He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’--Mark 8: 34-9:1
This is one of those lessons that, when it is part of the Sunday service, you can almost see it in the eyes of the congregation. A bit of uncomfortableness for some; casting side-glances to the floor; and then there are the ones who just stare blankly and you have no idea if they actually heard this piece of news from the Scriptures, or if they are planning the after-church brunch in their heads.
But speaking as an out lesbian, I remember when I heard this (and I mean really finally heard this lesson), I smiled knowingly. Because the richness of what one gains in losing their "life" to follow Christ is a similar richness that one gains when one "comes out" as gay, lesbian, bisexual or accepts a transgender identity. Because there are greater riches in what Jesus says if you put your faith and trust in him and the gospel. "Gospel", in this case as I understand it, meaning the Good News meaning eternal life as opposed to eternal death. Rather than worrying about what the neighbors will think, or questing after the Almighty Dollar as if that's a God, if you seek eternal life in God, you will gain a richness that comes from that feeling of being unconditionally loved and valued for who you are right now... with no strings attached, no hidden clauses or exceptions or black-out dates: "God's love is good only for Sunday mornings from 9-12"... NOT!
For someone gay, this declaration of identity as LGBT means a loss. For the queer, it could mean a loss of family, friends, job, children, home, or more frequently... the loss of a carefully-constructed straight persona. For a parent or partner of someone who comes out it could mean a loss of dreams built on an assumption that a child is straight or that a spouse is straight.
But how much more is gained in terms of your self-worth and your ability to experience true joy and happiness once you've kicked open the closet door!? And what are dreams for your children if they are built upon a false foundation of a reality that simply doesn't exist? The real life, the real experience, the real joy comes from that place of being honest about your sexual orientation. There is true freedom in being who you really are as opposed to what your "life" was supposed to look like.
I think it's the same story with Jesus. Sure, it's a lot easier to keep all your money and never share it with someone in need. Sure, it is uncomfortable to mingle with those who are not just like ourselves. Being a cheerleader for Christ feels better and is a lot safer than being an actual follower of his ethic of compassion, mercy and love. If we just do that whole "take up your cross and follow me thing" on Sunday mornings, that's sufficient.
No, not really. Not even hardly. In my own experience, once you've allowed God through Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit to be the focal point of how you line up things in your life... you can't just make it a "Sunday only" practice. It becomes the way you live and move and have your being. Does that mean that you drop to your knees in prayer three or four times a day? No, not necessarily. But God is never far from my thinking and being as I interact with a stranger in a grocery store. Like in Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "An Altar in the World" or as I was taught to do in massage school, you learn to look at people in the eyes and allow their spirit and yours to have contact and recognition that "Here is another child of God."
I re-read an old post of mine from this blog called, "Divinely Dreamy Messages", and was struck again by the dream I'd had in which I saw so many different faces coming at me in rapid-fire succession. And then the voice: "These are the faces of God!" How simple and true a dream that was!
Just as I can't "turn off" being a lesbian, I can't "turn off" paying attention and trying to follow God. Perhaps because I'm already an outcast in society, adding another layer of whacky... actually showing forth praise of God not only with my lips, but in my life... is a step I can make. Who'll join me? Or are you happy to watch me carry my cross alone?