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.