of shame.

This seems to me to be very much like a parable that Jesus would’ve spoken. The invisible man in the story stands for all those who are marginalized by the world. But as with the parables of Jesus, it’s not that easy, we are all the invisible man. We are simultaneously the invisible man and the society that refuses to see him. We all hide parts of ourselves from each other for fear of what others might think.

Now comes the hard part. I want to share with you something I have been struggling with for a long time. And that is the way that many people within the church treat our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual brothers and sisters. They are the invisible men and women within the church, forced to hide their innermost selves from the church for fear that they will not be accepted. I think it says a lot that the one place that people often most afraid to talk about the issue of marriage equality is the church.

As we learn more and more about homosexuality, the more we know that it is not a choice. The science we have today indicates that sexual orientation is an inherent trait like eye color or height. I have struggled for some time now about whether or not I should speak out in favor of marriage equality. I have decided that as a matter of conscience I can no longer remain silent on this matter. I realize that this is a divisive issue within the church, but for me it breaks down into two separate issues. The first is an equal rights issue. Because I believe in the separation of church and state I believe that government must protect same-sex couples by ensuring that they have the same rights and privileges as a man and a woman who enter into marriage. I believe this because a government that can deny someone their civil rights on religious grounds can also take away your civil rights for the very same reason.

The second issue is whether or not a church should allow two people of the same gender to marry. This is a much more nuanced argument because, although I feel that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in the church, there are many who do not agree with me. And although there are Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin, it is equally true that there are a great many people within the Christian community who have come to an understanding that homosexuality is not a sin. So while I believe that Christians should support marriage equality, I do not think it would be right to require a church to marry a same sex couple if it conflicts with their beliefs, but I urge you to seek out what people are saying about this important issue and why many people within the Christian community now support marriage equality. This is one of those issues I could be wrong about, but I don’t think so. I do know this Christ’s call for us to love one another is unambiguous. Even if you do not support marriage equality I think it is important we support each other. It is important that we love all of God’s children with all our heart and all our soul and all our might. It is my sincere belief that God will forgive me if I am on the wrong side of the marriage equality debate. One thing I know for sure is that if I do not love my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who I have seen, I cannot love God who I have not seen. So let us all reach out to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the spirit of love. Let us welcome them into our churches and into our hearts. Too many people in the gay and lesbian community are invisible to us. Let us say,” I see you, I love you, and you are welcome here”.

“A small footnote found in the court records of some parallel world. The name of Mitchell Chaplin, who served his sentence of invisibility and learned his lesson well. Too well. This time, however, he will wear his invisibility like a shield of glory. A shield forged in the very heart…of The Twilight Zone.”
Closing narration for The Twilight Zone adaptation of To See the Invisible Man.

An Open Letter to the Global Church

I’m so tired but I can’t sleep

Standin’ on the edge of something much too deep

It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word

We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard

Sarah McLachlan

I just got back from a two-day conference called Inspire Justice, and I’m in that weird space between tired and elated. After spending two days with people who care about social justice in the same way that I do, I feel a little lost. It’s hard to see how God’s kingdom should be and then to see once again how far we have to travel to reach the Promised Land. But I know this: I really want to do something with God’s church that will make a real difference in the world and in my community.

Because, my brothers and sisters, you know we live in a broken world. Never in the history of mankind has there been more affluence, and yet rarely has there been a greater distance between those of us who have so much and our brothers and sisters that have so little.

Right now, I don’t have a lot of answers, but I do have some questions. What can we do to make life better in our community? How can we serve God in the land of Mammon? Where do we begin our journey?

This Sunday my church approved a mission statement, a vision statement, and set goals for the next few years. But this is only the beginning, a road map if you will.

 And like the maps of old there is a space labeled Here There Be Dragons. Because as my pastor, John, said in his sermon this morning we are sheep amongst the wolves, and we need to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. As Christians we are in a struggle against the powers and principalities of this world. It is not an easy struggle, for the path which we are on is narrow, and all around us are the distractions of everyday life.

