Storms, Worried Windowpanes and Wrestling Matches
Before I opened an email from an old friend, the opening line of Rilke’s The Man Watching came to mind – I can tell by the way the trees beat after so many dull days on my worried windowpanes that a storm is coming. I knew I was going to be challenged, and I knew it was deserved.
My friend said it was rather peculiar that I am now such an advocate for LGBTQ rights, when previously I was publicly silent on the subject. He is right. I had remained silent because I led a 4 million dollar ministry. If I had come out as LGBTQ supportive, we would have lost a great amount of income. At the time the silence seemed understandable, but at this juncture I do not believe it was excusable.
The second reason I was silent was that I would have invited stressful and impassioned conversations about LGBTQ issues, while I was losing my own struggle to avoid coming out as transgender. That was also understandable, but also not excusable. After all, I had always been one to proclaim with confidence the truth will set you free. But unfortunately, and inappropriately, I remained silent.
My decision was wrong. Now that I am living much of my life among LGBTQ people, I see the damage done by my silence. Lives were at stake, and I was more concerned about the financial health of our ministry and my own precarious psychological balance than showing concern for the people who were losing everything by being true to themselves. I failed a lot of people, including my own self.
What could I have done? I could have left the ministry I was serving. The board was not ready to make a decision supportive of marriage equality. They needed to be true to their collective conscience as much as I needed to be true to mine. While I wholeheartedly believe their conclusions were wrong, I strongly uphold their right to take a stand where they believe one had to be taken. I encourage my Evangelical friends to take a fresh look at their hermeneutics, but I would never ask them to violate their conscience. Yet I was violating my own conscience. Fortunately, the experience taught me some valuable lessons.
I learned when I wake up at night, drenched in sweat from the fear of being “found out,” it’s time to be found out. I learned when I avoid spending time with a particular people group because I am afraid that if I do, I will be called toward activism on behalf of that group, it is time to spend more time with that people group. I have learned if there is an uneasiness of heart when I remain silent, it is time to examine my silence. I learned giving up privilege and power was not something I was willing to choose. It had to be taken from me.
There was a second reason I was drawn to Rilke’s poem. It wasn’t just he opening line. It was the lines about Jacob, the scoundrel who made a habit of stealing everything but the kitchen sink, then found himself on the shores of the river Jabbok, face to face with the Lord of the universe. Jacob was accustomed to winning, so he probably wasn’t surprised when the first light of dawn revealed the awful truth that he might actually win his wrestling match with God. But somewhere in his soul he knew that was not a good idea. Jacob asked God to bless him, and his blessing was his defeat, his blessed defeat.
So much of my experience in losing all of my jobs and my beloved religious family was for me, a necessary defeat. Not only did I need to be true to who I was, I needed to be separated from my comfort and entitlement. I needed to be called out for not speaking out on LGBTQ issues. I needed the lessons that only come in the dark night. I learned with Rilke that,
Winning does not tempt that man
This is how he grows
By being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater beings.
And so it goes.
6 thoughts on “Storms, Worried Windowpanes and Wrestling Matches”
Paula, one of the most honest and revelatory writings on why we fear to go deeper with God. Fear to go deeper with our kindred. Keep writing & speaking. The world, the church, our culture & I need to hear your voice.
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What a painful but liberating understanding of what it means to die to your self to find your true self in God.
I’m reassured that God uses everything including transgender to open our eyes.
Thank-you for sharing.
Everything is as it is supposed to be.
Our ethical decisions are never made in a vacuum. That is why we have to wrestle. If we were to make decisions without regard for the consequences, a la Kant, we would recognize no special obligations to our families and would feed and clothe the hungriest. Our own families and communities would suffer as a result, if we truly did our best to serve those who need us the most. We pay special attention to our families and community because we have to try to make those around us stronger so they too are in a powerful position to contribute. We also seek the greater good and rightly so. The wrestling occurs because we can not foresee the future and because no decision or outcome will ever be fully satisfactory.
You did not create the exclusionary system found in the church. You actually made sacrifices to be a part of it because you believed you could serve the greater good and the needs of your family by working within the existing structure. While we do admire people who risk everything and stand up for the rights of the excluded and oppressed, those of us who are not MLK, unfortunately, have to pick our wrestling matches. Part of our hesitation may be fear, but part of our ability to succeed is timing. While we all could have done more, we have to look at our lives through a wide-angled lens, trying to learn from our shortcomings while seeing the good we have done and while focusing on the future.
You now have taken on an issue you fully understand, and you can continue to be a powerful advocate for reform. Don’t beat yourself up; be proud of what you are doing now. You have found acceptance. You have asked for forgiveness, which seems to have been granted by your new community. You probably shook up the churches you were associated in a way that will pay off in years to come.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying the apologies of public figures. I borrow ideas from Kenneth Burke who looks at the apology as a case of impression management, symbolically parallel to tragedies in literature. Most apologies by public figures do not seem to be sincere. it is easy to tell that yours is.
P.S. Don’t feel like you have to post anything I write. I am likely to not know what I am talking about, especially in cases like this where I am the privileged white male.
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Mark, not only do I want to post it. I want everyone to read it. You are right, and you are wise.
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It is truly liberating to admit wrong, turn from it, and then advocate for what is right. From MM’s mouth to God’s ears re: shaking up the Old Guard.
Thank you Paula for your tremendous honesty. I know, for myself, that I had to leave the pastorate, and become a healthcare administrator, because I was unable to be open and honest about who I was as a gay man. Even then, I was still unable to be honest. It took me until I was 48 before I could be honest with who I was. Many restless nights. It cost me everything, my church, my friends, but it is only now that I have been able to move to the part of being able to become involved in the answer to the problem. My home church doesn’t even welcome me. Thanks again for your bold honesty. Blessings, Dave.