Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
No Country for Unorthodox Believers
A recurrent theme for GLBT and other unorthodox believers is feeling like “people without a country.” On one side, we struggle with rejection from religious traditions and communities we cherish. It goes beyond not being welcomed; we feel unwanted. On the other, the vision and values commensurate with our faith often put us out of kilter with those in more tolerant environments.
When we decide to follow Christ’s map and example, we should understand this before taking the first step. It’s not as simple or romantic as “marching to a different drummer,” because much of the time the pervasive racket disables our ability to hear our own thoughts, let alone His voice. A lot of that noise comes from people telling us what we should think and, worse yet, what God thinks. But in the middle of it all, Jesus still calls us to follow Him. Unable to hear Him clearly, we have to know the truth He speaks is there, lost in the mix of opinions, dogma, manipulation, and fear pounding in our ears. Unable to see Him fully, we have to know He’s in front of us, leading us across a minefield of charges planted to intimidate us into conforming to others' beliefs, standards, and customs.
It’s essential to remember, first, foremost, and always, that our road features no visible signs for direction or markers to measure our progress. This has been true from the beginning, starting with the handful of people who first chose this route. They constantly reminded themselves that they were traveling down what looked like a blind alley to others. Here’s Paul, writing to Corinthian believers: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5.7; KJV) The Hebrews writer famously defined faith exactly in the same way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11.1)
This concept seems basic in principle, but it’s supremely difficult to practice. It disputes life experience, discounts personality, and overrules conventional wisdom. It hoists us above human instinct and reason to consider the world from a radically different angle. It confuses those around us and dramatically alters how we manage our lives. In fact, when we follow Jesus, we embrace the most unnatural lifestyle known to man. And defying nature often isolates us from mainstream logic. We feel left alone to deal with our thoughts and problems.
The great slave spiritual exquisitely captured the utterly unnatural experience of following Jesus: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” When these emotions rise, though, we ignore feelings we harbor to ignite faith we hold. We anchor our confidence on hopes we can’t predict and truths we can’t prove. When people observe our insistent reliance on faith without evidence to back it up, we look like unhinged idiots flapping in the wind. Religious bigots and secular cynics alike find our certainty in God’s loving acceptance wrong-headed, futile, and disturbing. Either they push us away from them or rush away from us. And we’re alone again—naturally.
This double-barreled alienation is nothing new. Jesus stressed its inevitability with warnings that His path crosses long, solitary valleys. Yet He also reassured us we’re never alone, no matter how forsaken we feel. “I will not leave you as orphans,” He promised in John 14.18. “I will come to you.” And His closing words in Matthew’s gospel stand as a timeless truth we should claim wholeheartedly: Surely I am with you always. Natural feelings goad us to conclude we’re shoved aside, stranded in no-man’s land without love and companionship. But unnatural faith says, “Not so!” Surely He’s with us. Always. To the very end.
Although it often looks and feels like we're traveling a lonely road, Christ is with us always, to the very end.
(Tomorrow: Say So)
Personal Postscript: So Glad You’re Here
This week professional obligations put me in an awkward spot I’m usually able to avoid. I couldn’t balance long hours of work responsibilities with my daily commitment to Straight-Friendly. The extraordinary people and project I was involved with—launching a new indication of an HIV therapy that will save countless lives—demanded and deserved my complete energy and attention. So I reluctantly posted a “be back soon” message here.
When I finally found time to pull some thoughts together—after a fashion; I apologize for the sloppiness of the last few posts—I hastily deleted the apology before reviewing and posting the responses many of you left. They were truly sweet to my soul. And although you obviously had no idea of the personal meaning and significance of the work that drew me away from S-F, your patience and spirited encouragement strengthened me to press ahead.
I remain as committed as ever to Straight-Friendly's daily format and now that I'm back at my desk, we'll get caught up as quickly as possible. But since I inadvertently botched the chance to publish and acknowledge your comments, I want to make sure you know how grateful I am for them. I so glad you're here and never, ever do I want anyone to feel ignored or taken for granted. May God bless you richly for your invaluable contributions and collaboration in this work.