And so I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to think about where we are going. Because in this broken world, it is only through God’s grace that we are saved, but, though it is freely given, grace comes at a price. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is a costly grace for, far from dispensing us from good works, it means that we must take the call to discipleship more seriously than ever before.

As Christians we are in a state of constant becoming. As Christians we are not perfect and we never will be.

And that is why I call my blog Limping Towards Grace, because when I am tired I walk with a limp. And for me that is a metaphor for how God’s grace works: when I am tired and limping I need to lean on God’s grace most of all. So I am asking you, my brothers and sisters, to join me, as I struggle with God’s grace and what it means to be a Christian in our broken world.

As Christians we need to come together and discuss where we are going and how we will get there. Sometimes the journey will be easy, but sometimes the journey will leave us tired and limping. That is when we will need each other most of all.

 So let us go out into the world and embrace its brokenness and in so doing perhaps we will heal our own brokenness. For it is only in embracing each other in community and service to God that we can embrace our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And in fulfilling the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves we will build a New Jerusalem.

“ What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James 2:14-17

An Easter People’s Dinner

” And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”

Luke 22:19

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog of my own for a couple of years now, but I’ve never quite got around to it. There are a lot of things I care about. Some are serious, like my support for marriage equality and social justice issues. Some are frivolous, like my love of cartoons and science fiction. I’m sure that I’ll write about all these things, and be warned I will probably connect these things together in some rather strange ways.

But for my first blog I’m going to write about our lack of civility at the family table. And by the family table I mean the table that God has set for us. God calls all his children to His table and instead of thanking Him we fight over who gets to sit where. We squabble and complain about our brothers and sisters in Christ… I don’t want to sit next to James – he’s one of those progressive Christians. I am equally guilty of bad manners at God’s  table. There are people who I’d rather not sit next to because I disagree with them about this or that.

But that’s not how family dinner works. I am blessed with good family. I’ve always known that my parents love me and this is has been a great source of strength and comfort to me over the years. I am also loved and accepted by my two brothers and two sisters. Even when we didn’t always get along or “like” each other we were bound together by our abiding love for one another. I am also blessed with a loving wife, two daughters, a son and six soon to be seven grandchildren. I’ve have also been embraced by my wife’s family as if I had always been a part of that family and not just some guy who married their sister.  I am blessed indeed. Which by way of introduction brings me to the point I want to make. Family is important.

No family is perfect; even the closest families have their disagreements. In fact, no one can push your buttons like family. Brothers and sisters argue about all kinds of things. Serious things like religion, politics and the best way to raise kids. We also argue over trivial things like Saturday morning cartoons and whether Batman or Spider-man is cooler. But when you need to turn to someone for help family is always there. Family is a bond so powerful that it cannot be broken. It is a bond forged by love and common experience.

And of all the common experiences we experience, family dinner is quite possibly the most important. Family dinner is the time when we join together for physical and spiritual nourishment. To share food is to literally share life.

The Christian community is very much a family. It is not the physical church building that binds us together. Indeed, if we truly believe the teachings of Jesus, our churches could be pulled down so that not one stone was left upon another and still we would be bound together by our abiding love for one another and God’s perfect Grace. Our sacred scriptures could be scattered to the four winds and yet we would still know the whole of scripture as long as we love God and one another. God’s kingdom begins and ends in love. A love so great that God in the person of Jesus Christ died on the cross for us.

So let us not forget that before Jesus died, He called all of us to His Father’s table. We are His family and like any family we will disagree over things that matter to us a great deal and things that shouldn’t matter to us at all but somehow do. We will get angry with one another and say hurtful things, but at the end of the day we are still a family. We are all called to the family table to break the bread of life and to drink the wine of salvation. We do this in remembrance  of God’s great gift to us. We are all called to God’s table and we don’t get get to choose we sit next to. We are expected to treat the person next to us with the same respect we would treat our dearest friend and in so doing we may entertain an angel or Jesus unaware.