To be known and still be loved. To be seen and still be accepted. Tough concept to grasp on either side of the equation. I specifically remember a very late night over thirty years ago when I was secreted away in the Engineering Building at Rutgers University. I was on a constant run from me. I was twenty and appeared to be living the dream as a scholar athlete. But, I was a complete mess on the inside. As I was studying for finals, a piercing flash of knowing went through me and I suddenly saw me. It was scary to see the stripped down me. Too scary. I grabbed all my books quickly and tossed them in my bike panniers and rode the five miles back to my boyfriend’s apartment in the dark. Coping mechanisms had kicked in. Followed by two more decades of hiding inside me.
It was originally French Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide who said “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not”. If I show you my ugly, my different, my blemishes, will you still love me? Probably not, so it is safer to present the acceptable, the lovely, the clean parts of me and, over time, it is exhausting.
I do quite a bit of advocacy work for GLBT Christians. The Christian church is unfortunately not the most welcoming of places for this group of God’s children. We want them to be like us, often, we don’t like or accept the differences. They make us uncomfortable. We force most of them to hide or stay invisible to earn our approval, our acceptance. Believe me, GLBT Christians are in every denomination, in every congregation. Sitting silently in the non-accepting bodies of believers.
I have been in a church where the worship leader was beating his wife for years before anyone knew. And then, there was the assistant pastor who left his family regularly for binge drinking and never let them know where he was. That stayed a secret long after he left his position. Or, the youth pastors in a severely dysfunctional open marriage while ministering to the church youth. Hidden lives are certainly not limited to the church. I have a friend who is the paragon of virtue in the eyes of the world. Much decorated, much revered and honored. I was helping him awhile back do some computer tidy-up and training and came across a huge GB folder of porn. All these people hide the parts that may disqualify them from our love. And while they hide, we may be “loving” them and they ultimately suffer because they do not become the best they can be.
My friend Bill, who has run an outreach to the homeless for nine years, spent Christmas Day driving around the Austin/San Marcos area visiting the homeless in camps and under bridges. He shared two kegs of beer, Whole Foods bread donations and hundreds of flashlights. He, of course, took slack for the beer part, the beer distribution made quite few churchy people uncomfortable. Not me. I love this part of his heart. He meets people where they are and loves them right there. “I see you and I know you, and I love you.”
This past week, I was at the annual Gay Christian Network Conference in Denver for my fifth year as a straight ally. I think my love for this group is pretty evident in the way I treat these, my brothers and sisters; I have become sexual orientation neutral. There is no difference in the way I interact with GLBT people and straight people (except to be honest, the GLBT group is really fun!). I did something this year that I never did while at a conference—I went out to a gay bar dancing with many of my fellow GCNers.
I realize now, with a few days of reflection, it was much more significant than just dancing. It was: “I see you, I know you and I love you.” Don’t give me the parts you think I want to see. Be who you are and I will still love you. How transforming would be if we could trust others with the most intimate parts of ourselves and know, that on the other side of the openness and intimacy, we will still be loved? I know I never felt safe enough in my 20’s, my 30’s, heck, maybe even my early 40’s to be seen by others. All those years that I could have been a grace giver, but sadly, I had no excess to give away; I was just too busy hiding.
There is a gracious living and giving deficit going on. One cannot give away what one does not possess. I believe the place most of us learn about grace is in a relationship with a person who understands it and is willing to shower it over us. The people of God are supposed to be the experts at it.
It’s taken me a long time come to a place where I can comprehend grace a bit better. I had to get the toxins pumped out of me and fill those new places with the good stuff, grace. If you pushed on me years ago, you got the overflow of my pain seeping out. Not particularly lovely. Grace lets you remove the rocks and the rules and the regs placed on the road to God. For yourself and others. It allows for authenticity. For yourself and others. There is no thing you can do or not to make God love you any more or any less. And, when you figure that out, you start treating others with this new-found balm.
Dancing in a gay bar with twenty-five of my gay friends, mostly the 20-somethings, wasn’t just about fun. It took me a few days of reflection with a wider view to see what it was. It was a distinct message: “I see you, I know you and I love you.” Nothing and no part of you is unworthy of love.
Grace will make you blind to the barriers you once held. The barriers that keep people away from us, the barriers that keep us away from people, the barriers that keep people away from Him. Do some road clearing so that you can become better at exporting this precious commodity; the world is desperate for it. If you have an excess of grace, lavishly give it away; your supply will never be exhausted. It will, in fact, grow.
And, to my friends at Tracks in Denver last Saturday night, I saw you, I know and I love you. No matter what anyone has said to you or tries to tell you in His name, the truth is: He sees you, He knows you and He loves you. The more authentically you live your own lives in front of Him, you will grow in grace and be able to give it away. This may well be your gift and special place in the body of believers–grace givers. Rock on!